Others are near for a reason
There is a man named Phil. He is a plumber and works at Akron General Hospital where Kathy spent a great deal of time her final year battling infections and other cancer treatment related issues. He came around the corner on the 5200 hallway the day after Kathy had surgery in April 2009 to remove her cancer. Our family was devastated by the news and there was a necessary transition that was occurring in our family, so I gathered the family in the waiting area not far from Kathy’s room to talk. Since none of us had encountered cancer before and of all people, Kathy was the most unlikely of candidates, there were more questions than answers. As each person shared and we began to build a strategy for her car, Phil walked past and stopped. He inquired “do you have someone in your family with cancer?” We told him briefly of our situation and he sat down and began telling us about his own cancer journey which was now 18 months. He offered information, advice and recommendations for doctors and treatment plans, even giving us information on possible medicines that would be likely used. Later that night, he walked by and delivered a plate full of pastries for the family that he had purchased. At various times during our hospital visits over a two year period, I’d run into Phil and he would tell me of his ongoing battles and inquire about Kathy. He had been given up to die several times and even been told he would live only six months and yet as of this writing, he’s still working every day and taking treatment—thinking about heading out west on his Harley!
I mention Phil because he identifies for me a key principle of life transitions that cannot be missed. You are not being asked to accept life as it is and deal with transitions alone! In fact, I’m sure if you are going through something right now, that you can identify several people in your life who have been helpful and whose experience in similar situations has been a guide to your own transitions. It always seems to happen that way. God is a planner and His foreknowledge of life and our future enables Him to provide people who help us navigate in waters that seem strange, dark and scary.
I’ve got a friend who is going through a bad divorce. They did not anticipate this situation would be forced upon them and the transitions in life have been huge and yet God has provided, time and time again every thing that has been needed. Whether it has been a place to live, key contacts in legal and financial matters, or any other of a variety of needs, there has been a God plan in place. It is my intention to offer you the perspective of hope in raising the point of God’s advance work in your life.
If your like me you struggle at times with the concept of God’s foreknowledge and I’m not prepared to offer you any straight line theology that helps you get from this point to that—however I would say this—God does have a plan before you have a need. It is His efforts in our behalf BEFORE the matter that have been the determining factor of our survival through life transitions. We cannot know what tomorrow holds but He does. We could not anticipate the pain, the suffering that is ahead but He does and He has a plan to see us through.
In our journey with Kathy, the pathway is filled with persons who were used of God at key times to inspire, encourage, pray, support and advise. It would be impossible to mention them all but I’ve tried to keep a list of those who were so instrumental and in my view, so ordained by God to help us. One of those is my sister, Lynn. She has served for more than 30 years in a professional nursing career. She had the expertise and the experience to help me as we began to map the plan for Kathy’s medical needs. Graciously, she allowed us 24/7 access to her life so that we could find answers and seek the best help available for our issues. Lynn not only brought professional experience, she was family and as such could gain access like few others and our levels of trust were high. Doctors, nurses, technicians and others in the medical circles we traveled came to love and appreciate Lynn as well and that helped us enormously in getting things done. She was an advocate for us. A person God planned for in His knowledge of our lives. Go back to the God plan that we were both born to the same family. Add the idea that Lynn chose the medical profession before I ever knew Kathy. Mix in the decision several years to move into management positions so that when the time came, she could largely control her own schedule and be with us in hours, if needed. What kind of God is that? He is neither silent or absent in even the simplest of matters that concern you or me—His beloved!
I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Naaman, captain of the Syrian army who contracts leprosy, a cursed disease of the day and one that threatened his stellar military career. It seems clear that God prepared two key people in his life, a maiden who worked for his house and a unnamed companion who rode in his chariot on the trip to the prophet Elisha’s house. If you are unfamiliar with the story, in a nutshell, when word of Naaman’s leprosy reaches the handmaiden she mentions her wish that he could meet up with the prophet in Israel who could cure him. That mention precipitates a letter to the king of Israel who is alarmed and thinks it is trick of war. Instead, Elisha sends word that Naaman should come to Elisha’s house. Apparently, Naaman was expecting a televised faith healing extravaganza like the kind you sometimes see on TV…where the dramatic prayer is observed by thousands and applauded. Elisha is a simple man and does not even come out to greet this Syrian military giant. The servant sent out instructs Naaman to go to the muddy Jordan River and dip seven times for his cure.
Naaman is incensed at what he perceives the arrogance and lack of protocol and so heads his caravan in the direction of home, muttering and fuming until this unnamed man who must have known great influence with Naaman asks a simple question, “…if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? Naaman can certainly be thankful for those two being part of his life because the end of the story is a healed Naaman! How implausible is the thought that without these two, his family would have been without him earlier, his nation would have lost a key leader and a miracle would have been lost?
