This week, one of God’s most courageous warriors passed from this life into the Kingdom of God.
And I had the privilege of knowing her.
If you were to have met her, you would not have noticed anything extraordinary about her appearance. The only hint to her inner holiness was the simple claim printed on the key strap around her neck: “Jesus loves me”.
To some, this might have given the impression of oddity rather than sanctity, both in the wearing so many keys and in the bold simplicity of the proclamation.
As I came to know her better, I began to understand that for her these words were far more than a dime store slogan. This strap and these words were more like a “coat of arms” that she carried bravely into battle on a daily basis.
My description of her as a warrior might create a false image of her as one of those aggressive believers who accosts strangers to ask them if they have been saved. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, as she told it to me, people were always coming up to her.
She could not understand it, she would tell me. She could be in a public place minding her own business and people would just approach her needing healing. She might take a seat by herself on the bus and, despite there being many other seats available, the next thing she knew, someone was practically sitting on her lap, trying to get near her or touch her.
Many of these strangers were very grateful for her touch or kind words. But there were others who seemed to be possessed of a fury with her, despite her never having seen them before. Why did she draw such people?
It all seemed to have something to do with love and its healing power. Yet it was a funny thing about this warrior and her outlook on love. “Sometimes”, she said, “I don’t even want to love them but I can’t help it.” Sometimes she did not want to love, she indicated, because love was just so painful.
Why call her a warrior, this kind and ordinary-seeming woman who involuntarily loved and drew the afflicted to her touch?
It was from this “ordinary” woman that I first came to really understand that we are indeed at war. I am not talking about tensions in the Middle East or the violence of city streets. I am referring to the war of good versus evil, of the followers of the Lord Jesus versus those enslaved by the prince of darkness. (See my previous article Spiritual warfare.)
How she taught me is almost impossible to say. I am sure she did not set out to do so. I feel confident of this because, to her, the reality of spiritual warfare was so obvious that it did not need to be taught. It would not have occurred to her to tell me this anymore than it would have occurred to her to tell me that I needed to breathe.
What was so interesting about the lessons I learned from her was that I had to overcome obstacles in myself in order to grasp them. I had not set out to do this. Initially, my goal had been to understand her and help her find healing from the considerable pain she carried within.
In the course of this journey, however, every now and then she let slip something that sounded, well, kind of crazy… And I would have to stop and puzzle over it. Was it possible that I was being taken in by some elaborate delusion?
I ran into this wall a number of times as I got to know her – and always landed in the same place: no, she wasn’t crazy. She was right. She might not have been right about the details of a particular situation (she wasn’t terrible savvy with regard to worldly matters) but she was right about the spiritual realm.
She once said to me, “I don’t claim to know everything, but what I know, I know.”
I was quite struck by this remark. I’m not sure why – but perhaps because the things she knew were things that I wished I knew instead of merely believing.
“I’ve always known there was a God, even as a young child.”
Could I say that? Can I even say as an adult that I know there is a God rather than merely saying I believe it?
I realized at the time, I could not. But now I can. I can say it now because I prayed that it might be so – I asked God to help me to truly know Him and not simply believe. And I’ve increasingly learned how completely He answers my prayers. Why have I been so afraid to ask?
But, returning to our warrior. I do not think I have ever encountered anyone who so much lived in the world but was not “of the world”. I do not mean by this that she did not deal with practical matters or that she was detached from others – certainly the latter was not at all the case.
She simply didn’t “get” the ways of the world. However, the ways of God she understood as well or better than many a preacher or priest.
Sometimes it seemed to be my role to try to help her better make sense of this world and the people in it.
I explained to her once that some people who have their doubts about God do so because they cannot accept the evil in our world. They assert that because God created all things, God must have created evil too and is either powerless or unwilling to stop it.
“Really?” she exclaimed incredulously, wrinkling up her nose. “They think that?” She could not imagine how anyone could believe anything so ridiculous.
It was also sometimes hard for her understand that not everyone had the same spiritual gifts that she had. For example, she complained that when other Christians visited the sick in the hospital, “The people are still sick – and some of them are even dying.”
When I explained to her that it was not unusual for people in the hospital to sometimes fail to get well, she said that when she visited the sick and prayed with them, they always got well. As a result of this, people often wanted her to pray for them. She didn’t mind doing so – but she struggled to understand why they didn’t pray themselves.
But all of this does not really explain why this dear woman was a great warrior.
Perhaps the best way I can explain it is to say that she was born on the front lines. When I explained that to her, I admitted that I did not know why God allowed her be born in such a terrible place, a place where the warfare was so intense and so very dangerous.
But, I told her, I could see that He had given her some exceptional weapons (gifts) that not many other people have. With these, she had been able to not only survive, but become a vehicle of His grace, healing and love in the places where evil seems to thrive.
Her life had more trauma in it than most people could ever imagine. She struggled but did not talk much about it. Yet, perhaps her biggest struggle was that she feared for the fate of the souls of those who had betrayed her, beaten her and even tried to kill her.
She worried about whether she had done enough to try to bring them to salvation. It was hard for her to let it go – to comprehend that anyone, if shown it, could refuse the love of God that was so alive in her heart.
When I learned this past Sunday evening that this great warrior had been beset by an aggressive cancer, I was at the hospital Monday morning. She was not able to speak but she knew that I was there.
After greeting her, my next words were, “I heard that something evil has gotten inside your body and taken over.”
Neither of us were going to pretend that this horrible cancer had come from God. God does not do that sort of thing to His beloved.
Since she wasn’t able to say anything, I settled in and spoke some more. I asked her if she wanted to be healed, acknowledging that sometimes people are tired of fighting the fight. I indicated that we both knew perfectly well that God could heal her of this disease, regardless of how severe or advanced it was.
However, I continued, what we were to pray for was what was for her sanctification and the sanctification of those she loved. And thus, the glory of God.
While admitting that my vote was for her staying here – because I wanted her here – I readily admitted that my vote didn’t count for anything because I am not in charge. “God is in charge,” I stated the obvious, “and we need to trust in His wisdom”.
I sat with her for a while, reading from the first Letter of St. John and the Gospels. She was clearly in pain but her face relaxed some as she listened to the Word. Her hand rested on her heart and her breathing settled into a more restful rhythm.
Less than 48 hours later, she was with God.
Courageous warrior, faithful servant of Love, be at peace.
And pray for us.