As Brittany Maynard’s Date of Departure Approaches

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photo credit: Brittany Maynard / CNN

“It is nothing to die; it is horrible not to live.”   Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

If I had just seen the stage and film production of Les Miserables without having read the book, I would not have been as immersed in the awful, tragic circumstances that seemed to mount with each turn of the page.  It couldn’t get any worse, and then it would.  And despite the fact the story actually ended with a sense of redemption, I still felt utterly stricken by the losses.  I felt the same when I first heard Brittany Maynard’s story two weeks ago.

Like Fantine in Hugo’s tale, they are both beautiful and young with a vibrant future cut short by desperate circumstances.  It just isn’t fair, is it?  Brittany Maynard was 29 years old when she received the news of her brain tumor.  It was aggressive and after careful deliberation she and her family relocated to Oregon where they have the Death with Dignity law.  They decided that she would end her life on Nov 1, 2014.  Even writing this makes my heart ache.  To see her full story click here. 

What makes her story so poignant is the fact that she is so young, and her beautiful wedding images immediately place pictures in your mind of their future family, future vacations, future sleepless nights with spit-up and night feedings that will likely never come to pass.  I say likely, because there’s always the chance of a miraculous healing.  It’s happened before.  But let’s face it; we’ve seen cancer.  We’ve all been touched by it in some form or fashion and to quote Jen Hatmaker last week, “Cancer is an a**hole.”   I used to manage Radiation Oncology departments, and I’ve seen life expectancy ranges that were completely blown out of the water.  Patients that have lived years longer than anyone expected.  I’ve also seen the ranges turn out to be spot on.  Her prognosis is probably not far from accurate.  Although my mind wants to focus on this healing possibility, I don’t think this is the issue at heart.

I’m thankful Brittany’s had the opportunity to make this a national discussion.  With her platform and agenda to support Death with Dignity legislation across the country, we all need to wrestle with this because there are implications. My purpose here is not to make a case for any position.  I certainly have leanings, but until I’m in Brittany’s shoes, it’s hard for me to say.  I want to contribute to the discussion and continue wrestling toward some kind of answer.  There may not be a good one.  Two articles were written a couple of weeks ago when the story first broke.  The first was written by Kara Tippets as a host blog on Ann Voskamp’s site aholyexperience.com.  “Dear Brittany, Why We Don’t Have To Be So Afraid Of Dying That We Choose Suicide.” The second was written by Jessica Kelley on her blog, Jess in Process, in response. “Can Christians Support Brittany Maynard’s Decision?”  A couple things they said stirred me.

Is there beauty in death?

Kara Tippets says, “yes” and Jessica Kelley says, “no.”  Kara is currently dying from breast cancer and Jessica watched her young son die from a malignant brain tumor, so they both have first hand experience with a painful death process.  Their conclusions about beauty in death are not flippant, and they both have looked to God’s Word.   So I too went to scripture to see how I might navigate these murky waters.  And I think scripture supports them both, but they must be placed in light of one another.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, the curse of death was immediately placed upon them.  And it was indeed NOT beautiful.  Satan’s goal from the beginning has been to kill.  When Jesus died an undeserved death, it was about as gruesome and painful as it could be.  While praying before he was arrested, Jesus asked if this “cup” of suffering could be passed from him, and then he submitted to it despite his foreknowledge.  He did not enter his death with curiosity.  He knew exactly how it would go down.   Much like Brittany has researched everything about her disease. His death was for the purpose of carrying the burden of the world’s sin.  And here’s where it goes from terrible to beautiful.  His resurrection conquered death once and for all.

Romans 6:9 “We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again.  Death no longer has any power over him.”

So the beauty is in God’s greater purpose not in the death process itself.  And folks, as much as we would like to understand God’s purpose for our life, we may not.  It may unfold after our death.  Stephen was stoned by the Jews for his faith in Christ.  It was in no way pleasant.  Yet there was a greater purpose, for we know the Apostle Paul (A.K.A. Saul) was holding the coats of the stoners, condoning their actions.  I don’t believe for a second that event wasn’t significant for him and didn’t factor into his conversion and eventual testimony.  I sometimes wonder if the Apostle Paul had any idea his life and death would have the effect it did.   As Christians, we should want to see God’s purpose lived out in our life and our death.  That requires the Holy Spirit living through us, prompting and supporting our obedience.  If you want to dig into that more, I write a weekly bible study that is currently focused on how to live an empowered life.   Click here.

So Is it Wrong to Avoid the Suffering in Death?

