“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” -James 4:14
I found myself alone with my thoughts; which for me is not the best place to be. I am a very analytical person. I constantly sift through information; compile data points, find the worst possible outcome and expect that to be the result of the situation I am in. Yes, I know. As a Pastor that is a very fatalistic approach, but it is a battle that I constantly face both personally and in the ministry. Ashlyn had taken Evie to home to get some much-needed. rest, and to grab a few things for the long-anticipated hospital stay. There was no doubt that the constant bombardment of tests, doctors, nurses, visitors, and the hustle of the hospital had taken its toll on both her and the baby. For everything that had taken place over the last 24 hours, we had relatively little information. I knew my situation was serious, but I didn’t know exactly what was going on. The medical team didn’t have many answers either. We were awaiting test results but knew that the doctor would be conducting exploratory surgery the following day. For me, it was the calm before one of the biggest storms of my life. For some reason, I wasn’t analyzing. Honestly, I didn’t even want to think about the surgery.
It all started with what I thought was a minor traffic accident. Denver’s infamous I-70 was scheduled for another full closure; a regular occurrence for a local government whose motto is “if it isn’t broken, fix it till it is”. However, my groggy 3 a.m. brain hadn’t yet acclimated to a new work schedule and I blindly followed google maps into the horrific jumble of standstill traffic and bright lights. For what seemed like an eternity, I wove through the mess of “progress” and found myself completely stopped. Four lanes of the interstate had merged onto one tiny path through the closure; one by one, cars slowly merged. I not so patiently waited when suddenly my little Kia Forte launched forward. I slammed into the construction barrier, thankfully protecting closeby workers from being escorted into their eternity, and briefly partook in their bewilderment. For a moment I thought the rapture had happened and God decided to let me bring the car with me. I quickly assessed what had happened, checked to make sure I wasn’t dead and fell out of the car. By now the workers had jumped the barrier and I assured them I was fine. However, as the adrenaline wore off, the pain amplified.
Once I realized there was a problem, I had Ash take me to the emergency room. After a few images they concluded that there was no need for emergency surgery, so I was referred to a local surgeon and sent on my way. The month of October was an excruciating one. It took two weeks after the accident to get an appointment, and the visit lasted for a little over thirty seconds. We found that the ER only did imaging on my neck and brain, which didn’t determine what was causing the severe pain and nerve damage throughout my body. Another miserable two weeks would pass before I found myself on the operating table for the first of several “emergency” surgeries. This would be a routine discectomy to reposition herniated discs pressuring my sciatic nerve and to repair a crushed vertebra in my lower back.
The surgery would go without any issues. Two days post op I was back at home enjoying time with my family; on the road back to an easy six-week recovery. I would have little to no permanent issues. I had nominal surgical pain, but I had no reason to complain. My family and I transitioned back into the “not so” normal life of Pastoring. Or so I thought…
Five days later, Ash and I were setting up for a Facebook live event when all of a sudden I became extremely ill. I developed a debilitating headache without relief and temporarily lost vision in both eyes. A laundry list of symptoms would follow with no relief in sight. Finally, my wife decided to it was time to go to the emergency room. I remember the ride to the hospital vividly. I lowered the seats as far as they could go and laid sideways with my head in my wife’s lap, and cried like a baby. It was by far the worst pain I had ever experienced.
Upon arrival, I was immediately given blood cultures and ushered into an MRI room. More imaging and a plethora of tests would follow. The concern on the doctors faces sent my mind into its routine analytical processing. This was it; I was dying. (I get the same mental results when I get the man flu, so this really isn’t that big of an issue). Soon after my initial testing I was admitted into the ICU wing of the hospital. The doctor on staff would inform us that I would be having my second emergency surgery the following day; though no other details were given. Within hours our parents were on airplanes headed for Denver, CO.
Here’s where you’ll find me at the beginning of the story… alone, scared, and waiting in my hospital room. This is where my life would change forever. Shortly after Ashlyn left a doctor and his partner came into my room.
“Mr. Dillon, may we talk for a moment.”
“Yes sir, come on in”
“Mr. Dillon, is there anyone who you would like to be here with you? We have to discuss some very difficult information.”
“No sir, I’m fine. We can talk.”
