O.

On Being Fragile and Calling 9-1-1

“Call 9-1-1”

Bethany had never told me that before so I knew this was serious.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“Yeah, hi… my wife is on the ground and she’s experiencing some kind of chest pain. I don’t know what to do.”

After some basic questions about my location the operator asked: “How old is she?”

“Thirty-nine”

“What is she doing? Is she breathing?…”

“Yes, I think so… I don’t know. Yes… It’s hard to know. She’s breathing…”

“It’s OK. EMTs are on the way. You will hear lights and sirens. Make sure you stay with your wife… remove any pillows. Make sure the front door is open. Stay on this line.”

Just writing that brings me to tears. Because I don’t know exactly what I was doing or saying between that time and the arrival of the paramedics, but I remember being calm as Bethany turned pale and was in incredible pain. I think I asked my four-year-old son to help me unlock the front door and clear a path in the hallway to our bedroom, but it all kind of blurs together even just 36 hours later.

Don’t know why I took this photo, but I did.

Five EMTs made their way into our house. Bethany was still coherent, but in pain. They asked her a million questions, some of which I answered because she couldn’t. The one I remember loud and clear was “What is your pain level on a scale of 0-10, if 0 is nothing and 10 is the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?” Without hesitation Bethany said “8!” As they loaded her in the ambulance one of the EMTs said to me, “Go get her cell phone and charger.” I ran inside, grabbed it, ran back outside, laid it on Bethany’s lap in the ambulance, they shut the doors, and then they were gone.

I didn’t really cry until about nine hours later when I was driving home by myself from the hospital. Sure, I was tired. Yes, I was frustrated that the last time I had seen my wife that day was in the ambulance because Covid restrictions kept me out of the hospital. Yes, I didn’t love that most of the information I got that day was through Bethany having to text me because I couldn’t be there to get information directly. But it finally hit me… Bethany could’ve died.

By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital Bethany’s pain had lessened, but she was still hurting. Her chest pain came and went most of the day. They ran EKGs and they were normal. They did a chest X-ray and found nothing. They did three rounds of bloodwork and saw “something” they didn’t like. Then Bethany texted me,

Spending the night😕possible start of a heart attack

“I’m really glad you told me to call 911” I texted back.

After a CT angiogram, it was determined that Bethany had a “spontaneous dissection” of one of her arteries. Without getting too specific here, it just means there’s something there that was restricting blood flow to her heart. Though uncommon, these can actually heal themselves and/or be healed through medication. Although relieved that we had some kind of answer, we recognized that this could’ve been worse and this entire day could’ve gone differently.

That’s why I cried on the way home. My friend Jeff called me and asked if Bethany was OK. I said yes, but… “I’m starting to get emotional. She’s doing great now, but I think it all just hit me.”

Life is fragile. We say it and we hear it said. I even preach it from time to time, especially to the high school students I get to serve at the church. But we forget it. There are so many days that go well, that run normal, and of which very little happens that causes us to consider just how fragile we are. I praise God for that in my life while I recognize that my experience is different than many even in my own church. Not everyone gets long periods of time where they are not reminded of their fragility. As a pastor I get a front row seat to the hurting and the long-term care that comes with it, both physical and spiritual. But because this is not my personal experience, and because life tends to just keep on going, I don’t always have to be confronted with the thin barrier between this life and the next.

Bethany is asleep right now in our bed. After spending two days in the hospital we were able to pull a Shawshank Redemption move and bust her out of there (OK, not exactly, but that’s how it felt!). Almost immediately after we got home she told our kids “I’m going to bed.” She was tired and weak and in need of rest. We ended up talking for a few minutes in bed before she fell asleep and Bethany admitted she was ready to meet Jesus. Maybe it was the meds talking, but I know my wife. She was and is ready.

I told her I’m glad it wasn’t today, but in the back of my mind I thought about what the the apostle Paul said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Then he adds, “I am hard pressed between the two [that is, between living and dying]. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (1:23-24). He wrestled between his own impending death and the thought of being with Christ. He loved the church, but he loved Jesus more. That, I think, is what was behind what Bethany said. She loves me and our kids, but she loves Jesus more.

While studying the book of Ecclesiastes last year I came across a quote from a preacher who said, “None of us are getting out of this alive.” He was talking about this life and was just repeating essentially what Solomon wrote in chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…” We all know this to be true whether we want to talk about it or not: there is a time to die. And that’s exactly why in Solomon’s wisdom he wrote this a few verses later,

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Ecclesiastes 3:11-13

Solomon’s advice is simply to enjoy life while you can. In light of the reality of death–whether it be today, tomorrow, or in the distant future–enjoy it all. Enjoy even the simple pleasure of a meal–this is God’s gift to man. That’s wisdom from God because you don’t know when the time will be.

O.

On Visiting Auschwitz

Editor’s note: As much as I have enjoyed writing about baby Karis this past week, I must take today’s post to break away and talk about something different. For regular blog readers this will be a departure from my usual tone and focus, but I felt I needed to write about what I did today=. This will not be graphic, just simply getting my thoughts down on paper so to speak. I will return tomorrow to our regular scheduled programming.

