A testament of thanksgiving
Aren’t we so glad to have 2020 behind us? We all struggled with the runaway virus in different ways, but I’m sure many of you experienced what our family did: ‘normal’ life challenges didn’t go away but additional ones arrived. Last year my sister Jennifer faced the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. As she prepared for Christmas, she decided to turn that experience into a reflection for her children. I want to share it with you because I found her words relevant to so many other things. As we face the continuing pandemic and the new issues that 2021 brings, may this letter provide some perspective. I encourage you to read it thoughtfully and consider your own loved ones’ names and your own personal battles.
Dear Addie, Abe and Emma,
2020 has been a memorable year, but there will most likely be more times like this in your life, when you feel as though God has placed a speed bump in your path. Nothing so giant that it can’t be overcome, but a significant interruption that forces us to slow our pace and refocus our perspective. 2020 has provided that for me, as it was also the year in which I was unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer. I wanted to write down some reflections for you, as a testament of thanksgiving to what the Lord has done in my heart and to remind you to look for the ways in which God is at work in your own lives and how he might be teaching you through life’s speed bumps.
"And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him- a threefold cord is not quickly broken." Ecclesiastes 4:12
Outside of your decision to follow Christ, the most important choice you will ever make is whom you will marry. I have never been more certain of this than during these past several months. I’m so thankful that Jonathan and I chose each other and that our choice is not based on emotions, mountaintop or valley days, or even good or bad news, but rather on our commitment to Jesus. In the ‘time stood still’ moments of life, there was no one else that I would have rather had sitting next to me. He is not only my best friend, but because we are corded together with Christ, we are strengthened to carry each other’s burdens and to withstand the weight of life’s storms. My hope is that you all will marry someone who is always rooting for you, praying for you and pointing you to Christ.
“The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” Psalm 25:14
I’ve also learned that in the process of sanctification, or becoming more Christ-like, we are required to have both a fear of the Lord and a friendship with the Lord. Fear and friendship often abide. If we are going through something scary, we want our friends to be close. My favorite hymn as a kid was ‘Trust and Obey’, which also suggests this tension—obeying God’s law (fear) while trusting in his presence (friendship). The fear of the Lord means completely submitting to his authority over our life and trusting in his plan way more than our own hopes or desires. Cancer was both scary and unexpected—but God’s presence was unwavering. My friendship with the Lord, fed through Scripture, prayer and community, provided consistent encouragement and ‘themes’ in those hard and early weeks. Two of those Scripture themes during my cancer treatment—written on various notes from different friends all over the world—were Psalm 40:3, “He put a new song in my mouth” and Lamentations 3:22, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.” When God asks you to walk through something difficult, his friendship will carry you along. Be sure to trust and obey.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
You will hear many names for Jesus—Good Shepherd, Messiah, Wonderful Counselor, Immanuel—but my favorite for this season is Prince of Peace. There have been a few moments in the past several months of diagnosis and treatment when I have felt overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was not a feeling of sadness or anxiety or anger, but an overwhelming sense of peace and the “blessed assurance” that Jesus was mine. One of those moments happened just a few weeks ago when I took out our nativity set. I’ve done this for over 20 years now, but this year it felt so different. I was overcome with a reminder of God’s presence. Through the arrival of a brave little boy in Bethlehem, we have been given the gift of peace—no more brokenness, nor fear, nor sickness, but the assurance of eternal life with him. I hope that when you encounter difficulties in life, such as pain or changed plans, that you will still feel God’s peace that replaces fear with hope, a peace that passes understanding.
I hope this challenged and encouraged you as much as it did my family. Consider sharing this letter with someone today as a testament to your own thanksgiving for who God is. Or even considering writing and sharing your own version as an exercise in seeing God’s faithfulness through difficult times. Even if we aren’t in the midst of trial, reminding ourselves of God’s goodness in good times helps us be better prepared to withstand the not-so-good times. Thank you God that you are steadfast in all circumstances!