(This post is Part 4 of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction, Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy Spirit, Part 2 – The Word of the Lord Appeared, and Part 3 – A Low Whisper.)
We come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.
In Part 1, I shared how Dawn, my first wife, miraculously came into my life. I challenged God to prove his existence by causing me to meet my wife for my birthday. He answered the challenge. I experienced the life of Jesus for the first time and the Bible was, quite literally, opened to me.
Today, I am going to share how Dawn departed from my life in an even more miraculous fashion. The days leading up to her death were filled with many miracles (at least I consider the events as such). I experienced the life of Jesus like never before. And, from that moment on, I have seen Jesus in the Bible in ways that I would not have fathomed prior to this experience.
Dawn died March 17, 2012.
For six years she had battled cancer. She was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2006.
During her battle, Dawn had a double mastectomy and brain surgery to remove a golf ball sized brain tumor. By the way, she was out of bed less than 24 hours after the brain surgery, and we went home straight from the ICU less than 36 hours after the brain surgery. The nurses said they had never seen anything like it. If Dawn was anything, she was tough and able to endure suffering.
Dawn had years of weekly chemotherapy treatments. It became a part of our life so much that I would lose track of her appointments. One weekend, we took our son to the local bike trail to ride. We rode about 10 miles. At one point I asked Dawn why her and Trey were lagging behind. She reminded me that she had chemotherapy the day before.
Dawn also had lots of radiation. The first round was on her lung for the quarter-sized spot of cancer that never seemed to get any smaller. The second round was on her brain after the tumor was removed. Cancer patients will often joke about “chemo brain” – how chemotherapy causes you to forget things. Imagine what happens after years of chemotherapy and radiation on your brain. Dawn was a very intelligent woman, but despite what the chemotherapy and radiation did to her mind, she never stopped smiling. She never stopped thanking and praising God.
In January 2012, I noticed that Dawn was leaning to the left a lot. It reminded me of the first time she had a brain tumor because she lost the peripheral vision in her left eye. As a result, she would push the food off the left side of her plate without even knowing it. I asked Dawn if she should get a brain scan. But, she was pretty adamant that she didn’t need one.
It didn’t take me long to realize why Dawn didn’t want a brain scan. She knew she had another brain tumor. And, she knew that there wasn’t really anything the doctors could do. Dawn knew her time was drawing to a close. I knew it too.
Eventually, Dawn’s symptoms got to the point where she had to go to the doctor. They did a brain scan, and, as we expected, she had a brain tumor. The radiologist said he would not recommend radiation. Because it would be the second time Dawn had radiation on her brain, the radiologist said her quality of life would drop significantly if she had brain radiation again. It might even result in her living in a vegetative state. But, the radiologist said he would do the radiation if we demanded he do it.
Just a short while later, we met with Dawn’s oncologist. We knew what the conversation was going to be. The doctor said that it was perhaps time to stop all treatments. Prior to the meeting, Dawn and I had already decided this was the route to go.
That meeting with the oncologist was just nine days before Dawn died. On the way home from the meeting, I knew I would have to tell Trey, our son, that night what was happening. The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was telling my 11-year-old son that his mom was going to die.
What do you say?
I sat Trey down on his bed. I told him what was happening. I could hardly get the words out. I cried a lot. Trey told me he had learned a scripture at school that week that he thought was appropriate. He quoted to me 2 Peter 3.9, which says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
It may not seem like much, but for me that was a miracle. My son was consoling me, reminding me that God fulfills his promises.
Six days before Dawn died we went to church together for the last time. Dawn’s sister, Lisa, and her family came up from Nashville to Cincinnati to go with us. And, so did a few of Dawn’s best friends of more than 25 years. None of them came because we knew Dawn was going to die in the next week. In fact, they had planned on coming weeks, if not months, prior.
Dawn, her sister Lisa, and two friends from church (Alisa and her daughter DeLisa) sang my favorite song that Sunday – Thank You by Walter Hawkins. Thankfully, John, the associate pastor of the church, managed to capture the moment on his cell phone. Click here to see the video.
Dawn is the one seated on the stool. She is smiling throughout the video , but she smiled like that all the time. And, I mean all the time. And, to think she could smile and praise God like that after six years of suffering and just six days before she died.
The lyrics of the song were very appropriate.
