I recently had some events take place in my life that caused me to begin to think about life, death, and eternity, so I decided to write this blog.
For many people there comes a moment in time that defines them. For some it may not be a single moment, but a series of events strung together that shape them. I believe there comes a point where they understand who they are because of a specific event took place during a pivotal time in their life. At that moment, a decision that will affect the course of your life hangs in the balance of time and you know that once this decision is made your life will never be the same. This is a defining moment. For me, this moment came in a unique way. But first, let me pause and explain that before this point in my life I had already went through a series of decisions that led me to this very place.
My Most Important Decision
When I was 6 years old, I gave my life to Jesus and decided I would follow Him for the rest of my life. This was the most significant decision I have made in my life and it caused me to be where I needed to be in that defining moment that was to come. From that point forward, my life began to follow a pattern of being asked to take part in various ministries. Always willing to help and feeling a gentle nudge from God, I accepted and jumped in with all I had. From there, God moved upon my heart to begin to exhort and preach His word. God led me to this important decision in my life and because I had said “yes” to the most important decision, following Jesus, I had enough courage to say “yes” to this prompting as well. The leading of His still, small voice eventually brought me to a place where I was asked to be a youth pastor. I wholeheartedly accepted this directional choice for my life as well. It was during this period that my defining moment took place.
The Defining Day
It was a normal Wednesday in December, or at least I thought it was. I went through my day as usual and then went to church that evening to take care of the youth service that I oversaw. My wife was there to help, like always, and my father, the pastor of our church, was preparing to lead the Wednesday Night Bible Study for the adults. But he did something different that night. He came into the sanctuary where we held the youth service and visited with me, Alisha, and our soon to be one-year old son, AJ. He typically stayed in the room where they held the Bible Study to prepare for his lesson. This was the first change from the normality of life that set the course for the most difficult and unforgettable events of my life. Of course, I didn’t realize all of that until later. The service took place no different than any other youth service, but as I was leaving the room to let the adults know that we were finished and they could pick up their kids, my mother met me at the door. She was sobbing and the only words that she could get to come out of her mouth were, “It’s your dad.” I rushed into the next room and found him lying on the floor. People were praying but it almost seemed as if they were all frozen in place, like someone walked by and hit the slow-mo button. I was faced with a circumstance that needed action, and unrevealed to me at that moment, I was the one who needed to take it. It was a choice I made without even thinking. Looking back even now, it still feels like it was an involuntary response to the situation. It was a choice, but at the time I did not recognize it as a choice. It was a responsibility. I believe that God had been preparing me for this moment my entire life. That is why I call it my defining moment. I believe that God had ordered my footsteps in life to bring me to this very place. My actions on that night from this point on in the story are ones that I know were influenced by the Holy Spirit. I can distinctively remember them, but it feels as if I did not take them. It was almost as if I watched myself carry out the decisions that night.
I approached my dad and checked for a pulse. There was none. I began to prep for CPR and then gave orders to a leader of our church. I asked him to get people into the other room and have them continue to pray. I asked if 911 had been called while beginning to perform CPR. My sister-in-law Anne, a former EMT, was there and so she helped me. We rotated turns doing compressions. Once the Squad arrived, I continued to help. They were having trouble getting the respirator prepared and one of the EMT’s said that dad needed air, so I began mouth to mouth resuscitation. They were eventually able to get the hand pump respirator going and from that point forward I began to shift my attention to my mother. I took her to the hospital, following the ambulance. The ER doctors came out a few times letting us know that it was not good. Eventually, they pronounced him dead. As I looked into my mother’s eyes, all I could see was numbness. It was hard for all of us to believe. But for some reason as I looked at her and everyone else around the room, they seemed to be experiencing more shock than I was. That is when I realized why.
I was in physical contact with my dad. I had touched his lifeless body. As I applied the compressions and prayed, it was as if his life was in my hands. Don’t get me wrong, I knew the whole time that he was in the hands of God and that is why I was praying, but in the physical sense I knew that his only hope to survive in this world were the compressions I was giving him. I now have a hint of what it must feel like to be a doctor or rescue worker holding on to hope as you try to keep another life living. Even as I felt the ribs cracking and heard that last bit of air coming out of his lungs, I could not stop. “What if this would help?” “What if I stop and they tell me if someone would have just kept going, he would have made it?” All the “what ifs” were going through my head and yet I felt there was no life there. Still, it felt like I was holding his life in my hands.
The Transfer of Responsibility
As the weeks followed, I came to realize it was not his life, but the lives of the people he loved, that was being placed into my hands that moment. You see, he was a pastor. He was a husband and a father. He was the oldest son of his family. He had people that counted on him. There were people he was responsible for. As time moved forward these responsibilities fell to me. The people that depended upon him now looked to me. My mother needed support and help. The church that he pastored needed a pastor. I immediately stepped in to help lead my mother, 2 sisters, and brother through this transition of life. In January, the church elected me as pastor. I knew this was going to be a long process and I prayed every step of the way, depending upon God to guide my every decision. And then, 8 months later my father’s only sibling, his brother Charlie, passed away in an accident. Suddenly, again I was placed in a position to lead, being the first person to reach my aunt at the place of the accident. The death of my father and uncle led my grandparents to look to me as the executor of their will and secondary power of attorney, next to each other. This all took place several years ago. But it is the events of the past few weeks that have really caused me to reflect and evaluate the choices and events that have led me to where I am now.
