I am not afraid to die
On Sunday 23 July 2017, I went to bed as normal about 10:30pm after a good Lord’s Day, with nothing amiss. However, during the night my eye and the surrounding area had swollen considerably. I went along to the Accident and Emergency department of our local hospital and was diagnosed with orbital cellulitis. Over the next few hours, I received treatment for my eye infection, but I was also starting to feel disoriented, incoherent and very unwell. The doctors were concerned that the infection could spread to my brain and tests were carried out to determine the exact nature of the infection to find the right antibiotic. However, throughout the day no-one noticed that I had also developed sepsis. My body was over-reacting to the infection and attacking itself. Later that evening, my kidneys stopped working, and I was then transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
By now I was wired up to every conceivable monitor, being pumped with fluids and a cocktail of antibiotics, and receiving one-on-one care. My wife was called in to the ICU at about 1:00am to see me. She was told that they were chasing the sepsis and that they could not say what the outcome would be. I simply said to her, ‘Don’t worry, I am not afraid to die.’ While being very concerned, we both had a real sense of the peace of God which passes all understanding. The deep peace that God gives in these situations is palpable. It was not just my wife and I who experienced such a peace, but my whole family.
The next morning I was still alive and after 36 hours in the ICU, I improved enough to be moved back to the High Dependency Unit. I spent several days there, and despite a few setbacks, the doctors were able to treat me, and I was eventually taken to a standard ward to continue my recovery. After two and a half weeks in hospital, I was physically well enough to be discharged, although it took several more months to recover my strength fully.
My heart is fixed
During this time, I had many visitors, especially from our church. One of the elders came to see me, and I asked him how it was that I could say, ‘I am not afraid to die,’ as I am not a naturally strong character. His response was, ‘That’s because everything is fixed, you know where you are going, and all is well.’ It was true, in that time of trial, God had given me a sense of his peace, and I knew that he was with me. I knew that if I died, I would remain with him.
The next day another elder came in to see me. He told me how God had blessed him through a specific verse in the Psalms when he was recently in hospital with heart problems. After he left, I prayed that God would give me a verse. Nothing happened! But the next day I was flicking through the Psalms and lighted on Psalm 57 verse 7: My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. I was blown over by this verse. It confirmed to me that my heart was truly fixed (made right) with God through the precious blood of Jesus Christ. I pondered why David said the phrase twice. He was determined to fix his eyes on God and praise him. Oh, how this verse blessed me! My quiet times with God were wonderful; my prayers were more full of praise than petition. I knew what it meant to draw near to God and he will draw near to you (James 4:8). I was experiencing God’s nearness. God is in control, and this was made clear to me when on my return to church I was greeted by an elder who simply said to me, ‘God has spared you.’ That is absolutely true. Ultimately, it wasn’t the doctors who saved me, but God. In his plan, it wasn’t my time to cross the Jordan.
Walk by faith, not by sight
This nearness of God lasted for a few months and then seemed to dissipate. I was perplexed about this and asked an elder why this was happening. He said his wife had been through a similar experience to me and he believed it was because we are to ‘walk by faith, not by sight’ (2 Corinthians 4:7). I was reminded of the poem Footsteps which someone had sent me on a card while I was in hospital. In this poem, a man has a vision of his life with the Lord as two sets of footprints, walking side by side across the sand. But, during the lowest points of his life, the man was upset to find just a single set of footprints. When he asked the Lord about this, the Lord told him that at this point, he had not left him to walk alone, but instead, he had carried him in his arms. Just like the poem, I had reached a point where I did not need Christ to hold me in his arms, but to walk alongside me again.
This whole experience has taught me that God will be with me when I do eventually cross the Jordan. One day I will face death again, and I know for a certainty that God will be there holding me and taking me across. He will never leave me.