“Mr. Dillon, let me get straight to the point. I believe you have a very serious medical condition with life threatening consequences.”
“Oh wow, ok. Well what are we thinking?”
“Well, what we know is this. A bone has a cut into your dura; which essentially is the part of the body that contains your spinal fluid. Apparently, either you’ve cut it since surgery, or we missed this in our initial imaging. Right now, spinal fluid is leaking and is changing the pressure on your brain. The cause for the headaches and other symptoms, which in and of itself is not life-threatening, but we also believe you have a deadly infection along with it. If the infection has traveled up your spine and into your brain, I would estimate that you have less than 30 hours to live. Every test and image lend us to believe this is what is going on in your body.”
“Oh, so what are the plans? Is there anything we can do?”
“The plan is to have the exploratory surgery tomorrow. We will go in, see if there is anything we can do, and assess the situation from there. I am here because we need you to make an informed decision. If it is what we think it is, and I truly believe it is, we can keep you under medical anesthesia until you expire. This would be the most comfortable solution for you. The other option would be to finish the surgery, allow you to wake up if you wake up, and you’ll likely experience a very excruciating end of life. We would do our best to keep you comfortable but I would not recommend this option just to be honest.”
I wasn’t left with any time to make a decision, I couldn’t consult my wife, I wasn’t able to pick the phone and call my pastor, this was it. He needed to know now. Immediately I bowed my head in prayer and asked for wisdom and protection. Honestly, it was a prayer much like that of Peter’s, “Lord, save me”. I asked the doctor that they do everything they could to keep me alive, but if the outcome was death no matter what, I would prefer to die under anesthesia. I signed a waiver, filled out my literal exit plan, and within five minutes the doctor was gone. Once again, I was alone with my thoughts.
In the movies, this is where the walls begin to close in on the patient. Dramatic emotional music begins to play, and the person’s life flashes before their eyes. Obviously, none of this happened. In fact, all I heard was a deafening silence. For the moment I was completely numb. I couldn’t believe this was real. How could this happen to me? To be completely transparent, I didn’t understand why God would move my family to Denver to leave my wife and baby here alone. I couldn’t comprehend how fast everything transpired. This wasn’t the plan.
Honestly, I cannot explain the emotions that rifled through my head. My thoughts were predominantly about my family. I would be leaving behind a wife of two years and a newborn baby girl. I wouldn’t get to grow old with my beautiful bride. I wouldn’t get to give her the life I promised her in my vows. I wouldn’t get to enjoy watching my little princess grow up. I wouldn’t get to watch her graduate high school, walk her down the aisle, or play with her children one day. My family would be left here without me, and Evie would learn about her dad through stories and photographs and not experience and memories. My heart broke. We’d dreamed of the life we were living. I was in the center of God’s will, pastoring my dream church in Denver, CO; and raising my family up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Now death was a reality in my life.
I took the doctor at his word. I truly believed that I would be in the presence of my Saviour within hours. I wondered if I had loved my wife well enough. If I had left her in a position to be successful… thoughts bombarded my mind like bombs on the European coasts of WWII. Then, unexplainably, a peace came over me that I can’t truly comprehend. I remembered that my soul was destined for an eternity in heaven with my Saviour. I didn't need to fear death for I was sure of it's outcome. I knew that one day: Ashlyn, Everleigh, (Lord willing, my earnest prayer is that she accepts Christ as her personal Saviour) and myself would be reunited forever. I knew that my God was Ashlyn’s God; and that He loves her far greater than I ever could. For some reason, God allowed me to experience Philippians 4:7 in a real way. “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
With the limited time I thought I had; I quickly got my affairs in order. The hardest part was calling Ashlyn to inform her. I still wonder what really went through her mind, but she calmly told me that she loved me, and we would talk as soon as she got back to the hospital. We discussed where she could find the life insurance policies, what she should do, and who she should call. We talked about who would handle the church, and help throughout the transition period. We tied up various loose ends, with (believe it or not) joy. Then we called our family and informed them. Phone call after phone call seemed to show us that the doctor and I were the only people who believed I would be dead tomorrow. I thought everyone was in denial, but I was thankful for their faith and prayers. Though my situation was extremely difficult; our God showed Himself very real during that dark hour.
