A Biblical Case for Aid in Dying

Nancy had no choice but to watch her middle-aged husband slowly, painfully die.  After years of failed treatments, his body finally succumbed to brain and spinal cord cancer.  The process wasn’t pretty.  Nancy recalls how Randy’s eyes began to bulge out of his head due to aggressive tumor growth.  Eventually he could no longer close them.  He became confined to a hospital bed after he lost control of his arms and legs.  He hated wearing a diaper.  Nancy recalls how he’d scream out in pain.  All she could do was hold his hand and make him a promise.  He asked her to help change the law.

I heard Randy’s story when I recently watched How to Die in Oregon, an award-winning documentary about legalized aid in dying.  Nancy was one of the advocates profiled.  She recalls in the film how Randy asked hospice workers to help him hasten his death when the time came.  They told him no.  The practice was illegal in Washington.  So Randy said he wanted to move to Oregon where it was legal.  They told him he wouldn’t live long enough to establish residency.  Randy was out of options.  He could not avoid the escalating pain and humiliation that preceded his certain death.  But he wanted others to have that chance.

The issue of aid in dying has weighed heavily on my heart since Brittany Maynard shared her end-of-life story.  Brittany’s journey ignited nation-wide interest on current options available under the law.  As I’ve begun to more closely examine this topic, I’ve witnessed the passion of those striving to provide the power of choice, as well as their commitment to thoroughly address the multifaceted concerns that surround this issue.

Yet while I’m encouraged by the many productive, nuanced conversations surrounding the legalization of physician-assisted death, I’m disheartened that when it comes to many Christians, the discussion is abruptly shut-down.  Why?  Many cite a biblical obligation to oppose any and all forms of aid in dying.

But is this necessary?  Does Scripture require Christians to deny folks like Randy the legal option of hastening their own imminent, horrific deaths?  Many insist that the answer is yes, and Bibles are often opened to explain.  Reasons are given, such as:

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Too Sad: A Christian Voice We Can’t Ignore

I’m excited to share this guest post today by Cindy Brandt.  She’s one of my new online pals whose writing leaves me refreshed.  She’s gentle, sensible, and bold – an inspiring combination!  She’s also authored the book, “Outside In: Ten Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore.”  It’s a book that challenges the Church to intentionally listen to “stories from the edge” and offers practical tips to create richer community.  Enjoy this sample of her writing!  

I am a city girl. Born and raised in big, bustling city life of Asia. I walked on busy streets, narrowly missing reckless cab drivers, ate noodles with friends in alleyway hole-in-the-walls, and watched the sun rise each morning over thick smog tinged with the pollution of city activity.

Then one day, I found myself in midwestern United States, an upper-middle class suburb of Chicago, home to the alma mater of an evangelical hero: Billy Graham. I pursued this academic institution because I was told it was where I could learn how to learn as a Christian. I shared common faith with this community, but my faith was just about the only thing we shared. I looked different, ate different foods, spoke a different language, valued different things, everything about me was different, different, different. It was, and remains, one of the most lonely and isolating times of my life.

I strove to make connections, desperately needing a balm to soothe my aching homesickness. But as a small minority, it was a struggle for me to find much common ground without losing my distinct cultural identity.

But as we know, difficult times can teach us valuable lessons. And I emerged from that experience with a clear realization about some fundamental needs we have as relational human beings. That we have within us a deep desire to connect with others while maintaining our unique individuality.

I think this need is particularly pronounced in times of profound loss and grief. My friend Iris, who lost her two month old baby boy, said it bothered her when people tried to comfort them using unhelpful cliches. But when people stayed silent it felt like a slap in the face. She says,

“Grieving people are hard to please. We desperately needed consolation, but we needed it in a way that would bring healing instead of harm.”

Sudden loss or prolonged suffering sends us floundering, desperate to be tethered and held by community. But the community has to hold a space that allows for the diversity of individual grief.

When we offer connection that requires the hurting party to act in a prescribed way, we are further victimizing them by robbing them of their unique expression of their grief.

In this helpful article by Heather Plett, she gives us eight tips on holding space for others. The one piece of advice that jumped out at me was this:

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A Little Less Pain

I don’t like the word “healing.”  Not when it comes to grief.  Scrapes heal.  Bruises heal.  Bones heal. I could break my leg and with enough time and good medical care, I’d be healed.  I’d be all better.  It would be like it never happened.

Grief’s not like that.  I will never be as if this never happened.  Henry happened.  His life happened.  His terminal brain cancer happened.  His death happened.

And two years later I still ache for the one who carved out motherhood for me, stretching my insides and defining the outside parameters of my new eager, awkward existence.  I long for the one whose joy and apprehension became a permanent filter for every playground, toy store, baby aisle, preschool, and pediatrician’s office.  He’s the one who first etched those places in my soul with meaning and brought them to life with utter uniqueness.  He forgot to take those filters when he left.  Taunting familiarity still casts his shadow onto new memories.  His impact remains though a search for him would be in vain.

So I won’t say I’m healing.  But I will say there’s a little less pain.

