Wednesday, September 9, 2015

O Death, Where is Your Sting?

O death, where is your victory? 
O death, where is your sting? 
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.                                                                                                                                                                                            1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (ESV)
My dad was critically ill in April, several days of which he spent on the ventilator due to pneumonia that had infiltrated over 90% of his lungs.  The infectious disease physician told us, “He has the captain of all pneumonia bacteria.  We have no idea how things will go.”  He walked into the emergency department with a fever of 103, oxygen saturations of 82% (and could not get them higher than 91% despite high flow oxygen) and blood pressure of 74/40, renal failure, and confusion.  Chest xray revealed severe multi-lobar pneumonia.  He was in severe septic shock.  Two days prior he was pushing two his grand-daughters on the swings at the third birthday party for his fifth grandchild.  He is still here and I know restored to better than before.  He has a new lease on life and is a changed man.
My parents on family vacation 3 months later
Delirium, ICU delirium for days and days.  He stayed awake for 72 hours straight TWICE over those two weeks as we watched every passing hour he would sink a little further into confusion.  The delirium clearly precipitated by insomnia.  He does not respond to “sedating” medications like the other 99.99%.  No amount of medication can bring him back to us and so we wait sleepless at his bedside for days praying for even 30 minutes of restorative rest.  He mumbles nonsense, makes up delusions that he will spend months convincing himself never happened.  At one point, I turned on white noise in hopes of limiting the bells/distractions in the ICU praying it would give him rest.   It did not work.  He started to reach his arm back, feel the wash of water from a hallucinated waterfall in his hospital room which he would then put his arm back in bed after shaking the imaginary dripping water off his hand.  He did this close to 300 times that night.  Ever present to help orient him over and over again, to calm him when he is tearfully yelling at “Israel follow the blue light!!”  As his children and wife there is no one else that can supplement our presence.  It is our circle and us alone that can help draw him from the depths, 24 hours a day.  The entire medical team helpless against his insomnia.  Every study you read tells you that after an experience like this (much less two very similar experiences in three years) that he will never be the same.  He has an increased risk of depression, suicide, mental slowing, permanent physical debility, and recurrence of a life threatening illness.

I wavered in my resolve and faith that he would ever sleep again or that his mind would ever come back to us.  He still recalls delusions with amazing realism and clarity to the point that we are checking to make he did not actually close the checking account as he thought during the zombie apocalypse. 
My dad has been through more than one man should in this life, he has overcome so much to bring him to where he is today.  He works diligently on his relationship with God, his wife (my mom), and his children and loves his grandchildren desperately.  In the midst of unexplainable hardship I am sure his faith has wavered as did mine when he was so sick.  God gave him an unbelievable gift.  My dad saw heaven.   Please don’t confuse this with one of his delusions or hallucinations which escalated as sleep slipped further and further out of grasp. 

The tube was removed from his airway at approximately 10:00am on a Sunday at the exact time that multiple congregations had joined in prayer for his healing.  He had just rested for the past 4 days in a coma-induced sleep.  My older brother and I watched expectantly for how he would act and feel.  He was doing great, confused about what had happened and where he was, tearful and scared but then he started to tell us…

My Dad:  I saw heaven.  I saw heaven.  I saw heaven.   It was so bright, so bright, so bright.  It was amazing, so amazing.  Everyone was there, Honey and Zion (pets we had loved and lost) they were leaping and jumping, leaping and jumping, leaping and jumping.

Me: What did you hear?

Dad:  I heard a chorus or angels singing Glory, Glory, Hallelujah, Glory, Glory, Hallelujah (raises both arms in the sky).

My brother: Were you scared? Or was it amazing?

Dad:  It was amazing, I was never ever scared.  It was so bright.  

Okay so like us, you are hopeful but skeptical at this point.  It all sounds pretty legit and he is not hallucinating or describing any other type of delusion and he has just gotten four entire days of sleep. 
A few minutes later looking my older brother genuinely surprised:

Dad: Son you are fat?

Me:  Dad that is not nice, you need to apologize.

Dad: Oh Son I am so sorry I said that. 

A few minutes later (looking at his legs and feet and moving them about to confirm they are his):

Dad: These are my legs?  But these are old man legs…

Watching a familiar TV news anchor a few minutes later: 

Dad:  He is so old, is he still alive?  I can’t believe he is still alive, he is so old and bald.

So to you this disjointed series of comments has no relevance but to me it confirmed that he saw heaven.  He saw a glorious world of resurrection bodies that are beautiful and perfect; people and angels whose only purpose is to glorify God.  There is no one overweight, no one old, no one bald.  He was pulled back from that glorious place and awoke in an ICU room and nothing was how it had been in heaven.

My brother: Did you ever doubt that there was a heaven?

In a whispered tone he replied.

Dad: Yes, but never again.  I saw heaven and it is real.

We all doubt and I bet that some will accuse me of wanting to believe in what he saw for my own selfish reassurance that God and heaven is real.  I cannot deny those claims because yes I do believe heaven is real as is God.  Not because of what he saw but because of what I saw.  I saw a man on the brink of death come back restored.  I saw answered prayers by the thousands.  People reached out to me that I had not spoken to in years to provide comfort and prayer; strangers in countries across the globe were praying for his restoration.  I heard the word that God gave my sister that would be home and whole in 7 days.  I couldn’t even utter those words as a possibility because to me they were too big to dream.  A few days later, I was begging God in prayer to know if his will for my father was to live or die as I truly did not know.  He was discharged to home 3 days later which was exactly 7 days after my sister received that word from God.  God comforted me through songs when I was too tired to pray.  “This is going to be a glorious unfolding, just you wait and see and you will be amazed.  You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over so hold on to every promise God has made to us and watch his glorious unfolding.” Glorious Unfolding by Steven Curtis Chapman. 

My dad received the best gift he could ever receive… an opportunity to know with certainty that there is better than this broken and lost world and a fire instilled to pursue that future with every fiber of who he is.  I too was given an amazing gift; I know why all this happened.  My God is jealous for me.
Grandsons and Grandpa 

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