Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Enduring With Joy

Leslie Basham: Bill Hogan learned something important when his daughter Amy was sick. He heard his son-in-law say something profound.

Bill Hogan: He said, “We believe that God is good, and He will do good. He can’t do anything other than good. So either He will heal Amy, or He will do something better.” And I thought, What could be better than healing her? And suddenly I realized, Of course, being with the Lord is far better!

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Quiet Place, for Friday, June 21, 2019.

For the last couple of weeks, Nancy’s been giving us great insight in a series called, "Enduring Life’s Hardships." If you didn’t hear all the programs and want to catch up, visit ReviveOurHearts.com

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: One of the things that we’ve emphasized in this series on endurance is the importance of learning from others who have been faithful and have proved God to be faithful in their lives.

I love learning from the lives of those who’ve walked further down the road and longer than I have. There are so many days when I’m tempted to get weary with well doing, to throw in the towel. I often will think of somebody who’s even just a little bit older than I am and some who are in later seasons of their lives and reflect on their faithfulness, their endurance. So often that encourages me to be faithful.

One of the couples that God has used in my life in such a significant way over the years is with us today in the studio—Bill and Jane Hogan. We’ve known each other just about forever. Bill is the pastor under whom I grew up as a young girl during my teenage years.

This is a pastor who gave me a love for the Scripture, laid such a wonderful foundation of Scripture in my life and gave me a love for the exposition of Scripture. They have continued to be very dear friends to our family.

The Lord did bless you with two daughters. We kind of grew up together. Those girls grew to love the Lord and were following in your steps and in the Lord’s ways. Then the Lord brought a challenge into your lives that you never anticipated. I don’t know how you can be prepared for these things. But it’s not a script you would have written.

I know you’ve talked about it, and I know it would be so encouraging to our listeners to hear how God walked you through the process of losing one of those daughters. When did you first know that there was an issue with Amy and that there was something that had to be faced that would require endurance and would be difficult?

Bill: We were visiting in Philadelphia actually, a little vacation getaway, house sitting for a friend. When we returned to Mississippi, where we were then living, we discovered that Amy was suffering from very severe headaches.

Nancy: At this point she was how old?

Jane Hogan: Thirty-two.

Nancy: She was married.

Bill: She was married and had four children. Her husband was a pastor of a small church. Well, actually she had just moved to a new church, which was much bigger, in a small town in Mississippi. The children were eight, six, three, and two.

The doctor in this town had sent her to bed and given her a shot. Nothing they’d been able to do was able to control the headaches. The doctor’s diagnosis was that the stress of being in a new church in a new town and being the mother of four young children . . .

Nancy: Was enough to give anyone a headache.

Bill: Enough to give anyone a headache.

We had gotten to know the man who was the head of the neurology department at the University of Mississippi Medical School. We mentioned this diagnosis and these symptoms to him, and he had some colorful words to say that I can’t repeat on air about doctors that blame everything they can’t diagnose on stress. He said, “Bring her into my office first thing Monday morning.”

Well, they did a MRI, and they found a brain tumor. They did a surgical biopsy and found that it was the most virulent kind of brain tumor. They discovered it was located on the hypothalamus, could not be removed by surgery, and told us that long-term survival would be about two years at most. She lived one month less than one year after that.

Nancy: Were you in the hospital when they got this news? 

Bill: I was. I remember sitting on Amy’s bedside, and tears were rolling down my cheeks. And I said, “I would give anything if I could trade places with you.” And she smiled in her bubbly way and said, “Oh, I wouldn’t want that, Dad, because God has entrusted this to me, and He’s going to use it somehow for His glory.”

That was the attitude she maintained throughout her entire illness. Even her husband said, “I never heard her complain about what was happening in her life.”

Nancy: Now, presumably before she faced this crisis she’d had that kind of spirit. I assume she didn’t just all of a sudden develop that approach to life at that point.

Bill: No, that had been pretty much her approach to life throughout her whole life.

Nancy: Now there was a process from the point that you received this news. Tell me that process that year she knew that, barring divine intervention, she would soon be with the Lord. How did the Lord sustain her, her family, you as her parents and the grandparents of those children? What are some of the ways that the Lord strengthened and enabled you to walk through that valley?

Bill: Well, she had a great support system. They had a wonderful church. She had a wonderful husband. She had four precious children and two sets of grandparents—us and her parents-in-law—who loved the Lord and encouraged her and prayed for her a great deal.

I think when she said the Lord will use this somehow, in her mind at first she was expecting the Lord would heal her and that would impress the doctors and nurses and they would all come to know the Lord—something like that. Then as it became obvious to her that this was going to probably take her life, I asked her one day, “How are you doing about what’s happening to you?”

She said, “Well, the way I look at it is it's a win-win situation. If the Lord does heal me and I have more years with my children and my precious husband, that’s a wonderful thing. But if He doesn’t, I’ll just get to see Him sooner. So I can’t lose.”

And that was the attitude she had and that she exuded to other people throughout this whole thing.

