Saturday, May 15, 2010


Sheer was an event for women at St Paul's based on the theme of transparent faith and what it actually means to live life fully and openly with God. I was asked to share my story and the journey I've been on over the last few years. It was amazing to be asked. Here is what I shared at Sheer (with photos of John and I).....
First I thought I'd give you a bit of background about me. I work at St Paul's and I am responsible for everything we do that’s related to children and families. I’ve been here for two years and I love it!! This year I am celebrating a big birthday – 50. Yes it seems unbelievable even to me that I have lived that long. 50 years! I don’t feel old but that is a long time to have been around! I have two gorgeous grown up girls - Bethany and Holly. I am also a widow. My husband John died in 2004 a few months short of our 25th wedding anniversary. This event substantially changed my life and has had a profound effect on me. I want to share with you the journey I’ve been on, a journey into darkness through the valley of the shadow of death.

In September 2004, a few days before his 45th birthday, my husband John began to feel sick. He thought he had a bug or gastro enteritis. Over the next few weeks he got worse. When he started to notice dark blue spots on his torso, he knew he was in big trouble. The melanoma cancer he thought he’d beaten 9 years before had returned. One year earlier, he had been given the all clear. He often said “Well, I dodged that bullet!” A specialist confirmed John’s diagnosis and so our “long, dark night” (as John called it) began.

I took the last month off school and nursed him fulltime. John had multiple tumours in his brain, lungs, liver, near his heart, in his bones. Dark blue melanoma spots appeared daily all over his skin and grew rapidly. The specialist at the hospice said that anyone else with cancer to that extent would have been felled long ago. John was usually strong, fit and healthy. It was tough for him.

He loved the 23rd Psalm and drew comfort from it–
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

He knew he was going to die. He knew the path God had prepared for him and what he was asking of him and he never flinched. He concentrated on finishing the race. He told the doctors, “I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have done it differently. I have lived a full life.” He felt immensely blessed, he talked to everyone about his faith in God. How he could face death without fear because he knew where he was going and that Jesus would be with him.
On the day he died, he said to me, “What’s the plan today, Stace?”
And I said “You’re going to get through today and finish the race.”
And he said, “I can do that.” And he did, John finished his race well.

In the early evening of Christmas Eve 2004, the room was very peaceful with a soft, golden light. There was a tangible presence of God in the room, strong and comforting. The girls and I were with John, waiting.... Beth saw John open his eyes and look up, like he was looking at someone. She said, “Mum!” We looked at John, he took two breaths and then he died. One step from here to eternity... John lived and died well. We knew God was saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Knowing John, his faith and the life he lived, gave us hope in the time of his sickness and death. We knew it wasn’t the end, that he had finished the race, he was with God, totally healed and complete in him, the fulfilment of Psalm 23. The night before he died, he said to the girls, “It’s not good bye, it’s see you later!” So for us, we know we’ll see him again. That has been a great source of hope in the midst of our grief.
Several hours after John died, I went into shock. I couldn’t stop shaking and I felt physically ill. My mind stopped functioning properly and I felt completely overloaded. That’s when the long dark night, turned into overwhelming darkness. I knew that it would be hard when John died, but I had no idea how hard. The pain was physically, mentally, and emotionally overwhelming. Sometimes I felt I couldn’t take anymore, it was more than I could bear.

I kept going through the days between John’s death and his funeral. There were things to organise, think about, people to talk to, flowers, venue, catering, music…… I just kept going – mentally and emotionally stretched. I felt God beside me, so close.... helping me, holding me, bringing me through. John’s funeral was amazing. Full of love, tears, laughter, praise, honouring God and John’s life. It was perfect, just how he planned and envisaged it. So many people came. We were blessed and touched by their warmth, love and kindness.

