Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Letter of Remembrance and Encouragement

Dear Friends,

Recently, my beloved Aunt Sue passed away.  I remember the first night I started praying for her over 13 years ago.  My dad told me that she had breast cancer, and in anguish I felt the first taste of cancer's bitterness.  The "it's-not-fair", the "anyone-but-her", the "God-why-can't-you-just-take-it-away"... I made a bed on the floor in my room and let salt water gush from my eyes while praying that Sue would be healed, that I wouldn't lose my loving aunt.  I prayed for her almost every night for over 13 years.

Sue and Matt
Sue and Sarah
She did overcome breast cancer, and was in remission for a few years.  We were happy and inspired for a time.  Then, she was afflicted by a different, much more rare type of cancer.  She was miraculously healed (we gave thanks to God).  But then cancer attacked her again...and again.  I'd be lying if I didn't sometimes say, "WHY, GOD?!  Why would You heal her, and then take her healing away?  WHY!  I don't understand..."  To me, evil people could have such torment, but not Aunt Sue; she wasn't evil, she was lovely and kind.  

After years of on-and-off treatments for various types of cancer, Sue recently had one last shot at remission.  She took it, knowing that the outcome would either equal life...or death.  They did it!  They got rid of the cancer!  But it wasn't enough.  In the end, cancer didn't take her earthly life.  Her body just sort of shut down, and I understand how that could happen with all she's been through!  The last month really just had me praying, "God, let Your will be done.  If You are calling her Home, take her Home without suffering.  Your will, not ours."  Even though it made me feel pain to pray that, I knew that everything she would experience in heaven would be SO MUCH GREATER than anything Earth had to provide.  

Sue's funeral was beautiful.  People talked about her unconditional, endless love.  People sang her songs.  People joked about her love of peacocks and purple, and "anything obnoxious."  Her children (all grown up) recounted stories of her joy over them...even about the snacks they ate!  Her husband, my uncle, talked about her faith.  Everyone agreed that Sue had heavenly love for everyone she encountered.  She had the heart of Jesus.

My cousin Matt told us that in Sue's last days, she had awoken for brief moments.  One time she said that she had seen Jesus.  The next time she said she wanted to go back and be with God.  My heart nearly stops when I think about this.  Sue had held on for SO LONG, battling with all her might every day so that she could continue to be with her family...and now she had found something for which it was worth letting go; she found her Home.  What would she say if she could speak to us from her side of heaven?

I think she would weep and tell us it's all real.  She would encourage us to remain true to our faith.  She would beg us to evangelize, to bring the lost back to the Father.  I think she would make it seem like it's the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS..... because it's true.  I can't say any of this for sure.  But I knew my Aunt Sue; she would want everyone to experience the joy that she now has.

I have a friend named Alex who respectfully challenged Christianity (many times).  He once argued that Christians don't really believe in heaven and hell, or they at least don't believe in hell.  I said, "I do.  Why do you think Christians don't believe in that?  It's in the Bible."   Let me paraphrase his response:
Ok, let's just say I'm a Jewish person in Nazi Germany.  I live in a Jewish community, my family is Jewish, and I know what the Nazis do to my people.  Now, let's imagine that I've been told information about an upcoming Nazi rampage on our community; they are secretly plotting to come and get us - to either kill us or take us to a concentration camp.  Wouldn't I run to my people, screaming at the top of my lungs that we HAVE TO GET OUT OF THERE!  I would make sure every single person knew what was going to happen to them so that they could get out and be saved.  I would die trying if I had to.  Christians don't do that.  If they believed in hell, they would be like that Jewish person who knew the Nazis were coming.

WOW.  My perspective changed in that moment.  WOW.  Wowowowowowow! I had never thought of it like that.  My friends have always known I'm a Christian -- but was I trying to save them if they didn't know Christ?  No.  I was always afraid of bull-dozing people with my faith.  I thought that too many Christians come off as condemning, judgmental hypocrites.  I didn't want to be like that!  But apathetic about their eternal souls?!  No way.  I didn't want to be like that, either!

So, friends, here I am to tell you that I believe that Jesus died for our sins and he is THE way to heaven.  I believe that to know him is to be saved.  I believe that if you accept him into your life, you will experience eternity in heaven; your soul will not perish, and you will not suffer in hell.  But you have to answer to God's call to your heart.  He already knows you; He's already been trying to speak to you.  You have to answer.  Furthermore, there is a very REAL evil force in the world, a force that desires to forsake your soul.  There is an entire army that is without God and against God, and they want you to join their side.  They are speaking to you, too, if you let them.  They are telling you you're not good enough, you're not pretty enough, you're not smart enough, you're talent-less and useless...or maybe they're even telling you that you're TOO smart for that stuff; only an illogical, needy imbecile would believe an invisible Being created everything and also loves you.  If you've read my other blog entries, you know that I have suffered at the hands of the evil army.  I still call upon the Lord to help me fight them each day.  He wins.  Every.  Time.

In any case, there's a battle raging for your soul.  Can't you feel it sometimes, the discontent, the irritability, the there-must-be-something-more?  We can't ignore it.

If you are reading this and you're a nonbeliever, or even a compromising believer (i.e. One who says, "I believe in all that, but I also believe in many other 'roads.'"), then I want to be the Christian that my friend didn't believe was out there.

I am running to your village. I am screaming down every street. I am crying out to you: There is an eternity, and you have two choices!  If you stay this way, you will suffer.  If you stay here, you will die.  But, friends, I love you too much to let that happen!  I have but one earthly life to tell you the things of heaven, to tell you there's a Savior -- there's a way out of this mess of doom!  This Savior restores, he knows your name, he protects you from evil.  He does not make your life perfect, but he is perfect and will guide you through every struggle.  I would not say this if I didn't believe it with all that I am.  You are too precious to pass up!   Your life is at stake!  Choose life

It's about the ultimate Love Story:

"This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:13-19 [emphasis mine]

I can't wait to meet my Lord face-to-face someday. I can't wait to see Sue, my grandmothers, and many others in heaven. I believe that I will. God wants a relationship with His people because He loves us. He welcomes us into the Kingdom, and we will have a dwelling place that is full of joy.

There, I've said it. I pray that anything I've said matters to God, so that He can speak to you more clearly about His purpose for your life. You were bought at a price because you're precious to Him. He cares. He speaks from the sunrise and the stars, from the oceans and trees, from your heart and mine.

Dedicated to my aunt, Susan Vinson: a message I know she would want me to send.
Susan Vinson, the woman who loved like Jesus does