Today I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp (1940-1945). Even though it’s only a one hour drive from our house here in Czech, I don’t think I’ll be going there very often–maybe even once is enough. It was something that my father-in-law and I had been talking about doing, but since it would just be he and I we weren’t sure if we would have the time. An opportunity presented itself this afternoon and we decided to go and take a standard 3.5 hour walking tour. It’s a sobering place, but looking back on today I am very glad we were able to go.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

In his travel book, American travel-guide, Rick Steves, answers the question “Why visit Auschwitz?” He writes,

Why visit a notorious concentration camp on your vacation? Auschwitz-Birkenau is one of the most moving sights in Europe, and certainly the most important of all the Holocaust memorials. Seeing the camp can be difficult: Many visitors are overwhelmed by a combination of sadness and anger over the tragedy, as well as inspiration at the remarkable stories of survival. Auschwitz survivors and victims’ families want tourists to come here and experience the scale and the monstrosity of the place. In their minds, a steady flow of visitors will ensure that the Holocaust is always remembered— so nothing like it will ever happen again. Auschwitz isn’t for everyone. But I’ve never met anyone who toured Auschwitz and regretted it. For many, it’s a profoundly life-altering experience— and at the very least, it will forever affect the way you think about the Holocaust.

After visiting the sight today I can only agree with his assessment. To walk the grounds, visit the buildings, and hear the detailed history is humbling, overwhelming, and saddening. It’s only as a Christian who knows that the Lord is sovereign over history that I could really make sense of it. Within the first few minutes I found myself pondering Ecclessiastes 7:2, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Auschwitz is a house of mourning and today I laid it to heart.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

I took very few photos and even the ones I did take aren’t too heavy. Mostly I just wanted to listen and take it all in. The tour is well planned and very informative while not being overly emotional. I’ve been to the Holocaust museum and memorial in D.C. twice and I think it was way more intense than Auschwitz is, at least by design. Our Polish tour guide was very calm, quiet, and that’s how it should be. Even the lighting inside isn’t so intense. What struck me was that even though we live in a digital age and we love to take photos, I could tell that generally people were limiting their use like I was. And really, other than a few snaps for this blog, I’m not exactly sure what I would do with a bunch of photos of a place like Auschwitz.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

There are two parts to the tour. The first takes you through Auschwitz I which was a Polish army base that the Nazis converted to a concentration camp. The second part takes you to Auschwitz II which was built completely by the Nazis using prison labor. Like most Americans I had to study this horrible place in school, but today as we entered Auschwitz II I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the facility. No picture will do justice to just how big the camp is. The electric fence lining the perimeter just seems to go on forever, along with the railway which runs right down the middle of it. Below are two photos I took from the guard tower which give a little context but still the scale is hard to capture.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

In the second photo above, if you were to follow those tracks to the very back (more than 1/4 mile–far!) there is a memorial that was erected for the more than 1.3 million lives that were taken at this place. On the ground beneath an artist’s sculpture are large placards written in every language that was represented at the camp (there must have been 10-12 of them). Below is the one in English.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

For the sake of my wife and others who might read this, I’m leaving out any details about the buildings and actions taken inside. If you know the history, then you know what happened. But I just wanted to say that standing in the rooms and seeing what the Nazis did caused me more than once to consider the sinfulness of my own heart. As much as it is right to be angered by the atrocities that took place at Auschwitz, it was the work of men just like me who did these things. They were just like me in the sense that they have the same sinful heart that I do. Mark 7:21-23 records the words of Christ when he said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” I guess that’s what I meant when I said earlier that I was taking it to heart. How could I not?

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

One of the last things that we heard today was about the liberation of the camp on January 27, 1945 (for some perspective, my own dad turned one year old on Jan. 28, 1945). The Russians were able to free the camp and about a week before this the Nazis (knowing the Russians were coming) began to destroy as much evidence of their crimes as they could. They blew up buildings, burned things to the ground, etc. and then fled. As I sit here tonight and ponder those events I’m actually thinking about the glorious and wonderful gospel which liberates our hearts from the penalty of sin. I don’t have to run from the Lord in fear like the Nazis did from the Russians, but my soul is liberated by the horrific death of Christ on a cross. The Nazis may have outrun the Russians (only 10% were convicted of their crimes), but unless they knew Christ and trusted Him in faith, they were never (or are never) able to outrun the God who judges their souls. It’s only in the Gospel that I can make sense of Auschwitz. Christ died for the men, women, and children who were murdered there as well as the men and women who ordered their deaths. He also died for my sin and your sin. As overwhelming as a place of death like Auschwitz is, I am equally overwhelmed by the place of life given to me and many others through the work of Jesus.

As Rick Steves said, “Auschwitz isn’t for everyone,” but the Lord used it today to remind me of His amazing work. For that I’m eternally thankful.