Nancy: Of course, you’re the ones who are getting ready now to lose a daughter and a husband to lose a wife and her children to lose a mother. So how does the Lord walk those who are going to outlive her through a process like this?

Bill: Well obviously, one thing is her own attitude was a very supportive thing for us. I think it was her faith that kept ours as strong as it was.

Jane: Our daughter Marian said that Amy taught us how to live, and she taught us how to die. And I think that’s true. I think also for Bill and me, we continued to just place our hands out and say, “Lord, we surrender her to You on the altar of sacrifice, and we entrust her to You for Your keeping. If it would bring more honor to You to heal Amy, then we plead her case. But if not, Lord, we rejoice that You are good, and You know what You’re doing though we don’t. We don’t understand it, and we don’t have to understand it.” God was very precious to us.

As a family, there were no loose ends. There was nothing to confess. There was nothing to make up for. We were able—Ed and Marian, and Bill and I—to just move forward praying and trusting God throughout the process. It was a powerful time. You would not choose to go through it, but you wouldn’t want to miss the presence of God.

Deuteronomy 31:8 has been our marriage verse, our life verse. We reminded each other that. We sang hymns. We sang “A Mighty Fortress.” We worshiped. We’d be going for walks and praying and praising God.

The Lord’s presence was so real that we have been able to look back on that when we go through difficult times and say, “Lord, You were with us then, and You will be with us now. You led us then; You’ll lead us now.” He’s trustworthy.

Bill: I’ve got to tell you a story. There’s an organization, or I guess you’d call it a ministry, called The Brain Tumor Mailing List. This is made up of people on the Internet who have some special interest in brain tumors. Some are doctors. Some are nurses. Some are researchers. Most are caregivers or patients.

I joined that. I was on it for two or three years. A lot of the things that people post on these email messages are very personal. Sometimes they are medical questions. Sometimes they’re emotional. Sometimes they are spiritual. Well, I began to answer personally all the spiritual questions and lessons. I became kind of the self-appointed, unofficial chaplain to the brain tumor mailing list.

I also put on it every day everything that was happening in Amy’s situation—anything she said, anything the doctors said, any medical report. And I put on there what I said to you a minute ago that she said, “I wouldn’t want to give this to you because God has entrusted it to me, and He’s going to use it for a purpose.”

One night I got a phone call from a woman who said, “I hope you don’t mind that I called you. I’ve been sitting at my computer for an hour trying to compose a letter, but I’m just not good at putting my thoughts in writing. I just wanted to call and say your daughter has changed my life.”

I said, “I don’t know how that’s possible. You’ve never met her.”

And she said, “Well I read what you said that she said. And I thought to myself, If there’s a purpose in a brain tumor, surely there must be some purpose in my life. And I have given my life to Jesus Christ.”

I could tell you an hour’s worth of stories like that of people who have come to faith because God has used Amy’s story.

Jane: Every time Amy would go for chemo, she would call and say, “Mom, I’m on my way to chemo. Call Dad and be praying for Danielle” (her chemo nurse). After Amy went to heaven, Bill and I dropped in on the brain tumor support group that was meeting in the city. We were late. We had been at another meeting.

When we arrived, we were standing in the hall, and we heard this nurse, Danielle, telling the group that she had been saved. She said, “I’ve been saved. The Lord has come into my heart, and it’s all because I observed Amy Hartman and the way that she walked through her brain tumor. I could not get it out of my mind, this radiance, this desire to walk with God that she had.”

A lot of interesting things like that have happened, and God didn’t have to do any of that, Nancy, to prove to us His presence. That was the most precious thing, the reality of Christ in our own lives.

Nancy: You’ve preached a lot of funerals over the years. You’ve sat with people who are grieving and having to endure through not just death but sometimes what can be worse than death, prolonged suffering. As a pastor, how did walking through an experience like that affect how you minister to hurting people?

Bill: I think it has made me much more sensitive to people’s pain than I might have been before. As Jane said a minute ago, it’s been an experience we wouldn’t have chosen and never want to repeat. But we’re so glad we didn’t miss it because God was so real.

Nancy: So you see God being glorified, which is what Amy wanted. It’s what she lived for, what we all live for or ought to be living for. Bill, again, if I could call on you as a lover of the Scripture and a preacher of the Word and a man with a pastor’s heart, can you speak a word of encouragement to somebody who is listening right now who is in the throes of challenge or difficulty.

What would be some words of grace, something from God’s Word that might encourage or strengthen someone else’s heart who’s in a difficult period of endurance right now?

Bill: Well, I think the strength that I draw from comes mostly from my confidence in the sovereignty of God. He makes no mistakes. He knows the end from the beginning. Nothing happens to us that doesn’t come to us through His perfect, loving, and wise will.

If I didn’t believe that—if I believed we were floating on the sea of chance and what happens to us kind of happens and God can’t do anything about it—that would not be encouraging to me. But I believe that God is in control; therefore, all things really do work together for good to those who love Him that are called according to His purpose (see Rom. 8:28). That gives me great strength.

