My heart is heavy and hurting today. A dear friend has died and it came way too soon. On Thursday evening I learned that Michelle had just gone onto hospice care. Friday morning I packed my bag and was about to pull out of the garage when her husband called to say she had died. I stayed home and have grieved and thought a lot the last few days about life and death and the choices we all make.
Michelle and I shared an apartment while in graduate school in Ft. Worth. She was pursuing a doctorate in organ and I, a masters in Christian education. Our personalities were quite different; she was the artist and I was the nuts and bolts type. We were our own version of The Odd Couple. In spite of the differences, we shared our interests, learned from each other, and made great roommates, becoming dear friends. The memories we made are funny and significant and precious.
When my grandmother died it was hard to return to Ft. Worth; I was under a dark cloud of grief for the rest of the semester. Michelle was thoughtful, kind, helpful, and patient with me; I have never forgotten that. When we spent a weekend with her parents, who were lovely people, she got me out of the house and drove me straight to a coffee shop each morning because her parents did not drink coffee and she knew I had to have it. Michelle played the organ in chapel. I am still traumatized remembering the time she talked me into playing a duet with her.
I married when I was 30; Michelle married in her early 40’s. She and Jim have lived in Memphis all these years and they have two girls, both in college now. She homeschooled her girls and continued to play the organ at her church, right up until a few weeks ago.
When she was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, it was like a kick in the gut to me. We all hate the word cancer, and when it hits someone close to us, it becomes much more heinous. Of course my first thought was, “Why Michelle?” She was such a sweet individual and kind to everyone (even while being passively strong-willed and a steel magnolia under her sweetness). Why her? And then my mind went down the trail of “she doesn’t deserve this” and I could come up with a whole list of people who “deserve” it more. The truth is, life does not come to us based on what we deserve.
Michelle went through her treatments and returned to a state of good health. I was hopeful this was for the long term. Less than two years ago I spoke at a retreat in the Memphis area. Michelle came and we had such a good time catching up and sharing all that was going on in our families. We took a fun trip down memory lane.
A few months ago her cancer returned and this time it did not respond to treatments. I wanted to go stand in front of this steam roller and throw up my arms and yell “STOP!” Michelle and I exchanged texts and cards and one precious phone visit that I will always remember. And now she is gone.
To absorb this, survive this, and find joy in the midst of heartache, my mind goes here….
- We don’t get what we deserve. Life doesn’t work like that. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and bad people seem to get off easy. On another day we will explore the fact that most of us realize we don’t want to get what we deserve.
- Life happens to all of us and it is how we respond that makes the difference. Michelle did not want to die at 63 but she told me if God allowed this she would be okay with it; she just asked that I pray for her husband and girls.
- Peace that passes understanding is not just a poetic phrase. Philippians 4:4-7 clearly describes what we have witnessed and experienced in this situation. Look it up, read it, meditate on it. We don’t rejoice in the bad things that come our way; but we can rejoice that God is with us and will give us what we need moment by moment.
- God is God and we are not. There are some things we may never understand but allowing God to be God and accepting that I am not leads to peace and contentment that I am not capable of alone.
- Life is short; I don’t want to waste any minutes of the time God allows me on this earth. None of us knows how much longer we have to live on earth.
Finally, we all have a choice. Eternity is a for-sure and we each get to choose where we will spend it. I find it odd that at most funerals you hear people say, “He/she is in a better place,” but so often there is nothing on which that is based. According to the Bible, which has stood the test of time as the Word of God, eternity is hell for those who have rejected Jesus and it is heaven for those who have accepted Him. I beg you to trust God, accept the gift of eternal life with him in heaven made possible through Jesus. In addition to eternity, a relationship with Jesus provides peace in the midst of the storms and strength to carry on through whatever life hurls your way in the here and now.
Michelle knew Jesus, lived her life well, and now she is in heaven forever. I trust Jesus to comfort her husband, her girls, her sister and all the rest of her family and friends during these days of adjustment. The joy that comes in the morning is the assurance we have that we will see her again.
Let’s take a moment and evaluate our lives . . . are we prepared to live our lives fully right now and ready to face eternity when our time comes?