Whenever an actor, athlete or musician glorifies God in the wake of their victory cynicism rears its ugly head with the collective eye roll of skeptics everywhere. They love to point out that Christians never seem to give thanks to God when we lose.
Or do we?
My husband, Michael and I have learned that being thankful in our losses is not only possible but also necessary. The deaths of our first spouses to cancer taught us what it truly means to be thankful for the blessings found not only in the victories this life offers but also the losses.
When my first husband Matt was diagnosed with cancer he wasn't triumphantly praising God for his diagnosis. He was, however, quietly reflecting gratitude for everything in his life that wasn't cancer. I watched Matt, a dying man, celebrate life and serve others in the midst of his suffering. There is perhaps nothing more humbling. He also gave cynics something new to consider when he called his cancer battle a "win-win" situation. He believed that a cure is a win and heaven is a win.
With a young family and a successful career it was easy to admire Matt's life from a distance. Yet, oddly, even after he was facing a terminal diagnosis many of us closest to him found ourselves admiring him more than ever before, but not for the reasons one might think.
Matt's courage wasn't found in his determination to beat cancer (though he was certainly determined to do just that), rather, it was his unwavering commitment to trust in the unseen, eternal promises of a God who could use even a devastating, evil disease like cancer for good purposes.
Let the world take note, no red carpet or trophy can compare to a life of genuine gratitude and faith.
Certainly cancer is not enviable, but for Matt to believe there is victory in cancer is remarkable. It is undoubtedly a gift when a dying man learns to appreciate his life and resolve to fight for it, but Matt also recognized and believed that cancer, through him, could be used for triumphant purposes as well. He wrote:
"As a believer, the prospects of untimely death should not break me. I can be a better witness through death at age 35 than I could ever be living a blessed life into my 80's. In a perverse way, dying with grace, dignity and hope and joy is a great gift."
God let's nothing go to waste. If we are open to receiving his grace, he will use anything for his purposes. Our job is to be aware of God's presence in all circumstances, even suffering and loss.
Imagine an athlete or movie star using a defeat (nowhere comparable to death) as a platform for helping others or giving thanks. Seems contrary to our culture to esteem a loser, yet life's greatest lessons are often born out of losses.
Growing up I recall overhearing adults talk about the alcoholic who hit rock bottom or the criminal who got caught and suddenly they found Jesus. They were considered weak and in need of the "Jesus crutch." At the time I bought into it. However, I've since come to know Jesus. He specializes in meeting people in their place of need. The drunks, criminals, diseased and lonely are all alike to him. When you strike out on three pitches, or "the Oscar goes to..." someone else, or God forbid, a doctor in a white lab coat calls you in to a 10 x 10 room to give you that evil diagnosis... no matter what dark place we find ourselves, Jesus brings the light with the presence of his grace and mercy.
I believe it was fitting that Matt died on Christmas Day, the most celebrated day of the year. It's a beautiful metaphor for his life and a constant reminder that despite our losses, we must simultaneously celebrate the life we are given and receive the gifts of faith that are being delivered to us, even in our darkest hours.
The spotlights of this world fade and award winning moments pass, but a life focused on the eternal promises of God is a life fulfilled, even in cancer; even in our losses; even in death.
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