Those Dreaded Words

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017, is a day I shall never forget. I was ministering in the greater Baltimore, Maryland area, both for a Biblical Counseling Conference on the weekend, and then preparing also to preach on the Lord’s Day, ministering to the dear folks at Baltimore Bible Church—at the kind invitation of my friend, Pastor George Lawson. Once the weekend conference had concluded, and we were wrapping things up before dinner later, I received a call from Beth, my wife of 31 years, telling me those dreaded words: “I wasn’t feeling well and have been at the emergency room all morning, where they have found what is undoubtedly cancer in my lungs and elsewhere, and which has already evidently spread to my brain. The doctor told me that he was very sorry to have to tell me this news.” I simply couldn’t believe the news I was hearing! Beth Quinn—whom I, as her husband, had never even seen her sick, during the three decades of our marriage, let alone this kind of shocking reality. Beth was calm but hopeful as she spoke to me, even as I kept saying to her and to our God: “No, no, no, no!” Hearing such dire news directly from her, was utterly mind-numbing to me. “How could this be so?” “Lord, why?” “Everything was going so well!” “Beth and I have eight believing children, and several grandchildren, for which she is so devoted!” To compound this shocking news of the moment, it dawned on me that through the haze of what I just heard, I remembered that one of my daughters was to be married the very next Saturday! This was just one week from this very day of our receiving such bleak news. Beth and the girls were to be preparing all the final preparations for the wedding that would take place quickly! That daughter was standing right there too, hearing what her mother was saying to me in the hospital, hearing the same news as I was, but all she could think of was her precious mother, not her own impending wedding. I, for myself, immediately called my Pastor-Friend George, asking him if he would immediately drive me to the nearest airport, and in our drive for a hastily booked, overnight flight, I did the hardest thing I’d ever had to do: Call my eight children and, one-by-one, tell them about such terrible news regarding their beloved mother and the bleak prognosis for the future. They all adored and cherished their mom. If I was indeed the head of our home, she most certainly was its backbone.

I returned home late to Los Angeles in the morning, on Sunday, December 3rd. I wasn’t supposed to even be there to preach in my own church pulpit, but I knew that I needed to tell my congregation of this sober news about Beth. I met with the church elders before the worship service, and then spoke to the flock of God which He had entrusted to my care. The stunning news evoked shrieked sounds of horror within the church, seemingly everyone crying, including myself, with loud sobs echoing through the worship center as I tried to deliver the grim news. I left, after having spoken, needing to return to the hospital at once, to be by Beth’s bedside and to talk with the doctors. All Beth wanted to do, as she too was hearing of the latest about her situation, was to be well enough to attend her daughter’s wedding in now just six days. Through powerful steroidal treatment all week, and in the hopes of reducing brain swelling, Beth was released from the hospital near the end of that week, and inexplicably (at least to anyone who would have known of her true health situation), she radiantly and beautifully looked on, despite her weakened state, as her daughter was married to her fiancé by me, the wedding officiate for the evening. Though our immediate family, and several other church members there at the wedding, had of course heard the public news of Beth’s fast-growing cancer from the weekend prior, all sad realities were momentarily laid aside for the sake of a beautiful wedding of two people deeply in love. The bride and her precious mother were the two most beautiful women of the evening, each knowing and affirming that “God is good and does good” (Psalm 119:68a).

Over the next weeks, months, and years (3 ¼ years total from the time of cancer diagnosis to her death), Beth Quinn trusted in her God, and fought fearlessly by faith to see even another child—a son, our fourth of eight—marry his bride as well. There were also several grandchildren born to our family during this almost four years of fighting the insidious cancerous beast called death. Every new birth of a grandchild blessed Beth’s life richly during these hard, trying times of sickness and disease. On March 30th, in the year 2020, at 4:40 PM, just as COVID was now affecting the United States as a whole (and of course, much of the world at that time), Beth Quinn quietly stepped into the very heavenly presence of her Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

What is to be learned and grasped about our family’s experience explained above? For one, we watched a woman who loved God deeply, ever increasing in her faith and trust in the sovereign Lord. We also learned the hard realities that, living in a sin-cursed world of various cancers (and other dread diseases like viruses and such), underscores this powerful biblical truth: life is a vapor. Psalm 39 from the Old Testament reminds us: “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (Psalm 39:4). Likewise from the New Testament, James 4:14 reminds us: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Many other passages in Scripture underscore the same truthful reality that life indeed is so comparatively short, especially compared to the grand eternality of God Himself. Scripture also reminds believers that our God has promised to walk us through all this short life we have on earth, including His walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death, God committing Himself to never leaving nor forsaking His people (see Deuteronomy 1:29-30; Joshua 1:5, 9; Hebrews 13:5).

Though Beth Quinn’s 57 years of life on earth has now come and gone, please understand my dear readers, she is alive spiritually! Though her body lies in the grave, awaiting her full resurrection from the dead, she is alive and alert spiritually, sinlessly worshipping her Savior and Lord, even as the writer declares regarding all those who have trusted in Christ: “And to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:23-24). Alongside all those in past ages who have believed in God unto eternal life, Beth is now a grand part of all “the spirits of the righteous made perfect!” This is the great hope for all who lose their life in death, but who—in an instant—awake unto everlasting life!

1. What Scriptures did you cling to on the hardest days and nights?

The Psalms have been a balm to my soul, especially the encouragement which comes out of the so-called Lament Psalms. As a preacher and pastor, I have decided to preach one sermon per Psalm (except when I get to Psalm 119 of course!), and I have currently preached through the first 95 Psalms of Israel’s Psalter.

2. What hymns or songs comforted you?

Three songs stand out for me, and were some of Beth’s favorites too: “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and a couple of newer hymns which have encouraged many: “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death,” and “Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor.”

3. What did people do to minister to you?

They of course prayed, encouraged, made meals, cleaned the house, wrote notes with Scripture promises, recommended resources, and simply being loving friends to me and my family.

4. What should people NOT say or do to others in similar circumstances?

People should not speak of their various remedies or sure-fire cures for cancer. Such “advice” is often hurtful and usually not even close to accurate. There is much on social media that people but into, and when they try to foist their beliefs about various potions and treatments—usually of the off-beat variety—can cause great harm to whatever hurting people are trying to do with the medical assistance they’re receiving from trained professional, medical doctors, etc. Be careful not to make it sound like all traditional medicines and medical persons are only in it for the money and thus don’t care about their patients.

5. What hope has Jesus given you in your loss?

Our only hope is in the resurrected Christ! He alone is our “sure and steady anchor!

John MacArthur speaking at Beth Quinn’s Funeral

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