The past two weeks brought some unexpected changes to the end of our first semester in Bolivia, and we are actually home again in the United States for the holidays.
A couple weeks ago, Andrew and I received news that my “Papa” Heath was not doing so well. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer right around the time that we accepted the job in Bolivia, and recently his health took a turn for the worse. On top of that, his wife, my “Nana,” ended up in the hospital for congestive heart failure and is awaiting surgery. After a lot of prayer and encouragement from our friends at the school, we decided to change our flights and head home a week early to spend time with my grandparents and help my parents out as they care for them. Today, after his hard fought and courageous battle with cancer, my grandpa went home for the holidays too, to be with the Lord.
While we are obviously saddened by the death of my grandpa, we have honestly been so blessed through this experience. I just wanted to share some of these things with you, so that you may be reminded that even in difficult circumstances, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
First, on the day that I discovered that not one, but two of my grandparents were in the hospital; one of my co-workers came to my room with a small gift for me. The gift was a tiny Bolivian nativity scene. She could not have known at the time she bought it for me, just being the thoughtful friend that she is, how much it would mean to me. My Nana collects nativity scenes from all over the world, and on the day when she was so much on my mind, this gift was like an embrace from God and a reminder that He knows and cares and provides for us in each moment of our lives. In Psalm 144:3, the psalmist wonders, “Lord, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them?” I must admit, sometimes I wonder the same thing, but God’s love is irrational. Although we don’t deserve it, He does care for us, and shows it to us through those He puts in our life, like my wonderful, thoughtful co-worker and her gift.
Second, we were in the process of deciding what to do – whether or not to come home early – and my co-workers were so incredibly supportive of us in prayer. They prayed for wisdom in our decision-making process and for peace and health for my grandparents and family. Several people even wrote me notes or stopped to pray with me. Highlands International is far more than a school – it is a community, a family, and a home away from home. I thought that being so far away from my family in tough times such as these would be crushing, but instead I felt so encouraged and lifted up. Not only did our co-workers surround us with spiritual support, they also supplied physical support for us. Leaving a week early meant missing my students’ finals, and my director and guidance counselor offered to administer and grade my finals for me! WOW! That’s not a small job by any means. Their generosity brought tears to my eyes.
As it says in James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective,” and the prayers said for me by my co-workers and others acquainted with my family’s situation were just that! We finally decided that coming home early was the right decision, and we called the airline to change our tickets. We were shocked to find that the price of changing both Andrew and my tickets would be a whopping $1,900! This was, obviously, an unexpected cost, but one we were willing to pay. We called back again, and were so blessed by the woman on the other end of the phone. After listening to our story as to why we needed to change our return flight, she contacted her superiors and changed our flights for FREE. Completely free! The Lord provided yet again! And allowed us to make it home in time to see and talk to my Papa before he passed.
So here we are, back home in Michigan (and greeted by a classic Michigan snow storm no less). I have been able to see and spend time with all of my grandparents, and help out my parents and aunts as they have taken on the role of caretakers.
While it has not been easy to be here and see the suffering of people that I love, I have an overwhelming feeling of hope through it all. I was recently reading my Papa’s Bible to him, and I came across a note he had written himself in the margin. It said, “All sunshine makes a desert. We have battles so we can appreciate the blessings.” Even when I was trying to comfort him, his words were comforting to me!
My Papa and Nana are both some of the strongest Christians I know. Their faith has been a constant throughout their lives and has spilled over to everyone they come into contact with, including me. I know that this day, the worst for us, is the best day for my grandpa. He has a new, cancer-free body. He is with His Lord and Savior, who loves Him even more than we do!
Revelation is a book that a lot of people shy away from. I won’t lie, I was one of those people once upon a time. Sometimes it seems confusing, or even scary. A pastor of mine recently spoke on Revelation and explained that it’s not difficult or scary at all. Revelation is essentially about Jesus’ victory! And how His victory over sin and death is a gift to us, so that we can be victors too!
Revelation 21:3-7 is one of my favorite passages. It says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”
This is so comforting to me, especially now. Someday, as Sam Gamgee says at the end of Tolkein’s Return of the King, “everything sad is going to come untrue.” There will be a new earth! Totally redeemed from disease and sin and sadness!
In John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
What comfort! What peace! Jesus is the VICTOR! I will rely on that truth now, and in the coming weeks. As the old saying goes, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” He wins, and we win, too, when our trust is in Him.
The Heath family covets your prayers at this time. If you think of us, just pray for peace and that we may be constantly reminded of the victory that is in Jesus.
I’m so thankful that I was able to come home for this Christmas season to be with my family, and I am even more thankful that a great Homecoming celebration was had in heaven for my Papa today.