Finding Hope in the Midst of Mourning
About the Guest
On today's broadcast, William Hendricks, author of the book "The Light That Never Dies," tells Dennis Rainey how God sustained him through his wife Nancy's battle with cancer and subsequent death.
William Hendricks tells how God sustained him through his wife’s battle with cancer and subsequent death.
Finding Hope in the Midst of Mourning
Bill: We'd play board games, and we'd laugh, and we'd go on vacations, and we'd have gifts and birthday parties and jokes and lots of things that would kind of lift us out of our doldrums, if you will.
Having said that, of course, all these things – every time you have one of these gold moments, it's always got this little asterisk of uncertainty attached to it.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 1st. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll hear today from Bill Hendricks about the difficult path that God had him walk down as his wife was battling breast cancer. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. You know, there's a very, I think it's in the Psalms, where David talks about his mourning – not the a.m. but his m-o-u-r-n-i-n-g – his grief being turned into dancing. And we don't often think of our mourning becoming dancing when we're in the valley of the shadow; when we're in the middle of the mourning, and yet God is a God who takes those difficult events in our lives and by the power of the Gospel, through the hope that is there, can actually – we can come to a place of rejoicing in His goodness at His perfect plan for our lives.
Dennis: If we know Him, because you can't trust someone you don't know, and if you do know who God is from the Bible, and you know the truth about Him, then even though the night can be very, very dark, you can trust that there is a God who is there and who cares, and you can believe Him and trust Him and take Him at His word as you walk through that valley.
We're talking this week with a good friend, Bill Hendricks from Dallas, Texas, who lost a spouse a number of years ago. Bill is the president of the Giftedness Center, and he has written a number of books, "Your Work Matters to God," "The Power of Uniqueness," "Living by the Book," and then a new book, "The Light that Never Dies," and, Bill, you started out earlier talking about the diagnosis of cancer and it's at moments like this that friends come alongside us in some very profoundly special ways and sometimes some really …
Bill: Not-so-helpful ways.
Dennis: Right, you know, undoubtedly we're talking to people right now who could help a friend. What were the things that people did for you and Nancy, your wife, that were most helpful at the time?
Bill: Showing up.
Dennis: Just being there?
Bill: Just being there. I think that we profoundly underestimate the power of presence, and I don't mean to be flippant in saying, "showing up." I want listeners to catch the significant of that. Presence means far more than words. Don't worry so much about what should I say – presence, being there, and then being there with simple, practical helps. You know, when people are in a crisis, it's amazing how just the little things in life start to slide off the table.
And so you might think a meal doesn't really mean that much, or a pie, or taking the kids for them for an afternoon. I met a woman who – she had had cancer, and she recovered, but it just – she knows the fear that women struggle with on that, and so now as kind of her just ministry, I guess you'd say, she told me that every time she hears of a woman that's been diagnosed with breast cancer, she makes these little booties, or these little socks or something to put on their feet, and she sends them to this person with a note saying, "I've been where you've been. I just want you to know that somebody who understands cares about your situation." And that's it.
It's not trying to talk them out of their pain; not trying to give them all the answers; just something that will be a bit of a comfort to their cold feet as they're lying there in the hospital and a note of "I'm with you." And our presence means everything to people.
I have another friend, Bill Lambreth, and his wife was killed in an auto accident, and he said recently to me that in the days following that tragedy, hundreds of people showed up and many of them were well intentioned, and they'd said all kinds of things to him. He said, "I can't remember a thing anybody said to me." He said, "I can remember almost everybody who came by."
Dennis: Just the faces.
Bill: Just the faces.
Dennis: You mention in your book that one of the things you'd recommend people not say is that God must really love you.
Bill: Yes. Now, that's not because God doesn't love them. God loves us with a passion and, if I can put it this way, a ruthlessness, a determination, that we cannot possibly fathom. So God's love is for sure. But to say to somebody when they're in significant pain, "Don't forget, God loves you," the problem is not that God doesn't love them, the problem is that the person is in a place where they can't fear it at that point. They're in so much pain that those words, instead of being comforting are as likely to be almost discouraging.
Bob: It feels almost like they're mocking you.
Bob: Because in the midst of that pain, the thought is …
Bill: If God loves me so much then why do I feel so terrible?
