That’s the message of this incredibly inspiring true love story called Until Forever (2016 version), which is based on the lives of Michael and Michelle Boyum and their enduring love as teenagers and young adults dealing with Michael’s diagnosis of leukemia.
If I didn’t know someone with a similarly buoyant spirit, it would be hard to imagine anybody as sweet, faith-filled, and steady as this young man, but in reality, I know Tom F., who has also been through the wringer with leukemia and is every bit as kind and outreaching, so I know a few of these treasures exist!
Like my friend Tom, Michael always had the needs of others at the forefront of his thinking, and even during his hospital stays, he was busy reaching out to others with encouragement and the love of Jesus!
Until Forever doesn’t shy away from the painful realities of how a cancer diagnosis effects everyone who loves the patient. In Michael’s case, his younger brother was severely effected,
as were many friends from his church family. (I loved the inclusion of this sweet young man!)
Equally miraculous to Michael’s radiant spirit was the response of Michael’s girlfriend, Michelle, who refused to give up and stood by his side despite all the pain, insecurities, and sufferings that Michael endured. (Tom’s wife, Lynnie, is actually just as beautiful and wonderful as Michelle is, as depicted in the movie, so I have no trouble believing such devotion and faith exist!)
Here is a photo of the “real” Michael and Michelle (shown in the final credits of the movie). I truly believe only God can produce a love like theirs!
Well, I don’t want to ruin the story by telling you everything, but it’s one of the most moving movies I’ve seen in a long time, full of faith in the midst of fear
and triumph in the midst of tragedy.
If you are struggling with fear and tragedy, please take the time to watch this movie! It is possible to experience hope and peace in the midst of any illness.
“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).
Two days ago I had the pleasure of an unplanned visit with the gaffer for the newly released movie, Unplanned. (John is my son Dan’s brother-in-law.) Have you seen it?
It’s the gripping true story of the experience of Abby Johnson, who personally had two abortions and then became an activist for Planned Parenthood . . . until she actually witnessed an abortion. Until. What about you? Do you have any opinion about whether or not abortion is a reasonably good option for ending an unwanted pregnancy? If you think abortion might be the best and easiest option, please PLEASE watch Unplanned.
It’s rated R, probably for blood visuals related to some abortion problems, but I think it is valuable for anyone who is exposed to sexual contact . . . or for sure by high school age. Does it make sense that any girl—who is under 18 can have sex, get pregnant, and have an abortion without parental consent—should be restricted from seeing a movie that discusses the issues surrounding abortion? I’d say “NO!”
I grew up in a liberal home and didn’t blink an eye at over the issue. I figured that if anybody ever raped me, I’d have an abortion. However, my husband, Alan (who was usually more liberal than I was on “political issues”), said he thought it was wrong and that if I was ever raped and impregnated, he would prefer that I kept the baby rather than getting an abortion. I was totally shocked, but it also made me rethink my position. During medical school, as part of his training, Alan observed an abortion. His response was similar to that of Abby Johnson’s. He was horrified and sickened. He never wanted to be witness to an abortion again, and he felt that he had watched the undeniable killing of a helpless infant that resisted with all its tiny being having its life snuffed out.
After Alan began practice, he discovered that he had patients who even into their eighties were still haunted by their experience of having aborted a baby early in life. The regret and shame seemed never ending. He has been a strong proponent for being pro-life ever since, and so am I.
But, what about the millions of women who have aborted babies? Is there no relief for them from having an aching heart and a bad conscience?
Yes! There is no sin outside the grace of God, nor are any of us without sin, we just sin in different ways. In fact, the Bible is clear that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That’s why Jesus died: to provide a way to be forgiven for our sins: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17, ESV).
If you have had an abortion, are considering having an abortion, or know someone who is struggling with abortion issues, please consider watching Unplanned. It will make you sad, but it also offers hope and healing! God is here, and He loves us!
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV).
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice” (Abraham Lincoln). Given that “Honest Abe” Lincoln was noted for truthfulness and integrity, that’s a pretty strong commendation for the value of mercy, and his assessment wasn’t unprecedented. In the Old Testament, we’re taught that God himself, the supreme judge over all the earth, is merciful (1), and that He desires us to be merciful (2).
