Updated: Dec 4, 2021
Letters from a Hospital Bed is a series of reflections by Jim Houston, now entering his 100th year, in which Jim seeks to capture and reflect new insights of his ever-discoverable God, revealed through his own hospitalization, for the encouragement of all care givers.
In the past few days, Chris and the other family assembled, for my wonderful birthday celebration. Although my birthday will be great excitement to celebrate with the family my 99th birthday, yet it is with much sobriety that I enter this celebration. Very recently, I heard one morning that my friend Tony, who sat opposite me here, at Point Grey Hospital, every morning at 7:30 for breakfast, suddenly died two nights ago, from heart problems. He used to walk up and down in front of his chair, restlessly and I often wondered why. It must have been the heart pains he was suffering and we never knew. Why then should God take him when he was only 74 and God keep me when I am now 99? I feel rebuked that I used to wish that the Lord had taken me but increasingly, I see that He still has a ministry for me to do here.
In the weeks ahead, I hope I can write to you all, as a community of dear friends. Many of you I have known for decades. At this stage, I find I can no longer write as once I did, yet with the death of my friend Tony, just across the table, I feel a rebuke that I wished I the Lord would take me home, but I see He still has work for me to do. I have always written, as you know, but now I must find yet another voice for this season of my life. And so, I begin a new project with you all and we shall see where it takes us.
Chris asked me, “Why keep writing Dad?” Why should I do it? I think it is to help Christians not to be afraid of death, for indeed, death is a cruel enemy and we each must meet it first in those we love and eventually, ourselves At the beginning of the last century, Christians used to teach about “The Rapture” leaving children afraid that during the night, God had taken their parents up into heaven, and leaving them to have their breakfast on their own! There was an amusing story of D.L Moody, who has a gift of a baggy pair of suit jacket and trousers. One day a kindly parishioner commented” that the Lord was not anticipating His soon coming when you were given that baggy suit!” No longer do we have that kind of teaching. We believe, instead, that God calls us into our eternal home, individually and in unique ways. That is why these letters are being written, to come as Paul exhorted the Thessalonian Christians: “Exhort one another, and build one another up, even as you see the day of Christ approaching”.
For me, at this stage, I see the Day of Christ approaching and I am learning, not to rush that day, but to see that even from a hospital bed, I have a voice of encouragement that I want to speak. When I was a young boy, I spent many long days in hospital, wearied by diphtheria, unable to breathe easily on my own, sometimes sitting in an oxygen tent. Even then, the Lord gave me a desire to see others encouraged and so I wrote small notes on verses, attached to long pieces of string, which I fluttered out the window to be caught by passers-by. It is over 90 years since the heart of that small boy, hampered by his health, sought to encourage others. Now, while hampered by the lack of mobility and other health limitations, my deep heart’s desire has changed little; perhaps from debilitation should come encouragement for others. Through the gift of the internet, I no longer need pieces of paper and string to reach for strangers. God has given me a quiver full of friends, of names and families whom each of you represent. So, from my bed, once again, I send good news and the hope that is ours in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I see Him approach all too clearly, but wish each of you to know the hope we have in Christ.
Editors Note: Well, you’ve surprised us with so many responses to Dad’s first note. Thank you! Many commented on ‘sharing our Dad’. That has been a journey for all four of us, as his kids. It is hard to hear others express a value in our father that we might not have ourselves experienced, but the Lord is giving us time that is unmerited favour. Dad is now at Point Grey hospital where Mum spent her last months. One of his nurses, nursed Mum into the presence of her Lord. She and Dad have a special bond. He went to die. He was done, unable to express himself as he once did. Yet as you see in his emerging narrative, he continues to learn. This, for his kids, has been one of his remarkable qualities, that he has lived on the edge of what he is still discovering. We want to help him share what he is still discovering, just as he has always done. It was a shock for us to see him resigned to give up, but he is back, less lucid, but nonetheless zealous for his life mission.