Each post I write carries one commonality - I write about whatever consumes my thoughts over the course of the week.
It's my way of bringing clarity to whatever the Lord seems to be speaking to my often dull-and-slow-to-understand-heart.
Generally, that's my starting point as I look at the cyclone of words whirling around inside me and pull a few out.
They may come from conversations I've had with friends; studies I've been researching and preparing; books and messages; but, primarily what I write comes mostly from my daily journal.
Yesterday morning, I knew exactly the direction I'd go and even mentioned to my online women's bible study that I wanted to filter through some random thoughts about doubt, particularly about "Doubting Thomas."
That will have to wait, because my world stopped yesterday afternoon as I pondered the life and death of my sweet friend, Michele.
As I share where I landed, let me say just a couple important things about friends.
Always surround yourself with people who challenge, inspire, teach and leave you better than you are.
Find friends who are willing to pray, sacrifice their time, go out of their way, are beyond generous, and are willing to pick up a corner of your mat to take you to Jesus when you can't do it on your own.
(If you stop reading right here, you've caught the gist of today's blog. BUT THERE IS SO MUCH MORE...)
Anyone blessed to know Michele will tell you she did exactly that.
Instead of extolling her life; allow me this space to share what I learned from my friend as she journeyed heavenward.
Three years ago, Michele and I paddled Echo Lake together (she introduced me to what's become a place of sweet soul-renewal).
Two years ago, we celebrated my birthday doing the same thing (though instead of standing on her paddle board, she now sat).
One year ago, she was shackled to a wheel chair.
Little by little, a disease we speak of by its initials, MSA (Multiple System Atrophy) began to steal Michele's body from her.
Once diagnosed, we knew she'd been given a death sentence.
Yet, never once, did I hear Michele complain about dying (of course, she spoke of missing seeing her grands grow up), rather she boasted of the blessings of her life.
Often she'd start a sentence with, "How many women have been blessed with______________ (and it would be any number of things from a husband who would brush her hair even adding a headband, to friends who pop in to simply sit and pray)?"
She poured herself into planning her own celebration of life ("how many women are blessed with getting to plan their end-of-life-service?"), because she wanted the gospel of Jesus Christ clearly communicated.
She found creative ways to leave a legacy and a piece of herself for every! single! grand-treasure, and I got to get in on it!
Bound inside a body that betrayed her, she still ministered to her family and friends...ordering gifts online and sending text messages (until her fingers stopped working), reading books that she'd make sure to extract quotes from for those of us who needed exactly what she'd just read (until her eyes could no longer focus), and then from the purity of her heart, she prayed. Oh! How! She! Prayed!
Yesterday morning, as Michele entered heaven's gates (as her twin sister says, "By God's grace and Michele's grit."), I led my online workshop for my ministry ladies from all over the world.
We distilled all the truth we could glean from Philippians 1:12-30 (please take the time to click on the link and read).
As I read Paul's words again this morning, I could only think of what Michele taught me as I leaned into her suffering and struggle.
These very words of Paul resonated through her.
Here are the lessons:
1. EVERY! SINGLE! THING! we are allowed to suffer is a gift of grace. My friend made friends with suffering, and allowed it to strengthen her soul.
2. EVERY! SINGLE! THING! to which we may feel shackled is an opportunity to advance the gospel. Just as Paul was "put" in chains in a Roman prison, Michele was "put" in an uncooperative earthly tent that she might minister to others. It was her greatest desire to keep the main thing the main thing: THE GOSPEL OF JESUS!
3. Oh, and about "advancing" the gospel and allowing suffering to "progress our faith and joy in Jesus?" We can know it won't be without resistance (from inside and out), instead we can view our "HARD" with eyes-of-eternity:
In our suffering we can be trail-blazers-of-God's-glory.
4. Death is a win-win. As long as we live in this body, we have opportunity to fulfill God's purpose for us on this earth...but, dying is gain! (We talked often about a renewed body full of energy, the joys of being with Jesus, the long anticipation over and being with her dear son, Keagan, and her precious daddy.) Heaven is so worth it - and she wanted everyone to know that!
5. Joy is never dependent on circumstances. I've never met ANYONE IN MY LIFE MORE JOY-FILLED! In fact:
All of life is simply an adventure in joy.
6. Suffering can not strip away our ability to worship to the very end. We serve a God who is worthy of worship, who walks the painful journey with us, who helps us endure to the end, and who gives us peace that passes all understanding.
I pray, like Paul before me, like Michele who walked beside me until yesterday, that I continue to live worthy of this gospel of Jesus Christ.
Well done, my friend! Well done!