Years ago, my grandfather was confirmed to have Congestive Heart Failure.  He was otherwise healthy and lived many years with it.  As it worsened, it pained me to see him continually hospitalized, watching his quality of life deteriorating right before my eyes.  It’s a disease where you basically suffocate very, very slowly.  He loved the Lord and dedicated himself with every fiber in his body.  I fervently prayed and asked God to spare him the suffering.  As it would happen, when he entered the hospital for a second open-heart surgery to improve his quality of life, he developed an infection and never made it to surgery.  He died within two days.  I felt like God was answering those prayers.  No sane person wants to endure suffering and watch that of a loved one.  I honestly think we would be lying if we said it didn’t or wouldn’t ever cross our minds to wish for life to end early and avoid the suffering.   Because we might wish it, doesn’t mean we will take action, but it should mean that we can identify in a meaningful way.

Let’s flip the argument and consider life extension.  Jessica Kelley argues that “we certainly don’t live without assistance…must we die without assistance?”  Consider the cases where patients are only alive with artificial support.   All clinical authorities have determined that nothing can be done to save the infirmed person, and that a decision must be made on whether or not to remove life support.  I would venture to say it’s mostly the same set of people who disagree with Brittany’s decision who would also argue in favor of pulling life support and allowing the patient to die with dignity.  I tend to lean in this direction myself if for no other reason than consistency.  In both cases there is no assistance, and while there is a distinction between the two examples, it is slim. I recognize it’s a slippery slope, because where do you draw the line on life or death without assistance?  It could mean that I won’t use any assistance to extend my life.  Should I not pursue cancer treatment at all and allow nature to take its course?  Some people do make that choice, but it’s not for everyone.  I think we would all agree it’s an intensely personal decision.  Both sides of the argument boil down to weighing the quality of life now and what you expect in the future.   Murky, murky waters because we just don’t know what the future holds in full.

Can I Trust God to Lead Me in Every Way?

While we are not all suffering from terminal cancer, we all have circumstances in life that are painful.  I raised this issue on my Facebook page to generate some discussion and the comments were very insightful.  One in particular stood out.

“I read the initial interview with the young lady who will be ending her life on November 1. One of the most interesting takeaways for me was that she said she was not committing suicide – that she wanted to live, but she didn’t want to suffer and that her case was terminal, and she was going to die anyway. I’m not going to argue her decision. I will say that’s pretty much what I’ve heard from numerous people with mental health disorders – most suicidal people don’t want to die. They just don’t want to suffer. And they see no value in prolonging their suffering.

“For people suffering from bipolar, for example, who have been through multiple treatment protocols that just make them feel sick and ineffective and not themselves – they see no hope of a “normal” life ever. How is their choice to end their suffering different from someone ending their life because of a cancer diagnosis?

“To use the most well known recent example of Robin Williams, so many people talked about what a horrible tragedy it was that he ended his life. I agree. But it’s likely his reasoning was not all that different from Brittany’s. So, how do we reconcile wanting mentally ill people to live with their suffering with wanting to have “compassion” on those with other terminal illnesses. Ultimately, we’re all terminal.” Jill Manty

Some of our finest moments, our greatest testimonies, and our significant impact on others come through the suffering.  That’s why Paul says in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.  I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”  It may be difficult, even terrible, yet it is not relieved of meaning.   Can I trust Christ in everything…even death?

I aim to keep the discussion going so as to learn from all who have thoughtfully considered it.  As in everything, even the complicated things, the depths of God’s grace are unfathomable and He will meet us where we are.   Do you want to put in your two cents worth?

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No Wedding Regrets! Readers Respond.

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I really wanted to follow my last blog,  5 Things I Regret About My Wedding, with a reprisal that includes a few of the many responses I received.  There were two common themes among the comments that rose to the top:  1) Please don’t wait a year to eat your wedding cake – bleh!, and 2) even though things didn’t go the way they had planned, they loved every minute of it!  These comments moved me, so I had to share.

 

From Norma: “Oh, Jen , my love, don’t waste time looking back.  There are no mistakes, we just learn how not to do things.  Just think, when your girls get married what you can do for them.  And guess what?  They will have some regrets, also. :)”  Thank you, Norma.  How true!  Our mistakes in life CANNOT weigh us down.   They are part of our story; a story given to us for a purpose.  These experiences can actually empower us to be a force for change and a strong support for our communities that surround us.  We all have a corner in the world wherein we are placed by no mistake.  I believe that.  By the way, be encouraged because this is also true for pain and suffering that we’ve endured not by our own fault.

 

From Summer: “I regret not getting pictures with some of the special people that were there. Everything else was perfect! It all did not go as planned, but it was perfect:)”  So bold to use the word “perfect” when things did not go as planned.  There it is folks.  Our plans are not always the way it should be.  Our plans can be flawed, so why would we ever clutch them so tight?  I’ve had to learn this the hard way as many of my plans in life dissolved like sand filtering through my fingers.   Only to find that the real plan for my life was a whole lot better.  Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord.  They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  His plans are always the best!

