Emergency Evacuation Route

06/09/2010

Do you have one?
Are you ready for any emergency?
Where are you gonna run if need be?

Sitting in my friend’s hospital room, ICC (Intensive Cardiac Care) to be exact, I noticed a cross hanging on the wall outside her room. No, this was not a Catholic Hospital; it was UCSF, a teaching hospital in San Francisco. So, what was a cross doing on the wall in the ICC Unit? It was a small picture on the wall showing which way we were to go to get out in the event of an emergency. From where I sat looking at it, it looked like a cross. I couldn’t help but chuckle, and I pointed it out to my friend. She got a kick out of it too, and I told her I would probably write about it, because writers are always looking for things to write about, and this was perfect! A cross, hung on the wall, right outside the door of my friend’s room.

The ICC Unit is certainly a place where a patient needs to know where they will go in the event of an emergency…they are living an emergency every moment they are in that unit. Being there means they are the sickest of the sick, and my friend certainly was no exception. I have never seen so many IV’s, filters, oxygen, tubes, monitors, etc…except for maybe the patient down the hall who rivaled her in equipment being used to save his life. And yet, I later saw him “walking” through those very halls. He’s still there, and doing much better, as is my friend, on this day… On this day, because that is all we have, this day…for you, for me, for my friend, and the guy down the hall…no one is guaranteed tomorrow—which is exactly why I’m writing this. We all need to know our own personal Emergency Evacuation Route in life.

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6 (NIV)

“No one comes to the Father except through me”….that’s why I laughed when I saw the “cross” outside my friend’s door. There’s only two safe routes out of ICC—either by getting healthy and eventually checking out through the double doors at the end of the hall, or leaving by the way of Jesus and His accomplishments on the Cross and Resurrection into eternal life. There is a third way to go, but it is not safe.

“How will you escape being condemned to hell?”
Matthew 23:33b (NIV)

Just as we should take a look at the “cross” on the wall of the ICC Unit, study it, and make sure we know where the path is to safety, we must do the same with Jesus’ Cross by being familiar with God’s Word, the Bible…by studying it and knowing where our eternal safety lies.

Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die,
but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried
in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried
in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried
as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies.
For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 (NLT)

In a writing taken from “The Upper Room Disciplines,” April 16, 2008, it says: During Jesus’ final hours with his disciples, he tries to prepare them to see God shining through all that will shortly take place. He breaks the difficult news to them; “I will be with you only a little longer.” His friends, confused and distressed, raised questions: “Where are you going? Why can’t we go too?” Jesus tries to comfort them by describing a present and future hope using the imagery of home.

There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so,
would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you?
And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you
so you can live where I live.
(John 14:1-4 The Message)

In their grief and confusion, nothing initially is transparent to the disciples. They certainly do not recognize God shining through Jesus’ hard-to-understand words. But I imagine that weeks later as they process every detail of that last evening together, they remembered their Teacher’s powerful words of comfort and hope. Jesus assured them just as he assures us today: You can live where I live—in the heart and home of God.

When everything goes dark…Jesus is the Light.
When all hope seems lost…Jesus helps us find it.
When all the air has been sucked out of us…Jesus is our breath.
When we need a way out…Jesus is the way!

I’ve spent many days in the ICC these last couple of weeks. There have been many trips down the hall getting ice chips, and apple juice. Also, many days of cutting up my friend’s food and feeding it to her because she didn’t have enough strength to do it by herself. Many days of talking to her family on the phone, and seeing them arrive in her room from out of state and out of town—precious visits, all of us wondering, how much more time we will have together on this earth… A question only God can answer.

One day, a week or so ago, I was with my friend, and I asked her if she’d like me to read to her out of the Bible. She said she would, but she requested I choose the most uplifting reading! Nothing about death and dying! I opened up my Bible, and I had turned to Luke 13, it talks about Jesus healing people. I asked her if she’d like me to read about that, and she did, so I started in. It was the story of Jesus healing a woman crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. It read, “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hand on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.” Now, I don’t claim to have the gift of healing, but the Bible tells us that we should ask and it will be given, so right there and then I put my hand on my friend’s head and prayed the same prayer for her that Jesus prayed for this woman in Luke. Between the doctors working on my friend physically, and all of us praying for her spiritually, we’d like to see her walk out those double-doors when all is said and done!

