Of preservation and blessings
Every day I pray the General Thanksgiving — one of my favorites from the Book of Common Prayer — twice, once each at morning prayer and evening prayer. Certain lines have always stuck with me, and others have been less remarkable. Very recently, I’ve been praying one line with particular fervor: “We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life…”
The “creation” and “blessings” have always been easy for me to celebrate. But I’d given less thought to “preservation.” This was a missed opportunity, one that I hope to catch up on.
Back in my parish priest days, it was my practice most weeks to stand outside the church on Sunday mornings to greet worshipers as they arrived. Though it’s been more than ten years, I can still remember the standard greetings from several parishioners in the parishes I served. There was one man who said the same thing each week. He’d walk up, and I’d say something like, “Good morning! How are you today?” And every week, like clockwork, he replied, “It’s all good. I’m still on the right side of the grass.”
I used to laugh with him at his jovial comment. Looking back, I now realize that he was thankful in a profound way for the “preservation” of his life. Whatever else came his way, he was grateful simply to be alive and savoring God’s creation day by day. He was a deeply grateful man, so it’s not surprising his gratitude list would include preservation.
If you had asked me a few months ago if I’m grateful to be alive, I’d have truthfully answered “yes.” But I’m not sure that it hit me the same way it does now, to be deeply grateful for God’s preservation of my life.
You see, a few weeks ago, I almost died.
On July 20, I arrived at Singapore’s airport intending to be there a few hours while I waited for my connecting flight on my way to Vietnam for vacation. Instead of catching my flight, I had a serious medical crisis: I suffered a cardiac arrest.
There in the airport, people performed CPR on me for 59 (!) minutes. They administered six shocks to my heart to get it going again. It’s easy to imagine a CPR team giving up before the 59th minute. But they continued, and their work and perseverance saved my life.
That’s not all. When I collapsed from the cardiac arrest, I hit my head. That did quite a number on my brain, causing several different injuries. I was rushed to the nearest hospital and placed in intensive care.
Sherilyn, my spouse, was not with me. She was back in Ohio when I collapsed and was admitted to the hospital. When she first spoke with the people at the hospital, they told her I probably wouldn’t survive.
I won’t bore you with the details, but during the two weeks or so I was in the hospital, I received outstanding medical care from the doctors and nurses at Changi General Hospital.
There are just too many astonishments to believe that my continued life is anything but a miracle. There were skilled people near where I collapsed, and their CPR worked, eventually. My brain was injured but not permanently broken. Before long, the doctors were telling Sherilyn that I’d eventually make a full recovery, though the healing journey will be a long one.
After I was discharged from the hospital, I had to remain in Singapore until I received medical clearance to travel home. On August 10, I had a CT scan of my brain. The neurosurgeon said I was having a remarkable recovery. The bleeding had stopped. There was some non-critical but still serious swelling, and a couple of other issues. The doctor was encouraging in terms of eventual recovery, but he said I should wait a while longer for the brain swelling to subside before traveling home.
On September 7, I had a follow-up CT scan. When I walked in the door of the neurologist’s office, he said something like, “You don’t even look like the same person I saw a month ago.” This is not a surprise, because I had walked into his office in September; in August I arrived in a wheelchair. When he started reviewing the scans, he joyfully said something like, “I’m so surprised by what I’m seeing. Nearly all the damage is healed! Your brain looks remarkably healthy.”
Again, I won’t bore you the all the detail, but suffice it to say that he cleared me to travel home. And he was visibly moved by the unexpected healing he saw.
A cardiologist I spoke with couldn’t quite bring himself to use the word “miracle” but he was unable to explain my survival of the original incident and my ongoing healing.
It’s humbling to think that God might have intervened to heal me. Why would God choose me? What does this mean for the remaining time in my earthly pilgrimage? I don’t really have good answers yet, but I’m praying about this regularly. Maybe ask me in a few years, should God continue to preserve me for that long.
For now, there are three big insights on which I am reflecting.
First, when I pray the line about creation, preservation, and blessings from the General Thanksgiving, I fervently bless God for preserving my life. And now I understand God’s preservation of other lives differently, too. I don’t know how long it will continue, but I experience each day as a profound gift. That gift was always true from the moment of my birth, but perhaps I took it for granted. I am grateful now each morning when I wake up — my habit of morning and evening prayer has taken on deeper and new meanings for me.
Second, when I first became aware of what had happened to me, I was struck anew by the precarious nature of my life — and of all our lives. As I thought about the possibility of dying, I realized that I’m unafraid of death. All these years, I intellectually believed that was true, but when the possibility gets serious you really ponder this stuff! Maybe you’ve had this experience. But I am here to testify that I believe that Jesus Christ has conquered death and sin on the cross and in the empty tomb. God our Father raised Jesus to new life, and he can surely raise each one of us to new life, also. “Death no longer has dominion” is not an abstraction. By God’s grace, I am not afraid.
I do not know how long I will live. Because of my desire to bear witness, I hope I am given many more years! But I know I am ready to meet my Maker when that moment comes.
Third, and you might have figured this one out by reading this very blog post, I have some desire to share the Gospel with increased urgency. I’ve devoted much of my life to preaching the Gospel, and I have no regrets about any of that. But now I want to bear witness to God’s deep love of us and of God’s desire that we might live abundantly, both in this life and in the life to come.
I thought about waiting a bit longer to write all this. Inevitably, major life events — both triumphs and traumas — look different with the benefit of time and reflection. So perhaps I’ll want to write something else in due course. But I also didn’t want to wait a moment longer to bear witness.
People are understandably always asking how I’m doing. I’m still under medical care, and I’m focused on my journey of healing. So far, all the doctors continue to say that they expect I’ll make a full recovery. I’ve got some work to do, and it will be a while until I’m back to my regular activities 100%. But I look forward to that day. My journey will surely have some twists and turns. Meanwhile, I’m grateful for prayers and for tangible acts of kindness from strangers and friends around the world. I plan to say more about that in future posts.
If you message me and I don’t answer, it’s because I’m limiting screen time and focusing on rest and recovery. But I do look forward to being in touch and to returning to my work when the doctors tell me it’s time for that.
Thank you for your prayers! And blessings to you all. God really loves you. Personally. And life is precious, a daily gift. Savor your time and be delighted by the gift of preservation.
If you don’t know it, here’s the General Thanksgiving in the lovely cadences of ancient (Rite I) language. You can join me in praying morning and evening prayer with the free Forward Day by Day app (iOS or Android) or at the prayer website from Forward Movement.
The General Thanksgiving
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we thine unworthy servants
do give thee most humble and hearty thanks
for all thy goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all men.
We bless thee for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for thine inestimable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ,
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we beseech thee,
give us that due sense of all thy mercies,
that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful;
and that we show forth thy praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to thy service,
and by walking before thee
in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost,
be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
— 1979 Book of Common Prayer, page 58
After my cardiac arrest, a friend sent me his reflection on his own experience. We have some similar insights, and I am grateful to my friend for sharing his own inspiring story with me. We must all bear witness to God’s mighty deeds and great love.