It is Ok to Mourn: Good Friday and COVID-19

covid 19 2

We should mourn this Good Friday. The coronavirus has enveloped the globe in a cloud of black death. It has also reached into the church and overturned her basket of well-planned Easter events, sending Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Sunday morning services wobbling across the floor to cancelation. When the glorious Easter sunrise fills the horizon this Sunday, there will be no loud congregational singing, giddy children, or sweet hugs of friendship circulating though our church. We will remain home, isolated from friends. Though the world has suffered under the curse of sin for thousands of years, the isolation of holy week brings the sorrow of sin into our souls anew. For the first time in years, many of our hearts feel the words of Psalm 22:1 that Jesus screamed on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

During such times of profound brokenness, Christians should run to the Lord. Like the great King David who faced many piercing trials, Christians should confess their anguish to God. They should ask God,

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day (Ps 13:1-2a)?

The Coronavirus’s ability to disrupt the church calendar should serve as a powerful reminder of how broken our world is and of how much we need Jesus. We should allow the cancellation of our services to lead our hearts to humble and persistent cries for deliverance. “O you my help, come quickly to my aid! (Ps 22:19),” The Coronavirus is a problem of divine proportions than can only be solved by a divine antidote.

The antidote will come. The message of Good Friday is that Jesus conquers sin and death. For thousands of years, human culture has been trying to find antidotes to the brokenness of the world through education, feeding programs, and medicine. All of human efforts have failed. Men and women remain tied to pride, greed, lust, and selfishness. Sin is a problem of cosmic proportions that no person, nation, or culture can conquer. Yet, Jesus conquered it on the cross. He was forsaken by God so that we might be welcomed into heaven. Jesus died for our sins and then rose again on the third day to prove he had delivered his children from sin. Those who repent and believe can follow Jesus to love, generosity, and selflessness. But to get to salvation, men and women must wrestle with their brokenness. They must realize they are sinners before they can cry out for a savior and embrace his salvation. Only those who know they are drowning will let the lifeguard rescue them.

The pattern of Good Friday serves as a template for the Church as she encounters new symptoms of sin and death in the world. To find relief from this world, we must admit that we suffer and need God’s help. “Save me from the mouth of the lion (Ps. 22:21a).” When we take our grieving souls to God, we find deliverance. “You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen (Ps. 22:21b)!” Friends, the Coronavirus is a cosmic problem that God will recuse us from.

While we wait for the virus to end, many of us will become more aware of how much we miss the gathered body of Christ. We will be tempted to find unscriptural antidotes for our pain. Though we should embrace biblical forms of encouragement, we must resist the urge to drink the hyssop, an ancient pain reliever, that was offered to Jesus on the cross. (For more on my view of online church click here). If we turn to virtual Lord’s Supper, sermon binge watching, and zoom calls to treat our feelings of loneliness, we will not solve our sorrows for we still remain physically apart from our brothers and sisters We can touch the screen, but we cannot touch the face on the screen. If we try to fix our sorrows through human ingenuity, we will commit the mistake of the neglected spouse who copes with her distant marriage through romance novels. She may feel less pain while reading them. But when the chapters end, her marriage problems remain, and her heart has moved further away from her husband. The believer who feels neglected by God does not need a drive-in Easter service, he needs divine deliverance. He needs God to mercifully end the COVDI-19 crisis. If he fails to cry out to the Father as David and Jesus did because he is drinking grape juice and eating Ritz crackers in his home, he will neglect the biblical means of hope: prayer. He will find himself further from God. Just as those who fast allow hunger pains to drive them to pray, Christians should allow the pain of missed hugs, Lord’s Supper celebrations, congregational singing, public Scripture readings, and preached sermons to drive them to their knees in prayer. Instead trying to mitigate our sorrow through increased Wi-Fi bandwidth and FM transmitters, we need to join Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and pour out our prayers of lament to the Father for he alone can help us.

If there ever was a religion that made sense of our lonely world and that gave us a space to mourn while we await salvation, it is Christianity. Christians have both the sorrow of the cross and the joy of the empty tomb. We can mourn our loneliness while we wait for our salvation from COVID-19.

Memo: In Memory of My Church Mom: The Loving Jean Miller

Jean Miller

Words faded into tears as the news of Jean Miller’s death sunk into our souls. Though we were separated by age, time, and space, April and I were knit into Jean’s heart.

Shortly after the death of our first-born son, Peter Alexander, Jean gave April and me the biggest hugs and adopted us into her family, promising our families that She and Junior would look after us. From the moment forward, I was her “church son.” And she was April’s and my “church mother.”

IMG_5525She loved us well She put her arm around our shoulders as we grieved the loss of 2nd Peter. She struck that glorious balance between allowing us to grieve and keeping us from despair. Every tear-filled conversation ended with glorious reminders of Jesus’s love and goodness.

