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When you come to death’s door

As I have navigated the drastic changes to my daily life these past months, I have regularly reminded myself that many things remain constant. There are still things I can rely on and anticipate.

One such event is the migration of birds into our area each May. Though the long stretch of cold delayed their arrival, I had no doubt that they would surely come. That simple thought brought me a great sense of hope and expectancy.

And they have come — the constant moving sparrows, the cheery yellow finches, the ravenous grosbeaks and brilliant Baltimore orioles have arrived in all their beauty — as I knew they would. In spite of the virus, they are singing, courting, and gathering materials to build their nests.

Recognizing that there is constancy, even in times of chaos, reminds us that certain things remain absolutely fixed, no matter what may take place in our world. This time of social distancing while staring into the face of COVID-19 has been unsettling in many ways but has also provided a tremendous opportunity to sort priorities and refocus.

I have found cultivating inner stillness during these challenging circumstances to be a great benefit. Psalm 46:10 calls us to “be still and know that I am God.” An amplified translation of those words from the original Hebrew language reads, “Cease striving, let go, relax and know that I am God.” How appropriate for this season that we are in.

It was during this time of inner stillness and fresh contemplation on the greatness of God that I was faced with one of the fixed constants — one that we all must face — the certainty of death.

My 89-year-old father, who had earned the reputation for beating every odd time after time, contracted COVID-19. The tumultuous range of emotions that gripped me when I heard the diagnosis is hard to describe.

On one hand, I was hopeful — hopeful because, just two months prior, he had prayed with my husband, asking God for forgiveness and acknowledging Jesus Christ as Savior. After praying to receive the gift of salvation, he exclaimed that he “felt very good” and was at peace. That assurance of my father’s eternal destiny gave me such incredible comfort. I know we will be reunited someday.

On the other hand, I struggled with a myriad of thoughts and feelings. That was not how we expected his life to end! We could never have anticipated that shocking turn of events.

As his last days unfolded, we were unable to be at his bedside to comfort him or look into his eyes and assure him of our love. After his death, only a few family members could gather to mourn, grieving with one another from a distance while sharing memories of our well-loved patriarch from behind masks.

The certainty of death and how completely unpredictable the timing and manner in which it may come to us should get our attention. Our culture does not like to talk about death. To be sure, it is a difficult topic to discuss, but such a critically important one, for death is a door which we will all walk through and we each choose where that door leads.

Jesus described Himself as the single door of salvation into God’s presence. Jesus conquered death and therefore those who receive Him need no longer fear death.

I am reminded of the question Jesus asked His disciples in Matthew 6:13-16: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Just as in the days of the early disciples, there are many voices proclaiming their opinion of who Jesus is. Some say he was a good man, a moral teacher, or a prophet; and some say he was a deceiver and a fraud. The reality is that, when you come to death’s door, no one else’s opinion will matter, for each of us must answer Jesus’ question for ourselves, “Who do you say that I am?”

I grieve my father’s death, but not as one who has no hope.

“For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.” — 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.

Michelle Smith serves alongside her husband, Gary, as part of the leadership team of New Life Christian Fellowship. She founded Purely Women Ministries with the purpose of helping women of all ages discover their true identity as women of God. A fifth generation Alpena native, she counts it a privilege to live in northern Michigan and enjoys flower gardening, canoeing, rustic camping and all things outdoors. She can be reached at church@newlifealpena.org. 

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