On Friday May 1st, 2020 I had to have a serious talk with my grandparents. This is not a discussion that typically occurs between a grandchild and grandparents. This is a discussion that, if and when necessary, is usually initiated by a close child, and even then, it is a dreaded and difficult topic. It was difficult because it was about how we needed to face the fact that my grandmother was dying. It was difficult because I wasn’t sure if she was aware that she was dying, and I was certain my grandfather was not aware that she was dying. But since life waits for no man, I knew I needed to help my grandpa make some hard decisions on how to provide care for my grandma in her last days. It was in this moment that once again I felt that responsibility for another’s life resting in my hands. Thankfully, we had a little more time this go around, and I was, more or less, the back up to grandpa. I started the discussion by informing them both that the hospital said there was really nothing more they could do. They were just putting band-aids on and nothing was getting better. I asked grandma if she knew what that meant. She did. For the first time she said out loud, “I’m dying.” Grandpa was shocked, to say the least. Again, I wasn’t experiencing the same shock. It was almost as if I had seen this coming. But I knew that the shock he was experiencing was going to make the next few decisions very challenging, and so I began to take every step with him. If you have ever had to make decisions for the life of others you understand how incredibly hard it is. It felt good to have all the family around us as we navigated these hard choices. My cousin Nick was the third health POA. With him and the help of our mothers, who are more like daughters to grandma and grandpa, along with all the other grandkids, we had plenty of support. As always, the Holy Spirit led us as we decided to call in home hospice. It went quick and I am so thankful that she did not suffer long. On Wednesday, May 6th at 5:30 a.m. grandma went home to be with our Lord Jesus.
As I have dealt with the passing of my grandmother, I have also had responsibilities as a pastor during this COVID-19 ordeal. As this virus has unfolded in our society, I have felt the weight of lives that I am responsible for resting in the choices I make. This is a weight that many do not understand unless you have also been in the place of making decisions that impact masses of people. Just like the previous events, this responsibility falls upon me because of that one defining moment, the day my father passed. God has placed the care of not only the spiritual health of our church in my hands as the pastor, but the physical health is also an aspect that pastors oversee. Of course, part of that includes making a decision that could allow an environment in which an individual might get sick. And what happens if that individual dies? Who is held responsible? Many people would not blame the pastor, but the pastor himself would. In addition to that, the physical health of the church not only includes individuals’ bodies, but also the physicality of the real estate and the financial health of the church. Making the wrong decision could cause repercussions to be taken against the church that could result in physical damage to the property and/or financial harm. All these things must be taken into consideration when making choices as a leader. Many people see only the small picture of how a decision affects them. Many people only consider their preference; what they want or don’t want; what they like or don’t like. But a pastor must look at a larger picture and be willing to make hard decisions, even when it is not popular. A good pastor is willing to make decisions that sometimes he doesn’t even prefer or like. A good pastor will follow the leading of the Spirit regardless of anything else! I am very thankful for the partnership that the Father has given me in my wife, Alisha. We pastor together and I know that she has felt the weight just as much as I have. Not only of the church, but also of the events that have taken place in my family. Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2 explain that certain people have been made overseers of the church and we must take watch on how we treat and care for the flock of God. In my opinion this is a weighty matter and one that must be approached with caution and careful consideration. We must look at the individual sheep just as much as we look at the whole, but then there must be decisions made for the whole that will affect the individual sheep. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to make the right choices and lead the church in the direction He is taking us. As leaders we are looked upon to make the tough decisions. Ones that will sometimes upset people. It can be difficult to get people to understand that the choices that upset them are never purposefully made to irritate them but were made because it was better for the whole. These decisions are made by looking at the big picture that often they cannot comprehend. And most importantly choices are made because it was what the Spirit of God directed.
We Are All Responsible for Life
As all of this has unfolded it has caused me to pause and reflect on my responsibilities and the sanctity of life. Not only have these events caused me to reflect on life and death, but they also have caused me to think about eternity. I am reminded of the Scripture in Ecclesiastes 7:2 where it talks about it being “better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting because this is the end of all men and we must take it to heart” (paraphrased). Everyone will meet their eternal destination one day and where they end up will all be dependent upon what they did with Jesus. No one knows if this day is near or far, so we all must be ready. In my life, I have found that I am not only responsible for what I do with Jesus but I have the duel responsibility to make sure others know that there is a Jesus and that He is the Christ. I must give people the option of accepting Him or rejecting Him and if I do not give them this choice their blood will be on my hands. Finally, I realize that it is not only my family and our church, but everyone I encounter is resting in my hands in some form or fashion. Shifting these thoughts from my own life to yours, we all have this responsibility as Christians. What will I do with this responsibility that I hold in my hands? What will you do with this responsibility you hold in your hands? Will we ignore it or embrace it? Will we focus on the temporary life or the eternal one? The answers to these questions are up to you and I to decide and I believe they will stem from what you consider to be the defining moment of your life.