Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Two events over the last week have caused me to pause and do a little deeper thinking. It may not be that deep for some of you and for some it may be like jumping into the deepest part of the ocean thinking you are in a kiddie pool. Last Friday, Lica and I drove to Plant City for the memorial service for Mike Storter. Mike had been battling Leukemia for the last three years and had been sent home with Hospice care in February with only 8 days to live. Three months later, he finally went home to be with Jesus. Then on Tuesday I got word that another former student had lost her husband to a heart attack on Monday night. He was only 38 years old, a full 7 years younger than Mike. You don’t think about having to comfort your former students who have lost loved ones from diseases for some reason. Yeah there might be that tragic car wreck or something like that, but not from a heart attack and cancer. These two stories mark the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to death. Mike’s death was slow and painful, filled with medicines, chemo, radiation, hospital stays and loss of mobility prior to his death to some degree. Robyn Bell Thomas’ husband Chris appeared quite healthy and had just returned from an anniversary trip to Puerto Rico when he suffered a massive heart attack and died moments later. No pain, no suffering, no warning, just a sudden and sobering loss. Lica and I talked on the way home from Mike’s service about those two options. With the diagnosis and no cure available one like Mike, you have time to get your affairs in order, make sure your spouse and kids are as well taken care of as you can, plan your own service (which Mike did incredibly well by the way), and cherish the last few days and months you have with those you love. And while the initial struggle for the family is difficult, the end of the struggle in some ways comes as a blessing because you just don’t want your family member to have to suffer anymore. That is especially true if they are a believer in Jesus and you know that they are going to heaven to be with the Lord and that you will one day join them there. When you go like Chris did (and my father eleven years ago), there is no time to say goodbye. No chance to tell extended family you love them and maybe not even the immediate family. One moment you are fully alive and the next you are in eternity. The loss for the family is so much greater in that moment because you just don’t have time to prepare. Even if the person was a Christian as Chris had professed earlier this spring, you still have this overwhelming sense of incompleteness to it all. The loss is the same, but our reaction to it can be quite different. So one takeaway from these events for me has been to make sure that I am living today as if it was my last day on the planet. That doesn’t mean selling off everything, quitting the ministry and buying a boat and go fishing in the keys or the Cayman Islands. Although that doesn’t sound too bad come to think of it! It doesn’t mean not going to work and approaching today like every other day of ministry. It simply means living with an appreciation for the incredible gift of life for another day that the Lord has given me. I believe that God has known the number of my days before a single one of them came to pass and that He knows the last day I will breathe on this planet before the resurrection long before that day will come. I want to do everything I can (ok, not everything, cause giving up Adam’s Ribs, sweet tea, and desserts would be hell on earth!) to live healthy like exercise and changing some things in my diet, not to prolong my life, but to make those days more productive. I can’t know how many days the Lord will give me, but I want to be able to give him my best for every one of those days and running and biking and swimming make me better able to function for the kingdom than getting fatter and lazier! A second takeaway is to make sure that I appreciate and love those around me. Starting with my family and extending to my friends and neighbors. One thing I noticed about Mike after he got sick, which was true before as well, was that he never seemed to be in a rush to get away from people. He loved being with his friends and family. If you knew you only had a few weeks or days to live, would that change the way you valued minutes with those you love? So why wait for the diagnosis? We are all day to day in this world and this might be our last day, so don’t wait to tell them that you love them, make sure you do it today, right now, this very moment, stop reading and pick up the phone or shoot them an email, or get in the car and drive over and tell them face to face! A third thought is to stop worrying so much about the trivial things that others think are important. If I live tomorrow, that project can be completed then. If not, then it won’t matter now will it? Even your boss will probably decide it wasn’t that critical if you are dead before you get it finished. Now some things just can’t wait to get done. I don’t want my surgeon deciding to leave in the middle, but if he has a good assistant that might even be okay. The trick is to determine those things that are true priorities and those things that are simply imposed on us by others. People should always come before projects, but I have to confess that my particular personality and leadership skills can sometimes get that confused. The events surrounding Mike’s life and death lead me to conclude that God really does know what He is doing with our lives. Over the years, I had often wondered why God put Mike back in Plant City after college and seminary when all he was able to do was work on staff part time at a church and work full time in the school system. The answer to that question was evident on Friday as the church was packed with over 1500 people for the service. Teachers, administrators, coaches, athletes, former students and friends were there to say their goodbye to Mike but Mike was able to share with them one more time the message of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ. He would not had that wide spread of an impact if he had just served on staff at a church! God knows what he is doing and why even if we don’t. God knew that Laura and the girls would need the support of her family to complete the job of raising the girls once Mike was called home, so He allowed them to stay there almost 20 years instead of moving around as so many do these days. That also allows me to say that somehow God will redeem this sudden death of Robyn’s husband after only a little over a year of marriage. I don’t understand why Chris was taken so soon or why their time together was so brief, but I believe that God has a plan to use this event to bring people to himself as well. I know that Chris was drawn into a relationship with the Father through the Spirit working through Robyn. If for no other reason, then Robyn’s pain and sorrow will be redeemed through the knowledge that by loving Chris, Christ was able to call Chris to himself through it. It won’t take the hurt away, but knowing that God will redeem our suffering means that it is not in vain and can give our pain meaning in our lives or for the sake of the kingdom. Finally, I don’t know how people can face death without a relationship with Jesus Christ. How could you possibly face the future of living without a spouse as these two ladies are doing, or without a dad as Mike’s two girls are doing, or losing a friend as so many of us have in the past week if you truly believed that this life is all there is. That is why Paul wrote that he didn’t want the Christians to grieve as those who have no hope. There is nothing wrong with grief. It is a natural reaction to loss and is common for all men and women. However, for the believers in Jesus we have one who has travelled the path of death before us. His resurrection means that death is not final. We do not have to fear the path of the unknown because we have a guide who has walked that way and found it to be a doorway to a new and glorious future. Because Jesus lives, so does Mike and Chris. Do you know Jesus today? If we had your funeral or mine tomorrow, would the world know, would your friends know, would your family know that you knew Jesus? Could they affirm that you and I would be in the presence of Christ? If not, give your life to Jesus and ask him to forgive your sins today and commit yourself to follow Him for the rest of your days, however many they may be!