Dale Aukerman, pastor, writer and peace worker, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in November 1996 at age 66 and given two to six months to live. The nonconformist who sought to live a 20th-century life according to Jesus' example spent his remaining time in two ways:

He tied up the loose ends of his life on earth so his family would have fewer worries when he was gone, and he tried to understand what God wanted of him before he died.

His peace work and preaching for the Church of the Brethren had made him sometimes respected and sometimes spurned by members of that pacifist church, which has about 142,000 members, mostly in Midwestern and mid-Atlantic states. He had written two books, including one about a biblical perspective on nuclear war, and wrote numerous magazine articles that had earned him an audience among other Christian denominations.

Many of his friends and acquaintances looked to him as a spiritual leader who made good on his word to live by Jesus' countercultural example. The white cotton hat Dale bought in May to shield his head after he'd undergone brain radiation was, he said, the first piece of new clothing he'd bought in three or four years. In June, Dale was among the last to say goodbye to Brian Baldwin, whom Dale and Ruth had befriended, before the convicted killer was executed in Alabama.

Almost three years ago, Dale's friend Cliff Kindy urged Dale to write about what he was going through. The journal Dale kept since Nov. 5, 1996 - the day of the diagnosis - allowed family and friends to follow his story.

``Dale's perspective on it and his attempt to keep that disciplined focus throughout this struggle is a most helpful story for us to learn from,'' Kindy said.

After the diagnosis, Dale considered rejecting chemotherapy. But he accepted it in part to buy time so he could attend to what a family friend called ``so many undone things'' such as fixing up the house so his wife Ruth wouldn't have to when he was gone.

Dale, Ruth and their three children - Daniel, Miriam and Maren - fed off their love for each other as they planned for Dale's funeral. Dale began drinking herbal tea and taking doses of 15 different vitamins and natural medicines to supplement the chemotherapy. He read the Bible and prayed for healing, although he maintained the prayer alone wouldn't do it; healing had to be God's will.

He felt God had gotten his attention by permitting the cancer to occur, and, aware of his dwindling time, he kept asking himself a question: ``What does God want me to do?''

In March 1997, four months after the diagnosis, 20 family members and friends planted 315 saplings on Dale and Ruth's land as a living memorial to him.

He began sending his journals to friends and extended family. He rekindled old friendships. He reconciled with some old enemies. And he wrote a sermon he called ``Living with Dying,'' about love, hope, healing and God's will. He preached the sermon several times, and it was published in a Christian magazine, the Messenger , in the spring of 1998.

He kept writing. In July 1998 the Messenger printed Dale's article, ``The Problem with Pluralism,'' in which he chided the Brethren church for tolerating those who did not attempt to closely follow Jesus' example.

He kept preaching. In September 1998 at the Pipe Creek Church of the Brethren in Union Bridge, he delivered another message he believed God wanted him to send: That one can find power in weakness, because, he said, physical weakness had brought him closer to Jesus.

In October 1998, tests showed that the cancer had almost eaten through one of Dale's vertebra, which meant the chemotherapy drug he was taking had quit working. Dale's oncologist put him on a new cancer drug, and by December, tests showed the tumor in Dale's left lung had stopped growing.

Ruth's mother Elizabeth Seebass and brother Gottfried arrived from Germany for Christmas 1998. It was 25 months after the diagnosis.

It was, Elizabeth said, ``a Christmas in joy.''

Go to the Living with Dying page

Go back to Chapter Eight, "He died who he was"