When news that a new life is expected, everyone gets busy. There are diapers to stockpile, baby afghans to crochet, crib sheets, receiving blankets, a car seat, a crib, sleepers and bottles to acquire.
For the more affluent, a room must be made ready. Blue or pink? Bunnies or cowboys?
For the poor, the challenge will be to find room for another person, thread to mend the onesies and a good scrubbing for the car seat that was durable enough to survive the elder siblings.
As the much-anticipated day draws nearer, the parties begin, with friends and family showering the soon-to-expand family with gifts. Baby shower games are the order of the day, with guests guessing the girth of the expectant mother, and, in my day, before ultra-sounds revealed the secrets of the womb, games to guess the baby's gender.
The big day finally arrives and soon after the baby takes first breath, the by-now-breathless new father is making the requisite phone calls. Boy or girl? How much does she weigh? What is his name? How's mom? Wise is the young father who has all of this written down before he makes the first call.
Sighs of relief give way to prayers of thanksgiving, heart celebrations begin and milestones are faithfully marked through the course of this new life.
I wonder, if, as the day of our earthly departure nears, similar welcoming preparations are under way in the heavenly realms?
You see, I've been thinking about death and dying a lot over the past few days.
Over the past several weeks, I've been working on a hospice story, delving into the history of hospice and interviewing people directly involved in providing hospice care.
Hospice care is a marriage of old and new philosophies. In the millennia preceding our modern age, with all of its attendant life-extending sciences, i.e., vaccinations, surgeries, etc., life expectancies were greatly reduced and most people succumbed to death through illness or disease in their own beds, in their own homes, lovingly cared for by members of their own family.
Early in the 20th century, hospitals largely became the place where people went to die when medicine could do nothing more, and there they languished alone.
Modern hospice traces its roots to the Irish Sisters of Charity who established St. Joseph's Hospice at London in 1905. Dame Cicely Saunders, MD, started St. Christopher's in 1968, also in London. St. Christopher's laid the basis for a philosophy that emphasizes palliative care, i.e., pain and symptom control rather than curative care for the terminally ill.
In other words, the day of death draws ever nearer and hospice endeavors to make those last months, weeks, days and hours somehow bearable.
When my mother died in 1986, her condition deteriorated so rapidly that there wasn't time to arrange for hospice care. However, the hospital staff, familiar with the path that had appeared so suddenly before us, prepared us for the inevitable last breath. When it came, Mom was ready and so were we. That too, is part of the job of hospice - to walk with those who are passing through the valley of the shadow of death.
Well-schooled, or rather, well-versed believers are aware of the many promises of eternal life for those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten Son of God, the God who so loved the world that he sent that son so that they "shall not perish but have eternal life."
Paul assures us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) and Jesus himself promises that he has gone to prepare a place for us "that where I am, there you also may be." (John 14:3)
These are absolutes and can be wholly trusted. However, on this side of reality, we do not know precisely what to expect at the moment this life ends and eternity begins, though many with greater minds than mine have endeavored to paint a picture for us. Still, up to now, only one has crossed from life to death and then returned, bearing witness to the truth of resurrection and eternal life.
It is no accident that Jesus' words from John 3:16 come from his encounter with Nicodemus, during which Jesus explains the phenomena of being "born again" and how that miracle is accomplished through the Spirit of the living God, "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." (John 3:6)
Jesus tells us in Luke 15:7 that there is much rejoicing in heaven "over one sinner who repents..." Perhaps when a lost one is found, and the celebration begins, so too do the preparations for this repentant sinner's arrival home where he will join in the rejoicing yet to come.
Just this week, Steve Jobs' sister, who delivered his eulogy, revealed in it that his final words were, "Oh, wow." He uttered just those two words, three times in a row, before he died. She said he spoke them in a monosyllabic fashion, as he stared off into the distance.
No one knows the heart of Steve Jobs, save God himself. No one can say what he saw or what his words signified as he left this life and all he loved within it.
What can be said, however, needs to be said to all who yet remain. Do not neglect the day of your death. It will come. Trust the One who has defeated death and who has promised the same victory to all who follow him. Then do all you can to live well today; and to die well tonight.
"...This very night your soul is required of you;" Luke 12:20 (NAS)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.