Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Facing Death

People are quite amazing.

Each person is different.

Each person views the world and events in the world differently.

Each person responds differently to certain situations.

As a pastor, I see this all the time.  The rubber really hits the road during traumatic situations--when faced with sudden, serious illness; with a dramatic shift in job circumstances; or when faced with death.

In the past week, a somewhat younger (as I get older the definition of younger changes drastically) member of my congregation has been diagnosed with cancer.  It's lung cancer which generally has a 98% terminal rate.  It has already moved into other organs.  It is causing fluid to build up around her lungs causing her pain and shortness of breath.  Doctors have given her a prognosis of 18 months to two years with treatment.  Faced with such news, her reactions have been nothing less than amazing.

"I'm not afraid to die, Pastor," she told me.  "I'm just not ready to do it yet."

What an amazingly truthful statement.  A statement of true faith in my estimation.  I mean, as people who profess that death is not the end, why should we fear death?  We know where we are headed when we cross that threshold, don't we?  Christians believe we are going to be with God, correct?  And yet, I cannot tell you how many folks I have come upon who are afraid to die.  They are afraid to let go of life on earth.  Not that I don't completely blame them.  It's scary heading someplace that you really and truly have no experience of--yet, we have our faith which tells us what is on the other side.  If we really believe it, why do we fear?  This woman doesn't fear it--at all.

"Pastor, I have never grieved for anyone at their funeral when I knew where they were going."

She knows.  She knows she will get to see them again.  She knows they go to a better place than this world.  She realizes what her Christian faith has taught her, and she has the faith of a child when it comes to its practice.  She really believes it.  Even to the point of realizing that grief at a funeral is directed toward missing a person here on earth--not because of the supposed finality of it all.

"I've wanted to shake my fist at God wondering why such things happened."

Haven't we all, though?  Haven't we all wondered why?  Haven't we questioned why a person is lying in a young age...ravaged by disease or illness...taken by a tragic accident...killed in war...or before they had a chance to breathe their first breath?  Haven't we been angry at such things?  And how many of us have the faith to shake our fist at God?  How many of us had the faith to go toe to toe with the Almighty and say, "What were you thinking?  Why did you allow this?  Couldn't you have done something to help them, save them, let them live?"  Not all of us have the comfort to bargain or negotiate with God like Abraham did, or to wrestle with Him until He blesses us like Jacob did, but what an amazing faith to have.

"But I'm just not ready to die yet."

Man, can I relate to that statement.  This woman has written out her bucket list.  She has many things she wishes to accomplish.  There are things to do and sights to see.  Life is wonderful to experience.  And lest you think that this woman has lived a charmed life, you would be mistaken.  She's been through the ringer.  Abusive relationship, mental health issues, struggling financially, numerous health issues, family estrangement to name a few of the things she has had to battle with.  But she knows there is good with the bad.  She knows there is joy in the sorrow.  There are thorns, but there are roses as well.  Big, beautiful roses.  And she's not ready to stop looking at them just yet.  There are a few more she wants to smell, touch, and gaze upon.

Who can blame her?  She loves her grandchildren and wants to see them.  One of them has the possibility of playing professional baseball.  She'd love to hear whether or not he goes pro.  She loves working with children.  She's been a substitute teacher for quite some time, and when she talks about working with those kids, her face lights up like a million light bulbs.  She wants to be able to enjoy such things.  This world has too much good in it that counterbalances the bad.  I can't blame her one bit for her enjoyment of it and her desire to cram as much of it in as possible.

In the coming weeks, she has decisions to make on treatments.  She doesn't want to spend the rest of her days sick and weak.  She wants to have quality over quantity.  Can't blame her for that one either.  Not sure I want to spend my days weak and upchucking because they are pumping toxic chemicals into my system just to prolong my life a few weeks or months.  But I can say that as someone who is not facing what she is facing.  Don't know if I would be so brave, but I do know, I admire her.  She has a tough path to walk, or from where I come from, "a tough row to hoe."  But she is faith-full.  Someone to learn much from.

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