I lost my younger brother on November 7th. My hand clasped tight in his as he took his last breath. We sang “Jesus loves you” over him, my shaky voice joining my sister’s as she knelt on the other side.
Grief. It’s real. Many of you have experienced it. Many of you are experiencing it now, whether from that significant loss last month or many years ago. As I’ve walked through this past year, anticipatory grief and cancer has been my teacher.
It’s taught me that most of the things we think matter really don’t, not in the long run. There are things that consume us, that beckon to us, that take our time, our thoughts, our energy, and when it comes down to it they hold little luster. In fact, it makes you wonder, “Why did I spend so much of “me” on that?”
It’s taught me that my people are important. One day as I was driving to Tulsa to be with Ron, all the to-do’s beckoned. They were important. A book launch. Ministry. Podcasts. But so were the conversations I held with my brother, sitting under the stars at 3 a.m. when he was sick and frail. Holding his hand. Hearing his story. Laughing with my sister until we cried as we waited upstairs in the hospice, so tired we were goofy with exhaustion. My husband who swept my lips with a kiss every time I left. My children who called to ask, “How are you holding up, mom?” My grandchildren, with their oh-so-tight hugs and love, who didn’t know what to say but wanted to be a part of loving me well, while I loved my brother. I may not have launched my book the way I wanted (I tried the best I knew how), but the sacred moments with Ronnie and those I love were my best yes.
It’s taught me that all people are important. My brother has wrestled with faith much of his life, not because he didn’t want it, but because of how off limits it seemed to feel for him. In the last year he actively pursued God. Scripture tells us when we reach for God, God reaches back. And that happened. It was beautiful to watch. Peace, especially in his last months, was so real. It wasn’t natural, but supernatural.
I believe we make faith very complicated. When I look at the life of Jesus I see how the complications drop. Jesus confounded the religious as he sat at the table with sinners, with tax collectors, and as he went out of his way to love people whom the religious avoided. It’s a clear story in Jesus’ life. Over the past year I’ve sat and wept and talked and ate with people who Jesus loves. I’ve walked into situations where I sensed those in the room expected judgment from me simply because I call myself Christian. And yet I got to see those walls come down as we simply sat and connected, as I got to know these new friends, and as I saw the beauty of who they were. I got to learn the beauty of connecting without an agenda. To simply show up as Suzie, who loves Jesus like crazy, and to be able to talk about that with joy and openness, friend to friend, and to see the longings of their hearts, to hear their hearts when it comes to faith, and sometimes to talk honestly about things that have hurtful or been confusing.
Grief is redefining ministry for me. It’s scraped away all the “about-me” portions. My prayer is that wasn’t primary before, but if I’m honest there is always pressure to perform for anyone in ministry. I have long fought that pressure, trying to keep my eyes on who Jesus is, on what he has called me to do, and not on numbers, not on books sold or podcast episodes downloaded. Not on what is in the ministry bank account. Not on where I am after 20+ years of ministry, or where I should be. God is redefining it by taking that pressure away. It’s not that I don’t care. I do. But pressure to perform is anti-ministry for me. It puts my attention and my heart on all the wrong places. All God asks of me (and you) is to show up, to have a heart open to listen to him, and to say yes to whatever he asks. If I’m doing that, it’s more than enough. It just is.
As we go into 2023, my heart is wide open to be and do exactly what God desires of me. This girl, who talks about living free and believes in it with my whole heart, just wants to show up in those places God asks me to be. I’m so glad you are on that journey with me. Some of you for years, and I’m grateful. Thank you for all your love and support as I’ve walked the ups and downs of my own cancer journey, and that of my brother’s, through loss and joy and faith.
I adore you and I’m thankful for you.
Resources for you
This is the book I released a month ago. My heart and physical being was with my brother, but my prayer is that this book is a powerful resource for the woman who is in that hard place — when she longs to talk to Jesus, but words are hard to find.
It’s part prayer journal. Part power of the Word. Part creative connection with God.
It’s a beautiful gift for yourself or for a friend walking through a hard season. Find out more here.
I’d also love to invite you to follow and be encouraged by my podcasts.
I’m host of the daily Prayer Starters podcast, a feature of the KLRC podcast network. Listen here, sweet friend.