My wife Kathie and I married too late to start a family of our own, but we are blessed to have a spiritual extended family of parents and children. These include my daughter from a previous marriage and her adopted daughter, and families that come to Kathie’s children’s library. There is also a special group of families that we have vacationed with every summer for many years, usually at two rented houses on a California coastal beach near Santa Cruz.
When we are with this group at the beach location, I am the most contented of family men. The last time we were together there, in July 2009, we had all the regulars, including teenagers who had been toddlers when the tradition of going to the beach began. It is enchanting that our teenagers, who are expected to be in a naturally rebellious season of life, are devoted to the tradition and want the gathering to be the same each year in every detail, as when we first began. The last time we assembled this group, there was a new baby with the impressive biblical name of Obadiah. His great cuteness made him the center of attention for everyone.
Enjoying the proceedings, my contentment overflowed so much that I announced, as if I knew all about it, that heaven is a community of believers united by love. If I am correct in this, we do not have to wait to see what heaven is like, because we have been getting a taste of it in our summer gatherings. I am thus convinced that the best life is the one that contains the greatest amount of love, both received and given, no matter what troubles that life may also contain.
If I had a preliminary taste of heaven last summer at the beach house, I subsequently had an exposure to some of the more depressing features of earthly existence. On December 4, 2009, I was taken by ambulance to the hospital, in a crisis caused by a common condition of aging men, unrelated to my previous two strokes. Although that crisis was quickly resolved, another, more serious one came up while I was recovering in rehab. This time I had major surgery, followed by a series of infections that made it uncertain when I would ever get out.
The experience of a long hospital stay, including a lengthy period of recovery from surgery, left me deeply discouraged. I had no desire to eat, was not interested in reading, lost my voice, and began wishing for an early and quick death because it seemed to me that my active life had come to an end. I had a number of visitors, the most important, perhaps, being a man we know from Kathie’s children’s library. He pastors a small community church and heard of my wish for death. He reminded me that I am in God’s hands and that my lifespan is determined by him.
The situation didn’t seem to be getting better when I finally was released to go home after two months, because I kept falling and Kathie had to keep getting help to lift me up. I was concerned that I was becoming a burden and was still more interested in dying than living.
The Fruits of Love
Now that I have been home for more than two months, my appetite and voice have returned, and I have regained my interest in reading books and finding worthwhile news stories on the Internet. Despite my pessimism, I have worked hard at physical therapy, and my therapists are impressed at how much strength I am gaining. With their help, I have progressed from using a cumbersome walker to walking with a simple cane. I hope to be walking unassisted soon. I will need all the strength I can develop to be ready for some follow-up surgeries.
When I was in the hospital, Kathie brought me cards and letters almost every day from the wide-flung community of Intelligent Designers. I didn’t always appreciate them at the time because I was so low, mentally and spiritually as well as physically. Since I have been home, it has given me great pleasure to read through these and remember that my circle of loving people extends far beyond those who live locally. My morale was further boosted when Touchstone editors Jim Kushiner and Fr. Pat Reardon, with three of their friends, paid a visit to our Berkeley home.
I am learning that the path to a good quality of life lies in doing the right thing during the day at hand, and leaving the future to God, as Jesus advised. If that is possible for me, it is because I am surrounded by loving people, beginning with my wife. It is hard to stay discouraged when I receive and return such love on a daily basis.
Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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