Then we were alone.... starting to learn to live without John – my best friend, buddy, love, mate, partner, husband, rock, encourager, my girl’s amazing, funny, reliable, encouraging friend and Dad. There was such a space, a gap, a void, something so precious missing from our lives.
My story is that even though I came from a place of strong faith, that I’d had a great marriage and life with John, that I had the opportunity to be with him, caring for him 24/7 in those last weeks of his life, that he knew where he was going and I knew that he’d be with Jesus and it was a fulfillment of God’s promise to be with him forever, that I would see him again and it wasn’t a permanent good bye….. even with all those good things and the kindness, prayers and blessings that so touched and overwhelmed us in those last weeks…. even with all of that I still had to walk into that dark place, with Jesus by my side, and fully experience the pain and depth of my grief at losing John.

I walked with John into the valley of the shadow of death – he walked through out the other side into the fullness of God’s promises for him. I stayed there in the valley, stuck in it’s long dark shadow. The walls of the valley are steep and the shadow is big, long and black. In the depth of that valley the darkness is overwhelming. I would have been overwhelmed if I hadn’t felt God close beside me, holding me up, giving me strength, feeling the pain and helping me to bear the pain, weeping with me. Whispering in my ear “I can get you through this.”

He will never give me more than I can bear. 1 Corinthians 10:13
God is my refuge and strength, an everpresent help in times of trouble. Psalm 46:1
Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Isaiah 53:3
I held onto those scriptures. They were my lifeline. They gave me strength to face each day, to take one step forward, over and over again.

I have been through such times of unbearable loneliness. I have cried oceans of tears. I have felt strung out, wrung out and completely physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. I just kept turning back into God, nestling into him, sheltering under his wing, hiding myself away. I felt so small, like a little child facing the world all by herself.... vulnerable, unsure of her place and purpose. My heart was broken – my baby was gone and the pain and impact of that was indescribable. People asked “Did I miss John?” I ached for him with every fibre of my being. Missed him, that’s an understatement!

I felt like I had no future. My future, my hopes and dreams had died with John. Part of me died with him. My world was completely black. I’ve always tried to look at life from the glass half-full perspective, looking for the positive, the good in every situation. Now I felt like someone had taken the glass, thrown it away and completely smashed it.
I held onto the scripture Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Every day I would say that over and over again. In my head I knew it was true but I didn’t feel it in my heart. I felt like I had no hope, that it was completely gone. It was my statement of faith to God. I know you have good intentions for me and I am going to keep holding this up to you because you are faithful. Sometime, somewhere in the future, something is going to happen.

And through it all God kept close beside me as I was walking, trudging, climbing, falling, stumbling, trying to find my way. My story is not that I’m incredibly brave or strong or amazing or an awesome woman of great faith but that in my mind-numbed, broken state I just kept turning back into God.... that every day I would choose to take all my pain, my hopelessness and give it to him. That I would take one step at a time, one after another, after another, every day...... choosing God, believing that he had good things in store for me... that he could get me through this.

Someone said to me that it would ease after about a year but it didn’t. My world felt completely black and hopeless for a long time. After two years I felt the darkness start to lift a little, turning my world to shades of grey. I felt like I had finally climbed out of the valley of the shadow of death and could see a little light. But it was still grey. It wasn’t miraculously over but there was a tiny seed of hope.

I have thought a lot about why I had to go through the darkness and pain. I felt that God wanted me to feel the depth of my loss and my grief. To let it resonate fully through my heart, mind and spirit. To know how much I have lost, how much I missed John, to acknowledge how much my life had changed, to feel my broken heart, to fully experience all the feelings no matter how painful and to let God into the midst of it all to begin healing me. Only by walking through the darkness could I fully experience the depth and power of God’s love and his healing power in my heart and life. Through death and pain, I could find a new life with depths of compassion and love that somehow make me a richer person.

You know there’s a scripture that’s often quoted as our passport to spiritual, physical, material and financial blessing. It’s something Jesus said in John 10:10 I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. It’s been interpreted as the assurance that our lives will be prosperous, we’ll always be happy, we’ll never be sick, our bank accounts will be overflowing, our children will be perfectly behaved..... That’s a misinterpretation. I think that it means exactly what it says – in Jesus, we’ll have a full life.

