Friday, April 20, 2007

No One Dies Alone

Our hospital has a wonderful program called No One Dies Alone (NODA). This program was developed because of the many patients who are in our hospital and are critically ill. Often times, their life on earth is nearing an end but they do not have friends or family to be with them during their final hours. The NODA program is designed to give all people the dignity of a peaceful passing by ensuring that a compassionate companion is with them at all times so that no one dies alone.

Today was my first vigil. I arrived in a room where an elderly gentleman lay peacefully in his bed. ( I cannot share his name because of HIPAA so I will simply call him Mr. Glen) Soft music was playing and the compassionate companion who preceded me greeted me and gave me instruction as I would now spend the next hour with this elderly gentleman. I signed in and did the cursory paperwork and then sat next to the bed of my new friend. I introduced myself and let him know that I would right here beside him. I placed my hand on his shoulder to give him comfort in knowing that I was there.

His blood pressure was very low and his breathing was not labored but included long pauses between breathes. His skin was thin and his eyes closed. He was not responsive but I didn't assume that he couldn't hear me as I talked. In fact, I hoped he could.

I wondered what his story was. At 79 years old, what had life taught him? Was he married? Did he have children? If so, why was he alone? These were questions that I would not be able to answer, but it didn't matter, because for some reason God had intended for the two of us to be together for the next few moments.

I spoke gently to my new friend. In the last hours of his life, I felt compelled to tell him about God's wonderful love for him. I thought if anyone, at any hour, needs peace in their soul, only the love of God would truly satisfy. So I shared with Mr. Glen how much we all need that love. And Jesus came to make that possible. If we trust Him and His sacrifice on the cross, we have a peace with God for all eternity. That is the love God wanted him to know.

His breathing increased just slightly. That was the only response I could see.

I didn't know where Mr. Glen was in his faith or if he had faith at all, but I tried to comfort him by reminding him that his trust in Jesus was all that he needed to have the peace and comfort he desired.

His breathing slowed and there was silence as the music continued to play in the background. I wondered how, or even why, he was still alive. What was the motivation of this elderly man to continue to take in breaths of life. So I spoke softly once again.

"Mr. Glen, you can rest in the arms of Jesus. Trust him and he will give you peace. Don't be afraid. You can let go and rest in Him when you are ready. He has something wonderful prepared just for you."

We sat silently for just a few minutes more. His breathing was slow and then silent. As I sat next to the bedside with my hand on his shoulder and a prayer in my heart, Mr. Glen breathed his last. I have to believe he decided to let go and trust in God's wonderful love. Perhaps he knows better than I the peace that passes all understanding.

Thank you Jesus.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Religion in Healthcare

I attended a very informative session today at work where a panel representing various religions gave their representative perspectives on issues related to illness, suffering and death. Interestingly, the topic could not be discussed without giving some perspective of “the after life” and how one achieves the “eternal state”. Here are some highlights from each presentation. Everything written represents quotations from each speaker.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (i.e. Mormon) Jim Johnson, Hospital VP
Mormans believe we all begin as spirit children of God. We come to earth as a necessary part of God’s plan for our “eternal progression”. We are “absolutely Christian”. We believe Jesus is the son of God whose sacrifice gives the ability for this eternal progression. In the end, we will be judged according to our works in this life by the perfect judge, Jesus Christ.
We consider the age of accountability to be 8 years old. Therefore, if a child dies before this time, they are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus. After, the age of 8, they become accountable for their decisions and willingness to obey God. Family relationships are very important in our faith…even eternal.
Death is simply a return to the original spirit state before we received our mortal bodies where we will be judged by or obedience while on earth.

Catholic, Father Malcom Neyland (Hospital Chaplain)
Catholics believe you have always existed. Even from eternity past, when God thought of you, your soul existed. At the moment of conception, the soul is united with the body.
The sacraments of the church were instituted by Christ to procure the grace we need to follow Him. Baptism covers a person up to the “age of reason” after which time another sacrament, confirmation, is practiced to demonstrate one’s personal decision of faith. The other sacraments follow to maintain this good standing. According to tradition, Catholics believe that when baptism is not possible, children are saved by the faith of their parents.
Illness and suffering are both redemptive and salvific.
The first Pope was Peter and the lineage continues from him. There were only 5 infallible statements made by any Pope. Everything else is fallible. These statement were confirmation of scripture such as Jesus was God/man and the existence of the Trinity.

Judaism, Dr. Anne Epstein (Internal Medicine Physician)
The world is broken but it is not up to God alone to restore the world. Jews cooperate with God to repair the world. It is our duty to eliminate evil and suffering. Illness and suffering are evils of nature but not caused by God.
In Judaism, there is no doctrine that people are born into sin. People are born good. In fact, most people are mostly good. Therefore, the soul is not in constant jeopardy in need of redemption. “C” is a passing grade and most people make it into the afterlife just fine. The after life is unclear so those within Judaism focus on this life here and now and not what is to come.
When death occurs, there is no embalming. The body is placed in a wood casket allowing it to return to its natural state of dust.

Church of Christ, Doug Hale (Vandelia Church of Christ)
The Church of Christ movement started 200 years ago as an effort to bring unity to all Christians in America. The system was flawed because the pattern to be restored was the that of the New Testament church and no one could agree on what the Bible had to say. As a result, what was originally intended to bring unity became divisive and narrow. Three groups have evolved from this original movement: (1) Disciples of Christ (2) Independent Christian Churches (3) Church of Christ. There is no central governing authority. Large variability of beliefs and a growing ecumenical view of all Christians.

