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An Exit Strategy

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 - 10:17 AM CST

By Lori O'Dea

A friend moved into hospice today. Two weeks. That is the time the nurses suspect he has left on this earth. It sounds harsh. Too fast. Too little. Two weeks.

That perspective belongs to me and the many family members and friends who love him. He has already spent 90 years on this earth. His heart has been longing for heaven for the last several years. He will gladly step into the loving arms of his Savior when Jesus welcomes him home. Though we would not wish another moment of pain or hurt of any kind for him, we struggle to accept the coming separation.

Strangely, the last week has been a panorama of this saint's life. They say your life flashes before you in the split seconds of a near-death experience. But I have witnessed that review in the course of the last several days, along with family, friends, and medical personnel. We have all seen the signs of a life well lived. That life has enabled my friend to face these last moments with love and grace and a continuing example that compels others to seek a closer walk with Jesus.

His actions teach the following three-part exit strategy you may wish to share with your congregation.

Let Loved Ones Do the Heavy Lifting

Most of my friend's children are snowbirds. They leave Michigan's lovely winter to seek warmer climates. That leaves the young adult grandchildren on deck to care for their grandfather. Before the children could arrive, the grandchildren - what we call the "B" team in my family - stepped in and up. Despite demanding jobs, multiple responsibilities, various shifts, and special occasions, they stayed with their grandfather around the clock. Nurses have commented, "You have some very special grandkids."

Special does not begin to cover the fruit of successive generations of believers. My friend is part of a long line of Christ followers who lift the next generations on their shoulders. Now those generations are doing the heavy lifting, but only because of the strength poured into them over lifetimes.

Keep Your Hand to the Plow

Excess medicine and health issues added to my friend's ability to stay in the present. Though faced with a slew of physical challenges, he had no mental deficits before the onset of this recent development. Still, even when he mentally wanders, this man finds himself in the environments he sought all of his life: worship and work. He prays in the Spirit, sings snatches of hymns, and quotes Scripture. He marvels at the small kindnesses of the nurse who brings him a meal or the friend who offers to pray. Disease may do its deadly best, but it cannot rob this man of his identity in Christ. He will worship and serve the Lord right up until he draws his last breath on this earth. In the face of end-times apathy, his example is startlingly inspiring.

Sing in Times of Trouble

As a pastor, I have stood with many people in curtained surgery holding rooms. We pray, tell silly jokes, chit chat about innocuous subjects, and hug when the transport team arrives. But I have never heard the patient sing out God's praises until this week.

My friend had slept right through the surgery prep, but awakened just moments before he would be taken away for the procedure. Unsure of what was going on, he was told and seemed to understand. We prayed again, then stood back, talking to one another. Suddenly my friend began to sing an old hymn, "I'll Meet You in the Morning." Gathered on either side, a son and daughter held his hands, supplied missing words, and added their voices to his. The presence of God filled that place and there was not a dry eye anywhere.

We talk about Paul and Silas singing in the jail cell. We encourage others to keep their eyes on Jesus. But every once in a while, God allows us to see, up close and personal, the living faith of one of His children, and it is a beautiful sight to behold.

Barring God's intervention, we will soon say "goodbye for now" to this godly man. While I'll miss our conversations and his prayers, I will hold onto an exit strategy that goes beyond classy. It is worthy of imitation. Grace to rely on others. Never quit serving the Lord. Always worship. Now that I think about it, it sounds more like lessons for living than leaving.




Dr. Lori O'Dea serves as lead pastor of New Life Assembly of God in Grand Ledge, Michigan. She is an ordained minister and member of The Network steering committee.


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