Lana Elder

I'm believin'!

Having Faith in the Resurrection

Happy Easter from our house to yours!  We could all use a dose of faith, and Easter Sunday is a great day to get one.  If you’re struggling with trusting God, even in the face of significant loss, this message is for you.
Eric Elder and Kids

It’s been almost five months since we took this picture of me and my six kids, not knowing that just two weeks later my wife Lana would pass on to be with the Lord (she was inside resting when this picture was taken, as we were in the middle of a 10-hour filming session for a project to give hope to families facing loss).  Since that day, we’ve had to celebrate seven major holidays without our beloved Lana:  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, two birthdays, and now Easter.  Each of these “firsts” without her this year could have easily overwhelmed me with grief if it weren’t for my faith in Jesus Christ and the prayers of people like you.

But when Christmas rolled around, God reminded me why we celebrate the holiday at all:  Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the baby who would one day defeat death forever!  While celebrating Christmas was still hard without Lana, God’s reminder of the reason we were celebrating helped me keep a balanced perspective on her life and death…and her new life with Him.

The same holds true for Easter.  While there’s no doubt it’s been hard to go through our Easter traditions this year without Lana, God keeps reminding me of the purpose of this holiday, too.  Easter is the day we remember that Jesus rose from the dead, and because He rose from the dead, we can be assured that all of us who have put our faith in Him will be raised from the dead, too, including my dear wife Lana.  Without Lana here with me this week, it’s already been a different kind of holiday.  I found myself videotaping the kids during an Easter egg hunt so that I could come home and show her the tape, only to remember that she wouldn’t be home when I got there.  But then God reminded me that it’s quite likely that Lana’s not missing a thing.  The Bible says that “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” witnesses who have kept their faith to the end, and remind us to do the same:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

As sad as it is that I’m having to celebrate Easter without Lana here with me in the flesh, the truth is that without Jesus, there would be no holiday to celebrate at all, and there would be no hope of Lana being raised from the dead either.  So in the midst of my heartache, God keeps reminding me of the whole truth:  not just the truth that she’s gone, but the truth that she’s gone to be with Jesus, and has been raised to a new life in spectacular glory.  And having that whole truth in mind brings His peace to my heart.  As the Bible says:

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

We do have hope.  True hope.  Not a desperate clinging to the mere idea that maybe there’s some kind of life after this life, but a firm faith in the reality that there really is a heaven, and that Jesus is really there, with my beloved Lana right alongside Him.

I don’t want to try to prove to you today that Jesus rose from the dead, but I would like to remind you of the fact that He did rise from the dead and that His resurrection was witnessed by many here on earth.  Not only that, but there were others in the Bible who were once dead who were resurrected to new life, as well, and even they have appeared to people here on earth, too!

As for Jesus’ resurrection, and His appearance to people on earth, listen to some of these verses from the Bible:

“When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had driven seven demons” (Mark 16:9).

“Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country” (Mark 16:12).

“Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen” (Mark 16:14).

“Afterward, Jesus appeared again to His disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias” (John 21:1).

“This was now the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after He was raised from the dead” (John 21:14).

“After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me [Paul]…” (1 Corinthians 15:6-8a).

What’s even more amazing to me, since Lana passed on to be with Jesus, is that I keep reading verses that I’ve read before, but that strike me now in a new light:  that Jesus wasn’t the only one who died and rose again and appeared to people here on earth.  Listen to this!

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit.  At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.  They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (Matthew 27:50-53).

Not only had Jesus been raised from the dead, but many others had also been raised as well who appeared to many people in Jerusalem.  Even Peter, James and John saw people raised from the dead while Jesus was still living, when they saw Moses and Elijah standing on the mountaintop, talking with Jesus:

“After six days Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” (Matthew 17:1-3).

Moses and Elijah were so real to Peter that Peter asked Jesus if he should build a shelter for each one of them, even though they had been dead for thousands of years!  It was a reminder to them, and to me, that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, as Jesus once told the Saducees, the religious leaders who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.  Jesus said:

“Now about the dead rising–have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.  You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:26-28).

