Slightly over a year ago, I was introduced to De De by one of her many physicians, a caring young man who happened to be our son Mark’s old school pal. After I met her, I was in awe of the tenacity with which she was holding on to life, laughter, and God. And, if I’m totally honest, a little ashamed of how I had been taking my life and God’s grace for granted.
Here was a lady who had been told in October 2007 that she would not live to see the new year. Without any warning, her lungs had begun to fail and she was plunged into the world of those with Chronic Obstructive Lung Disorder (COPD)! For someone who loved life—she travelled the world, had many good friends, was meaningfully employed, and had dreams and hopes for her future—this was a death sentence. Increasingly, her mobility was curtailed by her failing lungs and her “umbilical cord” to the ventilator. By the time I met her, her home was almost hermetically sealed because she couldn’t afford to have her lungs aggravated by the haze that was often prevalent outdoors. Her lips were so chapped by the constant use of the BiPAP mask that they were bleeding. She was sitting up in bed and rested enough to entertain my visit. But it was obvious how quickly her strength (and breath) was diminishing so I had to keep my visit short.
Being so restricted in her movements, her activities were limited to sedentary ones such as messaging others on her phone, journalling on her computer, and some water-colour painting. Even then, she could only indulge in these fairly occasionally in recent times because her failing lungs and resultant damage to the other organs meant long stretches lying immobile in bed. When I realised what an uphill battle it was for her to finish her manuscript, I asked what was driving her. In her own words,
It is a fulfilment of a “contract”, a bargain I had with God 30.5 years ago. It’s a faith act that I took. God gave me what I had prayed and audaciously asked Him for, so now it’s my turn to thank Him and fulfil my part of the bargain.
She had tasted of God’s faithfulness and that gave her the strength and courage to press on, even in the face of the relentless deterioration in her health. Did I mention she’s spunky and feisty? She made no bones about being absolutely honest with God about her feelings and her questions, so she’s had some tough ones for Him. But she had a real relationship with her God, and she knew that He is big enough to take all that she said to Him. Like Job in the Old Testament, though, she also maintained,
As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice,
the Almighty, who has made my life bitter,
as long as I have life within me,
the breath of God in my nostrils,
my lips will not say anything wicked,
and my tongue will not utter lies. (Job 27:2–4 NIV)
Although, like Job, there were friends in her life who gave her grief, God also blessed her with two very special people. Out of respect for her desire to keep her readers guessing, I will also not reveal their names, but will address them as De De did, as Nanny and Runner. God showed His love for her mightily through them. They were His arms of love enfolding her. We all live in a fallen world, where pestilence, strife, and death await. But if we can show one another the kind of sacrificial love that Nanny and Runner did, how much more bearable—indeed, even joyful—will this life be? Nanny has known nights when she has barely a couple of hours of sleep, yet she’s bright and cheerful for De De the next day. Runner holds down a full-time job and yet spends evenings and weekends helping to lighten Nanny’s load and being De De’s go-to person for almost anything she needed done. I stand amazed in their presence!
The day came when De De needed more specialised medical care and had to be admitted to a hospice. A tearful Nanny told me that De De was so fretful all the time and it was even more difficult for Nanny to care for her while in the hospice. Having said that, she however added that she would still do her best for De De as long as she (Nanny) had life and breath.
This past Monday morning, I woke up to a message that De De had finally graduated to glory. After 13 years of being on her rollercoaster ride with God, she could finally step off. In the Foreword of her book, she had quoted Charles Spurgeon,
Prayer pulls the rope below, and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly; others give but an occasional pluck at the rope; but he who wins with Heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously, with all his might.
De De pulled boldly and continuously with all her might. She never let go, until God said she could. Now she can Dance, Love, Sing, and Live in heaven.
Her testimony, Rollercoastering with God, is available here.
Photo credit: One of many paint-within-the-line water colour paintings done by De De.