I received this in my inbox nine days ago but hadn’t time to watch it until today. It is exactly what I needed to hear. I’ve been really struggling this week and through this father’s testimony God has touched my heart.
Levi’s dad says “Trials and suffering have a reality about them that they force our own neediness upon us, whether we like it or not. It’s not easy and it’s not romantic. However, they can be a point of life as our Saviour brings us deeper into Himself.”
The other day I was listening to one of John Piper’s sermons and I was really blessed. I credit John Piper‘s teaching for having instilled within me a strong sense of the sovereignty of God which has helped me to cope with Leah’s illness and death.
In this sermon John Piper says:
There are three ways that God protects His people from danger.
1) Sometimes He prevents danger from even arising on the horizon of our lives.
2) Other times He allows the danger to attack, and gives us the victory so that we live on and serve Him in gladness.
3) But in the end one enemy is never driven off, the enemy of death. We will all die if the Lord does not return in our lifetime. But here, too, God protects. He protects us from unbelief, and preserves us for His heavenly kingdom.
Leah was in category 3 – God allowed her to suffer but protected her heart from unbelief. As she lay dying in ICU she was so peaceful and serene. Leah told her boyfriend that she wasn’t afraid to die. Although of course, she wanted to live if at all possible.
I guess that I am in category 2 – a category I would never have chosen for myself – I would have chosen category 1.
Since my early teens, one of the ways that I have used to cope with stress, is by writing in a diary or notebook. Sometimes I write almost daily, sometimes I don’t write for months at a time. It just depends on what’s happening in my life.
As soon as Leah was diagnosed, I immediately started writing. I’m so glad of this now. If I was relying on my memory, it would all just be a blur, because that’s what stress does.
I recently read through my diary entries from the early weeks immediately following Leah’s diagnosis.
We received Leah’s diagnosis on Friday 19th April ’13. On Saturday 20th April ’13 I was booked into a Ladies Christian Conference in Ballymagorry, Co Tyrone, organised by 1Vision Jesus. Leah was spending Saturday with her boyfriend so I went to the conference as planned.
The theme for the conference was “Walking in the Fire“. The speakers were Gloria Kearney and Carol Heron. I felt like I was walking in the fire alright.
There was an opportunity for prayer ministry during the day and I went to Carol and Gloria for prayer. They laid hands on me and while they were praying over me Carol received a vision:
Carol said that I was sitting in a room and everything was dark and in the vision I asked “Why is everything dark?” Then in this vision a screen started to play like a cinema screen with pictures on it and I saw things on it that I couldn’t see while the lights were on. Carol said that this suggested that I was entering into a period of darkness that would bring spiritual revelation into my life and that I would receive new knowledge (new to me).
These words still blow me away, although in a sad kind of a way.
On Friday 26th April ’13 I wrote the following words in my diary.
Then a few weeks later I wrote this:
Kirsty came and introduced herself to us during our first outpatients appointment in Bristol. She was a fantastic friend to us during the 14 weeks that we were there. She regularly brought me food parcels when I was on “lockdown” with Leah in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. She also gave me a lift to church, or arranged for someone else to pick me up, the Sunday’s that I was able to go.
I remember that day at the “Walking in the Fire” conference, lifting my hands in worship, as we sang one of the songs that Leah so often played on her iPod:
10,000 Reasons By Matt Redman
The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes
Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name
One of the activities that Leah loved being involved with was L.O.S.T. – Limavady Outreach and Service Team. After we had received Leah’s diagnosis on Friday 19th April ’13, the first people to overcome their shock and visit us to support us and pray with us, were three of the L.O.S.T. leaders who came on Sunday afternoon 21st April ’13.
This was my husband’s birthday and our wedding anniversary, but we weren’t celebrating – we were too shocked and overwhelmed by the news that had been delivered to us over the phone at 4.30pm on the Friday.
We deeply appreciated the courage and Christian love shown by these youth leaders, in coming to minister to my husband and I whom they barely knew – their visit made a difference.
A few weeks later all the leaders involved with L.O.S.T. bought Leah a gift of a 3G enabled iPad. She had to buy a bigger handbag to accommodate it because it went everywhere with her.