I share all this as a preface to what I’m about to share next.  As with some of the other stories I’ve shared with you recently, I do so with hesitancy as I don’t want you to think I’ve lost my mind.  I’m also not sure what to think of them myself, for I realize I’m still in the midst of grief, and perhaps the grief is clouding how I think and see spiritual things right now.  Then again, perhaps it’s during our most difficult times, when we’re apt to be the closest to God, that we’re best able to see what’s really true!

On New Year’s Eve, I was praying on my knees during a time of worship at a large Christian conference, celebrating the New Year with over 20,000 other believers.  As I knelt there on the floor, I felt as if Lana were leaning down next to me.  She whispered in my ear, as she had done many times before in life:  “I love you, Eric Elder.”   Her voice was as clear and soft and sweet as any time I’d ever heard her say that to me before.  I could almost feel her breath on the side of my face.

The next night I felt her presence again, this time as I lay in bed.  I wrote in my journal the following morning:

“Father, thank You for Lana’s love for me and mine for her.  I miss her Lord.  But how can I be anything but grateful to You for giving her to me to be my wife for so many years.  This morning I woke up and literally felt her arms around me and heard her voice talking to me.  I couldn’t move for several minutes, it was so real, her touch and her words.  I even thought I saw her when I turned my head.  Thank You, Lord, for her continued presence, even if it is in my dreams, or in that state between dreams and wakefulness.  Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.”

I’ve reached up to heaven many times in the last few months and have taken hold of Lana’s arm, only to find the arm of Jesus taking hold of both of us, as He promised that He would never leave us nor forsake us.  He promised us that death would not separate us, for we had put our faith in Him.  He promised us that we would live forever, not just at the end of time, but right now, in abundant life.

As Jesus told Martha in the Bible, after her brother Lazarus died:

“Your brother will be raised up.”  

To which Martha replied:

“I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.”

To which Jesus replied:

“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in Me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in Me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” (John 11:23-26, MSG).

Martha said she believed it.  Lana said she believed it.  And I can say I believe it, too.

As I shared at the celebration of Lana’s life back in November, a good friend of mine sent me this text that helped me to see the reality of Lana’s new life in heaven:

“It is so hard to be in this place, but it is good to know Lana is seeing our Father and Jesus face to face.  She is touching them and hearing their voices, and talking to them about anything and everything she wants to.  Somehow you, because you are one, are part of that.  It takes my breath away.”

When I think about it, really think about it, it takes my breath away, too.

This is the great hope that we have in the resurrection, not only that Jesus was raised from the dead, but that all of us who have put our faith in Him will be raised from the dead as well.

As Jonathan Edwards, the great evangelist, said at the funeral of David Brainerd, the great missionary: “True saints, when absent from the body, are present with the Lord” (quoting the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:8).

As Jesus Himself said to the thief on the cross who was dying next to Him and who had just put his faith in Jesus:

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Jesus really did rise from the dead.  And those who put their faith in Him really will rise from the dead, too.

If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, let me encourage you, as Lana would encourage you, as Jesus Himself encouraged you:  put your faith in Jesus Christ today.  Believe that He died for your sins.  Believe that He’s forgiven you of your sins.  And believe that He will raise you to begin a new life with Him, starting right now and forever.  As the Bible says:

“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Eric Elder Family, November 1, 2012As we close, let me share one more picture with you.  This is one that we took later on the same day as the picture above, when Lana came out to join us again for the filming session.  Although her body was weak, her spirit was as strong as ever.

At Christmastime I had a hard time deciding which picture to send out with our Christmas letters.  I couldn’t imagine sending out a Christmas picture from now on without Lana in it.  But when I looked at the picture of just me and the kids, I couldn’t help but be thankful for all the blessings I have in my life because Lana’s been a part of it.  So I eventually decided to send out both.

