November 19, 2017

Matt B. Redmond: The Only Really Good News There Is

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Note from CM: Matt just announced that his mom lost her brief battle with cancer last night. Please pray for their family.

The Only Really Good News There Is
by Matthew B. Redmond

The smell was overwhelming.

My oldest brother and I stood outside the rehab facility waiting for one of our other brothers to bring mom. After being in the hospital recovering from a surgical biopsy, she was being moved here. The goal is to get her strong enough to withstand the chemo she needs to shrink – not cure – the spreading cancer.

So we stood by our trucks, waiting. The facility looked clean but dated. Part of the place is a nursing home and she will be in the rehabilitation wing. I’m not comfortable with the proximity. I prayed for kindness – the kindness of staff and the kindness of others staying there.

My brother pulled up and we met them up by the front door. My oldest brother went and got a wheelchair and some staff to help get her out of the car and into it. She looked frail. It was good to see her out of the hospital and holding a soft drink from Arby’s but she looked so weak.

The staff got her into the wheelchair and wheeled her into the building, past the empty front desk, and down the hall. The smell was overwhelming. I did not know it at the time but this is not normal. There are just times where the smell of incontinence streams into the hallway from another room. But it scared me at the time. I was worried, and I could feel the worry from my other two brothers. We worried for her. We were worried about her comfort and how sad this will make her. She was being wheeled into a semi-private room and we were worried all this would cause further despair.

That was a week ago. My mom has gotten more comfortable and we are a little more comfortable leaving her. That first night was hard.

A few days ago was Father’s Day. Our dad has been gone a little more than a year now. So no Father’s Day celebration for us, but those who could, gathered around mom. I stayed with her through dinner and on into bedtime. While they were getting her ready, I waited in the lobby on one of those couches that feels like it’s never been sat on. I took out my phone to check the day’s baseball scores. Then I heard an awful voice.

“There’s no place to sleep in here.”

I swear it sounded like something out of a horror movie. The waiting area by the front door sits between the rehab wing and the nursing home wing, I gathered.

“There’s no place to sleep in here.”

It was bad enough hearing it once. But that woman’s voice kept calling out her complaint over and over.

“There’s no place to sleep in here.”

She must have made her point a dozen times before the nurse came and got me and said mom was in bed and ready for me to come back. I sat with her a little while longer. She drifted in and out of sleep. Soon, it was time for me to leave. Not an easy decision to make. There was no place I wanted to be more and no place I wanted to be less.

After packing up my belongings, I made my way down the now silent hallway looking for someone to let me out. Another lady, she looked to be in her 50s, needed to leave also. While we waited for someone, she asked me, “Mom or Dad?” I answer and asked her the same. “Dad,” she said. And then she tried with all her being to not erupt in tears. But there is no dam big enough. It was father’s Day after all. And even though I was feeling pretty low about a lousy Father’s Day, I confess I did not think about the signifacance of her answer and why she was willing to show such emotion to a complete stranger. I do confess I was too upset myself. And I’m ashamed to say it wasn’t till I was far on down the road toward home that I realized. I should have prayed for her, right then and there. I was too wrapped up in my own exhausted grief. I’ve been dragging that regret around for days.

How come there are no pictures of the dying on church websites? No bodies wasting away. Just photoshopped pretty people.

This past weekend I was looking through a Eugene Peterson book. Doesn’t matter which one. Because what I saw while looking for something else, he has said in other places. He talked about how pastors are supposed to prepare their people to die well. Death is the one destiny we all share. And it is a pastor’s job to get his people ready for it. I thought about this too on the way home. And it all made me want to be a pastor more than ever. It solidified the calling. I’d probably make a good chaplain and it would guarantee I’d be able to stay in Birmingham, our beloved hometown. But the sights and sounds and smell of death are a calling. Even my failure to pray for the hurting.

The next night I was with my mom again. I was there till much later than I expected because she was in so much pain. I’ll spare you all the details. Man, I was hungry and tired. She asked me to read her some encouraging verses. And so over the hum of machines giving her the oxygen she needs and painful game shows being watched by the elderly woman next to us, I read to her.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

All of this has given me a sober desire to be a pastor again. It’s not an excitement like I once had. I’m not even sure I can fully articulate the “why?” Perhaps I should have waited to write this when I know why.  Maybe it’s assuming everyone will either be a patient in a place like this and or be a child, like me, watching it all happen. Or maybe the reason is this – when life and death fall into such proximity, the gospel seems like the only really good news there is.