When the sun of God’s grace shinned upon our lives, Jean celebrated with us, cherishing both Luke and Lily. She greeted our kids with smiles and found ways to playful extract them from their caves of shyness. Despite’s Lily’s obstinate character, Jean never gave up trying to get our little ice queen to smile. IMG_6055Jean would stick her fingers into ears and would scrunch up her face into the funniest contortions. Somehow, Junior still got Lily to smile first, a feat Jean could never understand.Her lap was always available to them; Luke and Lily used it often. When cancer descended upon April, she and Junior were some of the first friends to call us and to pray for us. Her love for us never ended.

When her insecure “church son” launched a leadership team to minister to the families of FBCE, she and Junior took a chance and linked arms with April and me. Jean walked with April and I through insane VBS weeks, exciting nerf-guns battles, and vintage Reformation Festivals. I can still see Jean dressed in her bonnet covering and uncovering a host of fake relics as she and Junior explained the importance of salvation by grace alone.

IMG-5419I can also see Jean shaking with laughter as she and Junior explained the meaning of the rat emoji that she accidentally texted to the whole team. Though she loved to laugh, she also kept her family and all of us in line. Anytime Junior, Ian Wynn, or someone else took something too far like the expression, “The Face of Discipline” Jean would give ‘the look’ followed by a “Hey now” and return things to order. She brought laughter a joy into every life she touched.

But, the thing I remember most about Jean was her smile. Come the fun of church picnics, the craziness of Wednesday nights, or anniversary of her daughter’s death, Jean always smiled. The joy that adorned her face transcended reality and yet was grounded in the truest reality of all: the saving mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though her heart IMG-5421had been nicked and scared by many a hardship, she knew the saving power of Jesus Christ. She seen Jesus transform both her life and Junior’s life. Nothing could take that joy from her. Even when she was worn and tired, the peace of Jesus shone in her face and resounded in her laughter. Her smile shone brightly when she bounded up from our table and washed the our dishes. It was that smile that graciously welcomed April and our kids into her home and kept our kids from wanting to ever leave Jean’s living room. And it was that smile, that lit up the church as Jean taught Sunday School, helped in the nursery, and swung by the welcome desk to ask how

April and I were doing. Indeed, Christ was in Jean. To see her smile was to catch a glimpse of heaven.

Yesterday, that glimpse of heaven ascended into heaven. Jean smile is the now the smile of perfect peace and happiness. Indeed heaven is her greatest gain. “Those the son sets free are free indeed (John 8:36).”  I cannot wish her back into the bondage of this miserable world.

But I also cannot help but miss my “church mom’s” infectious smile.

With much Love,

Peter and April Witkowski

Memo: April’s Breast Cancer Third Update June 2019

breas-cancer-3Our feet have touched the cool soft dirt of hope. This past Wednesday, June 19, April began her hormone therapy.

The preparation for this first day of battle has been vastly extensive, slowly hurried, and ever changing. We have talked with clinics in Virginia, Houston, New York, and Memphis. On multiple occasions, we prepared to head north or south with fully packed suitcases. Then the phone would ring and toss all our nicely folded plans across the floor. We would spend the next 24-48 hours pouring over new medical charts, praying, and rearranging tickets in preparation for a trip West or East. Then April’s phone would buzz again. After a few more conversations, our compass would reveal a completely new and unanticipated direction. Often what seemed a long shot on Monday would become our future on Wednesday and then would disappear from our plans on Thursday.

After three weeks rearranging and repacking, April and I found ourselves headed North to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. We grabbed tickets on a Thursday and arrived in Minnesota the following Monday.

The doctors and medical team at Mayo reviewed April’s medical records. They then performed a bone scan, a biopsy of the cancer in her bones, a genetic test, a CT scan, an X-ray, and multiple blood panels. After examining April’s medical history, the oncologist at Mayo reaffirmed April’s original diagnosis. April has hormone-receptor positive and HER2-negative metastatic breast cancer. The cancer began in her breast about a year ago and then spread (metastasized) throughout her bones. The cancer feeds off the estrogen and progesterone in April’s body. To fight the cancer, April will take pills to stop her body from producing the two hormones. If the pills are successful, April should live another five to six years. Though we were well acquainted with this information prior to our trip, we had hoped for brighter news.

Then the sliver of sunshine that we had been seeking appeared. After the initial review, the oncologist said April was a candidate for the Mayo Clinic Promise study. The observation study would provide April and her doctors with a detailed analysis of April’s tumors’ genetic sequencing for the purpose of, “developing personalized treatment approaches to improve patient outcomes.” In other words, the research team would chart the genetic makeup of April’s tumors for the purpose finding which drugs and treatments would best overcome her unique form of cancer and extend her life. To see April’s cancer in action, the researchers would attempt to grow and then kill April’s unique cancer cells in the laboratory. Though the Promise study does not promise a cure and anticipates of being of more value to the next generation of cancer patients than to April, it did offer April an unmatched level of care and provided us with a slim but very real chance of better treatment options going forward.