So, what is mercy, how does it square with justice and the law, and why should we be merciful? “Mercy” comes from Anglo-French “merci” (which we think of as “thank you”) and Latin “merc” (“merchandize”) meaning “price paid; wages.” To show mercy is to extend forgiveness and grace to someone who has wronged us when it is within our power and right to punish them for misconduct, or more generically, it is “the compassionate treatment of those in distress” (Merriam Webster).
I doubt there’s anyone who would denounce mercy as “bad,” but strict moralists often cannot square mercy with justice. Moral radicals usually demand justice without mercy for those who fail to keep the law perfectly (be it the Ten Commandments, Shiraiah Law, or the requirements of any religious or governmental system). It is the oppressive “keep our laws or die” philosophy that makes life unbearably difficult for many people around the world.
One of the unique beauties of Christianity is the fact that our God is a God of great mercy and compassion (see verses listed below), but He also completely satisfies the requirement of justice. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, so that God can be both just and merciful. When we come before the judgment seat of Christ, we can say “Mercy! Thank you! The price for my sins has been paid by Jesus Christ!”
Sound too good to be true? It’s not! It’s the transcendent plan of our almighty, all loving God who has made a way for each of us to receive mercy and grace from his hand rather than the punishment we deserve for failing to keep His perfect laws!
Why should we show mercy to others who hurt and offend us? I’m not sure on what basis unbelievers choose to be merciful, but for me, it’s because I love God and want to please him . . . to be like him . . . to keep his commandments and extend the goodness and mercy I’ve received from him to others.
Have you experienced God’s mercy? Doesn’t it make you want to share his compassion and love with those around you?
Below are ten of my favorite verses on mercy from the Bible gleaned from hundreds. May our meditations be sweet! “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
“For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” Psalm 86:5
“The Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him” (2 Chronicles 30:9).
“Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 33:18).
“All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6).
“For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).
“For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
“God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah” (Psalm 67:1).
“Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart” ( Proverbs 3:3).
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
Text for this meditation: Luke 6:35-36, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.“
Notes: (1) “Thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Nehemiah 9:17). (2) “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).
Last weekend we had the joy of a visit from Bruce, who was one of Alan’s closest friends during residency days and with whom Alan shared his first practice in Ann Arbor. Bruce married in his thirties, so we knew him as a single man, watched him fall in love, and rejoiced in his marriage. Bruce and his wife were best of friends! She was his greatest fan, and they were a “match made in heaven.” All that sweetness came to a bitter end five years ago when Lisa died of stage IV colon cancer.
There are no words to comfort someone who is grieving the loss of someone they love deeply. No words will ameliorate the pain, but there are plenty of words that can feel like sharp knives piercing an already wounded heart.
Because Alan lost both his parents in a tragic event when he was only twenty-nine, and because he is a geriatrician who has cared for many dying patients over the past forty years, I used to stay tucked under his wing when we attended funerals, wanting to be present but feeling totally helpless as far as having any comforting words to offer, knowing that what I would imagine might comfort me could cause stinging pain to my friend.
Now that Alan and I are nearing seventy, and more and more of our friends are experiencing life-threatening illnesses, I’ve been trying to learn more about how to comfort those who are experiencing great loss. In that quest, I listened to an audio book called Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love: Daily Meditations to Help You Through the Grieving Process, by Raymond R. Mitsch and Lynn Brookside.
There are a plethora of books on grief recovery, and this particular one wasn’t my all-time favorite, but there are several ideas I want to pass on. It also reminded me that if you are grieving, or if you love someone who is grieving, there are many resources out there, probably most of which will offer at least some helpful insights. If you’re grieving, consider reading what others have experienced on their journeys of sorrow. For many, there’s truth in the old adage that “misery loves company.” (However, Bruce tells me that what really soothed him was the still, small voice, not the whirlwind of other voices.) If you enjoy writing, consider starting a journal about your personal pilgrimage. Writing can be one of the most therapeutic exercises on earth!
