June 12, 2023
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
For three years this day was looming in the back of my head and now it was here. It seemed impossible when she was first diagnosed; everyone uttered the same tired, familiar phrases of disbelief. Her vibrancy was what made it feel so unthinkable: she was a devoted wife, a highly efficient, organized mother of four young boys, and barely into her late 30’s. But the doctors had finally located the source of her two month state of fever and lethargy: cancer.
It had advanced enough that we all braced ourselves for the inevitable, but she was stubborn and resilient and in the face of death she rebounded again and again. We gave thanks for God’s kindness in giving her and the many who loved her, more time, but two weeks before Christmas her body had no more rebound left and this dear woman drew her final, labored breath.
I firmly believe that all of life is sacred — a gift from our benevolent Father, but there are some moments that inexplicably feel more sacred. The time I was granted to spend with her between diagnosis and death falls into that later category. Strangely enough, cancer opened a privileged, pastoral door into the mind and heart of this one who would soon become like a sister to me.
We spent lots of time sitting on her porch processing and praying. She was relentlessly inquisitive, always starting each meeting by announcing how many questions she had. Surprisingly, many of those questions were unrelated to her current condition. Instead they were often about a verse of Scripture that was perplexing to her, or a line from a hymn that she couldn’t quite wrap her head around. I kept waiting for the anger and bitterness that never came. I kept waiting for the ‘why me’ questions. I kept waiting for the questioning of God’s love. It’s entirely possible that she asked those utterly human questions to others, but she never posited them to me, her pastor.
It didn’t take long to understand why she had such peace in the face of what is demonstrably tragic. She had grown up in the PCA and from the moment she could comprehend human language, God’s sovereign grace was instilled in her. For all of her life she had been fed the rich doctrines of grace, and she was convinced that the Good Shepherd had granted her eternal life, and nothing, not even cancer, could possibly separate her from His sovereign love.
At the funeral, her father, who had played such a large role in teaching her about God’s unconditional love, mustered the courage to share a few words. In no uncertain terms he highlighted that his daughter had “died well”. There is no doubt in my mind that this was true, and it left a deep impression on me to see what can often feel abstract become concrete in the face of death. This is the same hope that each one of us who trusts in Jesus has at this very moment. If the Good Shepherd has taken hold of you and led you into his green pastures, there is nothing that can snatch you out of his hand.
Rev. Tim Udouj is the founding and current lead pastor of Grace & Peace Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC. He first became a member of a PCA church in the late ’90’s due to the influence of RUF, and has subsequently served as an RUF campus minister at Belhaven University and Furman University. Prior to planting Grace & Peace he was an assistant pastor at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC. He met his wife, Rosie, through RUF at the University of Tennessee and they have been married for 22 years and have three teenaged children.