Dealing with Death- Part 5
First Baptist Church
Des Moines, NM
Good morning and welcome to the Ministerial Alliance program here on KLMX radio. I've been talking this week about death and how to deal with it from a Christian perspective. I've covered quite a bit this week and if you missed any segments, look for them on our church website atwww.fbcdesmoines.org or call us at 575.278.2421 and I'll get a CD to you. As I've mentioned all week, I've had to deal with the death of two close relatives in the past few months. My grandmother passed away in October and my 11 year old son, David, passed away on Memorial Day, just a few weeks ago. We had lots of warning regarding my grandmother's passing and were ready for it. Not so much so with David. Today, I'm going to talk mostly about David and how I dealt with some of the issues created by his death. Let me tell you first a little bit about his life....
David was born with an extremely rare blood disease which remains undiagnosed as of this writing in spite of the efforts of the Univ of New Mexico Children's Hospital, the Mayo Clinic, Mt Sinai in NY, Children's Hospital Colorado, and Salt Lake Children's Hospital. As a result of this blood disease, he was very anemic. For most of his life, his hemoglobin levels- that is, the red blood cells which carry oxygen in the body- were in the 4.0 g/dL range. Normal is around 16 g/dL. His weight and height were less than 3% of normal and he tired very easily. We took him to UNM early on and then periodically for checkups and the consensus was to wait and see, as he seemed to be holding his own and doing okay.
Just over a year ago, though, we and others noticed him becoming particularly thin and frail. In addition, his already poor appetite dropped off to nearly nothing. We had his blood checked and his hemoglobin had dropped to just under 4.0. At that point, we made the decision to get aggressive in trying to treat his still unknown disease.
We returned to Univ of New Mexico Children's Hospital, met with the same doctors again, and began laying out a strategy which included blood transfusions and monitoring. David got his first transfusion in May 2011. At first, the transfusions kept his hemoglobin up around 7-8 g/dL and we were going in every 3-4 weeks. Before long, though, David's body developed anti-bodies to the transfusions and his body began destroying this blood almost as fast as it was put in. Soon we were transfusing 3-4 units of blood every week. During Thanksgiving week, his hemoglobin dropped to a low of 2.8 g/dL and he spent the next 10 days in the hospital getting one transfusion after another.
Finally, in December, the doctors suggested steroids to see if they would reduce the anti-bodies. He didn't have much hope but surprisingly, the steroids worked and David's hemoglobin not only stayed at the 7.5 g/dL level but actually increased at one point to 9. This was still only about ｽ of what it should be and after 4 months of steroid treatment, the decision was made to transfuse David again to see if the combination of good blood and steroids would boost his hemoglobin up and keep it there, thereby building his strength for a possible bone marrow transplant. A few days after this transfusion, David's hemoglobin was at an all-time of high of 11.2 g/dL. Things seemed to be looking up and we allowed ourselves a glimmer of hope that he might have some relief from his insidious, unknown disease.
However, very early on Memorial Day morning, 8 days after his latest transfusion, David complained of a severe headache and loud noise from the house fans. My wife gave him Tylenol and had him lie down. About an hour later, while lying down, he threw up and passed diarrhea. Georgia woke me up then and by the look on her face, I knew this was serious. David was unconscious and totally unresponsive so we called the Grenville ambulance who rushed him to Clayton. In spite of being life-flighted to Albuquerque, David never regained consciousness and he died that evening when a tracheotomy tube fell out of his steroid-swollen neck and could not be reinserted. That was David's life. Although we'd had several emergency runs to Albuquerque for transfusions, this was a surprise and a shock to us all.
Several things happened after his death. First, I couldn't be mad at God or blame God or any of those things. As I mentioned earlier this week, I've preached on Job and I've preached on God's sovereignty and I've preached on the fact that not a sparrow falls from the sky apart from God's will. I knew full well that children are a blessing from the Lord and that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. We cannot accept good from God and not accept adversity. All of these are quotes and applications from Job, Psalms, and Matthew. I knew I'd be called upon to live that preaching myself someday. That day was here. I could not be mad at God.
The first struggle I had was with David's salvation. He never confessed Christ, nor was he baptized, nor could he really confess his status as a sinner. I've read and studied childhood salvation and came long ago to the conclusion that God saves children in Jesus, but to study it and to come face to face with it are two very different things. This really bothered me and Wed morning at 3 am, I was out in my shop when it just hit me and I started crying and just begging God, the creator of the heavens and the earth and all that are in them, to please, please, let me know where David was. Now, the Bible talks quite a bit about crying out to God, but I assure you that there's not like a little button you can flip to enter Crying Out to God mode. You can't say, Oh, I'm going to go cry out to God now... I can't, anyway. Crying out to God is something visceral and I'm pretty sure that this was the first time I've ever really done it. After I got settled down, I went back in the house, at 3:30 am, sat down at my computer and found this e-mail from a dear friend of David's.
