He Gives and Takes Away

Mary Kay Duerden, RIP

As with her husband Ralph (whose memorial we had on March 30, just 182 days ago), I think I only knew Mary Kay after she had turned 70. It is certainly profitable for us to meet someone in their winter, but also obviously different than seeing someone in their spring. I don’t think Mary Kay would say that most of us knew her in her heyday. We knew her when problems and pains were a big part of her life, when doctor appointments and meds and surgeries consumed a lot of her days.

I am thankful to the Lord for enabling her to endure, and to do so confessing the glory of His name to the end. I am also thankful for her concerns for me, and also for Mo. With her own life so marked with pain, she was sensitive to others who had problems

She would regularly catch me after church on the way to her car, not just to get her Sunday hug, but to see how I was feeling. If she wasn’t well enough to attend on a given week, she’d often send an email to check in. Maybe it wasn’t everyone’s experience, but she seemed more concerned about the status of my most recent ailment instead of needy to tell me her updates. She’d frequently say that she was praying for me, for us. Sometimes she’d give me a kind of mother’s disappointing look as if she thought we were doing too much.

Those who are hurt and broken do not always respond well when difficulty lingers. But the broken are in a good spot, when God shows His grace, to see their need to depend on the Lord for help.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). If we are tempted to lose hold of our confession, if we are tempted toward anger or bitterness, we have a sympathetic high priest who was tempted but who did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me” (Psalm 77:1). He gives strength to the weary (Isaiah 40:31). He strengthens us with power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience (Colossians 1:11). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

Chronic pain/illness is no joke. It’s not just what it messes up (your plans, your budget, etc.), but what it messes with (your perspective, your sense of being). Any pain is a problem, but pain that can be quickly named, pain that is more acute, often presents as more manageable, even understandable. Ongoing pain, and pain that is obtuse, as in resistant to more tidy categories and treatments, can make it seem like at least a neighborhood of hell broke loose in your little part of the world. Add to that the tiresome report to the recurrent question of how you’re feeling: “still not good.”

In his book about chronic illness called The Deep Places, Ross Douthat quotes a French writer named Alphonse Daudet:

Pain is always new to the sufferer, but loses its originality for those around him.

But, be encouraged, the Lord does not grow weary.

The Lord not only kept Mary Kay through her physical aches, but saved her for eternal life and soon a resurrected body. The body’s breakdown is never our biggest problem, but our distance from God. God gave Mary Kay eternal life by grace through faith. He has received her into His presence. Her death is precious to Him (Psalm 116:15). She will be given a glorified body and be able to do more than she could have imagined here.

we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:1–5 ESV)

While we miss Ralph and Mary Kay, we are thankful to the Lord for His gift of them to our church body. Praise the Lord she has finished her race, kept the faith. May she rest in peace.