AUGUST 17, 2018

Not The Way It's Supposed To Be

Dear Church,

For nearly three years, the name “Nancy Zivkovich” has been uttered in prayerful petition from the pulpit of First Reformed Church.  Nancy was technically not a communicant member of the church, but her mother Dottie and her brother Brian are, and for the last several years as Nancy battled brain cancer, we claimed her as our own. Throughout her journey, we fervently prayed for Nancy.  Thousands of prayers were lifted up, countless cards were sent to Dottie and the rest of the family and many visits and meals and loaves of banana bread were given to this family for the last nearly three years.  Can you just imagine having brain cancer for three years?  

Perhaps I should simply state the painfully obvious for the sake of giving space for grief to set in: this is not how things are supposed to be.  Let me say that again.  This is not how things are supposed to be.  Parents should not be burying their children, it should be the other way around.  Mothers should not be leaving their daughters, it should be daughters leaving their mothers for colleges and jobs.  Husbands should be planning twenty-five year wedding anniversaries, not planning their wife’s funeral service.  No, my friends, this is not how things are supposed to be.  

Yet even despite this, it’s not the end.  For those who know and love Jesus, it’s not over.  This is not the end.  It’s not emptiness and nothingness and hollowness.  No matter how dark the night of the soul, no matter how painful the grief, no matter how many Kleenex boxes we go through, our God is a God who never leaves us and never forsakes us.  In a lot of ways, that’s the heartbeat of the Christian faith; my friends.  Not that life will always be rainbows and roses, or that cancer won’t come calling, or even that wives and moms of two beautiful girls won’t be taken away from us.  No, the promise is that right smack dab in the middle of this unthinkable pain, our God is a God who is with us.  By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, our God is with us.  

During the funeral I attempted to remind them of that comfort.  It was especially hard when sitting in the front row with a grieving father to see him trying to make sense of this madness while at the same time trying to be a rock for his two girls, ages 18 and 23.  I reminded them that God was indeed with them throughout this journey.  God was with Rod as he took the graveyard shift and held his dying wife’s hand through the night as she laid in a hospital bed.  God was with the girls as they took on the role of caregivers and daughters and supporters.  And God was with Nancy through all the appointments, through all the treatments, through all the good reports and all the bad reports.  Our God is a God who is with us.

Think about this.  So often when we gather in the sanctuaries of funeral homes for memorial services for loved ones, we naturally think of our own grief.  But go ahead and put yourself in Nancy’s position.  Think about what she was thinking and what she was going through, what she cared about the most.  As a wife, daughter, mother, sister and friend lying on her couch-binge watching HGTV with brain cancer wreaking havoc all over her body, Nancy knew the importance of Jesus.  This was a beautiful woman staring death in the face, knowing she had hours, not days, to live and in those precious and few moments, what Nancy knew she could count on, what she longed for in the depths of her soul, what she knew was awaiting her, was Jesus.  We all know that death will come for us all, but let’s face it, we don’t think about death as imminent. But for Nancy it was.  She knew the sands of her life’s hourglass were running out and in those honest moments where things are their realest and rawest, Nancy longed for Jesus. No more pain.  No more suffering.  No more brain cancer or hospice beds, or mountains of pills. Just Jesus.  Just heaven.  Just eternal peace.  Thanks be to God.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Matt