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The Fight Of Her Life

The more your affections are set on Christ, your true husband … the easier it will be to take you out of the world. He who has laid up his heart in heaven, will think comfortably of laying down his head on earth. 

George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith

Your grandma is ready to go home. 

That was it. That was all she said when we asked if she had any last words before our family went home. Grandma wanted us to know she was comfortable laying down her head.

The Grandma who so loves life- whose eyes still light up at the sight of the season’s first purple plums my sons gathered in, whose unbroken good humor broke apart my solemn heaven-talk,

You’ll beat me there, Grandma, but I’ll meet you. 

Well, then-drive home safely, dear, she breathed, eyes smiling, from her hospital bed-

This dear Grandma is ready to lay down her head and go home.

Back in May, that day of the two bridal showers, the battle bugle sounded. And since then Grandma’s been in the fight of her life. Her final war with wince-making, nauseating, gut-wrenching pain. But her real war, and it’s not over yet, is not mainly against her great pain.
The fight would be a spiritual war against darkness and doubt and despair.

The Biggest War We’ll Ever Fight

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 

Paul, to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:12

It’s the fight for faith. Grandma knew that way back in May. So when she got the word the cancer was inoperable and terminal her soldier prayers were two: Pray that I won’t despair and believe Satan’s lies. And pray that I will glorify God. 
The enemy did attack Grandma. The fiery darts came in dreadful, discouraging dreams at first. Nightmares of a heaven that is no heaven, and of horrific, not beatific reunions.
But Grandma fought back and honored her God. That is not how heaven will be. No-He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore (Revelation 21:4). She wielded that sword of the Word with prayer.
Two weeks ago I posted about a quiet-time skirmish with the devil. I shared how I put on my shield of faith and put out some flaming darts; how I wielded my sword and resisted. Finally, he fled. Won and done for now, I said.
But the very next night was spent with Grandma. I watched a real warrior do battle that night. The maple floor under her hospital bed was holy ground.

When He Brings His Biggest Guns

At death, Satan will attack you with his biggest guns. When his time is short, his rage is greatest. This is his hour. When you, through pain of body and perplexity of mind, are least able to resist, then the devil will come with his fiercest assaults. 
George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith
We’d like to think dying is graceful and painless. That fading into glory is easy and smooth. Maybe for a few it is. But I don’t think it’s the norm for a Christian. I don’t think so because Paul calls all of life, up to and including the end of life, a fight of faith
Never does he compare Christian life to a slide or ride or a gentle coast. It is effortful. Fight of faith, wrestle against powers,run the race. We strive until we die. Not to earn, but to display his glorious grace.
The worth of the cause is shown in how willing one is to suffer with joy for it. Ask gold-medal gymnast Simone Biles how many French fries she’s had in the last year. Or a pregnant mom happy to go on months of bedrest. Or a Grandma who smiles and gives grace in her dying days. It’s valiant her fight for faith and joy in Christ. Yes, Grandma, you are heaping glory to God.
Dying is not without fight. In fact, Grandma’s fight to date has been grueling. Like Lewis wrote, Pain hurts. Choking down anti-nausea pills and sometimes retching them back up hurts. Help me, dear Jesus, she moans gagging over her bucket. It’s spiritually grueling, too. The anxiety that gnaws like a fire and loneliness that spreads out like a desert,Lewis wrote.
Paul’s last days were a fight too. Paul was deep in the eleventh or twelfth round when he wrote his last letter to Timothy. That’s the one where he wrote, I’ve fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. 
We claim and embrace those stout words for ourselves. All good, provided we have at least a taste of the price Paul paid to say them. Two verses after I’ve fought the good fight, Paul describes how his friend Demas deserted him and other brothers left him. Luke alone is with me, he bemoaned.
Then, humble and vulnerable his request. When you come, bring the cloak I left, also the books, and above all the parchments (2 Timothy 4:10-13). Paul was in a cold prison cell (4:13), in chains (2:9) with no hope for earthly deliverance (4:6).
Best guess is that he wrote those good fight, triumphant words within a year of his martyrdom at Nero’s hands.

Stand Fast By That Book (AKA: Grandma Wields Her Sword)

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Paul, to the saints in Ephesus

Paul wanted his parchments. These are very possibly his copies of what are our Scriptures. Spurgeon urges us to learn from his last wish for his parchments,

You may go to human puddles, until you forsake the clear crystal stream which flows from the throne of God. Read the books, by all manner of means, but especially the parchments…Stand fast by that Book which is infallible, the revelation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Grandma loves her books, too. Piles and piles still line her bedside. But one book, that Book, is the sole book that sits on the otherside caregiver’s chair. And after a restless night, up before the sun, Grandma was ready for that Book.

Is Romans 8 okay? I wondered.

