A few days ago, one of our friends, Lisa Gassiott, ended her battle with cancer and went to be with the Lord.  Her and her whole family are amazing Christians and great encouragers of ours.  They have prayed and listened through our challenges here.  And we have walked with them in prayer through Lisa’s illness and it has been hard to be so far away when all you want to do is hug each of them.  As I grieve over her suffering and now the family and friends’ loss, I am amazed at how my thoughts and prayers go back to praising God.  I praise God for her life, her courage and strength and her unwavering love for the Lord.  As I cried, Paul comforted me and encouraged me greatly with his thoughts about life, death and Lisa’s race, which she finished well…

Paul’s thoughts:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” Philippians 1:21-24

Since I (Paul) learned about Lisa’s death the night before last, I have walked through several lines of thought and emotions. Certainly I grieve over her death and the beautiful life that has now ended. Lisa is my sister in Christ and His life was evident in hers. I am so thankful for her and her life. And I grieve even more deeply for her family; for the pain they have borne in this difficult trial and for the pain they are feeling now in her loss. I have also been trying to process her life and death in light of what I’ve been learning during my time in Ethiopia.

Though I grieve at her death, I must say that I am so proud of her and that I am so thankful to Jesus for her. God appointed a life for her, a race to run and a battle to fight. And Lisa has finished her course. She finished the race and the battle is over. She did it well and has succeeded. So I’m very proud of her and I worship Christ for performing it in her. And, to be honest, I’m a little envious. I have to be careful with that statement; because I don’t mean it to be morbid or trivial. Life is difficult, and I often times, like the apostle Paul, desire to depart and be with Christ. And life in Ethiopia has, if nothing else, helped me to better see the utter brokenness of this world and its insufficiency to satisfy the deep hunger God has placed in us for Him. I spend nearly every day with suffering and dying people. There really is no escape from the reality of this world’s inadequacy. It is helping me to long for resurrection in Christ more than ever before. Though I still have a long way to go, I think I am closer to understanding Hebrews 11:13-16.

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for He has prepared a city for them.

By God’s grace I am learning to desire Him more than before and I am learning to hope stronger than before in the resurrection that is coming. But these are rough lessons to learn, and the road is painful. In fact, I suspect my next battery of lessons has to do with rejoicing in hope; and rejoicing now as opposed to hoping to rejoice later. We have challenging races to run. So when I hear that my friend has run her race well and run it to completion, I am proud of her and I admire her. And it reminds me of my own longing and hope. This encourages me to keep running hard because I too want to finish well someday.

Finally, Lisa’s life and death causes me to worship God. Though she died young, I don’t believe there is a day of her life that was stolen or tragically lost. Our God appointed her days and He sustained her through them until His appointed end. His grace and love was shown through it all. When Christ returns, heaven won’t be one degree dimmer for the hypothetical years Lisa will not live here. Lisa has lost nothing and she has gained everything. This is an amazing reality God has given us in Christ. It is a reality that must have driven the enemies of the apostle Paul mad. It did not matter if they slandered him, beat him, starved him, shipwrecked him, imprisoned him or killed him. In Christ, nothing could separate Paul from the love of God and nothing could defeat him. I see the same conquering power in Lisa’s life and I worship God for that.