On May 3, 2009, my father-in-law passed away after a nine month struggle with cancer. After I proposed to my wife, and we were engaged, we began discussing when we should get married. I wanted as soon as possible, while she hoped that we could delay for another year. We settled on December 2008. God had different plans.
Soon after we made the decision to get married in December in Florida, we found out that her father had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. This was devastating news, which changed many things, among which the date and location of our wedding. We decided to move the wedding to Michigan to accomodate her father who was beginning rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. And, we chose to get married in August.
Instead of the typical beautiful words of 1 Corinthians 13, which boast that “love is patient, love is kind…” We chose Jeremiah 29:11-14 “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.’” One of my best friends and former high school roomate recently graduated from the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wisconsin. We asked him to preach our sermon. I count his sermon among the chief blessings of my life, and don’t know how to thank God enough for what he gave us.
Before he preached, he called me to ask me about the sermon text. This was not the obvious choice of passages for a wedding, and he realized that we chose it because of the circumstances that surrounded our wedding and the imminent departure of my wife’s father to be with his Savior. He asked about the sharp edges. Did we choose this passage in hopes that he would directly address his future death, or only peripherally? Knowing that my wife and I saw this similarly, I responded that I wanted him to directly address death and plan changes and my father-in-law to be.
Looking back now on my father-in-law’s death, I can’t help to feel helpless. My wife and I realized that he would be leaving us soon. We thought that we were prepared, but we really had no understanding how sharp the knife is that God used to separate us from him was. Nor did his family, my mother-in-law and extended family on my wife’s side. Yet, we can’t help but praise God for his grace.
Her father was a humble man. He was kind and funny and self depracating, but not weak. No one would call him weak. He stood well over six feet tall and was an imposing man. The greatest thing about him, though, and this I learned in only my nine months of knowing him, was just how much he loved his Savior. What I am learning now, after his death, is just how deeply his Savior loved him.
The Savior that he knew is my own. His plans changed everything, but they are not mine. They are not similar. They forced me to change my plans. His plans force me to change me, the core of me.
Many of the authors that I love talk about how much they love suffering. The bible reflects the same encouragement, that suffering is good for the heart, it encourages perseverance, hope, and patience, and that God is the source of refuge during times of duress.
God must become more in the life of a Christian. That is what he is doing now, and though it pains me and I don’t comprehend his end result, through faith I can exclaim that his plans are magnificent