November is my favorite month of the year. It’s the month my mother gave birth to me, the day God chose to bring me into this world. Sometimes my birthday even falls on Thanksgiving Day. But, that’s not the real reason Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I have fond memories of spending the holiday with my paternal grandparents and my father’s family. It didn’t matter whether my birthday fell on Thanksgiving Day or not, my grandmother always had a birthday cake for me. I learned early in life that Thanksgiving was all about giving thanks and treasuring family. This was a happy place for me.
Twelve years ago, something memorable happened to me in the month of November. I had brain surgery nine days before my birthday. Thanksgiving took on a whole new meaning for me that year. I may not have been able to spend any time at all on preparations, but I never felt so loved, so grateful, so safe. Surrounded by my family, I knew in my heart that I had been given a great gift…life. God had preserved my life.
One year later I would come to understand that not only is life a gift, life is hope.
And hope does not disappoint.
“And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
Hope, the joyful and confident expectation for a certain thing to happen, like eternal life. The indescribable gift of life forever with my God, the Giver of every good and perfect gift…with Jesus, the Keeper and Sustainer of my heart.
One year after brain surgery…in this beautiful, wonderful month of thankfulness that I love…the day before I would celebrate my 46th birthday…my friend, Leslie, passed from this earth and entered into her heavenly home. Her brain surgery had been one month before mine. She spent a month in the hospital. I spent four days. Her tumor was malignant. Mine was benign. She grew weaker. I grew stronger. She endured radiation and chemotherapy and then, sadly, hospice came.
I went to visit Leslie four days before she passed away. Her husband had warned me not to be disappointed if she didn’t respond to me. The pain medications were keeping her sedated, but God in His infinite grace and lovingkindness gave me the most precious gift. Leslie lit up and responded to my presence. I told her stories. She listened. I laughed. She giggled. I held her hand. She held mine back. I prayed for her and watched tiny little tears fall from the corners of her eyes, trickling down behind her ears as she lay back on her pillow. I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her. Then, I said good-bye.
Her mother-in-law walked me to the porch and told me that Leslie had come “alive” for me more than most people who visited her in those last days. I think I know why. We shared a common bond. Brain tumor. Brain surgery. Though we suffered afflictions–Leslie’s were oh-so-much-more than mine–we knew the process of enduring, of proving our character, of producing hope. I still witness the reaction of others when I tell them I had brain surgery–jaws drop open. Hearts race. Fears rise.
I had once asked Leslie in the midst of her chemotherapy treatments and radiation, “What is the one thing you fear more than anything?” She didn’t hesitate. There was no fear for herself, only for her sons. I got that. Before my surgery, I had pondered similar fears. Oh, the depths of a mother’s love.
Sometimes life is so very sad, but in the sadness we come to experience new ways of relating to our heavenly Father. I came to understand hope in a way I never had before. For several years after Leslie’s death, every November I became melancholy. Maybe not so much in sadness as in deep reflection. Why does God increase the days of one life and not another? I’m convinced God wanted Leslie in heaven with Him. She was ready to meet her Maker. There’s no fear in that. Only hope. The best way I can honor Leslie’s life is to live mine well.
I’m learning that a heart of thankfulness doesn’t mean I thank God for hardship or heartache or handicaps. I don’t thank Him for cancer or disease or tumors…I thank God for what these things produce in me. I thank Him for the endurance to persevere under afflictions. I thank Him for the fruit of Christ’s character produced from the roots growing strong in the soil of my heart. I thank Him for the hope of heaven…
…where there will be no tears. No pain. No sadness. No sickness. No death. No more good-byes.
I thank God for Novembers. It’s still my favorite month. I thank God for Thanksgivings. It’s still my favorite holiday. I thank God for birthdays. It’s still a day to celebrate. I want to live my life in a way that honors the Life-Giver because one day God will want me in heaven with Him. I’ll be ready to meet my Maker and I will not be disappointed. This is my happy place, even in sadness. And in my melancholy of deep reflection I picture Leslie’s reunion with her family in heaven one day…together again. And there I’ll be, watching and waiting my turn to greet her because she and I still share a common bond…