Five years ago this Spring, after a brutal battle with metastatic melanoma, my friend Sweeney died. He was a bright star, full of life, doing meaningful work. To see his life on Earth end at the age of 35 rocked a lot of worlds in my circle.
Sweeney left behind a wife, Cabell, who is one of my most treasured friends.They had a beautiful marriage, a shared passion for ministry and a crazy awesome gift for loving people. As we dealt with the shock of Sweeney's terminal diagnosis and the disappointment that it did not appear God planned to heal him on this Earth, the focus of our fear and concern turned to Cabell.
They had been married 12 years, moved to our town (without any family nearby) because of a call to launch a Young Life ministry here and had not yet had children. As Cabell fought with Sweeney against the monster of cancer, her friends mourned for her too. Sweeney would go to heaven with Jesus, but she would remain here to deal with the loss of her best friend and mate, the death of her fairy tale and an uncertain future.
As my friends & I prayed in those days I asked God, "What about Cabell?" She was a faithful servant. She trusted God with her future. We boldly prayed for a Job-like turnaround for her life. We asked God to heal her heart, bring her another amazing husband and give her the gift of children. This was the picture of redemption we all had for her life. That He would "restore the years the locusts had eaten" with another fairy tale.
That was 2010.
Years have ticked by, a 40th birthday passed and no husband or babies have come. And, yet, we have all been witnesses to unbelievable life, growth, hope and redemption in Cabell's life. In her grief she dug deeper into God's Word. In her sorrow she turned out instead of in--constantly opening her home to opportunities for meaningful hospitality. She may not have been given a husband but she has a huge extended family that loves her fiercely. And the love that has been poured into her has overflowed onto countless others.
I have been blessed to witness the unfolding of her story one faithful, obedient step at a time. As life goes, we can sometimes miss the full, cumulative glory of a story this way...like noticing the growth of your own children that you see daily as opposed to observing it in someone else's from a distance.
Recently, however, a moment happened that demanded that I pause and build a metaphorical altar to the faithfulness of God. This is a story that has become a part of my faith life. I wanted to write this so I (or my children) do not forget.
Saturday, Cabell took the stage at Young Life's Sharptop Cove as the camp speaker, the same stage where Sweeney shared the Gospel while suffering from terminal cancer. He was baptized in the lake there, and it is the final resting place of his ashes. From that stage, Cabell delivered a message of hope despite circumstances to a packed house of over 600 people.
As I sat in that place amidst a group of hundreds of silent, attentive teenagers listening to her share, I was overwhelmed with the echoes of my question to God during the hard days, "What about Cabell?"
I couldn't help but be struck by how my love and concern for my friend's future somehow translated into a distrust of the plan her Creator, Father, Redeemer had for her life all along.
Yet, through her faithfulness, God is using her and her story in mighty ways. So far that hasn't included a husband and babies, but Sunday morning it included 100 high school kids receiving Bibles for the first time--at their request. Their question wasn't "What about Cabell?" it was, what can you tell me about her God?
This experience left a lesson resonating in my soul because, honestly, I have a handful of people I am asking God not to forget about right now...
God, what about the Mama I know whose husband is currently battling a life threatening illness? Lord, what about the mentally ill Mama I know who is fighting hard to hang on? Lord, what about that toddler I know whose Mama is an addict? Jesus, what about that single friend of mine who longs desperately to be a wife? God, what about that friend whose husband just lost his job and faces an uncertain future? (I could go on and on.)
In all of it I hear God say, "I love them so much more than you do. I have plans you couldn't even begin to imagine. I specialize in redemption, resurrection, beauty from ashes. Trust me. I got this."
It brought to mind my daughter's new approach to Christmas. This year rather than laundry list wishes to Santa she asked instead that he surprise her. When I pressed her to see if she was sure she replied confidently, "Yes, he always gives things I love and wouldn't have even thought to ask for."
And so it is with our God. He knows us better than we know ourselves, has an eternal perspective rather than a circumstantial one and loves us beyond our comprehension. He is worthy of our trust.
I realize I have been asking the wrong question all along. Instead of "What about these circumstances?" I should have been asking, "What about our incredible God?"