* * *

Matt B. Redmond blogs at Echoes and Stars and is the author of The God Of The Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People.

Comments

  1. In this world there is no lasting rest, peace, or victory.

    Jesus loves fresh dirt.

    He loves to pull the ungodly out of those graves unto Himself.

    They used to call that Good News…anyway.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Are you a bot with a random library of pious phrases?

      Or just one of God’s Speshul Pets who have NEVER experienced ANYTHING bad in their entire lives of sweetness and light and God’s bubble-wrap protection lest they ever stub their toe?

      • HUG,
        Can you lighten up with the attacks? It’s really unseemly for this site. For a guy who is vehemently against speaking code (christianese) you sure make a grand and continuous slew of obtuse references that at best require investigation or interpretation (none of which anyone is interested in doing). Maybe it’s some Internet speak that you use but half the time I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. That is a factual statement, nothing more nothing less. Why don’t you just comment on the post, in English, instead of spending the bulk of your time commenting with obscure unattributed references and random TM’s thrown in, on other people’s comments?! You have good things to say so say them and exercise some gifts like patience and charity rather than denigrating and contending. Again, it’s unseemly and, frankly, has become too predictable.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          I understand and like HUG’s TMs and such. He’s trying to make a point about how predictable/marketable/etc. “churchianity” has become, often reduced to buzz phrases, gimmicks, and programs.

          That said, I often don’t like his criticism of Steve Martin’s posts.

          • Yes, HUG makes a lot of great comments but it’s time to back off Steve.

          • Thanks for the trademark clarification. I’m sure I’m being a bit contentious myself.
            The real thing I wanted to say was “…when life and death fall into such proximity, the gospel seems like the only really good news there is.” – no truer words have been spoken.

          • Robert F says:

            I disagree with Steve often, and we’ve traded some barbs, but when all is said and done, he’s a brother in the faith, and sometimes what he has to say is to the point and insightful.

            And, contra HUG, Steve does not give me the impression that he is someone who has skated through life without much difficulty or suffering.

        • Keep at it, HUG. If you want a sense of what Martin sounds like without the piety, check out his recent reaction here to the trademark office slapping down the Washington NFL team. FWIW, as a reader of this blog for years, I love the columns, but I confess that I scroll quickly over much of the commentary. Nonetheless, I do look for maybe 4-5 people here whose comments I never miss. One of my favorites in HUG. He and I have a lot in common.

    • “Jesus loves fresh dirt.”

      Which Gospel is this in?? Last I checked He wept and raised Lazarus and raised a little girl in the midst of her parents. I don’t recall Him telling these folks He loves “fresh dirt”.

    • Well, I think Steve may have a point. It says in Psalm 116.15 that,

      “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

      • Why didn’t Jesus remind Mary and Martha of this? Perhaps if they just had more faith that Jesus loves”fresh dirt.”

        “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

        “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

        Jesus wept.

        • There are a gadzillion sermons out there on that two-word verse, “Jesus wept.” (John 11.35), and I’m sure Jesus wept for many reasons, including that sin entered into the world and death with it.

          But death is God’s doing just as much as life is, and by God’s good and merciful design death is the gateway to life. I conclude, therefore, that death is ultimately a good thing, not pleasant, but necessary given our sinful condition.

          I’ll let Paul speak for me in this respect,

          “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Philippians 1.21-23)

        • PS: Reading through John 11 we see Jesus’s dialogue with Martha and then with Mary. In vv. 23-27 & 32-37…

          “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’ … “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’”

          And so Jesus again proved His Messiah-ship and glorified God by raising Lazarus from the dead.

          And then Lazarus died again, as did Martha and Mary. And on the last day, all three will rise again, this time for good.

          • John put it there, specifically, for a reason, and I cannot help but think that reason is that Jesus was simply grieved by the death of his friend. God in the flesh, fully human, weeping.

          • Yes, that is a reasonable conclusion, but still one among many.

            And as one who believes that Christianity is a religion (or faith, for my evangelical compadres who hate the word “religion”) of paradoxes, I believe that God simultaneously rejoices and grieves at death.

  2. The Last Fast says:

    In a world with a spirituality “Your Life Now,” today’s post could not serve as a better reminder.

    I am reminded the final paragraph from the epilogue of Mere Churchianity:

    “Every word of the gospel is written to men who will be dead but are now alive by the mercy of God. This is my life and the life of all other persons.”