Bob: Yes, this is love? This is how God shows His love to us? Well, is there anybody else up there? You can almost feel that way in the middle of this.
We've already heard about Nancy's initial diagnosis and the mastectomy and then the relapse. There had to be a point in all of this when hope was removed, and all the way through you're thinking, "Okay, she'll have the mastectomy, and they'll get it, and we'll go on," and it appeared that way for a while. Or then "Okay, we'll go through another round of radiation, and that will take care of it, and we'll get back to normal."
But there had to be a point when both you and Nancy knew this isn't going to turn around.
Bill: Well, the analogy that I'd use comes from the old ancient days when we used to have walled cities in this world. Cities would protect themselves by building massive walls so that an invading army either had to get over the wall, under the wall, or through the wall, and one of the strategies the invading army would use would be to surround the city, lay siege to it, as they say, and sit there and wait. And they'd basically try to starve the inhabitants out, or maybe the people would surrender.
And so some of these sieges would last sometimes two years, three years, it could go on almost indefinitely, and you can imagine the conditions inside the city just become horrific as the food slowly starts to run out and eventually the water starts to run out and people start dying and disease and there's no way to get to the outside world.
It's over those days and months and years that the hope dwindles. It's not any one moment, it's slowly but surely you're thinking, "This is not getting any better. This is getting worse. Is there any hope coming over the horizon," and it's sort of like this cancer has laid siege to your house, and I will tell you from my own standpoint, the most difficult thing for me, by far, the most difficult emotion for me, by far, was uncertainty.
I went through all the possible scenarios of how this thing could lend up – Nancy could die, Nancy could live, Nancy could sort of live chronically with it, you know, I don't know all the scenarios I thought through, and I felt like, "I could deal with any one of them." The problem is I didn't know which one it was going to be. And month after month is going by and I'm, like, something happen, something happen, because I can't take this anymore. I used to pray that to God.
I'd say, "Lord, I can't take this uncertainty. You know, I feel like You'll give me the strength to handle whatever comes, just do something, because I can't take this anymore."
Bob: In that sense, then, was her impending death a relief?
Bill: I will say that it was. I don't mean that to be cruel; that I will tell you on behalf of myself and my daughters and I think, ultimately, Nancy, there was a sense of relief not only from the uncertainty but from the pain.
You know, when Nancy died, my daughters could see that she was at peace and, as one of them told me that afternoon, she said, "Well, Daddy, you know, I'm really sad to see that Mommy's died, and I'm glad to see that she's at peace, and I'm going to miss her terribly, but this is the first night I'll be able to go home in a long time and not worry about what's going to happen."
I think that expressed it for all of us, is that we, at last, had an outcome as painful as that was.
Dennis: Bill, I had a couple of good friends who went through a similar situation as you – a young family, the wife battled cancer not just for one or two years but seven or eight, it may have been even 10 years, as I recall. And just as an observer, looking from the outside in, I have to say I'm amazed at the resilience of the human spirit, at the grace that God gives a couple like you to handle this, relentless. It's like wave after wave after wave of, as Bob was talking about, a lost hope, sorrow, suffering, financial challenges, emotional difficulties, difficulties with the kids, I mean, living life.
Bill: Just living life.
Dennis: Yes, I mean, I just have to – I've put myself in that situation and, to the best of my ability, I can't even go there. I can't even imagine what that must feel like. Did you feel like, at points, it was just like standing at the edge of the ocean being hit with wave after wave in your life?
Bill: It did. Part of the way that the grace of God shows up for us, though – this is ironic – is the daily-ness of life. You've got three little girls and life has to go on, and kids have got to get to school and lunch has got to be made and groceries have got to be bought, and puppies have got to be fed and lost socks have got to be found and Christmas trees have to be bought, and, you know, it's amazing how these mundane, routine, simple things would sort of pull you out of the despair.
Dennis: Even humor.
Bill: Oh, yes, I mean, we'd play board games, and we'd laugh, and we'd go on vacations, and we'd have gifts and birthday parties and jokes and lots of things that would kind of lift us out of our doldrums, if you will.