She nodded. Holding her hand, I began,

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 

I squeezed Grandma’s right hand and pressed on,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…

And then- miracle of miracles- the thick tongue whose muffled words I could barely understand moments ago, recited clear and strong,

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 

Then by dawn’s early light, I witnessed another wonder I hope I never will forget. That frail hand I’d held and rubbed last night and nestled under the covers, that same hand was raised high. 

And beside me in her hospital bed, Grandma wielded her sword and finished the chapter with me.

For I am sure that neither death nor life…nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Not worth comparing. No condemnation. Nothing can separate.  Yes, yes, and-hallelujah!-yes. 

But Satan’s a wily guy.

 

 

Even The Strongest Saints Get Weary Hands

Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.
J.I. Packer, Knowing God
Lions hunting gazelle try to isolate their prey. Satan takes that tack. He tries to pick off God’s weak and weary sheep, alone, away from the flock.
But we, church, are a flock and we are an army. We need never face off alone. Our Captain in the good fight for faith is also our Shepherd in shadows of the valley. He is with us. Thankfully, Grandma knows. I heard her murmur in the wee hours that night,
I will fear no evil. Jesus is with me. I will not fear. He loves me. 

Let’s not miss the biggest source of strength. Be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might, Paul wrote. He rescued me from my strong enemy…for they were too mighty for me. For by you I can run against a troop, warrior king David wrote. And when Demas deserted, Paul wrote the Lord stood by me and strengthened me

But people help too. Saints help saints stay strong and fight. There ought to be comaraderie in our kingdom fights. Paul strengthened the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of GodWhen David was alone and weak, his friend Jonathan went and strengthened his hand in the Lord.

Sometimes it’s more than emotional support we need. Remember Israel’s first battle out of Egypt? Pesky Amalekites attacked them from the back.

So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. (Exodus 17:8-13)

The whole course of the Israelite cause would be determined by Moses’ strong, upheld hands. But even Moses’ hands grew weary. So Aaron and Hur, his right and left hand men, held up Moses’ weary hands. And his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 

Everyone of us needs help holding up our hands. Especially as the sun goes down. I was blessed that night, in my little Romans 8 way, to get to help hold Grandma’s hands. Together we wielded the sword of the Word and held her shield of faith. Because even the most faithful of saints, Moses and David and Paul and Grandma, need someone to hold and strengthen their hands.

Those two little miracles happened two visits ago. This Sunday when our family dropped by, Grandma said, I’m not alwaysstrong. Then she looked to the wall and explained, My chart. 

Sunday, August 21st was on top of Grandma’s chart. The five who- ala Aaron and Hur- would hold up Grandma’s hands were listed. That day it was Laurie and Patty, Tom and Mark and John. Other days and nights it’s Judy and Steve or Nathan and Rachel or Joy and the kids who help her fight.

Even the most faithful of saints, Moses and David and Paul and Grandma, sometimes need someone to strengthen and hold their hands.

*   *   *   *   *
Grandma’s always been my biggest fan. (But then again, I think Grandma might be everyone in the family’s greatest fan.) She replied to more blog posts than anyone. During the last hug we had Grandma whispered, Keep writing, in my ear. So, no. I don’t think she’d mind my writing this, about the biggest fight of her life.
And I know she wouldn’t mind your prayers for her strong, peaceful passing.
But this is not a fight for Grandma’s life. She knows pancreatic cancer will be the death of her flesh. The hospital bed and catheter, the water swabs and strong pain meds are clear on that. It is the fight of-not for-Grandma’s life. 
But Grandma knows the Resurrection and the Life. She knows that Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never dieYes-thank God- Grandma believes in Him, and knows that.

She knows that though she dies, when this fight’s done, yet shall she live. 

*   *   *   *   *
Your Grandma is ready to go home. Turns out those weren’t Grandma’s last words for us. Because after she said that, when gentle, ginger great-grandma hugs were done, she looked Sam and Gabe in the eye and blessed,

Boys, if you’ve got Jesus, you’ve got everything.

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland…

But as it is they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Hebrews 11:14, 16

  1. Wowie, Abigail! You brought me to tears on that one… Just about where you talked about reading the Bible with Grandma. Your message is right on point, as usual, and I could feel your Grandma’s fight and strength, even as she knows her earthly body is failing. Satan tries to win, but God is more powerful. I’ll be excited to meet Grandma in heaven someday.

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  2. Thank you, Jackie for your kind words. Yes, yes- what a day that will be! Until then, being with Grandma helps me hold life more loosely. Soli Deo Gloria.

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  3. Tears on that blog, in a good way. Thank your Grandma for teaching us so much through this.

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  4. Thanks for that, Ms. Michele. I just want to soak up the lessons. Thanks for being a learner with me. I will try to thank Grandma, too.

