Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Dying lessons

Shortly after my family and I moved to Grayson, J., one of the elders at the church we attend (First Church of Christ, an instrumental [as opposed to a capella] Christian Church/Church of Christ) was involved in a motorcycle accident.

While the doctors were treating J for the injuries he sustained in the accident, they discovered something serious: cancer. (I think it's stomach cancer, but I'm not certain.) The disease was advanced enough that they began to treat it aggressively, and to no avail. Trips to the great Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, etc., followed--again, to no avail.

Some time that next spring (Spring 2004), J's condition became serious enough that everyone thought he was going to die soon. But instead, he rallied, became stronger. And for the last two years, he has been vigorous and active. Even as his body was losing its fight to cancer, it was clear to anyone with eyes to see that J wasn't being defeated.

Now J is (apparently) at death's door. My understanding is that he hasn't eaten in more than a week, and he's only been awake and lucid for a few minutes every day--and that the last of those lucid periods was several days ago.

It's been amazing to watch J as he has lived with his death sentence. I don't know him terribly well, but I've been in Bible studies with him, talked with him between services and at special church events over the past couple of years, etc.

What I've observed is a man who knows what is in store for him, the good and the bad, and is at peace with ALL of it. Someone who knew that there was incredible pain and misery in his future, and--while not looking forward to that misery with eager anticipation--faced it with courage, hope, and good humor, because he knew that it would be only temporary.

Someone who felt like the death sentence he'd received gave him the license to love people with fewer reservations. Someone who no longer had to think twice about speaking his mind--and yet who was usually gentle and loving in the way he spoke it.

Someone who, as he was dealing with the worst things life could throw at him, was able to serve better and more faithfully than most of us who deal with far less.

Death can make us into heroes, or it can make us into cowards. Because of his faith, J let it make him into a hero. I am humbled by his example.


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