Now, having said that, of course, all these things – every time you have one of these gold moments, it's always got this little asterisk of uncertainty attached to it. So there's a juxtaposition, but I think that God is gracious to us and in my case I can say "Thank the Lord, I'm going to see her again someday, and thank the Lord that He's still got me in His grace and that I'm continuing on with my life and my daughters."
Dennis: And speaking of that confidence of knowing she's with God, there were two stories you told in your book that I want you to share with our listeners. The first occurred when you went and visited her just a few days before her death, and she was trying to help you plan some particular thing you were doing with the kids.
Bill: Yes, one of the girls had something going on, and Nancy was a tremendous planner. You've never seen such wonderful birthday parties planned for our girls as Nancy could plan. That was her gift was to plan.
So I came in, and I'm trying to explain what I'm getting ready to do with one of the girls, and Nancy had a plan, and so she cut me off and starts in with the plan, and she's trying to get through the coughing and the wheezing because her lungs were breaking down, and the mists of the morphine, and so forth, and get it out and, finally, I just said, "Nancy, that's taken care of. Right now you need to worry about you."
And it was at that moment that I think she realized, "I'm dying." I mean, this was only a matter of two or three days before she did die. It was at that moment that she realized "My life has pretty much made its contribution, and I'm getting read to go home."
Dennis: You wrote that you looked into her eyes, and there was a sadness that she realized that …
Bill: You're taking the one thing, which is my girls, the one thing that's keeping me alive, you're taking away from me here. And that was a very difficult moment to go through with her. When you really realize that it's coming to a conclusion, that's a sobering moment for both her and for me.
Dennis: The other story occurred some years after her death.
Bill: Well, it was almost exactly one year after her death, and I won't go into the extended version that's in the book, but I'm standing at the kitchen counter making sandwiches for the girls, and a pretty mundane activity. It's probably 6:30 in the morning, and the house is quiet, and the girls are getting ready for school, and, I don't know, I was just kind of meditating on my situation and, for some reason, I started thinking about Jesus, and I started thinking about His suffering, and I started thinking about His crucifixion and the passion that he went – and this was before the Mel Gibson "Passion of Christ" movie, but I had this tremendous sadness about all that He went through, and I remember thinking, "You know, nobody should have to go through that – that pain, that suffering. That's just wrong. He shouldn't have had to do that. Nobody should have to do that."
Right in the middle of that, I don't want to say it was a voice in my head, but it was an awareness, it was like a presence, and there was words to it, and the words were, "He's alive, you know." Just like that, out of the blue – "He's alive, you know." And I'm, like, what was that? And, "Where did that come from?
And, of course, I immediately knew those words were about Jesus. And I began to reflect on the fact that, well, it's true, He did go through that suffering. He did endure all that pain, but now He's raised up, He's in His glory, He's got a new body, He's out of that pain. He's alive, He's joyful, He's past it.
And almost in the same moment as I realized that, the awareness came, and, you know, that's true for Nancy. It's true that Nancy suffered and, you know, particularly at the last, went through a lot of pain, but, you know, Bill, she's alive. She's right there, alive with Christ, right now. She's out of pain. She's not there anymore. She went through that just like Jesus and now, just like Jesus, she's out of there.
And the most odd sensation happened at that moment. It was like this enormous weight had been on my back suddenly was released, and it was only seconds that all of this incident took, this amazing experience. It was in that moment, I think, that the Lord freed me from that sense that it was all about the suffering and gave me a confidence that it's true that she went through that, Bill, but it's also true that she's alive with me now, and you can take confidence in that, and it was an amazing experience.
Dennis: And, Bill, I read that story, and I'll tell you what, it was a powerful story – "He's alive, you know.
Bill: He's alive.
Dennis: He's alive, you know.
Bill: It's not – I mean – it's something that I've always believed in the resurrection, you know, as a Christian. That's a basic doctrine of our faith. For some reason, there was an experiential awareness of it, is the best way I could put it. That doesn't make it true, it just means that I experienced the truth of it.
Dennis: That's right, at a profound level.
Dennis: That few of us can even imagine experiencing. Take that person right now who is not sure they have life after death; they're not sure, if they died right now, where they would go, where they would spend all eternity. Would you introduce them to the one who can help them say, "I'm alive, you know, I'm alive."