So, here are my favorite takeaways from Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love (along with some photos from Meijer Garden, where Alan and I took Bruce for a quiet stroll after church last Sunday afternoon).
“‘I feel your pain.’ Those four words say it all. You don’t have to have answers, just be present.” Personally, I’m not sure if “I feel your pain” is adequate, since I usually feel like their pain is often beyond my comprehension, since I haven’t lost a spouse or child yet. Nevertheless, Bruce (and others) confirm that saying nothing is better than saying anything trivial, but being present with the person is crucially helpful. Listening with compassion and without any criticism or shock over whatever they might express is also a healing balm. Their wounds are raw and sometimes ugly. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Don’t try to play the Holy Spirit and “cure” them. Pray for the Holy Spirit to comfort and cure them.
“Don’t stare constantly at either the sun or death.” If you’re grieving loss, don’t allow yourself to spend all your waking hours experiencing pain, or your soul will become as blind as someone who stares constantly into the sun. Instead, look into the face of God to find “safe” sunshine and beauty to relieve your aching heart. Ditto if you’re trying to encourage someone else. Don’t PREACH! Walk alongside your friend in some beautiful place where she/he will feel refreshed. “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalm 90:17).
“The seemingly little things you grieve are not little! The whole fabric of your life has been rent!” I thought this was profound. The authors went on to say we need to allow ourselves to experience and process pain without trying to minimize or ignore it. Each person’s pain is unique and probably unbearable. “It will be alright,” or “Someday it will be better” doesn’t help present-tense and is like rubbing salt in the wound. Better to say nothing than try to smooth the mountain into a mole hill. It’s NOT!! (BTW, God can overcome our mountains: “The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Song of Solomon 2:8).
“I thought it would be too hard to say goodbye until I refused to do so.” This point is good to process personally if you’re grieving, and I suppose there may be a time in which you can share the authors’ experiences (and both authors were writing from the wells of their own grief), but be careful on this one. Each person’s time to feel released from the intense sense of grieving out of loyalty (which follows grieving out of personal loss) is so unique that the grieving person may feel you (as the one who wants to comfort) are just pushing the person to heal so that you and she/he can both “get on with life.” My friend still wears his wedding ring after five years as a widower. That’s just fine! He’ll take it off when and if he’s ever ready to! Don’t push. Pray!! “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant” (Psalm 119:76, and for the comfort of our loved ones).
“Suicide is a permanent end for a temporary problem” (the temporary problem being grief). I’ve never been suicidal, but I’ve known a number of people who have suicided, and I definitely think some people have a genetic pre-disposition for turning to this age-old solution to chronic pain. God wants us to turn to Him in our grief (and all our troubles). He does not want us to take matters into our own hands and “end it all.”
Think of the prodigal son. When he returned to his father, his father’s arms were open, and the prodigal found forgiveness and a whole new life opening up to him. I’m not saying we are “prodigals” when we grieve, but I am saying that God is there, whether or not we’ve stayed on the farm or run off to some far country. He is waiting for us to come back and rest under the covert of his wings. He loves us. As long as He wants us on earth, He has good reasons for our being here, even if we don’t see them or understand them. “He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death” (Psalm 68:20).
Another verse to consider for yourself (but would probably not be good to offer someone else who is grieving) is Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” We’re responsible for living with integrity and faith; God is responsible for choosing when we are born and when we die. He is also available to help us every day from birth to death and offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ, his Son, which is—to me—the ultimate comfort in the death of loved ones who have trusted in Jesus as their Lord and Savior: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Do your loved ones know God and Jesus Christ? Do you?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the give and take of living with and loving other people, and although it’s obvious that children are more often on the receiving end of life, I want to point out that children can be extremely giving.
For instance, last week we went cherry picking at Robinettes. The kids were so industrious and diligent that we came home with many buckets of cherries—so many, in fact, that I wasn’t at all sure we’d be able to use them before they spoiled. NOT TO WORRY! Not only did some of my kids come to the rescue, some of my granddaughters worked tirelessly to pit literally gallons of sweet, black cherries so we could make pies and jam.
