Posts Tagged ‘end of life’

Dear Gary,

It is with sadness too deep for words that you, my friend, mourn the death of your beloved wife. Through the months and days to come, you will think of Verdeen and all that she was to you.

She was your bride. She was the mother of your children. She was a role model and mentor. She was a skilled craftswoman. She was the love of your life.
But do you know that Verdeen was—and still is—so much more?

At much too young an age, your beloved began to change as she suffered the progressive disease of Alzheimer’s. How many times did you hear someone say, “She isn’t the person she once was”?

But do they know that the person, Verdeen, was—and still is—so much more?

How difficult it must have been when you understood that your wife could no longer be a homemaker but would, instead, be a patient in the care center.

But, oh my friend, do you know that Verdeen was—and still is—so much more?

Do you know that as a baptized Christian, Verdeen has an identity that never changes no matter her appearance, abilities, or circumstances in life? Illness did not change who Verdeen really is. Nor did her funeral. Verdeen will always be the person she has been since her Baptism. On that day, she was washed with water and the Word, given faith, and dressed in righteousness and purity. She was marked with the sign of the cross and made a daughter and heir of God because of what Jesus her Savior and Lord did for her.

Think of it, my friend! Jesus invited both you and your beloved wife to pray, “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” The Apostle John writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).

But the world does not know who Verdeen is because it does not know God. If the world does not know God the Father, it cannot know His sons and daughters.

My friend, you are not like the world. Even though it has been difficult to watch the changes in your wife, you treated her with the honor and dignity that an heir of God deserves. It would be a lie to say that you didn’t suffer with her, or that you never experienced frustration, impatience, and even anger. But when we see another human being in the way that God does, our attitude is transformed. Indeed, each human life is a treasure for whom Christ gave all He had.

Dear friend, in all your years of courtship and marriage, did you see that Verdeen was dressed in Christ’s Robe of Righteousness and proclaimed “holy” in the eyes of God? Yes, I think you did. That is why you held her in high esteem and put her needs before your own. That is why you read to her, held her hand, looked at family photos with her, brought her flowers, sang hymns with her, wiped her bloody nose, combed her hair, and prayed with her.

Here, my friend, is your comfort and peace. You did not love as the world loves. You loved with compassion which means to “suffer with.” You loved more than a bride, the mother of your children, a role model and mentor, a craftswoman, and the romance of your life. You loved a daughter of God who now enjoys her “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [her]” (1 Peter 1:4).

My friend, you defended the life of your beloved and honored her as her Father desired. You helped her navigate her earthly journey until her Father said: Well done, good and faithful husband. Now let Me carry My daughter home.

Oh, and there is one more thing, says the Lord: You will see her again.

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I really don’t understand my generation nor do I understand my parents’ generation.  We cry out for ourselves.  We want government health care, government assistance, government support.  We worry that someone will take away Medicare, Medicaid, and access to inexpensive prescription drugs.  “These are our rights!” we claim.

But, where are the arms of the government?  Where are the hands?  The heart?  The soul?  Where is the government when we need encouragement in times of loneliness, difficulty, or loss?

Government is not a person.  It does not think.  It does not care.  It is only what the people shape it to be.

Government can only provide programs and assistance for its citizens when the citizens provide the funds.  These funds are called taxes.  We have to pay them… or suffer penalty of law.  In other words, we are depending on the coerced charity of people who don’t know us and maybe don’t even care.

My generation had not a brain in its collective head when it demanded uninhibited sexual freedoms and legalized abortion.  “I am a sexual being; therefore, it’s my right.”  “I deserve to be happy.”  “It’s all about me.”

Well, now what?  Sexualized, “all about me” Boomers want their Viagra for “performance edge in the bedroom” AND a government health care plan.   Tell me, Boomers, is there anything else we’d like on the backs of our children and grandchildren?

Government is an institution without a heart, mind or soul.  It doesn’t know us.  It is not in touch with us.  It cannot love us or help bear our burdens.  America’s older citizens clamor for care and support, but – duh! – what were we thinking?  Fearing any inconvenience, so many of my generation aborted the living souls who would have grown up to care for us.  My generation aborted the very flesh and blood that, unlike government, would have had bonded relationally with parents and grandparents.

