- In memory of Donna Joyce Miller, who entered the presence of her Lord on February 3, 2008.
- For Ron, Joel and Balaea, Megan and Josh, Bethan and J.D., Caitlin and Nate, the grandkids
DYING WITH GRACE
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
She went in for a checkup and came out devastated with the news: her body was racked with cancer. They consulted doctors, scheduled chemo, prayed desperately, but their deepest fear – that the cancer had already spread too far – was rapidly becoming a reality. Despite all hope to the contrary, the shadows marking the end of her life were advancing.
Doctors and medicine failed, the comfort of her body fled, but she clung to her Lord and God, who was her constant help even in the dark hours of the night when she was supposed to be asleep, but lay awake, frightened. It was true. He did abide with her, whispering comfort, providing hope, holding out eternity before her.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
The end came with shocking swiftness. Only a few months after the initial diagnosis, she was gone. She didn’t make it through all of the scheduled chemo treatments. Instead of shrinking, her tumors grew. Side effects attacked her mercilessly. Fluid built up and was drained. Her body began to shut down, function after function overtaken by vicious, aggressive cancer cells bent on destroying their host. Just days after the doctors said they couldn’t do any more, she went home for good.
Through all the change, she kept her gaze squarely on the One who does not change, the Holy One who will never undergo decay. Earth’s glories held no fascination for her, but Scripture did. She took comfort in verses like Psalm 149:4: “For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation,” and Psalm 116:7-9: “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, O Lord have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”
She knew that to walk in the eternal land of the living would be glorious.
I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
God’s presence sustained her. She could feel it in her constant communion with him and in her fellowship with the beloved family and friends He had given her. She visited with her friends when she could, and she drank in every precious moment with her husband, her perfectly suited companion for the last 30 years. He was there constantly, hurting tremendously inside, but displaying a cheerful, unfailing trust in the One who was their guide and stay.
When he would report on her condition to the church body, he somehow always managed to leave an impression of God’s goodness and faithfulness. The smile on his face – how could he be so cheerful in the face of his wife’s death, we wondered? – spoke volumes about their relationship with their Savior and how his grace was helping them ward off the temptation to abandon their faith. Not for an instant did we think they would do so.
She had sweet times with her four children and their spouses. They knew the end was near, so they spent all the time they could with her, talking, sharing, crying. They drank deeply of her godly example, remembering her incredible servant’s heart, her happiness, her faithfulness, her love for them and for her God. She basked in the attention of her grandchildren as well, singing songs like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” with them. They cheered her and her husband immensely, as only small children can do. Her older grandchildren exhibited an amazing, childlike faith, believing that Jesus would take care of her, that there is no better place than heaven, that God does what is best.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
She wasn’t afraid of death. Well, she was – that’s only human. But in the ultimate sense, she knew she was going to see her Maker in a far, far better place. She was a citizen of heaven, even though she had never set foot there. She wanted her journey home to equal that of Hopeful in Pilgrim’s Progress – full of faith, looking only to Christ – rather than that of Christian, who faced a deeper river because he focused on his circumstances.
Her tears with Ron and her family were bittersweet. Sure, there were questions, moments of doubt. How could there not be? How could it be good for all those grandchildren to grow up without this incredibly godly example to follow? How could her daughters be deprived of the mother’s love and advice they would always need? We didn’t think it was possible, but how could her son handle even more affliction? How could her husband be left to face life alone?
There’s no earthly answer to those questions yet. From the Millers’ perspective it makes less than no sense. But as the Millers have testified repeatedly, this trial is not just about their own perspective. It’s about the wise providence of a loving Father who traces out his purposes in the lives of his people. It’s about trusting God because we know his character. It’s about displaying God’s glory in the midst of man’s suffering.
And because of that, because of the cross where Christ gathered all our sins and sorrows on himself, the final sting of her passing is taken away. Yes, it hurts now, hurts beyond belief. But death’s victory is hollow. It’s temporary. Donna Miller, now in glory, has triumphed through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
It was that cross that was her ultimate comfort. When she couldn’t talk anymore and was asked where her hope lay, she mouthed the words, “In Jesus Christ, my faithful Savior.” The Gospel had long been her hope for body and soul, in life and now in death. God had saved her from her sins, exchanged them for the righteousness of Christ, who bled and died on a wooden cross and then rose again. He gave her a new heart. He gave her a new life and a new family. And now, He has broken through the gloom and shadows of death and given her the eternal morning of heaven. She is with her Savior, worshiping him, wrapped in his everlasting embrace.
Her family and friends are left behind, still grieving and rejoicing all at the same time. It’s a strange mixture. You can’t understand it unless you’re a child of God. And Donna Joyce Miller was most certainly a child of God. Because of that, we haven’t seen the last of her – and we never will, to the praise of His glorious grace.