I share these two pictures today because they remind me that I have a choice to make every day.  I can either look at what I’ve lost and be sad, or I can look at what I’ve been given because Lana’s been a part of my life, and be glad.  It’s the same choice we all have to make, every day.

It’s not a matter of looking at the glass as half-full or half-empty, but trusting God that He will provide us with just what we need when we need it.  Zig Ziglar says He teaches advanced math when he says:

You + God = Enough  

As the Bible says:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, KJV).

The last few weeks of Lana’s life she was still helping me edit a book that we had been working on together on the life of Saint Nicholas.  After Lana died, I looked at the edits she had made in the margins of the book.  I used a quote in the book that others have used before that says:

“Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it was beautiful.”

In the margin of the book, Lana had written:  “Amen!”

It was another reminder to me that we really are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses,” including Lana, who are cheering us on.

Yes, I still cry.  But I can smile, too.  That’s the great hope we have because of the resurrection.

I pray the Lord will bless you richly this Easter and in the days ahead.  He really has risen!  He has risen indeed!


Keeping Your Eyes Open

Dear Friends,

Last week I shared two stories and a conclusion with you about how God has been helping me to keep the hardest parts of life from overshadowing the best parts about it.  (If you missed the message, you can still read it here, as it may have been, based on the responses I’ve gotten, one of the most significant messages I’ve shared.)

This week, I’d like  to follow up on that message and share a few more stories to help you keep trusting God, even in the face of significant loss.  I know you may not have lost a spouse like I have, but you may be facing something just as challenging in your own life, whether it’s a divorce, a broken relationship, a wayward son or daughter, a job loss, a change in health, or the loss of a dream that meant the world to you.

In any case, I want to encourage you to keep your eyes open to what God is doing all around you.  Even though you may not see God doing what you expect Him to do in one particular area, if you can see God at work in other ways, it can help you to keep putting your trust in Him.

I believe this is what Jesus did for John the Baptist when John was in prison and facing the very real possibility of death.  Up to this point, John had thought that Jesus was the one who was going to save God’s people.  But something about being in prison seemed to have made John wonder if what he had previously thought was true.  John sent his followers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3)  After all, didn’t Jesus come to “set the captives free” (Luke 4:18)?  And wasn’t John a captive, in need of freedom?

But Jesus sent a message back to John, saying,

“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me” (Matthew 11:4-6).

It’s as if Jesus was reminding John of all the things that God was doing all around him, and even if God didn’t do what John may have thought He should do, John could still trust Him to do what was right.  When Jesus said, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me,” it’s almost as if Jesus was saying, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of what they think I should or should not be doing.”  Sometimes we’re so focused on one area of our lives that we miss what God is doing in other areas.

It turns out that John wasn’t set free the way others in the Bible were, like Daniel when he was rescued from the lions’ den (Daniel 6), or Peter when an angel led him out of jail (Acts 12), or Paul and Silas when an earthquake loosened their chains and caused the prison doors to fly open (Acts 16).  In John’s case, he only lived long enough to hear back from Jesus that God was indeed still on the job and working in the world.

I believe it was just what John needed to hear in order to face what he had to face: his own imminent death.

It may have seemed like John had lost his faith there at the end.  But coming to Jesus with his doubts didn’t mean he lost his faith.  It was an expression of his faith.  It showed that John still looked to Jesus for answers, even in the face of circumstances he couldn’t understand.  If this was a test of John’s faith, I believe he passed with flying colors, as Jesus said of him:

“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11a).

I don’t know if the trial that my wife Lana just went through was a test, or simply the result of living in a world that’s been subjected to sin and sickness and decay.  But if it was a test, I believe she passed with flying colors, keeping her faith in Christ to the end.  Now I’m praying that I’ll be able to pass with flying colors, too.

One of the ways I’m trying to do that is by doing what Jesus told John to do:  to keep his eyes open to the work that Jesus was still doing in the world and not to base his conclusions on what he thought Jesus should or should not be doing.