We aborted those feared to be “inconvenient” or “burdensome.”  But, allowed to live, those children would have lessened the fears of parents who may be labeled by a “death panel” as a financial burden to society.

God does not scratch His head, wondering how He will care for all the people.  That’s what generations are for!  Fifty million babies (the number of those aborted in the U.S. since 1973) would have pumped energy, creativity, and consumer dollars into a now dead economy.

People my age and older – who should know better – proclaim, “It’s the economy, stupid!”  We dismiss what are called “social issues.”  Well, dismissing social issues — the sanctity of human life, marriage, and family – helped create the mess we’re in.  Refusing to dialogue about personal responsibility, moral ethics, and values made an already spoiled citizenry more selfish and lazy.  Tolerant of everything except discussions of “right and wrong,” we listen to a sound bite here, read a headline there, and vote for whoever will send the most financial assistance our direction.

“It’s the economy, stupid!”  No, I disagree.  The economy is the way it is because we’ve been living off the investments of our Founding Fathers and every father who worked honestly and faithfully to provide for his family.  We’ve been living off the investments of mothers who understood that a nation is built upon vibrant homes and children taught self-restraint.  We’ve been living off the investments of others but, as my husband says, invested very little – if anything – ourselves.  Now that’s stupid.  And, as it’s been said, you can’t fix stupid.

A long time ago I was compelled to become involved with pro-life and family ministries as a volunteer.  Although probably considered “illiterate” by university-types, I have been hungry to learn through reading and research.  My worth cannot be measured by a salary, but I have been blessed to travel the country speaking with and listening to countless people from all walks of life.  My Biblical worldview allows me to see all people of every color, ethnicity, and culture as part of the human family because they are all creations of God.  That means that people – and the conundrum of social issues – matter to me.

Government can’t do what I do.  It can’t do what anyone who cares for their neighbor can do.  My arms have reached out to comfort women hurting years after their abortion choice.  The Spirit of my Baptism moves me to love complete strangers with no strings attached.  A great number of these “strangers” have become my friends and fellow sojourners.

With the desire to help eliminate costly health problems such as sexually transmitted diseases, pre-marital sex, and abortion, I joined with two other moms to start a caring pregnancy center (CPC).   Every service we offer is freely and willingly provided, not coerced by compulsory “taxation.”  When funds are needed, we work to raise them.  We invite – never demand – our community to join with us in making a positive difference for people in times of fear or need.  We provide at no charge the pregnancy tests for which Planned Parenthood charges (in spite of all our tax dollars sitting in their coffers).  We mentor toward personal accountability and the stability of marriage.

Government is not a person.  Government is without hands, heart and soul.  Government does not love its neighbor as itself.  Government can provide assistance only when its citizens provide the funds.  And, in too many cases, government welfare tends to enslave the people.

For this reason, I’m going to the voting booth not to vote for a Republican or Democrat.  Not to vote for one personality over another.  But, to vote for leaders who will defend human life in the womb and, therefore, human life in old age.

To vote for leaders who will defend the sanctity of marriage as the institution created by God for a civilized world.  Who will defend the freedom of more than worship, but expression of faith in daily life.

The economy will begin to fix itself when life, marriage and family begin to matter more.

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When I was a little girl, my parents took my brother and me to Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore of Lake Superior.  We returned for numerous visits.  I was fascinated with the lighthouse.  What fun, I thought, to be the daughter of the lighthouse-keeper!

Re-visiting the Lighthouse as an adult, I recognized the lighthouse-keeper’s job was a lonely one.  Daily structured.  Difficult in the midst of storms.   The duty of the lighthouse-keeper, after all, was to keep the light shining no matter what.  Wicks needed to be trimmed.  Plenty of oil on hand.  All equipment needed to be in working order so that nothing prevented the light from shining when fog quickly rolled in or darkness overwhelmed the shoreline.

There was another duty.  From time to time, the lighthouse-keeper was called down from his lofty place high on the hill to the rocky shore below where hurting lives lay ship-wrecked and in trouble.

Such is our duty, too.  We are called to shine our lights high on the hill to help everyone see.  The light of God’s Word flowing through us warns others of danger and shows the way of hope and salvation.  But, when someone is hurting because he or she has come upon hard times, suffering and pain, God’s Word compels us to step down from the hill to offer comfort and care.   To help carry the burden.  God’s love flows through our servant hands.

