To an outside observer, I suppose looking at the last twenty or so years of my life could be perceived as gazing at a depressing resume of suffering. For my wife Margaret battled an autoimmune disease called sarcoidosis for most of our marriage, culminating in her death in July of 2017.
Yet I find myself today, the day before what would have been our twenty-ninth wedding anniversary, overflowing with gratitude. How can this be? Well, I would summarize my reality in four gifts that I have received. Here they are:
- The gift of God’s comfort: Psalm 34:18 has been my experience: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” How grateful I am for those times of weeping and heartache, when I felt the balm of His comfort. These personal experiences with my loving God are hard to put into words, but they have been so precious to me.
- The gift of friends: I have been so richly blessed by a multitude of diverse and caring friends. My family, those at my church, those at my work, some local, some across the country. All of them have one thing in common: they care about me. And that, is a gift I cherish. Clarence’s departing words to George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life resonate with me here: “Remember George: no man is a failure who has friends.”
- The gift of purpose: Looking back at all those years of health-related challenges, I know that every iota of it had a purpose. The Lord never wastes a moment of our pain, for He uses it to mold us into the people He wants us to be. Romans 8:28-29 makes this clear: “For we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
- The gift of hope: This gift has two aspects. First, I don’t grieve Margaret’s death without hope, for she trusted in Jesus and Jesus alone to save her, and thus she is, right now, very much alive in heaven with the Savior. She is “away from the body but at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Second, for my remaining years on this planet, I have this promise of God: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Sure, I will still have times of suffering and pain, but God will be with me. And that assurance is a gift I will cling to for the rest of my life.
Next month I will share another excerpt from my new book. How thankful I am for all the gifts the Lord has given me!