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A Final Lecture
by Lorna Dyck
I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, a recurrence of the breast cancer I had two years ago. My doctors tell me I have several inoperable tumors throughout my body—lungs, liver and abdomen. I’m on oral chemo in the hope that it will prolong my life a little longer, but at this point there is no cure.
I was first diagnosed with bone cancer when I was 16.
But when we’d just been married three months, the cancer returned to my lungs. The doctors told me my chances of survival were less than five percent. I was faced with what I thought would be a very short future. It’s funny that one week of existing turned into 2 weeks of living, and then 2 months, then 2 yrs. and then a decade. Allen and I just celebrated our 30th anniversary together.
The greatest blessing I learned from this time is to enjoy each day as a gift. I never knew when the end would be near. Each day held great wonder and great display of our Father. Most days became days where I sat in the presence of my God and learned from Him and days when He would send me off to share that out flowing with others.
Things to Hold Dear
The things God has told me to hold dear are not the things our culture values. He told me to cling to His Word, He taught me that His word is more precious than gold and the wisest thing I can do is be familiar with it, to love it and obey it. I’ve learned to hunger and thirst for my God and understand His heart when He says,
‘ O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You, my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You. In a dry and weary land where there is no water.’ And he said, ‘Who have I in heaven but You? and earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever but as for me it is good to be near God. I have made the sovereign Lord my refuge.’
With this recent news those two things, if anything, have become more obvious, not less. Also, in His sovereignty, I’ve been able to look back and see those times He’s put desires in my heart for Him—times when He’s called me to serve in some way. He’s also put people in my life who walk along side to be encouragers.
Having said that, I still believe I’ve lived a charmed life and that I’m the luckiest girl in the world, and may be especially so because of this recent news.
Through this I’ve rejoiced to know that I’ve put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak, with regard to how I’ve made life decisions and found that what I’ve all along hoped would be true, is indeed proving to be so – that making the choices to live according to the Word of God have been the best way to go.
God has been very near to me and He’s overwhelmed me with His peace and His joy. He has gifted me with a fantastic life on which to reflect. I’m one who can honestly say, I have very few regrets. He has gifted me with the greatest husband a woman could dream of, one who mirrors Christ’s servant heart better than most I’ve known. He’s blessed us with three beautiful children, and now a daughter-in-law who we rejoice in, who are making God honoring decisions with their lives and who remain my most favorite people in the world.
I have loved that God has given me opportunities to serve Him and express my love and devotion to Him. On most days I’ve gone to sleep pleasantly exhausted from serving a great and awesome God whose glory and might are displayed all around us, yet He has allowed me to call Him my Father.
God is sovereign, and He loves me very much
One of the things my Father knew I needed was to have a love like Allen’s. When I was told I would need my leg amputated at the hip and a year of chemo where I’d lose every hair on my body and would become a bald eagle - with no eyebrows, no eye lashes and where I would wretch violently for most part of the year – with a small chance of recovery. God let me experience His love through Allen and his servant heart. Allen would hold my bald head as I violently experienced the effects of the chemo.
Even though he was only a young man at the time, he understood unconditional love, and he communicated that love to me in many tangible ways.
Allen has led small groups for years. One of the studies he did in our early married life was by Chuck Swindoll, called, ‘Improving Your Serve.” Throughout the study he kept challenging the group, who were ‘young married couples’ to apply the principles of Biblical servanthood to their marriage relationships. He challenged us to out serve one another. To always jump to be the first person to serve the other. I took this to heart and spent a life time trying to out serve my husband. Allen had it right, if you can serve your family behind closed doors where no one else sees – you can serve anywhere.
In raising our own 3 children, I believe we’ve learned so much about what’s important in life. They’ve challenged me to live authentically, to live with integrity, and to live consistently with the values that I taught them. My faith in God’s wisdom to help me grew immensely as I cried out to Him in times of frustration or uncertainty as I raised them. I took His promise to ask Him for wisdom when I lacked it. He was indeed faithful in helping me learn. He provided godly women who led parenting classes, faithful friends who walked along side me and together we raised and prayed for our children.
I’ve wanted to infuse life in them that really mattered.
Now that our children are in their twenties, I’m reaping the reward for the time I’ve spent and invested in them when they were young. It’s been so worth it.
I look at the time I chose to spend with my family and it’s more than most people have spent in a whole life time. In my case, it turned out to be a good decision.
My prayer is that our children know their parent’s chose to make them a priority. That this priority is reflected in the time spent with them and invested in them -- that parents make the most of every opportunity to pass on the love they have for them.
