For the past few years, I’ve been unwell over the Easter period. Because Cystic Fibrosis is degenerative, every year I experience death that little bit more. This year in particular I’ve found myself often straining for breath, muscles tense, oxygen levels lower than normal, exhausted, everything in me crying out that this is not how life is meant to be. These past weeks and months have been a season of dying, a season of emptying, a season of letting go. And I know there’s more to come.
When I go through difficult patches, sometimes I find it hard not to feel fed up and, quite frankly, a bit cheated. Self-pity parties are all too easy. Suffering is painful and unhealthy inward focus comes naturally. And so I’m sure that it’s no accident that I’m often ill over Easter. Good Friday comes around and Jesus’ suffering is impossible to ignore. It only takes half a second to be reminded that I don’t suffer alone, that my suffering is nothing compared to His, and that He suffered so that one day I won’t have to suffer any more.
On that Friday afternoon, Jesus gave his all.
He was lifted up on a cross so that I could be lifted out of the bog of my sin and become my Father’s daughter.
He cried out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ so that when I cry the same question, I can receive the answer, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’
He took His last strained breath so that when I take my last breath it won’t be the end of my life but a glorious beginning.
He died in darkness so that I can live in light, both now and forever.
One day this season of dying, of emptying and of letting go will culminate in the death of my body. But because of the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I hear the ‘It is finished!’ cry of Jesus echoing through the ages and heralding the end of sin and suffering forever. What a Saviour!
When ill people die the phrase that often gets thrown around is that the ill person has ‘lost their battle with their disease’. And I find that such a sad way of putting it. I know that’s often how it feels but it’s not the reality.
I think about death a lot. I suppose that’s pretty reasonable in my situation. After all, it’s coming soon. There’s no way out.
All people die but Christians shouldn’t be scared of death. Death for us is not a sad ending. I love the way the Salvation Army put it. ‘Death is a promotion to Glory.’ For the soldiers of King Jesus, death is a great and wonderful promotion, death is winning the battle not losing it and death is the beginning of a party that will last forever.
I tell you this: I will not lose my battle. I will leave this earth having fought my battle and won it. I will not enter my Lord’s presence as a failure or a loser, but as a victor standing proudly alongside my King. The ultimate battle is fought and won. We just have to follow our King and he will help us win our small battles. And a victor’s crown is waiting for those who do.
Before I came into hospital this time someone asked me if I was scared. My fairly unhelpful response was to burst into tears and abandon the phone. But it was a good question.
I’m not scared of death. Why would I be? I firmly believe in an eternity of glory. Bring it on.
Dying, however, is a different thing.
I’m scared of a long and painful dying.
I’m scared of years of watching life go by, as I’m able to do less.
I’m scared of the pain things cause my family.
I’m scared of leaving my husband alone.
So, yes, I’m scared.
At times I think that I’ve lost my faith. After all, how could someone who is so scared and worried be truly trusting in God’s plan? A friend said this to me: ‘Faith is still faith even when you are holding on by your fingertips.’ And it’s so true.
Every day I find something hard. It’s usually health related. And often I can’t find the words when it comes speaking to God about it. In my latest really not great spell, I could hardly make sense of anything. I went in and out of consciousness. But all the time two words echoed round my head: ‘Please Lord.’ I didn’t know what I was asking. I was scared. I didn’t know what was going to happen. But in my fear, I went to the one safe place. I ran to my Father. And that was enough.
God doesn’t demand total and perfect faith and hold it against me when I don’t deliver.
He doesn’t lose his temper when I don’t learn my lessons first time.
And He listens to my prayers when I cry out to Him. Even if those cries are just two words spoken into silence.
In my life, fear isn’t a barrier to faith. It’s a bridge. When I’m scared, I need somewhere to run. And my Father has shown me that in those times He’s the kindest, He’s the best and He’s the safest place to run.
On Sunday evening I thought I might be going to meet my King. But He said no. Apparently there’s more for me here. And when I look into my husband’s eyes, I know that it’s right. When I read emails from my sisters, I know that I need more time. And when I realise what such a thing would be to my parents, I’m glad I’m still here.
But this is not the story I planned. This isn’t the 2.5 children, nice house, easy life that I wanted. I have no answers. What is going on?
I know there are good things even in the pain. And I know there are great things ahead. But still, when I wake up at night, I just want to say, ‘Lord, why? Why is this story for me?’
I had a shower today. My first in a few days. Disgusting, I know. But today I managed to stay off oxygen long enough. And I feel clean and happy. A lot cleaner and a lot happier than I do after my usual daily shower. The thing is, when you get really messy, getting clean again is glorious. That’s the way the world works. Loving makes pain worth it, like joy makes sadness worth it and emptying a full bladder makes needing the loo worth it. You laugh, but you know what I mean.
It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to come before the throne and ask what’s going on. Faith doesn’t mean blindly accepting. Faith involves grieving and pain. Faith involves hurting and asking, pleading and screaming.
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
But faith knows there is an answer. Because faith trusts in a promise. And in the midst of the questions and the weeping, faith whispers:
‘Your will be done.’
Clouds? Decidedly yes.
Rain? In the foreseeable future.
In Hollywood it’s sunny. Well, either that or the air is filled with big fluffy white snowflakes, perfect for settling on some cute girl’s eyelashes. I’ll allow for some rain, as long as it’s torrential rain that makes for a romantic moment. But next thing, we’re back on with bright, warm sunshine.
I live here. I live in a world where mosquitoes and wasps exist. I live in a world that comes with an 18 certificate. I live in a world where hospital dramas are real, not scripted, cleaned up and wrapped in nice box sets.
A world that does have sunshine sometimes. A world with laughter. A world with daisies and roses. A world with a million books waiting to be read.
Yet I find myself looking at the bad. I find myself building my own tomb. A tomb of bad memories and fear of ones yet to be made. And I look out at the sunshine and the laughter, the daisies and the books from within my self made tomb. And as I do so I watch the death of my life. As I shut out the good and find it easier to focus on the bad, the spark dies.
And so I call out. Is anyone there who can help? I don’t want to be here. I want to be there, out in the sunshine, laughing with my family and friends.
And then I see it. At first it’s just a shadow but as my eyes strain to see it more, as I want it more, the outline of a figure becomes clearer. He walks nearer, rolls the stone of my carefully constructed tomb away, takes my hand and leads me into the sun. And as long as He’s holding my hand, I can’t go back. Sure, I’ll try to. Sunlight makes me blink and shows me cobwebs. But the more I look at Him, the tighter my grip becomes. That’s how I want it to be.
I believe in life. I believe in hope. I believe in joy. And yet there are days when believing is hard. When the reality of sin and its consequences hit home in sad ways. Having an illness makes you feel the pinpricks of life often. There isn’t a day when I’m not reminded of illness and sadness, of pain and discomfort. And sometimes, some days I feel those pinpricks harder and bigger than before.
Today I learned of the death of a friend with Cystic Fibrosis. I didn’t know her very well but I knew enough to be amazed at her life, at her hope and at her joy. She fought for over 30 years, she ran the race and crossed the finish line into the arms of the Saviour she loved. She will have a new body one day, a body made perfect, a body with lungs that can breathe long and deep breaths, a body with energy enough to run marathons.
And I weep. Not for Claire. She has found Glory. But for her family and friends. For the fight they will have to believe in life and hope and joy. For my own struggles yet to come. And for my own fight to believe.
But in the sadness, the Life Giver is there. He knows the pinpricks. And he knows the nail wounds. And he tells me that life is eternal, that hope is here and that joy can be found. It’s our job to trust.