Looking Back . . .
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Friday, October 2, 2015
It was a year ago this weekend that Doug died. I will always regret not stopping at his house that morning. I had just returned from the D6 Conference with my “sister” the night before, and I was headed back to Erie that morning.
At 7:38 AM, I sent him this message: “Hey man! You up???” The plan was to leave early and be home before lunch, but I had felt the Holy Spirit nudging my heart to visit Doug. So, I texted his daughter who was staying with him, but I didn’t call—justifying that I didn’t want to wake anyone up. When I got no response from either of them right away, I sent another message and assumed I would just catch him another time.
It never came . . . Almost as soon as I got back into town that day, I got a text message from his daughter. Doug had had a heart attack and they didn’t think he was going to make it. What? No. This wasn’t real.
But it was . . . By the time I made it home, Doug was gone.
A week before, I sent this text message to two very close friends: “Please pray for Austin. Heading to the ER. He is puking green bile. I’m scared but need to be brave for him.” It was only the beginning of waiting rooms, tests, blood draws and doctor’s visits. Since then, I shared Austin’s journey through a litany of text messages sent to a growing group of prayer warriors, until finally in February, I shared “Fear” on my blog.
It had been hard for me to leave for the conference that weekend, but after not turning up anything in the two visits we took to the emergency room, I still thought Austin just had a virus . . . and he seemed to have been getting better. But while I was gone, concern grew. He wasn’t bouncing back like he should and something was still triggering the nausea. Plus, he had been staying with family friends, and Grandma Helen had noticed he was having trouble seeing. I could have never guessed that it was then that Austin’s brain tumor was first presenting itself.
Losing Doug and Austin getting sick seem to be permanently linked in my mind. The last time I talked to Doug on the phone, I had been distracted because Austin had been throwing up and was lethargic, but I wanted to be there for my friend—who had just found his newly diagnosed cancer was already in his liver. During this past year, I have wanted so many times to grab my phone and shoot Doug a text or call him. He was good about letting me vent. But then I think how it would have broken his heart to know what Austin was facing.
There is barely a day that passes that I don’t think of Doug. He was a great friend. He held every single one of our babies, babysat not only our children but also our furry family member on more than one occasion and was there for Tony and I through some tough times in our marriage. Doug introduced us to the best chips in the world (Erie friends, if you have never tried Grippos, you do not know what you are missing!), and even sent us some in the mail after we moved to Erie. He was the best Euchre partner (except that one time we lost in a tournament game to two family members—my dad will never let me live that down), and I miss our game nights terribly. We had some of the best laughs together, but he could drive me crazy sometimes (if you had the privilege of knowing him, you know what I am talking about)!
Doug struggled a lot with guilt. He had made mistakes, many that he wished he could take back. Satan would play a tape of his faults over and over in his mind, and it would get Doug down. One verse that often came to my mind: “Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20 NLT).
Last September, just weeks before his passing, Doug was diagnosed with cancer. It did not look good, although Doug seemed more positive about it than I expected. They were to begin chemotherapy treatments soon, and I knew Doug was in for one of the biggest battles of his life. That Saturday morning, I sent him another message with a link to a song . . . a song that he never got to listen to this side of Heaven.
I don’t have to know you
To know that you will go through hard times
It’s just part of life
Don’t let that moment blind you
And don’t let it define you
Take heart that’s not who you are
. . .
Remember you’re forgiven
So there’s no need to give in
To the lie that you’re disqualified
Our God is able, more than capable
To be faithful to the end
. . .
Grace comes like a flood
There’s hope to carry on
He’ll finish what he started*
When I sent that song, I could not have known that God would bring His work in Doug’s life to completion that very morning. Now, Doug is forever cancer-free and healthy. He isn’t struggling with guilt and discouragement any more. He’s dancing with Jesus (probably to some KJ-52). I like what my daughter prayed days after the funeral: “Help Jesus to have fun with Doug in Heaven today.”
God’s ways are mysterious—so far beyond our understanding. I don’t know why God chose to end Doug’s journey when He did. Someone said that God spared Doug the grueling days of treatment to come. But why do that for him and not others? Why do some grieve and others are given a little more time? Why did one battle end at the same time another one was just beginning?
I know that God is faithful. He will finish the work He began in Austin’s life . . . and in mine. So when the days come when my feelings and my thoughts are a foe rather than an ally, I will rely on the overwhelming grace of Jesus. Because He is greater than my feelings and He is greater than all that I can see.
Lately, so many memories of these past twelve months have been flooding my mind. I look back and still can’t believe it all. When I began my run this morning and saw “Finish What He Started” on my playlist, it all hit me like a ton of bricks. I needed to write this. There is something therapeutic in it for me. I’m not sure why I feel like sharing it or why God would have you reading this when you do. Except, maybe the Holy Spirit has been bugging you about a relationship in your life. Maybe there is someone that you haven’t spoken to or see in a while, but you know you need to do just that. Maybe you know someone who needs encouragement for the battle they are facing. Or maybe there is someone in your life that needs to know you love them. You have been waiting for the right time. Don’t wait. Tomorrow may not be there. I didn’t even have a few more hours. If the Holy Spirit is nudging, obey . . . now.
And if you are the one facing the battle, in the middle of the greatest fight of your life, let me encourage you. You can do all things through Christ’s strength (see Philippians 4:13). I don’t say that carelessly, but with full conviction. Rest on His strength because you won’t make it far on your own. And know this, if you are a believer, God has not forgotten you. He is not sleeping in the midst of your storm, and your circumstances are not greater than His redeeming love. He will finish what He started.
I don’t know who is reading this today, but I pray that You would bless them. Be near and real to them in a way You never have before. If they are facing a battle, and they are trying to do it on their own, let them lay down their weapons today. Lord, let them stand back and watch You fight for them.
Bless those that are grieving, Lord. Comfort Candace, Doug’s daughter, tonight. May she find joy in the new life You gave her, and may little Toby grow up knowing the God that Doug served. Comfort Doug’s friends, Lord. Help us to remember that this life is not all there is, and You have given us a promise that for those who are Yours, we will be together again.
Remind us to love the ones You gave us. Time is priceless, and we can’t get it back once it’s gone. Don’t let us ignore the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Give us memories to cherish for a lifetime.
Lord, thank You for being our Source . . . of hope, of comfort, of redemption! God, You are good, and You are faithful! I love you and will praise You!
In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
*Lyrics from Mercy Me’s song “Finish What He Started”