Every once in a while I encounter an uplifting story that becomes my weekly blog. Recently I was thumbing through one of author Gordon MacDonald’s books that I had read over twenty years ago. I encountered a very powerful true story that took place when MacDonald was the pastor of a local church. These are MacDonald’s own words from the book, The Life God Blesses:
My neighbor’s wife was dying of cancer. I was at the hospital with him as we waited for her life to end. It was a difficult moment because she thrashed about in her bed in semi-consciousness. And no medication or medical treatment seemed to bring her a modicum of rest. It was clear to me that the physicians and nurses had exhausted every means at their disposal to assist her in this dying hour. And it was a difficult thing for them because during her illness they had all come to love her. So their professional poise was affected by emotional attachment.
I am not given to doing this kind of thing, but I felt impelled to ask permission to step to her bedside. In turn the medical personnel surrounding the bed stepped back. It was clear that they welcomed anything that anyone, including a pastor, could do.
I placed both of my hands on J—–‘s emaciated shoulders, now thinned by the ravages of this terrible ordeal, and I gently pressed her back into her pillow.
“J—–,” I said, “It’s Pastor Mac. Listen to me! Are you listening? Do you hear me?”
She looked at me with eyes that were filled with fear, almost panic. “Yes, Pastor Mac, I hear you.”
“J—–, I’m going to say something to you, and I want you to listen as carefully as you can. Don’t move, don’t speak, just listen! OK?”
“Yes, Pastor Mac,” she whispered, “I’m listening.”
And then I reached deep into my soul for the simplest, most familiar words of the Bible. Words that I now ponder every Thursday when I think of the God who is there. And I said, “The Lord is my shepherd . . . I have everything that I need . . . He makes me lie down in green pastures . . . He leads me to still waters . . . He restores my soul . . . He leads me on paths of righteousness for His name’s sake . . . And even though [and here I paused and repeated myself several times] . . . and even though . . . and even though . . . even though I walk through the valley of death . . . I am not afraid . . . I have nothing to fear . . . Do you hear that, J—–, nothing to fear . . . because You are with me.”
““J– –, we’ve known each other for a lot of years, and we’ve talked about this moment when any one of us might go to be with Jesus. You’re going first, J—–. He’s a wonderful Shepherd, and He’s ready to take good care of you.”
I felt the anxiety, the panicky energy, leave her. Her eyes became soft, and she relaxed in her bed. And then I listened as, with a calm voice, she turned to her husband and whispered, calling him by name, “Thank you for being so good to me, for loving me. You’ve been a good husband and I love you.”
And then J—– looked to her daughter, “Mommy loves you, dearest; be strong for Daddy.” And then to then medical personnel who stood there, “thank you for taking such good care of me; Thank you for all you’ve done. I love you all.”
Almost instantly, following those words, J—– closed her eyes and went to sleep. A few moments later she met the Shepherd face-to-face, crossed the threshold of death, and understood for the first time the full meaning of everlasting life.
Jesus came into the world to taste death for everyone. His desire is to walk with us through the ultimate dark place, the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). He promises to be with us as we approach that day, which we all know is coming. And we should all be reminded of those words from the song Amazing Grace:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.