Epitaph (Part 2)
This is what I want engraved on my tombstone…SHE LOVED WELL. But it’s got to be true! It’s not that I have death on my mind right now as I face two surgeries in the next three weeks (one on the tumor in my breast and one on my bad appendix). I have utter confidence that they will be successful. What’s been occupying my mind is the hopeful idea that transformation of my character is not only possible but probable. I believe that we are in this life to come to know God through Jesus Christ and the subsequent filling of the Holy Spirit and that as we get to know Him better and better, we are compelled to be like Him because He is so beautiful. The way He loves us, with patience and kindness, never irritable or rude, never selfish or prideful, never keeping a record of our wrongs, always trusting, hopeful, protecting and persevering, is so magnificent that it motivates us to want to love like that too.
Something I’ve learned during this cancer season is that me loving God and others well will never come true without some deep soul changes. And I can’t force those. They can only be wrought by the God who loves me, never gives up on me, sanctifies me…body, soul and spirit. But I need to cooperate with Him! It’s like gardening. I can’t get in the ground and force plants to grow and bear their fruit. God causes things to grow. But it is my job to chop up the hard soil, plant seeds, weed out the harmful junk, and water well. Give all those little seeds the best possible environment that perhaps they’ll grow and produce luscious, beautiful fruit.
Two weeks ago I finished 16 rounds of chemotherapy which delights me to no end. I can’t say I was ever thankful for the awfulness of poison being poured into my body but in retrospect I can “consider it all joy” because I think that the months of chemotherapy did a good job of chopping at the hard soil of my heart and preparing it for some seeds of truth that hadn’t yet been planted down deep.
For example, the truth that loving others well starts with loving God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength. And loving Him starts with believing and receiving how much He loves me. I knew this on one level. I thought I’d come a long way in believing and receiving His love. It started many years ago at a Christian Women’s conference in the Mighty Ducks Stadium out in Anaheim, CA. I remember worshipping with thousands of women and singing something about God’s love for us. As I sang, I very clearly heard in my spirit “you don’t really believe this. You teach it to others but don’t believe it for yourself. It hurts us.” I felt like God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit was speaking for the Trinity and wanted to be very clear with me. “This is fundamental to living the kind of life I’m calling you to.” I sobbed and apologized and asked for wisdom! I learned: It’s very shallow and hurtful and non-productive to hang on to our own unworthiness to be loved by Him. We are unworthy in the sense that we don’t earn His love, but scripture says, “While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us.” How much more could He show His unconditional love than to give His life for us before we even thought twice about loving Him back! By not embracing His love for me fully, I was demeaning what He did for me on the cross. I thought I was being humble and mindful of my awfulness. I had done some pretty bad things in my teen and young adult years. I was embarrassed and ashamed when memories would flood me and I’d think, “How can you love me Jesus?” I could understand why He might love other people. I wasn’t being hypocritical when I taught others of His love. But I knew myself and all the things I’d done. I knew the ugly, mean thoughts I had. I was self-centered and was trying to change but it wasn’t going well. He corrected my faulty thinking at that conference. The truth that I was still trying to earn His love and that I needed to understand grace (getting what we don’t deserve or unmerited favor) was planted in my soul way back then. But, all these years later, the season of chemotherapy I went through, took that seed of truth and pushed it deeper into the soil of my soul. Being stripped of anything I could possibly do to earn His favor and yet having rich times of being held by Him showed me His unconditional love in such a real way. Something I’d believed for years theoretically became so experientially real to me. I couldn’t do ministry, I had no energy to interact in an evangelistic way with people, my brain was foggy so my prayers were vague and rambly. My quiet times were all over the place with different books and nothing orderly or sequential. Yet, I sensed His love in a constant and beautiful way. I soaked it in.
If loving well starts with loving Him, which starts with receiving His love, then I now think it is very probable that my epitaph will ring true. I love Him because He first loved me! I can love others because He began a good work in me long ago and He will be faithful to complete it. He’s used this cancer season to continue to transform me by deepening my understanding of being loved by Him, loving Him back, and then loving others.
Maybe a truer statement on my headstone would be:
“She loved well because He conformed her into His image.”
This blog was written prior to the first of Katie’s two mentioned surgeries, which took place on October 23, 2019.
Katie Hawkins is the co-host of the podcast, She Speaks Stories, which shares exploits of our extraordinary God to bring hope, joy, and courage to their listeners. Katie is also a member of Mount Ararat Baptist Church with her husband Mike, former moderator of NorthStar Church Network, and an Alpha teacher. Follow along with Katie at her podcast (linked above) or through her blogs which will be posted here periodically, under the category "Stories."