Let me share just a few brief stories of what I’ve seen God doing lately, some of which may seem trivial, but in the face of the loss that I’ve had, even the smallest glimpses of God are worth more than gold to me.

A few weeks ago I was helping my kids do some late-night craft projects:  tie-dying a dress with my daughter and making rubber squishy bugs with my son.  I was already worn out from the day, and going back and forth on these two projects was wearing me down further.  I wanted to help them, but I was definitely missing Lana and the help that she would have been in moments like these.

At one point, I went upstairs to take a break, and as I passed a mirror, I noticed the temporary reading glasses I was wearing, as I had lost my usual ones a few weeks earlier.  As I looked in the mirror I decided it was time to order a new pair, as I hadn’t been able to find my old pair.  On the way back down the stairs to the basement where my daughter was tie-dying her dress, I paused on the steps, reached my hand up to heaven, and said, “Lana, help me!”  (I know it’s God that helps us, but I still find myself talking to Lana in heaven, especially at times like this.)  Then I continued on down the stairs.

As I got down on my hands and knees on the cold cement floor of the basement to help with the tie-dying project, I happened to look to my left and there, hanging on some bottles of soap and shampoo under the basement sink, were my glasses that had been missing for weeks!  Had I not been doing these projects with the kids, down on my hands and knees on the cold cement floor of the basement, I never would have found them!  And had I not remembered the conversation with myself in the mirror upstairs just a few minutes earlier, and my quick call for help from heaven as I walked down the steps again, I wouldn’t have put my prayer and the answer together either.  My whole outlook on helping the kids for the rest of the night changed in that instant.  It was as if a little reward had been dropped out of heaven and was dangling on the bottles of soap in front of me.

That might not seem like a God-moment to you, and it may not have seemed like one to me, either, if this was the first time something like this had happened.  But just a few weeks earlier, when I was recovering from the flu and getting ready to start back into homeschooling our three youngest kids again for the first time since Lana died, I had reached up to heaven as well.  After gathering up literally dozens of books from around the house that the kids use for school, we were still missing two book.  Again, in an act of desperation more than anything else, I looked up to heaven and said, “Lana, help me!”  Within minutes we found the two missing books.  They had appeared practically out of thin air.

But more than that, after we found those two missing books, one of my sons wanted to take a break and do some kind of “outside project.”  Even though the temperature was literally below freezing outside, I said, “OK, let’s fix that broken pole on the trampoline.”  It wasn’t a very practical idea, as it was too cold to actually jump on the trampoline, but it was the first thing that came to mind that would be quick and easy enough to get us back inside before we froze, too.

So we went out into the freezing cold to start working on the trampoline pole and I happened to look up into the net above us.  There, hanging at the top of the net, were my daughter’s prescription glasses that had been missing since Lana’s funeral more than two months earlier!  It was as if they had been dropped down from heaven and got caught in the net for us to find!  How they had survived the cold and the wind and the snow for two months, I didn’t know.  But what I did know was that within minutes of calling out to heaven for help, I had found two missing schoolbooks AND a pair of missing glasses!  All the while trying to help my kids, which was something I needed to do and wanted to do, but was having trouble working up the strength to do.  But the moment I saw those glasses in the net, my whole perspective on the day changed.  I knew God was at work and I was able to find the strength to go on.

And just this past week, as the weather has started to get nicer here in Illinois, I was walking around the yard with a friend who’s spent years in the landscaping business, asking his advice about where and what kind of trees we could plant around the house.  This was a project that Lana and I had been wanting to do for some time.  To be honest, it was hard to even think about planting trees, as sometimes it feels like the dreams and plans I had with Lana died when she died.  But I have to remember that I didn’t die, and that God may still want me to keep some of those shared dreams and plans alive, too.