Seventh Day Adventist, Mike Troxell (Community Minister)
Sin introduced by Adam and Eve and made redemption necessary. God took on humanity in Jesus and His death on the cross gave hope for this redemption. Salvation is by faith alone in this atoning sacrifice. At death, we sleep in the grave until the resurrection.
Adventists prefer a natural means of healthcare when possible and are generally vegetarian. They take stewardship of the earthly body very seriously. The see the body, mind and spiritual components of a person interrelated.

Jehovah’s Witness, Brian Waller (Community Representative)
Name of religion came from Isaiah 43:10. We are Christians. We believe Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins but Jesus and God are not the same. Genesis says let “us” create and Colossians says Jesus was the first born of all creation. We take these literally and view them as separate spiritual beings.
JW’s all spend on average 10-20 hours a month talking to their neighbors about their faith. Every city is divided into territories where this witnessing takes place. This is true for the 6 million followers across the world. Every JW in the hospital is visited every day in every hospital across the world. The same Bible study is done in every congregation on every Sunday across the world.
Most JWs do not look forward to a life in heaven. Earth will be restored to its original paradise and if we live well, we will be in God’s memory to live in His restored paradise.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Whole Gospel

Good thoughts from author Neil T. Anderson:

The gospel we most hear sounds like this: “Jesus is the Messiah who came to die for our sins, and if we will put our trust in Him, we will be forgiven of our sins, and when we die, we will go to heaven.” What is wrong with that?

At best it is only a third of the gospel; and it gives the impression that eternal life is something we get when we physically die! If you were going to save a dead man, what would you do? Give him life? If that is all you did, he would only die again. To save a dead person, you would have to do 2 things. First, you would have to cure the disease that caused him to die. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death…” (Rom 6:23). So Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins. Is that the whole gospel? Absolutely not! Thank God for Good Friday, but it was Christ’s resurrection that gave us life. We need to finish the previous verse: “…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23b). Eternal life is not something we get when we die. In fact, if you don’t have eternal (spiritual) life before you physically die, you will have nothing but hell to look forward to. John says, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:12).

Sin has separated us from God, so we use the cross as a bridge diagram to present the gospel. But when we cross the bridge, are we the same person as we were before? We will likely perceive ourselves to be nothing more than forgiven sinners instead of redeemed saints if we leave the resurrection out of our gospel presentations. What Adam and Eve lost in the fall was life (i.e. spiritual life) and Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Praise God for the resurrection!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Royal Order of the Towel

When my brother was sick with cancer, he would tell me that his body would ache. I have been told by other cancer patients that the chemotherapy treatments often make you feel like you have the flu. Body aches and fatigue are the normal course for the day. That is why I would give my brother a massage when I could so that I might do at least one small thing to help him feel better.
It is for this very reason that I started giving foot massages at the Cancer Center where I work. I call it the "Royal Order of the Towel". And as most acts of service, it has done more for me than I believe it will ever do for those whom I serve. In addition, I hear so many stories and have the opportunity to share mine as well.
For example, I visited with a lady diagnosed with breast cancer almost 10 years ago. She has been in remission a few times but this time it has returned with a vengence. She now has cancer in the lung and liver and treatment has resumed. Her husband has been by her every step of the way. When we visited last, they were preparing for a trip Charleston, SC and were looking forward to the good food, good friends and beautiful scenery. If she didn't have an IV hooked up to the port in her chest, you wouldn't know this woman was sick. She had chosen to live life with little attention given to her disease.
I went from there to a lady who had lymphoma and her cancer was also in remission and had now returned. Unlike the first lady, she was alone. She tells me about her broken family. Her husband is plagued with addictions and her children share in his same malady. She has custody of her 13 year old grandson and by her won admission, "If it wasn't for him, I would lay down and die." She asked for more pain medication. I am sure she was hurting physically. But the emotional pain must have been what penetrated deepest in her soul. She just wanted relief.
I also visited with was a gentleman who had returned from Iraq within the past 6months. He went in for a routine check only to find that he had cancer. It was quite advanced and while we visited, he received apherisis to collect stem cells for his upcoming stem cell transplant. "Are you nervous or concerned about anything?", I asked.
"No. I am ready. I feel good. I am ready!"
"How long have you been diagnosed with cancer?", I asked.
"Oh, I don't use that word." he responded.
"I'm sorry. What word did I use?"
"That "C" word. I don't even know what that means. All I know is that I am sick and I am trying to get better."
"You are a real soldier", I said. "You keep fighting!"
So many stories I hear and most of the time I am able to share my story. A story of incredible faith from a brother who said with confidence, "I am going to be healed. I don't if it is on this side of heaven or the other side...but God has promised that I will be healed." It is Jay's testimony of faith that I share as I wash feet and rub lotion so that I might do at least one small thing to help people feel better. Yet, it is the message of hope that my brother lived that I want them to hear.
Some live to experience as much out of life as possible. Some live for others. Some simply fight. I hear the stories most every day.
Why do you live?
I'll be honest. I have asked myself that question lately. What wakes me up in the morning and gives me purpose for the day? Is it my family? Is it my job? Is it my hobbies? Is it the feeling of significance or accomplishment in any of these things? What is it?
Many days, as important as these things are, they are not enough to give me lasting joy or hope or fulfillment. I feel empty and incomplete...and I am.
You might expect that what would now follow is a penetrating lesson on what God has taught me. (For goodness sake, I will soon be a pastor. It's what pastor's do, right?)
Yet, as I write, I am still in the valley. I don't have that story...yet. But I will.
I look forward to writing that story when that day comes. Until then...I'll keep washing.