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Let’s Get to the Point

tornado

**This is the final post in a 4-part series on the book of Job.  Here is Part OneTwo, and Three.**

Christians commonly regard the words, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” to be the epitome of right grieving.  In the last three posts we’ve examined the supposed evidence in the book of Job that supports this infamous saying, and have consistently found reasons to discount that this phrase expresses accurate theology.

In this final post, I’ll invite you again to consider that this book was not written to advocate Job’s stoic response, but to refute it.  So what then are we to learn about God’s role in suffering?  What is the point of the book of Job?

The Point of the Book of Job

We turn now to consider God’s two poetic monologues (38:1 – 42:6) and in the process will make a beautiful discovery.  Previously, we examined God’s declaration that Job spoke rightly.  This approval even included Job’s near blasphemous accusations, because they were logical and honest.  God knew that they stemmed from his faulty theology.  But as we behold the whirlwind that encases God’s presence, we find that God loved Job too much to leave his faithful servant with those fundamental misconceptions.

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And They Lived Happily Ever After

family plot

 **This is the third post in a 4-part series on the book of Job.  Here is Part One, Two, and Four.**

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.  In the first post of this series we asked why this saying is often regarded as the pinnacle of Christian grieving. In the second post, we concluded that the book’s prologue cannot confirm that our afflictions are specifically “Father-filtered.”  We also noted the importance of honoring this book as wisdom literature instead of a historical record.

This post will continue to examine the traditional evidence used to support Job’s infamous phrase.  As we proceed, we’ll keep pressing into the provocative notion that this book was not written to advocate Job’s stoic response, but to refute it, and to teach us a very different view of God’s role in suffering.

Job Spoke Rightly

In the shock of sudden loss, Job professes, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 ESV).  The narrator notes that in doing this, Job did not sin (Job 1:22 ESV), and at the book’s close God proclaims that Job spoke rightly (Job 42:7 ESV).  Many Christians hold that these three verses provide proof that God desires this type of response when tragedy strikes. 

Yet, if we consider the entire book of Job, this proof leaves us with (at least) three concerns.  The first is that although Job speaks humbly at the book’s opening, the shock of loss soon wears off.  And while Job never wavers in his belief that God is all-controlling, he does waver in his devout submission to God.  Soon into the poetic section of the book, venomous accusations start flying from Job’s lips.

Why then, did God affirm that Job spoke rightly?

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A Deadly Wager

**This is the 2nd post in a 4-part series on the book of Job. Here is Part One, Three, & Four.**

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.  In my last post I questioned why this statement is often regarded as the pinnacle of Christian grieving.  Is this what the Bible requires? Is this what God desires?

For answers, we’re turning to the book of Job.  This was the phrase uttered by a really good man after a very bad day.  The verse that immediately follows Job’s profession reads, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22 ESV).  And Job’s response seems further legitimized when God asserts at the book’s close that Job spoke rightly (Job 42:7 ESV).

But I’d like to invite you to consider that this book was not written to advocate Job’s stoic response, but to refute it.  I believe the book of Job is designed to teach us a very different view of God’s role in suffering.

How to Approach the Book of Job

We should first note that there are different types of literature that comprise the Bible.  Categories for biblical books include law, history, poetry, and several others.  In order to best honor, understand, and apply Scripture to our lives, we must examine each book in a manner that suits its category.

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The Lord Gives… and Takes?

**This is the first post in a 4-part series on the book of Job.  Here is Part Two, Three, and Four.**  

The ultrasound tech looked devastated.  “I’m so sorry,” she whispered to the happy couple, “there’s no heartbeat.”

It was agonizing to watch.  I was curled up on the couch in front of my favorite reality T.V. show.  It featured a large Christian family that I, along with millions of other viewers, had grown to love over the years.  I’d cheered for each new life they’d brought into the world.  And to now witness their loss was nothing short of gut-wrenching.

I held my breath as the couples’ expressions morphed from joy to bewilderment, and finally broke into pain.  As she lay flat on the ultrasound table, the mother wiped her tears and whispered, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

The couple joined hands and took their pain to God.  They thanked him for the short time they’d been given with their developing baby.  The father said, “… I pray we’ll handle this the right way, and be able to encourage the children to handle this the right way…”  The mother repeated with greater resolution, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Despite my tears, I stayed glued to the screen.  I followed them out of the doctor’s office and into their living room.  Over an intercom they summoned their large brood together.  The youngest kids were bouncing around while waiting for the announcement.  The room was filled with excited cries, “Is it a boy or a girl?” and “Is it twins?”

When everyone was gathered and silent, the mother explained, “The baby died.”  And again, I witnessed joyful faces fade to shock, and then break into pain.  After a brief conversation the father concluded, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away… blessed be the name of the Lord.”

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.  I heard those words first as a young child, nestled between my parents at church.  I was trying to make sense of what was happening.  I think they were too.  It soon became clear that the couple at the microphone had tragically miscarried.

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.  I’ve read those words several times on social media.  Friends have posted them, sometimes weeks after we’ve rejoiced over their pregnancies.  Those words signaled that it was time to join them in their mourning.

