A life lived with terminal illness – and with hope

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending an extraordinary thanksgiving service for the life of an extraordinary man – although he would never have allowed anyone to call him that.


Douglas Mark’s desire was that his thanksgiving service (which he planned himself) would be ‘a time infused with joy and thanksgiving’ and that is exactly what it was – just as his life had been.

Douglas had lived with cancer for 10 years and had been through more than 40 chemotherapy treatments, but he refused to say that he was ‘battling with cancer’ or ‘coping with cancer’. He ‘lived with cancer’, fully accepting that this was part of the journey which God had chosen for him. He demonstrated joy as he trusted God with every detail of his cancer.  One of his favourite sayings was this:

 Life is not waiting for the storm to pass – it is learning to dance in the rain.


Douglas trusted God and that was clear right till the end of his life. He believed that it is more important to trust God than to understand Him. I am sure that it was that unshakeable trust in God which gave him the joy which characterised his life as he lived with cancer.

At the seminar which he and his wife Alison gave at New Horizon this year – which they called ‘Living with terminal illness, and with Hope’ – he said this about joy:

Joy is a self-assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, a quiet confidence that ultimately everything will be alright and a determined choice to praise God in all things.

Douglas had chosen to praise God in all things. When asked how he was, he used to reply, ‘I’m thankful to be as well as I am’. His prayer was that he look for signs of God’s faithfulness every day.

Douglas and Alison were passionate about encouraging Christians to model to the world what it’s like to live with the hope of heaven in the face of death. They spoke in many churches and other places, encouraging Christians to live out their faith in this way.

Alison gave a very courageous tribute to Douglas yesterday, in which she said this:

Don’t allow what you don’t understand about God to destroy what you already know about Him.

As Douglas’s health declined in recent weeks, Alison refused to talk in despairing tones, choosing rather to say that Douglas was ‘edging gently home to heaven’. What a beautiful picture. And that is exactly what he did. There’s no doubt that he has heard his Lord and Saviour say ‘Well done’ as He welcomed him home.

He leaves a legacy: not just a life well-lived, but the challenge to us to live our lives well. For Douglas and Alison, that meant living their lives in the light of eternity and through the lens of eternity. It was that perspective which gave them the courage and faith to live with cancer and hope, at one and the same time.

To download a copy of the seminar which Douglas and Alison gave at New Horizon, go to


Living with Eternity in View

Feeling frustrated at being so ‘earth-bound’ and so unmindful of eternity and what it means, I looked for books that might help me out.

The first one I read was ‘Code Red’ by Andrew Drain, a cardio thoracic surgeon who in 2007 was diagnosed with the worst form of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. I wanted to read the thoughts and discoveries of someone facing a terminal illness, with heaven in view.

I was not disappointed. Andrew writes honestly about the ups and downs of his treatment, using the book of Job to inform his growing understanding of suffering.

When his final relapse began in 2009, he found he could face death with confidence because he knew that his ‘redeemer lives’.

The second book I read was ‘Forever’ by Paul Tripp. Written with Paul’s usual honesty and depth of insights, this book is for anyone who feels that the ‘pack-it-all-in mentality’ we live with has led to frustration and disappointment.

Paul argues that having an eternity perspective will enable us to live for something bigger than ourselves and larger than this moment. No longer trapped in the shrunken kingdom of ‘right here, right now’, we can learn to lead lives of greater significance and peace.

Using real-life honest examples from his own life, Paul says that God used the concept of Forever to teach him the following lessons:

1. The future grace of eternity guarantees me present grace.
2. The guaranteed end of the story secures control over my story in the present.
3. Final peace guarantees the presence, power and provision of the Prince of Peace in the here and now.
4. Eternal hope gives me reason for present hope.
5. God’s work of change, which will culminate in an eternity where all things are new, assures me that real change is possible in the here and now.
6. The final restoration of all things guarantees me the help I need until they are restored.

When the diagnosis comes

Over the last few days, two of my best friends have been diagnosed with sign

At the same time, I have been mulling over some verses in II Chronicles 16, which tell the story of king Asa, king of Judah. Asa started well, introducing reforms and displaying faith and courage when the Cushites attacked. But then when Israel attacked, Asa strips the temple and his own palace of wealth and sends it to Ben-Hadad, ruler of Aram, in a bid to get his support against Israel. At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” II Chronicles 16:7-9. Asa doesn’t end well: he becomes angry, begins to brutalize the people, contracts a wretched disease, seeks the help of doctors but not of the Lord, and dies two years later, embittered and enraged.

These verses made me think of some verses in the New Testament: “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” II Corinthians 1:8-10.

While I have been mulling these verses over in my mind, in the exact same time period these two very close friends have both been diagnosed with cancer. Both women are Christians; both have been shocked by the diagnosis; both have fears for the future; but here is what they say.

One friend says: “There is a great deal that we don’t know—about my diagnosis, the actual treatment, and prognosis.  We do know that God is with us and will see us through till the end.  We are putting our trust in Him…. I know that I am deep in the valley right now, but my eyes are on the hills and I know where my help comes from! I am still surrounded by God’s peace, and we continue to trust Him for the outcome”.

The other friend says: “We are feeling amazingly accepting and peaceful and supported by prayers of others and by the Lord, and so I am praying that he will use this time and these circumstances for his glory. Watch this space!”

What gives these two friends the ability to trust God at this crucial moment in their lives? They don’t know the future, they are facing treatment with cruel side effects and no guarantees of a good outcome. But they do know that God is with them and they have decided to trust Him, to rely on Him. It is a choice – ” We are putting our trust in Him”. It is a conscious decision, in the midst of the uncertainty and worry and fear to rely on God and what they know of Him.

When the diagnosis comes, or the financial downturn comes, or some other bad news hits, who or what will I rely on?

“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him”.


This would have been my Mum’s 89th birthday, had she lived to celebrate it.

Part of me wishes she had. I want her to be here – to hear her laugh, to share a cup of tea with her, to have her worry over me, to celebrate her birthday.

But she is in a far better place – and she doesn’t want to come back here.

She is celebrating. She is enjoying a party such as she has never done before – a party in heaven.

With God the Father who is delighted to have her join the party, thrilled to welcome her home.

With God the Son who came to this earth and died on the cross to make sure my Mum would be at that party.

With God the Spirit who comforted her and counselled her and guided her all through the 87 years she lived on earth.

With the angels in heaven who threw a party the day my Mum decided to trust the Lord.

Why would she want to leave all that to come back here?

She doesn’t. But we will go to be with her. We’ll join the party. And what a party that will be!

No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, 
   Never so much as imagined anything quite like it— 
   What God has arranged for those who love him.

I Corinthians 2:9