I was nearing the end of my teaching career. I only had another few months before my scheduled retirement. With a new principal who I didn’t know well, how could I continue to make a difference for the Lord at my school?
This dilemma was augmented by the fact that my mother was dying. After a long, courageous battle with Alzheimer’s, the news from Belgium was grim: Her days were numbered, she didn’t have the inner reserves to pull out. I wanted so much to be with my mom during her final hours, yet it was the middle of a school year. I would only be allotted a limited number of days to be away before I would start losing pay, and how was I to know when her last days would be so as to time my visit accurately?
I spoke to my principal and vice principal, and they were both very supportive: “You should leave immediately!” they said. They advised me that it would be better to be with her for a week before she passed away than to wait too long and risk not seeing her again alive.
It made sense to me, but since I was her only remaining family, I knew that if I wasn’t there at just the right time, she would die alone. I really wanted to be with her in her final hour, but how could I know?
A week later, I sat down on the sofa to watch something I had taped to DVD. It was a nightly ritual, something I did to help me forget the problems of the day so I could sleep better. And believe me, there were plenty of problems to forget that day! Just a few days earlier, the nurse at the nursing home had told us she only had a day or two to live, but just that morning, they reported that she had bounced back. That was good news, but for how long?
I idly flipped on the TV and the DVD player and slipped in a recorded DVD. I had no idea what would be the first show up on the DVD, and strangely, I didn’t care. In the back of my mind, however, I heard a voice: “It will be NCIS!”
Strange. But when I pressed play, the introduction to NCIS came immediately on.
Probably, and I sat back to enjoy my show. As it was the middle of winter and with cold and flu bugs everywhere, I reached for the Vitamin C jar. The chewable tablets came in four different flavors corresponding to four different colors. I had no idea which one I would get, nor did I really care. Yet once again, I heard that voice in the back of my mind: “It will be pink.” Imagine my surprise when I pulled a pink tablet from the jar…
Wait. What was happening? Twice I had been told in advance what would happen, and all about insignificant things. Why?
Once again I heard that little voice: “If I can tell you in advance what TV show you will watch and what Vitamin C tablet you will take, don’t you think I can tell you when to go see your mom?”
Imagine my surprise when my wife came to me the very next morning, telling me that she felt God was telling her that my mom had exactly seven days to live…
That was a Tuesday morning, and it took us until the following Saturday to make all necessary travel arrangements. I would be able to be away from school for exactly school 7 days, and I knew in my heart that this is exactly how many days I would need to be away.
We arrived in Belgium early Sunday morning. Renting a car from the airport in Brussels, we arrived in Ostend by noon. My mom was lucid that day, the first time in a long time. She knew who we were and spent all afternoon with a great big smile on her face. We had a great day together and we were encouraged. The only sad moment was when we told her that our oldest son would be flying in on Thursday to see her. Her face fell at that point. It was like she was saying, “I can’t hold on that long!” We assured her that it was okay, and we passed a pleasant evening together.
The following day, Monday, my mom was only semi-conscious. Medical staff came in, looked at her and left shaking their heads. She didn’t respond to us or to anyone, or even seem to know we were there. As evening came on, the nurse in charge told us that they didn’t expect my mom to live through the night. We wanted to stay with her, but we were exhausted from our trip and the six-hour time change. We were afraid that if we stayed with her, the nurses wouldn’t be as likely to check up on her as often, and she might pass away while we slept. We arranged with her nurse to call us immediately if my mom took a turn for the worse, and we went to our hotel.
At 3:30 am, Tuesday morning, we got the call. We hurried to the home, where we sat on each side of her, holding her hands and whispering words of reassurance. She slipped away peacefully about 30 minutes later. It was exactly one week since God had assured me we could trust Him to know when to travel, exactly one week from the time God spoke “Seven days” to my wife.
There were arrangements to make, the funeral, cremation and scattering of her ashes to arrange, her room at the home had to be cleaned out, and of course, the legal business had to be attended to. Is anyone surprised to learn that all of this took exactly…Seven school days, the exact number of days I was allotted to be away?
That’s when God impressed me to write up a story and give it to my vice-principal. I obeyed, and before I knew it, she had shared it with the principal. Both called me into the office, and I had a chance to witness to them both of God’s goodness and His ability to put us where we need to be at exactly the right time. I would never know what the follow-up of this exchange about God would be; but God knows. And through this situation, not only was I able to be with my mom when she passed away, but the principal and vice-principal of my school had the opportunity to hear about our loving God.
No, I may not have been allowed to have a Bible club at this school, but God was holding the door wide open to witness in different ways, ways that no doubt were far more powerful for this particular school and staff.
We must never forget that, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV)
In His love,
(To view the entire “Lessons From the Classroom” devotional series, please click here.)