Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” (James 4:13-15 NASB)
In February 2018, Kent and I read a book called Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved), a memoir by Kate Bowler. The book describes the author’s intense year battling Stage Four colon cancer, walking with God and family and trying to make sense out of it all. Kate Bowler is in her thirties with a young son and a husband she adores. She wants ever so much to live until her little boy grows up.
The book ends with Kate learning that the aggressive chemo regime, which had an effect at first and kept her alive for a year, has stopped working. There are no alternatives. She may have two months to live. She may have more. (She’s still alive today.) Kate has to learn to live passively—submissively even—with death waiting in the wings.
She asks her doctor, “What would you do?”
He answers, “Go back to work”—by which Kate understands, he would return to the tasks of life that give life meaning, while life continues. “We’re all terminal.”
I’ve heard similar from Kent in the past few months: “Life is a terminal disease.” And from John Coster, on our Leadership Team: “None of us is getting out of here alive.” Whether or not we have cancer, we all live in the shadow of our own deaths.
Kate considers the secret to living in the shadow of the valley of death to be, “Don’t skip to the end,” which means to accept that although she, and we, want to plan out our futures, we simply don’t have the control. As Kate says,
Plans are made. Plans come apart. New delights or tragedies pop up in their place. And nothing human or divine will map out this life, this life that has been more painful than I could have imagined. More beautiful than I could have imagined.
I’ve been repeating the phrase “Don’t skip to the end” over and over to myself for the past couple of weeks and applying it to everything, perhaps to the point of absurdity. Here are some examples:
My mom. Sometimes I wonder why God has given her 99 years (and counting) when she has no short- or long-term memory. It’s lonely. Sometimes it crosses my mind, “Will she live to be 100? Or longer?” But I think, “Don’t skip to the end.” She’s alive, she lives nearby, and my task today is to honor her and give her happiness.
My husband. We have hope that the current chemo regime will be effective and give him more years of life, God willing. Two years? Ten years? Twenty years? “Don’t skip to the end.” Life with Kent is a wonderful gift for today, and for however many days we have.
God. I’m rereading the Old Testament from the beginning. Reaching Ruth was such a relief after Joshua and Judges. I’m pondering the blessings and curses God offers the Israelites. My God who is love, is also a God who has a right to be angry. “Don’t skip to the end.” The “end” here being a compartmentalization that puts the anger of God away. I’m trying to soak up what the Bible has to say in every part and allow the tension to stay fresh; to keep seeking and remembering that we only see “through a glass darkly” for now.
Grandkids. I’ve written before about the loooong process of raising children. But, it doesn’t just test our patience, it tests our vision. When little ones struggle with physical ailments or the pride and power of self, it’s easy to worry about how it will all work out when they’re teens or grown. “Don’t skip to the end.” These little ones, and the big ones too, have to walk their own road, as we, their elders are doing. We’ve suffered along the way, we’ve cried many tears, we’ve sinned many sins. And so will they. Grandma’s task is to be present with love, hope, faith, wonder, curiosity, responsibility, endurance, and good humor, and to constantly pray for God’s good will to be done in their lives.
I could go on. “Don’t skip to the end” has application in politics, learning the harmonica, and enduring a package of cookies in the pantry. But, actually, this is the end of my post. Shalom!