Life has a way of throwing us an impossible curve ball just when we expect the perfect pitch for a grand slam. Tom and Lynn’s kids were out of college, working and paying off their school loans. Tom was in a good place in his career with retirement around the corner. Lynn established herself as a successful artist. They both loved God and served Him as active soldiers and local officers of their corps. Lynn served as the corps sergeant major and Tom taught an adult Sunday school class.
The Soldiers’ Covenant posted prominently in their family room was often a topic of discussion. Prayer was a well-practiced discipline in their home. They were well informed about Salvation Army beliefs and practices.
Tom’s Sunday school class often studied current events and social justice issues to see how the Bible could inform their personal and group understanding. He had a well-defined commitment to the Salvation Army’s international position on the dignity of human life.
Even this did not prepare him for the curve ball called stage four cancer.
Lynn was surprised when she got the call back from her physician after her regular exam. The words: “We have noted an irregularity” could mean anything but when one hears: “We need to see you tomorrow for a further test,” it is hard to miss the urgency. Tom and Lynn called their corps officers and a few prayer warrior friends to ask them to pray. Tom took the day off from work and joined Lynn at the doctor’s office. The next few days confirmed that Lynn had an aggressive form of colon cancer that had spread to her liver and lungs. A whirlwind followed with doctor visits, learning about the cancer, treatment options and desperate prayer.
Stage four cancer most often means that the only cures are miracles or medical trials. Everything else is maintenance. Tom saw his beautiful, energetic, creative love of his life wither and fade through chemotherapy until she was living just one more day for the miracle that would cure her. She was a good person and did not deserve this disease. Why, God, why? Why did Lynn get the cancer? Why wasn’t God healing her? Why was she suffering? Why couldn’t Tom take her pain for her? Why?
There were days when Lynn considered just stopping the chemo treatments. Years before she was ever sick she signed a Living Will that stated that in the event she became critically ill and could not speak for herself she would not want to prolong life with any medical treatment. She would only want to relieve pain and to be kept comfortable. Were the chemo treatments helping or hurting? Was there a difference between stopping a treatment that prolonged life and taking medical steps to end life quickly? Lynn decided that while she did not understand why God allowed her to experience this journey to death and she certainly did not understand why God was choosing not to give her a healing miracle, she would continue to love and serve Him until her body gave up the fight. In her prayer time, she recalled the words of Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him…”
Tom supported Lynn as she made her choice to continue the chemo treatments. When Lynn’s body signaled chemo was no longer a help and she was in her last days, the pressure from the insurance company and other people to choose the options of legally assisted suicide was great. When Lynn looked at Tom and saw the emotional, physical and financial toll of her cancer, she was tempted to ask for the “help” that would shorten the process of dying. When Tom looked at the pain and loss of dignity Lynn endured, he was tempted to convince Lynn to take the shortcut in her journey.
What was God’s plan and purpose in all this?
One day, as they discussed the options and implications, the words from the song “Amazing Love” came to Lynn’s mind. She asked Tom to play the song so they could listen to the words. “Bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own.” They both realized that they must hold on to the belief that all human life is valuable. They both knew shortcuts in the journey only took away blessings, even when they came disguised in pain and loss. Lynn chose to live every minute God would give, no matter how painful, as her testimony of life. Hospice made her as comfortable as possible. Tom protected her decision and prayed he would be brave for Lynn. Family and loved ones sat with Lynn and listened to the music and Scripture readings she chose. While she was lucid, Lynn prayed with her visitors. As she passed into unconsciousness, her loved ones prayed with her. Her life had been a great testimony and now her dying was an even greater statement of her values and beliefs.
When Lynn passed from earth to heaven, the words “Bold I approach the eternal throne” were the words in the background and on her lips when she walked into the presence of the Lord.
Life without Lynn is hard for Tom, the family and the corps, but they are grateful for the triumphant warrior who lived and died with dignity as she served God with her every breath.
— Commissioner Debi Bell’s last appointment before entering retirement last October was as President of Women’s Ministries for the USA Southern Territory.