So Young died one month ago today. It was actually at roughly 1 a.m. on February 28, 2013. I have been meaning for some time to write a description of her visitation and funeral to complete the story, but I haven’t had (or taken?) the time. I think perhaps I am daunted by the task. For me, they exceeded words. I know many people who attended feel the same way. For me, there was a realization that the grief at her death was bigger than me — that many mourn her passing — and also that the difference she had made while on this earth and even in her sickness and death was so much broader than I had imagined.
To commemorate one month after her passing, I’m posting the sermon that Kenji Adachi preached on the day of her funeral. Kenji is a close friend of mine and understood the situation intimately. It was strange planning So Young’s funeral with him, because it was actually kind of fun hanging out for that time. Anyway, here it is, a fitting and moving tribute to So Young. Please read it for the message. As Kenji said, this is the message that So Young wants you to hear today.
There are many parallels with the death of Lazarus and So Young.
Both were sick with a mysterious illness and both had entered into a deep sleep. Many had turned to Jesus for help. In So Young’s case, people from all over the world reading her blog and were praying for her healing.
The Bible is clear how Jesus felt about Lazarus and his sisters. V.5 of John chapter 11 states, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”
And I want to be clear that Jesus loves So Young and her family with the same affections.
But the next verse is a paradox. Let me read it together with v.5, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.”
Jesus stayed in Jerusalem another 48 hours while Lazarus lay dying in nearby Bethany. All of us could’ve make the two mile journey to Bethany. It’s not a marathon.
So why did Jesus stay? Didn’t he understand Mary and Martha’s urgency and agony? Didn’t he hear their cries? Didn’t Jesus know that So Young was dying? Didn’t he love her?
Like many of you, I’ve witnessed so many of you pour out your love on the Gages: bringing meals, being with So Young, taking her out on lunch dates, bringing gifts for the kids, giving financial gifts. Doris Gage, Jame’s mother, calls them the hands and feet of Jesus.
I was at their home on Friday morning when someone brought the family a grand fruit platter, a large veggie tray, a sandwich tray fit for Samson and his family. So in order to make room in the fridge, we cleaned out the fridge full of home made meals. I’ve never seen that many mismatched Tupperware in my life.
I’ve witnessed Mark and Doris Gage go above and beyond their call as parents and grandparents supporting this family in unbelievable ways; always there for them – in many ways as the primary hospice nurse.
When So Young went home to be with the LORD, the first person James called was his dad. Mark came over immediately at 1am. (You have to understand Mark goes to bed right after dinner at 5pm Or is it 4:45pm?) A member of the Hospice Care team called James letting him know that she’s never seen this kind of love and care before.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing up close how much James has sacrificially loved his wife and cared for her night and day – sleeping in the same bed, feeding her, taking her to the bathroom, taking her in her on wheelchair dates to the Thai restaurant, putting Chap Stick on her lips, giving her medication every two hours, and sweet talking her and kissing her on the cheek.
It’s not out of the ordinary for him, because I’ve seen him love her like this for a good decade before her sickness – lavishing her with gifts, taking her on weekend getaways, writing love letters. James would write her a love note and leave it on the kitchen table for her to read before he left for work. That’s love.
Three weeks ago, So Young could barely mumble a word, but her girls were able to make out her words and put together a Valentine’s card for James. It reads, “Dear Hubby, Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you and the girls very much. Thank you for always taking care of me and protecting me. Always pray to God and love your Majesty in Heaven forever. XOXO Love, So Young”
Martha and Mary said, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
Everyone knew Jesus loved Lazarus. Why did he let him die?
Because in his love, Jesus had something better for Lazarus, something better than a healing; something better than life on this earth. Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
God is made to look great not only in miraculous healings, but in death.
So Young did not suffer and die in vain.
James kept reiterating during her sickness, during her chemo treatment, in her coma, and even in her death that God has a special purpose for So Young, whether in living or in death – God wants to glorify Himself.
So Young said she cannot remember a day of not believing in Jesus Christ as the Lord of her life and Savior. She grew up a pastor’s daughter in a Christian home where she heard the Gospel. Because of this, she said she had a boring testimony – no gut wrenching story of redemption where Jesus rescues her from a life of rebellion and sin.
