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Do We Die Alone?

Written by Kim Cheung, China, originally in Simplified Chinese

Granny lay breathless on her bed, making occasional groans and moans due to the pain and discomfort she was feeling. Her wrinkled face seemed to have aged further.

I sat by her bedside, never once taking my eyes off her. Summoning up all her strength, she opened her eyes, looking me straight in the eye.

“Are you hungry?” I asked. My question was met by silence; she didn’t have any strength left to speak.

Three weeks had passed since Granny first returned home from the hospital. Including her time spent at the hospital, it had been 17 days since she last ate any solid food. It never occurred to me that she would ever become so weak.

Aside from the fact she was 92 and had a history of heart disease, Granny’s health was always in tiptop condition. She didn’t require much care in her daily life; she ate and slept well every day, so much so that she seemed even healthier than those much younger than her. Furthermore, she always had a positive outlook on life (unlike her peers) and often said that she had to live well to keep up with the progress of our world today.

And yet at this very moment, she was a dying old person struggling in the final moments of her life. She looked like she was in intense pain. A whirlwind of emotions raged in my heart beneath my calm exterior, and I wondered: How could I best comfort her and bring her some relief in this situation?

The answer came quickly—there was nothing I could do but pray.

At this point, she gently stretched out her hand and held on to mine. Though her hand was frail, it felt exceptionally warm. I quietly prayed in my heart: Lord, You are with her. Please come and comfort her with your presence. Only You can bring true comfort . . . After a while, Granny seemed to have fallen asleep; there was a peaceful look on her face. I slowly removed my hand and prayed that the Lord would hold on to hers.

This was the very first time I witnessed someone struggling in her final moments. And yet, death is something all of us will eventually experience ourselves one day. Who would accompany us on this long and lonely road then?

I recalled a sharing from many years ago which stuck with me: All of us come to this earth alone and will have to leave in the same manner—alone. Though it sounded pessimistic, the reality of it hit home at that very moment. Our family and friends can only be with us in our final moments on earth, but it’s impossible for anyone to accompany us on the journey to the afterlife.

And this is what leaves many in despair. Death is already what many fear the most—to think that we have to face our deepest and darkest fear all alone!

Thankfully, I found hope in Christ. Because the Lord is always with us, there is never a single moment in time when we are alone. He goes with us through the mountains and valleys of our lives. David said in Psalm 23:4 (ESV), “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”

And beyond that, Jesus has also gained victory over the stronghold of death, as it says in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” So we no longer face ignorance and despair after we die, but rather life, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  This shows the extent of God’s love for us—He is always with us and He wants to bring us new life.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that we only come to a deeper understanding of the Lord’s presence when we are approaching life’s end. This is because we we can no longer depend on anyone or anything else. Only in our loneliest moment do we  discover that God alone is our surest, stable Rock in whom we can place our trust.

Only He can bring us true comfort and help in our darkest time. Only God will be with us forever—everything else is temporal and will fade away.

I thank the Lord that I’ll never be alone even as I finish my journey here on earth.

So for my remaining days here, I live with that perspective in mind, trusting in His faithfulness and leaning on Him as my dependable Rock.

Dearest Lord Jesus, please hold on tightly to my hand.

Getting to Know Billy Graham After His Death

Just as I was prepared to turn in for the night, a text notification popped up on my phone screen. It was a web link to an article titled: “US Preacher Billy Graham dies”.

That was the first of a string of other text messages I received last night from friends who had read the news that the world’s best-known modern evangelist had passed away at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, USA. He was 99.

Truth be told, I was surprised . . . that he had still been alive all this while (to all Graham fans, please pardon my ignorance). All I knew was that he was a really old and renowned television evangelist and I had heard my pastor mention his name a couple of times on the pulpit.

 

Who is Billy Graham?

Not wanting to look ignorant or miss out on what seemed to be the passing of one of the most influential men of the 20th century, I decided to do some research.

Needless to say, every report I read pointed to one thing: Billy Graham was no ordinary man.

He’s been called the world’s most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul, a counselor to American presidents, and a great uniter. He’s preached to millions of people all over the world, including North Korea, the Soviet Union, and some of the poorest Third World villages.

As I pored over the tributes and obituaries, it’s evident that this man had made a great impact for the gospel in his 99 years of life. In fact, one of my friends just told me that his father had become a Christian after attending an evangelistic rally by Graham held in Singapore 40 years ago.

