Saturday, December 29, 2012

There, at the End of All Things

My heart is bursting, today readers, with a testimony held inside for several weeks. A few of you, my dearest friends, know the trial I faced in October and November, a second-round battle with deadly meningitis. The night did come where I thought we would have to summon family and say goodbye, and I went through the darkest night of my life--not because I faced saying goodbye, but I faced the unknown--that unimaginable, unknowable God.  What did I know of Him?  What could I offer to Him?  I was terrified and felt  utterly lost, helpless, clueless.  I was shocked at my sudden lack of faith.  It seemed to me that other Christians always so confidently faced death!  Why couldn't I?  It shook me to the core.  Below is the testimony of that experience.  But first some words of gratitude for God and how He provided for me through it all: In addition to the tower of strength and rock of authority that God made my husband to be through this trial, my parents were there for me with their love and help (I was so blessed by all they did for me!), and as well, I reached out to a few faithful friends who sent up fervent prayers for me, and gave me wonderful words of counsel and encouragement while God led me through this valley of the shadow of death.

The experience is the nearest and dearest thing to my heart that I have ever walked through, and I am longing to share of it because of God's goodness, as well as in faith that the comforts I received through my trial will in turn comfort others.  Part of the words below are words as I wrote them to share my testimony with someone specific. Others are words I am sharing just on this blog. But here is my story of my journey to the End of All Things. 


I will tell you it was quite the eye-opening experience, coming within a minute and a millimeter of dying, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because it forced me to confront what I believe and decide what to do about faith.

I had a night in November where I thought we were going to have to call in the family, and say my goodbyes.  And that was a VERY hard thing to face—the hardest moment I have ever faced.  But the hardest part was not saying goodbyes. Although it broke my heart to think of leaving behind my husband and children, I knew they would be okay, and I have been so grateful, content and happy for years with the life God has blessed me with. The hardest part was being sure of what to believe about what was on the other side. I had to evaluate all I had ever believed or tried to believe about God, and heaven, and hell, and in those last minutes, I still had to beg Him to please let me know what to believe about Him, and let me know if I was ready to die! It was all so “uknown” and unknowable to me, even though I have had faith in God pretty strongly for about 10 years now.

And before that long night was over, He answered that prayer.  With no other options that made sense, I realized that God cannot be God if I understand all about Him. If so, anyone could take His place, and any of us could be God. That just doesn’t work, because we know deep down that we can have no faith in ourselves—which is why we lack peace and are always searching for something outside of ourselves!  In order for life to make sense, we need to be made by something greater than us, and in order for God to be greater than us, He has to be something we could never be equal to or fully understand or imagine, which would require absolute faith to believe in Him.

There at the end of all things, I learned I must have faith that God is God and that He is perfect, or I had no other hope. Because there simply is no other option.  There is no hope in man-invented religions or gods or theories that we can intellectualize and explain to our satisfaction.  That is not God. That is faith in ourselves—in what we can imagine, and see and touch, and that, by definition is not faith. Any notion we have been taught or imagined about what heaven will be like--those images are not faith! We've never been there! The fact is, we will all face the end of our lives and face things unimaginable, unknowable and unseen. Faith will be required of us at the end of all things. No one can know for sure what lies beyond, so there must be faith in something uknown, or by definition, there can be no faith, and thereby, no hope. And when you realize that you have no choice but to have faith in something, you realize that your only hope is that that “something” is God, and that God is perfect, and good, and exactly who He says He is, or there is no other hope.