Bryan, I'm not good with words, especially in times like this, but rest assured that when I flipped my hand upward last night to high-five David one last time, I did indeed feel something slap me back. Maybe it was a nerve twitch from the goofy angle of my wrist at that moment, but I don't believe it was; that would be too much of a "coincidence".
That made me feel better, but I still wanted to think. So, I went over the couch and sat down. As I sat there in the moonlight, my eyes fell on David's little electronic drum set, which he'd only had for a week. He had an excellent sense of time, though, and we played several times. On Sunday evening, Georgia and David started playing- her on bass and him on drums. I came in from chores, got my electric guitar out, and joined them. We played several songs and then were sitting there when I started playing a certain song. We played that one for awhile and then G got up to leave. I said Wait, let's try this one before you leave, and we played another song for a bit. Georgia left and it was just David and me. David said Let's play that one again. I want to make sure I have it. So, I obliged. Afterward, I told him You know, I've never played that song with anyone before. I've only practiced them. Sitting there on the couch, wondering about where David's spirit was, staring at his drum set, I suddenly recalled the last 2 songs we'd played. The next-to-last one was Knockin' on Heaven's Door. And the last one- the one he wanted to play again, to make sure he had it right- was a Brad Paisley instrumental called Departure.
Out of all the songs I know, why those two titles in that order, at that time? This is beyond coincidence and I can only attribute it, along with our friend's e-mail, as an answer to my cries from God.
Later that day, I was reading a tract and hit this verse:
1 Corinthians 1:18 NKJV For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
I have preached on this verse numerous times, but I guess I just needed a reminder. David may not have been able to verbalize his sins, but the message of the cross was NOT foolishness to him. He never joked about God or Jesus, would frequently draw pictures of crosses and churches, and liked going to church. I never saw the slightest bit of foolishness in his attitude toward the cross. After all of these assurances, I felt good about David's status in Heaven and I had peace about it.
But what I felt hurt and puzzled at is why God would yank us up and down like a yo-yo. Why give us the hope of steroids and let us see improvement in David, only to pull the rug out from under our feet when we least expected it? That question was heavy on my mind.
For David's funeral, I made a slide show presentation of his life. For the background music, I used 2 Natalie MacMaster songs- Volcanic Jig and the aptly named David's Jig. While watching the completed video for the first time, something struck me. Volcanic Jig plays for David's early life. There's a short break, then David's Jig starts. It's pretty dynamic. The slides are showing David's life at what I consider his decline. He's getting older, his body is making more demands, his blood's not keeping up. The music breaks rhythm and at this point, the slides are showing him during the transfusion period. This was a transitional period in his life, as well as in the music. After this, the music kicks back in, but with more intensity, with an urgency. This corresponds to the pictures during his steroid use. There's another break in rhythm, shorter this time, and this is the time at which David was really kicking in- in all the photos he has a huge smile on his face. The music goes for a short intense period, and this is the time during which I really got to enjoy him- we shot archery, he jumped, ran, smiled, wrestled, and ate. He also swelled up from the steroids and had some aches and pains. Finally, the music slams to a stop. It doesn't fade or slow down. It slams to a stop. As I watched the video with the underlying music, I thought It's almost like Natalie wrote the soundtrack for this! I'd never really listened to David's Jig and I sure didn't set the pictures to the music.
While watching this, I realized something. God didn't yank me up and down like a yo-yo. Instead, he took me to the peaks and showed me the far green country ahead. In His grace and mercy and loving-kindness, He said this is what David can be like. Instead of letting David slowly run down and leaving me memories of a sick David, God let me live life with David to the full, right down to the very last night, when we played music together. Furthermore, while watching the video, I realized that I shouldn't think of David as a sick little boy, nor should I think of him as he was when he was all puffed up on steroids. Instead of thinking of him as he was, I need to think of him as he is, as he is in heaven right now, perfectly healed and whole. After all, Jesus told us that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. After all this, I felt great peace about David's life and his death.
I have comfort that he is perfectly healed, in heaven, with Jesus Christ and I have assurance that I, too, will someday be there. As I discussed earlier this week, one can either accept the chaos of the world, or one can embrace the Creator of the world. I'll take the latter, thank you very much, and I hope that you, too, will experience the comfort, joy, and peace that is found in Jesus Christ and Him alone. Amen.
2 Corinthians 5:1-6 NKJV For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2) For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, (3) if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. (4) For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. (5) Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (6) So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:34-58 NKJV Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. (35) But someone will say, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" (36) Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. (37) And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain- perhaps wheat or some other grain. (38) But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. (39) All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. (40) There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. (41) There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.
(42) So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. (43) It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. (44) It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. (45) And so it is written, "THE FIRST MAN ADAM BECAME A LIVING BEING." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (46) However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. (47) The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. (48) As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. (49) And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.
(50) Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. (51) Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed (52) in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (53) For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (54) So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY." (55) "O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING? O HADES, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY?" (56) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. (57) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (58) Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Back to Part 4