Friday, January 6, 2012

Another Good-bye … For Now

Can I just go on record and say it: I hate cancer. Hate it, hate it, hate it! I hate what it does to my friends. I hate what it did to my parents. I hate what it may one day do me. Can God use cancer to do good things, deeper things, spiritual things in people’s lives? Yes. I’ve seen God do that more times than I can count, and I’m grateful for God’s redeeming grace. But I still hate cancer.

Maybe I feel so strongly right now because yesterday I buried another friend. His name is Ralph and he died of colon cancer. And oddly enough I buried him on what would have been my dad’s 98th birthday had he not died of colon cancer himself at age 73. Did I mention that I hate cancer?

It’s been more than a year since Ralph got his diagnosis and the doctor told him he had maybe a couple of months to live. Death got the word and set up camp outside Ralph’s door. And it didn’t take long for Death to realize he should have packed a bigger suitcase. Ralph blew past those first two months and kept on going—not “going” as in laying around in a bed waiting to die, but “going” as in on with his life—family and work and having fun. Treatments knocked him down, but he always got back up.

I was on my way to see my daughter’s family in Texas the first of July when I got a call from Ralph. “The doctor told me my liver is failing and I’ll be lucky to live the rest of the week,” he said. Well, he made it through that week and about fourteen more on top of that. It wasn’t easy. He was sick a lot, had to be in the hospital off and on for one procedure or another. But he didn’t give up and he didn’t give in.

I’ve walked through the land of cancer with a lot people over more than thirty years of ministry, and some of them were real fighters. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone fight cancer with the courage, faith, and ferocity of Ralph Brewer. On his last doctor’s visit, the doctor said, “Ralph, we can’t give you anymore treatments. We all agree it will make things worse instead of better. It’s like trying to knock down a concrete wall with a baseball bat.” Ralph looked at the doctor and said, “You’d be surprised what I can knock down with a baseball bat.” And they gave him one more treatment. Ralph was one tough fighter. The colorful evangelist Billy Sunday once said this about sin: “I’m against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I have a foot. I’ll fight it as long as I have a fist. I’ll butt it as long as I have a head. I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth. And when I’m old and fistless and footless and toothless, I’ll gum it till I go home to Glory and it goes home to perdition.” That’s the way Ralph fought cancer. And when Ralph breathed his last on Saturday morning, I don’t know who was more exhausted: Ralph or his cancer.

There was a big crowd at the funeral. Ralph had lots of friends. One of the things I loved most about Ralph is that Ralph was Ralph—and he was that all the time. He didn’t try to be somebody else. He didn’t try to be one person in front of this group, and somebody else in front of that group. He was just Ralph—unvarnished, honest, funny, a good insurance man, hard-working, hard-playing, hard-headed, a devoted friend, a devoted dad, authentic, 100% Ralph. And Ralph was a Christian too. He wasn’t the greatest Christian that ever lived. But he loved Jesus. He leaned on Jesus’ mercy and grace for his sins—of which he was deeply aware—and he grew closer and closer to Jesus in the past year (which as his pastor was a real joy to watch.) When I think of Ralph an old Bruce Carroll song comes to mind:

I am wise, I am a fool,
A servant with a yearn to rule,
Good intentions and selfish schemes
A saint who soars on broken wings.

I am shadow, I am light
I am wrong and I am right,
Sometimes shining oh so bright,
Sometimes fading into night.
Lord, you walk with me through shadow and light.

That was pretty much Ralph, and the Lord did walk with Ralph through shadow and through light.

But now the shadows are all gone. Don’t think for a minute that cancer won that battle. Yesterday, Ralph’s cancer was buried in the ground for good—it’s done, it’s over, it can’t do him anymore harm. And what about Ralph? Well, you remember what Jesus said to Martha as they stood next to Lazarus’ grave? “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he were dead yet shall he live. He that lives and believes in me will never die.” Ralph lived and believed in the Lord, and that means that Ralph is alive and well with the Lord today. It may not look like it on the surface, and it doesn’t much feel like it right now in our hearts, but Ralph won that battle with cancer, and he’s taking his victory lap in heaven even now. You know, heaven—that place where cancer can never find its way in.

But that still doesn’t change the fact that I hate cancer. Because of cancer a father had to say goodbye to his son, kids had to say goodbye to their dad, and I and many others had to say goodbye to yet another friend. So go to hell where you belong, Cancer. You might have got your pound of flesh, but Ralph got a ton of life—eternal life. And because God wants to spend eternity with His children, cancer loses, God’s children win, and our good-byes are just for now.


  1. You say so much in your blogs that are better and beyond anything I could hope to say. Ralph was a dear friend to me and my family...for many reasons. Thank you for sharing something so real and so on target.

  2. I hate cancer too - My Mom died at the age of 49 from cancer. I was only 27 with a 9 month baby and life seemed so unfair. Life does go on and we have our faith to keep us going. More recently we lost our beloved coworked, Wanda, after only a month of knowing she had cancer. You would think with today's technology a cure could be found.

  3. Good bye my friend, see you tomorrow. James