This morning, I got to spend an hour cradling, rocking, and singing to a most precious newborn bundle of joy. Less than a week old, he is the foster child of one of the families in my church. And though I know nothing of the circumstances of this little love-bug’s short life up to this point, it was such an honor, a privilege, and a blessing to spend some time pouring love, comfort, peace, and prayers into his life. Swaddled tight and cradled against my heart, I sang over him as he heaved a little sigh or two, and then drifted comfortably to sleep, safe and loved in my arms.
I didn’t just get to be a blessing to a child this morning. This little fellow ministered deeply to my heart. Looking down into his sweet little face, I had a revelation of the love that God has for us. And where I’d driven to church this morning expecting to walk in and be overwhelmed with sadness for my dear friend who is dying of cancer and my grief as I prepare to lose him, suddenly I was faced with a realization of the love that God has for each of us, and how God longs to have us home in His arms.
In January, when my friend Rick called me to say, “I’ve got stage IV small-cell carcinoma. It’s inoperable; considered terminal,” I went numb. I listened to the details with a clinical ear and analytical mind. We were going to fight this cancer together, and we were going to beat it. Because I was just not willing to lose my friend. I wasn’t willing to let go of this person who has walked me through some of the darkest, deepest valleys of my life. This person who has loved me so unconditionally and so without-strings. When he came into my life, he promised me that I had never met anyone like him before, and he’s lived up to that promise, but it also means that once he has left this world, his absence will be felt most deeply. But that night, as I sat at another friend’s bedside, as she slept the drugged sleep of having just had surgery, and my heart and mind tried to reconcile this news about Rick, the Holy Spirit nudged my heart and said something that I wasn’t ready to hear then: “I’m ready to have him home with Me.” Part of my heart was comforted that God loves Rick that much. But most of my heart just couldn’t hear that little voice. I pushed it away and steeled myself to face a battle to save my friend’s life.
It’s only been about five months, but it’s been a hard five months. A round of radiation. Four rounds of chemo. Multiple hospitalizations. A handful of ER trips. Blood transfusions. Losing hair. Losing weight. Losing energy. Losing ground. And over the space of the last two weeks, my denial has lifted as the cancer has stopped responding to the chemo, started mutating and spreading, and my friend and his sweet, wonderful wife have begun planning a wake and a funeral. At this point, how could I be of any help if my denial were to continue?
This morning, I held this sweet little baby boy – a new life just come into the world, and I felt the swell of love in my heart, and I recognized it as what it is – God’s love. And today, when the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and said, “Rick’s coming home to me. Your amazing earthly friend is coming to live with your Heavenly best friend. I’ve missed him. I love him. And after his hard life, full of pain and abuse, I’m ready to reward him.” I responded with, “Okay. Jesus, thank You for the profound honor of helping Rick to walk home to You.”
It’s not going to be easy to say this temporary good-bye to my friend. I’m praying for the chance to get to hug him again before he goes, and to kiss his sweet face. But God is good. God is love. And even during this hard time, God will hold us to His heart, just as I held that sweet baby to my heart this morning.
PS – The photo above was swiped from Rick’s wife, Joy. (Though I’m sure she’ll forgive me for swiping it.)
PS2 – Because Rick has no life insurance to help defray his final expenses, Rick’s sister-in-law has set up a Go Fund Me campaign. If you’re interested in sharing with that fund, please click here.