Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Journey to Belief

One of the deep gifts offered on Easter morning was a testimony shared by a woman who also joined our church on Sunday. I have known Julie for years as someone who used to visit our church a couple of times a year. I have then been given the holy privilege of walking with her through her grief over the last ten months. Her words were powerful, and they touched many people. She gave me permission to share them here. May they also bless you, cause you to think, and perhaps help you to look for signs of God's presence in unexpected places this day.

           Good morning.  My name is Julie.  For those of you that attend Mt. Vernon Place on a regular basis, you may have noticed I am a somewhat newer face here over the past year.  For those of you that I have gotten to know, you might also know that I lost my husband almost a year ago.  Doug and I attended Mt. Vernon Place on an infrequent basis – we weren’t even Christmas and Easter people, we were Easter and Mother’s Day people, because if mother was in town, we had to go to church.  (My mom is here with me today, and mom you’ll be happy to know I am attending church a little more frequently these days.)
            Doug was diagnosed with a very rare form of lymphoma in June 2014. His diagnosis and thus his potential treatment plan was difficult because he didn’t even exhibit the typical symptoms of this type of lymphoma.  In fact, if you knew Doug, there were some days when you would not have known he was sick at all.
Ultimately, it was decided that Doug needed a bone marrow transplant.  The plan was to give him two rounds of chemo to knock out any sign of the lymphoma, and then go to transplant.  He had his first round of chemo mid-March of last year, and for a couple of weeks, everything was fine—he started to loose some hair, but his attitude was “let’s get this over with so we can start living our lives again.”  We had even planned a trip in September of last year to go to Scotland, a celebratory trip of getting through the transplant.  “Lindsay,” as you might guess, is Scottish, and Doug had always wanted “to go back to the homeland,” as he would say. 
            Unfortunately, it was Easter weekend of last year when things took a turn for the worse, and it never got better. We checked into Johns Hopkins on a Friday, as they were going to try another type of chemo. On the following Sunday morning, the doctors came in and told Doug and I that the lymphoma had taken control and there was nothing more they could do, and we just needed to focus on keeping Doug comfortable.  I asked how long we had, and they said a week to 3 weeks.  When they left the room, of course I was sobbing, and I said “Doug, you can’t leave me.  What am I going to do without you?”  He said “Julie, I will never leave you.  I will always be with you, and I am going to come back and thump those kitties between the ears.”
            Now, before you think there was animal cruelty involved here, Doug and I didn’t have children—but we have two cats who were our children.  Doug was in sales, so he traveled a lot, and he would often call me on his way home on a Friday and say “I’m comin’ home, and I am going to thump those kitties between the ears!”  He played with them all the time, or “terrorized” them as he would say.  So, that was on Sunday morning and by Monday afternoon, May 4th, Doug was gone.
            Billl Hilligeist is an active member of MVP and lives in our building.  When he found out Doug had passed, he let Donna know, since Doug and I had come here a few times.  Donna reached out to me, and we got together shortly thereafter.  My first questions to Donna—and my first questions generally—were “Is there really eternal life?  How do I know Doug is ok, and he is not just dead?”  Donna said that there were many things that she had questioned about her faith, but she had never questioned eternal life—God is so incredibly good and loves us so much, and life can be so incredibly hard, that this can’t be all that there is.  There has to be more.  I was like “ok”—I was raised in the Methodist church and this was all consistent with what I had learned, but I will be honest – I had always questioned it, and particularly when it was the love of my life that was no longer with me.
            A week or so later, a work colleague was going to take me out for lunch.  I was getting ready in the bathroom, drying my hair.  One of our cats, Max, came into the bathroom and just sat there watching me.  I looked at him and said “Max, do you miss daddy?”  (Yes, we called each other mommy and daddy.) I said “I miss daddy, I miss daddy very much. But daddy said he was never going to leave us, that he would always be with us.”  And just then, Max’s little ear goes {twitch, twitch}.  I turned off the hair dryer, and point blank looked him and said “Max, is that daddy?”  And his little ear goes {twitch}.  Tears welled up in my eyes, but the biggest smile came over my face and I can’t tell you the sense of comfort I felt.  I saw Donna again shortly after that, and she said “You know, I was thinking more about your questions about eternal life,” and I said “Nope, I got it.  All good.”
I ended up taking that trip to Scotland last fall, and I took some of Doug’s ashes with me.  I had identified a place where I wanted to spread his ashes—in Loch Coruisk which is in the Black Cuillin Hills on the Isle of Skye.  The morning my tour group was supposed to go there, the weather was not good, and our guides were told the ferries would not be going that day.  About an hour before we were supposed to leave, the sun came out, and we were able to make the trip.  It was a beautiful day and I was able to spread his ashes in the Loch.  After I spread the ashes, as I was sitting there, a little fish came swimming up—it was the only fish I saw in the Loch the entire time I was there.  I thought “Oh great, I am literally going to watch Doug become fish food.”  But it didn’t do anything—it just hovered there for about an hour, and as I got up to leave, it swam away.
I tell you all this as I firmly believe that Doug, through the Holy Spirit, is letting me know he is ok, and that I am going to be ok, as he really is still with me.  One thing I have learned is that, as much as we might like, there aren’t burning bushes, or clouds parting with voices thundering from above, as evidence of God or eternal life.  For me, it’s been as simple as a cat’s ear flip, an unexpected beautiful day or a little fish.

MVP has been incredibly supportive of my journey, and I am so thankful to be part of this community.  I joined the Tuesday night small group and we recently completed a study on the Gospel of John, including Christ’s death, resurrection and eternal life.  Two passages from our study materials really struck me, and I wanted to share them with you today. The first is “Easter transforms our sorrow into joy and hope, our fear into peace and courage.”  The second is “…the Resurrection declares that the worst thing is never the last thing.”  Before I watched my husband take his last breath, I was scared to die.  Now I realize that death is by no means the last thing.  On this Easter Sunday, while I still miss Doug terribly, I can honestly say I know he is still with me, and I will get to see him again. 

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