My family doesn’t call me at work unless it is important. I know this because I have specifically asked them not to call me at work unless it is important. One of the things I have tried to do with my life is to be fully present wherever I am. Jesse Itzler says, “Be where your feet are.” He has a way of saying things that really nails it.
So, when I saw my mom was calling me mid-morning in late June in 2015, I knew it was important. My 87 year old paternal Grandfather had been found unconscious on the floor of his home and rushed to the hospital in Chattanooga. The doctor was running tests, but it looked like a stroke and that he may not recover.
I stood up from my desk, got in my car and made the 90 minute drive to Chattanooga as fast as I could. You see my dad is an only child and he was 8 hours away. I didn’t get any clothes, or toothbrush, or anything. I just went.
When I got to the hospital and made my way to the emergency department, I was escorted to a small partitioned room where my Grandfather lay alone, unconscious, on a gurney. I grabbed his hand, kissed him on the forehead, and whispered, “It’s okay, Grandpa, I’m here.” There was no response.
Pretty soon the doctor came in and showed me some scans of his brain, pointing out what looked like a small bleed in his brain. Small to me, however, was big for the brain. I took a couple of pictures of the scans and called my best friend, Brian, who is quite possibly the finest emergency medicine practitioner you could ever want to know.
He’s also been my best friend since the 8th grade, and I knew he would shoot me strait. He confirmed that my Grandfather would not recover from this stroke. I had been in the hospital for less than 2 hours. 4 more hours to go until my parents would arrive.
There wasn’t much to do in that little room. It didn’t seem like playing on my phone was the right thing to do, so I just sat there thinking about my Grandfather. I started wondering if he could hear me as I talked to him, if the bleeding in his brain was making it difficult to understand, like trying to talk underwater. What must that be like?
Read – 1 Corinthians 13:9-12
Chapter 13 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is commonly referred to as “The Love Chapter” and you have likely heard this read at a wedding. (Probably more than once.) After sitting with my Grandfather in the emergency department, talking to him and wondering if he could hear me, I remembered this part of the chapter particularly in the King James Version.
“Now we see through a glass, darkly;”
Paul was writing to the Corinthians about what he called “The More Excellent Way”. Specifically telling them that it doesn’t matter how pious they may be if they do not have love for others. He goes on to describe what love is: patient, kind, does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude, does not insist on its own way, not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
I think we miss something when we look at this through only a wedding lens.
My Grandfather lived another 3 days. He was unconscious the entire time. We were transferred to a private room in the hospital as we waited for nature to take its course. There were no more machines, just his ragged breath in and out over and over.
This might be “The Love Chapter” but these three verses at the end capture the hope of Jesus so vividly for me. My Grandfather might have been able to hear us talking to him, like seeing through a glass darkly. What Paul was saying to the Corinthians was this: You think you know what all this stuff is about, but you don’t know it fully. Have hope! One day you will see in full.
It was the middle of the night when my Grandfather’s breathing stopped. We had been awake for almost 3 days and my dad had gone to get some sleep just a few hours before. My mom was asleep on the other side of the room and I was awake right beside him.
We called my dad and the doctor waited to pronounce my Grandfather’s death until my dad arrived.
“…but then face to face.”
This year has brought uncertainty to every corner of the world. The path forward has never looked as dark as it does right now. I used to be frustrated trying to clear the glass myself. Paul reminds us in these verses that we cannot clean the glass ourselves.
I only learned what it meant to fully live when I sat with my Grandfather as he died. I didn’t know if he could hear me and even if he could I assumed it wasn’t very clear, but I spoke to him anyway.
That is exactly what Paul describes in these verses, we now see through the darkened glass, but God is still speaking to us. Using much the same words I used, “It’s okay, I’m here.” We will never “see clearly” here on Earth, but if we listen carefully that still small voice will provide us with hope that can ever so slightly clear the darkened glass.
Sing – O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Almighty God, grant us in equal measure; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope in a Savior, Peace in our world, Joy in our hearts, and Love for our fellow man. In the name of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Advent season, Amen.