Walking Through This Valley With Hope
If you’ve never experienced it, you will. And if you have, I pray you’ll be able to add your amen to what I have to say.
My first personal experience with grief was when my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer in November of 2003. He had been blessed with 80 years of health and well-being, so I wasn’t prepared to hear these words spoken by his doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville: “I regret to tell you that your dad has terminal cancer, and it is inoperable.” At least I didn’t think I was prepared.
For years I had been the recipient of excellent teaching about life, death, and the hope we’ve been given as a result of the Gospel. I knew well the passages and the truths they were declaring, but I had never walked through the valley of this shadow.
It was a dark and sad time for me.
I cried, prayed, asked for help when needed, and most of all pleaded with God to heal my dad. He answered my prayer, but not in the way I had hoped. I sensed the Lord tell me He was about to open the door of Heaven and call my dad’s name, and that I wouldn’t be able to come with him. This brought me unexpected comfort in the midst of my sadness.
I was aware of God’s nearness and His care for me as if it were only He and me walking this road. His grace was tangible and so was the hope I felt inside. Worship became more meaningful, not because of the words expressed, but because of the connection the truth made with my broken heart. It was like a warm oil pouring over my pain and grief.
It was the closest I’ve ever felt to God in my life!
My dad breathed his last only eight short weeks later, and I was privileged to walk him to Heaven’s door. I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t weirded out by the fact that death was in the room. I was more aware of the hope we have as Christians and filled with gratefulness for the promise that we don’t grieve as those who have no hope.
I’ve discovered that hope fills the sadness with eyes that can see beyond the pain. It stretches from age to age, connecting us with those who have gone before us. We no longer see them, but we know that there will be a day when we will be united again before the Throne of God and worship the Author and Finisher of our faith together.
Consider this passage of Scripture from Hebrews:
“...he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:26-28 ESV)
My Mom passed away last December nearly nine years after my Dad, and I am still grieving. She was not only my mom, but my mentor, my writing partner, and my friend. Walking with her to Heaven’s door wasn’t the same as it was with my dad, but it was good.
I became aware of how intimately acquainted God is with us even in death.
No one experiences the same passage—everyone is as unique in death as they are in life. We each will have our own story to share for eternity of how God in His kindness walked us through death’s door.
Our church has experienced the deaths of close friends and family members recently. One in particular inspired this post. Steve Ballinger and his wife Peggy have been members at Metro Life Church from the very beginning. They raised their children here together and taught them what it means to live a life sold out for God. Steve passed away a few weeks ago after a long illness. His daughter, Noelle, declared at his memorial service that we are not like those who grieve without hope. What a statement for a daughter to declare only days after saying goodbye to her dad. This was hope on display, and it is why death has certainly lost its sting for those whose names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-58 ESV)