This Side of Heaven

Sharon and I stayed close to home this Thanksgiving.  My parents were traveling, so we invited a few friends over for dinner.  My wife can cook.  And she can decorate.  The table was perfect.  The food was too.  And at the end of the evening, Sharon prepared to-go boxes and sent everyone home with leftovers to enjoy the next day.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

But for the families of two of my friends, sadness found its way into the week.  And Thanksgiving Day did not go as they had planned.

Last Tuesday, in the Ambulatory Surgery Center at Good Shepherd Hospital in Longview, a man went on a stabbing spree—leaving four people injured, one critically.  A nurse lost her life in the confrontation.

The man’s name was Harris Teel.  He was stabbed in the heart while waiting for his son to come out of surgery.  He is the father of a friend I used to teach with.  He is still fighting for his life.  And I know that his family is on their knees praying for his survival.  I am lifting up prayers for Mr. Teel and his family as well.

The nurse was Gail Sandidge.  When she heard the disturbance, she left the patient she was caring for to be of assistance.  She too was stabbed in the heart.  She was related by marriage to a dear friend who is a member of the church where I worship.  Gail was a wife, mother, sister and dear friend to so many.  And besides being a devoted nurse who loved her patients, she was a believer who walked close with God.

I didn’t know Gail.  But I have been in that part of the hospital as a patient before, and the nurses on that floor have been a blessing to me.

As I reflected on this tragedy, I remembered a day six years ago when I was having a catheter surgically implanted in my chest just above my heart.  The catheter would serve as the entry point for my chemo drugs.  The morning of the surgery, I was apprehensive.  But then a nurse breezed into my cubicle and smiled warmly.  She asked me about my cancer and I told her I had lymphoma.  Then she told me that she was a stage 3 breast cancer survivor. “Your oncologist,” she said, “was also mine, and he’s the best.”

Then she did something extraordinary.  Something I will never forget.  She looked at me and said, “I had the same procedure you’re having today.  I had a catheter placed in my chest too—Here, let me show you my scar.”  And she pulled the collar of her uniform down just enough to show me where the catheter had once been.  “You don’t have to be afraid,” she said. “You’re in God’s hands.  It’s up to us to fight the cancer, and it’s up to Him to do the miracles.  And He can do miracles.  I’m living proof.”

She didn’t know me.  But she knew how to bring calm into that cubicle.  She expressed vulnerability.  She showed me her scar.  She made the unknown known.  She didn’t waste her cancer.

And when she left the room, Sharon whispered, “Little angels.”

Last Tuesday, when Gail went home to be with the Lord, heaven certainly gained another precious angel.

I know Gail’s family is mourning her death.  But as he reflected on the loss, Gail’s minister, the Rev. David English, said this: “We grieve, but not like those without hope.  God can and will redeem this loss somehow, although we may not be aware of it this side of heaven.”

His words struck me.  Each one of us, after all, is living just this side of heaven.

I am mindful, always, that my life is a vapor.  Six years into remission, I understand that each day is a gift from God.  And each day is filled with gifts for us to treasure.

I live a blessed life.  And I am grateful—for my wife, my family and friends, and for the students on this campus that God has entrusted into my care.  Each day, I have the opportunity to invest in their lives, with the dream that they will, in turn, invest in the lives of others.

And so, while I’m still this side of heaven—

May I be a faithful servant to the students in my classroom.

May I be a man who reveals the heart of God.

May I be willing to share my scars with others.

And may I remember that someday on the other side—“. . . there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.”

(Revelation 21: 4)

 skc

 

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Stan Coppinger

Professor of English at East Texas Baptist University

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