Wednesday, January 11, 2012

God Is Not Our Enemy; Death Is

I got my first real taste of "death" at 13. My aunt, my most favorite person in the world, died of brain cancer. Right before her 32nd birthday. She left behind my uncle and two young sons, ages 2 and 5 at the time. Sure, family members had died before her. But they were "old" and I really didn't know them well. Not Lou. She was young and vibrant. Everybody who knew her loved her. She was one of those rare souls that found something good in everyone and would point it out for all to hear. I remember spending time with them when I was 11 and some neighbors from their apartment complex came visiting. Not only did Lou tell all these strange adults that I wrote poetry, she also beamed as she told us all that one of the other ladies in the room made all her own underwear. The lady glowed at the compliment! I still remember being astounded, and embarrassed, at learning women did that. Mostly, I can still see Lou's face as she lifted her friend's skill up. I can still see her friend's glow, too.

Lou was actually my aunt by marriage and a much-adored daughter-in-law by my grandparents. Her illness hit us all hard, to say the least. I took for granted that God was going to heal her and not let her die. I was so sure that God would not let her die, that I, as a preteen, didn't pray too much for Lou because I knew she was just too special to let anything happen to. And then word came that she was in the hospital and "things" weren't looking good.

That's when my prayer life kicked into gear. But my prayers were more like orders mixed with "I knows."  I knew that even if it got right to the last second and she was at death's door, that God would yank her back and she would live. I knew God would perform that miracle. There was no other possible scenario in my mind.

But it was that impossible scenario that happened. Lou did die. She did leave behind my uncle and two young sons and a heartbroken family. She did leave me.

And I thought God did, too. What really happened though, is that I left God.

For four years, from 13 to 17, I was livid with God. Oh, I still went to church and was still very active in UMYF, but I was also the world's biggest hypocrite. People saw one Carol, God saw quite another one. I even had a couple of months right after Lou's death that I told God I was a Buddhist because Buddha wouldn't have let Lou die. After two months even I could see the foolishness in that. So my "prayers" went back to:

"Why Lou? Why God? How could you, God? You were supposed to heal her, God." You get the drift. I would lock myself in my room and cry as I had it out with God. The fact that I'm still here after railing at Him for four years is proof of His graciousness and that He can handle our emotions and questions and not strike us dead because of them.

Over time my prayers evolved into "Why 'death', God? Why do people die? Why not do away with death? Why death?" Still the tears. Still the anger. Still the disbelief that this great and loving and all-powerful God that I had been taught to believe in wasn't Who I thought He was. Somehow "great" and "loving" and "all-powerful" just did not mesh with this God who didn't stop death and particularly didn't stop Lou's death. Those adjectives didn't fit on a God who didn't stop death but allowed it. Those adjectives fell off this God that I was now praying to.

That's a scary place for a 17 year old girl to find herself in. Yet that's where I was. It's where God was too.

It was a summer's day. I don't remember the exact date. I was 17 and in my room. My Mama was out in the backyard. I could see her through my window. Nobody else was home. I was in the midst of one of my "Why death, God" prayer sessions and crying. And I heard this voice. It wasn't coming from within but coming beyond me but right there with me.

"Be quiet, Carol. I've listened to you for four years. It's your turn to listen to me. I don't bring death. Satan does. It's up to me to bring something good from death."

I realize that people who have problems with the existence of "Satan" will have problems with that. People who have problems with the idea that something "good" can come from death will have problems with that. But that's what the Voice said and I can still hear it today. If nothing else, wrap your mind around the idea that God doesn't bring death. Death is God's enemy.

While the Voice became silent, memories flooded my brain. I recalled conversations I had overheard about Lou. God had been with her all along. God had been working out good on her behalf all along. God had always had the upper hand. Not brain cancer. God answered all our prayers when He took Lou's hand and told her to come with Him and that she stop fighting and, instead, enjoy peace and health.

That's when my life and relationship with the Lord changed. It took on a new life and actually became a "relationship." That's when I knew, knew, God is real and He's not at all like I expected Him to be. He doesn't cater to me nor bow and scrape to my demands and mold Himself to fit my understanding of things. He calls me to grow into His perspective and grow in understanding where He is and how He moves in this very imperfect world filled with very imperfect people with very imperfect bodies that are not immune to what this world can throw at them. It began my growing interest in death. It's going to happen to me one day and I want to understand it as best as I can from God's perspective. I no longer shrink back from the face of death, nor run from it. I no longer see it as "the end" or as a "no" from God. It is  that passageway that we must take to move from this life into that place God prepares for us that is perfect. It is God's ultimate "yes" to us and "no" to all that this world destroys and kills in and around us.

But it is still an event that I don't want to endure to get to heaven. It is still that journey that I don't want to take until I'm 120. Maybe not even then. It's still something we pray against and, rightfully, get upset over and cry over. It still derails faith. It's still the enemy.

A retired Methodist bishop who died from cancer sent word that he wanted prayer as he faced death. He wasn't scared of death. He was scared to die.

Many of us have witnessed the death process and it's not pretty. And it should never be something that happens to a young person. But it does. Every day. Worldwide. It should never be something that happens to children or to a parent of young children. But it does. Every day. Worldwide.

Several years ago, one of my best friends, suddenly found herself in the hospital, at death's door and was diagnosed with a rare and potentially fatal disease. Her three children were young and still at home at the time. When she recuperated, we were talking about it and she was pondering "Why she didn't die. Why did God let her live? What was she supposed to do with her life?" I said that she was needed; she had three young children who needed her. She looked at me and said, "Carol, women with young children die every day. Why didn't I?"

Those impossible scenarios happen everyday, worldwide, to people we don't understand them happening to.

I occupy space in melanoma world. I also occupy space in the world as we know it. And, as do many of us, I occupy space in cyberspace. These worlds collide. But I also have my heart and eye focused on a space beyond this limited one. I can find myself in a difficult place when all four collide.

A pastor speaks hope into hopeless situations. But we also have to speak hope into lives and worlds that are moving from this known world into the largely unknown realm where God reigns supreme over a world that doesn't know death because entrance into that place is gained by dying and never dying again. God is in control over Earth, but Earth is the place where death and pain reside.

And death and pain are never good neighbors in this planet we share. They leave messes and destruction and they don't care who you are or how old or anything at all about you. They hate. They inflict. They are the enemy and they lie because they'll do their dirty work in such a way that we'll often blame God.

Wonderful people will die today from melanoma, other cancers, other horrible diseases, accidents, natural causes, violence, war, and forces of nature. Many will be people of faith; many will not have known faith but are still known by God. Many will be people who were prayed for and over. They will die. God will be blamed. God, You could have... God, why didn't You?....God, I prayed and believed and said in Jesus name.....God, I said and did all the right things and melanoma won. Cancer won. Death won. God, it's not fair!

And our turn will come and that won't be fair either.

Death is not fair. Pain is not fair. Life is not fair. They aren't truth, either.

And while it may appear that they win, in truth, they never do.

But God is neither death nor pain.

God is "Life" in the truest and most eternal sense.

God is always fair, good, and on our side. We just may not understand it.

God Is Truth and when we know the Truth, we are set free.

And God wins. God always wins and God always has the last word and it's a Living Word and it's an Eternal Word.  Always. He's God. Not death, Not pain, Not unfairness. Not melanoma. God.

When confronted with the pains, deaths, and unfairness of this life, don't listen to your enemies. Death, pain, and unfairness have done you no favors. They have destroyed and killed. They are not your friends. But they are part of this world and this life.

They are not part of the next. They cannot and will not follow us or our loved ones through those Pearly Gates.

Hallelujah. Be grateful.