I realized that I will meet Him, this unimaginable, unknowable God one day, but the big question was for me, what was He going to do with me when He met me?  Well, all He asks of me is that I have faith in Him and who He says He is, which includes having faith in Jesus, God’s son, who is God Himself incarnate, being sent to die for us to make it so I am worthy to live eternally with God. This is a crazy story to believe (and I have told God so many times), but in the end, I realized I must have faith in this, or I have no other option at all. There at the end of all things, I came to know that I have to have faith that He is who He says He is, and that those who believe in Him and His son, Jesus, will live eternally with Him—and that gives me hope of seeing my sister again, and those I love again one day.  And if I don’t believe this, the next best option is that we die and return to nothingness—to dust. And that just can’t be true—there are too many unexplainable things about life.  I think people can try and try and try to come up with something else to have faith in, but it will leave them searching and wondering until that end of all things, and then they will have to decide to have faith in the unknowable anyway, regardless of what they tried to know! Let me tell you, even if you have tried to know godly things about what to expect about heaven and hell--things taught by pastors and things written in books, you will realize there at the end of all things that those images and thoughts are nothing you can believe in, because you are truly facing unknowable, unimaginable things. It is faith to give yourself up to that! It is not faith to give yourself up to what you have "learned"or the things you have imagined in your head! Who has seen God?  They eye has not seen nor has the ear heard what He has prepared for them who wait for Him!

Please know that I’m not telling you to go to church or not to go to church. I have gone to church a lot the past eleven years, but haven’t gone regularly for over three years (although we have had home church meetings every week for three years now), and am not inclined to go back much even though I have more faith in God now than I ever have before. I enjoy going to churches, because they do speak of the One I love, and I love hearing about Him.  And if God wants you to go to church, and you feel you must or that you want to, that is your business. I’m simply sharing with you now that all my faith is placed in God and who He says He is (and the modern church has nothing to do with that faith!). I pray continually, here at home—and have for eleven years now.

Backstory (many of you have read the details of this testimony in posts long ago!): God confirming my faith through this illness this year was really just confirming all I have lived for the past ten years. I have had true faith in the true God since about one year before we moved to Ohio in 2002.  At that point, our marriage was in ruins and I didn’t know how to save it, and my mental health was hanging by a thread—I swear I thought I was going to have to be committed to a mental institution for life.  Back then, I was at the end of all things, too, and I didn’t want books, or counselors, or churches (I had tried all that!). I wanted perfect help. My only hope was that if a God had made ME and had made MARRIAGE, then this God would have the perfect help and know the answers, would He not?  I prayed to this perfect God that I hoped existed, not knowing who He was or if He was even there, but it was my only hope and option. I was brought up in church so this is not anything I learned there. He actually answered me. I was a bit surprised to hear it, but hear it I did, like words right out of the sky one day while I was driving, crying, distraught, desperate for help and answers, and begging for the 1000th time to whoever God was, “What is the truth! Where are answers and help?”   

And I heard it plain as day, “The Bible. All you need is the Bible.” I stopped crying, so shocked at the unexpected answer, and said to myself, “What? Really? Just the Bible?” And I thought about it for a few days. It’s all I could think about, the message had been so clear. Then I went to a bookstore and at random purchased a few books to compare the Bible to some other books I had read that had seemed so good, and then it became perfectly clear. Suddenly it made perfect, simple sense. If God was perfect, and He wrote a book, then it would be a perfect book and need no other help or explanation.  So simple and easy--and easy to miss in this over-saturated, over-media-soaked, information age!  I began doing, simply, what the Bible said regarding my marriage and myself, and things turned instantly on a dime, and I was amazed. And I realized that God's "yoke is easy" and His "burden is light" just like He says it is (but many people have never experienced).  My mental health problems went completely away—we’re talking countless years of crazy depression! Our marriage instantly started on a path to peace and we have never looked back—and it is now in such a state of happiness and union that is far beyond anything I could have ever imagined it could be.  And I learned why most people who go to church can’t say this—they simply don’t DO what God says to do. They hear it, and it sounds good, but instead of doing, they shout “Amen!” about it!

After God proved Himself so mightily in my life, I committed to Him with a vow, and promised Him that whatever He showed me were His instructions to do, I would do them, I went to church quite a bit because I wanted to learn more about what was in the Bible, so that I could simply do it and find the help and peace I wanted.  I learned, and continued to find help—but I realized that most people around me in church were not experiencing God the way I was. They loved to feel good and cheer about God, and do lots of busy things to be involved all about God, but they didn’t simply just hear and do the simple things God says to do, and their lives weren’t much different than anyone else’s who didn’t go to church.  Not many seemed to comprehend at all that my life really had changed and I really did have help and peace, although they loved to say “Amen!” if I ventured to try to tell them. But I didn’t care—because I knew how I had been helped. I just kept looking to God. I knew I would never look anywhere else for any help or answers, because I was now perfectly, continually helped!

