September 18, 2012
My family recently attended an event in which Amy’s name and story were mentioned. In the course of telling Amy’s story, the speaker made a comment about how Amy lost her battle with cancer. I know the speaker meant well and was simply referring to the fact that Amy wasn't healed here on earth, but I have to be honest, I cringed when I heard that mentioned. I think that sometimes that phrase is thrown out there when talking about people who deal with illness, and there isn’t much thought about what is actually being conveyed. Let me explain.
When Amy was going through treatment for breast cancer, I had faith in God that she would be healed. I think that many people did. Even at the very end when the idea of calling in hospice care was mentioned, I still held to the belief that Amy wouldn’t really need that for long, because she was going to be healed from this. I never really gave it any serious thought that she would actually die from this.
But on January 29 of last year, Amy died. It sounds weird to say that someone who dealt with stage 4 breast cancer for several years died unexpectedly, but that’s how it happened in my mind. Even that morning when we were told this would probably be the end, I still held to my belief that God would heal her. I even wore my Believe T-shirt to the hospital (the ones that we sold at Amy’s fundraisers) that morning to make a statement.
Amy’s death really shook my faith, and I’m sure that many other people, if they are honest, would say the same thing. What was my faith in? Where was God? Why did he allow this to happen twice in my family? This same scenario plays out over and over again when people are faced with serious illnesses. They pray. The church prays. They go to healing services and cry out to God for healing. But God still chooses to take them.
I heard someone on the radio recently explain their own experience with this situation. What they explained seemed to be the missing piece to my own questions. They explained that having faith in God in the face of a terminal diagnosis does not mean that we have to believe or expect that God will heal that person. God can use any person’s life, however short, for his purposes. He can give meaning to what seems to be senseless. He can bring hope when things don’t go our way. That’s what God promises he will do. That’s what our faith should be in. God can, and sometimes does, choose to heal people. But we aren’t promised that.
Amy’s theme throughout her battle was Believe. We had T-shirts made with that word. We still have coffee mugs and gift bags and Christmas ornaments with that word on it. But what is that belief in? Healing? Hope? Victory over death? Purpose? I think Amy’s belief was in all of that. Look at what Amy accomplished in her short life: despite a terminal diagnosis, Amy never lost her faith in God. She updated her website on a regular basis with the stories of how God was teaching her things. She was a true example of a godly woman for many people who read her website. She was an encouragement for many people who were also dealing with cancer. She prayed for people. She had a heart for suffering people. She truly looked at this as a battle, and she fought hard. Not only physically, but spiritually. For me, I look back at her life and think that I want to live my life the way that she did. I think many people would feel the same way. To look at what she did, and how she lived, I would never ever say that she lost this battle. I think the exact opposite is true-- she did better in this battle than many people could have ever expected. She won her battle. No question in my mind. Amy won her battle with cancer.
The reality is, we are all going to die. If our hope is always in the belief that God is going to heal us, the logical conclusion is that we are all losers. That God failed each one of us. That death defines us. That what God did for us and we did for God and our faith don’t matter. As Christians, we have a hope that goes far beyond our own death and the suffering that we endure here.
Amy was clear on this in her own words. I remember the night that we knew that Jeff was going to die. We were all sitting there around his bed. I distinctly remember Amy saying through tears and anger “This didn’t win. Jeff didn’t lose!” Amy also wrote about this in one of her entries:
“On a side note, why is it that when someone with cancer passes away, people often say that they "lost their battle" with cancer. When I think of my brother, Jeff, and the fight he fought, I would never think of his graduation to heaven as "he lost his battle with cancer." He won it. Cancer is just evidence of the fallen world we live in. It's a symptom of the problems in the world. The battle we flight is not just physical against cancer, but spiritual against the enemy's plots to steal away the treasures that God has promised to those who love Him. I would much rather that obituaries read "His battle with cancer came to an end, with a victory celebrated in Heaven! He won the race set out before him! He finished it! The enemy's plans were foiled when his faith proved too strong." I think people who battle diseases receive something special when they get to Heaven. I have no basis for that assumption, just something I think about.” (Amy’s entry on January 10, 2010)
The Bible talks about this too. Two verses come to mind. Romans 8:37 says that “In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Through what things? Right before that verse, it gives a list of things that cannot separate us from the love of God. The verses talk about how we face death all day long and are considered sheep to the slaughter. Not a very appealing mental image, but then the writer of these verses (Paul) goes on to say that despite all of these things, not only are we conquerors of these things, but we are MORE than conquerors. Our faith in God makes us conquerors over suffering and death.
And again in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, Paul writes this:
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Did you catch that? Death has been swallowed up in victory. We are victorious over death because of our faith and hope in Jesus.
If my faith truly lies in God and what he says about death and his purposes for our lives, then there is no way that I can ever accept that Amy lost her battle with cancer. Amy fought hard. Amy had an unshakeable faith in God. Amy accomplished more for God than many people do in 80 years. Amy is celebrating with Jeff in heaven now, waiting for us to arrive. How can anyone think that she lost?
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