“God is too wise to be mistaken,
God is too good to be unkind,
So when you don’t understand, when you can’t see His plan,
When you can’t trace His hand, Trust His heart!”
– Babbie Mason & Eddie Carswell
God’s gifts don’t always come wrapped up in cute little packages tied with matching ribbon. Many times, He allows unimaginable pain and suffering, followed by deep excruciating grief. Such is the journey of a friend of Linda and I, Kathy Aldrich Wilkinson. We first met Kathy in 1987 when she and Linda worked together at Brentwood Records in Franklin, TN. Our friendship grew over the next three years as she went on to work closely with Spirit Bound, the group I joined in December of 1987. After moving to Texas in 1990, we lost touch with Kathy, but we thought of her often with fond memories.
In 2007, we found out through Joel Williams, Spirit Bound's manager, that Kathy was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and was not given a good prognosis. Since that time, Kathy has valiantly fought this giant, but sadly, on June 6, 2009, Kathy went home to be with her Lord, leaving her husband Rodney and children, Nathan and Lauren.
So many things come to mind when a dear friend suffers in this way. Many people question why such a dear person and her family has to endure this level of sorrow and pain. While there are no pat or trite answers, the Bible does offer great comfort to those of us left to live life here in this world. The Apostle Paul gave us great hope in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
— I Corinthians 15: 51-58 (English Standard Version)
One statement in Kathy's chronicling of her struggle stood out to me. “We thank the Lord that I've already beaten the odds given to me by the first doctor,” she said. “I believe God is keeping me here to care for my family and to share my story about Him.” Throughout the whole ordeal, Kathy exhibited the grace of God and is now enjoying the reward that her Lord purchased on the cross.
John Piper. a cancer survivor himself, wrote an incredible piece called “Don't Waste Your Cancer,” where he makes ten points as to why pain of this magnitude is a gift to be used for the glory of God. They are as follows:
1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.
2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.
3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.
4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.
5. You will waste your cancer if you think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.
6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.
7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.
8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope.
9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.
10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.
The bottom line is that we are not living for this world. If this world was the kingdom that the Lord spoke of, this level of suffering then makes no sense. By showing His grace even through trials, He gives us an incredible longing to be with Him. Last year, when Steven Curtis Chapman lost his 5 year old daughter in a freak accident, I wrote a post entitled “We Can Look To The Future ‘With Hope ‘” with a link to a tribute video to Maria Chapman where I mentioned that it was in the years prior to the accident that God was shaping Steven's theology in order to withstand this tragedy.
So for those of us that remain, if we have trusted Christ in repentance and faith, we will one day see the loved ones that have entered Christ's glory before us and will rejoice in His presence for all of eternity. In the meantime, we need to study His Word and build the rock solid foundation of Biblical theology, worked out every day through prayer and Bible study, and manifesting itself in good works, evangelism, and thanksgiving. It is then we will have our future secure “With Hope!”
(For another incredible journey through the pain of cancer, read the story of Andrew Mark who past away earlier this year from cancer. You can read his wife Grace's journal here.)