Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, rejoice!
Ron Van Holst, Ottawa, Canada
We had expected a miracle, but also submitted ourselves to the sovereign will of God, knowing it was His choice to heal Heather or to take her home. I had thought it would go one way or the other very quickly, but God often works in ways that we least expect. We recognised that, 'As for God, His way is perfect', Psalm 18. 30.
Although Heather had improved, she had clearly not been healed, and I became very discouraged. The thought of possibly having to raise our four children without her was frightening, and the thought of caring for her over an extended period of suffering was overwhelming. This was complicated by the fact that my severance pay was running out. As a man, I had always defined myself as a protector and provider for my wife and four children, but now I felt that I could do neither. I had been out of work for so long, and Heather could not meet my needs as a husband, so my feelings were getting the better of me. I was reminded again of Philippians 2. 3, that I was to be concerned with Heather’s needs, not mine; this exhortation enabled me to overcome my discouragement.
God also showed me through the generosity of His people that He would meet all our needs as He promised, 'But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus’, Phil. 4. 19, There were days I found it difficult to pray and read my Bible, but these days He would bring to mind a verse memorized long ago with fresh meaning. One of these was Psalm 90. 12, 'So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom'. We take so much for granted, but He was teaching us how precious each day of grace is. That doesn't mean to cram in as much as possible, but to be a good steward of the time we are given each day, with the responsibilities that are ours.
If I thought too far ahead, I became overwhelmed with anxiety, and God impressed on my heart again the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 6. 34, 'Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own' NASB. He taught us to plan without taking the burdens of tomorrow upon ourselves today. He taught us to take on the challenges of each day without forgetting things of eternal value. He demonstrated to us that He would sustain us through His love, and the love of His people.
Our heavenly Father gave us three precious months we didn’t think we would have. When Heather’s condition began to decline again in March, it was my privilege to be her nurse twenty-four hours a day, every day. Although this was physically and emotionally exhausting, the Almighty gave me strength to do things I never thought I could. Heather even kidded with me saying that I could get a job as a nurse when this was over.
I had never thought Heather’s faith was especially strong, but her trial with brain cancer exemplified a steadfast faith in her Saviour. She never asked 'Why me?' She never once complained, she was never angry or bitter with God. She only grieved that she could not be a wife to me, or a mother to our children. After her first brain surgery, she wrote out Psalm 28. 7, and stuck it on the refrigerator, 'The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, And with my song I will praise Him'. Although the drugs to control her symptoms took away her physical beauty, she had that greater beauty referred to in 1 Peter 3. 4, 'even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price’.
One of the last portions of scripture we enjoyed together was Psalm 73. 26, 'My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever'. Her symptoms eventually became more than I could manage at home, so we took an ambulance ride to the hospital. She was in a lot of pain, her lungs were bleeding, and she was having difficulty breathing. I told her I loved her, and asked her to let go, and let the Lord Jesus take her home. I held her and kissed her until her last breath only a few hours later, 1.25 a.m., March 25, 2002.
I felt alone. I could not let go of Heather's hand. It was growing cold. The Lord assured me, she was no longer here. I pulled the sheet over her face and tucked her hand under the blanket, and walked to the door. Pulling myself away from her was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It took all my strength to walk away. I felt like I was abandoning her. I stood in the doorway and it felt like a huge magnet was pulling me back into the room. I had to touch her one more time. But I felt the Lord saying, 'No, Heather is no longer here, she is with Me', and He gave me the strength to leave. Some dear friends who had come to be with me those last hours drove me home.
Telling my children their mother had gone to heaven was very hard. It was not real for the youngest until he saw his mother’s casket. I could write much about how the Lord is sustaining my children as well. They are coping far better than I expected.
Even though I had made prearrangements, the three days from her death to her burial were filled with a myriad of details. I slept only a few hours those three days, yet the Lord gave me the strength to embrace all of the many who came to the funeral home. The chapel was full to overflowing for the funeral, and it was a wonderful service. As the funeral procession turned into the cemetery, the sun broke through the cold grey clouds. After we meditated on a few verses from 1. Corinthians 15, I could not contain myself, and began to sing, 'When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more, when the morning breaks eternal bright and fair . . .'.
This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind that evening when we had driven our kids to mid-week meeting some months ago. If it had been up to us, we would not have chosen this path of sorrow and suffering. It gave me a glimpse of the majestic compassion of the 'Man of Sorrows' who willingly chose the path of sorrow and suffering, that He might redeem us by His blood, and more, that He might be an empathetic High Priest who understands our sorrows. We could never have experienced such an outpouring of love and compassion toward us had we not travelled this journey of sorrow. I could never have gained so much of the unseen and eternal, had I not lost so much of the seen and temporal. I have experienced Psalm 30 verse 5 'Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning', and Psalm 34 verse 18 'The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, And saves those who are crushed in spirit' NASB.
I genuinely rejoice that Heather is with the Lord. We miss her severely and grieve for her deeply, but not as those who have no hope. We can truly rejoice in the Lord always! There is no greater joy than that certain hope we have in our Saviour who has defeated sin and death, and is preparing a place for us. This is so beautifully encapsulated in 1 Thess. 4. 13-18:
'But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words’.
Rejoice in the Lord always,
and again I will say rejoice.