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  5. Dear Abigail and family.
    It is my privilege to pray for Grandma – and for you. Like my own precious Mom did, she is teaching eternal truths in the midst of her suffering, right up to the end. My heart hurts for you who love her as you witness this suffering, waiting with her until the moment Jesus says, “Come, dear one, fully into My presence.”

    Abigail, you quoted Joni Eareckson Tada in a post you wrote last December 12th, almost two years after my Mom stepped into Heaven. It brought a much-needed flood of comforting tears at the time. I offer back to you, now, these same words:

    When we finally set foot in heaven we’ll drop to our knees in gratitude to God. And then,
    “The Man of Sorrows walks from his throne and approaches you. He has absolutely no doubt of your appreciation, for he knows what you’ve suffered. He reaches toward you with his nail-scarred hands, and when you feel your hands in his, you are not embarrassed…Your suffering, like nothing else, has prepared you to meet God- for what proof could you have brought of your love if this life left you totally unscarred. You have something eternally precious in common with Christ – suffering! But this fellowship of sharing in suffering has faded…Now it is a fellowship of sharing in his joy and pleasure. Pleasure made wonderful by suffering.” (When God Weeps, p. 213)

    One day soon for Grandma…
    Can you even imagine!!?!

    May God’s peace rest on you all.

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  6. Thanks for reminding me of those sage words from Joni. Boy, are they about the most comforting ever for the believer. And thanks for praying. That means a lot.

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  7. Oh Ab. Such a gem… This post and your Grandma and you. Praying.

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  8. Thanks, Rach. Much appreciated.

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  9. Ab, your words are perfect. God is using you in awesome ways. Thanks so much for stopping to say hi to Mom. I’m sure it meant so much. You are always so loving and uplifting, especially when Mom needs it most.

    I pray God continues to use to in the lives you continue to touch, each and every day. You’re a blessing to your entire family!

    Mark

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  10. Thank, Uncle Mark. I’m so glad. A woman who fears the Lord deserves praise. How she does!
    Would you please let Grandma know that there are a lot of people praying for her. And are even now being blessed by her faithfulness. She is truly still teaching so many.

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Abounding, Like Bolt

It’s not that much for someone who is poor and in a low condition to have his heart kept low, but for someone to have his heart low when his condition is high is much more difficult.

Jeremiah Burroughs, Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Apostle Paul, Philippians 4:11-12 

Do you know how to abound? Did you watch the Olympics last night? Have you learned the secret to being content in plenty and fullness, not only in your need? Did you see Bolt bow the knee?

For all the mockery and misuse of #blessed, I think it’s a perfect expression of that noble, humble spirit. Blessed stands opposed to entitled. Blessed expresses gratitude. Blessed is against “I earned this.” Blessed testifies to God’s grace. #blessed.

Bolt included #blessed in his tweet after his three-peat in the 100m dash last night. I’m one of his peeps now. Here it is.

Thanks for all the support my peeps #blessed #TeamBolt #TeamJamaica #Rio2016

I know, I know, I know. There’s danger in lauding any earthly hero. Don’t put your trust in man. All men -even the fastest- are wildflowers and mist and grass. Every one will fade and fail. I know this.

But the Word also says, Blessed is the man who fears the LordAnd Paul urged that whatever good his peeps had seen and heard and learned from him- these put into practice

Usain’s not perfect. Google him and you might find a few foul words and spot him dancing with some risque Samba dancers at his Rio press conference last week. We all stumble in many ways.

But Usain St. Leo Bolt has got some big things right.

Humble Good Humor

A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.  

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Humility, you ask, incredulous? Haven’t you seen Usain’s breast-thumping, #1 boasts, you askAre you out of your up-too-late-watching-beach-volleyball-sleep-deprived mind?

Yes. Humility. And, no. At least I don’t think so it’s a hazy, sleep depraved mind.

Because we know this. That, Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. And when any Olympic living-legend offers a prayer with a sign of the cross in front of a thousand cameras and then bows the knee within a minute of winning a race- I see humility.

Bolt is a century removed and a sea away from the Christian’s epic Olympic hero, Eric Liddell. I admit that Bolt’s lightening trajectory doesn’t look like it’ll lead to a mission field like Liddell’s. But then, one never knows.

Bolt does share more than fast feet with our Chariots of Fire hero. I was going to tie them together with that famous, God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure, quote. It fits them both. But it turns out that “quote” was written by Colin Welland as part of the Chariots of Fire script.

Liddell was known, Bolt is known, for their enthusiasm and good humor. And for this “Girl with the etched furrowed brow,” who takes herself far too seriously far too often, Bolt’s light-hearted, unpretentious exuberance is a breath of fresh air. (Yes, unpretentious. It means trying to impress others with greater talent than one actually possesses. Bolt is the world’s fastest man.)

