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“Why Not Me?” – Unwanted Lessons in Suffering

March 13, 2015

When I think of people who can teach us volumes about suffering, I think of Laura from our congregation.

Laura was a beautiful young woman, inside and out, who died of cancer four years ago this spring. I think of her particularly in these weeks before Easter, because she died on Palm Sunday.

LauraDavidEthan

She had a young son and a dear husband. I was privileged to interview her for a radio program I was helping produce at the time, Shaping Families, and you can still hear her lovely voice and fuller story here. Her story aired the weekend she died (we worked about 3 months ahead producing programs).

Many people suffer from pain, illness, accidents and emotional turmoil over many years. Most of us will deal with acute suffering at some point in our lives so we are wise to listen to the voices of those who travel the road before us.

I know many women who have died from breast cancer (and thankfully, many who’ve survived) but Laura’s story and testimony will always turn my head around.

The day she first learned of her rather dim prognosis, she said she spent approximately one half day locked in the bathroom—“my fists clenched, feeling something that the word anger can’t even describe. It was rage.” Her husband urged her to come out, and when she finally did later that evening, she found him trying to read to their almost-four-year-old son but struggling greatly. She knew she didn’t have time for despair or depression, and that she must carry on, for them. And for herself.

Instead of dwelling on asking “why me,” she said “the answer very quickly was obvious: why not me? You know, the world is full of suffering and obviously all of us are going to die,” she went on. “This is a condition of being alive. There are so many others in the world who deal with much greater suffering than I have experienced. It has nothing to do with who deserves it and who doesn’t. It would be arrogant of me to assume that I should somehow be immune to this,” Laura said.

Between treatments and while in remission, she spent her last years on some amazing travel opportunities—to the middle east to visit her brother involved in mission work there, and to Alaska with her son so they could experience the wild wonders of our 49th state together and he would have that as a memory. And she kept singing—often blessing our small congregation with her rich and lilting soprano solos or simply as another voice in the choir. Chills ran down our backs as Laura sang, especially as her tall and always trim frame gravitated toward gaunt.

I thought of Laura this week as I read a devotional in Rejoice!, written by pastor, author and blogger April Yamasaki. She wrote about Psalm 31 which includes both prayers for deliverance and prayers of rejoicing, cries for help and cries of thanksgiving. April notes that this particular psalm, while seemingly inconsistent or perhaps contradictory in its message, issues a call to commitment, “to pray, to remain faithful in all the ups and downs of life, and to trust God.”

April goes on:

“Our lives are like this psalm—not easily categorized as just one thing, but rather a composite of ups and downs, affliction and wonder, lament and praise. Through this glorious tapestry of life, God is faithful and calls us to commitment.”

What an apt description of Laura’s life and witness. She mixed affliction and wonder into her last years like no one I’d ever seen: enjoying the first graders she taught until she no longer had the strength—or rather wanting to conserve such strength as she had for the considerable intellectual and physical demands of her young son (he could ask questions like no kid could ask, in addition to being a typical four to six-year-old boy through her illness).

I remember Christmas caroling with Laura and her son in our group when she really didn’t have the strength to be tramping in and out of cars on a cold night as we traveled to several retirement homes. She said Ethan wanted to go caroling, so she came too. Laura demonstrated her commitments—to God first of all, to her husband and child and broader family and friends, but perhaps most of all to herself—to not spend the final years and months of her life wallowing in despair and self-pity, no matter how much she deserved to do that if she had chosen that path. No, she just kept on being Laura: wife, mother, valiant woman of God.

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Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live… John 11:25.

***

This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog reflecting on suffering during the Lent season of 2015.  To read more articles in this series, go to http://mennonerds.com/tag/mennonerds-lent-2015/.  For more on MennoNerds, go to http://mennonerds.com/about.

 

 

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6 Comments
  1. There are many examples of such suffering in our congregation, most recently the passing of the mother of a spirited little boy now 12, who liked to dance when he was in my 2-year-old S.S. class. Betty had an exuberant personality and partnered with her husband in a ministry to street kids here in Jacksonville. Last week she was laid to rest after a long battle with cancer. Because of her vibrant testimony, her legacy will live on.

    Right now I am reading a book by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale entitled “Why Suffering?” who point out that ideas cannot bring lasting meaning, comfort, or hope – only the person of Jesus Christ. The why of suffering will always be a mystery to me in this life, yet John 11:25 if still true even if I can’t comprehend it fully with my natural mind.

    By the way, I respect the writings of April Yamasaki and her ministry. Thanks for providing this message of hope, Melodie.

    • Thanks for sharing the story of Betty–very touching also. It is hard to see children left behind when young mothers and fathers pass on far too quickly. And there are many. Thanks for pointing to the Why Suffering book here.

  2. Caro-Claire Wiles permalink

    This was a beautiful and poignant story.
    .Thank you for sharing Laura with us.

    • Thanks, Caro-Claire–her life was a message. And I know she wouldn’t have minded me sharing it here. Glad for all her life has touched in this way.

  3. Thanks for the mention, Melodie, and for sharing Laura’s story. What a beautifully inspiring and heart-breaking example of living a full and faithful life even through suffering.

  4. I was wanting to write on suffering for the blog series but it was finally your blog post that pointed me in a direction so I thank you for the added inspiration for Laura’s story. And thanks for commenting.

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