My friend’s mom, Gladys, came down from her lighthouse countless times to serve the needs of others.  Now, it is is the turn of her children and grandchildren to serve.  To show their respect.  To practice caring.  To model what Gladys taught them.  I know.  I know.  Gladys would much rather go to the mansion God has prepared for her, but not yet.  Not until God’s work in and through her is done.  For now, she can trust that God is doing a work through her for others.  She can trust that He is speaking to her about important matters of eternal significance.  Then, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, she can know that God’s will is being accomplished.

Things for Gladys seem upside down.   Storms have carried her wrecked and helpless body onto the rocky shore.  But, the light in Gladys is still shining.  The oil of God’s Word has so filled Gladys that, even as a very sick patient, her light inspires others to kindness.  Patience.  A servant’s love.

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It’s possible that very soon my friend, Gladys, will be called home.  Poison in her system cannot be contained.  Her kidneys are shutting down.  Her lungs are weary.  She is in pain.  My friend is impatient to go home, yet — a faithful servant of God to the end — she does not ask anyone to send her before her time.

What Gladys does ask is that she be kept as pain-free as possible.  In an article I wrote years ago, I quoted Dr. Matthew Conolly.  He acknowledged that the greatest fear of most patients — and, thus, the reason that “mercy killing” or euthanasia grows ever popular — is pain.  Too many physicians believe their most important role is to heal or cure.  When they cannot, the patient may become a reminder of the doctor’s “failure.”  At such times, some physicians abandon the patient.  What they could do, as Dr. Conolly pointed out, is learn the art of caring for the patient even when the prognosis is not good.  What they could do is to learn the art of pain control.  Appropriate pain control does not hasten death, but brings dignity to both patient and family.

Today, my friend’s daughter — my dear friend, Rita — is talking to the hospital chaplain and hospice care workers.  Rita does not want to decide when her mother should die.  That is up to God.  But, she does want to do all she can to keep her mother comfortable.

I am reminded of a story I’ve shared when speaking about end-of-life issues.  A pastor’s wife, in her battle against cancer, was undergoing extensive treatment.  She was placed on a rubber cooling blanket to keep her temperature down.  It was very uncomfortable.  “I don’t know if I can stand this,” she told her husband.  “If you cannot,” he told her, “tell the nurses you want to discontinue this treatment.”  Then, anxious and exhausted, he left to get a few hours sleep.  When he returned, he was greeted by a nurse.  “Boy, does you wife have something to tell you.”  The pastor rushed in to his wife’s room where he found her smiling.  “What happened?” he asked.  “It was wonderful,” she said.  Sometime after you left, I could bear it no more.  I prayed that God lift me from this suffering.  And, you know what?  Angels appeared.  I felt warm; snug as a bug.  I slept.”

Does God know our pain?  Does He hear us when we ask for comfort?  For strength to endure?  For courage?  Think about Jesus as He was preparing to take on the sins of the world.  On the night He was betrayed, He took His disciples with Him to the garden.  He told them, “Do not fall into temptation, but pray.”  Then He went off by Himself.  He was in anguish.  His sweat was like drops of blood.  “Father,” He prayed, “if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”  Do you know what happened?  An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.  (Luke 22:39-43)

When our physicians cannot heal, may we encourage them to comfort.  To seek better pain control.

And, when we feel that we are falling into temptation — ready to ask someone to end our life and send us on our way home — may we, instead, call upon the Great Physician.  The One who knows pain.  Who carried sorrow.  Who endured every whip and lash for our benefit.  If God heard the plea of His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, and sent an angel to strengthen Him, won’t He also hear us?  Won’t He give us exactly what we need, when we need it, until His work through us is done?

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My friend, Rita, is sitting at the bedside of her mother.  It has been Rita’s great joy and blessing to have Gladys as her mom.  Now, as mother battles life-threatening infection, daughter wants to serve as she’s been served.  She is doing that by faithfully remaining at her mom’s side… reading to her, praying with her, and re-counting treasured memories.

