Tag: death

Nabeel, me, and the Problem of Pain

This isn’t what I had planned on posting. And it isn’t about caregiving, or dementia. Oh, well.

Nabeel
Nabeel Qureshi

September 16, 2017

About a year and a half ago I became interested in Christian apologetics. It occurred to me that I have absolutely no tools with which to defend my faith. Truth be told, I don’t have the tools to defend why breathing is a good idea and everyone ought to try it. I am beyond non-confrontational. I am more the “hurl one accusation at me and I freeze solid” type. So, to try to remedy that, I started listening to what the apologists have to say. It sent me on a journey I never expected, one that I now feel has only really just begun.

C.S. Lewis was the obvious first choice. For many years, I believed that Christian apologetics began and ended with him. I had no idea anyone else ever did it. He is the best and the brightest (please, please read Mere Christianity no matter what your personal beliefs are. You won’t regret it), but I learned he’s not the only one. I’d heard Ravi Zacharias on the radio, and through him discovered other great modern Christian minds, including John Lennox, Andy Bannister, and a convert from Islam named Nabeel Qureshi.

Nabeel especially captured my attention. Young, handsome, passionate and charismatic, he was captivating to listen to. He gave many lengthy talks on his journey from Islam to Christianity (as well as writing books, including Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, and No God but One), and from him I gained many insights on Muslim thinking and way of life. He was a gifted teacher with a bright future ahead of him. Then he was diagnosed with incurable stomach cancer. For the past year he has released many video blogs of his cancer journey, from chemo, to radiation, to more chemo, to immunotherapy, as well as the other treatments, surgeries, and procedures he endured along the way. It was hard to watch, and pretty much obvious from the get-go that his healing would only ever come from divine intervention. Many thousands of people, including myself, prayed for him throughout this past year and waited on a miracle from God.

Nabeel died today. I will never understand this side of eternity why an all-powerful God said no to our prayers. I don’t know what the answer is. I do believe his ministry will continue to bear fruit; if nothing else, I know the effect it has had on my own life. I also know that Jesus never promised us an easy life. In fact, quite the opposite. In John 16:33 he tells the twelve disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.” Which they did. One committed suicide, ten were martyred, and only one died of old age. But he followed up that statement with, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

What exactly does that mean? To an outsider, it’s just hot air coming from a deluded nut job who duped his buddies into enduring hell on earth for however many years before dying. A few days ago I posted a request on Twitter for prayer for Nabeel. Some guy who wouldn’t use his real name (I’ll call him Poison Pen), responded with a bunch of vitriol against Nabeel and God. We had a discussion on Twitter that was interesting for a couple of days until he abandoned his arguments and kept throwing “God is a psycho” around and not responding rationally to anything I or anyone else on the thread had to say. Before things deteriorated, Poison Pen kept circling back to how could a loving God let people die, focusing on the millions who died in the Flood. It is the age-old question. The answer boils down to Free Will, pure and simple. Without the opportunity to rebel against God, we could never be rational creatures capable of thought, creativity, love, or anything else worth having. That statement opens up millions of avenues for discussion, and people far cleverer than I have devoted volumes to the topic.

It doesn’t, however, explain why a 34-year-old God-fearing man with a wife and daughter who need him, just died from a disease that usually attacks people far older. Poison Pen, a self-described atheist, apparently speaks on behalf of all Muslims, for he told me that Muslims believe Allah cursed Nabeel for abandoning the faith. (I asked him then what do Muslims believe when a young Muslim gets cancer? He just told me to go ask a Muslim. Pointless arguments are such fun.) Anyway, I don’t understand why Nabeel has died; I do believe God can and does cure people. My neighbor, a cancer survivor, was told her cancer had returned and spread to her bones about the same time Nabeel received his diagnosis. She opted for no treatment, is currently in remission and just finished a program at the local college and recently welcomed her first grandchild. Is God brutal or weak because Nabeel died? Is he gracious and strong because my neighbor is alive? Or is it maybe that we just live in a miserable, fallen world where people get cancer, shot, ran over, overdose, choke on a cherry pit, or eaten by piranhas, every single day? Shit happens.