I made two pies, and then I had to run to the grocery store for more supplies, so while I was gone, my daughter-in-law Gerlinde and the girls did a splendid job of finishing up with the jam. Gerlinde (who grew up in Africa on the mission field) even taught me two new tricks. I usually just count on the heat from the jam to self-seal most of the jars and then eat the rest fresh or freeze them. (See recipes here: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/making-jams-fun-for-profit/)
However, Gerlinde shared that if you boil the lids first to make them super hot, and then close the lids tightly on nearly full jars of jam and turn the jars upside down, this ups the number of jars that will self-seal to almost 100%. (They didn’t have canning equipment in Tanzania.) She also pointed out that if you’re unsure about whether or not the jam is done, just dip your spoon into the pot and let the jam on the spoon cool on the counter for a minute or two. Once it’s cool, you can tell if it’s firm enough to suit your taste. Good tricks from an expert jam maker! Thanks, Linda! 🙂
In preparation for our reunion, I had also made about 10 quarts of freezer jam (only a few jars of which are pictured here), because “bread and jam, jam and bread” (and toast and jam) are one of the family’s favorite snack-time treats. (I can’t get away with serving too many cookies, as that’s not considered very healthy by the younger generation of parents!)
You can never have too much jam, so my grandchildren decided to gift us all with a treat of their own! They went out and worked for a long time gathering wild black raspberries from our woods. Rather then eating them all fresh, they saved them ALL so we could make some black raspberry jam! I was deeply touched by their generosity and desire to gift us all with more wonderful jams!
Giving and receiving gifts is really a way of giving and receiving love, and the young can be just as generous and eager as any of us to express love.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus taught that it’s more blessed to give than to receive? I used to think it was perhaps because only the rich have the resources to give to the poor, but I’ve learned over the years that this is completely wrong, because many of the most giving people I know share out of their poverty rather than their wealth. Here’s what I think: Giving brings us joy, because ultimately we are giving love, and there is no greater joy in this world than giving and receiving love.
So, whether we’re old or young, rich or poor, in a jam or not, it’s good to give to others—not by compulsion, but as a free-will offering of love! It brings joy to our hearts and helps those around us. Life is always richer (and sweeter!) when it’s shared!
“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Of course, we all start out as receivers and takers; from the inception of life (which is a gift in itself), even an embryo is entirely dependent on its mother for nourishment and the continuation of its tiny existence, and really, that pattern continues through birth and well into childhood. But, God doesn’t intend for us to continue being “on the take” for our entire lives!
It’s not just that some of us are “givers” by nature and others are “takers.” Those who are mature give; those who are immature take. God wants us to become mature, which is why Jesus instructs us in Matthew 5:42: “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” In Luke 6:30, the command is even more emphatic: “Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.” Wow! Really?
Why does Jesus ask us to do such impossible things? Is he really just out to make us feel like failures? I don’t think so. I think he knows something that we have trouble understanding: True love gives, and loving truly makes us happy! What do you think? Do you think that’s right or wrong?
I think Jesus was right (as always), even though I struggle to be like Jesus. But, notice his example: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). So, Jesus came to earth and made himself of “no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7) for our sakes, so that we could become “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17) and someday “reign for ever and ever” with him (Revelation 22:5). In order to do all this, he had to die on the cross—the ultimate sacrifice of his life for ours. The ultimate gift given by the ultimate Giver! Do you suppose this made Jesus sad, or happy? He didn’t do it begrudgingly, because there was no other way. He did it “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
Yes, he sweat great drops of blood and would have taken some other way had there been one, but Jesus surrendered fully to God’s will, even to the point of death, in order to give the gift of eternal life to all of us who put our hope and faith in him. He is our example, and he did it for JOY. God wants us to give for the joy of it, because we love, and not simply out of a sense of duty. This is what Jesus wants us to understand. Everything he teaches us is for our good, so that we might experience the abundant life that God intends for us!