This iPad was invaluable for the many long hours that Leah subsequently spent, as both an inpatient and an outpatient. Leah’s cousin bought her a subscription to Love Film so that she could watch films on it. Her aunt and uncle bought her a Spotify subscription. Wherever Leah went, this iPad went too and only the grave finally parted Leah and her iPad.
I love to listen to the Bible teaching of John Piper at desiring god.org. I know that some people consider John Piper too wordy and deep. For me, John Piper’s Bible teaching reaches the parts that other preachers don’t reach.
Today I was listening to a sermon by John Piper entitled “Ambushing Satan With Song” and I heard the following.
“January 8, 1956, Jim Elliot and four other young missionaries approached the jungle edge where the Auca Indians lived. Their last recorded act according to Elizabeth Elliot was to sing a hymn together:
‘We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day thy grace to know,
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
We rest on thee, and in thy name we go.’
All five of them were killed that afternoon. But they, too, were protected by God—protected from a fate far worse than death. They were protected from cowardice and unbelief and fear. And I think it would be fair to say – protected with song.
We have two great weapons in worship: the Word of God and song. So let us give heed to the Word of God and let us sing with all our heart.”
I thought about how Leah chose to listen to her favourite Christian music every day, using her Spotify playlist on her IPad, while dying in ICU. When the nurses came in to work with Leah I would lower the volume so as not to bother them, but they often told me that there was no need, as they liked listening to such lovely songs.
While Leah was taking her last breaths in the Children’s Hospice, her music also played. The doctor attending to her said the music was beautiful.
Throughout Leah’s wake at our home, Leah’s Spotify play list played softly in the background. Several people commented on the peaceful atmosphere.
I think we should never underestimate the importance of music in influencing our mood.
John Piper’s words reminded me of how our daughter faced death without fear. I think that listening to songs that encouraged her faith helped her to remain strong and courageous.
Matthew 11:2-3 (NKJV)
And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
When John the Baptist was a baby in his mother’s womb and she received a visit from Mary who was pregnant with Jesus, the Messiah, we are told that “the baby leapt in her womb” Luke 1:41
As an adult, John the Baptist preached and taught people about Jesus and then baptised him. We are told that immediately after he baptised Jesus the following took place –
Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3:16-17 NKJV
So it would appear that John the Baptist was for most of his life, in no doubt, that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God.
So why the doubts and the questions in Matthew 11:2-3? John was now languishing in prison facing a beheading. Perhaps he was being tortured, perhaps he wasn’t getting very much food and sleep? All of these things can play tricks with our minds, truths we were once sure of can suddenly become very uncertain.
What has all this got to do with me?
I’ve been a committed Christian since 1980. I love Bible study. I don’t just go to church – I also love to go to conferences where the Bible is taught. I especially love to study the Bible myself at home. I listen to online sermons from preachers such as John Piper, R. T. Kendall and Tim Keller. I have always engaged in Scripture memorisation and practised “hiding God’s Word within my heart“. Psalm 119:11
When Leah was dying in ICU a woman in my sister in law’s church took to sending me an encouraging Bible verse every day such as Joshua 1:9 (NIV)
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
I used to just focus on a verse like this and repeat it over and over in my head. For two and a half weeks the doctors were telling me that Leah was more than likely not going to recover. I didn’t allow my mind to wander into the “what it’s” or the “what could happen” – I tried to remain very focussed on the present. Fixing my mind on encouraging Bible verses helped me.
However, a short term crisis is one thing, surviving the long haul is quite another.
Living with grief and loss is certainly a long road.
In my grief and in my loss I can quickly start to feel like John the Baptist felt when he was in prison.
In the hours when grief takes over, I don’t actually doubt the existence of God, I just doubt that life can ever become any better than living every day with this intensity of pain and sorrow.
When the waves of grief crash over my soul, threatening to hold me for ever in their clutches, I find myself at times unable to cling to those amazing Bible verses that for so many years have been my bedrock.
In those moments, all I want to do is get into bed, pull the covers over me, and never face the world again. That shocks me, because I’m not used to feeling like this.
I’m learning many lessons on this journey – most are ones that I would never have chosen to learn.
