In Life-- In Death-- In Christ

It took a long time for the virus to do its deadly work. Too long. The two years of medication, hospitalization, of pain and suffering known only to the sufferer, were described by this woman of faith as a nightmare, and made her long to fall asleep in Jesus. In the prime of life, before the brush of middle age had lined her face or streaked her hair, this minister's wife was called to her final rest. And the age-old question automatically forms itself on our lips—why?

THE early sun had not yet dropped its golden good-morning kisses on the mountaintops when I heard steady footsteps. As I lay in bed on this cool, clear morning, I pulled the covers up more closely and listened to the swift, definite tread. There were two people—man and woman—for their voices betrayed them. They came past my window and were quickly gone. He was tall and walked with a brisk, unhesitating stride, and the little woman beside him kept pace effortlessly. They were talking together in firm, natural tones, not about the trivial but quoting from favorite authors. How could anyone, so early in the day, move so fast and think so clearly? The wonder was heightened by the knowledge that they must have already covered several miles. This was no casual stroll; it was a daily practice. Here were two people who were thrice in love: in love with each other, in love with their God, and in love with the life with which He had endowed them.

Then the blow fell. It was a crushing blow. This vibrant, vital mother of three became ill, and the illness was diagnosed as cancer. The life she loved was to be taken from her, and the family would have to part with their dearest one.

It took a long time for the virus to do its deadly work. Too long. The two years of medication, hospitalization, of pain and suffering known only to the sufferer, were described by this woman of faith as a nightmare, and made her long to fall asleep in Jesus. In the prime of life, before the brush of middle age had lined her face or streaked her hair, this minister's wife was called to her final rest. And the age-old question automatically forms itself on our lips—why?

But it is a question that we dare not ask, because the sufferer has answered it herself: "To the glory of God." How could this woman, deprived of everything that meant life, glorify God? We may never know how, but we can and do know that she did. Never a murmur or complaint escaped her lips. When suffering was keenest she had a word of encouragement and consideration for her nurses. She gave praise to God daily for faculties that were left to her, and those who visited to offer comfort and condolence found themselves inspired and blessed by the one they sought to help. These long months were a constant testimony to the power of the Word she loved so dearly. That power was not given to heal miraculously, it was not given to re move pain and suffering, but it was given for strength and triumph over the trial. She, with her husband and family, had found the Christ of the cross sufficient for every need.

Another older friend surprised me one day. "I have wondered a thousand times why God has led my life in this way." Sit ting back in the chair, I looked more closely at the speaker. She was to my way of thinking entirely beautiful. Her skin was clear, her pink cheeks were enhanced by her soft gray hair. She stood tall and straight and was always perfectly groomed. Her dignity bore no trace of pride, and the line of her lips was natural and sweet. I came to talk with her because I loved her dearly and she was always an inspiration.

She too had received a diagnosis of cancer. "It is in your stomach," she was told by her doctor, "and it will grow and grow, and you will finally choke." Six months was the time allotted to her by the medical fraternity. Maybe she would last a year or two if she submitted to immediate surgery.

Her minister husband took her home from the sanitarium. They decided against the surgery that offered so little hope, and in her weakened state she lay in bed as her husband prayed with her and for her. She was anointed, and the miracle they sought was performed—complete recovery. More than twenty years later no trace of the cancer could be found. She became strong and well, and once more stood by her husband's side as his right-hand helper. But not for so very long, because her husband sickened, and she sat by as he died an agonizing death. Yes, her life had been prolonged, yet it was she herself who in the ensuing years was repeatedly to ask the age-old question—why?

In the extension of life granted to her she was to pass through some of the greatest possible emotional strains and stresses— facing problems that culminated in the tragic death of the younger of her two sons. Before a year had slipped past the ever-watchful eye of Father Time, the older son also died suddenly and unexpectedly. On one of these sad occasions I sat with her, and spoke thoughtlessly, "I know how you feel." Her reply was soft, but definite. "No, you don't." And I knew that she was right, for how could one who had never parted with a close loved one know her feelings? She was suffering as much emotionally as one could ever suffer physically.

Still her serenity remained unruffled, her faith undimmed. This minister's wife will always remain to me a supreme example of the loveliness of true Christian womanhood. Her sufferings seemed to in crease her charm, and never did she uselessly sit and bemoan her fate. Faithfully and cheerfully she carried more than her share of household duties until her last illness. She lived well past the allotted span, and although she could not know the answers to her questions, she could and did know her God.

To our faulty human reasoning premature death is a tragedy, and equally so, prolonged life can be a disaster. Without God, our thinking on these things leads only to confusion. Why should one die when life offers so much? Why should one live to drink a cup so full of sorrow? And why should such happenings be the lot of the righteous? Were these women, like Job of old, chosen by God and permitted to suffer because of their inner strength? Did they live and die to demonstrate that Christ is all-sufficient for me, also?

May God grant us the grace, as Christian wives, courageously to stand and work at the side of the men of God we have married. May He give to us the fortitude to face life as it comes, ignoring the petty annoyances, and to seek to look into the great purposes of God. May He hold out to us the reminder as we ponder life's problems "that faith can see farther through a tear than through a telescope."

Then when the last great golden morning dawns over the mountaintops of the Promised Land, may He grant to us the privilege of standing on the sea of glass beside these noble women who learned through their pain to live and to die in Christ.

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March 1971

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