So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Continued from last week...
(see "Testimony, Part 4D - God's Guidance" 9/29/10)
Last week I wrote, "I let go of Mario, and continued to pray for him as a friend" - a simple sentence describing a difficult process which took nearly a year to unfold. Almost as soon as we "broke up," God began to speak to me about the kind of husband He has for me - a man of God and extraordinary kindness – Mario had many good qualities, but he was not that man. Knowing that God had a better plan for my future helped to ease my deep disappointment somewhat, but it didn't heal every hurt or answer every question immediately. I still cared about my dear friend in Colorado, who was very sick. I hoped we would talk again someday when he was feeling better, and resolve our relationship.
Meanwhile, I prayed. I broke ungodly soul ties (see model prayer, end of 9/8/10 posting) and laid my relationship with Mario "on the altar" – I surrendered him, my heart and my life to God, again and again. I talked to God honestly about my feelings and my struggles – Psalm 62:8 NKJ says, “pour out your heart before Him.” I think The Message version of this verse is even more clear: “trust him absolutely, people; lay your lives on the line for him. God is a safe place to be.”
In our goal-oriented society, we tend to define what we think we can in order to manage our lives; well-intentioned people oversimplify, and it’s difficult for any of us (myself included) to bear with ongoing situations we don’t understand. The couple I mentioned last week said I shouldn’t have gone to Colorado, and that my pain was a consequence of disobedience to God’s Word. I still believe God did send me to Colorado, although much grief resulted from emotions that went beyond His boundaries for this relationship. Another woman thought I still had Mario on my heart in May 2007 because I wouldn’t let go of false hopes. As much as it hurt, I knew I was willing to let go and move on – and I was going on with my life, day by day - so I kept listening to God, letting Him show me things that only He fully understood.
And God did show me things as I prayed: once I "saw" (in my mind) an image of water flowing through Mario, like the cleansing of a sewer system; another time, I “saw” his body covered with what looked like old stab wounds, so I prayed for healing of past emotional and relational hurts. I prayed for his relationship with God, for peace and strength through the treatment process, and for his recovery - not only from physical illness, but all the spiritual and psychological wounds of a lifetime. Try as I might to forget and "move on," I continued to sense that, when he came to mind, it was important to pray for him. I believed that God was saying that Mario was coming to the Lord, and when I asked Him if we would ever talk again as friends, I felt the answer was, “Yes.”
I didn't think of Mario continually (I really was trying to get on with my life), so it surprised me when I retrieved a voicemail on Saturday 9/15/07 saying that Mario had passed away the day before. His ex-wife had included me on a list of people to be notified in person; her sister called and left her phone number, so I called back for additional details. Mario had spent his last few weeks in the hospital, on a respirator, after surgery to drain excess fluid from around his heart and lungs. Although he was cancer-free, he could no longer breathe without being hooked up to a machine. I knew from our visit the previous year that he had signed a DNR and his ex-wife had Power of Attorney in his living will. She was present when he requested to be taken off life support, and he died peacefully. As I hung up the phone, I felt God whisper to me, “He knew what he was doing.” I would find out more later, but right then I believed that, at the moment he was taken off life support, Mario fully committed his life to God.
That evening I had a dinner meeting at church, and afterward the first waves of grief began to hit me. I didn’t want to go home alone without asking for prayer, so I spent a few minutes with a small group of friends who were just about to start their Saturday p.m. prayer meeting. As they laid hands on me and prayed in the Spirit, a dear friend began to speak what she felt the Lord was showing her, and as she spoke – with my eyes closed - I saw in my mind exactly what she was describing.
She said that when I came back into Mario’s life, it was as if his heart was a closed rose - like a large bud, tightly closed – and that, “as you loved him, Gina – even though you would never do this to a real flower, in the natural – you unfurled the petals of the rose.” She said that when the rose was completely open, it was perfect and very beautiful, then the dew of heaven rested on it, and two big angels came and carried it away to heaven.
When she finished speaking, I opened my eyes and said simply, without thinking, “Then my work is done.” In that moment, all the months of prayer, as well as our daily communication and relationship for the last quarter of the previous year - all of it made complete sense to me.
I'm thankful one of my sisters encouraged me to attend the memorial service the following week, even though Mario hadn't spoken to me in 9 months, and I was leaving for Guatemala on a mission trip the week after that. I had enough “skymiles” for a free plane ticket, my boss approved a couple of additional vacation days, and I was able to stay with my friends who had hosted me the previous year. It was wonderful to hear memories of Mario from his family and friends who had known him differently and during other periods in his life – there were, of course, so many similarities among the things we all remembered.