Many men and women have shown me how to live life well - challenging me to make Christ the Lord of my life and demonstrating it in the decisions they’ve made at great cost to themselves. Allen’s mom is just one person who showed me how to grow in my relationship with God; to study the Word and spend time with Him; to pray and listen to God and enjoy Him; and I was privileged to witness how she lived out her faith to others - her time spent with God flowed out like a spring, touching the hearts of those in need. It seemed to me the very best way to spend my life.
Stuff versus People
Allen is another person who showed me how to live life well. Things he has impressed on me have made my life decisions easier. One of them is that the stuff of this world is NOT worth grasping after nor worth spending excessive amounts of time trying to collect. For some, making money has come easily and they use it to serve God, this hasn’t been our experience. I still don’t have a dining room suite after 30 yrs of marriage and with the news I received this summer of the brevity of life it doesn’t seem very important at all that I don’t have it.
I love the way our Father expresses this principle in His Word. He says,
‘Do not wear yourself out trying to get rich. Have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches and they’re gone. They will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like the eagle.’
What He has stressed through all of my life is that people matter and helping them grow into all God has created them to be is always a good investment of my time and energy.
People Long to be Known
Beginning with my family and all that He brings across my path I’ve found people long to be known and long for others to love what is known about them. The greatest gift to offer other people is to practice their presence. This means, when they’re in connection with you the greatest thing is to acquiesce to them by letting them be the most important for that time. Listen to their needs, hear them and understand.
My prayer is that churches would be a loving, welcoming community-- that we would step out of our comfort zone on Sunday morning; that we would unwrap that bubble of security wrapped around us and take great risk and welcome with Christ’s love all those who come through our church doors. That we would not believe the lie, that people coming to a large church do so because they wish to remain anonymous. For a very few that might be true but the majority are hoping, that in this large church, surely there is somebody that will notice them and love them.
I watched the video series by Tony Campolo many years ago entitled, ‘Who Switched the Price Tags?’ and it spoke of how the things that used to be important, like family and people, virtues, traditions, people and God – seem less important now as people have less time and energy to give to them. And things that people used to live very well without, big houses, many toys and extravagant life styles and stuff like that seem to occupy most of our time, energy and resources. Showing it has definitely become more important.
When I’ve tried to live as if things are equally important, I have lived with turmoil. God has not given me enough time to do His will and to invest in His values as well as embracing the stuff of our culture. To try to serve Him as well as striving to accumulate things are so opposed to each other that they almost clashed in a very big way in my life. Leaving me with a burned out feeling – exhausted, frustrated, hungering for more.
Living Life one Decision at a Time
In my church family, I have been taught the concept of discipleship and the gift of spiritual discipline. Both called for denying myself daily, deliberately choosing Christ and deliberately choosing, one decision at a time, to live for Christ and Christ alone. The result is great inner peace. Living life the way I was created to live it. Living it as if the Word is true when it says that Christ has put eternity into our hearts and we are just aliens in this world--traveling through to our future Home. When I’ve taken the time to break down my life into a small statement, I find it’s been composed of living life one decision at a time--either leading me closer to our Father or further away. This is the way I plan to live my life to the end – one day at a time, one decision at a time, getting closer to Him until one day I will take one step out of this sphere and into eternity.
My daughter was telling me how C. S. Lewis’ depicted hell. He thought it was not so much fire and brimstone and dramatic stuff like but, that she said, something even worse – a great gnawing, aloneness, with no fellowship with God or others. He spoke of many houses in a row along a grayish street. Void of color or activity. In each of these houses was a tormented person, all alone, having forfeited their call out to Him. There were no other people in this persons dwelling--no one to share ideas with, no one to plan with, no one to speak of misgivings with--only emptiness. Living forever with one’s own failures – again wishing for a 2nd chance to make things right with others – to love, but there’s no one to love.
Sometimes I think we live a hell on earth. It is as if we’ve traded people for stuff and traded the richness of community for a life of accumulating. We have no time to give to others, to make meaningful, eternal connections. We already live in those houses which are not home. I know the times I feel I experience heaven on earth is when I’ve been in the presence of either my Heavenly Father or in His nature or the fellowship of other people. I think the gift of Heaven we offer others is living as if other people matter.
The Topic of Death
I would like to turn now from the topic of life – to the topic of death and especially what I’ve been learning these last couple of months. On July 13th, while at church, we sang the song – ‘I surrender all to You.’ On this day, as I was resolving to surrender, it seemed as if I was strongly being asked if I truly meant those words. Do I really surrender all? Would I surrender my life? My reaction was to look around me to see if others were being challenged with the same idea.