Everything that life has to offer – the joy and the sorrow, the laughter and the tears, the excitement that comes with your first kiss, getting the job you wanted, finding out that you’re pregnant, holding your newborn baby, finding love, passing the exam.... the worry and sadness of nursing a sick child, holding your friend’s hand as they cry over a broken relationship, the grief of breaking up, the betrayal of a friend, lost dreams, someone you treasure and love dying, broken hearts......

It’s the whole of life for us to experience in it’s fullness...... with Jesus. So we can fully feel, live and breathe our life with everything that it has to offer. And God does not abandon us to that life, saying “Here you’ve made your choices, now get on with it!” No, he embraces every part of our lives with us. He’s there even if we don’t feel that he is. In Hebrews 13:5 he says "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

I have got through, with God there for me 24/7. As he has helped me he has shown me some keys, not only for when you’re going through hard times but also for living a full life. They are not rocket science and you probably know them already but I think it’s worth looking at them again.....
1) Choose to turn to God, to Jesus, talk to him, bring everything – ugly, hard, overwhelming.... Bring it to him.

2) Talk to him or even yell at him if you need to. God’s a big God, he can take it. He allows us to be honest with him. So whether it’s good, bad, confused, angry.... tell him. He might not send you answers that you expect but he always listens.

3) Talk to other people. This is really important, you need support for whatever situation you’re in and you can’t handle things alone. Talk to people you trust. God sent me people - treasures in the darkness - who loved me regardless of how I was, who prayed for me, encouraged me, gave me words of wisdom, fed me, hung out with me, carried me, poured me a wine, cried with me and laughed with me. And there were times when I thought I’d never laugh again (and I am normally a pretty funny person). They let me just be me. They let me process things at the pace I needed to. My beautiful girls put up with a lot through all of this. They are my most loyal supporters, cheerleaders and friends. And my family, my gorgeous sisters were amazing. We often talked about hunkering down, wagons in a circle, protecting each other like in the Wild West!

4) Read the bible. It is the living word of God. When you read it things jump out you. God speaks through scripture and uses it to touch your heart, mind and spirit. Just read with an open heart....

5) Choose to do things that you love or that feed your spirit. Being creative and making things makes me feel really good as a person and I feel close to God when I’m creating. When my world was totally black, I couldn’t think properly and was physically incapable of being creative but as it turned more greyish I started to try little things that I could cope with.

6) This should be number one - Be kind to yourself! I still need to remind myself of this all the time. We are notoriously hard on ourselves. Stop it right now. Be kind to yourself. I guess it’s also another way of saying “Love yourself!”

In doing all of this and living all of this, I have waited to return to the “normal” Stacy that I was before John was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I kept waiting and waiting, then slowly came to the realisation that I would never be her again. This is me, I am the “normal” Stacy. I have been changed by my experiences. I can’t go back because I’ve walked in different places. I’ve been hurt and have had to come to terms with death, loss, pain, a broken heart, loneliness…… John’s illness and death have changed me profoundly at a deep level. This is me and I’m okay with that.

It’s not over. I’m still on a journey with my grief. I carry the loss of John in my heart and spirit every day. I still have hard, lonely times. While now the grief doesn’t overwhelm me, it does define who I am as a person. It is a part of the decisions I make every day about life and how I’m going to live it.

One of the things that’s been a really important part of the healing process for me, has been coming to St Paul's and being involved in ministry again. I thought when John died that I was too broken to be used by God again. That I would just fill in my rather empty days until I died and could see John again. However many years that may take! You might not know this but it’s an absolute miracle for me to be able to stand up here and share my story with you. Knowing that not only can God use me and my story but that I can feel joy and love.... and really know and feel that God does have plans to prosper me, not to harm me and that in him I do have hope and a future.... and that’s amazing!

Last year I got a tattoo as a symbolic reminder of everything that I’ve been through. It’s the word Beloved. It has a threefold meaning for me – one) that it reminds me of my beloved husband John, two) that that’s how I feel about God – he’s my beloved and three) that it’s how God feels about me – I am beloved by God...... and so are you. Each one of you is beloved by God. You are his beloved – no matter where you’re at, what you’re doing or what you believe..... You are his beloved.
John, thanks for an awesome 25 years! Love you always!

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