So there we were, walking around the yard and sharing ideas, when my daughter reached down and found a charm on the ground for a charm bracelet.  Then she found another a few feet away, and then a third a few feet from that.  They still had the tags on them, as we had bought them for her birthday party the month before, but we had lost them somewhere between the store and the house during a snowstorm that night.  Now here they were, out in the middle of the yard, hundreds of feet from the house, as we were trying to plan and continue the dream of planting more trees in the yard!

Again, it may seem trivial to you (and perhaps it makes you wonder why we keep losing so many things!)  But to me, it was as if God was saying, “Yes, this is exactly what I want you to be doing, walking around the yard and planning where to put trees for the future!  Keep moving forward on the dreams that you and Lana shared, and keep going on all that I have called you to do in your life!  You’ll be blessed as you do these things, as will others when you’re done doing them!”

It’s like Jesus keeps telling me, like He seemed to be telling John the Baptist, to keep my eyes open to the things that He’s doing in the world, and to keep on trusting Him, even in the face of all that I’ve lost.

I could share a dozen more stories from the past four months since Lana died where I’ve seen God at work in such small ways that it’s changed my outlook on everything else going on around me, but I’ll let these suffice to encourage you to keep your eyes open to the things God is doing in your life, and the lives of those around you.

Someday I hope to be like the grandfather who was out fishing with his grandson when at one point the grandson asked his grandfather if he had ever seen God.  The grandfather gazed out across the lake where they were sitting and answered, “The older I get, the more I see Him everywhere I look.”

Don’t be discouraged when you don’t see God at work in your life the way you think He should be working.  Don’t give up on Him because things don’t always go your way.  Don’t think for a minute that He doesn’t love you because you’ve lost something precious in your life.  As the Bible says,

“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all–how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

As we head into Passion Week, this week before Easter when Jesus experienced some of the most intense pain and suffering that this world has to offer, remember that you’re not alone.  Jesus knows what it’s like to suffer and die.  He knows what it’s like to lose people who are close to you, like He did when He lost Lazarus and John the Baptist.  In the case of Lazarus, Jesus raised him back to life.  In the case of John the Baptist, Jesus spoke words of encouragement so he could face his death with faith.

And in all things, remember that God really does love you and has a unique calling and purpose for your life.  Keep your eyes open.  The more you do, the more you’ll see Him everywhere you look.


Two Stories and a Conclusion

Dear Friends,

Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers and kindnesses since my sweet wife Lana passed away on November 15th.  It’s been four months now and I wanted to share some thoughts with you on Lana, healing, and God’s will.  I apologize in advance for the length of this message, but if you’ve been discouraged or having trouble trusting God, especially in the face of significant loss, I hope you’ll read this message.  This message is really just two stories, with some follow-up comments to help you bring them together and apply them to your lives.

I haven’t shared these stories publicly until this week, as they are so personal and intimate that I’ve just been treasuring them in my own heart.  But I feel they’re important to share as a way of testifying to what God is doing in my life, and hopefully encouraging you at the same time.

The first story started on the day of Lana’s funeral, on November 20th, 2012.  Before she died, Lana had asked me to preach at her funeral if it ever came to that.  She said I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t think I could, but if I could, she wanted me to be the one to do it.  I did get up and preach, but not without seriously considering backing out several times, even a few times during the service just before I was about to speak.  I just wasn’t sure if I could do it.

One of the reasons I felt so unsure, apart from the sadness I felt in my heart from already missing her, was that I felt like I had lost so much in the days leading up to her death.  I had not only lost my best friend, my encourager, my partner in ministry, and apart from Jesus, the greatest source of joy and delight in my life, but we had also depleted all of the money in our bank account during those final months of her battle with cancer.  On the morning of her funeral, we had $26.45 in the bank.  I felt like I had lost everything.  (I hadn’t, but I felt like it.)

