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When my mother was dying, I sat by her bedside one afternoon at the nursing home. The pastor from her church showed up for a visit, a young man with perfectly white teeth and a radiant tan from a recent Florida vacation. He saw that my mother was deeply unconscious, and I got the slight impression that he was relieved. He sat down for two minutes in the chair near the door. “Well, I won’t stay then!” he chirped. Bewildered, I found myself in charge of managing small talk with him about how things were going at his church. When he left, I was furious. It never occurred to him to see me, exhausted and falling to pieces, alone in that room with my mother as she labored on the threshold of death.  

Lord, forgive that young pastor. He had no idea what he was doing.

Three weeks before, my mother had fallen and was clearly in pain. We called the ambulance. In the emergency department a couple hours later, someone—a doctor, I think—sat me down and gently explained that my mother’s x-rays showed she was full of cancer. He assured me the decision was clear: hospice. I remember nothing about this person but the kindness.

God, grant strength to doctors and nurses who every day escort people to the threshold and tell them, with compassion, “This is where you must dwell now, for a while.”

The day we finally admitted my father to the nursing home, the middle-aged women who work there formed a little welcome committee. Dad barely understood what was happening, and yet he did: as we pushed his wheelchair through the door, his whole body slumped. But the ladies met us just inside: “We’re so glad you’re here!” they cooed to my father. I burst into tears.

God, bless the nursing home staff, hospice nurses, social workers, all those who are not afraid of the threshold, who abide there with others for days, weeks, months—as long as it takes—and provide what is needed, body and soul.

My friend’s son has struggled for years with severe depression. They’ve tried everything, all the meds, expensive experimental treatments. Nothing seems to help. This week, again, he desperately longed to push across the threshold, to be done with it all. Terrified, his parents and friends grasp at him, plead with him to step back. Today we learned he’s safe for now.

Oh Jesus, merciful shepherd, grip this precious child and pull him back into life. Do not let another one fall through! See the broken shards of so many hearts, shattered forever on that terrible threshold where loved ones step through, in pain and reaching for silence.

I’ve been to many good funerals, the kind where the Comforter comes in the word preached, the memories shared, the hymns sung through tight throats. No matter the circumstances of the loss—a long life well-lived, an exhausting marathon of illness finally over, a shocking and sudden loss—I’ve heard pastors hold grief tenderly and still sound the trumpet of hope. I’ve seen church people turn up to play the music, serve the food, and follow up later with cards and meals and visits. I’ve even done those things myself—it’s a privilege.

Spirit of God, thank you for those who receive, with strength and gentleness, the weary ones just stepping back from the threshold after handing someone across. Thank you for those who know how to say, “Here. Rest with us for a time. We will look after you. You are among friends.”

The Psalmist writes “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. … When you take away their breath, they die and return to dust.” All breathing things enter this life for a time and then slip out of it. Today, a veterinarian will arrive at our home to help our sweet Maizey-dog across the threshold. The vet will ease her into sleep and together we will lift her gently over. She lived a long life; she was a good dog.

Thank you, Creator God, for those who care for your other creatures, too, with tenderness and skill, honoring their little spirits.

It is late winter now and very cold. Not all creatures will make it until the warmth and abundance of spring return. Some deer will lie down, curl up, and die of starvation. Some chickadees will not find enough calories to keep their half-ounce bodies warm enough on frigid nights. Some wild things will cross over quietly, with no one watching but the Spirit of God who hovers over all creation.

There is no threshold where you are not present, O God. All of us, your creatures, live not far from this terrifying and holy place. Grant us courage to endure the holiness of the threshold, grant us vision to perceive your glory shining through it.

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