If I can run a quick rabbit trail for a moment… when the doctor told me I had thirty hours to live, honestly nothing but my relationship with God and my family actually mattered. What I had done for Christ, and my roles (Christian (son), husband, father, son, pastor, friend, etc.) were what was important. I say that to say this: Christian, it’s time for us to quit being petty and start serving the Lord and our families. If you’re looking for an excuse not to serve God, then Satan, your flesh, and the world will always give you a good one. We are living in a day where Christians invent reasons to leave the church, stay home from worship services, and live as if we are practical atheists. We need to realize that Jesus Christ is coming back for us soon, and we have a relatively short time to serve God. We need to wake up, get to work, and enjoy the dream of living in the center of God’s will. Though we may enjoy our sin for a season, this is distracting us from our service to the Lord; and ruining our testimonies with the lost. We all have relatives, friends, coworkers, community workers, fellow men, women, boys, and girls around the world who are destined for an eternity in a literal hell. It’s our job to reach them for Christ, and we cannot reach them with our pettiness, laziness, sinfulness, etc.
You’re reading this, so obviously things worked out much differently than I anticipated. Thankfully God answered our prayers and I’m glad to announce that I’ve been alive for 2023 hours and twenty-two minutes since receiving the news that I had thirty hours to live. This morning, I’m sitting in the hospital recovering from my 14th surgery. (Throughout more articles I’ll share my medical journey, and other lessons I’ve learned on the road) My wife and I are closer than we’ve ever been before. I’ve had the privilege to watch Evie grow and develop, and see two teeth pop out on the bottom of her little mouth. I’ve preached multiple times, seen souls saved and lives changed, shared my vision for the church in 2020; and watched God bless me far above and beyond anything I deserve. We’re still dreaming, still planning, still serving, and we are still out here living the dream in Denver. My God is good.
I wrote all that to say this… if you were given the news that you only had thirty hours to live, what would you do? How would you respond? Are you ready for eternity? Though I spent my thirty hours prepping for surgery awaiting “the inevitable”; I experienced the peace that passed all understanding. The Word of God came alive in my life, and God showed Himself mightily on my behalf. We are assured that tomorrow is not promised. That everyone will come face to face with death, regardless of age, sex, nationality, social status, etc. A fact made even more real recently by the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and the eight other souls in California. We know based on the scripture that the day of salvation is today. Not everyone who gets the news that they have a short time left here on earth live to write their story. Are you ready to stand before God and give an account for your life?
During those thirty hours, the only thing that really mattered was my decision to trust Christ as my personal Saviour and building upon that foundation. Are you living your life with the expectation that you could be standing in the presence of an Almighty God at any moment? Christian, are you doing everything in your power to build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ? Are you reaching your family, friends, community, and world with the gospel? Though your eternity may be settled, if you're saved, there are far too many people out there who are destined for hell.
I leave you with this illustration:
Growing up, my dad and mom would leave me in charge of watching over my little sister while they were at work. I often joke with them that this probably wasn’t the best decision; as I used Lacie as a practice dummy for wrestling and a guinea pig for my masterful nonexistent culinary skills. Most days we would play, goof off, and just be kids; but occasionally we’d like to make our parents proud. When they got home from work, we wanted them to be happy, so we had to do something to assure it. One of the easiest ways to achieve this was to have our rooms clean, and the house spotless upon their arrival. I don’t know what it is about a parent and a clean house, but for some reason they love it. (especially my mother in law: she’ll come home at 3 a.m. from an evangelist's meeting and start foot sweeping the carpet to rid it of pet hair. Love you momma!) So, we’d get up right after they left for work, put in the effort, and clean the house.
Christian, is your house clean? Are you anxiously awaiting the Lord's return; humbly serving to honor Him? If Jesus were to pay us a visit today would you stall Him on the doorstep while you scrambled to hide the unmentionables under the bed or in the closet? Would you show off the living room, or would He have complete access to the royal tour? My friend, are you living a life that is pleasing to Him? Or would He catch you off guard, covered in shameful wickedness? Will He say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”? (Matthew 25:21) Or will your works “…be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15b) There is coming a day when Christ WILL return. You won’t have time to stall, you won’t be able to hide; everything will come out to light.
If you had 30 hours till eternity, how would you respond?