I am conducting a wedding this Saturday afternoon for the daughter of a good friend. Many months ago they begged me to set the date aside for the wedding, as they particularly wanted me to officiate. (I guess I’m just so handsome!) I was duly flattered and marked my diary with a big cross. But it nearly didn’t happen.
Three weeks ago I was conducting another wedding for another good friend, but I was not happy. My discomfiture was caused by a leg pain, which had been brewing over a couple of days, and had reached the point of making standing quite difficult. “ Will you, ouch, take this woman to be your lawful wife, eeek?” I saw the GP on the following Monday morning and by Tuesday evening I was in ICU hooked up to all sorts of monitors. Diagnosis: deep vein thrombosis with pulmonary embolisms. Apparently not a good story. A bit like playing Russian roulette.
The ICU ward is a fairy wonderland, aglow with twinkling lights, alive with bubbling springs of oxygen, staffed by quietly ministering angels. (Indulge me – I want angels in my fairy grotto!) It is definitely the business class of hospital accommodation, if you are awake and pain-free enough to enjoy it.
But it is also a place of life and death, a place where urgent questions thrust themselves rudely upon an unprepared consciousness. “What on earth am I doing here?” “How did this happen?” “Will I see July?” It seems likely that my condition dated back to our return from an overseas trip in mid May. My leg had first been painful then, and my persistent cough had started then. So for five weeks I had been running round doing gym and all manner of stuff with a time bomb in my leg. So much for taking aspirin before a long haul flight! So much for wearing compression socks! Note to self: need a better plan next time.
The crisis has passed. I am now at home. The leg pain is 90% gone. The cough is greatly improved. My blood is now thinner than Oliver Twist’s gruel. They won’t exactly tell me the bomb has been defused, but it seems it is a whole lot safer.
With the passing of the crisis, the direction of the questions changes. No longer is it “Will I survive?” but rather “What does this change?” Confrontations with our own mortality are supposed to change us. This is supposed to be the tipping point, the moment of great revelation where we set aside the humdrum in order to embrace our true destiny. This is the place where we make bold resolutions about the rest of our life.
I have had plenty of time to reflect on these things as I laze on the couch at home, trying hard not to re-embolize my lungs. The startling answer to these questions is actually, “Not much”. I wouldn’t change much. I actually love what I do. I am privileged to do what I do. I cannot imagine a more fulfilling way to spend the next ten, twenty, thirty or whatever years.
I am a servant of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The prophet Habakkuk declares that, “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14). I get to be part of that. I get to reconnect people who have lost touch with their life-source. I get to plug people in to a revelation of heavenly glory in Jesus Christ that totally eclipses every earthly aspiration.
If an evangelist is motivated to rescue people from a lost eternity, then I am not really an evangelist. If being an evangelist means persuading the uncertain to sign on the dotted line for Jesus, then I am not an evangelist. If an evangelist is concerned to win the allegiance of the sceptical then that is not for me. (But thank God for evangelists!)
If, however, it is about seeing people wasted by the overwhelming love of Jesus, to the point of being useless for the games of this world, then count me in! If it is about seeing people live with a far-away look in their eyes (Heb 11:16), then I am right there. If it is about recolonizing earth from heaven (Phil 3:20), then I’m on board.
And this is what I get to do, seven days a week, and I’m paid for it! My brush with mortality changes only this, that the task has acquired a new splendour and a new intensity.
It’s time to prepare for a wedding….
If food, chocolate and prayers are a true measure of love, then I am a profoundly loved person. I have been overwhelmed by the response of a huge number of people to my sickness: first my amazing wife and family who have risen in valiant support, then the elders of Hillside who have stepped in and taken up the slack, then many, many people for their various expressions of love and support. Thank you. You are all amazing!
For Jill’s side of this story check her blog here.