One Way To Beat Death

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My daughters are five and six; their thoughts are only of life—running, playing, jumping, eating, discovering—their days a jumble of verbs. They live on the line between now and next.

I am thirty-three. My verbs are less active—writing, driving, listening—and my thoughts more divided between life and death. An Aunt emailed this morning with hard news about a cousin’s cancer. A friend’s wife has cancer, too—just diagnosed yesterday. My grandfather is dying as I type. I fly to Huntsville tomorrow to grab a moment beside his hospital bed before there are no more moments to grab.

The people around me are dying. Let’s be real: I’m dying. We’re all dying. And the older we get, the more we notice.

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I went to see my friend Dorcas last week. Dorcas has kidney problems, other problems, too. Her doctor says if she leaves the house she’ll probably get sick, because her immune system is almost totally defunct. I don’t know how old she is. Maybe 80? Maybe 70. Either way, she’s stuck in her house, and the medicines she takes keep her in bed until noon. 

Like me, she’s dying. But she’s older, so she notices more

In fact, the looming weight of impending death sometimes crushes her, leaving her buried under cold, multi-syllabic words about medicines and surgeries, unable to talk about almost anything else. I ask how she is, and she sighs—a long, surrender of a sigh—before launching into her most recent doctor’s visit.

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I hate death. I make no apologies for that. It is a great and powerful evil, an enemy of the Kingdom of Abundant Life.

To die, to sleep, to move from here to a better, brighter there—that is a beautiful thing.

But Death—the garden-born, consequential force displayed in decay and sickness, like an evil boa constrictor, strangling humankind from the moment of conception—that death I oppose.

I heard a man say once, “God intends to kill us all in the end.” But I believe no such thing. God’s intention has always been life.

The Apostle Paul says “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Before that final destruction, in the here and right now, our defense against death is life. Fortunately, Jesus offers it in good measure.

He says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

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Talking to Dorcas this last week, her house newly painted, the furniture rearranged, I saw signs of life breaking through. Her house had always been dark, but she’d had a tree removed from the front yard and now light poured through the windows.

She told me about her daughter bringing her a coffee and muffin from Starbucks. She described the moment she woke and saw it on the dining room table. She clearly didn’t know why it meant so much to her. But it did.

She told me about her son bringing Italian food to the house, about eating it with him and laughing and about having boxes of leftovers. She told me about opening the fridge the next day and seeing the leftovers, and she cried as she tried to explain what those leftovers meant.

She said, in essence, the leftovers were proof of life. Proof she’d lived.

I said, “New moments are so important.” And she said, “Yes. New moments. Yes. That’s it.” And she leaned back in her chair and smiled.

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This a simple post—more thoughts than anything, a battle plan I scratched on a napkin as I watched a woman struggle to live in the shadow of death.

For Dorcas, life asserts itself in new moments—new breaths, new foods, new topics of conversation—every “new” a reminder that life persists.

For us, the same thing is true. New relationships, trips, books, movies, foods, and (especially) moments with God drive and multiply the life inside us. When we stop discovering and meeting and learning, our lives shrink.

Death (the force of death and dying) diminishes us.

Life expands.

As children of life, our great mission is to live, to let life bloom into an expansive and advancing fullness. Too, those of us least affected by the weight of death live to help the dying, to stand beside them as they defy the forces of death, delivering new moments to their doors.

I pray this week you’d consider reaching out to a person especially burdened by death—someone sick, someone grieving, someone home-bound.

Visit her. Call him. Give them a new moment.

Remind them they’re alive. Help them fight.