I had gone to the hospital to visit her, and before I got suited up in sterile gear, her heart monitor flat-lined. After several minutes of resuscitation efforts, her dearest friends asked that they stop and let her go. I had expected her to be conscious when I arrived, so it was surreal to be there as her spirit slipped from earth to heaven, leaving behind the worn-out tent of her body that had troubled her for so long.
I’ve only known Judy for two years, but in that short time I learned a few things about her. She always had a smile on her face, despite kidney problems that required her to have dialysis nearly every day. Never having married or had children, she adored her dog and two cats. She had taught elementary school her whole adult life, getting her first teaching job in California after being raised in the Midwest. She was an only child, with no family left except a cousin, but spoke lovingly of her late mother and father.
Two months ago she experienced some severe medical complications to conditions she already had, and was hospitalized, never to return home. When the fog of having my third baby lifted, I made it to the hospital to visit her. One of the first things she mentioned, as she gestured towards a Bible sitting on her food tray, was that she had had lots of time to read the Bible lately. We spoke at length about this; she had tried reading the Bible years ago, but starting at the beginning, had come across some things that were difficult to understand. Later she tried reading the gospels, but was left confused by the chronology. The chaplain at the hospital had most recently suggested she read Paul’s epistles, which she was working her way through. We discussed how God was portrayed in the Old Testament as both kind and longsuffering, and perfectly just, unable to let sin go unpunished. And how the New Testament completed the story, with the climax being Jesus, the very Son of God Himself, coming to earth to die on the cross, bearing in himself the wrath of God against sin, so that God could offer forgiveness to us by our believing in His death and resurrection. I left that visit with a hopeful heart that God would reveal Himself to her as she continued reading and searching.
My final visit with her was one I’ll never forget. She was quite weak, breathless, and tired-looking. Although she was fully conscious and lucid, death seemed to be lurking nearby as her body refused to rebound from all of the complications it had undergone. I think she sensed this as well. Our conversation turned from neighborly chit-chat to matters of life and death. She had many questions about the Bible and about God. It was poignant as she shared how she felt that God had been near her and taking care of her throughout her life: through the neighbor who took her to Sunday school as a child; the kind pastor of the church she and her mother attended for a short period, who always referred them back to God’s word; through the sweet neighbor who so lovingly cared for her; to the chaplain who had visited her. She asked me about my favorite Psalms, which I read to her. I then showed her some of the most important verses in the Bible: All have sinned. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. When we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.
At this point, she said, “I know that people who know God have lots of Scripture memorized. My mother was good at that, but I never have been.” I will never, ever forget the look of sadness and helplessness in her eyes at that moment. Here she was, facing death head-on. Strapped into a hospital bed with a body that didn’t work anymore, unable to do anything to assist in her own salvation. Her hands were tied (almost literally, by IVs). She was powerless to do anything by which she would be absolutely assured of God’s forgiveness and favor to get herself into heaven. She couldn’t go to church. Feed the poor. At this point, she couldn’t even memorize Scripture.
“Judy, you don’t have to DO a single thing to be assured of eternal life,” I responded. “Salvation isn’t you and God meeting somewhere in the middle, with you bringing anything to the table. Salvation is 100% God reaching down to you, through the death of Jesus paying for ALL your sins. The Bible itself declares that the ONLY two things you need to do are believe in this free gift, and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.” How beautiful and amazing to be able to share with her that the weight of the burden of needing to do good works was lifted off of her by Jesus Himself.
I asked her if she would like to pray to ask for God’s forgiveness and confess Jesus as Lord, and she immediately said, “Yes, I would.” We prayed together, and in that moment she received the peace with God that He so generously promises.
I kissed her goodbye, not knowing it would be the last time I would see her this side of heaven.
The next morning at church, the sermon was on friendship, with a classic Biblical verse on friendship mentioned: Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. As we ended the service with worship, celebrating Jesus’ death with the cup and the bread in my hands, in my mind’s eye I could see sweet Judy lying in her hospital bed. Helpless. Powerless. Weak. Utterly unable to do anything to contribute to her salvation.
And then I saw Jesus, coming gently and kindly, saying to her, “Friend, I will do it all for you. Just rest, my friend, and let me offer you salvation. I bought it for you with my blood.”
But this wasn’t just the offer of a mere friend. This friend had all of the authority in the universe behind Him. He was, quite literally, a friend in the highest of places.
And then, in my heart, God whispered, “You, too, are Judy. You are helpless, powerless, weak. But I am your friend, and I laid down my life for you.” It was a powerful reminder of God’s great grace toward me, toward Judy, and toward all those who confess their sins and inability to save themselves.
My last conversation with Judy was through text messaging a few days later. She texted me that she was feeling discouraged about her health, and would I send her some passages to read? I responded with a few, and then urged her to pray to God, sharing with Him all of her cares and anxieties, as one does with a friend, because He loves her. Her final words to me were, “Thanks. I did that last night and felt better immediately…Was often worried there was a form for a prayer & I was not doing it right so I did what you said and just told my thoughts and gave it over to Him.”
Less than two weeks later, Judy was ushered into the presence of this gentle, yet powerful Friend. She stood before God, not on her own merit; although she was a sweet, wonderful person, she herself confessed that she was a sinner and had broken God’s laws. Rather, I know that she stood before Him with the only thing she could offer: her belief in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Today, as I left the hospital, I was filled with many emotions. The grief of death. Praise and thanksgiving that she had received His gift of salvation in enough time. Sadness for our loss of her presence on earth, sadness for her friends who also witnessed her death. Disappointment that I had missed her death by mere minutes, knowing I was there but wasn’t appropriately attired to make it into her room to pray with her, assure her of God’s presence, read the Bible to her. But once again, I sensed God’s voice, comforting me: “You didn’t need to be there to do those things, Kristin. I was.”
What a friend we have in Jesus.