The morning of the funeral, I prayed that God would give me the strength to do what I wanted to do and needed to do.  I also prayed, more as a wish than anything else, that God would give the kids some kind of inheritance from Lana from the gifts that came in.  I knew that no amount of money would make up to them for losing their mother, but I wished I had something I could give them as an inheritance from her.  $26.45 wasn’t going to go very far among the six kids.

So I prayed that God would provide enough from the memorial gifts to pay for the funeral and still have some left over for the kids.  From past funerals, I knew that the gifts that come in are sometimes just enough to pay for the funeral and that’s it, so I wasn’t expecting much.  But then in my heart, I prayed, “God, if there’s any way to give the kids $1,000 each as an inheritance, that would be great.”  But then from deeper still in my heart, I thought that what I would really like for them is if I could put $5,000 into each of their bank accounts.  I quickly did the math and $5,000 times 6 kids would be $30,000.  There’s no way, I thought.  With $26.45 in the bank, I knew it was an outlandish request.  But I laid it out before God anyway.  Later that day, I got up to preach at Lana’s funeral.  (If you haven’t watched it yet, I’d encourage you to watch it online at this link.  It was like no other service I’ve been to before, and I think you’ll find it inspiring and helpful more than anything else, so please watch it if you can!)

Starting that day and the days that followed, people did begin sending in memorial gifts for our family in honor of Lana.  Some gave $5, some gave $15, and some gave $20 or $100.  A few gave $1,000 and some even gave $5,000.  By December 4th, just two weeks and a day after the funeral, we had received just over $30,000 from over 200 different people, none of whom knew about my private prayer to God!

Now keep that date and that astounding answer to prayer in mind as I tell you the second story.  For it was on December 4th, just one year earlier, that we had first found the lump in Lana’s breast, our first indicator that anything was even wrong at all.

It was on that day that we had heard a missionary talk about their work in Kenya teaching women how to do self-exams for breast cancer.  Later that night we checked and discovered the lump.  We thought it was probably nothing serious, as is often the case.  But over the next few weeks, after a mammogram and then an ultrasound and finally a biopsy, the doctors confirmed that the lump really was cancerous.  At that time, the doctors had no reason to think that the cancer had already spread.  They felt that with treatment, they could remove it and all would be fine.  We were shocked but felt this was beatable.

A few days later, Lana was listening to a podcast on her phone of a sermon that gave her some encouragement, so when she was done listening, she handed me her phone so that I could listen to it, too.  But as she handed it to me, I felt God speak to me as loud and clear as any time I’d ever heard Him speak in my life.  Although He didn’t speak in audible words, the effect of what He was saying was, “This is a good message, Eric.  But it’s not My message for you in this situation.  This time I have something else in mind.”

As I listened to the message, I realized it was all about praying “bold prayers,” that we shouldn’t just pray for a “C” on a test, but for an “A.”  That we shouldn’t just pray that we would survive a difficult marriage, but that it would thrive.  That we shouldn’t just pray for a sickness to go away, but for a long and healthy and abundant life instead.  It was the kind of message I would normally believe and receive and be encouraged to pray with all my heart for every difficult situation I faced.

But if God really had spoken to me, then what was He saying in regards to Lana’s healing?  With a great sadness in my heart, I felt He was saying, “Eric, I know you have the faith to ask for the moon and get it.  But not this time.  This time I have something else in mind.”  God brought to my mind Psalm 23, reminding me that He would be with me, even in the face of death:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me…” (Psalm 23:4).

I felt this was a little extreme.  This cancer was beatable.  It didn’t have to end in death.  Then why was God telling me this?  But the next week I found out why.

Just a few days later, Lana went in for a few more tests.  She had started to have some other symptoms, some unexplainable bleeding and intense lower back pain.  The tests showed that it was worse than the doctors initially thought.  The cancer had already spread to her lungs and liver and spine.  In addition, the cancer was in a special category called “triple negative,” which meant that it wouldn’t respond to normal treatments that worked for other breast cancers.  There was no cure, the doctors said.  The best they could do was to treat the symptoms and try to keep her as comfortable as possible for as long as possible, but that the cancer would eventually take her life.  Statistically, the doctors said she had about one 1 to 3 years to live, depending on how she responded to treatment.  The majority of women with Stage 4, triple negative breast cancer don’t make it past 5 years.  And only one in a hundred ever make it to 10 years.

