Preparing to Die...
Yea, yea, I know…this is a rather harsh title. But you have to understand where I’m at and where I’m coming from as to why I used this title. Read on.
I made my whirlwind trip to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City last week. I flew up on Wednesday, had my appointment on Thursday, and flew back home on Friday. This much travel in three short days was pure hell on the body, but the trip was well worth the effort. It was something I needed to do, to get the curiosity out of my system. The purpose of the trip was to get another “set of ears” to review my treatment history and offer up any possible alternatives to add some time to my life. Long story short, the gentleman I met with didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know. Don’t get me wrong, he was a compassionate, knowledgeable person who spent a total of two hours dialoging with me. This is obviously a man people are sent to when they call Sloan Kettering looking for help because all else has failed. Throughout our meeting, there was one thing he kept saying that really stuck with me. “We can try this treatment therapy, it may add another two months to your life if it works”…aha, there is the magic phrase; if it works. No one knows for certain if anything will work, and no one can put their thumb on the exact amount of time I have left in my life. No one except God.
On the flight back home, I spent a lot of time reviewing in my mind the appointment at Sloan Kettering. What the doctor said, should I continue treatment or stop it altogether and enjoy a better quality of life, and so on and so on. Then it really began to hit me – you have to begin to prepare for the end. I have thought about this for a long time now, but I never really took action. Now, I must take action. The reality of my situation is I probably have months to live. I don’t see me making it to 2008 to be honest with you. The cancer continues to invade my lungs, making a walk up a flight of stairs seem like a one mile run. I began to think deeper, and the idea hit me that I need to put together a fat, three-ring binder for Kimberly that explains everything that has been my responsibility. Life insurance info, credit card info, bills, even passwords and user names to the web sites we frequently use. All of this stuff is stuck in my brain. I need to do a brain dump and organize it in such a fashion that she will not be struggling to make sense of everything once I’m gone. This makes sense, and it will make her life easier given the difficulty of the situation. A pretty cool idea if you think about it. I get to plan for my death instead of someone who is tragically killed in a car accident for example. They are here one second, gone the next.
Then I picked up a magazine and began to scan the pages, doing something to pass the time on the flight. It was one of these Skymall magazines, advertising all kinds of stuff you can buy. I came across a silver bracelet, with a very simple inscription – Loved. That’s when it hit me. The emotional enormity of my journey hit me like a ton of bricks. I began to cry, uncontrollably. Sitting in the back row of the airplane, I quickly put my sunglasses on and used one of my hands to shield my quivering face. The constant drone of the jet engines helped to stifle the sobs coming from my mouth. I simply could not stop crying. Luckily no one was sitting in the seat beside me. I cried for what seemed like an eternity, until the pilot came on the speaker and announced our final approach into Greensboro. Finally, I was able to gain my composure. I must admit though, it felt good to cry.
As I have said so many times before, I am not afraid of dying. But, I don’t want to leave anytime soon. I keep thinking about my family, my wife and two beautiful daughters. I think about the pain they will suffer up to and after my death. The emotional scars will last a lifetime. It pains me so. But then I begin to think about heaven. I begin to think about how God wants to work through me today to touch others, including my family. It very clearly states in the bible that our days are numbered before we are even born. And then another revelation hit me. My concerns about how my family will react is nothing short of selfishness. Stay with me here. Matthew 6:25-34 is one of my favorite verses in the bible. It is entitled “Do Not Worry”, and here I am worrying about my family and how they will react to my death. That, my friends, is a sin. It is a selfish emotion that is seeded deeply in our own persona, wrapped up in our own self absorbed guilt, and topped with a bow of anguish. It goes directly against what God tells us in Matthew 6. Do Not Worry. Think about it.
So today, Monday, I met with my oncologist here in Greensboro to discuss my trip to Sloan Kettering. After the small talk he asked the obvious question – what are we going to do next? I shrugged my shoulders, took a few seconds to think, and then blurted out “I don’t know!” It seems like I’m damned it I do, damned it I don’t. If I continue treatment, the chemo will beat the hell out of me physically and emotionally. But it may add a few months to my life. If I drop chemo altogether, I will have a better quality of life, but…but…but. Paralysis through analysis. It happens to all of us from time to time, some more than others. I tend to be pretty decisive most of the time. If I see something and it makes sense, then I do it. But now I am faced with decisions that literally impact how long I may be alive. Aha, another magic phrase. How long you may be alive. There are no guarantees my friend. We can analyze things until the cows come home. There are some things that you simply must accept. At church last Sunday, it was announced that our Senior Pastor is stepping down. Burnt out. Been there for 10 years, served the church well, a tremendous growth in membership and programs, you name it. Very successful. However, the mood was quite somber, almost like a funeral. “We will get through these difficult times…” was something many leaders in the church said during the service on Sunday. As I sat there and listened to the dialogue, something caught my eye. Years ago, during a Sunday sermon, I wrote the following in the blank space at the end of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28. My notes say “God’s sovereign will is frequently the opposite of human nature and what we often expect and want.” BINGO! The congregation wants the pastor to stay. Please don’t leave us!! We love you! The pastor has been burning the candle at both ends, literally giving a portion of his life and sacrificing his family and his marriage to serve the church. As for me, I want to live. I want to watch my kids grow up, get married, and have grandchildren. I will be a GREAT grandfather! I want to be a husband to my wife and enjoy the rest of our life together. ME…ME…ME!!! Stop. Read it again - God’s sovereign will is frequently the opposite of human nature and what we often expect and want. Bingo. It’s God’s will, not ours. It’s God’s plan, not ours. It’s God timing, not ours. We are a selfish society driven by self-centeredness and the need to have it now. How sad is that? We have lost focus of what is important in this world. How sad. After the sermon on Sunday, the pastor and his wife went to the gym to accept well wishes from the congregation. He was so worried about the congregation feeling abandoned, like an athlete retiring at the peak of his or her game. People were in tears. He was in tears. Why I thought? This man has nothing to be ashamed of. I looked at Pastor Bill, gave him a big hug, and said “I have a different word for you. How EXCITING!” Sometimes we have to embrace the good and ignore the typical human emotion. Bill feels God is calling him to begin another chapter in his life, to better serve the Lord. I feel God calling me home, saying “Job well done, good and faithful servant…” Get off this “poor me” train and jump on a more positive means of transportation. This is something I am reminding myself of, right this very minute. Believe me, I know it’s tough my friend.
In closing, I am going to share a verse with you, once again from the sermon last Sunday. It is from 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. It reads “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Second Thessalonians was written by the apostle Paul, the second letter to the church in Thessalonica. It was written to clarify points misunderstood in his first letter (First Thessalonians). While he assured the Thessalonians that Christ would eventually return and set the world aright, he emphasized focusing on the present. As you read this scripture, be hopeful about what God has in store for your future, but concentrate on living and working with what he has given you for today.
Till next time, Brian….