It was 20 years ago today that my sister passed away from this life and entered the next. 20 years!
but I still remember where I was and what happened.
I was a sophomore in college on a ski trip in Michigan. It had been a rough day, but I was finally with some people learning how to ski, when someone approached me and told me I needed to call home (This was well before cell-phones mind you)
I unstrapped my skis and frantically ran in ski boots clomping away unevenly shouting “NO! NO! NO!” but i knew the answer would be yes.
I called home and heard a group of people singing in the background as an auntie handed the phone to my mom “She is with the Lord now,” is all she could say.
Friends and family had gathered in our home to comfort my parents as well as praise the Lord. The mood was somber, yet they were still praising the Lord.
I, on the other hand, by myself and 5-6 hours away didn’t know what to feel. i was dumbfounded, silent, confused. My friend Paul- who was leading a Bible study i was in found me and gave me a big hug. i was so glad he was there, as a few weeks earlier he asked me to remind him of my sister’s name because he had been praying for every night – which may have been more than me.
I don’t remember what i did, i may have cried a little, i think i just wrapped myself in Paul’s embrace.
i was 19 at the time, meaning i have spent more time on earth without my sister than i have with my sister. That is crazy to think. She was with me for 19 years and has been gone 20. Yet the impact my sister had on my life is so profound!
I didn’t know what to think then, and even now it is a bit strange to think of.
So many people in my life i barely see, it is hard to really grasp that she is actually gone.
From time to time however, I do think about her and wish she was here.
Oh! what a wonderful sister she would have been to Soo. Just as she was a bridge to my family for myself, Liz would have been that connection Soo really needs. I imagine they would be the closest of friends. Maybe not- my sister was not perfect- but i think she would have done so much to love Soo, to welcome her and her family.
And the kids! Oh, they would love Aunt Lizzy! She would shower them with gifts and hugs and visits. i certainly could imagine her coming to play with the kids and then spending the evening connecting with Soo.
Of course, Liz would be so encouraging and supportive of our ministry. Not only would she give generously, she would pray faithfully and write us encouraging notes and come and help us on occasion.
But there is the rub of course…
If my sister hadn’t have got cancer, if she had not died – would I be in the place I am now? Would I be the person I’ve become?
As i waited in Michigan in a hotel room by myself, waiting for someone to come pick me up, i was left alone with thoughts.
i finally picked up the hotel Bible (we didn’t have phone apps back then- not that i would have had a Bible app on my phone at that time). Inside it said to go to Romans 8 for times of trouble or sorrow or something – i suppose it wanted me to read Romans 8:28 which says all things work out for the good… i’m not sure if i would have believed that at the time… however what i did read was this
For this present suffering is not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us in Christ Jesus. ~ Romans 8:18
A flood of truths came over me. She is no longer suffering, and though she is dead physically, she is alive with God! And she is enjoying wonderful glory and beauty and everything awesome!
And it was my friends, the people around me – they were the ones who were really dead, who were really suffering.
Apparently right before my sister died she said “see.” My parents thought she wanted to see something on tv and turned on the tv, meanwhile she passed away while they sat on both sides of her. They remembered after that earlier she said “I see God.”
Around the time she passed away, i was sitting in snow by myself after a failed experiment with cross-country skiing, and prayed for my sister, asking God to take care of her and submitting her to Him.
i never thought He would take her away.
i guess i never wanted to entertain that thought.
i had been around her on thanksgiving and Christmas, and i couldn’t stand it.
i wish i would have spent more time with her.
However, i rarely think of what could have been, but instead i think of what is going to be!
One day i will see her again!
And she will not be the one crippled by brain cancer, barely able to speak or communicate her thoughts- she will have a new body, a glorious one!
And i will introduce her to my wife and my kids, and to many friends- whose livs were changed because of her.
See, throughout her cancer, she never gave up her faith, and she never stopped loving people. She was still buying gifts, still thinking of others, still praying, still trusting God.
In many ways i wanted to give up on God for what He was putting me through, and yet my sister’s faith was strong.
She was a model for me.
No she was not perfect. And we didn’t always get along.
But she always loved me even when i was a brat.
And she always trusted God, even when everything was taken from her.
It’s not just that though, God used her life and her death, her faith and my doubt – to reveal more of Himself to me and to put me on another path. To put me in a place of real surrender (something i had learned about a few weeks before she passed at IndyCC), to live with an eternal perspective, to give me a heart for the lost, and to move me to genuine faith.
If Jesus really is who He says He is and did what the Bible says HE did, and gives what HE says He will – i should act like it. And it shouldn’t matter what else i suffer here. Christ suffered so much more- the future glory is SO WORTH IT!
And so what do i feel now?
Yes, i wish my kids could know their Aunt.
But we talked about her tonight- and Halle is looking forward to seeing her in heaven- even as she is saddened that grandma and grandpa may die – or that we will too.
Yes, i wonder from time to time what it may be like if she was around.
And sometimes i even feel regret for how i mistreated her, and the missed opportunities to show her love and kindness
God used that dark situation, that horrible cancer to make something good. So that my life could be changed, and countless others as well.
i would have never shared the Gospel with my friends, never gone to the other side of the world, never influenced others who influenced others.
And i myself would never have had the joy of intimacy with God. (Sure, God could have done something else- but He knew what i needed).
And that is just from my side of the story – how much more were others impacted by her faith, by her life?
But the triumph is more – the TRIUMPH is the triumph Christ had over the grave. He could not be held down. He would not be defeated – NOT EVEN DEATH!
He is the victor.He has overcome.
And my sister- one who did many good things — and many bad- well, she is not defeated by death either. She is not suffering, because Christ suffered for her!
I don’t think she is in Heaven because she was a mostly nice person or even because she had sincere faith. I know she is in Heaven because Jesus came to earth and died for her sins and sealed her with Holy Spirit.
And so I rejoice.
I sing praise to God.
I thank Him vehemently.
And i look forward to Heaven with hope! True hope.
I will see my sister again.
And together with a multitude of others we will see God.