My church was very kind. I applied for no pay leave for October and they agreed. There were two key events in October and I had to be away. First, I have to be in Penang to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday. And tonight (September 30), Bernice and I travel to Toronto where we will visit my cousin. Earlier in the year he discovered he had pancreatic cancer. Stage four. I know the standard medical odds.
But God is not controlled by medical statistics. Jesus died and rose again on the third day. That alone plays havoc with the form guide. God and God alone decides when it is time to return to Him. I have known folks who were supposed to have perished a long time ago who are still going strong. And I have known those who abided by the medical stats. But it is God who decides (Psalm 139:16).
At most medical science can say is, based on their present understanding, one has probably x months to live. But honest doctors will admit that there is always an element of mystery in how life unfolds. We know it is God alone who numbers our days. My cousin knows that. And so do I. Indeed I may return to God before him. God knows.
More than that, God invites us to participate in His mysterious work by asking us to pray for the sick (James 5:13-18). I pray for my cousin’s healing. I do so because He commands me to do it. I do so because God is all loving and all powerful. Therefore He will heal or do something more important.
My cousin and I are close. He is the only child of his parents. (His dad was my mum’s brother.) And I was the only son of my parents. (I have a younger sister.) We are to each other the brother we never had.
We have always enjoyed each other’s company. And we both share a passion for the church and her ministry. He has spent most of his adult life in Canada. I have spent most of mine in Malaysia and Singapore. We met up again when I had to visit Toronto for some of my doctoral seminars. Otherwise it was e-mail.
He took great pleasure in introducing me to Toronto and the surrounding areas. And to ice wine. We last met up last year around this time when Bernice and I were on our belated honeymoon. The weather was cloudy but we had a special dispensation on the day that he took us to Niagara Falls. It was a bright sunlit day. Ideal for photographs. And memories.
And so we go to Toronto to create new memories. To share God’s gift of life. To laugh and to cry. He even arranged for me to do a seminar in his church. This will be the first time that we will be involved in a project together. It is going to be a great time. Just like the other times. Only a bit more heightened.
Truth is, unless Christ returns first, we are all going to experience physical death. Most of us are in denial. We conveniently forget our mortality. The great thing about things like cancer is that it brings one’s mortality into sharp focus. With mortality in your face one has to ask, “what is really important.” Which is what we should be asking every day.
As I grow older, what is increasingly important to me are people — friends, family. Which is why it is important that we take this time to go to Toronto. What is really important in your life?
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. So then, if you know the good you ought to do and don’t do it, you sin.
(James 4:13-17 TNIV)
So what is the good you ought to do? What is really important?