Recently I was called out as a police chaplain on two separate incidents in the same week, both involving deaths, both from natural causes, both part of the natural order of life. But, this is where the commonality between the events ends. The first call-out was to the home of someone who had gone to bed seemingly fine and when his wife noticed he was not awake at his normal time to get ready for work, she checked on him only to be greeted by the horror that he was dead. In our world today chaplains are called out only to scenes where they are requested and when I arrived the distraught wife of 28 years to the deceased man said something I’ll never forget; “We talked about God, he said he didn’t believe, but I think he really did. That’s why I wanted you here.” This struck me on multiple fronts, not knowing of any religious affiliation of the wife I wondered if she wanted me to try and pray her husband into heaven (which I have been asked to do before) which is not possible according to scripture. I wondered what her expectations of me were going to be as I have had various reactions from family members when arriving at such scenes, from anger or disgust, to being a reminder of the hope of God simply by being there. I asked the grieving widow if I could pray for her and she agreed. I asked if she had a church home or any affiliation and she said; “No, I just wanted someone who knows God to be here, it just seemed right.” Our prayer time was as would be expected, full of tears and deep sorrow of heart. I was so saddened by the scene and offered encouragement from the word of God and saw those words received with genuine thanks but with the same thanks one would offer at the condolences of anyone extended at such a time. I thought, how sad, the word of God has such power, such hope, but this poor widow was beginning the journey of sorrowing, yet without real hope. Words that were more true than any ever spoken quoted directly from the book authored by the Spirit of God himself were warmly received as one would receive a hot drink or a warm blanket on a chilly day. The words seemed to impact the moment, yet I left with reality that she received exactly what she expected from a pastor or a chaplain. Kind words that that would warm the heart and soften the moment but, not change her life.
Two days later I was called out again and this time to a local convalescent home. I have to tell you the drive to a scene such as this is a time of prayer and anxiousness as you never what the scene will be like when you arrive. As I was buzzed in at the door of the door of the home I was greeted by the usual faces when I arrive at any scene such as this, faces that have written all over them; “I would hate to have your job.” The attendant gave the room number and pointed me in the direction of the room and I followed the wall plaques and arrows pointing the way through the maze of hallways. As I began to get close to the number I had been given I began to hear loud talking and laughter and my first thought was; I guess in a place like this you get so used to death you forget how bad it hurts for those experiencing such great loss. In one room there is laughter and joy and in another deep sorrow and grief, which I expected when I arrived at the room. But as I grew closer to the room it became apparent that the sounds of laughter and joy were coming from the room number I was given. As I passed through the doorway the presence of deceased 93 year old woman in her bed assured me, this was the right room.
The scene seemed to be a strange juxtaposition, laughter and death in the same room, but as greeted the family I noticed the voices that filled the air with laughter were coming from tear stained and red eyed faces. The family told me this was a specialty care home and their mom had only been there a few months and none of them lived in the area. They were too far from their home church so they readily accepted the offer from the Police Department to send out a chaplain. I was blessed and honored to hear wonderful and tearful memories of a woman who loved God and would have wanted someone to pray with her kids when she had made her entrance into heaven. It was a wonderful time and, though they were complete strangers when I walked in, I left feeling part of the family, because I was. When I shared the word with the family I saw that it was not only received warmly but it also found a home, the words of scripture were not received as pastoral platitudes but as hope and truth that could be trusted in, words that were real, words that came from God. What struck me the most about these two events was the stark contrast between knowing “of” God and actually knowing God. While at the scene two days earlier the sorrow was deep and dark and while an acknowledgement of God was made, the comfort that comes from knowing Him was sadly absent in the newly widowed wife. The equally grieved and sorrowful family two days later however had no doubts about where “mom” was. I realized that when life happens, people often desire “someone spiritual” to be present when the truth is, the Spirit of the living God is available to them all the time. No one has to pass through life and when its trials and traumas happen, God is there when life happens!
Excerpt from “Dancing With the Scars” now available on Amazon.