  3. My mother entered a nursing home yesterday. My brothers have been with her, but I live hundreds of miles away, so I won’t be able to visit for a few days. It’s so hard.

    Blessings to you and your family.

  4. All I can say is that it will be very interesting to see the shifts as more and more Boomers reach the end of this rope. Will there be a real demand (finally!) for the kind of pastoring and Good News highlighted in this post? Or will they insist on holding to their illusions of happiness and youth to the bitter end?

    (Yep, Gen Xer here, in case it wasn’t obvious…)

    • Robert F says:

      Eeyore, you ask your questions as if the wishes and illusions of the imminently dying are all that shape the final approach to death. The fact is that those who still have some living left in them have developed a culturally shaped and energized interest in making the aging and death of their loved ones as inconspicuous as possible, motivated by our cultures idolization, and idealizing, of youth and vitality.

      Although Boomers were perhaps the first generation to be caught up in such illusions, the contagion has not been limited to Boomers, and has spread across you Xers and the ones after you as well. Youth and vitality are everything in our society, across every generation; aging, death and dying are at root considered a pitiable embarrassment and inconvenience. If you tell me that you as an Xer are immune to this cultural influence, this Boomer shall be incredulous.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Epitaph of a generation, presented for your consideration, in the Twilight Zone:

        Picture a 70-something Michael Jackson standing in his playroom in footie pajamas, his plastic surgery long gone south, staring in the playroom’s full-length mirror screaming “I’M YOUNG! I’M YOUNG! I’M YOUNG! REALLY! I AM! I’M YOUNG! I’M YOUNG! I’M YOUNG!!!!!”

    • Robert F says:

      Actually, I think the tendency to idealize youth and vitality, and to deny aging and death, has always been a strong drive in human social reality; it’s just that the Boomers were the first (and last?) generation to have widespread access to the material resources to make the illusion of never-ending youth and vitality seem credible, to make it seem sustainable.

  5. Robert F says:

    “How come there are no pictures of the dying on church websites? No bodies wasting away. Just photoshopped pretty people.”

    “Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
    Cannot bear very much reality…”

  6. This post took me back to my grandfather in the nursing home. The smell, woman crying out and the raw emotion.

    May the Lord give your mother shalom. Be the pastor that cares for the untouchable. (which is all of us)

  7. Michele says:

    My own call to pastoral ministry came in midlife sitting with my grandmother during a terrible and terribly long first night in a nursing home. The Holy Spirit is remarkably present in nursing homes, thank God! Listen, pray, and know others are praying for your mother, for you — and for discernment of your call.

  8. Randy Thompson says:

    A nursing home, a funeral home, and an intensive care unit are the most powerful reminders we have that Easter is way more than just a yearly special Sunday.

    In my previous church, I did occasional nursing home services. One time, the service took place the week after Easter. As a result, I decided to give a (very) short talk on heaven (despite N.T. Wright’s protests). It was a powerful experience–for me. As I spoke about the hope before us, I watched blurry, unfocused eyes begin to brighten and focus. People hunched over in wheelchairs began to straighten up. These people had ears to hear. After that, all I ever talked about at nursing homes is the resurrection and “heaven.” The response was always similar.

    • Yes. After accompanying my father to services at the “rehab” center, I agree. These folks know what’s up and they need the reassurance that God has in mind a good end even for them.

  9. Randy Thompson says:

    Unrelated to my previous comment:

    Doing nursing home services also taught me that it’s a disaster to ditch traditional hymnody in favor of nothing but contemporary music. The folks in nursing homes have sung the same songs their whole lives. They are rooted in the deepest recesses of memory–at least the first stanza. You don’t even need hymnals. The hymns here have a life of their own.

    So, here’s my question. When the worship music changes every three or four months, what will abide in memory? What will you sing in the nursing home, when maybe all you have left is your long-term memory?

    • Danielle says:

      This is a very good question.

      Also, I know CCM was created by the Boomers, and that it still speaks to most of the Boomers who grew up on it. But whenever I flip on the Christian radio station, I always feel like the protagonist of most every song is in their 20s or 30s, and just glad they have their whole life to live the fullest. Does this resonate when you are 70?

      To be fair though, I don’t listen very long or very often, so I no longer “hear it” as an insider.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      I’ve actually pondered this, as I’ve seen my Alzheimers riddled mom singing songs from the 30s while she can’t remember how to hold a spoon. Personally, there are several contemporary worship songs that I really enjoy that I hope my mind will remember should I ever be in her condition.