I don’t know of any more encouraging thing I can say to anyone else than cling to the fact that God is in control.

Nancy: Now, I believe that. But some people might hear that and might say, “But what kind of God does that make Him? If He is control, He is sovereign, then how can He be good if He’s allowing things like cancer, brain tumors, little children to die, little children to lose their parents? For some people who aren’t where you have been, that can be a troubling thought.

Bill: Oh, I know. Well, I don’t say that everything that happens to us is good. There are a lot of bad, evil, terrible things. But God in His majesty and His sovereignty can take even the bad things and work them together to produce an ultimately good consequence from it. We don’t always see what that result is.

But nevertheless, I believe that in His sovereign wisdom, He knows what He’s doing. So even if I don’t know, I can’t worry about that. I just have to mark that down on my list of things I want to ask Him someday.

Nancy: What have you seen happen to people who don’t have that theological perspective, who don’t choose to trust in the storm? What have you seen in terms of the outcome for them? You’re sitting here, and you’re at peace; you’re at rest. You’ve grieved, and I’m sure still do, the loss of Amy. But there’s a freedom and a peace in your spirit. What’s the alternative?

Bill: I’ve always wondered how anybody makes it through the loss of a loved one who doesn’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior. Apart from theological nuances and all of that, if you don’t know the Lord, if you don’t have somebody like Jesus to support you and love you and encourage you, how do you make it?

I don’t think you can. The only thing you can possibly do is just kind of grit your teeth and resolve yourself to accept what you can’t change. But that’s not, I think, an ultimately satisfying posture.

So my word of advice is believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. And then you will be supported, and you will be loved, and you will be encouraged, and you will be wrapped in the arms of a sovereign Savior who loves you and cares for you more than you can possibly care for yourself.

Nancy: Jane, you’re a mother and a grandmother. What word of encouragement would you give to the moms, the grandmoms who listen to Revive Our Hearts and are going through their own trials and tests and challenges? They can’t see yet what good God could possibly bring out of this.

Jane: I think you have to begin, if you are a Christian and you do know the Lord, you have to begin even before they’re born and entrust the child that God is going to give to you back to Him. Over the weeks and the months and the years, you keep giving your child back to the Lord because they are on loan to us.

The most important thing is to seek to lead that child into a personal faith in Christ so that they’re walking with Him. As they encounter difficulties, then you can be the observer and the witness of their faith as we did with Amy. We gained strength from her faith so that she didn’t crumble, and we didn’t crumble. We could be an army. We could be a unified family walking with the Lord through this.

It was difficult. There is no other way to say it. It’s still difficult. There is this hidden part in a mother down deep, and she jumps out at me in times that I least expect it. And I can just stop and say, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1), or sing a hymn. I don’t think you ever truly, truly get over the loss of a child. But that does not mean that you have anything other than a tremendous peace in your soul that God is faithful and that He is watching over you and that what He does is right and good.

So neither of us have ever questioned, I don’t think we’ve ever questioned why.

Bill: During the year that Amy was sick, Ed wrote several letters to his congregation. And something Jane just said reminded me of one of those letters. He said, “We believe that God is good, and He will do good. He can’t do anything other than good. So either He will heal Amy, or He will do something better.”

And I thought, What could be better than healing her? And suddenly I realized, Of course, being with the Lord is far better!

I don’t think you can have that kind of confidence unless you have trust in the Lord.

Jane: The only other thing that was helpful to both of us was God could have prevented this happening to Amy. That’s obvious. But He chose to entrust it to her; therefore, He chose to entrust it to us, her parents. And we felt that way, and we sensed this was something God was doing. We didn’t want to miss out on anything He was doing in the process.

Nancy: Well, thank you for sharing your heart. Thank you for letting God not only make Himself known to you through this, but for letting Him make Himself known through you to others through this experience.

And we have seen in both of our families the Lord do some very gracious and precious and at times difficult works, but they are always a reflection of His grace and His sovereignty and His wisdom and His love. You look back and you say, “I wouldn’t have written the script that way, but the Lord did.” And you just know He can be trusted, and He can.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking with a couple of parents who know what it is to endure life’s difficulties. If you know someone who would benefit from a transcript of their story, you’ll find it at ReviveOurHearts.com.

You or a friend might also benefit from the biblical insight of the late Elisabeth Elliot. She wrote extensively on the subject of suffering because she experienced deep suffering firsthand. Her teaching is now available in a new book called Suffering Is Never for Nothing. We’d love to send you a copy to give to a friend or read for yourself. It’s available for a gift of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. You can go to our website at ReviveOurHearts.com to give and to request Elisabeth Elliot’s book, or call us at 1–800–569–5959. As for Elisabeth Elliot’s book on suffering when you call with your gift. 

For a long time, Joni Eareckson Tada asked the Lord to set her free from her confinement to a wheelchair. Instead of answering that prayer, He gave her a different kind of freedom. Joni will explain why your unanswered prayers may be the backdrop for a new understanding of freedom in Christ. That’s Monday on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is helping you endure life's hardships. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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