My husband and I weren’t even really speaking when I started this path back in 2001. But the peace came instantly as I tried to be a wife the way God told me to be (which was opposite of anything else I had ever heard or tried!), and eventually, my husband saw the change in me--and he sensed it far before he saw it. He went from having a manic, depressed, angry wife to having a happy, peaceful, sane wife. My oldest son and my mom saw the difference, too. They couldn’t help but believe in God more, too.  And all of us, because of this, have just continued to grow in His truth, have more and more faith in Him, to pray without ceasing to Him, and if we discover something He says to do, then we do our best to do it. And it has brought peace to our home, and even more amazingly, peace and love to our marriage, and unbelievable peace and sanity to my mind.  And even if we don’t know what is best to do in any given moment, we do know that all we have to offer to God is our faith—that is all He simply asks of us. Nothing more than that! That is what I learned there at the end of all things… faith is all I could offer Him. I had nothing else worthy to give a perfect God! There, at the end of all things, it didn't matter how many days I had lived, or how many hours I had spent in a church, or how much I had mentally prepared to meet Him with images and ideas of heaven. All that mattered was that I had faith in who He said He was. That was all I could have.

It was a sure trial of this faith of mine to go through the illnesses I have gone through the past three years, and this last round in October was the hardest. It certainly builds faith and patience to continually have to trust God with such trying circumstances. It really made me question what I believed, even with all the miraculous help that had happened in my life the past ten years. But since that time God revealed Himself to me over ten years ago, I  have always continually asked God to show me what is true and what is right, and to help me have the right faith, especially for the sake of my children (have you noticed it's easy to get our eyes off Him and on to the things of man?).  And that is exactly the prayer He answered by bringing me right to the End of All Things.  I can tell you for sure, that if you have any uncertainty at all about God (and if God is God, then any human should be uncertain about Him), coming to the end of all things you will realize that there is no way your human brain could ever find all the answers, and that the only hope is that God is who He says He is, and that He is perfectly good, perfectly Just, and His plan is perfect, and that not one thing ever happens outside of His perfect plan and power.  Not even my illness, or the death of my sister, or the death or trial of anyone, or any other thing that happens, ever.

And that is peace.

Because of our human nature, trial  is almost the only way to "finish" our faith--to perfect it.  Those toughest moments are those when we have to know what we believe, and then we realize we can't know it. And that alone is the basis of faith. Things unknowable and unseen. And of course, that is why God must allow it. He must offer us faith, because it is by faith only that we are saved.

I realized there, at the end of all things, that anything I could dream up or imagine about God, or heaven, or any human preaching or teaching I had ever heard, I could not cling to. That is not faith. Faith is trusting that no matter what I find God to be, He is the ONLY God and that He is perfect. I have no other choice or hope.  I'm glad that God tells me He is perfect and good! I've certainly read enough of the Bible (and obeyed enough of the Bible and saw for myself that His instructions WORK when nothing else I had  ever tried did help me!) the past 10 years to not doubt that it is His book! 

