My Sister-In-Law's Battle is Over

I did not want to put this on my blog until I was sure all of the family had been notified.

I have sad news to share with you, but also Good News.

Lillian (John's sister) passed away some time during the night last night. Her husband checked on her this morning and she appeared to be sleeping. So he went out for several hours to do his normal errands. When he returned, she had not moved and he checked more closely. At that point, he realized she was gone and called Emergency Medical Services. They said she had been gone for eight to ten hours. For Lillian I'm sure it was better to pass away peacefully in her sleep. But I could tell that my brother-in-law wished he had been able to say something to her before she went.

Getting this news so soon is a shock. None of us expected her to go this quickly. I thought she might only have a few months or maybe even a year if the treatment she just started helped. But from reading on the Internet, I also knew there was a possibility she wouldn't respond to the milder treatment. I just never imagined she wouldn't live to receive more than that first infusion. The last email I got from her was five days ago, the night before her first treatment. And the last sentence she wrote to me was this:

Well my back is killing me and I will lay down and pray some more. I love you, you cute little perfect face!!! Love Lillian

I responded, but never did get another email from her after that. I called Bennie to check on her and he said she was sleeping almost around the clock. I knew that wasn't good, but I still believed we would be able to go to Evansville again and see her. I told Bennie just a few days ago that we were planning to come up within the next couple of weeks. I think I'm still a little bit in shock that we won't have that opportunity.

Although this is a very sad night for the family, there is one great comfort. Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Lillian was not a believer. But through this experience, that changed and she embraced Jesus as Her Savior. This night would be so much sadder if that hadn't happened. I don't think she would mind my sharing a little bit of our ongoing spiritual dialogue with you now, since she gave me her blessing to write anything I felt inclined to write on my blog.

I used to worry about Lillian and pray for her spiritually. She knew I was a dedicated Christian with very strong beliefs. I prayed that God would give me the courage to be bold and that I would be willing to risk her getting upset at me if that's what it took for her to be saved. Occasionally we would talk and I would try to witness to her. I told John so many times that I knew I had to be careful, I didn't want to be offensive or tick her off. But I also could not put her having good feelings toward me ahead of her soul. I believed it was possible that God put me in her life because I was someone who WOULD risk offending her to get through to her about Jesus. What if I was the only one who would feel this so deeply?

I felt a great responsibility to her as her sister-in-law. So I didn't pound on her, but I looked for opportunities to share my faith with her. I told John that I could never forgive myself if Lillian died suddenly as an unbeliever because I'd been too timid to talk to her about the Lord.

In July of 2008, I wrote this blog post:
http://sharihowerton.blogspot.com/2008/07/comfort-and-conflict.html

Lillian happened to read this one and she emailed me about it. I still have the email. This is what she wrote:

I have spent the last two hours reading your blog. I love you and cherish you and respect you and honor you...but I'm "skeered" of you! Dang. You have a gift and I am certain that it's within you and bolsterd by G-d's love for you (Jews don't ever write the name out for an ancient respect for HIM). I think it's important that I tell you that I have been entrenched in the Jewish Faith for a few decades. I hope this doesn't cause you any concern (I'm fairly sure it doesn't).

The Torah teaches much of what the Christian Bible does. The Old Testament is very enlightening and brings forth what faith I have in the manner in which I believe. I believe in G-d. I believe HIS Grace and Love has brought me to a place where I should be. I like the fact that I don't have to worry about a lifelong "slate" being tallied up. Every Yom Kippur, I find a Temple and attend for the four hour service. My slate is wiped clean for the year (If I am sincere about it being so).

Last year I went to the Synagogue in Newburgh and felt catharsis. The Rabbi said, "We have two pockets in our pants. One pocket we put things in that we don't want others to see. Secrets, credit card purchases we should not have made, someone's phone number other than our loved ones... the other pocket is for our right hand to slip into. Nothing there but an empty space to realize that we need to empty both pockets and redeem ourselves as good, honest people."

I find solace in knowing that I can't keep track of a lifetime of improprieites. To be sincere to attend the highest holy day in the Jewish calendar and repent is all I want to do.

I was intrigued by your story about the Muslim man converting to Christianity (the dogs trained to come and rip him to shreds...). The fact that the dogs did not consume him alive I don't believe is because he had vowed to be a Christian. I think it is because he was devout to G-d in the first place.

I admire your tenacity and deep faith in your religion. I will regard and respect your faith and I hope you do mine.
Love you
Lillian

We had many more conversations about Jesus. But that email should give you a glimpse into my concerns. She told me apart from the email that she had chosen Judaism because she liked the idea of only thinking about her sins once a year. Lillian was a colorful person. She was very intelligent and talented, too. She used to sing professionally and John says that in addition to a Liza Minnelli kind of voice, she took command of a stage. She had so much stage presence, she would draw a crowd whenever she performed. And she was every bit as opinionated as I am, maybe more so. She wasn't someone who just sat and listened to other people talk. And she didn't hesitate to let me know she didn't agree with me. But still...