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.  Is accepting this sentiment what it means to handle grief “the right way”?  Are we supposed to offer stoic resignation, even praise, towards a God who orchestrates the death of babies?  Is this what the Bible requires?  Is this what God desires?

Where did this phrase come from?  Why is it held up as the pinnacle of Christian grieving?

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Can Christians Support Brittany Maynard’s Decision?

Photo Credit Brittany Maynard

By now you’ve probably read about Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer.  Or you may have seen her gripping, 6-minute video.

Brittany and her husband recently moved to Oregon, a state where aid in dying is legal.  With little time remaining, Brittany has used her final months to seek adventure and connect with loved ones.  She has a contagious smile, a supportive family, and a prescription to end her life on her own terms.  She may do this on November 1st.

You may also have seen the open-letter to Brittany by Kara Tippetts, a 38-year-old mother of 4, who has terminal breast cancer. Yesterday, Christian author Ann Voskamp featured Tippetts’ letter titled, Dear Brittany: Why We Don’t Have To Be So Afraid of Dying & Suffering that We Choose Suicide, on her blog, A Holy Experience.  Since then, Kara’s letter begging Brittany “not to take that pill” has been shared nearly 800,000 times.

Unlike the women listed above, I do not have a terminal illness.  But I have decided to join this discussion for several reasons.  The first is that, as Kara’s letter states, “we are all dying.”  So I think it’s safe to say that we all have a voice in these sensitive end-of-life issues.  The second reason concerns the fact that my 4-year-old son died from a malignant brain tumor in 2012.  As his primary care-giver, I had the intimate experience of watching him die.  I want to share the perspective of one who has had to pick up the pieces after a life-shattering event like this.  And finally, as a Christ-follower, I’d like to offer an alternative to Kara’s message.  While Kara identifies as a Christian, her letter does not speak for all Christians.  And though I appreciate her sincerity and openness, I believe her letter posits at least three common, harmful misconceptions.

Misconception #1 – Death is Beautiful

Kara writes to Brittany, “You have been told a lie. A horrible lie, that your dying will not be beautiful. That the suffering will be too great.”  Then she pleads with Brittany not to take the pill that will end her life, saying, “Yes, your dying will be hard, but it will not be without beauty.  Will you please trust me with that truth?”

Nearly two years ago I watched my son die from a malignant brain tumor.  Trust me, Brittany has been told the truth.  My son’s death was not beautiful.  His suffering was great. Unfortunately for many, the dying process is quite ugly. And though most of us want to delay death at all costs, in some cases suffering exceeds even the ugliness of death.

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A Little More Free

I did this prayer-journaling thing the other day.  Miri was still asleep.  Ian was at work.  My heart was quiet, my laptop was humming softly, and the morning air was filled with the scent of creamy, steamy coffee.  I was settled on our couch, in our new apartment in Saint Paul, MN.

In the sleepy dawn of that morning, I poured out my thoughts to God and did my best to listen.  One phrase still stands out.  Here’s part of what I believe the Lord said:  I want to see your smile, filled with freedom, unguarded.  You’re my daughter.  I made you to be free. 

The pain has been so fresh for so long.  In Georgia, reminders lined every street, every park, every… everything.

But things are new here.  And I’m being brave here.  I even went to a playgroup.  Like, kids running around, squealing and crying and moms singing nursery rhymes and passing out goldfish kind of playgroup.  It was hard at first, I’m not going to lie.  Miriam is still my world, but I’ve kind of checked out of the traditional “Mommy” activities since Henry passed.  So it was a little jarring… but it was also kind-of amazing.  Several in this group had heard my testimony.  They knew my Henry.  Their arms were open.  Their smiles were so free, so unguarded, like mine used to be.

I haven’t blogged much since September.  But that’s not because I’ve run out of words.  I’ve been crafting and drafting, editing and analyzing all kinds of words in the last nine months.  They’ve been poured into a manuscript that’s now 75% complete.

Why write a book?  Because when my son died, blueprint words were waiting.

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Interview with Ellie’s Way

I had the opportunity and challenge of being interviewed by Ellie’s Way this week. Ellie’s Way is an organization named in honor of Todd and Kristen Nigro’s precious daughter, Ellie, who died in a tragic accident in January 2012.

This opportunity was a challenge because the hardest thing for me to write about is… Henry.  It’s easier to write about theology.  It’s easier to write about my pain.  But writing about Henry, and trying to capture his essence with mere words… that’s the hardest for me.  Maybe that’s why I dreaded writing this post. Maybe that’s why I’m so glad I did.

Below is a snippet and you can read the entire post here:

I’d like people to remember two things about Henry – the first is his laugh. I lived for that laugh. When Henry laughed, every cell in his body participated. He’d throw his head back, burst into a massive smile, and cackle from his gut. Waves of joy would emanate from his delighted little self and flood the atmosphere. His laugh was positively magnetic. It captured the attention of everyone around him, family and strangers alike. Hundreds of people laughed with Henry over the years, including strangers in line at the Post Office and passing shoppers at the grocery store. His laugh spread joy everywhere we went. No one could be sad around little Henry’s mighty laugh.

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