I’m learning that sometimes those truths that I am so sure of on my better days, can be much harder to hold on to on the really bad days. Even that realisation has been a shock to my system.
Nevertheless, every morning my alarm goes off at 6am and I quietly slip out of bed and head downstairs to spend time with God in Bible study and prayer. I once heard Joyce Meyer say that she would rather be ‘sleep deprived‘ than ‘God deprived‘ and I thought that was a good way of looking at it!
The Israelites were told to gather their manna daily and I too must seek strength daily for this journey that at times threatens to overwhelm me.
I will close with a beautiful hymn that we sang many years ago at my father’s funeral. These words have often brought me comfort:
Just a Closer Walk With Thee
I am weak, but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.
When my feeble life is o’er,
Time for me will be no more;
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 The Voice
3 All praise goes to God, Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. He is the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort. 4 He consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles.
One sermon a week on a Sunday morning has never been enough for me. I’ve always loved listening to Bible teaching at home or in the car. In the ’80s I had an insatiable appetite for the teaching tapes produced by Francis Schaeffer and L’Abri.
Since the arrival of the internet and podcasts I’ve been spoilt for choice – all the sermons I could ever want, at my fingertips.
In late 2012 and in early 2013 I was mostly listening to Joyce Meyer, Rick Warren and John Piper Early in 2013 Rick Warren’s son Matthew took his own life. Matthew Warren died on the 5th April ’13 and I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. My reaction was to sit and cry, in solidarity with Rick and Kay’s broken hearts – just as some of you who never met Leah read my blog and cry in solidarity with our broken hearts. Then I prayed for the Warrens, as many of you do for us, which I appreciate so very much. How could we ever have got this far without the loving and prayerful support of God’s people?
In September ’13 Rick and Kay Warren were interviewed about the death of their son, by Piers Morgan on CNN – read excerpts from that interview Here
On Sunday 28th July ’13, Rick & Kay Warren returned to the pulpit for the first time since their son died. Rick commenced by preaching a new series entitled “How to get through what you’re going through” I was really excited about this and listened eagerly to the first two episodes while in the bone marrow transplant unit, using my headphones.
However, as time went on and I was increasingly aware of how unwell Leah was, I found that this affected my concentration and attention span and I had difficulty focussing, so I stopped listening to online sermons.
A lifelong favourite pastime of mine has been books and reading. Since Leah was diagnosed last year however, I have found it very difficult to focus on the written word for any length of time. I still read, but it takes me weeks to read a book that used to take me days. I miss the pure undiluted pleasure that reading once brought me.
I’ve also lost my lifelong love of listening to the radio. I used to wear out the buttons on my portable radios – now they lie gathering dust. There’s so much ‘noise’ in my head that the additional noise of having a radio on just irritates me.
However, today for the first time since Leah died, I listened to an online sermon. I felt ready once again to listen to the sermon Rick & Kay Warren preached on the occasion of returning to public ministry after the death of their son: How we’re getting through – I found it very helpful. I also found it quite surreal listening to it again almost a year after I first heard it. The first time I heard this message I was sitting in the bone marrow transplant unit and I was looking for the strength to cope with being on my own, far from home, with my critically ill child. Now Leah is gone from this world and I’m deep in grief.
Rick Warren describes the six phases of grief and loss as follows:
SHOCK: When your world falls apart
SORROW: When your heart is breaking
STRUGGLE: When you don’t understand
SURRENDER: How to experience peace
SANCTIFICATION: How God turns bad to good
SERVICE: How to use your pain for good
Rick does not however suggest that this is a neat process whereby you go through each stage and can tick it off and say “done that” – grief and loss is all very fluid and we can move backwards and forwards through any of these stages depending on what else is happening in our lives.
After the initial sermon, Rick then preached individual sermons on each of the above “stages” and these are available on iTunes as podcasts or via the Saddleback Church App.
Kay Warren talks about what she has done to help her hold onto hope and joy in her life. She said that she has compiled a playlist of songs to listen to, from which she derives comfort, which includes “Not For A Moment” by Meredith Andrews:
“And every step every breath you are there
Every tear every cry every prayer
In my hurt at my worst
When my world falls down
Not for a moment will You forsake me
Even in the dark
Even when it’s hard
You will never leave me”