Impressed with the research plan and the culture of the Mayo Clinic, April agreed to participate in the study during our first day at the Mayo Clinic. She spent the next four days enduring a long battery of tests to ensure that she qualified for the Promise study.

This past Tuesday (6/18/19), April received the phone call!  She was in! The next day, she swallowed her first hormone pill; she had officially begun the first leg of her cancer treatment.

After weeks of packing, unpacking, and repacking, we are overjoyed to be actively battling this horrible disease that has spread upwards to April’s skull and downwards to the top of her left leg.

Moreover, we also excited to be led by the best medical guides possible. We will be checking-in with the research team at Mayo every two months for the next six months to chart the growth of April’s cancer. Then, we will fly to Rochester every three months for the remainder of the study. The study will track April for up to seven years or until the hormone therapy fails and the cancer begins to grow afresh.

img-5216.jpgAdmittedly, there is also a chance our time on this path could be short. Thirty percent of cancer patients who begin this trek encounter the rugged cliff of disappointment associated with the therapy’s failure within the first two months. Those patients who receive no benefit from the hormone therapy will return to home and head off in the direction of chemotherapy.

We do not know how rocky our path will be; we do not know how long we will be on the path.

But we know that our Lord is the good shepherd who leads us to green pastures. We have and will continue to appeal to our great shepherd for help and deliverance as we navigate this twisty path. Even if we encounter dead end after dead end and begin to inch closer towards the Valley of the Shadow of death, we will not lose hope. Our God promises to fight our enemies with his rod and to keep us close to his love with his staff.

Admittedly, the winds of circumstance and emotions regularly swirl around us and whisper thoughts of doom into our ears. At times, we listen to them and neglect the voice of our good Shepherd. Like our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we begin to doubt the goodness of God. But then, we raise our head afresh and remember how our good Shepherd has proved himself over and over again, saving us from our sins, walking with us through the death of our son, and increasing our faith over these last weeks. Truly he is our comfort. Ultimately, we have nothing to fear for our spot in the house of the Lord is not in question. The love of our shepherd is not in doubt.

Moreover, we have everything to hope. God has not promised to heal April directly. Sadly, she is not mentioned by name in the Bible. (Luke, Lily, and I are…but that’s another matter and requires some really bad exegesis…anyway🤪) But, God has promised her and me and all his people that our cups will overflow. Our enemies, April’s cancer, will not have the last word. God tells us that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives. He promises to do good for April and me. So we boldly ask God to heal April and to do the unexpected so that the whole world may know that our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is the one true God. We confidently ask God to be good to us for he has promised to be our Shepherd.

We have also seen God’s amazing goodness in the faces of our family and friends these last weeks. We have been overwhelmed by the ever-growing number of cards, texts, letters, emails, and Facebook messages. When the days have been dark, the news murky, and the path unclear, your messages full of prayers and Scripture have breathed hope into our souls. We may not have responded to every message and letter. But, we have read them (many more than once). We are thankful for the colorful signatures, the prayers of our former students, the empathy of our peers and the encouragement of those who have a year or two on us. We are thankful to have so many voices constantly reminding our spirits of God’s character!

We are also thankful for the many, many people who have sacrificed for us and our kiddos. Our families and friends have been the hands and feet of Jesus these last few weeks. You have watched our children, covered medical bills, cooked meals, secured hotel rooms, located medical records, and found rental cars. To borrow an expression from the great missionary William Cary, our families, our sweet Amissville Baptist Church Family, our kind friends in Eastman, GA, and our brothers and our sisters who reside everywhere from the Asia to South America have held the rope of ministry tightly as we waded into this trial. Thank you!

Please continue to hold the rope with us and as we continue down this path.

And please continue to pray.

Please pray for April’s healing. In about two months, we will know if the drugs have been effective. Pray that the next CT scans reveal a healing of supernatural proportions.

Pray for our faith. The days can be long and the news troubling. Pray that we will not trust feelings, hunches, or guesses but the character of God as revealed in the Word of God as walk into valleys and stumble over rocks.

Pray that God will bless our family as we seek to create a new normal that revolves around cheese-puffs, diapers, preschool, sermon prep, and cancer pills.

 

Contact Info:

Email us at: biblefighter@gmail.com 

You can reach us via snail-mail at : P.O. Box 637/ Amissville, VA 20106

You are also welcome two reach out to the elders of Amissville Baptist Church, Mark Hockensmith and Bill Brown, at: 540-937-6159.

GOFundMe Page

Though April and I welcome inquirers and emails, calls, and texts of support, they can be overwhelming at times. We appreciate your patience with our responses.

We plan to also keep posting updates here at witkowskiblog.com

Thank you for your love, prayers, and never-ending support.

Sustained By Grace Through Faith,

Peter & April