So, if like me, you’re wondering who this guy is and what’s the big deal about his death, here are some key facts about the man:

  • Graham was born in 1918 and brought up on his family’s dairy farm in North Carolina, USA.
  • After hearing a travelling evangelist, Mordecai Ham, he became a committed Christian at the age of 16.
  • He became a full-time evangelist with Youth For Christ, a Christian youth organization that reached out to young people and service personnel.
  • Over six decades, he preached to 215 million people in 185 countries.
  • Through radio and television, he’s reached hundreds of millions.
  • He preached his final revival meeting in New York in 2005 at the age of 86.

Though Graham—like every other person—was not perfect, what struck me as I read through all the reports of his life and death, was how he managed to keep his life untainted amid financial and sexual scandals that plagued other church ministers, leaders, and TV evangelists. Graham exemplified what true religion was: he kept a tight rein of his tongue, went out of his way to reach the orphans and widows, and kept his life unpolluted by the world (James 1:26-27).

And the other aspect of his life that intrigued me was how he kept his life and ministry sharply focused on one thing: proclaiming Christ. Yet he never made a big deal out of the influence and reach that he had, recognizing that salvation is only by God’s grace alone.

“I am not going to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds or read the Bible many times. I’m going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said in that last moment: ‘Lord, remember me’,” he once said.

What a beautiful reminder. As we celebrate his life and mourn his passing, may we all aspire to echo his words at the end of our lives as well.

An Open Letter to A Friend Gone Too Soon

Written by Agnes Lee, Singapore

Dear Joshua,

I will never forget October 23, 2017. It seemed so surreal seeing you lying motionless in the casket, dressed in your best. Tears swelled up in my eyes as I remembered how you had been such a good friend to my husband and me.

Your abrupt departure from this earth caught us completely off-guard. Your mother shared with us the details of your sudden heart attack as you were preparing to leave for work that fateful morning.

As I stood by your casket, I pictured you right there with us, comforting us with your smiles as you stood together with Jesus—a reminder that you were off to a far better place than before (one where there would no longer be any tears or pain). That image brought much solace to my aching heart.

It’s hard to express the pain we felt from losing you. We shared so many good memories together and on some days it’s hard to believe that you’re gone.

You were truly a beacon of light that shone brightly wherever you went. I remember how my husband and I would quarrel over the most minor details on our trips together (especially in our early days of marriage) and how you would be the peacemaker. Your oft repeated phrase, “Please don’t quarrel, it troubles me when you do” still rings in my ears today and is something that I always remember whenever a quarrel is about to erupt between my husband and me. You can’t imagine how many unhappy quarrels you’ve saved us from! Your gentle nature and desire for peace reminds me to walk in the same manner and exercise the spirit of gentleness and self-control.

I know it was tough for you to have this perpetual heart condition. It mustn’t have been easy having to consume medication on a daily basis for the past 10 years (after having your heart bypass surgery). You also had difficulty catching your breath after walking a certain distance and would perspire profusely. Yet, I never once heard you complain or blame God for this sickness you had.

Instead, whenever you were feeling down, you would choose to bow down before God and worship Him. I witnessed firsthand how you lived each day for God, leaning on Him for the strength that you needed and trusting in His sovereignty over your circumstances.

You reminded me of Job in the Bible through the way you dealt with your sickness and how you responded to God in the midst of the most trying of circumstances.

I remember the times when you planned to go out with us but had to stay at home because you were feeling unwell. Whenever we met, you always had a smile on your face even if your heart condition caused you great discomfort.

You always placed the interests of others before your own too, showing consideration to others in the midst of your own pain and discomfort. Remember the time we were on our way back to Singapore from our short trip to Batam? We were in a hurry to catch the ferry and both of us were lagging behind because we could not run as fast as the others. You noticed that I was struggling with the bags of crackers I bought and in the midst of trying to catch your breath—and the ferry—you still stopped to take the load off me.

This small act of kindness left a deep impression on me and I can never thank you enough for all that you have done for me.

As I recall your life, the words of Joshua 1:9 come to mind (I remember that it’s your favorite verse too!): “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

 You displayed such strength and courage even though your heart was weak and your body was gradually breaking down. You knew that the Lord was with you at all times and you never despaired of life, no matter how tough it got.

Through the way you related with all around you (especially caring for your elderly parents who have yet to come to know God), you have inspired me to want to live a faith-filled life with God.

Thank you for leaving us with a legacy of your faith that stirs our hearts towards our Creator.

You have fought the good fight, ran the race and kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

Now it is my turn to run this race well, just as you have.

Farewell and till the day we meet again . . .

 

Your friend,

Agnes.

When God Turned My Sorrow to Joy

Written By Callie Opper, USA

In every person’s life, I believe that there is a defining moment when we suddenly come to realize how small we are compared with God, and how small we are compared with the problems that can overwhelm us. For me, that moment happened on my 14th birthday.

