As many of you already know, my darlin’ wife, Julia, passed away Friday afternoon, May 13. Words fail to describe how much all of your kind and wise words, hugs, and thoughtful gifts have meant to us. Julia was my exquisite joy and inspiration in loving Jesus but I know from all you’ve shared that she touched your life in the same way.
Our brother, Kevin Matthews, recently spoke eloquently of the impact Julia’s life had on so many as “a great example of a life lived to serve Jesus in all things, and a heart full of joy to know Jesus.” That is so true and leads me to share three things about Julia that I raise in tribute to her and to her God. First, she had a glorious passion to know God. Second, incredibly she fully surrendered to a most difficult calling from God so that he would be glorified and she would receive the best that God had for her (us). Third, she carried in her heart a severely tested, abiding willingness to forgive like Jesus forgives. Before she passed away, Julia asked me to share these things with you because she wanted all of us to share in her deep joy and contentment.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles… I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Philippians 4:12-14, 18-20 NIV
Julia’s thirst to know God, really know him, was like no one else I’ve known.
Julia pursued a relationship with Jesus Christ relentlessly – filling journals with the contents of her heart before God. Every day she was listening for the voice of the Spirit and found strength to face the day because He in turn was filling her heart with an awareness of his presence and the good things of his Word. That may not make a lot of sense because words cannot fully describe passion, at least a burning passion to know God, and its complementary passion, a complete and utter determination to be faithful to his Word. But that passion changed my life and it fueled my own passion to know God truly, spiritually, and experientially every day. Every day we would begin by one of us saying, “This is the day the Lord has made,” and the other repeating, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
When Julia came close to the end of her life and on May 4th told me she was fully content (having received everything she could possibly receive from God here) and that she was now ready to go home so that she could grow, I knew what she meant. I had to ask her if I had heard her correctly but I knew what she meant. She wanted to grow closer to God still and knew that he had taken her on the journey here on earth as far as he could take her and that now she needed to go home to him in order to fully and completely know him as he wanted her to know him.
It was at that point that we prayed together that God would take her but give her enough time to be able to share that contentment and joy with our family. So Julia began to prod me to get the family together so she could share her joy. What helped was Mother’s Day coming along so that we could have a joyous time on Sunday as a family. Corban had been the first of the boys to hear about Grandma’s contentment and fullness of joy but then the others were also able to hear her testify to being completely satisfied in Jesus.
The second thing that I want to share about Julia is that she fully embraced the journey with IPF (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis) as a calling – as a planned and purposeful ending to her life – as an opportunity to receive the best God had for us.
Julia’s last “calling” began with the illness of 2005 in which she suffered the same struggle to breathe, continual coughing, and extreme weakness of recent days. She received a blessed reprieve from that illness in 2012, when God called her to a “long obedience in the same direction.” Between 2012 and 2015, she learned that “obedience” was called gratitude. When our world as it was in Oregon began to fall apart with a diagnosis of IPF and the prediction that she would live for only a couple of years, Julia learned she could do all things in Christ only when she looked for God’s gifts in that moment, and could say, “Thank you God, what you’ve given me (us) is enough.” So, though her love for God and family and me we’re all severely tested as her lungs gradually became scarred and a solid mass, those shorter and shorter breaths became empowered by a deeper and fuller contentment of spirit.
The thing that helped Julia to embrace it all as an opportunity to receive from the Lord the very best he had for us was the knowledge that the journey with IPF onto death was a calling from him. The disease that took her life was not an accident, even though no one knows what caused it and therefore it is called “idiopathic.” It was not a mistake on God’s part and it had nothing to do with the fact that Julia was a flawed human being just like the rest of us. It truly was all about God giving His best, not just particularly to Julia and me but our whole family and many of our friends. Her particularly difficult IPF experience became an opportunity to witness the grace of God being poured out for many (cf. 2 Corinthians 1).
A life with IPF was a calling not a catastrophe and we declare this to the glory of God.
Julia’s death is the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced, the most shocking, disconcerting change in my life I’ve ever gone through, and yet I know that I know it’s okay, and he has us right where he wants us.
The third thing I’d like to say is that Julia was incredibly forgiving toward others and taught me so much about the Spirit of Christ that fills true forgiveness.
I have said and will stand by it that I believe Julia had the spirit of a prophet. She tended to see things in black and white and so those of us who see things in gray tones often could not abide with her proclamations. Yet, over the years from my position at her side I saw many of the things that she spoke to be the truth demonstratively verified by what was happening around us. Because of her personality she was particularly gifted to pick up the word of God (our only source for objective, absolute truth in this world), personally stand on it and share it the best she could.
One of those truths was that our forgiveness is to mirror his forgiveness for us. Because of Julia’s black and white approach to truth she had to work really hard at forgiving and not being judgmental. But I saw personally how much of God’s grace responded to her desire to be faithful to his yoke of forgiveness. Time and time again she forgave me for my negative attitudes, my crude remarks because of frustration, and my dark moods that I would fall into and that would keep us from enjoying the joy God wanted us to have. She could be angry and over it in a minute but she was married to a man who could be angry and never get over it! In her forgiveness I learned that I can be accepted for who I am, and loved and cherished. We came to the end of her life and there was absolutely nothing between us!
Toward the end of our journey we were getting tired, and along with that I was losing patience and getting grumpy more often. She looked at me one day and said, “David, I don’t worry about those things you say, because I know your heart. I know you love me and love God and that eventually you’ll stop beating yourself up or complaining and be at peace. I’ve seen God build that into you.” We had the most beautiful, clear relationship. That is a credit to her and the God she opened her heart to for that grace to forgive.
First, I’ve mentioned Julia’s glorious passion to know God. Second I’ve pointed to her incredible surrender to a difficult calling from God so that he would be glorified. And third, I’ve pointed to her deep and abiding willingness to forgive. Those three things cause me to thank God that I could live 51 1/2 years married to this woman and be able now to walk into life without her with the same graces beating in my heart that beat in hers. My hope and prayer is that each and everyone that might read this would be able to draw strength and encouragement from who she was, what she did, how she did what she did, and now perhaps knowing a little bit more about why she was who she was, rise up to seek God ourselves and follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
God be praised for giving us a woman named Julia!
Now, here at the end of her earthly sojourn, it’s so exciting to report that Julia finished so well! – praising the Lord with her last breath, declaring with a sigh of contentment that He had given her everything she needed and was now calling her to a radically new and glorious life to which she was more than willing to embrace.
Grateful, in quietness and trust,
Julia’s husband “forever and beyond,”