The best and the worst

After two worship services this morning, I headed out to Stuart Meyer hospice house (in Palm Coast, FL) to see Kay. By the grace of God I last saw Kay on Wednesday, the last day she was awake and aware. I was glad to talk with her, give her communion and pray with her. Within hours, the doctors found a brain tumor and plans were made for hospice care. From that time one, she was unconscious.

Early this morning, I realized I’ve known Kay for more than twenty years. Before we built a new sanctuary, and before we paid someone to be an office manager, she was a volunteer, answering phones and helping me get ready for Sunday morning. I did the memorial for her husband ten years ago. I will soon do hers.

A lot of pastoral care happens on the extremes of life. I am there at birth and baptism, and then at death and funerals. In between I get to be a part of weddings and marriages, confirmations and graduations, and birthdays and anniversaries. I get to share in the best of life as well as the most difficult times.

That’s what makes this job pastor so unique, interesting and rewarding. I get to ride the waves of celebration, wade through the muck of disappointment, cradle a new life in my arms and hold a hand one last time before their last breath. The words of encouragement, hope, strength and comfort are always my Lord’s and never my own as I represent Him in times of both life and death, beginnings and ends, joy and sorrow, and laughter and tears.

I began my day by holding a newborn baby in my arms and welcomed her into God’s family. I ended it by holding the hand of a child of God about to take her last breath in this world. What a privilege to experience both!

You need to hear it again.

silvestri-matteo-176500The call came pretty late last night, about 10:45. I was driving, and felt my phone buzz in my pocked, but didn’t listen to the message until after I got home. “She said she thinks he’s dying.” I only live about a mile away and I didn’t want them to be alone, so I headed over to the apartment.

When I arrived, it was and it wasn’t what I expected. I’ve been with many people in hospice care for the last days and hours of their lives. I’m familiar with the shallow, irregular, rattling breathing. I just didn’t think it would happen this soon. Just hours earlier, he had been awake, conversant, signing his own documents and deciding to come home from the hospital. Hospice hadn’t even been to the house yet, and it looked like he’d be gone before they even arrived. He wasn’t conscious, but he also didn’t seem uncomfortable, which was a blessing.

A few more people arrived. All we could do was wait. Wait for a call back from hospice. Wait and wonder whether it was a wise choice to come home. Wait and pray, commending him to the Lord’s care.

With her encouragement, we left about 12:30 pm. She knew who to call if anything got out of hand. When I called back this morning, I learned he had died about an hour after we all left. Her words to me on the phone were, “I know he’s with the Lord. I just hope God accepts him.”

Without hesitation, I replied, “I have no doubt! He had faith in Christ. We just talked about that the other day when I brought him communion, He was forgiven. You don’t have to worry about that at all.”

“Thank you so much. That’s just what I needed to hear.”

If you know me at all, you know I talk about that all the time. Maybe when you’re sitting there on a Sunday and life is pretty good and you don’t have too many worries, it doesn’t register. But when the breathing stops, you feel all alone, and reality kicks in, it suddenly becomes an issue. So, you need to hear it again. If I can, I’ll be there to make sure you do.

Lately it seems like I’ve been spending a lot of time with people who get hit with stuff over and over again. What do you do for someone when the cancer keeps coming back? Or the headaches? Or the strokes? Or the flooding? I’m humbled knowing I don’t have a whole lot of answers. But I get to bring Christ, and he gives more than we ask or imagine.