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Life is a sacred gift.
But, some seasons are more sacred than others.

Two years ago, my Mother lived on her own, in her own house, driving her own car. Two weeks ago, she entered hospice care.

My Mom, Fran, with her dog, Rigby. (9/25)

My Mom, Fran, with her dog, Rigby. (9/25)

This is my fourth lap with the hospice-farewell process: my father, my father-in law, and my Uncle. And I have decided that the best words to describe the experience of this season in life are sacred and awful.

To stand at the end of life with someone you love and recall the stories of their life is a sacred place. To reflect on their moments of courage and vitality is to embrace the depth of who they were. To look ahead with them to the promise of eternity, to the place where pain and suffering evaporate in the presence of Jesus is to touch what is truly holy.

However, the moments that litter the pathway of this journey through the breakdown of the human body can be gut-wrenchingly awful. Our bodies were not created for death. We were created for life. Death entered the scene as part of the fall—the curse of Adam and all of us who’ve continued in his rebellious footsteps. We were never intended to experience dementia, debilitating loss of strength, or the demise of any other bodily function. We weren’t designed to feed our parents when they can’t feed themselves.

Watching my Mom wilt into a smaller and smaller version of who she used to be, I have to remind myself that she lived 87 years of healthy independence. Until two years ago, she was able to live in her own house, drive her own car, and engage in the activities she enjoyed. But, things have changed. I now need to choose to embrace the sacred transition that is taking place in right front of my eyes—a transition from this life into the next. I have to start saying goodbye while she is still here.

I am not a fan of those endless (and expensive) attempts to squeeze another short delay of the inevitable for a body that is saying, “I have had enough.” Desperate attempts to postpone death only serve to increase everyone’s sorrow and suffering.

I think we need to learn to acknowledge that it is right and good and holy to arrive at end of this life and declare “it is finished.” It is a holy thing to say like David, “I have completed God’s purpose in my own generation.” (Acts 13.36) We need to remember and declare God’s perspective: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” (Ps 116.15)

We don’t know how long my Mom has nor how things will play out at the end. Last week was a good week. The past couple days have been bad days. But, I do know that as I enter another farewell season, I choose to embrace it as a sacred moment, awful at points, but holy and good and right. It is a time to say goodbye. It is a time to bless her transition into the next life as it becomes ever closer.

 

When you have the chance to walk the same road with the people you love, I invite you to embrace this holy tension with me.

 

Your thoughts?
Your experience?

 

The Least of These

Gary Mayes —  October 30, 2012 — Leave a comment

Leaders are wired and trained to look for highly leveraged people and opportunities. We think about influence, change, courage, and about mobilizing the people who can help make things happen. So, what about people who have nothing strategic to give back? What about the people Jesus identified as the least of these?

Can it really mean that serving “one of the least of these”–where there is no quid pro quo, no strokes or favors to be returned–is literally an act of compassion received by Jesus?

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That 40/40 world ended sometime near the end of the last millennium. It was replaced by a world where everyone essentially works as a consultant, a world where job security is only as good as the current project you are working on. It’s a world that requires people to put in however many hours it takes to get the job done. And, now both spouses work in this same environment replete with the anxiety, fatigue, and long hours that come with it.

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Every once in a while it seems a window opens that blows fresh air into my soul on a deeper than normal level. I never expected the emotional journey of grief to be one of those windows.

Two weeks ago Margaret and I spent the day in a hospital cafeteria while our son had surgery to repair his heart. We sat there with family and friends waiting for the phone to ring, with news about Ryan, but also awaiting news on Margaret’s father. Just two days earlier Jesse had fallen and broken his pelvis. The injury was more than his declining health could handle and his systems were shutting down rapidly.

We sat there in the hospital waiting at the edge of life for news about two of the men I respect most. We were unprepared to lose Margaret’s Dad on the day Ryan’s heart found “new life.” The two strands of uncertainty turned that day into a moment at the seam between life and death that puts a whole lot of stuff into perspective.

In a poetic way, both Ryan and Jesse went home at the same time the next day. Ryan’s surgery was successful, so he was released mid-day sent home to recover. At that very moment, while driving Ryan home, Jesse was released to go home as well… home to the Savior that he loved. Both men stepped into a new chapter of life together.

That week and the one that followed were more emotionally draining than I would have guessed. They were days of memories and sorrow and letting go and loving one another and loving Jesus. They were days of in-your-face reminder that life is fragile and because of that truly sacred. They were days where grieving reminded us that the mosaic of people and moments that fill our days are worth celebrating.

It has caused me to do a lot of thinking about the relationship between grief and the well-being of my soul. It is amazing how much the grieving process accesses and cleanses out the accumulated clutter in the deep recesses of the soul. In moments like this, you cannot escape the fact that real life happens on a much deeper level than most daily activity.

There is something about living in a soul-deep way that awakens the senses of the spirit and unleashes true peace in spite of the torrent around us.

[fyi: this is the bookend essay to one from last March on life being fragile and sacred.]

When you are a child, you are typically oblivious to the dangers that surround you. When you are a teenager, you feel downright indestructible. As a young adult, it seems we are just too busy with a million irons in the fire to notice our own mortality. But somehow, as you get older you come to realize that life is fragile. This incredible bio-machine called the human body can be taken down in hundreds of ways.

Yet, when I recognize how fragile life is, I wake up to the fact that every day of life is a gift.

These days I find myself surrounded by people whom I love that are facing significant health battles. My Father-in-law is now under hospice care as his heart loses strength. My Uncle’s health has degenerated so he can no longer live on his own. My good friend and ministry partner with CRM recently discovered a cluster of tumors that will require extensive surgery. And, in less than a week, my son will have heart surgery to repair a condition that has had him on disability for six months.

My point in all this is not “woe-is-me.” Instead, it is champion the profound realization that at the core, our lives are truly fragile. We are miraculously fragile. And there is something about that fragile reality which makes today, which makes everyday, a sacred gift.

Unfortunately, I easily forget that day-to-day life is a gift. I get busy driving here, flying there, meeting with people, managing projects, working on some new scheme that is going to transform the world… and in the midst of it all I forget that I have no guarantees. I take my health, my strength, my life for granted.

So, today I want to say thank you to Jesse, Ken, Steve and Ryan. You are exceptional men whom God has used to shape my life. Today you remind me to hold my own life as a sacred trust. To take nothing for granted. To live boldly and with passionate focus.

In you I am reminded all over again that life is fragile, powerful, and mysterious. Today is a sacred trust to be held lightly and lived fully. It is a gift.

When I was a kid, honoring my father and mother was a pretty simple concept. It meant obeying them, not talking back, doing my chores without attitude, etc. These days it is a mandate with far more subtlety.

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I grew up in a Christian culture that functionally reduced following Jesus to a list of obligations and daily duties. Here is a profoundly different look at discipleship. One that is freeing and enticing.

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