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Dig Deep

By: Amber McEwen

I want to tell you about the woman who saved my life.  I moved to California eight years ago.  Without getting into a ton of details, I basically needed a clean slate.  I had family out here that I had come to visit, and my cousin, Ruth, offered me that clean slate… I moved out here a few short months later.

Ruth believed in me in mighty ways.  I was a lost soul, looking for someone to love me for who I was.  She started discipling me, and she welcomed me into her family.  We met every week and just went through the books of the Bible.  When one of us was on vacation, we would still do our studies and email them to each other.  We did this for over six years!  Looking back, I can’t say that there was this one moment when I accepted God as sovereign Lord over my life.  I was raised in the church, and I knew and believed all the stories in the Bible.  But over time, God used Ruth to show me what a relationship with Him could look like.  And gradually I fell in love with Him as my Savior.  Ruth knew about the skeletons in my closet, and she loved me anyway!  If she could fully know me and fully love me, then my God could, too!  Through her love… through the time that she took to know me and accept me, I started to realize that I could have a relationship with God, and it could be very sweet.

You have to understand how special this relationship was to me.  God used Ruth in mighty ways in my life!  He used her to show me what love could look like; what a relationship with Him could look like.  Ruth was one of the most Godly women I have ever met.  She was one of those women that everyone wanted to know.  It’s hard for me to convey to you how God used the heart of an amazing, selfless woman to help tear down the walls of a hardened and bitter heart.  But I can tell you that this bruised heart of mine fell hopelessly in love with Him, and a large part of why had to do with the time that this woman put into letting Him love me through her.

Sometime around the fall of 2007, God started to impress upon me the arrogance behind the question, “Why me?”  Through sermons that I heard, books and devotionals that I read, and in the deepest corners of my heart, He started to show me that to ask, “Why me,” is to say that I am somehow better than the person down the street.  We live in a fallen world where hurt and pain abound… so to say why me is essentially the same as saying, “Why me and not them?”  This was a huge concept for me!

In April of 2008, Ruth developed a tummy ache.  We went through a week or two of chalking it up to the normal stuff, then another few weeks of misdiagnoses.  After that we jumped through the rigmarole of insurance authorizations and HMO nightmares, followed by CAT scans and biopsies, only to hear the words, “stage four adeno-carcinoma.”  Ruth had pancreatic cancer, and it was terminal.

I went through a week or so of wrestling with God.  There was no way He was going to do this to me!  Not my God!  He wouldn’t take my Ruth!  After all, He gave her to me to show me His love!  So I wrestled with God, and then I talked with Ruth.  My sweet Ruthie… when I knelt down in front of her with tears running down my face and asked, “What am I going to do?” she answered: “You’re going to take care of me.  You’re going to take me to my Dr. appointments, take care of me when I don’t feel well, take care of my house for me.  And you’re going to do it with all the grace of God.”  So that’s what I did.

I quit my job, and I became Ruth’s full-time caregiver.  For five months I took her to Dr. appointments and chemotherapy treatments.  I took her to have her blood drawn and to get her shots.  I took care of her when she was sick, I cooked her meals, did her laundry, and kept her house clean.  I kept her medicine schedule organized, and when she got to the point of needing 33 pills each day to combat the pain and the nausea, I took care of that, too.  When the cancer spread to her brain I took her to radiation treatments.  For five months I slept lightly.  I learned her body language and could tell from a look or a glance what she was feeling and what pill she needed.  I could tell when she had too much of one pill in her system and switched her to another.

This was not an easy thing for me!  Somehow God gave me the grace to do these things, but it was by far the hardest thing that I have ever done!  Not loving her… not devoting my days to taking care of her… that was easy.  But loving her Home!  I woke up each morning and gave the day to God.  Every day looked different, and there were constant battles to fight as the cancer took one turn after another.  I prayed a lot… more than I ever had.  But I found myself watching dreams and love and hope slipping through those folded hands.  But Ruth started something at the beginning of her journey that was a real blessing to me.  She documented her journey in a blog.  Ruth had been in ministry for over fifteen years, and she had hundreds and hundreds of people whose hearts were breaking over this.  Some of them lived thousands of miles away, so to keep everyone informed we developed a blog site, and each night she would update the world on how she was doing.  There were days, though, when she was too sick to blog, and on those days I blogged for her.  This was a real blessing to me, because it forced me to keep my eyes on God; to look for the blessings in each day.

The day came in early September when Ruth said she was ready to stop fighting and wanted to go Home.  So we stopped all of her treatment, called in hospice, and did all that we could to make her comfortable.  She hung in there for three more weeks, and then God gently took her home.  I didn’t leave her side.  I remember praying at the beginning of her illness for God to heal her; then at some point my prayers switched to asking Him to stop the suffering and take her Home; but as she was taking her final breaths, I prayed for Him to stretch them out… I wasn’t ready to say goodbye!  I wasn’t strong enough to face life on my own!  I needed her!!

The first thing that Ruth and I studied when we started our discipleship was the life of Peter.  He has always been a kindred spirit to me.  My favorite story in the gospels is when Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times.  Peter said it would never happen, but sure enough, as the rooster crowed, Peter had denied his Lord and Savior three times.  I honestly don’t believe that Peter was denying Christ to “get out of trouble.”  I honestly think that before Christ was arrested Peter truly thought he knew who He was.  He was the Messiah!  He had come to save them!  But all of a sudden God had a different plan, and Peter was lost.

When Ruth got sick, that was my moment to say, “Wait! This isn’t the way I thought it was going to be!”  God wouldn’t take my Ruth away if He really understood, right?  Don’t we tend to put God in a box?  Don’t we say that we will follow Him, but we want it to look like what we think it should look like.  I think that as Jesus met Peter’s eyes across the courtyard, He was telling him, “Do you get it now?  Do you see that this is SO much bigger than what you thought?  I’m in control here… nothing has happened that has not been allowed by God.  Do you see Me now?  Dig deep Peter… you’ll find me there!”

Ruth has been Home for a year-and-a-half now, and I still have those “across the courtyard” moments.  I still don’t have any answers.  But I trust my God.  I mentioned earlier that God had dealt with me on the “Why me” question.  That wasn’t a question I asked through this chapter.  I could have asked “Why did this happen?”  But then I realized that God could lay out a bullet point explanation, and the hurt would still be there.  So instead I decided to ask “How?  God, You have allowed this to happen… how can I use it to glorify You?”