After the service, I spent time talking with Mario's ex-wife, who told me his Christian sister had visited him for a week in January, and then again in the hospital - she prayed with him before he died. (She wasn't able to attend the memorial service, because she and her husband were on a mission trip to Peru.) Mario also received "last rites" with a Catholic priest. Mario's ex was a Buddhist, so she wouldn't have shared the gospel with him, but her daily meditation kept her amazingly calm through those last weeks as she sat with him in the hospital, and God worked a beautiful reconciliation between them as friends.
I heard story after story about how God worked many beautiful aspects of healing into Mario's life that last year, even though "salvation" and "healing" didn't look exactly as I'd imagined or hoped it would. As I write this story, I'm reminded of my dream about the team of workmen on Cheyenne mountain (see 9/29/10) - "saving Mario" was too big a job for any one person except Jesus, but it seems like we all played a part in what God was doing in the end.
The morning after the memorial service - which rightly focused on Mario's family and friends who knew him in his daily life, much longer or more recently than I had - I found myself telling God, through tears, that I wished just one person could confirm to me, before I left town, that I had been important in Mario's life. That may sound silly, but it was such an intense relationship - 18 months of "crazy" love, strong enough to resurface 25 years later, only to end suddenly after a few months, without ever having had a chance to say goodbye. I was glad that my sister had encouraged me to attend the memorial service, but my heart cried out for some little sign that my own part in Mario's life had really made a difference.
On my way to the airport that day, I stopped by several places that had been significant in our relationship to "say goodbye." When I got to the radio station, I ran into one of Mario's friends who worked there - someone I'd only met the day before, who had known Mario for over 20 years. He'd been out of town and hadn't seen Mario since July, and said he was also struggling a little with not having said goodbye in person. I felt God answered my prayer when this man volunteered, "Oh, Gina, we all saw it, when you came back into his life last year. It was like a whole new Mario!" I laughed with relief, and told him how much that meant to me, since I'd only been with Mario for 18 months in 1980-81, and his marriage lasted 18 years. Of course the memorial service had focused on all those years I'd been absent from his life, and I could tell that his wife had qualities I didn't possess - I could never have played that role in his life long-term. But this guy really blessed me when he simply said, "Some people impact us as much in 18 months as 18 years."
Grief comes in waves, and letting go of a loved one is a process. A month later – on my 50th birthday, in fact – I received a card from Mario’s ex-wife which brought fresh tears to my eyes. A watercolor portrait of Mario was printed on the outside, and inside she thanked me, on behalf of herself and their son, for being a dear friend to Mario in his last year. She remarked how it “lifted his spirits” when I came back into his life, and wished me peaceful memories.
In the last two months of 2007, I read two books that also helped me to heal and let go. One was The Journey of Desire (republished more recently as Desire), which John Eldredge wrote during the year after his best friend died unexpectedly. The other was a vision of heaven written by Rebecca Springer around 1900 (currently in print as Within Heaven’s Gates), describing the continuity of life and relationships for those who die in Christ. The “eternal perspective” of those two books was deeply comforting. I would talk with my friend Mario again… in heaven.
Do we really want God’s plan for our lives? It will not always be what we think we want, but His purposes are truly good. [Romans 8:28-30] Are we willing to go His way, even if we stumble - like a baby learning to walk – and even if it hurts sometimes? “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” [2 Corinthians 4:17 NKJ] The real "happily ever after" is knowing His Love forever, and letting Him direct everything in our lives toward that end. Our willingness to follow God, no matter what the cost, has eternal consequences – for ourselves and for others.
God’s thoughts are truly higher than ours, so we don’t understand everything He does in this life; but I Corinthians 2:9-16 says that He reveals and teaches us spiritual truth by His Spirit. Next week we’ll conclude with some wonderful lessons God taught me through this story.
To be continued...
God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end. [Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT]
And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world.
[I Corinthians 15:19 NLT]
The death of one that belongs to the Lord is precious in his sight.
Who can compare to You, my Lord?
You're everything that I adore
Who can compare to You?
"Who Can Compare" song by Jessie Rogers
CD: Out of the Fire
Another favorite song: “My Romance” by worship leader Rick Pino: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ancg1FK533o
Christ for the Nations, CD: Glorious – tracks # 8 and # 11 http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/glorious/id269453412