Several months ago, I had a private conversation with Julie Smoak on one of her many stays at Trident Hospital. Julie was of very clear mind and heart at that time. She said, “Craig, if I had time, I would write a book about what God has shown me through this time.” I promised her that when I finally wrote a book that God has been birthing in me for some time called, “By The Bedside”, I would make sure she has her own chapter.
Occasionally, you run into someone ordinary, who chooses to allow God to do through them the extraordinary. Julie was one of those people. Someone you just felt blessed to know. Someone who left you knowing God is great, God is good and God is love.
I recall like yesterday Julie walking into my church office and telling me those words we all hate to hear, “Yes, I’ve got cancer.” Having lost in the past to cancer an Aunt that was just 30 and an Uncle that was just 44, I was very familiar with this battle. At the time of Julie’s diagnosis, she was just 36 years old. Her daughter Sarah was only 7. Her husband Charles was my associate pastor and still is a dear friend.
Keep in mind, Julie and Charles were not just two people I met later in life. We grew up in the same community and attended for a season the same church my dad used to pastor. One summer, Julie and I actually rode to and from summer school together. I think we both wished we had tried a little harder in Algebra that year.
Many observed Julie’s long, hard fought battle with cancer. No doubt, God was with her day and night. He carried her when otherwise she couldn’t carry on. Family and friends were by her side and never quit loving her. They continued praying God’s ultimate healing for her. Selfishly, we would all have loved for her healing to have taken place this side of Heaven. But God had different plans.
Over the past few years, God performed many miracles in Julie’s life. She defeated the odds so many times. When it looked like she would be leaving us, we all gathered to say goodbye. God showed up, and showed us His ability to overcome anything. Doctors and bystanders couldn’t help but say, “There goes that miracle girl again.” Julie just kept bouncing back even when there were no medical explanations.
Now, I would never say cancer took Julie from us. It did present challenges and viciously attacked her body. But the only reason Julie left us was that it was her time. Her mission on earth was complete after just 41 brief years. Death is always an appointment. In God’s eyes there are no accidents. Nothing takes Him by surprise, nor will it ever.
While she was sleeping peacefully beside her husband Charles, God said, “Julie my child, it’s time. Your work on earth is done, your mission is complete and your ultimate healing has come. You will now be in Heaven with me. Where cancer, tears, pain, or heartache will never threaten you again.” Julie taught us with God’s help we can weather any storm. She showed us what cancer can’t take away from the believer who trusts Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Here are three things Julie never lost during her battle with cancer and never will:
1. Cancer never stole her FAITH.
With a huge smile on her face, she knew more than ever that God was with her. She discovered that closeness with God that can only be found in the midst of a deep valley. Her faith grew, her peace increased and her light was brighter than ever for all to see. She did what many only dream of. “She fought the good fight, kept the faith, and finished her race.” Her great faith was on clear display for all to see.
2. Cancer never stole her HOPE.
Cancer may have taken her strength, changed her plans, but it never stole her hope. Years before Julie had trusted Jesus as her Savior. But in the last years of her life, there was no doubt Jesus was her Lord. You see, our hope in Christ has nothing to do with our circumstances. Hope comes with our faith in Jesus colliding with God’s grace. Julie knew whose she was in Christ and where she was headed when this life came to end.
She knew as a believer that “To be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord.” Julie is now not only cancer free, but living in a place of eternal hope.
(1 John 5:13)I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Julie’s hope is no longer in the future, but she is experiencing it in the present.
3. Cancer never stole God’s LOVE.
Illness does not mean God has turned his back on us or doesn’t love us anymore. It’s through the illness we discover that God’s love is all that is guaranteed. Julie loved those around her deeply and unconditionally. For most of her cancer battle, Julie continued to work at Williams Memorial Elementary school. She poured her heart out for others even while taking treatments and enduring great hardships. What others call ministry, Julie simply called “love”.
Julie loved many and many loved Julie. She was full of God’s love and carried by God’s love to her eternal home. Fortunately, Julie left this earth holding onto things that matter most in this life and the life to come.
(1 Corinthians 13:13(NLT) Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.
Yes, Julie Smoak battled plenty in her brief time on this earth. She had 4 different chemotherapy treatments weekly totaling over a years worth. She had 3 different radiation treatments daily that total over two months. Yet, through all the storms she learned that God is faithful. God is always with us. And God does some of His greatest work in the midst of crisis. Because when we are weak, He is strong. And now she knows it all happened for God’s glory.
None of us know what tomorrow will bring, but we do know who holds tomorrow. May we all hold on to the things that matter most just like Julie. Because in the end, only three things will remain. Faith, Hope, & Love.