It is at such times, however, that even the most faithful believers ask, “God, where are You?  Why do you allow our loved one to endure this?”  Gladys has lived a full and good life.  “She has been faithful, Lord.  Isn’t her work done?  Dear Jesus, why don’t You just take her home with you?”

Our family asked similar questions not long ago when my father-in-law battled bacterial brain infection.  We were given opportunity to hang on to and put into practice every pro-life conviction on which we stand.  For years, I had been speaking to others about the value of one life — the life in the womb and the life in a hospital bed.  So, I had to ask myself, what value was I going to put on the life of my husband’s father?  After all, he was 80 years old.  (Gladys is 91.)  His life was blessed.  Full.  Active.  He knew Jesus as His Savior and I knew my father-in-law, Max, would be taken to heaven when he died.  I knew I would forever appreciate the wisdom he had shared and the lessons he had taught.

I remember days and nights when Max, almost catatonic, could only thrash fitfully in bed.  I remember spoon-feeding him and begging him to swallow before a feeding tube was inserted.  Without really meaning to, Max pulled it out three times.  Three antibiotics were flowing into his bloodstream by IV.  No one knew for sure what the side-effects of those toxic chemicals might be.  So, when the brain surgeon said there was no more she could do, and the infectious disease team told us the odds of beating this infection were not good, and the social worker encouraged us to “take your dad home to hospice,” we could have said, “It has been a good fight.  We did all we could.”

But, God wasn’t through with Max — and He wasn’t through with me or my family either.  There were so many more lessons yet to be taught and learned.  From a bed not of his choosing, Max challenged his family to make words real in deed.  Not by accident he became my teacher, model, and witness.  My journal is filled with lessons taught by a man who was ready to meet Jesus; yet so desperately clung to the life he loved.  Here are a few of those lessons:

SERVICE: How can we make a difference when we are helpless?  Max had always been a hard worker.  His hands tilled the soil and planted the seed.  But God does not need our hands or anything else we have to offer.  His work is accomplished in spite of us.  God said to Max Bartlett, “My power is made perfect in your weakness.”  This power was witnessed by family, friends, and the medical community.

DETERMINATION: Although we were willing to let Max be with Jesus, we weren’t ready to give up.  Nor was a man named Ravi Vemuri, a physician who seemed to have developed a personal interest in Max and his ever-present family.  Dr. Vemuri, a practicing Hindu, loved life too, and he had one more antibiotic to try.  In addition, perhaps moved by our involvement, he granted our request to compliment his chemical approach with nutritional supplements.  The determination of doctor, family, and the patient Max was not lost on those who watched.

CONTROL: Desiring some kind of control, I wanted to work with a plan.  On the days when we nearly lost Max, I planned for death.  On the days when he rallied, I planned for life.  But, through Max Bartlett, God showed me that He has a plan not like my own.  He asked me only to trust.

INCONVENIENCE: If asked how I would handle sometimes 15-hour days in a hospital room and shared sleeping quarters with assorted family members, I’m not sure how I would have responded.  But God did not ask me how I felt about such things.  Through Max, He simply asked me to be faithful.

SELF: During my first long stay at the hospital, my thoughts turned to self.  Does anyone appreciate what I am doing or realize what I’m giving up?  In a private moment I will never forget, God used the patient, Max, to help the caregiver, Linda, adjust her attitude.

WORSHIP: One evening, alone with my father-in-law, I asked, “Sometimes, when you appear to be sleeping, you are really talking to God, aren’t you Max?”  Squeezing my hand even tighter, he simply said, “Yes, you know, don’t you?”  What soul work was being done.  A frightening brush with death brought a humble man of God named Max Bartlett into an even closer relationship with His Heavenly Father.

So, what is the price of one life?  Is it the price of helplessness or suffering?  Is it the price of sleepless nights and frightening days?  Is it the price of inconvenience?

The price of one life is what God puts on it.  He planned that life.  He knit that life together in the secret place of a mother’s womb.  He promised to be with that life whether dependent on bottle-feeding or tube feeding.  He loves that life.  The greatness of that love is evidenced by the Cross on which His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed for one life — yours, mine, a preborn child, Max, and Gladys.