Tragedies are common place
All kinds of diseases, people are slipping away
Economies down, people can’t get enough pay
But as for me, all I can say is
Thank you Lord for all You’ve done for me, yeah
Folks without homes, living out in the streets
And the drug habits some say, they just can’t beat
Muggers and robbers, no place seems to be safe
But You’ll be my protection every step of the way
And I want to say
Thank you Lord for all You’ve done for me, yeah
It could have been me (thank you)
Outdoors (thank you)
No food (thank you)
No clothes (thank you)
Or left alone (thank you)
Without a friend (thank you)
Or just another number (thank you)
With a tragic end (thank you)
But you didn’t see fit to let none of these things be (thank you)
In addition to battling cancer, Dawn grew up in the projects and on welfare. She had experienced or seen everything in the lyrics of this song.
At the end of the video, Dawn says thank you to the church for everything they had done for our family. It was like she was saying goodbye to everyone. It is so surreal for me to watch it.
For me, it was a miracle to spend that last Sunday together at church in that way with Dawn.
Four days before Dawn died, she was in bed taking a nap. I went to check on her, and it was obvious something was wrong. She was talking incoherently. She was asking me to put her in the middle of the bed even though she already was. Dawn was asking me to put her left arm next to her even though it already was.
Because I couldn’t calm Dawn down, I called 911. They said there really wasn’t anything they could do, but they could come and take her to the hospital. Even though Dawn told me she didn’t want to go to the hospital anymore (we had just spent 12 of the last 30 days in the hospital), I felt like I had no other choice.
So, the ambulance came to take Dawn to the hospital. Dale, the pastor of our church, met me in the emergency room. As soon as he saw Dawn, he asked me to step outside the room to talk with him for a minute. Dale told me that he had seen this many times before – Dawn was transitioning out of this life. He told me that there was no way to know how long it would be, but I needed to prepare myself that this was it. Also, Dale told me that Dawn was a godly woman and because of that I was going to see things other people don’t get to see. Boy, was he right.
We went back in the room. A little bit later, John, the associate pastor, met us in the room. As we stood there talking, Dawn started smiling like never before. She always had a big smile, but this was different. It looked like the corners of her mouth were back to her ears, almost like someone had put hooks in the corners of her mouth to pull them back. And, Dawn’s eyes were wide open. Her face was radiant.
With that smile and eyes wide open, Dawn turned to the three of us and said, “I see heaven. I see God. And, he is right here with me.”
Dale, John, and I just looked at each other. Another miracle.
The hospital couldn’t really do anything for Dawn, so they sent us home the next day. I had called Dawn’s family and friends and told them to come back up to Cincinnati because this was it.
That night, three days before Dawn died, Shaterial, Dawn’s best friend, said she would stay up that night with Dawn to watch her since I had been up all night the night before at the hospital.
When I came down the next morning, Shaterial said I wouldn’t believe what happened last night. She told me that Dawn saw and talked with her mom, who had died three years prior. Shaterial said that Dawn asked her who all the people were in the room. But, only Shaterial and Dawn were up in the middle of the night. Shaterial told Dawn that there was no one else in room, but Dawn insisted there was.
You might say that Dawn was hallucinating, but Shaterial and I were convinced that Dawn saw her mom and that angels were in the room with them. Shaterial told me what a blessing it was for her to experience that with Dawn. Another miracle.
The next night, two days before Dawn died, I stayed up all night with her. When we came home from the hospital, we had a hospital bed put in the study off the living room. Dawn was sleeping there while I laid on the couch to keep an eye on her.
It was late at night when I noticed Dawn put her leg out of the bed. I went and put her leg back in the bed. This happened several times until I realized Dawn needed to use the bathroom. So, I helped her out of the bed. The bathroom was only about 15 feet away. But, halfway there Dawn said she was too tired to go any further. We were right next to the couch I was sleeping on, and she asked if she could just lay down there.
With Dawn on the couch where I was sleeping, I just knelt on the floor next to her. I held Dawn’s hand and silently prayed for her. Dawn fell back asleep. Then, out of nowhere, Dawn asked me a question.
“Do you want to see Jesus with me?”
Without missing a beat, I said yes.
And, for what seemed like 30 minutes or so, I saw Jesus.
Now, I did not see his physical form, the shape of a man. But, I saw his presence. There was this glow in the room right next to Dawn. There was no doubt that Jesus was in the room with us.
