Fading Into Glory

“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

Without Apology

The last post was about how God holds our hands. The first post four years ago was too.

Firm and kind, I often feel His hand guide mine. It helps me die to sin and side with Him and rise in newness of life. This familiar hand I know by feel.

But his hand helps in a way I know only by sightI saw it over Uncle Kevin when he faded from this life. I saw again when Uncle Tony went graceful into glory. And I saw it this week how his hand holds the hands of J.I.Packer and Rory and Joey.

And I know it sounds so sentimental, spiritual- all this hand-holding talk. But I do not apologize. Because it’s God-talk. Holding hands is the language of our Lord. He said it first. And not just once or twice. 

Take Isaiah 41. It’s laden with that language. To his frightened, fading flock God said,

Fear not, for I am with you, 
Be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, 
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them;
Those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. 
For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand;
It is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” 

God said he’d hold our hand and help us when we do hard, scary things. 
Things like repent and fly from sin and fade away and die. 

Those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. 

Satan wars against us. He’d have us despair and lose heart and break faith. He’d have us puffed with pride. He’d have us think we can handle our own problems without God’s hand or that our pain is beyond help from God’s hand. That’s when pain gets proud.

Satan would have us-dismayed at fading and filled with dread. He’d have us doubt our God will hold our hand when we fade- that he doesn’t love us enough to heal us, that he’s not strong enough to fix us. Those are Satan’s weapons. 

But, Those who war against you shall be as nothing at all, God said. Saints who fade graceful rouse me to see God’s hand at work, not by feel, but by sight. Fading saints prove that nothing at all can block God’s hand. God holds the fading fast. 

Saints Fading Gracefully

Theologian J.I. Packer developed macular degeneration in December. It’s already impaired his vision so that he can’t read or write. When he announced he’d have to cancel all writing and speaking engagements, he called his condition, “a clear indication from Headquarters.” 

WORLD Magazine (2/6/16) reported, “the 89-year-old British author of more than 300 books and articles said he’s experienced enough with God not to doubt Him: ‘God knows what he’s up to.'” Packer knows whose hand hold him fast. And fades gracefully.

Then I flipped to A Star Fades Gracefully and was introduced to Joey Martin Feek and her husband Rory. The two were a country singing duo. Joey’s 2012 song “When I’m Gone” is the story of a dying wife encouraging her husband to carry on. The song has come true. 

Two years after the song came out, shortly after the birth of Indiana-an almond-eyed daughter with Down syndrome-Joey learned she had cancer. She fought hard. But after surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, the cancer is winning. 

But God still holds her fast. Hospice care began this fall. Doctors didn’t know if Joey would last to December. Jeff Koch shared their story, 

Rory called the season’s first snow “manna from heaven,” because it brought comfort during one of Joey’s darkest moments. “I want to raise our baby,” she had cried. “I want to be the one to teach her.” Yet the sight of snow shot a bolt of light into Joey’s heart as she admitted, “I didn’t think I’d get to see snow again.” She then raised her eyes upward and said, “If this is the last snow I ever see, thank you, Jesus.” 

Christmas was a treasured milestone. Rory wrote, “The prognosis was clear that there was a good chance Joey wasn’t going to be with us” for the holidays. But Christmas Day came and a smiling Joey celebrated with family-what Rory called “the best gift of all.” He wrote, “We will continue to believe and trust that what is waiting on the other side of the deep, dark wood is something even better and more beautiful than our minds can even imagine.”

Joey and Rory knew what Paul knew, fading his last years in a Roman prison. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. (2 Timothy 4:18a) So Joey and Rory weren’t bitter and Christmas was sweet. God knows what he’s up to, Packer said. Graceful on they go, held fast. 

Because no one is strong enough-or weak enough- to fall away while God is resolved to hold us. No one, no thing, no-nothing can separate us from His hand of love. 

Nothing at all. Those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 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. 

Romans 8:38-39

So into the perilous grace of God, with all my sins go I. 

And things grow new though I grow old, though I grow old and die.

You Come And Visit

God took Great-grandma Beth home 10 days ago.  My husband’s grandma celebrated her 100th birthday on October 15th, 2012.  Grandma was an extrovert of extroverts.  Talk about being “energized” by people.  I see her settle into her rocker and happily recount the day’s guests, “Dorothy, and LouAnn, and Lauretta.  Oh, and Linda called, too.”  

Grandma loved visitors and all manner of “company.”  Cousins, first and second and once-removed, campers from three decades ago turned beloved friends,  kind caregivers and carefree kids.  However long or short, when visits drew to a close, she’d say, 

“You come back and visit.” 

The last several weeks Gabe and I were conscientious about taking time to visit Great Grandma.  We’d talk about the boys, the latest “news”- the pregnancies and brand new babies and the next big event.  And books.  So many books. Then she’d wonder aloud why God hadn’t taken her home yet.  “Must be something for me, still,” she’d venture.   And she always loved hugs.  

The last month it struck me that Grandma was dying as she had lived.  Friendly, chatty, and ever looking on the sunny side.  

Enduring.  Faithful till death. Not, to borrow from Andree Seu Peterson’s column, “a sled painted pink on a porch.” (Read it all: http://www.worldmag.com/2013/01/sleds_painted_pink ) Not just a decoration.  Not, paraphrasing and adding to Hunter S. Thompson, 

“arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather skidding in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming”  God be exalted!

Our times are in his hands and any “exit strategy” is for Him to decide.  Our last two visits with Great-grandma were more subdued.  Though worn out, Grandma still seemed to enjoy our company.  “She sure perks up when visitors come,” we heard.  

Then last Monday came. After dropping Sam off at school, on that frigid, brilliantly bright morning, Gabe and I stopped in. We didn’t know then that it was the last morning before she came ’round. Grandma’s weak voice greeted us from her hospital bed. 

In the three quarters of an hour we stayed, her refrain was, “I’ll be comin’ round.” I smiled and nodded.  Then, with a bit of a wince and the slightest shake of her head, “Something’s just not right.”  Then, again reassuringly, “I’ll be comin’ round.” And again.  Then again, with faint smile, and,  “I’ll be comin’ around.”   

Gabe and I recited Psalm 23 to her.  She smiled and nodded appreciatively.  Maybe we should have let well enough alone, but we attempted a Doxology duet, too.  My contralto needed a restart midway.  Grandma smiled I think.  We put our coats on.  Then, Gabe took his great-grandma’s hundred year old hand in his still slightly pudgy five year old hand.  

She gripped it, and directed, as she always did, “You come and visit me.”  

We will, Grandma.  We will come ’round with you one day and visit.  In a place where all things are made new.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  
John 14:3 
Great-grandma at 100th birthday celebration, October, 2012