I prayed for her. I didn't pray this every day. But any time I thought of her, I prayed for her salvation. I prayed that God would reveal His Son to her and draw her to Him. I never dreamed He would do it this way.

Bennie shared with Marian and I on this last visit that, prior to her cancer diagnosis, Lillian bristled at the name of Jesus. She was completely closed to His being our Savior. When I sent her a copy of my book last November, I didn't know where she stood as far as her faith. But I prayed that she would hear and understand the gospel through reading it. The message of my book is Jesus and the truth of salvation through Him.

In February of this year, I got the first glimpse of her transformation when she wrote:

I am sort of lost when it comes to "Knowing God through Jesus". I guess I need a "Christianity for Dummies" book.... I am still fond of some of the tenets of Judaism but you don't ice a white cake with ketsup. Some things just don't mix. So I am in a bit of confusion but I feel Jesus listening to me. I feel his guidance when I ask for it. It's so awesome.

Reading these emails tonight is emotional for me. I'm sharing this on my blog because I want to encourage you never to give up on sharing Jesus with your loved ones. Even if they shut you down. Keep trying. Keep tackling the subject (in love of course). Though we disagreed, my sister-in-law always knew I loved and respected her. But I never backed away from an opportunity to tell her the truth. Two reasons. I love Jesus and I loved her.
I responded this way:

I said "through" Jesus because the reason Jesus came to earth (as God incarnate) was to provide a way for us to be in relationship with God. Our sin separates us from God because He is Holy - holier than we can really even imagine. He cannot tolerate sin and we cannot perfectly obey the Law. The entire Old Testament establishes that fact. Nobody but Jesus has ever kept the Law perfectly. And He is our sacrificial Lamb. He atoned for our sins. So it is through His life and His sacrifice that we are ABLE to have a relationship with God the Father. Does that make it easier to understand? That is why we pray "in Jesus' Name." Without Him, our sin separates us from God. We do not have to atone over and over with repetitive sacrifices now, as the Jews did in the OT, because Jesus died once for all. All who believe. All sins. I could recommend some great books if you would like to read about the cross.

And Lillian responded:

I love you Shari.  I am so blessed and I am happy to learn about Jesus.  You explained it pretty well.  Thanks.

Through her illness, God answered my prayer and revealed His Son to her. With each successive email, her faith grew. By the end, the name of Jesus was mentioned in almost every email she sent me. She told me in the last few weeks that she was trying to read and understand the book of Romans. She talked constantly about praying.  

In September, while waiting to find out where she was going for consultation regarding her returned cancer, she wrote these words:
 
Shari, I am so bummed out. But I have strength and I have courage and some moxie left over....I have some fight left, oh yes I do. And most (forgive the lousy grammar and structure) importantly: I have Jesus in my heart. I have this really awesome "calm" about me when I think of Jesus and how I have been praying to HIM, talking to HIM all these days. That means something. I know it does.

I wish I could express how much it meant to me to read these words Lillian wrote earlier this fall. But they mean even more to me tonight.

Comments

Oh, Shari...all my love and prayers to your family.
Larry J. Lee said…
Shari&John: Please accept our deepest sympathies re: Lillians Passing. Please extend to John the sadness we feel. God Bless You: Larry&Deanna
Thoughts and prayers are with you & John. Thanks for sharing Lillian with us. It was fun to get to know her through your words.
Debbie Light said…
Shari and John,
So sorry to hear about Lillian but so glad she is with Jesus and her suffering over!Thanks Shari for helping make a difference in her life!!Thinking of you all and John's mother in the days and weeks ahead!
God Bless,
Deb
rachel said…
Hugs and prayers to you and your family. I'm sure this is a very difficult time, but I am rejoicing with you in the faith that she shared with you before she went home. :) May God continue to be your strength during this time...
Shari said…
I am about to finally go to bed. I was asked by the family to write Lillian's obituary, which is something I have never done. So I have been working on that tonight. I'm the only one still up. Before logging off the computer, I just wanted to thank all of you for your words of love and comfort. I will be going through my picture files in the morning and I'm sure I will share a few on my blog.

I have appreciated EVERY message I've received tonight, whether here, on Facebook or in a personal message. It's wonderful beyond words to be blessed with so many caring friends.
Robin Hanloh said…
Shari, my prayers and love are with you all as you navigate the days ahead accepting the loss of Lillian. What a story to read of her relationship with Jesus in her final months. Praise the Lord! You were a gift to her and I am thankful that you navigated the delicate subject of salvation successfully. I'm sure it is comforting to know she rests in the Savior's arms.
Lynda said…
John & Shari----I'am so sorry for you loss. I'am so happy she's with Jesus and her daily suffering is over. Thanks for sharing how you work with Lillian to except Jesus. You have a special touch with people. We will be praying and our love to your Family.

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