One year ago today my sister Ruth left this life with us to enter another with Jesus. This past year has been a time of painful adjustments, but also a time to continue reflecting on the meaning of her earthly life and the spiritual legacy that she left us. Ruth not only had a well-thought out theology of suffering; she lived it. I invite you to think about two truths that she lived, and ponder how you might live them.
By giving, we receive.
In the last five difficult years of her life, Ruth made many trips to MD Anderson in Houston, one of America’s leading cancer treatment and research centers. Those trips were a heavy burden to her and her family, but she always seemed to have a purpose beyond fighting her cancer. My sister Susan put it well: “When she waited in waiting rooms, she always struck up conversations with people and had a stack of her brochures handy at all times. A cancer treatment center can be full of hopeless people who are hurting in a very real way. But walking alongside Ruth, we felt like hope-givers, even when she was hurting . . . . Her spark of hope was more than her personality. It was a hope and trust in God that was obviously bigger than the cancer that was threatening her life.”
Susan also mentioned that among those whom Ruth met in those waiting rooms was a fellow cancer patient who came to new life in Jesus through Ruth’s witness. She also quoted the words of a former classmate from 30 years before, now a Buddhist living in Tokyo, who wrote, “I saw your name in Facebook and recalled those precious moments when we were younger, back in jr. high. Then I saw the work you are doing–God’s work–through your testimonies, demonstrating strength in faith; and I was deeply, deeply moved.” The knowledge that God was using her life in these ways was a gift that sustained Ruth.
It’s certainly not necessary to have cancer in order to spread the fragrance of Jesus in the most unlikely places. However, it does require intentional participation with God. “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (II Corinthians 2:14, NASV). In so doing, we too receive by giving.
In community, our individual identity is realized.
Often the greatest comfort Ruth received in her darkest days was from friends who came simply to be with her. The presence of friends as well as family was a palpable ministry of grace. For all the deserved criticism of Job’s friends, at least they started well: they wept in shocked grief, tore their robes, threw dust over their heads and sat in silent solidarity with Job on the ground for seven days and nights. That’s an example to consider.
Another comfort to Ruth was prayer. Not saying, “I’ll pray for you,” but actually praying with her: in person, by phone, by handwritten note or even email, infused her with a strength that took me by surprise. It was obviously not my simple and halting words. It was supernatural grace.
Though the final years of Ruth’s were dominated by a fatal disease, she was never defined by it. Likewise, for those of us who are followers of Christ, our identity is defined not by our circumstances or sinful failings. We each have a new individual identity by being given Christ’s righteousness. But our new identity is realized as we act in community. Prayer together, real fellowship; these take place in community, and are ways that the Holy Spirit brings our actions into line with who we truly are.
John Piper has written, “God wants us to know that when we follow Him, our lives always mean more than we think they do. For the Christian, there is always a connection between the ordinary events of life and the stupendous work of God in history. Everything we do in obedience to God, no matter how small, is significant. It is part of a cosmic mosaic which God is painting to display the greatness of His power and wisdom to the world and to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). That is the lens through which I see Ruth’s life and legacy.
The Latin root of the word legacy means, “to send.” So a legacy can be thought of as a gift with a mission. These lessons from Ruth’s life point us toward that mission. I have posted a new page, “Bright Hope resources,” describing materials that Ruth left to share the lessons and blessings of her life. View the new page here or via the toolbar at the top of this page.