I saw Jesus.
Dawn did everything for Trey as a mother. And, I traveled a lot. I had been dealing with lots of fear about being a single parent. I had no idea how I could do that.
And, then Jesus spoke to me.
The first thing Jesus said was, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4.18) Instantly, all my fear of being a single parent was gone. I never thought about the difficulties of being a single parent again.
Then, Jesus told me about how he “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3.20) He said that I think about that scripture in earthly, physical terms.
I could imagine Dawn being perfectly, physically healed. What’s more than that?
I could imagine being the richest person in the world. What’s more than that?
All of us can imagine quite a few grandiose things. What’s more than all the things we can imagine?
But, Jesus told me that scripture isn’t about any earthly or material thing. He said the one thing that I could not imagine more of was his love. No matter how great and how awesome I imagined his love to be, Jesus’ love for me would always be far more, exceedingly, abundantly more than all I could ever ask or think.
Finally, Jesus told me that I had been praying for a miracle in Dawn’s healing. But, Jesus said the real miracle I was, or should be, praying for was his love. His love was what mattered more than anything else. Another miracle.
“Do you want to see Jesus with me?” were the last words Dawn ever spoke to me. But, they weren’t the last words she ever spoke. She saved those for our son, Trey. One day before she died, Trey came to give his mom a kiss good night. Dawn hadn’t spoke in almost 24 hours. But, after Trey kissed her good night, she said “I love you” to her son. Those were the last words Dawn ever spoke. Another miracle.
Trey was an excellent piano player. Dawn believed he had talent and really pushed him. He played in a piano competition the morning of the day his mom died. That evening my dad gathered everyone, all of Dawn’s family and friends, around the piano to hear Trey play. He played a piece from the competition and a song he was learning for the mission trip we would go on in about a month.
The piano was in the room next to Dawn. Dale and I were in the room with Dawn, listening to Trey play. Just a few minutes after Trey finished playing those two songs, Dawn died. The last thing Dawn ever heard was her son playing the piano. Another miracle.
The last week of Dawn’s life was filled with so many experiences with the life of Jesus, so many things that I can’t explain, so many things that Jesus seemingly orchestrated so that I would know his love for me. And, at the center of them all was seeing Jesus.
How did this experience with the life of Jesus open the Bible for me?
What presuppositions had I been bringing to the Bible that were changed by this experience?
Prior to this experience I believed God to be 100 percent completely sovereign over everything that happened. I read the events ascribed to God in the Old Testament and took what the Bible said at face value. God must have done all those horrible and wicked things. So, I believed that God would allow sickness, even cancer, despite the damage it did to our family and the difficulties my son would face because of his mom’s untimely death.
Basically, my view of God was undifferentiated. God might do good some times, but he allowed evil at other times. God might love some times, but he hated with a vengeance at other times. God might give life to some, but he would bring death to others.
This was how everyone around me read the Bible. And, I went right along with it. I didn’t know any other way.
Until I saw Jesus.
Until Jesus spoke to me about his love. Nothing else.
This experience with Jesus more than anything else has changed the way I read the Bible.
I had been in the presence of Jesus’ exceedingly abundant love.
There is no way that love would give someone cancer.
There is no way that love would take a mom from her son.
There is no way that love would leave a man a widower before he was 40.
Sure those things happened, but God was not the cause of them.
As I continued to read the Bible, read theology books, and listen to sermons, everything began to shift in my mind. Everything was now being filtered through the lens of Jesus and his love. Now, everything I read and heard was filtered through the following statements.
- God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
- God is love and in him there is no fear at all.
- God is life and in him there is no death at all.
Further, I began to realize that I needed to focus not on what God can do but on what God will do.
I want God to do all sorts of things for me. And, he can do them. The possibilities of what God can do for me are limitless. But, when I focus on what God can do, then I lose sight of God and being transformed and conformed to his image. I found that focusing on what God can do and, consequently, what he has not done for me would make me bitter and angry. For example, why did God heal someone else and not my wife?
Instead, I just needed to focus on what God will do. In other words, I need only focus on who God is in my life – light, love, and life. Jesus said it as he is the way and the truth and the life. He also said it as he is the resurrection and the life.
Seeing Jesus has completely transformed the way I read the Bible.