My friend just called me, to say “Good night.” To say, “Thank you.” To say many unsaid things that run deeper than words. I hung up the phone ending with, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” I hung up the phone not knowing if those words will come true. In the past few weeks she’s been hanging on the edge of life, near death, by a thin thread. Her heart rate goes up, her blood pressure goes down. Her kidneys failed, her platelets were being eaten up by her own body, and the platelets they were giving her were being rejected as foreigners that seem to have invaded her blood system. Her need for a double-lung transplant due to a disease called Pulmonary Hypertension has now been declined due to her failing health over the last five years. She is on oxygen, and takes many medications including a medication that she’s on 24/7 that keeps her disease somewhat in control. What does my friend have to hold onto after being told she may live the rest of what days she has in a hospital room, because of the kidney dialysis she will need? She has only one thing besides the hugs of family and friends, and that is God. The Hope of God. The Hope of His promises, the Hope of His healing, the Hope of His eternity when it seems her only Emergency Evacuation Route may be the very Cross of Jesus Christ. Any healing on this earth doesn’t seem like it is part of God’s plan on this day, but is it?

Just tonight, with that phone call, we are beginning to now rejoice in all that God is doing. Her kidneys, that seemed to be forevermore in the need of a dialysis machine, are starting to function again, which would mean she could go back home one day. The last batch of platelets she received was not rejected even after being told that she would reject 97 percent of any platelets she received. And, the donor has been found and has donated more for her already, although her need is not as great today because her body has not only stopped eating up its own platelets, but has started making them on their own. The 24/7 medication that she takes for her disease is being decreased, because she is not needing as much as they previously prescribed, which means her red blood cells may be able to build back up also. Even her oxygen levels are better. She is now able to get out of bed and walk out into the hallway with the aid of a nurse, and even made it all the way down the hall and out through those double doors for just a bit more exercise. She is very grateful, and I am reminded of how much we take for granted each day…how when we are healthy we just roll out of bed, plant our feet on the floor and walk with ease through our day, while my friend is thrilled to walk out into a hallway of a hospital and see a new view from a different window.

At this point, we may say, “Yes, but, the disease is still there, her enlarged heart is still giving her fits, and her longevity seems questionable.” Yes, we may say that, and it is true, but may we also say, “Thank You, God! We praise You, God! We see Your miracles, God!”—because we do!! And no matter what God has planned for the rest of this night, and for tomorrow, and for the weeks and months and years to come for my friend, we have been given so much already. So much what you might ask? So much time. Perhaps counted out in minutes, perhaps seconds, as I watched the clock on the wall in her room digitally count the seconds and I knew that each one was adding to the length of her life. A precious length of time that has allowed her to be with her sister who was able to fly out from Kentucky, and her brother and his wife who drove here from Clovis. Her grown children have come from other cities, gathering around her bed, bringing her one-year-old granddaughter with them—who is the joy of her life. What was a child of that age doing in an ICC Unit? God only knows…but someone, somewhere, approved such a special visit. And me? Well, I fill in the gaps between the relatives, the siblings, the fiancé, the children, the grandchild…because I live only an hour away from UCSF, and I go as often as I can when they cannot be here.