We were devastated.  But having heard God speak to me the week before, even before the doctors told us what was going on, somehow gave me great faith.  Not faith that Lana would be healed, although I believed God could still heal her in an instant, too, but faith that He would be with us through it all.  This was no news to God.  He had already revealed it to me before we, or even the doctors, had an inkling what was coming.

Knowing that God was with us gave me great peace in my heart.  But as comforting as this was, I still didn’t know how to walk forward in a practical way, given what I felt God was saying to me.  If God had told me that Lana was going to be healed, and to walk in faith and stand on the promise of the word He had spoken to my heart, I knew how to walk that out:  read and reread the Scriptures, fast and pray, gather others to fast and pray, and look for answers from any doctor or person of faith who could help us beat this disease.  But if I had really heard right, and God was really saying, “I know you have the faith to ask for the moon and get it, Eric, but not this time,” how could I walk that out?  How could I stand on something that I didn’t want to believe and didn’t want to be true?

Was I supposed to just give up on the possibility of healing?  Not bother praying at all for her?  Not ask others to join us in fasting and prayer?  Not go to doctors to try to get whatever help we could?  I felt that taking any of those paths would be utterly wrong.  Lana wanted to live and I wanted her to live!  And who knows?  Maybe I heard wrong.  Maybe the doctors were wrong.  And even if I had heard right, and the doctors were right, maybe God would still heal her miraculously!  God’s default position on healing is that we should be healed, as evidenced by the many ways He has created our bodies to heal themselves, to automatically seal up cuts, fight off infections, and repair damaged tissue.  God has demonstrated His desire for our healing throughout the Bible, performing miraculous healings from cover to cover.  God loves healing and wants us to be healed!  There’s no doubt that God is a healing God!

So I tried to remember what others did in the Bible when they received a word from God that they didn’t want to believe either.

I thought of Hezekiah, who was sick and dying when God spoke to him through the prophet Isaiah saying that Hezekiah’s sickness would end in death.  Hezekiah wept bitterly and pleaded with God for a different outcome:

“Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in Your eyes” (2 Kings 20:3a).

God heard Hezekiah’s prayers, healed him, and gave him an extra 15 years of life.

I thought of King David, who got a word from God through Nathan the prophet saying that the child born to David and Bathsheba would die.  But David didn’t give up and didn’t give in.  He fasted and prayed and wept before God every night saying:

“Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live,” (2 Samuel 12:22).

In David’s case, however, his child died after seven days, but not without David pleading with God for a different outcome.

Then I thought of Jesus, who, when faced with his own imminent death, knelt down and prayed so earnestly that His sweat fell like drops of blood:

“Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus knew what His Father was asking of Him, yet still He pleaded for another way, that the cup He was about to drink would somehow be taken from Him.  Yet Jesus yielded to His Father’s will, even over His own.

From these three stories of Hezekiah and David and Jesus, I felt I was in good company that even if I had heard right from God, I could still plead with Him, in fasting and prayer and tears, pouring out my heart to Him for what Lana and I both wanted: that she would be healed completely and gloriously, and continue to live a long, healthy and abundant life.

So we fasted and prayed and called others to join us in fasting and prayer.  We talked to doctors and nurses and researchers and nutritionists, both locally and globally, to see if God had an answer through them.  We called the elders of our church, and several of our former churches, to anoint us with oil and pray for Lana’s healing.  We held prayer meetings in our living room and drove and flew to get prayer from some of the most faith-filled men and women of God we knew.

But as time marched on, the tests continued to come back blacker and bleaker.  Either what God had spoken to me at the beginning was true, or God was preparing the way for one of the most miraculous turnarounds of all time.  Either way, we felt good about the steps we were taking, about doing everything we possibly could to bring about her healing, and about trusting in God completely whatever the outcome.

