Never Been So Happy to Breathe

I held a dying woman's hand today. It was a new experience, and I'm not really certain that putting it out for the Internet to see is the best thing, but I just don't know who I would process it with.

I read something somewhere about humans--that we're God's masterpiece, and how a ruined masterpiece is still a thousand times more beautiful than the completed work of an amateur. Gosh, that's true. The last time I saw her, she was really frail--it was hard to make it through her house without stopping for breath, and I did everything I could to keep her from having to get up and do things. I was tidying before I left, and she said, "If you'd stop cleaning for a second and get your butt over here, you can come pray for me." So I did. I think you have to love the sort of older lady who says "butt." But I remember walking out of her house, and she followed me and Janna out into the weather--it was cold out, and she was hot inside--pulled her back up straight, and inhaled, and with her cancer-cropped hair and sky-blue eyes, she looked like such a lady.

She's had lung cancer for--maybe two years?--and she has had pneumonia for months, each of her lungs slowly filling up with liquid. When I went to her house, her husband got out the laptop and showed me these really incredible scans that moved through her whole body, so I could see the scar tissue in her lungs. She's been in the hospital on and off since November, and
this last week she was given a good report--seemed like the cancer had pretty much fallen away. Then about three or so days ago, she started having trouble breathing, even with an oxygen tank, and they took her to the hospital to discover she had lost the entire left lung, and all but a cup's worth of the right. They gave her two days. This afternoon she was taking about five breaths a minute, maybe less, and she was pretty well out of it. She woke up when people came in and out, and she tried to speak, and her family was sitting with her, and her husband--a WWII vet and one of the neatest men I know--was crying. I sat with her for a while, and when she sat up and started trying to talk, I held her hand, and kept holding it until I left. I had wanted to visit her, but didn't know how, and my church's children's minister gave me an opportunity to go with her today, and I was so glad, because I wanted to tell her I loved her. I got to right before I left. Stood up, kissed her forehead, and she came awake and stared me in the eyes. I don't know if she could see me, but I felt like there was recognition. What I saw was a soul in pain, on the verge of freedom. She's known Jesus since she was nine. In her own words, He's been with her all the way. That is such a source of hope. I hurt for her and for her family, and I can't imagine what the pain of separation will be like, but I have so much hope.

There are so many things that come to mind when I think about her eyes. She really is a masterpiece--each of us is. She's also living in a tent, about to depart for a house. I can't imagine what that will look like--something so solid, so real that the body really looks like a tent. I did my main exegetical paper on 2 Cor. 4:16-5:10 in Greek last year, and every now and then it comes back to hit me:

2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10
4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart, for even if our outward man is being destroyed, yet the inner is being renewed day by day. 17Because the insignificance of our tribulation is by the moment accomplishing in us an abounding, surpassing, eternal weight of glory, 18we do not focus on the things being seen, but the things not being seen; for the things being seen are temporary, but the things not being seen are eternal.
5:1 For we know that if our earthly house, the bodily tent, is taken down, we have a building from God, a house not made by hands, eternal in the heavens. 2For in this we groan, intensely craving to be clothed fully in our habitation out of heaven, 3and if being thus clothed, we will not be found naked. 4For being in the fleshly tent we groan, being weighted down by it; we do not wish to be stripped, but to be further clothed, that the mortal might be swallowed up by life. 5But the one working in us for Himself, to this very end, is God, who also gives us the down payment of the Spirit.
6Always taking courage, therefore, and knowing that while we live in the body we are absent from the Lord--7for we walk by means of faith, not by means of sight--8we take courage, and we delight more to depart from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 9And we love the honor, therefore, whether being present or being absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10For it is necessary for all of us to be revealed before the tribunal of Christ, that each might receive his just deserts through the body, according to the things he practiced, whether good or evil.

There's so much hope there.

Dr. Gray preached two days ago on I John 3:1-3 and talked about the love of God--"Behold what manner of love the Father hath given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God"--and talked about how one day we'll be like Jesus, for we shall see Him as He is. He talked about the necessity of purifying ourselves because He's pure, because we have the hope of seeing Him. I couldn't help but think about that, reflecting on being at her bedside. What would I want to say to people if I only had two days? How would I spend my time? What in my life would I have to leave undone that I would have wanted done? I have a lot of unfinished things. Jim Elliot said, "Live your life in such a way that, when the time comes for you to die, all you have to do is die." How do I do that? I honestly don't know.

ETA: She passed Saturday night. Found out this morning. Sad but relieved, in a way.

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