Just a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I went to see a dear friend. Kim used to work with my husband until cancer took up residence in her lungs, eventually moving to her brain, and finally claiming her life just two days ago.
When Kim was well, our time together was mainly at Dave’s work functions. Although she lived over an hour away from us, she was like a big sister to my husband. He always hoped she would study the Bible with me one day.
In the first four years of her struggle, we met from time to time to get updates and spend time with her and her husband. I wonder if Kim ever tired of hearing Dave say, “Kim, you know it would be great if you would get with Robin to talk about the Bible!”
But as cancer wore away at Kim’s body, her spirit began to come alive. And so my real story with Kim really began in the late stages of cancer when her body had betrayed her. By then, she had lost the ability to walk. (Her colon was punctured by radiation and the doctors split her wide open to allow her to heal.) Her arms were swollen and bruised, with more needle marks than an addict.
But, as her body was wearing away, lashed by a storm of huge proportions, her spirit was growing stronger day by day.
Kim was ready to talk about God. So, as often as I was able to make the hour drive, I started discussing the Bible with Kim. Sometimes my friend, Jennifer, would stop by too.
In one of our first studies, Kim explained that she had very few pieces of the big picture of Christianity from her childhood. And since the cancer was already in her brain, making it difficult to remember from time to time, we talked about the basics—Jesus coming and dying for us and how to respond to the cross.
Kim also told me how she had started praying twice a day thirty to forty-five minutes at a time. “Do you think that’s enough?” she asked. “It seems I just pray the same things over and over again.” Her prayers were nearly always for her family.
Regardless, Kim was always grateful to read the Bible or to be prayed over. Certainly, we saw in her a beautiful example of how to weather a massive storm without letting go of hope.
Guided into His Haven
Being with Kim reminded me again and again of the preciousness of being able to come and go as I choose. Just a month ago, when I told her I cleaned house earlier in the day, she said, “Oh how I wish I could clean house. That would be so wonderful.”
Even though I always left my time with Kim reminded of the preciousness of life and health, the truth is that having a Godly perspective isn’t always easy. Sometimes it takes everything within me. Especially when the storms roll in. And just lately, it seems the storms have been magnified.
Menopause has gained momentum with more sleepless nights. The anniversary of my mother’s death is approaching. Friends are in crisis. My second book is in a holding pattern, although I desperately want to keep writing.
Across the country, my dad has been fighting for his life. Standing at his bedside, watching him breathe through a ventilator, I was happy to see small signs of progress—a small squeeze of my hand after he opened his eyes for a few seconds. But yet every time we see a flicker of hope, it seems another setback occurs, like a blazing fever that requires his body to be iced down.
With all of this, there have been points when waves of emotion have engulfed me. At a recent church service, I spent the communion in the bathroom praying and surrendering to God with tears. Like the disciples, I’ve found myself straining at the oars, wondering if the wind is pushing me backwards faster than I’m moving forward.
But yet I’ve heard God whisper again and again, “It’s the storm before the calm Robin.” When, I finally looked up the corresponding story in the book of Mark, I realized that God had much more to say to me.
Perspective in the Storm
“When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he [Jesus] was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake.
He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” — Mark 6:45-51
It strikes me that although the disciples felt completely lost, not able to see anything but waves lashing around them, Jesus knew exactly where to find them. “He saw the disciples straining at the oars.”
Just like the disciples first thought Jesus was a ghost, I see that the things that terrify me most are really evidences of the footprints of Jesus, misinterpreted by my humanity.
I believe that just like the early disciples, Jesus’ words speak exactly to the deepest needs of my heart, “Take courage. Don’t be afraid.”
And, perhaps, it’s only in the fourth watch of the night, when I reach the end of my human strength, that I’m ready to see Jesus walking on the water.
What I know (and so quickly forget) is that many of the truest moments of surrender in my life come through the storms. And how precious is the calm that comes afterwards. It isn’t a peace that relies on circumstances, but rather the haven of hearing the whisper of Jesus, “I am here!”
But the assurance of calm after the storm doesn’t just apply to our day-to-day losses, frustration and anxieties. The true storm is life itself, and the truest calm will be the day we flee into the arms of Jesus forever.
Surrendering through the Storm
I received news of Kim’s death sitting at my sister’s dining room table in Virginia as we prepared to go to the hospital. My sister was in the living room, and as she heard me on the phone weeping, she had a moment of panic, fearing that dad had died.
Hearing it was someone else my sister was both relieved and then embarrassed at her relief. “It’s ok,” I said. “I understand.” And then I cried in her arms for a moment.
Although I do wish there had been more time with Kim, I do believe that God gave her exactly what she needed at the height of the storm. The last time I went to visit Kim, her whole right side was swollen, and putting together a coherent sentence was a challenge.
I picked up my Bible, silently seeking the right passage to read. God guided me to John 11:25. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”
Then I talked with Kim about the story of Lazarus and how his sisters felt when he died. We talked about how in reality life is about dying, and dying is about living. I asked Kim, “Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins and resurrected from the dead.”
She nodded, “Absolutely!”
After Kim reaffirmed that she had confessed all her sins to God, I talked to her for one final time about the meaning of surrender.
I asked her, “Kim, if God heals you tomorrow, and you walk out of here completely well, would you devote the rest of your life to serving him?
Then I explained in detail what that look like... being committed to a body of believers, serving others, and reaching out to her family to help them know God.
She nodded and said without hesitation, “How could I not? It is all his.”
Then Dave said a beautiful prayer committing our dear friend to God. It would be the last time I would see her alive.
Little did I know that just a few weeks later Kim would be gone, and I would be praying over my dad, confessing all of my sins and asking God to cover my Father with his wings.
Lessons from Kim
In the final storm of her life, Kim taught me some beautiful lessons about surrender in the face of the storm. For instance…
- Kim was living in a rehab center, although she desperately desired to be home.
- Her physical therapy had been traded in for hospice care, although her heart’s desire was to walk again.
- She struggled daily with unappetizing food, unsympathetic staff, slow responses to her calls, and a sleeping roommate with the television turned up loud.
Even though Kim’s family couldn’t be there as often as they wanted, her concern was nearly always for them, rarely for herself.
Kim told me again and again with a positive spirit, “This is what I’ve been given, so I’m going with it!” And although Kim, always spirited, would sometimes let staff members have it when they weren’t doing right by her, it seemed she wanted them to do what was right, because it was right.
Although I will greatly miss my friend Kim, I rejoice with her. In the final storm of her life, Kim saw Jesus walking on the water. The storm brought Jesus to her bedside, and pointed Kim to a place of great calm—a place of surrender.
On a personal note, Kim, thank you for the memories. Thank you for popcorn and cards in your room last New Year’s Eve. Thank you for helping me laugh and giving me perspective. Thank you for welcoming us into your room, showing us hospitality, even when you barely had the strength for a visitor. Most of all, thank you for becoming my husband Dave’s sister and then becoming my sister. You will always be family.
“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.” Psalm 107:28-30