Epitaph (Part One)
I took a Bible study once that urged us to live life backwards. Decide what you want written on your tombstone and then live your life in a way that would fulfill that statement. “She loved well,” is what I came up with. Jesus said the most important thing is to love God and love others. When I picture myself dying to this life and meeting Him face to face in the next, I ache for Him to be able to throw His arms wide open to me and say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” If he says loving is most important, then I want to learn to love well and spend my time on Earth doing just that.
Looking back on my years since I wrote that epitaph, I would say I’ve fallen far short in the real, unconditional loving department. It has taken the “valley of the shadow of death” I’m walking in right now to be able to see that clearly. I don’t fear that the outcome of this cancer will be my physical death, although both my sister and dad died fairly young of the disease (42 and 59 respectively). My mom was completely healed of it and I think I’ll follow her path because I believe God will give me time to live out what He is teaching me about love. I’m convinced He is mining my soul and bringing out the dross so I’ll be as silver refined – a clearer reflection of Him. As diamonds are forged out of great heat, so too can a soul start to sparkle and reflect the Light in new ways, if we can let our trials teach us instead of defeat us.
The first eight weeks of the cancer treatments were such a shakeup to the core of who I thought myself to be. Every other week I was given a cocktail of chemo drugs that included something nicknamed the Red Devil. I was told it is the harshest, most powerful chemo drug, effective and yet wicked. Oh my, I have never experienced such inner darkness. It took me down to a whiny, anxious, confused, depressed state. I was truly helpless to do or even be anything in my own strength. I was like this blob of a person lying in bed that needed help. In the meantime, the word was being spread by family, friends, the podcast audience and my church, that I was in need of prayer. Gifts, cards, texts, meals, flowers and even cross-country visits from my family poured in. And I mean poured! I’m not saying that like a Facebook brag. I’m saying that because never, ever in my life have I been more actively loved by so many people and truthfully, it was humbling. I felt embarrassed. I felt so unworthy. I like to be the one giving, not the one receiving. I don’t like to bother people. It felt like people were going to so much trouble, being inconvenienced, for my sake. I wanted to tell them that I wasn’t worth it, didn’t deserve any of this, that there would be better ways for them to use their resources.
My thinking changed the day my brother said something profound to me. “Live loved in order to live love.” I had to play that over and over in my mind to let it sink in. If I wanted to truly love others well, I had to be able to receive their love, their acts of service. Now, I know it has to start with receiving the lavish love God wants to pour out on us. I’ll talk about that more extensively in the next blog.
But simply put, how does God pour out love on His people today? Mostly through other people. If we push that away because of embarrassment or a deep sense of unworthiness, aren’t we rejecting His love? If I wanted to truly love others well, I needed to be able to receive their love. But I had a guard up. A wall that I’d erected unknowingly that kept me from believing anyone could love me just for me. I knew people loved what I could do for them, what I could bring to their life. If I stopped being a benefit to them, they’d stop loving me. I thought I saw this played out in life to prove my point. When I stopped working for certain pastors, they stopped talking to me. When I left jobs, coworkers I thought were family became nothing more then acquaintances. As we moved from duty stations, I’d completely lose touch with friends I adored. As the kids moved out, my boys marrying, they didn’t need much from me anymore and of course we stayed in touch but not like when I could daily serve them. Even my husband seemed happiest when the house was clean, dinner was served, and I looked my best and wanted his arms around me at night. So, I equated my worthiness for love based on what I could do for others.
It’s all such a lie and it took this season of cancer for Him to reveal it clearly to me. I love the song with lyrics that say “there’s no lie He won’t tear down, wall He won’t break down coming after me.” The truth will set you free. He did this in two ways for me. First, He allowed me to have absolutely nothing to offer anyone. No looks, no energy, no ability to teach or comfort or serve…anyone! And yet people loved me anyway.
Secondly, He taught me beautiful pearls of truth. Through His Word, through authors of books He sent my way, through sermons I was listening too, through conversations with Spirit-filled people we interviewed on our podcast. Stay tuned for specifics on what He taught me and how I’m hoping when I do die, the epitaph I have in mind will ring true.
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."