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A Mighty Struggle Between Life and Death, Fear and Hope

Every so often my wife Barbara talks me into cleaning out an old box of papers and memorabilia. I was doing that recently and came across a radio devotional that my brother David had written and delivered on a weekly radio show when he was the Methodist minister in Broken Bow, Nebraska. 

In the devotional, he told the story of himself as an eight-year-old boy, playing baseball in the backyard, when all of a sudden our very upset Grandma Carne had come over to watch the three kids at home.

I was two months old, and had managed to get a toy caught in my throat, cutting off my air flow. Mom had found me not breathing and turning blue. She had gotten the toy out of my throat and was giving me artificial respiration, while my oldest sister Linda had run to a neighbor’s house to find someone who could take Mom and me to the hospital (Dad was at work with the car, and this was the pre-911 emergency services days).

David wrote about that moment, saying “a mighty struggle between life and death, fear and hope, had taken place, and life and hope had won.”

He went on to write: “It wasn’t until much later that I found out about emergency rooms and waiting rooms, and the awful agony of knowing all that can go wrong.”

The two-month-old me made it through that crisis, and I’ve had the great good luck to live a full and rich life. But the mighty struggle between life and death, fear and hope, is a daily part of the world we live in, more intensely than ever. We know that all is quite capable of going wrong.

The hostages and their families waiting day by day are going through that battle. The Palestinian families whose babies are endangered every day are going through it.

The tens of millions of people who live every day in the shadow of starvation are going through it. The people in the grips of opioid addiction and devastating depression are going through it. The people who are homeless because they can’t afford decent housing are going through it.

And our entire country is going through that mighty struggle, as we teeter on the edge of a precipice. The fear of a democracy ending election. The hope of an election that could result in great new progressive policies that change people's lives for the better.  

Sometimes death and fear win. I think about what a happy and playful person my mom was, and how much pain and despair losing a child would have given her. My heart grieves especially for the parents who have lost their innocent children in this terrible war in the Middle East. I hope against hope that this scourge of war ends quickly, and that its horror does not spread.

I hope for the times that hope not only wins, but something amazing flowers out of the crisis. When I was lying in that hospital and no one knew whether I would live or die or be terribly brain damaged, my mom was praying to her God: give me my boy, and I promise I will take another wounded child in and give them a happy life, too. And so a few years after my crisis, mom and dad found a boy in children’s social services who was developmentally disabled because his birth father had broken a chair over his head. This boy, Kevin, was living in a home for children where other boys had burned him with cigarettes and beat him up. Kevin became our beloved brother, and enriched our family in so many ways. And mom and dad loved him every bit as joyfully and fiercely as they loved the rest of the kids.

Life and hope don’t always win the battle. But for those of us who are fighting the good fight for life and hope, we know that the fight is worth it, and that good can come out of bad. May we be blessed with that kind of miracle in the months to come.


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