The distance between life and death, which often seems as wide as the Pacific, can become as slim as a doorway.
On Tuesday, March 23, 2010, our third daughter, Miriah, came into the world. Whidbey General Hospital was her birthplace. The hospital is tucked quietly among the rocky beaches of the Puget Sound and the shadows of the Olympic Mountains on Whidbey Island. Like many hospitals, ours is one addition after another connected by a winding maze of hallways. A master’s degree in navigation is recommended. As a pastor on the island I have had many opportunities to wind my way through this medical maze.
Normally my trips are to visit a hurting church friend, so I enter with a certain amount of concern, sometimes anxiety. On this trip, though, I was filled with excitement and saw the hospital with a new set of eyes. I noticed the signs. We made the turn towards “Labor and Delivery.” There, two signs stood out to me. The first sign hung proudly with an arrow: “Family Birthplace.” The second sign hung from the same ceiling but much more inconspicuously. It read: “Critical Care Unit.” This sign seemed to hang in the shadows of the otherwise brightly lit hallway.
Once in our Family Birthplace, another sign urged us to “Stay Quiet–Babies Sleeping.” I couldn’t help but glance to my right. There was a door with a small rectangular window. This one door was the only barrier between the Family Birthplace and Critical Care. Through the little window I saw a man sitting outside a room, his head buried in his hands. His posture proclaimed grief. The difference between our experience and his could not have been greater.
But then again, maybe there wasn’t all that great a difference between us. One inconspicuous, institutional door is all that separated us. We had walked the same confusing hallways. Only at the end had we turned left, where the grieving man turned right. That single door with the rectangular window stood out to me as a metaphor. A door was all that stood between our hope and laughter over Miriah’s inky footprints on her birth announcement and the man’s despairing tears over difficult end-of-life decisions.
In so many ways the distance between life and death is long, but in other ways, it is as short as a quick walk through a single door with a window. For this reason, the early teachers of the Reformed tradition answered their own question, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” with this, “That I am not my own, but I belong in body and soul in life and in death to my faithful savior Jesus Christ” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q and A 1, emphasis added).
That one door separating our two experiences reminded me of Paul’s words in Romans 14. “If we live, we live to the Lord. If we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” There is no human experience on the planet than can be enjoyed or endured outside the warm embrace of the one to whom we belong, Jesus Christ. No matter which side of the door we are on, we are the Lord’s.