I wrestled all week with it and finally on the 18th, a Friday, I wrote in my journal, ‘I am ready to surrender all, (which usually means a return of cancer, pain and the cloud of death). I come, just as I am, willing. Please give me the passion to do your will, the inner strength, conviction, the will, the eyes to see the discipline to stay near to You. To hear Your heart on all matters.” I went to Isaiah 55:8 & 9 and from that I said,
‘I am ready to see Your ways, to think Your thoughts, to serve others, to help them and encourage them, to be all You have created them to be’
I went to Hebrews 10:7, which said, and I responded,
‘I have come to do your will, oh God,’
Just as Jesus is able to take care of others behalf because He doesn’t need to intercede for Himself. So, in Christ I am called to take care of the needs of others because mine have been taken care of as I stand in the sandals of God’s Son.
My doctors’ appointment was a week later and I was shocked when they told me everything was fine – that they’d see me in January. I was so relieved. I kept saying to myself and family, I was so happy that my appointment went well and I didn’t have cancer again. Two days later my oncologist phoned and said that they hadn’t noticed a very high and alarming number on the 2nd page of my blood tests and needed me to come back again. The results I shared with you at the beginning – greatly perplexed my doctor. He said it came right out of the blue and was totally unexpected. Did God cause the cancer? I don’t think so. But I definitely know He allowed it.
There is so much to life, more than we can see and feel and seldom grasp the battles that are being fought in the spiritual realm on a daily basis. I don’t want to minimize the burden this news is to carry and bare, for it is great and it does weigh heavily on me at times. Every 3-6 weeks I go to the hospital for tests to see if I’ll live a little longer.
After the last appointment was over and I had heard the mixed message, I felt the burden greatly. My heart was heavy. The next day, adding to that, I had a rather bad fall, the second in a week, by slipping on wet crutches. The pain was very great and I lay where I fell on our bedroom floor and I cried hard and long, and as swiftly as anything, I heard this strong thought in my head, ‘See, God doesn’t care for you! He will keep hurting you and hurting you. Don’t love Him anymore. Don’t serve Him any more.” Through my tears and pain I cried out my love and devotion to Him. I told Him I still loved Him, no matter what, and He was all I had and I needed Him more at this time than ever before and I would not let go.
All I can make from this is that the enemy of God is very mean and when and if he strikes, he will do it when we are at our weakest. Don’t spend any of your life entertaining his ways. They are all webs of deceit.
Oh, how we need each other to pray for each other, to hold each other up to God – asking Him to guard our hearts and our minds for Him.
The result of this moment ended well. I know my love for my Father is growing stronger and that I would rather spend my time with Him.
In my weakness I have called out to my Father to help me extol His name.
At times, I told Him that I’m scared and I’vea cried for the great quantity of life I still long to live and experience with my family and friends – and will miss. And, He has put in my heart a verse, which He has been giving to me for the last 2 yrs in preparation for it. It is the sustaining words,
‘Be strong, be strong, and very courageous. Do not fear and do not be dismayed for I am with you”.
There couldn’t have been a more inclusive verse than this. It has encompassed every thought I’ve had. ‘Be strong. Be courageous. We have done this before, Lorna. Put your hand in mind. Let Me lead you. Do not fear. Do not have misgivings of what you will miss. I am with you.”
I am finding I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I feel I am to keep my eyes fixed on Him, the Author and Perfecter of my faith. When I take them off of Him I feel very much like Peter, who stepped out of the boat and did very well until he took his eyes off Jesus and noticed the great scariness all around him.
And, so as a family, we have decided to live, ‘one day at a time.” Today is all we have, anyway. Today, I feel fine. Today, I am full of life and wonder at my Father’s side. My senses seem sharpened and everything is seen differently. Absolutely nothing matters more than hanging on to my Father’s hand and being with the people He has placed around me.
Death seems so scary, I think, because of the sense of finality about it.
We’ve been created to live forever. God has put eternity in our hearts and so rightly contemplating the end of our being is wrong. Instead, death is just a door through which we step into eternity with God.
At different times, my children have each shared the same poem with me. It’s by John Donne, and it’s called “Death Be Not Proud.” It says,
When we finished the poem, we thought of life as a series of steps taken, one at a time until one day the last step is taken on this earth and the very next one takes you into paradise—which is perfect. Death is not the end. It is only the door through which we pass to that which is our true Home, the place God has designed us to be, the place that is forever with Him and the community of believers. He’s truly said,
“No eyes have seen, nor ear has heard, no mind can conceive of what God has planned for those who love Him.”
Would you like to know Christ like Lorna knows him? You can start getting to know him today by praying a simple prayer that goes like this:
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