“PASSING THE BATON”
March 5, 2010
“Keep your eyes on those green hills that stretch on forever, Frank,” I said over the rhythmical hissing of his ventilator and the incessant beeping of his heart monitor. “You’re going to be dancing across those hills very soon.”
These were the last words I ever spoke to my friend. I’m not entirely sure that he heard them since he had been fairly comatose for the past several days. But I’m guessing that he did and that it helped him focus on what lay ahead for his spirit. Frank had been imprisoned in a wheel chair for years with progressively deteriorating muscle movement that was gradually, day by day, siphoning the life from him. Now, that life had been almost completely drained from his body. Burdened by a lifetime of muscular dystrophy and years of battling other various ailments, Frank’s body had all but shut down. His kidneys were failing, his lungs were filling with fluid, his extremities were swelling up and he was virtually unresponsive to any verbal stimulation. His ventilator was the only thing keeping him alive. At 78 years of age Frank had lived a long time for someone with his degree of disabilities. But all the signs were pointing to the unmistakable fact that his earthly struggles were coming to an end.
Earlier that day, in conference with a consortium of doctors and hospital staff, his wife had agreed to remove Frank from his respirator. The decision was based upon Frank’s request written beforehand due to the likelihood he would eventually end up in such a condition. Frank’s wishes were clear; he didn’t want to be left imprisoned in a helpless body kept alive only by means of artificial life support. So, late on a chilly February evening, his wife and four other close friends gathered in his hospital room to say goodbye to a brother in Christ and usher him into eternity.
When earlier that week I had heard about the possibility of this happening I was uncertain as to God’s will in the matter. Was this really Frank’s time to go? Did God want to heal this man and allow him to linger in our presence a little while longer? But then, two nights before his departure, I had a dream which I believe came from the Lord.
In my dream I was carrying an aging dog in a cage to the vet in order to have him put to sleep. The veterinary clinic seemed to be out in the country, in the middle of nowhere. Stepping out of the car with the cage in hand I noticed the surrounding countryside. I was completely surrounded by rolling green hills as far as the eye could see. This dog would love to be set free here, I thought to myself. He could run all over these hills exploring every gopher hole and rabbit burrow and have the time of his life free from any restraints. But then I noticed there were no fences anywhere in sight. What if he got lost and couldn’t find his way back? No, I better keep him in the cage.
At this point in my dream I woke up thinking how stupid it was to keep the dog caged up for his protection when he was headed for his demise anyway. Realizing this dream might be a message of some sort from the Lord I asked Him what it meant. “Open the cage and let him go free.” The words popped into my mind in such a way that I had no doubt they were of divine origin. The next day I shared the dream and its message with Nancy, Frank’s wife, and shared it again the next evening with Frank and the others who were gathered in his room to say farewell. It is difficult to describe in words the peace that came over us as we let the message of the dream minister to our grieving souls.
The dream brought with it a surreal sense of joyous celebration in the midst of the sadness of saying goodbye to a friend. Just two years earlier we had witnessed Frank placing his trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior so we had no doubt as to what was in store for our brother. So we anointed him with oil, read Scriptures which spoke of heaven and the resurrection, sang Amazing Grace, and prayed. As we did so the attending nursing staff increased the flow of his drugs while simultaneously decreasing the flow of his ventilator. Slowly, peacefully, Frank’s body was allowed to take its rest. After about two hours of traveling through this process the door to the cage swung gently open and Frank’s spirit was set free. I am convinced God sent the dream to bring comfort to us all, including Frank as he drifted off to sleep in a morphine haze with visions of rolling green hills on his mind, only to awaken with the realization that the dream had become a reality.
During our farewell gathering, the divine presence in that hospital room was overwhelming. I got the sense that we were on one side of the great divide lifting up our brother’s spirit and passing it off to a host of waiting angels on the other side who joyously, triumphantly, carried him off to his reward. It reminded me of a relay race in which we were passing off the “baton” from one existence to another, from the hand of man, to the hand God. It gives one a whole new meaning for the phrase, “passing on,” and makes one wonder why those who belong to the Lord would ever look upon death with such fear and loathing.
“For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1Corinthians 15:53-57.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” – 1Timothy 4:7-8.
“Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.’” – Revelation 14:13.
I believe it is vital to make certain that you are “in the Lord,” that you are involved in the great relay race. And it is also important to gather around you those who are helping to prepare you for the baton exchange; those who will help you mature in Christ, who will partner with you in ministry, bear with you through life’s failures and triumphs, and support you in your heartaches and struggles. Then we can look forward to the baton exchange with joyful anticipation rather than fear and dread. For unless the Lord returns beforehand, there will come a time for each one of us when the Lord says, “Open up the cage and set his spirit free.” When that happens to you, I pray that you will awaken to find that your greatest dream has become a reality!
Bon-voyage, brother Frank. Enjoy dancing across those green hills!
Bill, a child of God, grieving and rejoicing at the same time