As much as Lana and I, and many of you, wished that the outcome had been different, I can say that when it came time to say our final goodbyes, we had no regrets.  We had done everything we could think of doing to keep her alive, and God kept His promise to be with us through it all.

Let me tie these two stories together for you by sharing my journal entries from December 4th, 2012, the first written early in the morning as I was remembering the one-year anniversary of finding the lump that took Lana’s life, and the second written at midnight that night, after we received the checks in the mail that put us over $30,000 in memorial gifts in her honor.

“12/4/12 – Father, thank You for revealing to me and Lana the lump in her right breast one year ago today…  Lord, any thoughts about this being the one-year anniversary of the day You revealed this lump?  ‘I’ve given you a great gift, Eric.  A chance to see into the future, and to make your plans accordingly.   I have not hidden what is to happen from My prophets.  I warned Abraham about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah before it happened, just as I told him and Sarah they would have a child in a year, and just as I told you, Eric, that your friends would have a child in a year.  Although I didn’t tell you an exact date [regarding Lana], I did tell you what the outcome would be, both by showing you the lump, and by confirming that while you could pray for healing, this wasn’t My will in this case.  I wanted you to know, Eric, because I wanted you to have time to plan, prepare, and say goodbye properly.  And you have done marvelously.  Your kids, your friends, your family, are all living testaments to that fact.  I also gave you test after test, and doctor after doctor, to confirm this to you, for you wanted the truth, and you knew the truth would set you free.  They were hard truths to hear, and hard to watch you hear, but they were necessary to help you absorb and understand what I was saying.  I’ve given you a gift Eric, both in what I revealed, and in the fact that I do reveal My knowledge to My children.  Lana wanted to live and not die, and she was right to do so, for that’s My will [He wants all of us to live forever!].  But I wanted you to know so you could plan, prepare, and say goodbye properly.  I wanted you to care for her and love her and be with her to the fullest extent possible, so when she passed through the veil, you would have no regrets, nothing left undone, nothing more you could have done, but love her thoroughly.  I did this for you, yes, but also for Me, for I wanted you to be able to care for her on earth as I cared for her from heaven.  You were, and still are, My hands and feet and voice to many on earth.  You will be sad, no doubt, for to lose the one you love, when you have loved so deeply, is sad.  But you will rejoice as well, for you have been given a great and wonderful gift.’”

“12 midnight – Father, thank You for helping us reach the $30,000 mark that I had asked You for, to give $5,000 to each of the kids as an inheritance from Lana.  Lord, we only had $26.45 in our bank account the day of the funeral.  It was an outlandish prayer, and within a few weeks, You’ve brought the full amount I extravagantly asked for.  ‘Open your mouth wide, Eric, and I will fill it.’  Thank You, Lord!  I love You.  By the way, the sunset looked delicious tonight, like rainbow sherbet, and I wanted to lick it.  ‘Thank You.’  Thank You, Lord.”

Yes, life can be extremely hard.  But it also offers sunsets that look like rainbow sherbet!  The trick is to not let the hardest parts of life overshadow the best parts about it.  God is at work in both.  The Bible says:

“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner… So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust Him. He knows what He’s doing, and He’ll keep on doing it” (1 Peter 4:12-13, 19, The Message).

Friends, God loves you and has a unique calling and purpose for your life, just as He had a unique calling and purpose for Lana’s life.  Don’t be discouraged when life doesn’t work out the way you think it should. God is still on the job.  Keep putting your trust in Him.  He knows what He’s doing, and He’ll keep on doing it.

Thanks for reading these two stories, and thanks again for your prayers and kindnesses you’ve shown to me and my family, especially during this past year.  It means so much, and is yet one more reminder of all that’s good in life.  May God bless you and keep you as you keep putting your trust in Him!