Walking Through The Valley Of Death

January 15, 2001
by Jim Wagner

Psalm 23:4 – Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (NIV)

Christmas 2000 will forever be significant for me. On December 20th, while settling in to watch a movie on television, I was hit with a force in my chest that was like someone had dropped a refrigerator on me. Breathing was painful. I was doubled over, and my wife called the emergency medical technicians. By the time they arrived, I was feeling much better and thought I might be making a fool of myself riding in an ambulance rather than just driving myself in. Yet I had just entered the valley of death and didn't know it. Things began to go in slow motion as there was but "just enough" staff present for the Christmas holidays. I experienced another chest-crushing episode in my room. The next day I took some tests and they scheduled me for an angiogram for Tuesday, the 26th. After that test, they told me I had two choices, die or go immediately to surgery. Some choice. Ninety minutes later I was under the knife. During all that time, six days, I was never anxious, stressed, or worried — six days of chatting with the staff and patients, swapping stories, walking the halls, exchanging smiles and Christmas greetings, hosting visitors in my room, taping to the walls of the room e-mail stuff sent by family and friends from all over the world, saying prayers.

A man I took no notice of during those six days was one of those "invisible people" — one of those people who rarely register on anyone's radar screen. In fact, he had no visitors, no relatives, no one he could talk to. He approached me after my surgery and said his pending surgery had him terrified, and he had noticed how calm I seemed, and wondered how I did that.

Now, I know there are some who would say this was the perfect time to whip out the old, "Jesus died for you" speech. But such would be very wrong. He was truly in a panic, and I reached over, picked up and held his hand. I asked him if his doctors told him the success rate of his procedure. He said they had. Did he remember what they told him? He couldn't remember. I told him my doctor said 98%. Pretty good odds. Our odds of crossing the busy intersection outside the hospital were probably a lot less. He laughed a little, a little strained laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. I was on a roll. I asked him if he remembered that little kid's bedtime prayer that goes, "If I should die before I wake". He said he did. Then I asked him to think about what that meant to him in this situation and walked away.

Later he came into my room with peace plastered all over his face. He said if he did die it would be peaceful: no burns, torn limbs, pain and suffering. If there ever was a way to go, this was it. Then he asked if I would pray for him. Now he was ready to hear about God's love.

Word began to spread over the ward about this lonely man's plight. (I still can't figure out how that word got out.) One by one, sometimes two by two, they found time to visit Harry before and after his operation. Before he went under, I gave him a toy, a beanbag baby bald eagle a visitor had given me. I told him to go in that operating room and soar with the eagles. And he did, with flying colours. What a beautiful smile on his face after his operation. You would think he had just scaled Mount Everest. Perhaps he did. One thing for sure, he was no longer in the Valley of Death.

Oh, the prayer I prayed for him? My favourite:

Prayer: Watch over thy child, O Lord, as his days increase; bless and guide him wherever he may be. Strengthen him when he stands; comfort him when discouraged or sorrowful; raise him up if he fall; and in his heart may thy peace which passes all understanding abide in him all the days of his life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer)

About the author:

Jim Wagner
Beaumont, Texas, USA

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