My marriage didn't make it to the 40-year mark. Cancer stole Jim away 281 days short of that impressive milestone. It may have taken the future we had ahead of us, but it couldn't touch the past; the memories made, the love shared, the laughter that filled those years. I still feel married to him; his ring remains on my finger. And so I decided to celebrate the day anyway, even to the point of buying myself a gift.
Traditionally, the 40th anniversary is celebrated with the purchase of a ruby in some form. In recent weeks I have thought about buying a simple heart-shaped necklace with the red gemstone set inside. I did some online searches but didn't find anything that stole my breath away, so I put the idea aside to look into more on another day.
The last months of Jim's life were difficult ones for both of us in many ways. Of course there were the physical symptoms as the disease progressed and impacted Jim's body in more and more ways. But equally difficult was the spiritual battle we faced, as we tried to hold on to the hope that God would intervene in our situation with the healing we so desperately sought.
Our battle began months earlier when the results of the biopsy came back. Suddenly our enemy had a name, and Jim's doctor wanted to start an aggressive attack against it, one that carried risks Jim found he couldn't accept. He wanted to seek other treatment options; change his diet to minimize the growth of the tumor while pursuing healing in the spiritual realm. A choice unpopular with the world, he told only those who absolutely needed to know so that his faith in God would be supported rather than undermined with negative pronouncements. Together we agreed to leave no stone unturned in this spiritual journey; to that end we traveled to healing rooms and prayer rooms in distant locales, had our house anointed with oil, studied and began the daily practice of taking Communion, read books on healing, and filled our minds and our hearts with stories of miracles others had received that could be ours, as well. Firmly believing that healing was purchased for us on the Cross of Calvary, we believed it, claimed it, spoke it, prayed it.
The only thing we couldn't do was manifest it in our lives. As the summer months progressed, so did the disease, and soon it became obvious to me that God wasn't going to answer us in the way we were expecting. While still holding out hope for a midnight-hour miracle, I was losing my grip on my spiritual lifeline. I didn't understand why the truths I so firmly believed seemed to work for others, but not for me... why it felt like God didn't hear me... why for some reason He refused to intervene. While never losing my belief in the ultimate love and goodness of God, there was an increasing distance between Him and me, a growing loss of intimacy because of my confusion over what we were experiencing.
Jim's faith didn't waver. He held on to the belief that healing was his whether he could experience it in this life or not. At the very end, he said only that if he wasn't going to receive his miracle on this side of Heaven, then he was ready to go on Home. And so he did.
My faith crisis in those days didn't affect God's faithfulness to me. He showed up and carried me in the last week of Jim's life and in the weeks and months that followed in ways that were nothing short of miraculous, leading me to realize that my prayers for a miracle had been heard and answered, just not in the way I expected. My gratitude towards Him overflowed as He helped me do all that was necessary to carry on with life in Jim's absence.
Yet the distance between us remained, and it was agony for me. I couldn't bear to lose the love of my life and the Lover of my soul at the same time! But as in any love relationship, it's hard to get back to the intimacy you once experienced when you feel that the trust between you has been broken. I didn't know how to bridge that gap.
Some say we should have chosen the medical options in conjunction with the spiritual ones, regardless of the risk, rather than putting God to the test of producing a miracle at our request. The list of “what ifs” is long and leads only to regret and recrimination. I was ready to move forward if I could just find again some stable footing on which to place my feet.
In the end, it came down to a simple choice. God took me back to a time decades ago when our relationship was in this exact spot. While the stakes were much smaller in the earlier situation, the spiritual consequences were just as huge. I had believed God for something and it hadn't happened; as a new believer I was devastated and questioned whether I could carry on with a God who didn't seem to keep His promises. My confusion and pain made me miserable. I remember exactly where I was when God suddenly asked me if I could simply trust Him, even if I didn't understand the way He had handled the circumstances I was going through.
There is no way to convey how huge that moment was for me. I felt the weight of it; I knew I had come to a crossroads in my spiritual walk, even in its early stages, and that the course of my life would be very different depending on the choice I made. I could continue to walk with God, even without completely understanding everything that happened to me, or I could turn and journey on alone.
Could I trust Him? I said yes. And when the question came up again in these last few months, I ended up giving the same reply. Yes, I will believe in You. Yes, I will trust You. Yes, I will absolutely love You, no matter what happens, “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health...” I smile now at the familiarity of those words.
I did buy myself a necklace to celebrate my anniversary (www.theyesnecklace.com), and like the day I'm celebrating, it looks very different from what I thought it would.... still a "precious gem", just in a different form. Saying “yes” to Jim on this day gave me 40 years of love and joy; saying “yes” to God guarantees me an eternity of the same.
“Preserve me, O God, for in You I have put my trust...I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will rest in hope...You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
(Psalm 16:1,8-9,11 NKJV)
“If you want the peace that surpasses uderstandingyou have to give up your right to understand.”
- Bill Johnson