Barbara and I have been friends since the eighth grade. That’s forty years, if we’re counting. We met because our science teacher sent me to the restroom with Barbara to help her get the gum out of her hair that some boy had probably stuck there, because that’s what teenage boys sometimes do for fun. I didn’t “do” hair in eighth grade, and I didn’t “do” God in eighth grade either! I didn’t know that 40 years later, I would not only “do” hair, but it would be my profession. And in this profession now, I am more than able to wash, brush, braid, cut and curl Barbara’s hair right there in her ICC room with ease—when she is feeling good enough to have it done. And I didn’t know that 40 years later I would be able to support my friend with prayer, with Bible reading, and with Hope that our Emergency Evacuation Route is Jesus Christ, and He is always there to show us the way Home. What an awesome privilege it is to do both.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:12,13 (NIV)

Barbara and I were in each other’s weddings, and we had our kids about the same time, three each. We have had times when our friendship was up close, and personal. We have had times when it has been distant. But through it all, we have remained friends. Barbara believed in God before I did, back in Jr. High School, and she couldn’t understand why I didn’t believe. It wasn’t long before I figured out that life didn’t make much sense without God, and I said “Yes” to Jesus during High School. Her relationship with God has always remained intact, but because I’ve experienced living through the death of our youngest son, my relationship with God had to become the very air that I breathe. And now when I have visited Barbara during her many stays at UCSF over the last five years, I was able to breathe some of that precious air of Hope into her ailing body. We have had many talks about what this life is all about, and what God has waiting for us when it is through. Those aren’t always easy things to talk about, and there have been tears, and there have been times when we simply leave the subject alone, but through it all, we have both held onto all that Jesus died to give us, an eternal Home in Heaven.

Not all believe in God, some of those closest to us can be of differing opinions, and Barbara’s fiancé is one who thinks differently than she and I. As her fiancé and I shared two of Barbara’s bedside chairs the other day, while she slept, our discussion led into matters of faith, and Heaven, and we strongly disagreed about most everything we talked about. He had all the arguments that can keep a person from believing—the hypocrisy of some Christians, the harm some have caused in the name of Christianity, and the question of why God allows such suffering if God is such a good God. I have to agree that it can be difficult to believe in God when someone we love is so sick.

Her fiancé doesn’t believe in an afterlife, he doesn’t believe we are God’s created beings, he doesn’t believe the Bible is true, and he thinks where we are right here, right now is heaven. I couldn’t help but motion towards Barbara lying in her bed, and ask him, “You think this is heaven?” He said that religion is for people who are afraid to die…but I told him that I was not afraid to die, and that I was not afraid of Barbara dying either. I told him that I know where she was going, and that I’m going there too. It wasn’t an easy conversation to have. It wasn’t a fun conversation. But when I read John 14 just this morning, I felt relieved to know that Jesus understands these conversations, because Jesus had the same conversations too…and not everyone agreed with Him either.

Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.
And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you.
John 15:20 (NLT)

I share this story with you because this is the stuff of real life, and how people of all religious or non-religious backgrounds can end up together during times like these. They are not easy times; they are some of the toughest of times.

I ended up at my friend’s bedside instead of at work on that day, because of what Jesus asks us to do during these times, lay down our life for our friends. How my heart breaks for anyone who thinks this life is heaven, because this life is very, very hard, and if I didn’t know that God has something better than this planned for those who choose to believe in His Son, then I’d be angry at God too.

Living in the center of the Lord's love doesn't guarantee an easy,
pain-free life. In fact, the opposite is true. God loves believers so
much that He conforms each one to His Son's likeness through
any means necessary.
Charles Stanley

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.
As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.
John 15:18,19 NIV

Having our minds pried open is rarely easy,
but vision is rarely given to those who refuse.

Beth Moore

This world isn’t Heaven, this is a fallen place, filled with hurting people, diseases, destruction, and lots of other things that can test us to the limit of our faith. This world brings us to our knees, and while we are there we need to pray. On our knees is the only place we’ll find the help we need in the struggles we face. And from that position, we will see the miracles God has going on, and we will become a thankful people.

When I talked with Barbara tonight, her heart was full of gratitude. She has grown in her faith in the last few weeks like never before. She has seen God work through the bad news, and turning it to good news. She is holding onto Hope, and she is spending precious time with family and friends that God is giving her. If she has years to live, then praise God, and if she has moments to live, then thank you God for giving her the time she has had. We have been given opportunities to show Barbara we love her, and we care about her, and we are here to help her in any way we can. Those acts of love may not save her life here on earth, and the doctors may not be able to save her life here on earth, but God has allowed us moments together that will help us through if hearts are broken should it be her time to go—moments of His goodness in the midst of such sorrow.