I’ve been meditating on Psalm 41:1, “Blessed is he that considereth the poor” and love this story, told by Samuel Rogers (1763-1855) in his book, Italy (recorded by Spurgeon in his inimitable Treasury of David): In Turin, Samuel Rogers met a Piedmontese nobleman who told him that he’d been on the verge of committing suicide in a river when a little boy tugged at his cloak and begged the man to help his family of six children who were starving to death. The nobleman followed the child to his home and was so overwhelmed by the poverty and squalor that he gave them his entire purse. They burst into such joyous gratitude that he said, “It filled my eyes, it went as a cordial to my heart. ‘I will call again tomorrow’ I cried. ‘Fool that I was to think of leaving a world where such pleasure was to be had, and so cheaply!’”
Here are more awesome thoughts on giving to the poor from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David: “How foolish are they that fear to lose their wealth by giving it, and fear not to lose themselves by keeping it? He that lays up his gold may be a good jailer, but he that lays it out is a good steward . . . Thou hast riches here, and here be objects that need thy riches—the poor; in heaven there are riches enough but no poor, therefore, by faith in Christ make over to them thy moneys in the world, that by bill of exchange thou mayest receive it in the world to come; that only you carry with you which you send before you.”—Francis Raworth, Teacher to the Church at Shoreditch, in a Funereal Sermon, 1656.
Texts for the Meditation: Matthew 5:42, “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” Luke 6:30, “Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.”
Remember: Giving isn’t simply a duty; it’s a great privilege!
One of the most difficult passages in the entire Bible (at least to me) is found in Matthew 5:29 (ESV), “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” I take everything very literally and seriously, so for years I wrestled with these haunting questions: “Does God really want each of us to blind ourselves so that we aren’t tempted to sin? If so, does he really want everyone in the entire world to go around blind? How would we survive???”
Can you imagine living in a world where none of us could see anything? What if we all really did poke out our eyes? What if the sun set and never rose again in our vision? What if we had to live in a world that was completely devoid of light and sight?
I don’t intentionally seek out at evil images, but over the course of my life, I have certainly seen things that triggered offensive thoughts. “Well” (I reasoned within myself), “Jesus didn’t say to pluck out both our eyes, just our right eye, so maybe we’d all have one eye left.” But if you’ve ever injured one eye (as I have), you’ll know that without two eyes, we don’t have depth perception, which is crucial for driving and really essential for many types of work (power equipment; even threading a sewing needle) and play (catching a ball, etc.)
God created us with eyes to see, both for our protection and for our pleasure, but I think Jesus was absolutely sincere when he said that it would be better for us to lose something essential for optimal well being in the present in order to preserve ourselves from future disaster. Would you agree with that? That much definitely makes sense to me.
Here’s what I think Jesus was actually teaching us: “Do whatever you need to do in the way of restricting yourself in order to keep from tempting yourself with evil.”
If you think about it logically, our eyes are organs in our body which are not moral agents. The eye does not literally “cause us to sin.” The eye opens and shuts either as a reflex or in response to our brain sending the message to our eye. The eye is a servant to our mind and will. As Jesus taught in Mark 7:20-22, “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” So, it’s not literally our eyes that cause us to sin. Evil doesn’t start with the eye. Sin doesn’t originate in our literal, physical eye, nor can you eradicate sin by destroying your physical eyes. Temptation and sin come from deep within our heads and hearts.
Does that let us off the hook? Well, it keeps us from needing to literally gouge out our eye if we sin, but it doesn’t lessen the impact of what Jesus is teaching in any way. Allowing ourselves to look at (consider) anything that tempts us to sin is like gouging out our spiritual eyes! Sin will blind us and make it impossible to see truth. We will be stumbling around in the dark spiritually.
This is far more deadly than stumbling around in the dark physically. So, we can either gouge out our eyes metaphorically by restricting ourselves from temptation, or (in effect) gouge out our spiritual eyes so that we are blind to sin and truth. If we choose the second option, Jesus warns that our whole body might be cast into hell! If you are indulging in evil, know that you are like a blind person walking toward the edge of a precipice with no wall to stop you (such as is true at Slieve League in Ireland). Even worse, spiritual blindness leads to the danger of being thrown into hell, which is infinitely worse than being physically blind and falling off a cliff.