As I was running through the red-golden forest, a few years ago, I reflected on the grief that had been building within me. It was coming up to the month, in which my world turned upside down and my heart was torn between two continents, as I traveled to the other side of the world with my one-year-old daughter to be with my mother before she entered a life-threatening operation.
I had to leave my three-year-old daughter, who had only ever spent two nights apart from me, and my husband, behind. My already tearing heart was yanked further apart, as we heard the diagnosis a few short days later: a terminal brain cancer with no hope of survival, with a life-expectancy of two to three months.
And yet, in journeying back to that time in my heart, I am reminded of God’s deep abiding presence and the many gifts He showered upon me during one of the hardest times of my life. There are three places and moments in particular His peace descended so powerfully upon me, that it shattered my understanding of who He was, is and is to come:
1. In the mountains
I surveyed the spectacular wonder of the mountains and lake, the way the sky broke open and I felt a love envelop me. In that moment I was completely and utterly broken. I felt torn between my own immediate family and my Mum. A heaviness rested upon me as the death sentence of two to three months Mum was given weighed upon me.
I was hushing my little girl into sleep, a wee girl who often refused to sleep and kept getting sick. But in that one moment, my hardened heart broke and tears flowed. A God who I had for years envisioned shaking His finger at me, condemning me as guilty and covering me in shame, was holding me. And I couldn’t stop crying. Me the sinner, the one who kept failing, kept losing the control she fought so hard to hold onto.
2. In the dunes
When I ran alongside my husband, coming to a clearing where all I could see was dunes upon dunes, and a startlingly, beautiful sky. This was in the five weeks, when I found myself on one continent, but my heart was on the other, with my dying Mum.
My heart was torn in two, a grief I will never be able to fully explain in words. But in that moment God’s beauty poured out over me like a balm and all the tension and fear and ripping came to a halt and poured out into tears that kept flowing.
Psalm 23:6 (The Message)
Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.
3. With my dying Mum.
Our last Christmas together, a little more than four months before Mum entered heaven’s gates
The more she surrendered the greater the peace that settled upon her. I was anything but peaceful during that time, as I kept myself frantically busy doing everything I could for Mum and her home. So, the contrast was startling. The less she did, the more she surrendered to her Lord and Saviour, the more peace settled upon her. The more I did, the greater the fear, tension, unsettled feeling grew.
Philippians 4:6-7 (The Message)
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
And so, when I returned home, I vowed to seek after this peace that passes all understanding. And it brought me to the table of grace, to His broken body and flowing blood that covered all my guilt, all my shame, all that I’d sought to run and hide from, in my utter brokenness.
John 3: 16 (NIV)
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Now, when I look back, my Mum’s greatest gift to me is not the years of beautiful service to me as her child. Not the hugs, the kisses, the way she looked at my girls, the giving of her heart till no more could be given. No, her absolute greatest gift to me is her testimony to the abiding life and peace of Jesus in her.
My Mum was not the same woman I grew up with. I saw the grace of Jesus change her, more and more, especially at the end. It’s not that she wasn’t a warm, loving and kind Mum, when I was little. Because she was.
But, Jesus kept plunging her deeper into His grace, stripping more and more sin and extending more and more of His love through her. I saw Christ’s patience, kindness, selflessness, a listening ear, forgiveness, such gentleness, but also blunt, much-needed truth-telling, grow in my Mum.
You see, Mum didn’t hide her light. She went to heaven declaring God’s peace to this world. At the end especially, she spoke freely of her own need for His grace and of His kindness and gentleness toward the least of these.
And by the grace of God, thanks in part to the brain cancer taking away her social filter, she preferred to be genuine at the end, rather than hide behind a mask of self-righteousness to remain religiously palatable. Beautifully Jesus perfected His power right there in her weakness, using the cancer to bring us all closer together, as the mercy, discernment and compassion of Jesus flowed richly in our midst.
In bringing things into the open, God helped my Mum surrender her innate desire for earthly harmony and understanding. And through that painful, but freeing surrender, she was, by the grace of God, able to fully embrace the eternal wholeness and completion Christ set before her. Ultimately the jealous all-consuming love of our Jesus won.
Song of Songs 8:6 (NIV)
Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
And so now, slowly, very slowly, I am learning to follow my Mum’s lead. I am learning to heed Christ’s freeing prompting to come as I am to receive His grace. I am learning to release guilt, fear and shame in exchange for the light of His face shining upon me and His arms wrapping around me.
I am learning to confess my sins and weakness openly, to shine the light of Christ’s love and grace into this yearning world. And like my Mum, I am learning to be genuine, by bringing things into the open that my LORD and Savior might reveal the beauty of His truth in our midst. And I am learning to let go of my innate desire for earthly harmony and understanding to embrace instead the eternal wholeness and completion my Savior is setting before me.
But most importantly I am learning that what matters most, above all else, is not this world’s love and approval, but that my LORD and Savior is with me and will never leave or forsake me. As I learn to lift my every fear to Him, He is revealing His perfect love to me right there, transforming my fear into faith.
Because of the testimony of Jesus shining in my Mum, I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that even when all else fades away, that’s when my Jesus, my Savior, will be unveiled fully in me. Yes, I already stand with my face and heart unveiled before Him even now – reflecting His heart and face into the world – but on that day I will know in full, what I now know by faith but in part. And what a day that will be!
Isaiah 40: 8 (ESV) The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
Will you join me today, as I sit afresh in Hebrews 12 today?
Hebrews 12: 1- 4 (The Message)
Do you see what this means – all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running – and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls.
Father God, thank You that You know just what each one of us needs. Thank You that You set us apart to draw us near. Thank You that when all else fades away, You remain. Thank You that You have promised to never leave or forsake us.
Forgive us, where we have clung to fear and shame, believing that You have abandoned us in the waiting. Help us to resist the devil, to stop listening to the accuser’s claims and to lean ever deeper into Your open arms of grace. Help us to lift up our fears to You, to cast our burdens onto You, that You might reveal Your perfect love to us in that place.
Father God, thank You for giving us a front row seat to the transformation You worked in our loved ones, who are now with You in paradise. Help us also to trust You now with this path You have set before us, that just like our loved ones experienced, is not what we expected or planned. Thank You for being the One who establishes our steps, the One who is transforming us from glory to glory, through every trial sent our way.
Help us to see what You see. Uncover the true desires of our heart and make us a blessing to all those You put before us. Shine Your light of love and grace brightly in and through us.
Thank You for the Cross. Thank You that it is finished. Thank You, Jesus, for dying to make us, Your Body whole and complete, with YOU at our Head. Thank You that You have the final say. Thank You that we will all yet see with our physical eyes what we already see by faith: Your full recompense, Your eternal wholeness and completion come.
Help us to keep stripping the sin that hinders us from being who You have made us to be. Empower and embolden us to continue to run the race You have set before us with expectant joy, to complete it and to make You proud in doing so. Amen.