That was when my family received news that my mom had been diagnosed with leukemia. Almost exactly a month later, my dad was diagnosed with lymphoma. As a 14-year-old, I didn’t know how to process the news. It rocked my world. And because the seemingly perfect world that I had known was now crumbling around me, I did the only thing I could at the time—I pretended to be strong, even though I was crumbling inwardly. I truly believed that I needed to be strong to make it through something like this, and for God to heal my parents.

As a child growing up in a Christian environment, I had heard time and time again that when life gets hard, we’re supposed to trust God, and when tragedy hits, we should feel unshaken because He’s on our side. But when the storm hit me, I didn’t feel this automatic trust in God’s plan, and I started to believe that He was giving up on me because of my doubts. I had accepted Christ at the age of nine and prayed a prayer whose meaning I knew, but I didn’t understand what it really meant to follow Jesus.

Because of this trial, I found myself feeling alone, even though I was surrounded by so many people who loved me. I let this feeling of abandonment take root and became insecure about myself; I began to doubt if God was present in my world because He didn’t heal my mom. And because I craved attention and belonging, I let the world define who I was. Inwardly, I was running away from the one person who promises to never abandon us; I blocked my heart and mind from letting Him heal the hurt in me.

Over a year after my mom was diagnosed, she passed away. I had to get used to a new normal—a life without her. I kept up an external image that seemed to show a deep trust in God, but inwardly I was confused and lost. I kept asking why, and I became bitter as I watched my dad fall in love again and we moved out of my childhood home.

I believe that God does not forsake us. He pursues us and over time, slowly breaks down the walls of our hearts.

Shortly after my mother’s passing, I signed up for a mission trip to China. But it was for a selfish reason—I wanted to leave the country to escape my world and to get away from the tragedy that surrounded me and my family.

My plans, however, were drastically changed; God had plans to reveal the selfishness of my heart and to truly heal it. One day, on a mountain in China, He used a place of isolation to make me face the weight of the pain I had been feeling and my rebellion against Him, and He revealed to me the condition of my heart. For the first time in my life, I found myself vulnerable before Him. He broke me down using one verse: “In all our troubles, my joy knows no bounds” (2 Cor 7:4). While I had gone to China to escape, God brought me to a place of quiet retreat, to sit in His presence and to experience His life transformation.

I didn’t know what true joy was, but in that one moment, I knew I wanted it. I started pleading with the Lord for joy, to confidently trust in His plans, His ways, and the story He had started writing for me. And it was from that one single moment that God started to break down my walls, to refine me, and to teach me what joy means.

Over the next few years, God chiseled away at my heart to reveal emotions I had not wanted to face, grief that was unresolved, and lies that I had believed about God and myself.

He showed me that joy looks a lot like vulnerability. Joy is not a temporal happiness, but a deep-rooted contentment in God’s plan, which we know is for our good and His purposes. Joy does not mean I will wake up with a smile on my face every day; it does not mean that I will always be rejoicing in my sorrows and in the storms. Rather, it is choosing to see God’s higher purposes when everything is crumbling. Joy is a daily choice. It’s laughing and embracing the tears when they come.

God taught me that being weak is so much greater than being strong. Our weakness proclaims our need to depend on the Lord utterly. He has taught me that it’s okay to not be okay. He welcomes our doubting and invites us to wrestle with Him when we don’t understand what He is doing.

The beautiful thing that I learned about God is that He never gives up on us. He will never stop pursuing our hearts even when we try to run. He will go into the deep and dark places of our hearts to pull us out and to prove that He is good.

I have seen God turn my brokenness into beauty. He has removed the bitterness I held on to tightly for years, by giving me people to walk with me. He used the brokenness of my mom’s death to show me the reality of how short life is, to teach me what it means to value others, and to show me that every second matters. He has showed me the importance of loving and living well, and how much people and relationships matter.

God has been faithful to me in this journey. He has given me so many glimpses of His purposes for my mom’s death. He has given me complete joy and has taught me to embrace weakness, to cling to Him, and to live vulnerably. He has taught me to accept grief. He has shown me that hiding and running from the storms that He allows is useless.

I believe that God weaves unique stories for everyone. He creates masterpieces out of our lives and weaves the deepest pain into something far more beautiful than we could ever imagine. Life is a gift, and the story of our lives, no matter what it looks like, paints a radiant picture of the gospel. Our stories are all about Him and His glory alone.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen, and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights. For the director of music, on my stringed instruments.”—Habakkuk 3

Last year I got a tattoo in my mother’s hand writing to remind me of the faithfulness of God, to keep me grounded in Him, and in the meaning of joy.