15 Years Later: Reflecting on God’s Faithfulness after my mother’s death
My mother died on August 14, 2000, after a long battle with Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was 16 at the time, about to begin my junior year of high school, and suddenly without the strongest spiritual influence in my life to that point. My mother fought valiantly and was full of faith in the Lord, knowing both that he could heal her at any moment but also that his purposes were beyond what she could understand or even imagine. There were certainly plenty of dark days, days she could not always convince herself of what she knew to be true. But in the end, she knew that her death was the Lord’s ultimate way of healing her by bringing her to be with him. She has spent the last 15 years perfectly healthy, full of peace, glory, and unimaginable joy in the presence of God.
Losing a parent during those fragile teenage years was, as you can imagine, terribly difficult. While I had grown up in the church and had been following Christ since I was 11 years old, I did not feel that I had sufficient faith to carry on. I fluctuated back and forth between doubt that God was there at all and total numbness toward things like worship, attending church, or praying. I can remember about a month after her death, finally saying to God something to the effect of “I need you to prove to me that you are who I believe you to be, who you say you are in your Word.” While I had no business making that demand of God, the truth is that I was asking him to show himself to be faithful. Thankfully, that’s exactly what he delights to do.
If you could watch my last 15 years as a 2 hour movie, you would walk away with this conclusion: the guy in the movie (me) is pretty inconsistent, and God has been remarkably faithful to him. God has been faithful to use my story to bless and encourage others who have either read it or heard about it in a sermon or conversation. He has been faithful to show me that although I will never understand why my mother died at age 49 with so much more she could have done to serve her Lord on earth, the impact that her life and death has had in hundreds if not thousands of lives has actually been greater than if she was still here. He is faithful to bring joy out of sadness and he has been faithful to be the ever present Helper that he promises to be. He is faithful when I am faithless, when I fail to consider his faithfulness and worry about my future.
You are most likely reading this because a) you go to Harvest Bible Chapel and I’m one of your pastors, or b) you’re a friend or family member who saw the link on Facebook. Regardless of how you got here, I want you to know two major things that I have learned in the past 15 years:
God’s grace is sufficient for everything you go through.
As the Apostle Paul was pleading with God to remove his “thorn in the flesh”, God said to him “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God has used the weakness of my story to display his power in my life hundreds of times. And he has proven that his grace is sufficient in all my many weaknesses… sufficient to forgive my sin through the death of Jesus in my place, sufficient to redeem my life form the pit when I was not sure he could, sufficient to produce in me a more godly character and growing humility, sufficient to call me to be a pastor and equip me with gifts to carry out the calling he has placed on my life. In everything you go through, his grace is sufficient.
It is arrogant to believe things “should be different” in your life.
I cannot count the times I’ve heard things like “your mom died too young” or “I can’t understand how God would let that happen in your life.” Those sorts of statements sound humble, but in reality they are terribly prideful. At the heart of those statements is a firm belief that you know better than God how a situation should play out, or how your entire life should unfold including when someone “should” die. Over the past 20 years as a Christian, I’ve continually been shown that our disposition must be one of total surrender – to give God our feelings, hopes, and wishes, to plead for certain things to be changed in our life (it is good and right to pray for healing for yourself and others), and in the end to trust that he is working all things for our good and his glory. If you are a Christian but live with a chip on your shoulder, thinking you’ve been treated unfairly by God, you are woefully mistaken. Had you been treated fairly by God, you would still be stuck in your sin and headed towards eternity justly and properly condemned to live apart from him in hell as a result of your rebellion against him. But if you are a Christian, through faith in Jesus, you have been given grace such that all your sins are forgiven, you are adopted through Jesus into the family of God, and you are eternally secure in his arms. Friend, praise God that you have not been treated fairly by God.
I do still wish my mother were alive, and I do at times feel that pain of what could have been had she recovered from cancer. But I also praise God for the innumerable ways he has and will continue to work through my story of loss, and how he remains faithful in all things. The message of the gospel is that the God of the universe loves you despite your rebellion against him, and has made a way through Jesus Christ for you to be reconciled to him. When you come in faith and repent of your sin, you receive him as your eternal, soul satisfying Treasure, and you will be able to say with the Apostle Paul…
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.