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What I am Learning

What I am Learning

Sitting for hours in the middle of the night beside my Dad’s bed praying and feeling rather helpless to ease his suffering as he struggles to breathe is agony. It is also a great time to think. The world is dark, the activity is stilled and time seems to crawl. If you don’t contemplate the meaning of life, death, prayer and love then you are in big time avoidance. I’m learning during this time and I’ll be a better husband, father, Christ follower and pastor for it. I don’t know that I can organize my thoughts well at this moment but these are a few things I can share.

Much of what really counts in life is lived in the in-between moments. It isn’t usually the speeches we plan but the unguarded words spoken in the fray that carry the most weight. I told my Dad today that he taught me how to live and now he is teaching me how to die. I’m so proud of him for the kindness, the patience, the godly attitude he’s displayed during this time. The staff at the hospital and now at the Hospice Home commented repeatedly about his attitude. Nurses have come by while they are off shift to see him, check on him and to speak about the witness of his/our faith.

Live with the end in mind. Do the will of God while you can. There are many things that beg for our attention and time but living with the end in mind helps us prioritize the important over the urgent.

Invest in people; it is the investment that will last. My Dad loves people more than any person I’ve known. He extends grace to all. He treats people equally. He makes enemies his friends. There is something magnetic about him that draws people. That investment draws people to Christ. That investment leads people to the ministry. My Dad has lead people into ministry everywhere he’s gone. Four of them were in the room at one time this week telling stories about ministry and it brought a smile to his face. Kristen Levitt, my daughter, Director of Project Partner, told me she laughed so hard she cried. It seems like laughing and crying go together in times like this and that is as it should be.

Tell people you love them every time you get a chance. You don’t know when it will be the last time you get to say it. My family has loved lavishly during this last month. We’ve talked about good times. We’ve forgiven the difficult times. We’ve talked through final wishes. We’ve made plans for a memorial service. We’ve held each other. We’ve remembered good times and told and retold our favorite stories. We are living the life of no regrets. In all the difficulties of this path we haven’t fought, we haven’t argued, each opinion was heard and valued, we pulled together and we are richer for it.

Today Belinda lay in the bed beside my Dad and I sat in a chair holding his hand. He can’t speak now above a whisper and he fades in and out but there are moments here and there where he is lucid. Belinda and I each had a hand of his in ours and she said we are walking the road with you. And we are going to go as far as we can. But there will be a point where we can’t go any further. She started to cry so I picked up the thought and added, Jesus will meet us there and take your hand. We will have to return to our life here, but He will take you forward to your reward.

I don’t think that reward is very far away now—or many it is already unfolding.

3 comments (Add your own)

1. Beth Rose wrote:
Gary, thank you for your honesty in your experiences over these days. This is a precious time with your dad. I'm so glad you are taking every minute in. I missed being with my dad by about an hour before he died--I was flying in to Detroit and saw the golden, heavenly city shaped by the clouds. I didn't realize it until we touched down and my sister met me at the gate and told me Dad had just died that God had shown me a vision of home, where he was rejoicing with Jesus. I can't imagine the difficulty this must be but at the same time the most precious time. We are holding you in our prayers. Beth

Sat, January 30, 2010 @ 11:23 AM

2. Jon DeWitt wrote:
We love you! Not sure what else to say. We love you!

Sat, January 30, 2010 @ 11:49 AM

3. Marty Settles wrote:
In a book I read it said back in the 19th century people talked about a "beautiful death". It was as though one's death was a work of art, something to be crafted, an achievement. A beautiful death was one's final accomplishment it said.
" If they were lucky to have a large caring family, children and grandchildren, friends and cousins, gathered around in a death vigil.People gathered in the bedroom and said their farewells, and the one dying had his or her final say. There were hugs and kisses and sharing of memories. Quarrels and grudges were resolved, grievances aired, forgiveness offered and received. Final requests were made. There were prayers and hymn singing, visits by the minister, visits by the local doctor."

When I read your blog I couldn't help but remember having read about "beautiful deaths".

Thank you Gary for the times you have willlingly shared both life and death issues with the church members and with me personally. As my spiritual leader, much of your recent experiences and insight has really helped to heal this once wounded heart of mine.

May God continue to bless you, your family and our church

Sun, January 31, 2010 @ 3:07 PM

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