Thursday, February 8, 2007

My flesh and my heart may fail

Today I went to the hospital to see my grandpa for the final time before flying back overseas. He's not well: he's more or less starving, and tomorrow they're going to put in a PEG tube in order to feed him directly through his stomach wall. Because he's not suffering from a terminal condition, but rather a (hopefully) reversible infection, we've decided as a family that this is an acceptable plan of action; we hope to build up his strength to fight his respiratory and urinary infections while gaining back some of the twenty pounds he's lost in two weeks. Otherwise, to simply prolong biological life while leaving none of his dignity and soundness would be a crime. But Opa is still sharp as a tack, praise God, and he feels no pain.

My family with Opa on his 85th birthday, February 4.
L-R: my uncle Tom, me, my mom Karen, my brother Jordan,
my grandmother Mona ("Oma"), and Opa.

What do I say to Opa, knowing that I might never see him again? I've prayed about this all week. Though he was never wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, the life of Louis H. Bork has been marked by his honesty and by a cheerful spirit determined to do good to all in his path. He has also faithfully been a part of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bay City, MI, for all his life. As such God has put Psalm 73 on my heart repeatedly, but today was the first time I found him conscious long enough to say much to him. I memorized vv. 23-28 and spoke them to him:

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; . . .
But for me it is good to be near God.

Eugene Peterson's The Message paraphrase renders v. 26 as "When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, GOD is rock-firm and faithful." True dat. I told Opa of Jesus' sure presence and love, that even now God is lovingly with him, holding his right hand (which I was doing at the time). Even as much as we, his family, are with him and care for him, so much more so does the One Who is Love. I kissed Opa's head and told him how happy I am to have had him as my grandfather--a man of such character and humble integrity--and that I loved him. He opened his eyes to look at me and squeezed my hand, scarcely able to force out a hoarse whisper: "I am . . . I am . . . proud [of you]." (I think this is what he said; I couldn't understand him well.) At the end of every letter and holiday card he has ever written to me, these have been his words.

I didn't cry. I never do.

In my sadness, within me I yet praise God to the uttermost that we are saved by grace, not by faith; that we are "not justified by works of the law but through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 2:16); that the faith through which we inherit the kingdom is itself a gift from our Father. Sitting next to my grandfather's hospital bed, I felt a deep peace that I had no need to bastardize this lavish grace by probing him, "Do you believe? If you believe this, the kingdom is assured." No. I rested, trusting that by speaking the gospel to him and assuring him of Jesus' faithfulness, the Holy Spirit would, using the words of the LCMS Eucharistic liturgy, "strengthen and preserve [him] unto life everlasting." If it were up to Opa in this time to muster up from within the strength to believe, I could find no comfort. But when faith itself is a blessing freely given by God (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29), we can find peace. "GOD is rock-firm and faithful."

"Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it" (1 Thess. 5:23-24).

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