I will explain the title of this blog in a few moments, but before I do I feel that I need to explain something of the approach that James and I are taking these days. There is one Old Testament story in particular that I have not thought of in years that has taken a hold in my mind. It is found in Numbers 22, and it is the story of Balaam.
Balaam was a prophet of sorts that was called upon by the King of Moab to curse the Israelite people as they were taking over Israel under Joshua. However, Balaam knew that God would not let him curse the Israelites so he told the king's messangers that he would not do it. He tells them that "Even if the king were to give me a palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord my God." However, the king tried again and Balaam decided to go anyway, promising to God that he would only say what God told him to say, be it blessing or curse.
As they start out the next morning, Balaam experiences a lot of trouble with his donkey. The donkey sees an angel with a sword blocking his path and does everything he can to avoid the angel. He runs into a feild, he crushes Balaam's feet against the stone wall and eventually he just lays down on the road and refuses to move. Each time Balaam beats him. Eventually God lets the donkey talk to Balaam and the donkey says "What have I done that deserves you beating me?" Then God opens Balaam's eyes to see the angel and the angel says to Balaam, "Why have you beat your donkey these three times? I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. Three times the donkey saw me and shied away, otherwise I would certianly have killed you by now and spared the donkey." The angel then tells him to finish his journey, but only to say what God would have him say.
When Balaam arrives and looks over the encampment of the Israelite people he blesses them. Not once, not twice, but three times.
James and I feel strongly that we are on a path that we can not escape from. It is a path that has been set out for us and there is a donkey under us that is being guided by an angel of the Lord from behind. We are not even using our own feet. I have no desire to try and guide this donkey, because if I do I'll just get my feet crushed against the walls lining this path.
I also feel strongly that there are two componants to this path we are on. One componant is that of faith, trust and hope. The second componant is that of death.
In the first componant there is a beautiful relationship with Jesus Christ where James and I both know that he is with us in personal and meaningful way. Do I feel attacked? No, because I feel so protected by him. Do I believe that he can heal me? Yes, and it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if he does. This is not a battle in my mind.
The second componant as I mentioned is one of death. I think a lot of people will cringe to hear me say this, as if I have given up or something like that. But lets face the facts. For as much as the Bible talks about fullness of life in Christ and his good plans for our future, there is also a heavy emphasis on death that we only seem to think is applicable only when we attend funerals. Even though we as Christians we talk about Christ having power over death, we still do not like to think about it very much. When someone is sick, we pray for healing. That is fine. It is also biblical.
However, if we think that the only answer to sickness and death is healing, then we turn the great potential for God's work into something that is very one dimensional. If God healed everyone who became sick, we would start to believe (with reason) that God is also afraid of death and that even HE thinks that death is to be avoided at all costs.
This is not true. After all, Jesus himself died. God became a human and then he submitted himself to a very humiliating death. He also overcame death. We are reminded again and again in the Bible that this earth is not our home, and that without our even being aware of it, we long for our true homeland. I remember many times in China where I thought about Canada with longing. If the process of my death could show to others the fullness of his life in mine, even in the face of death, what more could I ask for? What if the death of a Christian could seem beautiful? If there is beauty and hope that I can embrace, even in death, then I want to. The thought of struggling is so unappealing to me.
That being said, James and I are walking this road as one that will likely lead to death, and we are doing it willingly, because we feel that to close that door would be to refuse to let God show himself to us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I think that if I refused to walk this path, all the peace that we have had would fly out the door. Obviously we do not want it to end in death. We have cried together, sometimes daily, out of a deep feeling of painful loss. Everyday I cry at least once. Of course we have asked God for my life and for healing, because he KNOW he could do it. We walk the path believing that God could pull us off of this in a moment if he if it is his will. But I don't want to have a faith that is unable to look past the issue of healing. I want to have a faith that takes in as much of God's controversial character as I can. I want what he has for me, even if it is not healing. Just think of how much we stand to lose if we choose only to look at the physical healing side of God's character.
What is it like to be greived? This has by far come forward as one of the strangest experiences for me in the last few weeks. As the seriousness of my condition has come to our attention and the doctors start to use words like "life expectancy", I have begun to see in the people around me the beginning a process that I always assumed would happen after I died. They are starting to greive me. Maybe one of my sisters will look at me with tears in her eyes, look away and then mouth the words "I love you". Maybe James will hold my hand while he drives and look at me for long periods of time with a generically sad face. Even Ari and Jude have been cuddling with me far more than they used to, even though they don't really understand what is happening. My parents hover over me tenderly. There is tenderness and gentleness in every interaction, and emotion is never very far from the surface.
I feel two things about this. One is that I am honored to be a part of it. I am glad that instead of some type of freak accident, I have the chance to have important and open conversations with those I love over a period of time. I know it needs to happen and there is no way that I want them to hide this from me. But on the other hand it is very hard for me to watch, because as a human being that is still very much aware and alive, I am wittnessing the people I love begin a process that ends in letting me go.
I have cried a number of times over this thought, that eventually, if things follow what we are being told, my family will need to move on in thier lives. They will always remember me, yes. I am a unique individual, yes. Irreplacable, yes. But I am human, and eventually people's lives will move on without me. My boys. My husband. Today as I struggled over this, greived this, I prayed and asked God to show me something about this that would make it a little easier to bear.
This is what he reminded me of. The Bible is full of statements of precious we are to God and how we bear his annointing and how he lives in us, how nothing can separate us from his love. I am irreplaceable to the creator of the universe, my Father, my friend, my lover. Psalm 139 says that he knew me and created me in my mother's womb. This means that he has been intimate with all of my inner being since before I was born... before any other human came to know me I was irreplaceable to him. Even if my family, the dearest ones to me will eventually need to move past me, let go of me, live without me and even find others that will fill the role I would otherwise play, I am irreplaceable to God. Rather than feel any amount of betrayal about these things, I want to soak in his love for me. Right now I can not understand his love for me, but eventually I will. As Christians we often use these promises and this irreplaceable God role to have special meaning for the specific circumstances that we are in. That is fine. Of course we want to understand God in light of our situations. But suddenly I am realizing that this is the only thing I have, and even though the sting of being greived is still there, it is amazing for me to know that I am intimately known.