 

From Laarni:  “Here’s my problem.  I have difficulty with the word “regret” or as I see it, feeling disappointment or a sense of failure.  I tried to dig deep and have to report that I have zero regrets about my wedding day.  However, I asked myself what could have been improved?  Well, that’s easier to answer for me.  Here is a list of wishes:

•  I wish I had unlimited funds to pay for all the travel/lodging for every person that attended our wedding in Maui

•  I wish my best friend didn’t just have a baby so she could be there with me

•  I wish we stayed longer than 10 days

•  I wish I could eat Four Season’s homemade ice cream and lobster sandwiches 24/7

I did not feel disappointed when the wedding planner changed the venue the day of the wedding because of inclement weather.  The hotel open courtyard was actually better than being out in the elements.  I did not feel a sense of failure when Scott’s wedding ring did not arrive as planned and we had to find a cheap substitute, which I still have and cherish.  I truly believe that things happen for a reason and our hurdles were merely there to test us and see how we respond.  I loved our rehearsal dinner, wedding, and honeymoon and wouldn’t have changed anything about it.”    To cherish the things that go awry and see the beauty in what they can become.  This is the beautiful work that God can do in our lives.  In John 9:1-12 Jesus takes mud to heal a man from blindness.  If he can bring beauty out of mud, he can bring beauty from all of our regrets, failures, and pain.

Are you saddled with regret?  In the famous words of Queen Elsa, Let It Go!  What are your thoughts?  I want to hear them!

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5 Things I Regret About My Wedding

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The wedding.  Eagerly anticipated, sacred, and significant.  It holds the potential to change the trajectory of your life.  It is loaded with emotions, hopes, dreams, and expectations… and for some, cynicism.  I just spent a weekend reliving my wedding through memories and reflecting on my 12 years since.  My husband and I attended an amazing wedding in the ever-gorgeous Naples, Florida.  Right before the ceremony began, the gentlemen next to me leaned over and said, “This is much fancier than mine was.”  To which I replied, “Mine was very lovely, but definitely not this fancy.”  I loved my wedding and I love my memories from it.  It got me to thinking whether I would change anything had I the opportunity to do it again.  And I realized I do have some regrets.

 

1)   I regret not investigating some of my song choices a bit more thoroughly.  I requested a song that had four verses that I had never heard before.  My miss resulted in an additional eight awkward minutes where Jason and I weirdly gazed into each other’s eyes whispering, “When is this song going to end?”  It was torturous for me (and I’m sure everyone else) who just wanted to get on with it!

2)   I regret spending most of my time at the reception on the dance floor.  For some reason I felt like I was completely responsible for the party momentum and that meant dancing.  Talk about awkward.  Dancing and Jennifer do not go together.  I should have spent more quality time visiting with my friends and family.

3)   I regret saving my cake to eat at my one-year anniversary.  A tradition that needs to go away!  I only had one bite on my wedding day.  You know, that one where the bride and groom feed each other a piece?  It was so tasty and I really would have eaten more, but never got to.  Trust me…year-old, frozen cake tastes exactly like what you would expect.

4)   I regret staying so late after the reception and attending the after party.  We were whisked away to the quaint Henderson Village in Georgia in the wee hours of the night, and we got there so late that no one was awake to receive us.  We couldn’t find the key at 3:00 am and I was beside myself I was so tired.  Our room was absolutely lovely and with our honeymoon flight so early the next morning, we could have easily stayed at a Holiday Inn and never noticed the difference.  I regret not being able to enjoy the beauty and charm of that place.

5)   I regret not transporting our wedding gifts back home in a better way.  Mind you, I’m really not sure how we would have done it differently considering we married over 800 miles from where we lived.  There were six total gifts that did not have associated cards, and therefore six people did not get their customary thank you.  That bothered me for years, and apparently still does since it made the list.

 

And as hard as I try, I cannot think of any more regrets.  I don’t regret my choice of mate (although there may have been a time where we might have said something to that effect in elevated voices, ahem).  And I definitely don’t regret choosing Americus, Georgia to get married.  I had a beautiful, southern-style wedding, hosted by such hospitable people.  I still love those people even though I haven’t been back in ages.  The journey since my wedding hasn’t been easy, but I am fortunate that our ceremony eventually solidified into a marriage.  We have grown together, served each other (I still have to remind myself to do this one), and deepened our love for one another.  All in all, I would do it all over again.

 

If you had to do it all over, what would you do differently?  Do you have any regrets?  What would you keep the same?

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