On the morning of Friday, April 22, the text message came to me—“Keri Marston is at home in hospice.”
Saturday morning, April 23, another text appeared—“Keri passed away last night.”
I responded to the first text with—“boo!”
With the second text, I responded—“Long talk with God coming up, this isn’t acceptable.”
Of course, this is all courtesy of our dearly beloved friend—cancer.
I had the privilege of working with Keri at our church. She was our communication specialist.
We, our staff, and our congregation benefitted from her expertise. In fact, anyone who worked with Keri within the realm of church communication learned and grew because of her set of skills.
But more importantly, anyone who encountered Keri gained more than communication competency.
Keri’s more was grounded in a sincere desire to give of herself for the betterment of others. That all came from her heart, and her capacity to connect with people. Keri’s heart was both passion and compassion for people.
We eventually lost Keri to her home church. There she continued to make a difference in helping the church grow and touching the lives of the congregation.
On the morning of Thursday, April 28, I and two other staff members from our church attended the funeral service for Keri.
The service was perfection. The music, the selected scriptures, and the words of the speakers captured and celebrated Keri’s short life. Mothers are not supposed to die at 39.
I was touched that Keri’s two school age daughters shared their hearts about their mother. This was tough duty. Keri would have been proud. In their own unique way, each daughter captured their mother.
Even in their emotional pain, Rachel and Rebecca made us laugh. They spent so much time at the church with their mother that the girls considered themselves to be a part of the Shady Grove staff. I’m sure Keri knew that humor too as both of her parents are Methodist ministers.
Perhaps, you recall the hurricane scene in the movie, Forrest Gump. Forrest, and his friend, Lieutenant Dan, are attempting to ride out the storm on Forrest’s shrimp boat. The storm is fierce. Their survival is uncertain.
In the height of the storm, on the deck of the shrimper with wind, waves, and rain crashing around him, Lieutenant Dan, decides to confront God. He curses God, and shouts out to God: “It’s time for a showdown, you and me.”
I’m sorry God, but right now, at this very moment, I feel like Lieutenant Dan—“It’s time for a showdown.”
Keri’s funeral had a very polite tone, but I’d wager every heart in that sanctuary was asking the same question my heart is asking—“How in the world could God let this happen?”
I wonder what pastors are thinking during a funeral service like Keri’s.
I wonder if they are thinking—“Thanks God, you just made my job tougher. I have a whole sanctuary full of people who believe in you, your words, and yet, one of your pillars is gone. These people want to know why you didn’t intervene, why didn’t you stop this cancer, and guess what God, I’m right there with them.”
1 Thessalonians 5 verse 17 states: “pray without ceasing.” What do you think we have been doing since Keri was diagnosed with cancer? I want to know, are my prayers and the people I pray for worth the time?
Were you in that sanctuary on Thursday morning? Did you hear the tears from Keri’s youngest daughter? Did you see the grim faces of Keri’s parents as they recessed out of the Sanctuary?
Hebrews 11:6 reads: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek them.”
Are you telling me and everyone who knew Keri that she didn’t have faith? That is absurd, and you know it. How is cancer a reward for having faith?
And then there is one of my favorite verses from the Bible, Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
How does this verse apply to Keri? Where was her welfare, her future, her hope? Cancer wasn’t a good plan for Keri, nor is it for anyone else. God, what were you thinking?
And the real crusher for me is in Matthew 9 verses 20-22: “ Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.”
One single touch of his cloak, and instantly this woman is made well!! Keri had faith. How come she had no touch of his cloak?
Look God, you’ve known me a long, long time. Yes, by my name, there is a substantial list of black marks on your checklist documenting my wrongs. Despite that list, I must tell you, I’m not the only person down here who is asking these frustrating questions.
Yes, I am happy that Keri is no longer being battered by that vile cancer.
But, God, I have another question for you—how can Keri’s life in heaven as an angel be worry free as she looks down upon her daughters on earth?
How will their father, Chris, attempt to nurture their daughters without the presence of his wife and their mother?
And God while I’m in the whining mode, I’ll take a poke at our own thinking here on earth—the money angle.
Consider the following:
James Webb telescope cost $10 billion dollars
New York Mets pitcher, Max Scherzer’s contract $43 million
Three private citizens paid $55 million a piece to spend eight days in space
Elon Musk purchases Twitter for $44 billion
University of Virginia Athletics Department announced that a former athlete has pledged $40 million dollars
I know individuals have the freedom to do what they want with their pennies. But, I wonder if we might be closer to knocking cancer out if our spare change thinking was better?
This past Christmas, our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, gave her mother an Amazon Echo Dot. The Echo Dot resides in the kitchen. I’ve enjoyed asking Alexa to play a variety of songs while prepping a meal or cleaning up dishes.
The other morning, Alexa played “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall.” The song written by Allan Robert and Doris Fisher was recorded in 1944 by the Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald. The song is based on a line in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem “Rainy Day.”
The lyrics to the opening verse appealed to me:
Into each life some rain must fall
But too much is falling in mine
Into each heart some tears must fall
But some day the sun will shine
When a person and their family are dealing with cancer, they must feel like the weariness of the rain never stops.
And I know for Keri’s family and friends tears are still falling in their hearts.
Those tears are likely to linger for a long, long, long time.
But in losses like this, we have a responsibility, and that is to help the family to hang on until the day that the sun will shine.
And despite my anger at you God, deep in my heart, I know at some point the sun will shine for Keri’s family.