There are people in your life, right now, who are under assignment from God for your present transitions. You won’t have to look for them…they are looking for you. In their heart, they’ve heard the call and chosen to obey and in coming they do for your benefit, serving the Lord who sent them. Listen to them tell their stories and you will hear about moments when in prayer, they felt God leading them to help you or in a dream they experienced a sense of purpose regarding serving you. People who surrender themselves to God’s calling will tell you He knows how to speak to them in ways that unmistakable and clear.
I have a friend who has been with me for many years. Our first meeting was casual and uneventful, yet looking back; it was unlikely either of us could have predicted what God had in mind. It is my observation that his spiritual sensitivity goes up at certain times and he makes intentional actions toward me. At other times, he pulls back and our relationship is different. The same is true of me toward him. At various times God will speak to my heart and I’ll it is time to move closer to him and his family. In every case, he will confirm his need for my investment. Yet, when Kathy became sick, he moved in—leaving messages of hope, challenging my faith and embracing my pain as if it were his own. He is a gift from God for me. I cherish him deeply as he does me. It is God at work in him for my help in times of transition in life when I could not make sense of my moments. His perspective and insights allowed our discussions to be fuller and impacting. He has learned to listen to the whisper of God and obeys.
Perhaps you are reading this and thinking that you should respond to a prompting that has been consistent in your spirit and focused your attention on someone—don’t delay—move on it now! Write the letter, make the call, plan the trip and go, step up—whatever it involves be obedient to what God is doing and be active in the midst of God’s plans to help another. There is a God reason you feel the way you do!
It is clear to me that one of the answers to the question that nags us as to the meaning or reason for some of things we go through, is that God is preparing us to help another person. There is power in the words of someone who has walked through a transition such as the one you are facing. When people can honestly speak from their experience of their own pain, they offer their fellow sufferer hope. It is the clear message of Paul in this passage…
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”
Did you notice the emphasis on “…the same comfort God has given us”? It strikes a cord to me that we are simply required to offer what God has done in us and to us! The same instruction Jesus gave the man healed in the tombs of Gadara is offered here—just share with others what God has done in you. The story of your life and mine is not what we have done but what God has done in us. We have a story to tell.
In the aftermath of Kathy’s death, I decided to join a grief support group to help me process the loss in a healthy and life-giving way. I’ve been blessed to sit among men and women who are traveling the road of grief. Their stories inspire me. Sitting with men who have suffered the loss of their wife and listening to them speak of God’s grace and peace helps me know the same is available to me. When one of them speaks of strength that came as they sought God in prayer or through the Word of God, I know that God is providing me a roadmap to healing.
Mary is a nurse who came into our life in the final days of Kathy’s life. Her story is more than nursing. She has dealt with sickness and illness in her own family. Her children have known pain and Mary’s work schedule reflected the daily challenges she still faces. Yet, every day she cared for Kathy from her professional and personal experience. She insisted on the assignment every day and working with us became an angel of God for us. Mary helped us within the confines of her ability and authority. Her presence in Kathy’s life and with that to all our family was no accident. God knew we were going to need Mary in the final days and it is my conviction He placed her there at some point, knowing we were one day coming. As I say, I don’t have the theology worked out to my satisfaction but I have come to this conclusion—God knows what you need before you do and He’s got provisions in place before you even begin thinking about what you need. He pushing resources into the spaces you inhabit sometimes without you realizing it.
My friend Dave runs an international care ministry that is engaged in crisis response and working with “on the ground” personnel to get resources to the point of need as quickly as humanly possible. He did that for me in Louisiana when we were grappling with enormous needs in aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Later I learned David and his team began moving resources in the periphery of the anticipated landfall of the horrific and devastating storm hours before they were even needed. It was his strategy to be as close as humanly possible to maximize his opportunity to help and to heal. It is the example of the Healing Savior and the Almighty God. Before you need help, resources are positioned close and available so that when we cry out—He’s already there. That’s the powerful underlying revelation of this precious promise spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “Before you call I will answer and while you are yet speaking, I will hear.”(???????) In other words, while the words are coming out of your mouth, the help is on the way and arrives in time and is enough.
Recently, a good friend called to check on me and verbalize a powerful personal commitment to our relationship. He spoke “it is my intention to be out of sight when you don’t need me so as not to be a distraction to your process but near enough to be there in a second when you do.” That is a good friend. I want to be a good friend to others like that.
You may feel alone in the transitions of your life right now. Life is not as you had wished it would be. Your dreams are crushed and your fears are heightened as you consider how going forward will feel and what it will involve. You may be tempted to think that the journey ahead is too hard and unmanageable. Stop long enough to remember how long God has been taking care of you and how faithful He has been to you in EVERY moment when you really needed Him. He’s still there. You may not see Him or even feel Him but I assure you He has not abandoned or left you alone. Like my friend, He has been in the shadows of your life, cheering your faith and watching you live your life but so close that when you start to whisper His name in prayer, He’s already in place and He is enough.
Nobody does life transitions like our God. Embrace the nearness.