God wants us to love one life, too.  He wants us to protect one life and speak up for one life.  Early in my pro-life ministry days, I predicted that the generation that ushered in abortion would be ushered out by euthanasia.  This culture has been shaped to value human life only if it is wanted.  Convenient.  Not a threat to our own.  But, the value God places on the life He creates and redeems is priceless.  God wants us to be an advocate for each life.  To leave ourselves open and willing to learn every lesson taught by the “least of these.”  To trust.

If God gives us one life to love, He will also give us what we need — for as long as we need it — to care for that life.

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Joanie was scheduled for surgery.  “I’m getting my affairs in order,” she told me.

Joanie had come into my life as an older, wiser friend not long after my mom died.  She became my mentor.  A reminder that God’s Word is all that matters.  A reminder that Jesus is that Word for my life.

“My surgery is to repair an aneurysm,” Joanie explained.  “It’s a routine procedure.  But, whatever the Lord’s got going here is fine with me.”

A few days before the surgery, Joanie’s two daughters flew in to be with her.  Joanie called to tell me she had a grand idea.  “We’re going to have a joyful night on the town.”  Later, I learned that night was special indeed.  Over a leisurely dinner, Joanie and her daughters shared many memories.  They laughed, then cried, then laughed some more as they lingered over a single glass of white Zinfandel.  Later, they returned home to curl up in the living room where they continued their story-telling late into the night.  Somehow, I had no difficulty hearing Joanie tell her daughters, “I gotta tell you girls.  Whatever the Lord’s got going here is fine with me.”

When Joanie’s son called to say he would drive down to be with her, she assured him there was no need.  “You stay with your family right now.  I’ll see you soon.”  Then she penned him a loving letter with words that can only flow from a mother’s heart.  The note ended, “Whatever the Lord’s got going here is fine with me.”

On the morning of the surgery, Joanie woke early.  She slipped out the back door to say good-bye to her two dogs, the faithful companions who greeted her this morning as they did every morning.  Coming back inside, she slowly walked through the rooms of the house, touching her lips and planting a “kiss” on the photo faces of her husband, children, and grandchildren.  She sighed, then picked up the bag she had carefully packed the night before.  With one quick glance over her shoulder back at the house, she walked to the car.  No one but her Father heard her say, “Whatever you’ve got going here, Lord, is fine with me.”

The surgery did not go as expected.  There were too many complications.  My friend’s body grew weak and could no longer fight the battle of life over death.  In the distance, she could hear the great choir of heavenly angels praising God.  “Whatever you’ve got going here, Lord, is fine with me.”  Then, a brief hesitation.  Did Joanie hear one of her daughters say, “We must let her go.”  Did she hear the other cry, “No!”  Joanie waited as if she were giving her daughter time to adjust her thinking and receive the same peace that was now flowing through the mother.  It was not easy, but both daughters agreed, “Mom is ready.”  And they entrusted her to God.

Days later, Joanie’s daughters opened the bag which their mom had packed for her hospital stay.  In it were all the things that a woman would take for recovery from surgery — a few toiletries, nightgown, photo or two of her family, books for passing the time, and well-worn Bible.  Looking through the items in the bag, they paused to remember the behavior of their mom the morning she left home for the hospital.  They heard her sigh and saw her lingering glance at the house.  They knew she had written a “good-bye” letter of encouragement to her son.  But, at the same time, here was a bag filled with the items one would need for life.

Joanie truly believed, “Whatever you’ve got going, Lord, is fine with me.”  She lived each day ready to do those things God had already prepared for her to do, yet she kept her eyes focused on the Savior who would one day carry her home.  In the time that I had know her, Joanie spoke with excitement about her eternal home with Jesus.  Yet, never had I met anyone more content to be in the present — loving souls and sharing the Word of life.

Joanie departed my life much too soon.  Plans had been made for her to spend a week in my home.  I anticipated that visit.  I needed more time learning at the feet of my mentor.  Learning how to adjust my attitude.  Learning to focus less on self and more on Christ.  That visit did not happen, but others will.  With all confidence, I anticipate daily visits with Joanie in our Father’s house.

With eagerness, Joanie expected Jesus to come for her.  She only hoped she would not stand before Him ashamed.  Therefore, whether she lived or died, it would be to the glory of her Heavenly Father (Philippians 1:20-21).

“Whatever You’ve got going here Lord is fine with me.”

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