On this night, my friend still lives with us here on this earth, and I pray she lives many more. Forty years ago Mrs. McHenry couldn’t have known that because she sent two young girls to the restroom to remedy a sticky situation, she brought together two life-long friends—but God knew exactly what He was doing on that day. And that is what we have to trust in…that God knows what we need in this life, and He always provides. And that we all need an Emergency Evacuation Route we can follow out of this life when our time is finished, and our Father has provided that too, through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Bible says, "And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:15 HCSB).


The journey continues…

Back in the 1970’s, a popular saying was, “This is the first day of the rest of your life.” I even had a patch that I sewed onto my corduroy jeans at that time. And on this day, it is very truth-telling, as Barbara has now checked out of the hospital and is back home, living the first days of the rest of her life. Hers is a life that God has spared, and each minute is precious. It is to be lived abundantly and fully focused on God’s grace.

E. Stanley Jones said, "If you don't surrender to Christ, you surrender to chaos." You're free to choose what you surrender to, but you're not free from the consequences of that choice: "So give yourselves completely to God" (James 4:7 NCV).

Barbara has been given time by the very God who made her. What’s most important about that time? It’s a time to get to know God more, but that’s not true only for her, that’s true for all of us. What are we living each day for, if not for that? If we are not spending time in the Word, and our time in prayer getting to know our Father, are we using our time wisely? I received this poem this morning:

I knelt to pray but not for long, I had too much to do.
I had to hurry and get to work, for bills would soon be due.
So I knelt and said a hurried prayer, and jumped up off my knees.
My Christian duty was now done, my soul could rest at ease.
All day long I had no time, to spread a word of cheer.
No time to speak of Christ to friends, they'd laugh at me I'd fear.
No time, no time, too much to do, that was my constant cry,
No time to give to souls in need, but at last the time, the time to die.
I went before the Lord, I came, I stood with downcast eyes.
For in his hands God held a book; it was the book of life.
God looked into his book and said, "Your name I cannot find.
I once was going to write it down...but never found the time.”

YOUCH! What if God “never found the time.” That’s not what we want to hear, we want to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” And how do we hear that? By focusing on Him each day, and living the life God has given each of us for Him, understanding that our life has come from Him and belongs to Him.

Each of us will have to give a personal account to God.
Romans 14:12 (NLT)

Barbara has been given more time, and because of all that she has been through, it’s more obvious that each minute of each day now was given to her from God. But, isn’t that how we should all be living each and every day? Realizing that each minute we have belongs to God? Each day is really His? That each breath we breathe has been given to us by God, and God alone. When we are healthy, we take it for granted that we can breathe, that we can walk around, that we can feed ourselves, and go to our jobs, and even that we have jobs at all. We sometimes forget that the very best thing we can do with the time we have been given is to spend time with our Father, getting to know why we are here, and how best to live the life we have been given.

“All men die, not all men truly live!”
William Wallace (Braveheart)

Rick Warren wrote:
“Sometimes it takes years, but eventually you discover the greatest hindrance to God's blessing in your life is not others, it is yourself - your self will, stubborn pride, and personal ambition…So give it all to God: your past regrets; your present problems; your future ambitions; your fears, dreams, weaknesses, habits, hurts, and hang-ups. Put Christ in the driver's seat of your life and take your hands off the steering wheel. Don't be afraid; nothing under his control can ever be out of control.”

Let’s truly live! To start, let’s look to the Cross of Jesus Christ, knowing that no matter what emergency comes at us in life, we have a safe Evacuation Route. And then, when we have that base safely covered and we are confident in the hope of our salvation in all He has given us, let’s follow Jesus through the rest of our days appreciating all that we have been given. This is not a boring, sluggish life. This is not a half-hearted attempt at living. This is an amazing journey with the King of kings!! It’s what God wants for us, and it should be what we want for ourselves. Let’s not miss a minute of the time we have been given! Let’s run this race of life to win the prize!

Until we meet again,

Diane