I have taught for a very long time that the Bible is all about relationships: relationship with God; with physical family; with spiritual family; and with those who need to become a part of our spiritual family. Those who major in all of these relationship categories are blessed and happy people. The number of friends they end up with is often quite amazing. In my case, it is beyond amazing. I literally have friends all over the world, many of whom would be categorized as dear personal friends, the majority as my spiritual children. But even those in the latter category are viewed in individualized ways. When I went into the hospital, my family didn’t want me to be left alone at night. It started with Joy saying that there was no way she was leaving me by myself, so she was staying with me that first night (and did). She stayed other nights as well.
Then Theresa started asking me about possible people who could stay with me during the nights. Everyone she mentioned was a good friend, but I said yes to some suggestions and no to others. The main difference in my answers was a matter involving communication. I didn’t want anyone to stay with me who would feel compelled to talk, to keep conversation flowing. I didn’t want anyone who would make me feel like I was expected to talk. I was not only “out of it” much of the time, but I had a tube going down my nose to my stomach removing bile. It hurt all of the time, but it hurt the most when I was talking. Trying to maintain any kind of a normal conversational setting was beyond me. I needed friends like Job, at least for the first seven days of their visit. During that time, they literally didn’t say a word. After that, it all went downhill—badly.
One person came without being asked. He heard about my condition and got on a plane. That was my old and dear friend, the CEO of HOPE Worldwide, Dave Malutinok. He stayed several of the first nights with me and did HOPE work during the days. Of course, I had some conversation with all of those who stayed with me, but we kept it at a minimum. Dave has been a part of our movement of churches for decades and a part of my life for nearly as long. We met in Boston in 1988 and at Wyndham Shaw’s request, entered into a discipling relationship with Dave and Peggy. A few months later when their second son was born and I visited them at the hospital, I was shocked to be told that their newborn son was named Scott Gordon. Our relationship had a short history at that point, but obviously an important one. That occasion suggested the depth to which our relationship would develop.
Late one night in the hospital, Dave described a concept that hit me as extremely important and quite profound about our church movement. I think I recall being in sort of a fog at the time and asked him to repeat the concept. I immediately said that this should be written into a book and added that helping make that happen was reason enough alone for me to survive my ordeal. I did and we are planning on working on the book together. It was his idea and it will be his book, but I plan to assist in any way that I as a writer can. Fog or no fog, that conversation was neither a hallucination nor a delusion. I will never forget it. His ideas in print will help explain not only the real foundation of our movement, but the various actions and reactions of those in our group as well as those outside it, including those who have left it.
Another early overnight visiting friend was Mike Isenberg. I have known Mike from the early days of the DFW Church when he and his wife were on the ministry staff. After nearly two decades serving in this capacity, both he and his wife went back to school to prepare for careers in the medical field. His wife is a specialty nurse and he is a PA (Physician Assistant). I occasionally call Mike to get some input about medical issues and if he is unable to answer at the time, he immediately finds a way to text, informing me when he will call back. He is a special friend. I asked him why he wanted to stay with me in the hospital, sleep on a sofa and get interrupted at all hours of the night. He said that he felt that God had directly put it on his heart. The combination of his medical knowledge and personal friendship made him a very special overnight guest for me. In any medical consideration, Mike is always very helpful and reassuring.
Although I wasn’t receiving any visitors outside family members during the days, a number of other people offered to come and stay the nights. Others wanted to but for one reason or another, simply couldn’t. God bless them for their willingness. The others who stayed with me during those long and nearly sleepless nights were family members. Curt Clemens, Theresa’s brother (and my brother), stayed a couple of nights, even though he lives in a different city several hours drive from Dallas. He is a talker, but he worked hard on not talking more than I was comfortable with. I’ve known him since he was a little kid, and in his youth, he lived with us twice. He is as much family as you can get, that’s for sure.
Bryce Gordon, our oldest grandson, works near the hospital and came by to see me a number of days after he got off work. He spent one night with me, a night which began in the late afternoon. I was just starting to feel well enough to watch TV and since both of us Gordons are sports fans, we watched our Boston teams play (the Bruins and the Celtics) and two other games of each type (basketball and hockey). It was truly a sports night and a fun night in spite of my condition. Bryce is mature beyond his 24 years, an “old soul” type, according to his dad—my son, Bryan. He definitely sees through the immaturity and fallacies embraced by so many in his age category—thankfully! Anyway, that was a memorable and much appreciated night.
Joy stayed with me a number of nights and also wanted to be present during daytimes when specialist physicians came to update me on my status. As an experienced nurse, she had questions to ask that were important. Joy’s biological father left her family in her youth, although she was able to reconnect with him shortly before he died. He and her stepdad died within a short time of each other, emotional blows to be sure. But I am her dad and she is my daughter. We usually say that she is our daughter by marriage, rather than daughter-in-law, but even that description doesn’t explain our relationship. The mother of our niece’s husband calls our niece her “daughter-in-love.” That works too. Joy is our daughter, just as much as her husband is our son. Relationships are much more heart-connections than biological connections. I’m the only dad that Joy has left, but I am her daddy—heart and soul.
Finally, Theresa ended up staying a number of nights with me after my health improved. We will have been married 58 years this coming January 30. Our love has deepened into something difficult to describe. We are around each other almost every day, all day, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We are comfortable to the nth degree with each other, but it goes far deeper than that. We are still deeply in love, carrying with us the memories of the occasion that started our love affair way back in the fall of 1960. That initial spark of romance is still alive and well, deepened immeasurably by the many decades together since. In those hospital nights, our special indescribable bond made our time together a very special and treasured memory for both of us. It was marriage at its deepest level in one of our toughest times.
Bryan and his family came often to encourage me, and their presence gave me motivation to fight for life and for a return to health. Bryan was especially sensitive about driving Theresa to and from the hospital after dark, since she isn’t comfortable driving in traffic at night. Relationships are indeed all that matters and being on your potential deathbed will remove any doubts about the accuracy of that statement. Study after study has demonstrated that the happiest, healthiest people are the ones with the largest number of healthy relationships. In my case, healthy relationships were more than healthy—they were spiritual relationships. I’ve no doubt that my physical and spiritual relationships made it possible to come back from being on the brink of eternity to survival and ultimately, to a return to health. I’ll be back on that brink at another time, and when that comes, my relationship with God will be the one that matters most as I leave planet earth. During my hospital ordeal (and blessing), relationships with family, physical and spiritual, made all the difference. God has been and will be there in all of it. Amen!