GUEST POST: Sara Elizabeth is a dear friend of the family who’s been with us through thick and thin. She shares our passion for movies, music, museums, and the grace of God. We love hanging out together, visiting interesting places, and talking about life. We couldn’t ask for a better companion for the journey we’re on, and it’s our honor to welcome her to This New Life.
“He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10)
“Jesus subjected himself to what he did not deserve so that he could provide for you what you could not earn.” (Paul Tripp)
A Mighty Warrior
“How ya doin’, Tammy?” I call to my friend who shuffles slowly up the sanctuary aisle. “You know, better than I deserve!” It’s a cheery response, with her lopsided grin and upbeat tone, almost as if she’d told a joke, except that she means it sincerely. I did know that answer was coming; it’s what she always says when someone asks how she’s doing.
I am awed and humbled by Tammy’s response. You see, Tammy has battled brain cancer for five years. The brain tumor that at one time had shrunken is growing again. She has trouble walking any distance, hence the lento shuffle of baby steps, grasping pew sides with one hand, leaning on a cane held in the other. Her breathing is labored, and it’s hard to hear her whispery voice. We’ve just been in prayer group together.
Tammy’s a mighty prayer warrior. As far as we can see, God hasn’t answered “yes” yet to our prayers for her healing. She prays still.
Tammy’s got watermelon-sized faith. Most of us don’t even have mustard-seed faith. Christ said faith even as small as a mustard seed was enough to move mountains (Matt 17:20). My faith is weak. I’m discouraged after a few weeks or even days of silence. Tammy’s been praying for five years, not just for healing, but praying, “to 100 functional, Lord.”
Tammy’s got watermelon-sized faith. Most of us don’t even have mustard-seed faith.
Despite her illness and many other struggles, Tammy continues to love life and family enough to wish to remain beyond the threescore and ten years (cf. Ps 90:10) most humans can hope for. She knows she’ll be with the Lord one day, but meanwhile, difficult though these days under the sun may be, she also believes she’ll “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps 27:13).
Faith is certainly one of Tammy’s spiritual gifts, but it’s the joy and cheerful acceptance of her burdens that I find nearly beyond comprehension. “Better than I deserve”? Really? A sweet, kind, steadfast woman of God is plagued by a debilitating cancer, unable to work, unable to serve as she would like, facing an all-too-early departure from her treasured family, and that fate is better than she deserves? I would say she deserves all the wonderful things life has to offer. She doesn’t deserve cancer, and if she must endure it for a time, I believe she deserves a “yes” answer to her prayers: complete healing with a cancer-free lifetime “to 100 functional.”
Knowing More Than Job
In what way could her situation on any given day in the last five years be viewed as better than she deserves? Even Job, that Old Testament paragon of suffering with integrity, knew his righteous lifestyle did not warrant the tragedies that struck his possessions, progeny, and person. I wouldn’t say that Tammy believes she deserves these burdens, and, thankfully, neither do any of her family and friends (unlike Job’s misguided companions).
Though I’m sure she wonders why healing doesn’t come, I never hear her question God, curse the day of her birth, or wish for death to come like Job did. I reckon that’s because Tammy knows some things Job could not yet know, Someone that Job did not meet on earth—Jesus Christ.
Tammy knows some things Job could not yet know, Someone that Job did not meet on earth—Jesus Christ.
Tammy knows she’s doing better than she deserves because of God’s amazing grace, the kind that saves lost wretches as we once were, giving us life and salvation in Christ. She recognizes that without Jesus we’d be wallowing in sin and shame, spiritually dead, heading for an eternity of torment separated from the holy God who made and loves us.
Providentially, as Tammy’s favorite verse John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Because of God’s marvelous grace in sending Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins, we are set free to live abundantly on earth and eternally in heaven. That’s a fate supremely better than than anyone deserves.