Bill: Well, they're going to have to come to grips with a God who says that His lovingkindness is everlasting and that comes after them and is relentless in His love for them, and no matter what pain they've been through as a result of the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job or the loss of a marriage, or whatever that loss is, you have to realize that apart from God, in fact, you've not only experienced loss, you are lost. Apart from God, Scripture says you are dead in trespasses and sins. It's not saying you're a bad person, it says you're a lost person because you don't have a relationship with God.
But God didn't just leave us in that mess. He came after us. You know, He Himself in the person of Christ came into this messy world and lived all of the pain and all of the problems and all of the crud that we all have to deal with as a result of living in this world He, in fact, went all the way to death for us. That's how far His love goes is that He not only comes into the world, He goes into the tomb to get us.
And then, because He was God, He raised from the dead, which brings life into this world, and He asks us now to put a trust in the fact that his death has atoned for our sin and that we can now participate in His lovingkindness; that He's come to take us back to Himself, but He's not going to force us into that relationship. He invites us into that relationship, He calls us into that relationship, and I suspect there is somebody listening even now, and they desperately want to know God.
Well, all they need to do, even now, is say, "Lord, I've heard what this man is saying. I may or may not even understand very much of it, but I know it has something to do with your Son Jesus, and His death on my behalf, I'm going to trust that that brings me life; that that deals with my sin; that that makes the relationship right with You and turn toward You, and now You take me into whatever you have for me.
Dennis: And if you'll take Christ at His word and what He did on the cross, He does make us alive.
Bill: He makes us alive. He's alive, He will make us alive.
Dennis: He'll help us defeat death, and I just encourage any person, I don't care if you're on a freeway, if you're at work, you're beside the kitchen sink at home, stop what you're doing. Don't wait a second longer to embrace the Savior and know for sure where are you going to spend eternity? There is no more important decision you'll ever make in all your life than what you decide to do with Jesus Christ.
Bob: And making that decision begins when we talk to Him in prayer; when we express what is in our heart; when we realize our need for God to transform us, to forgive our sins, and to give us the hope for which our heart longs. And you can just express that to God in prayer, and then when you do that, contact us at 1-800-FLTODAY, or go online at FamilyLife.com and request a copy of a book that we would love to send you at no cost. It's called "Pursing God," and it's a book that maps out what it means to have a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
You can request a copy of that book by calling 1-800-FLTODAY or, again, going online at FamilyLife.com. If you go online, click the red button you see that says "Go," that's in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to an area of the site where you can just ask for a copy of the book, "Pursuing God." We'd be happy to send it to you, and it will help you understand what it means to have a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ.
While you're on our website, there is also information there about the book that Bill Hendricks has written called, "The Light That Never Dies." It tells the story that we've been hearing this week about your wife's death and about how God walked with you on that journey and how you learned things about Him along the way. Again, that book is available from our FamilyLife Resource Center. We have other resources available as well.
Go to the website, FamilyLife.com, there's a red button there that says "Go," and if you click that button, again, it will take you to an area of the site where there's more information about the resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife Today, or if it's easier to call 1-800-FLTODAY, just do that. 1-800-358-6329, and someone on our team will answer any questions you have about the resources that are available, or we'll make arrangements to send out the resources you request.
I want to mention one additional book that we are making available this week to those of you who are able to help this ministry with a donation of any amount. It's a book called "The Joy of Trusting God," by Dr. Bill Bright, and it's a book about the attributes of God. Ultimately, in order to trust God, you have to know Him, and this book helps you understand who He is, His character, His attributes, it's a great personal devotional tool or something that you could use with your whole family.
We want to send it to you as our way of saying thank you when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today this week with a donation of any amount. You can go on our website to make a donation at FamilyLife.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation. If you call, just mention that you'd like a copy of the book we were talking about by Dr. Bill Bright as a thank you gift for your donation, and if you're filling out your donation form online, when you come to the keycode box that you'll see on the form, just type the word "joy" in, and we'll be happy to send you a copy of this book. Again, it's our way of saying thanks for your partnership with us and your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Tomorrow, we are going to continue on the journey with Bill Hendricks, and we'll come to the point where God eventually calls your wife home. I hope our listeners can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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