Lent 2008: Day 4 – Facing Death

Sometimes I have started my Lenten discipline with a specific purpose, such as last year when I focused on the meaning of love. Yet even then I never knew where those efforts would take me. This year I had no specific agenda; I just wanted to write sometime each day and see where God would take me. So far it seems the focus has been on examining the purpose and meaning of death.

You have to admit, our mortality is not a popular subject. It is a topic, to be honest, that I have not explored in any detail, especially when speaking from a Christian perspective. It is, however, something we cannot successfully ignore; it eventually touches us all.

Some of us are forced to deal with death early in our lives. Within a year, between the end of sixth grade and half way through seventh, two boys I knew died. The first occurred at a picnic and swimming party for the altar boys at our church. We were a group of about twenty, spanning fifth through eighth grade. One of the boys, whose name I no longer remember, but with whom I had have served on occasion, drowned. I remember kneeling in the wet grass beside the pond, not more than ten feet away from their attempts to revive him, praying and watching anxiously, but their efforts failed.

Later that year, my regular altar partner got sick. He started throwing up and couldn’t continue on the altar or in school. Then that winter he died of Leukemia. In both cases, there was nothing I could do for either of them.

At the time, even though I had prayed with a fierceness I had never before known, it all seemed so hopeless. My efforts felt useless. I believe that is when I began a long ongoing sense that prayer, while maybe it was what we were supposed to do, really didn’t do anything.

By the time my younger (2 years) brother died in Vietnam, I no longer knew how to deal with death. Prayer was already ineffectual and my faith was marginal at best. As a result, the death of someone close to me became something I had to get through as best I could, something to put behind me.

Nothing changed until in my late twenties, when I committed my life to Jesus Christ. That turned everything around and put me onto the path I have been following for the last thirty-three years. I guess I wasn’t surprised that after my conversion it did not take long for me to have to once again face the possibility of a close and personal death. Within thirty-six hours of the birth of my daughter, both she and my wife were on death’s door. They gave me less than 10% chance of either one pulling through. My daughter had viral pneumonia and my wife had a strep infection that had spread to her abdominal cavity, which wasn’t responding to antibiotics.

It was bad enough that the hospital called her parents (they were on the emergency contact list) and told them to come immediately since they did not expect my wife to make it through the night.

This time, however, prayer felt different. Things had changed. Death did not hold the only cards. Just seven months before my wife had been healed of the effects of Rubella, which had initially appeared on a blood titer they took every two weeks because she is RH negative. They wanted to do an abortion, since first trimester measles meant serious birth defects. We refused, went to our church’s healing service for prayer and anointing and the Rubella disappeared from later tests, though it was still there in the original sample.

With that experience and the exuberance of my still relatively new Christianity bolstering my efforts, I marshaled a prayer team to support my own efforts. They both lived, though six months later we almost lost our daughter a second time, and five years later my wife faced another serious crisis that could have proved fatal. Then there was time my five year old daughter got a penny she shouldn’t have had in her mouth caught in her throat, blocking her breathing. By the grace of God I was able to hook it with the tip of my finger, rotate it enough to get beside it and force it out. She would have never lived long enough for paramedics to arrive.

Through those last experiences, however, something had dramatically changed from my earlier encounters with death. I no longer felt helpless. Prayer no longer seem useless. The end no longer was certain. God had stepped to the fore and it was his purpose that turned the moment, brought about the resolution. There was hope within the darkness.

There is much more to be said on this subject in coming meditations, but I pray my journey from feeling useless, to gaining hope despite the overwhelming odds can be your journey also. Prayer is meaningful. God does have a purpose in all that we encounter. Life is more than death on the horizon.

I invite you to join me on the journey. You will be glad you did.

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