What the whole point is, ultimately, is what happens after. Whether you die at 5, 34, or 117, the fact remains that sooner or later you’re going to die. No one gets out of here alive (except Enoch and Elijah, but that’s another topic). What happens after? It is eternity that counts. Life on earth is short. Eternity lasts for, well, forever. Poison Pen couldn’t get that concept through his head. He kept telling me how Nabeel’s legacy is ruined and his life was pointless. He wouldn’t understand that Nabeel’s life was well-lived and defined by integrity, faith, and love. His thirty-four short years on earth were precious, and this very afternoon I am sure he heard the words all believers long to hear when we meet Jesus face to face: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

How has Nabeel’s life changed mine? For one, he helped to kickstart my prayer life. He encouraged me to fervently seek God in prayer and the word. He bravely demonstrated consistent faith in and love for God in the most trying circumstances imaginable. He fought the good fight, he ran the race, he kept the faith. Now there is in store for him the crown of righteousness. (2 Timothy 4:7-8) Nabeel is partying right now! He is with the Lord, he is enveloped in love and peace, and he will never know sickness or pain again. He is reunited with a child he never got to meet on Earth when his wife miscarried last year. The tragedy is for the ones left behind, not him.

I want to be like Nabeel: that brave, that bold, that passionate. He is a huge inspiration to me. I will never be an apologist, but I was able to answer Poison Pen intelligently and kindly, two things that would have been beyond me a year ago. I have a lot of questions, and wish this isn’t how Nabeel’s earthly story would have ended. But I know he affected my life. He helped me draw closer to God. I know his legacy will live on, in his family and his testimony. I know I will meet him in Heaven. And I know that, someday, I will fully understand the age-old problem of why we endure pain and suffering.

Note: for a brief but lovely overview of Nabeel’s life and ministry, visit https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2017/09/16/nabeel-qureshi-1983-2017/

A letter to my Mom

 

MyIMG_2329 mother, Muriel, passed away a month ago. She was 92 years old, but her death still came as a shock. I thought she would be here forever; my family always said that she would outlive us all. The reality that she is no longer here hasn’t sunk in yet. I suppose it takes time for something like this to reach the deepest part of you. I wrote her this letter and had it read at her memorial service. Many thanks to Cathy Taylor for doing my dirty work for me–I was a mess that day.

Mom, how do I sum up a lifetime with you? My mind is a swirling, colorful kaleidoscope of memories that won’t gel into any specific point. My earliest memory is you holding me up to the mirror after I fell down the stairs, to see my two big, black panda bear eyes. You took a scary, painful situation and made it funny.

Every day when we came home from school, you were waiting for us, and would make Jimmy Snider and me a glass of chocolate milk and listen to us talk about our day. You did “surgery” on my favorite teddy bear whenever parts of her would fall off. You showed me how to stand up to bullies in a way that was far more effective than Dad’s boxing lessons. You let me skip one school day a year, which would be “our” day to do something special together. You made me endure endless hours in the fabric store as you pored over patterns, but then you made me the prettiest clothes. You encouraged Dad and me to have father/daughter date nights, because you were making sure I had the kind of relationship with my dad that you never had with yours. You encouraged me to travel because you knew how much it meant to me. I never would have seen Europe or the Holy Land without you running interference with my overprotective dad. You told me once, “I would have loved to backpack across Europe when I was your age, but unfortunately there was a bit of a war going on at the time.”

Swirling, colorful memories, some painful but mostly good. Then Dad got sick and life got IMG_2266hard. I didn’t realize for the longest time that you were having problems by then, too. As his Alzheimer’s got worse, he became more paranoid and delusional. My worst memory is him screaming at you, calling you a dirty witch and worse and to get out of his house. You stood there, helpless, sobbing, “but I’m your wife! I’m your wife.” You never understood what was happening with him, you just saw the only man you ever loved rejecting you.

Those memories and ten million more we shared, until the Dementia came for you, too. I could only watch as, one by one, they all disappeared. Now it’s just me holding onto the memories you and I shared, until the day may come when the Dementia steals them away from me, too.

But, I think about where you are right now. They let me spend a few minutes with you after you died, to say goodbye. As I saw your bodyIMG_1726 lying there, I knew that you were already gone. YOU weren’t in that room. What happened then? Did you open your eyes to the most beautiful Light you’ve ever seen? Did the loveliest voice in all the universe welcome you home? Did He wipe away your every tear? And then, in that moment, did you finally understand what a Father’s love really is? I hope so. I believe so.

I miss you, Mom, and look forward to the day I see you again. We will look back over our lives, even the hard times, and have a good laugh, just like we did over my panda bear eyes.

I love you.

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