Most people don’t get married in a hospital room.
One Sunday early in November, I arranged to have Sue and Jim come to the front of the auditorium at the end of the morning service. They were leaving for a vacation in Florida the next day and I wanted to pray for them. We have a lot of “snowbirds” in our congregation, but these two were special.
In prayer meeting, several weeks prior to their trip, Jim had shared a request. At eighty-two, and after a bout with cancer, it wasn’t easy to get health insurance for their stay in the south. He asked the group if they would pray with him about the problem. We did, and the week before their scheduled departure the necessary paperwork was all in place.
Less than a month after their arrival in Florida, Jim began to suffer severe pain. Suspecting that it might be something serious and not wanting to be confined to a hospital so far from home and family, they took the first available flight north. Their eldest son met them at the airport and took them directly to the hospital.
When the tests came back, the news wasn’t good.
“Jim, it’s cancer. It’s aggressive and has invaded your liver, kidneys, and just about every other place it could access. I’m afraid there is nothing we can do but make you comfortable.”
“A few days at best.”
The family was stunned. Husband, father, and grandfather had left only a few weeks earlier, seemingly in perfect health. Now he was dying before their eyes. Sue called me as soon as she got the news.
Hospital visits are not my favourite part of ministry. If ever I feel inadequate; and I do, it’s at the bedside of the dying. When I walked into Jim’s room, most of the family was there. Sue sat by the bed, holding Jim’s hand, her eyes never leaving his face. His skin was brownish-yellow, a sign of organ failure well underway.
Jim was surprisingly cheerful. Why wouldn’t he be. He could almost see the gates swinging open and the Lord coming to welcome him. The tension I had felt making my way to the hospital began to lessen in the presence of an old man with glory in his eyes.
There was more amazing stuff yet to happen.
“Pastor, I’m Sarah.”
“Oh yes, Jim’s grand-daughter. He told me he was going to walk you down the aisle in the spring. I’m sorry.”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about. Chris and I don’t want grandpa to miss the wedding. So would you marry us?”
“Right here, right now!”
“Right here, as soon as we can get the special license. Chris is out trying to get everything together.”
“Are you sure? What about the dress, flowers, church, reception, guests?”
“It doesn’t matter. We can do some of that stuff later. But grandpa really was looking forward to walking with me down the aisle — so was I. He’s always been the biggest person in my life and I don’t want him to miss the biggest event of my life.”
I was astounded that this young woman could so casually toss a fairytale wedding out of the window without even a moment’s hesitation. Jim had told me how thankful and proud he was that his Sarah was marrying a fine Christian boy. In this moment I knew just how fine they both were. Jim’s boast had not been an empty one.
There was a tug at my sleeve. Sue’s quiet, serene face looked up at me.
“Pastor, please say yes. It would be so special to have our pastor share this wonderful moment with us.”
Wonderful? A hurried wedding in the presence of a dying man?
Being a pastor is a calling I take seriously. It’s my awesome responsibility to counsel, comfort, and chide. But, this hospital room and this family had reminded me again to walk humbly. God had been here — long before I ever came on the scene. I had been afraid that I wouldn’t be a blessing to these people in their time of terrible need. I needn’t have worried. His priority wasn’t to make me a blessing, but to give Jim, Sue, and their family the opportunity to bless me.
One life is fading into a better one. Two lives will become one today. And I’m blessed to be a small part of the process. God’s good.
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