      • Randy Thompson says:

        Will you sing them often enough over the long haul, though, so you’ll remember them? That’s the question for me.

      • Danielle says:

        I don’t know how long or often one needs to repeat things for them to get that deep inside the consciousness. Do we remember things from childhood more easily? Anyway, the theme of remembering music, even after forgetting most everything else, seems to resurface in articles and people’s stories. There was a video circulating a while back, and I am not sure how I encountered it (it may have gone viral on social media at one point) in which a man with Alzheimers who was mostly unresponsive would nonetheless respond to music he recognized from long ago, and even talk briefly in its wake.

        It’s rather touching, and really interesting, that the mind is so oriented toward music. I’d like to think I’d remember some bits.

        • Danielle says:

          And I suppose folks will know something about me after they find out which pieces I remember.

          Ha! Hopefully the results of that test are not too funny.

        • Randy Thompson says:

          Music can touch some very deep places in memory.

    • Robert F says:

      ” When the worship music changes every three or four months, what will abide in memory? What will you sing in the nursing home, when maybe all you have left is your long-term memory?”

      How about “Hotel California”?

  10. This piece hits too close to home. I returned to work yesterday following bereavement leave. My father passed away last week. At least I got one last Father’s Day with him before he passed into eternity.
    .
    Dad spent two months in a rehab facility last year following surgery. We had to be careful to say “facility” and not “home” around him, for this facility also had a nursing home wing. At least it was nice and modern, though not without its drawbacks. Thankfully, Dad was out in time to spend what turned out to be his final Christmas at home.

    Even though I knew this day would eventually come, I still felt ill-prepared. One would think that wouldn’t be the case. My mother passed away some years ago following a battle with cancer. And I’m also wondering what will happen when my time eventually comes, although I hope and pray it isn’t anytime soon. I’m single and childless, nor do I have nieces and nephews. I’ve got one sister, but she’s got her own life and I don’t expect her to have to take care of me.

    I’m not sure where I would be without the grounding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even with that, it’s far from an easy time.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      -> “I’m not sure where I would be without the grounding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even with that, it’s far from an easy time.”

      Truer words have rarely been written.

    • Robert F says:

      “Even though I knew this day would eventually come, I still felt ill-prepared.”

      It may be possible to have a “good death,” but I think it’s impossible to truly be prepared for death, either our own or those near to us.

      ” And I’m also wondering what will happen when my time eventually comes, although I hope and pray it isn’t anytime soon. I’m single and childless, nor do I have nieces and nephews. I’ve got one sister, but she’s got her own life and I don’t expect her to have to take care of me.”

      Although I’m married, my wife and I are in much the same boat as you, Larry. Isolation and lack of adequate social networks add an additional level of anxiety and fear to the prospect of oncoming decline and death.

      Without Jesus Christ, we would be nothing, and our deaths would be nothing. God be with you, Larry, and may light perpetual shine upon your father, and your mother.

  11. When my grandmother lay dying in her hospital bed, her daughter (my mother) sat, reading and praying with her. An elderly hospital chaplain came into the room for a visit. He pulled up a chair next to the hospital bed and began speaking with my grandmother. My mother said that it was then that she was privileged to witness a holy moment. Grandma turned to the pastor and said, “Will you hold me and rock me?” Without hesitation, the old man took the frail and tiny old woman in his arms, sat her on his lap and rocked her like a baby.”

    I’ve never forgotten the beauty of that story and pray that my life will likewise exhibit the love of Christ.

  12. Christiane says:

    ” . . . in Me you may have peace . . . ”

    the peace of Christ is something my father had on the day of his passing . . . he was lucid, the nurse had bathed him earlier, and she was preparing to get his toothbrush ready for him to use and he said ‘that won’t be necessary’ and then he was gone

    there is a hymn in the Anglican faith that reminds me of my father and his faith (he was Catholic), this

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U3mHgedrsQ

    ‘God be at my end, and in my departing’ . . .

    I have no doubt.
    This was true for my father. The calmness he had carried with him during his life did not desert him at his ending.

    The ‘gospel’ has many definitions. Some of them are strangely caustic among fundamentalists. But those words ‘in Me you may have peace’ . . . those were not empty words for my father . . . he lived those words. I am a witness.

  13. I suppose I have 5 to 15 years So far so good; but then better.