It bothered her, so she began to pray privately that God would give her a better testimony for Him. She writes, “I told God that I wanted my life to have a higher purpose and that I wanted to live out this life for Him. I didn’t want to come to God and say I did nothing with the life I was given. My highest hopes are to hear God say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’ I desire to be salt and light in this world that is darkness.”
God has used her suffering as a powerful example of true hope and true strength to all of us. She was on fire for the LORD, preaching the Gospel to anyone and everyone like she was the Korean-American Billy Graham – always talking about Jesus. She had a close friend visit her from another state and she shared the Gospel to her and led her to Christ. This friend flew back last week telling James that she is now on fire for Jesus, plugged into a church because of So Young.
So Young was an avid runner. She ran in 4 marathons and 4 half marathons. (For non-runners, a marathon is 26.2 miles; it’s like running from here to Krispy Kreme in Washington DC).
I was in their bedroom Friday morning looking at her marathon medals (James thinks I was snooping around…)
I looked on the back of the medals and there was an inscription that said “Finisher.” Because there are some who run the race and there are those who finish. So Young was a Finisher for the Kingdom of God.
This past Christmas, James gave her a special display rack to hang all her marathon medals. It’s two feet wide and says, “Always Earned Never Given.”
So Young was a wonderful and godly woman, but she knew was a sinner, who could never earn her salvation. It had to be given, out of grace.
Every religion and every worldview operates under a merit system that says if you do good, you earn a medal – except Christianity.
God’s standard of righteousness is too much. It’s like trying to run a marathon of 26.2 billion miles. Any misstep of sin would disqualify us, and it would also merit death. No one can finish the race of righteousness that God requires; not one.
So God in His great mercy and kindness sent someone who could perfectly run this race for us; He sent His Son Jesus and he finished the race for us. But his race did not end on a traditional victory stand, to be crowned the victor; it ended on the cross to pay our penalty for our sins for we failed to finish our race. So God took His only begotten Son and exchanged His perfect record and His perfect life and exchanged it for ours. God took Christ’s medals that said “Righteous Finisher” and exchanged them for ours that said “Condemned Sinner,” so that we, who once sinners could be counted righteous victors because of Christ.
And this means that death would not be final for us; there would be a resurrection and a new life where there is no more running and striving; no more empty races to run to earn earthly medals to prove that you are someone important; no more trying to be more righteous than the other person. Heaven and a new life and the resurrection from the dead awaits for any sinner who places their faith in Christ’s work and not our own.
In 2010, So Young ran her last marathon and did not finish because her eyesight was too blurry. She stopped at the 18 mile mark. She did not earn a medal. But on her medal display hangs a Marine Corps Marathon from 2012. So Young didn’t run the race, someone else earned it and gave it to her as a gift of grace.
Three days ago on Wednesday, February 28, 2013 So Young Gage crossed the God’s finish line once and for all; it wasn’t earned; it was given freely. Christ finished it for her, because he loves her.
She has crossed the finish line – absent from the body and is present with the Lord – resting and rejoicing with Jesus on the Victory Stand in heaven; where there is no more tears and sorrows; no more blurred vision or brain tumors; and no more sin and death. Because So Young believed Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
If So Young was here, she would want you to believe in this wonderful news.
Do you believe Jesus is the resurrection and the life – that He has lived the perfect life that God requires from us?
Do you believe Jesus died for your sins to pay for the penalty of sin?
Do you believe Jesus rose again to prove that He was God and has the power over sin and death?
Have you placed your faith in Jesus’ work to finish the race you could not run?
Shannon, Lindsey, and Audrey – I want you to remember how much your mom loved you and the godly race your mother trained and ran like her marathons. I want you to know that finished well with Jesus. God used her life, her suffering, and her death to glorify His Son Jesus. May you continue this legacy.
James, may you never forgot the emotions behind your wife’s Valentine’s card.
“Hubby I love you and the girls very much. Thank you for always taking care of me and protecting me. Always pray to God and love your Majesty in Heaven forever. XOXO Love, So Young”
God exceeded your So Young’s prayers; he gave her not just a better testimony, but an incredible one. She has crossed the finish line in victory and God praised her saying, “Well done good and faithful servant.”