God also helped me with the confusion I felt there at the end of all things. Last year, I was concerned because I sat at the bedside of my aunt who died from breast cancer, and I did not understand her confusion and struggle with dying.  I encouraged her confidently for countless hours to give herself up to God, and didn't understand her despair, because I knew how much she loved Him.  So, I was so surprised to find myself so unsure and confused, just like she was, when I thought it was time for me to die.  As a Christian, I thought I would be sure and confident and ready. I was sure confident as I comforted my aunt!.  What went wrong?  And then just two days after my terrible night where I faced the end of all things, even though I had accepted God's gift of faith that He had given me there, I was still upset because I had become so confused about dying and whether or not I was ready. With nothing else to do, and of course, NOTHING on TV, I told my daughter to go pick a sermon back in the office from the shelves. I just wanted any words of encouragement from a man of God.  She picked of her own accord a video by S.M. Davis titled "Overcoming Discouragement" (I had not told her I was discouraged, but I think she could tell, and I think she was, too. Our whole family was pretty discouraged at this point!).  I watched it, and found it to be good teaching, but only mildly interesting. I found myself dozing here and there. I got a sweet confirmation when Pastor Davis mentioned as one of his steps to overcoming disouragement to reach out to your godly friends for support and counsel. That is one thing I had done, as a few of you dear sisters got a message from me asking desperately for prayer and counsel! Anyway, the video ended. I was an invalid in my chair, so I just waited for the tape to play to the end so that the VCR would begin to automatically rewind itself, at which point it would then power off.  But the tape didn't end.  Much to my surprise, there was a bonus sermon on that DVD, titled, "Finish."  I never knew it was there. And it was the story of a mother who was critically ill, and weary of her illness, and she was confused and discouraged, and asked Pastor Davis for counsel. She asked, "Is it okay to just refuse further treatment and just go home to heaven?"  He spoke about how he prayed immediately desperately for the right answer for her, and then shared about how he received just that. And the message was to "Finish."  If you cannot say that you have fought the good fight and have finished your course, then by all means you must do all you can to finish. Which means if there are reasonable options still for treatment and no peace about it being time to die, then the clear message is to fight and to finish.  

What a wonderful message and help!  It helped me understand part of the reason why I did not feel peace about dying!  (the other part being that God was still "finishing my faith"). I was discouraged about facing another hospitalization, another round of ICU, another port inserted... but I was not sure of God's will or the right path.  This message had been unknowingly on our office shelf  for 10 years, and was at God's timing popped into the VCR unknowingly by my 13yo daughter at the very time I needed it! 

And you dear friends whom I reached out to at that time, you not only came through with prayer, but with email after email of love and encouragement for me.  What a blessing and a gift from God!

I’m hoping my personal story here may be tugging at your hurting heart.  I know that there exists in some of you the same feelings I have always had—that desperate longing to just know what to believe, and a longing for the real, true answers that WORK and bring peace.  I want to encourage you to just start asking Him about who He is, and ask Him to show you. You don’t need church, or anything else. You just need a heart hungry for the truth, and a desperate need to know who God is, and a desperate need for peace about it all.  I’m encouraging you to just ask Him, in no fancy words. You won’t need to do a thing—just ask with your whole heart for Him to show you, and He will. He is God, and He can do anything. He made you. He loves you. He wants you, He is perfect, and He is true.  You won’t have to be told anything else by me, or by anyone.  He will tell you Who He Is… I know He will.  He knows exactly your heart’s desires, exactly where it is empty and longing, and He knows exactly how to fix that to bless you with all that is dearest to you.

On the other side of this, how am I living now?  Oh, what peace! Am I saying I no longer need to learn more about Him?  No! I will even more earnestly strive to know Him. I will study and meditate on His Word, so I can live for Him.  But I know now that there is no required amount of learning I must do--because when it is time to meet Him, it doesn't matter what I know about Him. It matters only that I have faith in Him. My faith will be all that is required of me.  Now that I have had to confront that place of faith at the end of all things, my faith is so much more sureNow I see that every day is actually the end of all things. I never know when I will breathe my last breath and find myself in the hands of God.  For years I have asked God to make me one who seeks and watches daily for His coming, like He tells us to do!  I have begged Him to give me faith! I have prayed desperately for Him to make me to love Him (His greatest commandment)! I have prayed to be ever thoughtful and mindful that any day could be my last, because of my death or because of His coming. I prayed to be prepared--because He tells us to be. 

And now I am ready.  I find myself looking to the sky at any given moment and saying, God, if you are ready, then so am I! Please come quickly!  

Oh, He truly is the author and finisher of my faith!

I pray He authors and finishes yours as He has mine! Your trial may be different, but yes, your trial will come. Just know, there at the end of all things, HE IS.


1 comment:

  1. I am so blessed by this testimony. I just really have no words. It's one that I would brand with one of my favorite scriptures: "And Mary pondered these things in her heart." I want to savor this message. Thank you for sharing.