Losing my young wife to cancer was hard. Actually, it was the saddest — and gladdest — time of my life. There is a profound way in which life and death get pressed together. Let me try to explain.
When I first met Lacy, I knew my long search for a wife finally was over. She was the love of my life, and when we got engaged, I was over the moon. However, five weeks later, she was diagnosed with cancer — a terrible cancer.
Lacy had cancer of the mouth, which eventually spread to her spinal column, brain and face. She soon lost her ability to speak and eat through her mouth. Surgeries were painful and deforming – a slow massacre really – and none of them worked. She was in and out of hospitals relentlessly. After eighteen months of engagement, we were married in the living room of my home, and 71 days later, Lacy was dead. She was 31.
Lacy’s death hit me hard. Grief felt like suffocation, and I soon learned I was overmatched by death’s brute force. Spiritually, I entered a dark night of the soul and lost all sense of God. That lasted about nine months. Through it all, I came to conclude the power of death is its irreversibility. Death offers no do-overs. It is cruelly unalterable. I also came to conclude that the pain of death is separation. Regardless of whether or not you think you see death coming, the separation is sudden and violent.
However, Lacy’s death also felt like a call to life. Strangely, the air was clearer after Lacy’s death. What I mean is that priorities instantly clarified. Temporal things became less important and lasting things became more important. For example, watching hours and hours of sports on TV instantly lost its appeal. I grew blessedly indifferent to money and possessions. After all, nobody cares about running down to the mall when you have lost someone you love. Your soul will not stand for such nonsense.
Mostly, I gained a new ability to live with the end in mind. No longer could I be hoodwinked into thinking this life is long. I knew better, and I lived differently because of it. I started daydreaming about heaven, and now seem to have an expanded capacity for joy. To top it all off, salvation became sweeter to the taste. No longer did I have to coach myself internally about why I should be grateful for Jesus. Suddenly, provision for life after death really was all that mattered.
Some of you personally may not be experiencing shattering grief and loss right now. However, all of us probably are experiencing dying. After all, we all have idols that God is inviting to die. We all employ strategies to try to make life work apart from God, that even now may be disrupted and dying in us. If we have any experience with loving someone else, we all know true love often involves death and loss.
However, as you get in touch with your own grief and dying, be encouraged. When Jesus rose from the dead, he did not introduce a new notion into the religious conversation. He personally pressed death and life together. Death is now a womb for life. It happened in Jesus, and now Jesus wants it to happen in you.
I am really sad that Lacy died. I still think death is horrible and immense. However, I am now personally more willing to believe that life is on the other side of dying. I am also more willing to believe that life is on the other side of dying for you.
Nelson was first introduced to the Barnabas Center in 2007 when he met Lisa, who is now his wife and the Director of the Barnabas Center in Richmond! Lisa has become truly his life partner and companion, and four years ago they welcomed their daughter Galyna into their family. Nelson is lead pastor of Community West Church, planted in 2014, and you can reach him at email@example.com or on twitter @NelsonOuld.
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