This has been on my mind for over a week, but I haven't been able to put it into words until now.
Our pastor's wife, Joyce, has been fighting cancer for several years now. She has had many ups and downs, and has glorified God through every second of it. It's quite a testimony to complete and utter faith in God's will.
Last Sunday I received an email update on her condition. This is what the Pastor said:
"She has all but sworn off morphine except as the absolute last resort. The reason? Without the effects of the morphine she is able to have visions of heaven (she describes a portal that she can go through and be in heaven). She says that she is there about 60% of the time and comes back to this earth the other 40% of the time when the pain summons her attention. With the influence of morphine she can see this portal but is not able to go through it so she remains stuck in this world. So - no morphine and let me go have my times in heaven."
This is basically how she has treated the entire experience. It is something that I know many of us cannot even fathom. No pain medicine? Is our desire to see heaven and to be near our Lord as strong as that?
I remember many times hearing my mother talk about how she did not fear death; in fact it would be fine with her to die (except that she would hate to leave her grandchildren!). That was hard for me to understand, too. But as I've gotten older, and had more of the cares of this world to deal with, I began to see how death is not the end, but a wonderful, beautiful beginning.
Back to Joyce. I had the privilege of sitting with her this week while the Pastor took care of some errands. When I walked into her room, I instantly felt a wonderful Presence. It was quiet, peaceful, and soft praise music was playing. I was in awe, and immediately in tears of wonder. I have great respect for Joyce. She is such an encourager, a blessing, and always has a smile and a kind word to say. But to see her in her current state did not upset me, it challenged me. Would I be willing to make the choices she has, to rely completely on God for my health, to refuse the medication that could make me temporarily at ease? For Joyce, to see heaven is of far greater value than to be pain-free. As I sat there, I just watched her sleeping and wondered what she was seeing. What was she learning? What was God showing her? Would she wake up and share it with the rest of us? I had brought a book to read while I sat with her, but it was almost an hour before I was able to pick it up. I just basked.
The next day, I was listening to my iPod as I did the dishes, and heard the song, "I Can Only Imagine." I just burst into tears. I had to stop my work and just pray and think. It was such an overwhelming feeling, that I still can't describe it. I'm sure you know the song, but read the lyrics again, and you might get a sense of what I felt.
I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by your side
I can only imagine what my eyes will see when your face is before me
I can only imagine
Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all?
(at this point in my singing along, I usually lose the ability to sing through the tears)
I can only imagine. I can only imagine.
I can only imagine when that day comes and I find myself standing in the Son
I can only imagine when all I will do is forever, forever worship You
I can only imagine
This song has always made me emotional, but it really hit me hard this week. I believe Joyce does not have to 'imagine' because she has regular visits with God. She knows what it will be like. She has shared her visions before.
So, the dilemma is, how do I pray for her? Do I ask God to heal her, give her back her life and strength, and draw her back into this world so filled with sin, hurt, and death? Would she rather stay where she is, with daily visions of heaven? Or does she just want to go there, and leave this all behind?
I still don't know the answer, but I found comfort in something Charles Spurgeon wrote this morning:
It is a sweet and blessed event which will occur to all believers in God's own time - the going home to be with Jesus. In a few more years the Lord's soldiers, who are now fighting 'the good fight of faith' will have done with conflict, and have entered into the joy of their Lord. But although Christ prays that His people may eventually be with Him where He is, He does not ask that they may be taken at once away from this world to heaven. He wishes them to stay here. Yet how frequently does the wearied pilgrim put up the prayer, "O that I had the wings like a dove! for then I would fly away and be at rest!", but Christ does not pray like that, He leaves us in His Father's hands, until, like shocks of corn fully ripe, we shall each be gathered into our Master's garner. Jesus does not plead for our instant removal by death, for to abide in the flesh is needful for others if not profitable for ourselves. He asks that we may be kept from evil, but he never asks for us to be admitted to the inheritance in glory till we are of full age. Christians often want to die when they have any trouble. Ask them why, and they tell you, 'Because we would be with the Lord.' We fear it is not so much because they are longing to be with the Lord, as because they desire to get rid of their troubles; else they would feel the same wish to die at other times when no under the pressure of trial. They want to go home, not so much for the Savior's company, as to be at rest. Now it is quite right to desire to be apart if we can do it in the same spirit Paul did, because to be with Christ is far better, but the wish to escape from trouble is a selfish one. Rather let your care and wish be to glorify God by your life here as long as He pleases, even though it be in the midst of toil, and conflict, and suffering, and leave Him to say when 'it is enough.'
I can tell you that Joyce does glorify God in her suffering and her healing. She is a great example. I am challenged to be like her.
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