Challenged by My Hope-Filled Friend
As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am a recipient of this grace as well and forever grateful to God for it. Yet I struggle to find gratitude, contentment, and joy in the midst of the weight of this world’s tribulations, however heavy or light they might be. Perhaps I need to revisit the cross, to ponder anew the hope of this new life that Christ has made possible. As I hear again the old, old, story of Jesus and His love, I can receive afresh the God who is love and love Him and others better in return, as my hope-filled friend Tammy does.
Tammy loves the Lord Jesus with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength. Her big heart, deep soul, and able mind have a huge capacity to love. I’ve felt it. Her physical strength may be feeble, but there, too, is a love I can only hope to emulate. Her daughter will say, “I love you, Mama.” It takes every ounce of strength to speak, but Tammy pipes up with a robust, “Love you more!” I’m sure she’d say the same to God, but she knows His love for her stretches beyond the skies, unmatched by any human affection, unfathomable to mortals.
It’s a love we cannot earn, a love we could never deserve. It’s a love personified in the incarnate Christ, demonstrated in His death on the cross, experienced in a personal relationship with the resurrected Savior. As the song says, “Life is worth the living just because He lives.” Tammy loves life because she loves Jesus Christ and depends on Him, for everything—every need, every hope, every breath.
Tammy loves life because she loves Jesus Christ and depends on Him, for everything—every need, every hope, every breath.
Somewhere in the midst of the suffering, she experiences the love and presence of Jesus in a way so personal, so intimate, so consuming that the pain pales in comparison and she can mean it when she says she’s doing better than she deserves.
Scooped Up and Loved
I’ve written thus far as if Tammy’s courageous battle were ongoing, but it is finished. Her heavenly Father received her committed spirit at 12:45 a.m. on September 28, 2017. She slipped from the night’s darkness into a glorious, never-fading light. As my dear friend Sonya beautifully phrased it, Tammy has been “scooped up by Jesus and loved to wholeness.”
God did answer our prayers and heal Tammy, on the other side of heaven. She’s not only going to live to 100 functional, she’s living eternally because of her trust in Christ. The pain, the suffering, the prayers, they’re all in the past tense now; but Tammy’s love for the Lord, her faithfulness, her joy, they’re all as present as they’ve ever been, now more complete and full then we can imagine.
God did answer our prayers and heal Tammy, on the other side of heaven. She’s not only going to live to 100 functional, she’s living eternally because of her trust in Christ.
Her watermelon-sized faith has become sight. Is she dancing with Jesus? Maybe, but I think it’s more likely that she’s got her arms wrapped around her Savior, holding on tight as they race across the streets of gold on a big ol’ motorcycle. Tammy loved riding motorcycles, something she hadn’t been healthy or wealthy enough to do for many years. If she slows down long enough for anyone to ask, “How ya doin’, Tammy?” I bet you could guess how she’d respond. With a smile wider than than the motorcycle’s handlebars, she’d laugh and reply, “You know; better than I deserve!”
For once, I accept and agree with that answer. Yes, Tammy, yes you are.
Prayer of Reflection
God, grant me the grace to recognize the ways I am “better than I deserve,” no matter what life’s circumstances might be. I know that with my eyes fixed on You, the cares of earth will grow strangely dim, giving me an eternal perspective. Yet, even now, to have your Holy Spirit within me, to have the assurance of Your unconditional love and abiding presence at all times, such is a condition vastly better than I deserve.
Thank You, my Savior, for your mercy, for withholding from me the punishment I deserve and instead extending grace, to give me love, salvation, and riches in Christ that I could never earn. Thank You for not treating us as our sins deserve, but showing us love more limitless than the heavens, and moving our transgressions as far as the east is from the west, for You surely are merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love. May I be more like You. Amen.
Sara Elizabeth says she is slowly but surely growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. An art history aficionado, period drama devotee (especially all things Austen), and melancholy introvert, she’s often lost in museums, bygone eras, and thought. Currently she’s fulfilling a long-deferred dream by taking voice lessons at Grace Notes Music Academy, but mostly she just enjoys spending time with Sonya, sipping tea and discussing practical theology.