“I was about to leave.”
“I’m so glad I stayed for one last session.”
These were Nancy Zins’ first words to me. Nancy had become disenchanted with what she was hearing in Christian school seminars. Nancy hated stock answers to questions. Nancy wanted biblical answers to questions. For those who know me, you know Nancy and I were cut from the same cloth.
We met in Vermont where I was teaching six seminars on how to teach Christianly in various disciplines. Nancy was so pleased to find someone who based their educational commitments on God’s Word as she did. She sat in all six of my sessions.
We emailed and talked back and forth over a myriad of issues.
Nancy asked me to do a “Worldview Weekend in Film” with her high school.
Nancy as an administrator invited me to her school to teach her teachers.
Something happened to Nancy which has happened to many of us in our Christian school vocation.
Administration was allowed to make a career-ending decision.
Nancy left Christian school education.
But we kept in touch. Nancy would regale me with tales from her new found love: teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in China. I avidly followed her Spirit-directed exploits there. We would email or call to discuss educational-apologetic approaches for non-believers in China who wanted to learn our language.
Nancy also became a water aerobics instructor. It was during one of her classes that she discovered pain in her leg. She had contracted Multiple Myeloma (an incurable cancer of the blood cells found in bone marrow). The lesions—cancer cells attacking her body—were everywhere. She began chemo treatments in 2014. Bone marrow transplants followed.
People say sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. Nancy’s harrowing experience is as horrendous as only those who have walked in Nancy’s steps, know. I won’t recount the physical devastation I read about on Caring Bridge. When I saw pictures on the site it was virtuously impossible to recognize my friend.
But in God’s good grace and the common grace He was given to doctors, Nancy recovered. Nancy was in remission in the summer of 2015. I drove to North Carolina to spend time with Rob and Nancy at their home. We picked up our discussions as if we had been living next door to each other.
We recounted the goodness of God in allowing us to teach. We encouraged each other with biblical doctrine. We celebrated our days in Christian education. We laughed and hugged and shed a few tears.
In the fall of 2015 my pastors asked me to teach a semester to our adults at church about suffering. I immediately wrote to Nancy to ask her if she would record her testimony in suffering. [You can read Nancy’s words for yourself at the end of this essay.]
If you watch the first video of my teaching on suffering from that fall (find it here), you will see the embedded power points with Nancy’s words and pictures. You will also notice long vocal pauses on the video as I read Nancy’s words. Thankfully my friend the videographer left the slide in place longer than normal.
I was weeping in front of the class as I am now, typing on my computer screen.
In memoriam: Nancy Seiple Zins. My Christian education friend Nancy, passed into the presence of Jesus last evening after years of battling cancer. A dear friend, a sister in Christ, a stalwart comrade in teaching Christianly, our communication on earth will be a prized possession until we talk again in The Next Life. There have been a few dozen educators in this life whom I trusted by my side going into the battle for true Truth. Nancy was one of those. May The Lord be pleased to imbibe Nancy‘s spirit through His Spirit into the spirits of other Christian teachers. “Until the shout,” dear sister, as you always ended your emails, “Until the shout.”
Mark is often mindful of Czeslaw Milosz’s words, “The living owe it to those who can no longer speak to tell their story for them.” I will persevere through the same cause that brought us together, my good friend, remembering that I now owe others your story.
Unbeknownst to Nancy or myself, the summer of 2015 would be the last time I would see each other on earth. Last summer I contacted she and Rob to see if I could drive over to the east coast again. Rob was taking Nancy somewhere cool for the summer. They were very sorry but needed to spend time in the southwest for wellness. We emailed, messaged, and talked a bit through the fall of 2016.
Here is Nancy’s 2015 email she wrote for my teaching on suffering:
I was a water aerobics instructor and after one particular workout session in the pool, I could not put any weight on my left leg. An MRI was scheduled. This test showed clearly that I had torn the labrum in my left hip and that this was the cause of my pain.
Next I heard the words that no one wants to hear. “We’ve found something else.” My doctor said I had lesions on my pelvis that indicated Multiple Myeloma (an incurable cancer of the blood cells found in bone marrow). Over the next three weeks I went through all kinds of tests, including a bone marrow biopsy. The tests confirmed that I was in stage two out of three stages of Multiple Myeloma. Lesions were seen on my skull, arms, legs, hips, and pelvis: In other words, “everywhere.”
What does a Christian do when receiving news like this? A Christian reviews everything he/she knows to be true about God and puts it in the context of the present situation. I had long ago accepted the fact that the Lord is the living Sovereign over every atom in His universe and every nanosecond of its history. Dealing with cancer would mean trusting what I already acknowledged to be true; that He is in absolute control of all the events and circumstances of my life. I knew the times ahead would be tough, but I concluded with confidence that whatever the number of days the Lord had ordained for me, I wanted my cancer to glorify Him.
Secondly, I knew that He is just as loving as He is sovereign, and that He allows nothing into our lives that is not for our ultimate good.
Thirdly, I learned that in the Greek language there are such constructs as double and triple negatives. I have meditated on Hebrews 13:5c over the years as this is the one place in Scripture that contains both of these grammatical forms. They are important because of the emphasis they provide. In essence God has declared that, “I will not, I will not, I will not leave thee nor forsake thee, most assuredly not!”
The days ahead were indeed tough. The early induction phase of chemo indicated that I was a good candidate for a stem cell bone marrow transplant. I was told that the transplant would wipe out my bone marrow and bring me to the brink of death. This proved to be true, and as horrific as other transplant patients had described. We were the “living dead.” In addition, while on the transplant ward I got several infections including e-coli. I also developed blood clots. No fun.
After 18 months of treatment and rest, it pleased the Lord to put me in complete remission! To date there is still no cure for this particular cancer. Someday it may return. When that time comes, I will as is my habit, to review all that I know to be true; that He is still Sovereign over all, that He loves me still, and that He will never, never, no never, leave me nor forsake me. God’s ways are inscrutable and beyond our understanding, but we are called to trust Him. Romans 8:28 is the all-time favorite verse of Christians. It states that the Lord is working everything together for our good. I do not need to see how he is doing this. What is important is that I know that He is working and to trust Him in it! What blessed truths when one goes through the meat grinder of life!