May 29th, 2019
"Everything begins and ends with prayer."
From: "The Walk: The Life-Changing Journey of Two Friends"
A few years before moving to Franklin, Bill had become close to my nephew Daniel, a sixteen-year-old young man who was engaged in his own battle with cancer. The two of them had talked on the phone and written a few letters back and forth, but now that Bill was essentially in the same town, they would be able to communicate face-to-face.
By the time he arrived, Bill discovered that Daniel was nearing the end of his struggle; he was constantly in and out of the hospital trying last-minute, more radical treatments. Bill, himself weak from chemotherapy, would go to visit Daniel whenever he was able. Together the two of them presented a poignant picture. Both men of faith - one older; the other pitifully young - both dealing with their individual ordeals with amazing faith and courage.
The last time I took Bill to see him, Daniel was only weeks away from dying. He was in the hospital again and had asked if it might be possible for Dr. Lane to visit. As we drove into town, Bill seemed thoughtful.
"This is a dress rehearsal for me," he said.
Even in his weakened condition, when Bill entered the hospital room, both Daniel and my older brother, George, said they could sense the comfort and authority in his presence ("I have the gift of authority," he often said with a smile). He clutched his well-worn Bible in one hand and held Daniel's hand in the other.
They spoke little on this last visit. Bill asked for details about Daniel's condition. By now they were both experts on chemo and its effects.
"I want to share with you a psalm that has helped me enormously." (He loved that word.) Opening his Bible to Psalm 91, he read with a passionate voice:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."
Surely He will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under His wings you will find refuge;
His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling -
even the Lord, who is my refuge -
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For He will command His angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
"Because he loves Me," says the Lord, "I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him
and show him My salvation."
It seems ironic that Bill found so much comfort in a psalm that speaks of being spared from the deadly pestilence and plague, that describes surviving in battle when thousands are falling at your side. The psalm promises that no harm will befall you. It promises a long life. Yet Daniel was cut short, and Bill was certainly not an old man at sixty-seven when he died. I believe Bill must have held on to the promise that even though he and Daniel had not been saved from their pestilence, somehow they would be saved through it. That evening in the hospital (and most especially now), they were both in the shadow of His great wings.
When he was done reading, Bill prayed the most passionate prayer I have heard in my life. He and Daniel were encircled by it. My brother George and I stood outside that circle, looking on. Bill cried out for mercy, and he thanked God for the mercy they had both been shown. He pleaded for Daniel's healing, for a miracle, for grace, for courage. He wept and pleaded and dogged God in that prayer. Our hearts were both encouraged and broken by it. We were transported to another place, to the presence of God.
When Bill had finished, he was so weak that my brother had to help him to his feet. As we dried our eyes, Bill said solemnly, "Everything begins and ends with prayer."
A few months later, in November of 1998, barely able to stand because of his own weakness, Bill offered a prayer at Daniel's funeral. He also read his favorite psalm again, for the last time. Bill died two months after the service.