Normally I don’t write an entire post about a photoshoot, but this was so much more than a photoshoot to me. Forgive me as I ramble on, but you need to know why this photoshoot was so special.
I first heard about Ross and Jan soon after my husband and I started attending New Covenant. I didn’t hear their names; I just knew them as the couple who both had cancer. I cringed.
My reaction to the mention of that illness was indicative of my experience with it. As a child, I had watched that monster of disease eat the life from my mother. The words I associated with cancer were terror, horror, and inevitability. In my mind, nothing could have saved her. I knew God was sovereign, that He was in control of everything, but cancer felt like something that God allowed, and that He just wasn’t willing to cure. Anytime I heard that word I had a sick sense of foreboding that someday, I would be my mother. Someday, I would be a young mom saying goodbye to my very young children. Leaving my husband before I was ready. Suffering out long, slow days of pain and misery until the end. Morbid? Maybe. But my feelings from childhood stuck with me, and I lived with an ever-present sense of dread, waiting for my turn to suffer.
It wasn’t just Ross and Jan who had cancer. Many, many people at our church had and have cancer. I found my fear catching up with me, strangling me with the constant reminders in church and in close friends.
And then I met Ross and Jan.
Jan reached out to me, just a few months ago, and we had dinner with them. She too, had experienced the death of her mother at a young age. We had a wonderful evening laughing and talking, sharing our life stories. They didn’t seem sad, or depressed, or broken. They were full of life and joy. It was hard to believe that these two people were struggling with cancer.
Earlier in the summer, our pastor had preached a message from Jeremiah. For what felt like the first time, I heard a sermon highlighting the following two verses (32:40-41):
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.
God rejoices in doing me good? In doing Ross and Jan good? I just couldn’t reconcile my idea of cancer with good. But somehow, the two seemed united in Ross and Jan. In their joy, in their love, and in their persistent adoration for God, they believed that He was “doing them good.”
Jan’s cancer has recently become more aggressive, and the doctors have not given her a long timeline. The Monday after she heard the news, we had this photo session. That night, my husband and I, along with another couple from church who are no strangers to suffering, gathered in Ross and Jan’s living room and sang. Especially sweet was the song, “Our Only Hope is You.”
At one point Jan was asked how she was dealing with the news on a daily basis. She replied, “I am just gazing at my Savior.” I left their house that evening marveling at her strong, immovable faith. She was sitting in that room joyfully singing praise to God, despite her seemingly imminent death.
Ross had been teaching a Sunday School class called, “Ending Life Well.” One of those classes is available here, a discussion especially poignant considering what he and Jan are facing.
Ross’s attitude is one that I had been refusing to acknowledge. We are all facing death. No matter our age, no matter our health, death comes to us all. It is truly unavoidable. What I forget, or refuse to see, is that to be in heaven is to be with Christ. Heaven is something infinitely greater than this earth, but I just don’t truly understand that. Ross’s class has some powerful analogies regarding our understanding of heaven, but one quote from C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle really struck my heart.
“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all stories, and we can most truly say they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Why do I dread death? For death is really just passing to a world so much greater and more beautiful than anything I could ever imagine. Death is to be with Christ, my only Hope and Joy.
So with this rambling note, I am attempting to thank Ross and Jan for their testimony to me. Because of their lives, and the brief moments I have been able to interact with them, I am forever changed. I will not fear death. I will not fear cancer. I will watch their inspiring faith and believe that God has already given me the grace to face all trials and tribulation with joy.
Reader, if you have not experienced the unfathomable grace and love that Christ provides, please know that the Creator of the universe longs to have a personal relationship with you. He wants to “do good to you,” and give you the peace and joy that comes with knowing Him. He loves you already, and is simply waiting for you to repent of your sins and believe that His Son died for those sins, making you pure before Him! None of us escape death, and avoiding the thought of death is not the answer. Know your eternal destiny, because as Ross points out in his class, “Heaven is not the default; it is the exception.”
Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 8:9-10
OUR ONLY HOPE IS YOU, LORD