Proud people tend to be too puffed-up with themselves to want to bless others with their levity and laughter. I dare you to watch Usain and not crack a smile. Eric Liddell had that same light heart. His friends and classmates recalled that,

No adulation, no fame, no flattery can ever affect this youth…He has got that great redeeming gift, the gift of humour. 

His infectious enthusiasm endeared him to the sporting public, and for the next four years he packed the terracing at every sports meeting he attended.

He had a characteristic, humorous resistance to bullying or posing masters, giving his answers stern and satirical emphasis ,’46 Sir’ and then following up with a disarming smile, whenever and wherever the atmosphere permitted it.

For all- or rather in all- Usain’s post-race antics (he hugged a huge stuffed animal on the track after the race last night), for all his smiles as he speeds on by, and his unpuffed-with-self poses that he freely gives “his peeps,” Usain Bolt displays a certain humility.

Honoring God

His pleasure is not in the strength of horse or his delight in the legs of a man, but the Lord delights in those who fear him and put their hope in his unfailing love. 

Psalm 147:10-11

God’s pleasure is (still) not in the (under 10 second for 100m ultra-fast) legs of a man. He delights in those who fear him.

A manifestation of fearing God is taking time to honor him. Usain doggedly honors God. Sure, it’s in his characteristically loose, Jamaican way. Critics might call Bolt’s God honoring ways, merely superstitious– signing the cross and sending prayers to heaven as the soles of his lightening-fast feet press hard on his starting blocks.

True. Only God knows our hearts.

But his #blessed tweets aren’t required by the Olympic Committee. In fact, they’re probably not preferred. They’d probably rather Bolt not be so visible about his faith in the Holy Trinity. Bolt’s going against the flow when he honors God this way.

If ever they did, “Christian” shout-outs do not earn brownie points in the wide world of sports anymore.  His tweets and signs and prayers may not be so bold as Eric Liddell refusing to race on a Sunday. But still. They look like signs of man who behind his big talk and bigger grins fears his God.

A prosperous state, wrote Jeremiah Burroughs, mightily endangers the grace of humility. He explains, that those who have learned to Paul’s secret show their noble, humble spirits when they are

[A]s careful to return proportionate respects to God as they are to receive any mercy from Him. Their nobility is further sown in this: they are thankful. A noble heart is a thankful heart that loves to acknowledge whenever it has received any mercy.

Did you see Bolt bow his knee and give thanks to God when his 100m race was done? After winning the 200m in the last Olympics, he tweeted: “I want to thank God for everything he has done for me. Nothing would be possible without him.” No one made him do that. A strong humble man knows who gives him strength.

A fast humble man knows -and fears- the One who gives him speed.

Sitting Loose

Sit loose to this world’s joy-the time is short. 

Robert Murray M’Cheyne 

Sit loose. That’s a motto for The Girl With The Furrowed Brow. It’s a shorter version of Paul’s Philippians 4 secret. Learn to be content, whatever situation you’re in. Because in Christ all things are yours, and you can do all things

Usain seems to take even his huge success lightly. Jason Gay in today’s Wall Street Journal wrote,

The most recognizable man at the Olympics is staying in the Olympic Village, for goodness’ sake, posing for selfies with mortals who will never make it out of a preliminary heat, pulling his own luggage, turning the same wobbly doorknobs like everybody else. He’s OK with that. He’s into it. 

And sitting loose means sharing the glory. As “the Cosmic Center” of these Olympic games, Bolt he knows that the really great go low. They’re able share others’ success and joy. Jason Gay describes it.

One of the finer moments Sunday night occurred when Bolt was doing post-race interviews near the track, and he noticed the South African runner Wayde van Niekirk, who earlier had shattered the world record for the 400 meters, running 43.03 seconds. Bolt turned to reporters, told them he’d be right back, and then leapt back up onto the track to embrace van Niekirk, clearly the new buzz of these Games. 

No one is better suited than Usain Bolt to make the case that winning isn’t everything, because even while he’s the world’s fastest man, he seems to know that all human glory fades away. No one can make this case better because no one can accuse Bolt of merely making and serving loser’s lemonade. 

I don’t know if Usain Bolt knows Jesus. I don’t know how closely he follows the Christ whose cross he traces before each race. But I know Bolt’s enjoy-life, fear-God, sit-loose ways are even more legendary than his 100m Olympic gold three-peat.

Usain Bolt lives Paul’s secret and teaches us how to abound. That’s the biggest lesson The World’s Fastest Man taught The Girl With The Furrowed Brow. That’s why Usain Bolt is a refreshing breath of rare Olympic air to a very amateur runner who tends to take herself and any modest achievement far too seriously far too often.

From all of us who cling to success and abundance too tight and proud and need to sit more loose and humble, Usain deserves praise.

Behold, what I have found to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 

Ecclesiastes 5:18