Friday, September 11, 2009

If I Should Die Before I Wake...

I never liked this rather morbid childhood prayer from the eighteenth century:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
Not only does it focus on a rather morbid subject, it suggests that my eternal destiny is dependent on my pleading with a rather capricious God who could decide at His whim whether or not to admit me into His presence.

Not how you read it? Well, compare that prayer with a rather more confident assertion by the apostle Paul:
While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh,
But it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us.
Rather, we want to put on our new bodies
So that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.
2Cor. 5:4)
Remarkably, this passage asserts that my destiny (by faith) is not some disembodied state of mind or spirit but rather something more akin to what I already know and experience, only without the inexorable decline and deterioration attendant to my current physical body.

Lately, I catch myself “groaning and sighing” as I, like so many others before me, come to grips with the frailty and ephemeral nature of this earthly life. In spite of the best efforts of modern medicine, untold prayers of faith on my behalf, and my own confident trust in a loving, powerful, and faithful God, I cannot ignore the possibility that He wishes to promote me into His very presence sooner than I had planned – i.e., that this dying body should be swallowed up by life!

And so I am learning to live in that tension between fighting tooth and nail for another day here on earth with those I love versus yearning for that ultimate promotion. The object of my faith has not moved. He has never been closer. I believe He is simply giving me a clearer vision of what it means to truly live.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Death is an enemy and I will continue to be fully engaged in the battle against this our common foe. But I also recognize that, through Christ’s death and resurrection, our mortality is revealed to be a temporary eclipse of the bright orb of eternal life He offers when we trust in Him.

Recent events have served to highlight this tension. I am not yet healed. I have never experienced full remission of the malignant melanoma and in this tug of war, the melanoma is gaining the upper hand once more. The neurologic signs of brain metastases have progressed even after this last gamma knife procedure, while recurrence of malignant growths elsewhere go unchecked. That is reality. But what is also real is that this physical life, frail and flawed, is only a foretaste (albeit marvelous and good) of eternal life. That, by faith, is what still awaits you and me.

Here is how the apostle Paul expressed this tension: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). These are not the words of a defeatist desperate man, but someone who has learned to live with the tension between the inestimable value of this fleeting life and a confident hope that transcends our earthly existence. I am a student of that reality.

Let me suggest a new nursery rhyme (well maybe for the accelerated nursery crowd)…
Now I lay me down to sleep
Confident that He will keep
The promise of new life in Him –
Though briefly now eclipsed by sin

Already passed from death to life
No longer bound by mortal strife
May I be found with smiling face
When I am called home by His grace

On this anniversary of 9-11 when nearly 3,000 people suddenly faced their eternal destiny, may we all take stock of the inestimable value of this life – and live each day as if it is our last.

Grateful for your prayers,
Dr Dan

PS -- We return to Charlottesville on Thursday Sept 17 once more to discuss treatment options (if any) with Dr Grosh.


  1. It's amazing to me that what you are learning and sharing is to a smaller degree what GOD has been teaching me in the past month, only for different reasons...different places and scenarios in our journeys. Looking at the reality of what is in our bodies, we cannot dispute the problems, the deterioration, the evidence of a health issue and what our senses are saying , HOWEVER, what we can choose to set our eyes on, believe and recieve in the spirit realm is what we already have because of Jesus. That being healing. It's true, we may have evidence of something on or in our bodies, but we have been healed by the LORD's stripes and the manifestation of that just hasn't showed up yet. So I have been so encouraged by GOD's word and speaking truth into my life and on behalf of the lives of others and I dont want to let what is to the senses, a reality.... blind me of the joy I will have when the healing's been manifested. Obviously we dont know when, how or what we have to experience before that manifestation is there, but it helps me overcome helps me stay focused on GOD's love for me and what HE did for helps me encourage others to believe and trust GOD no matter how bleak the situation looks and I just cant tell you how much I have learned from your blog entries and what a blessing you and Linda have been...I have to agree, I really do prefer Paul's perspective in laying down to sleep. My parents will be visiting the day you go back to Charlottesville and I have shared your blogs with them and we are going tojoin together to specifically be praying for you that day. No matter what the outcome, GOD is with you.

  2. Thanks for the meaningful post and prayer poetry.

    My children have received two praying stuffed animals programmed with the bedtime prayer, although both versions were a bit different from the original. I can only remember one now:

    Now I lay me down to sleep
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep
    The angels watch me through the night
    Until I wake in morning's light

  3. Dan,
    You have been a great example to the Newitt family.You are special and such a faithful servant of God. Tears come to my eyes when I read your blog.I am sure your Christian beliefs have been a great testimony to many. I have prayed for healing and asked others in our church and Bible Study to do the same. As we know our fate is totally in his hands. We love you, cuz and appreciate what a loving husband you have been to Linda.

  4. Dan,
    What can I say that has not already been said to you a thousand times by so many people who love and respect you? I am one of the fortunate ones to have you literally as a brother. As I told you when we were out sailing you are a saint and have been a total blessing to my sister and our entire family.I so look forward to your blog and am always anxious to get your medical updates. I pray that the Lord continues to make this journey meaningful and special as he has been. I know the Lord still has great things in store. We love you and pray for your peace and comfort.

  5. The prayers continue. Think of you often. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

  6. Dr. Crabtree
    I doubt if you remember me but I was a patient of yours in the Providence office. I just found out that you were ill yesterday. The person also told me to visit your blog.

    You should be compiling your thoughts into a book. When your grands get older I think they will appreciate the messages you gave to others. When I would see you in the office I never knew you could wax so poetic. Beautiful writing is hard to find under the best circumstances.

    You shared:
    "Already passed from death to life
    No longer bound by mortal strife
    May I be found with smiling face
    When I am called home by His grace."

    I am not sure if you have heard of James Weldon Johnson. He wrote a series of poems called "God's Trombone." There is one in particular that you might love to read it is called "Go Down Death."

    If you want to hear a great version of this poem I hope you will enjoy Wintley Phipps. Rev. Phipps at one time sang with Billy Graham's Crusade. It is great to think all of us might go home like this.

    I hope you will enjoy this song also. I think it is called "Fill the World With Love."

  7. praying for you today and believing for more options...GOD is on the throne and the outcome is HIS way. Peace and strength for you both today. Audrey

  8. Dan THANK YOU so much for continuing to teach us and lift us up, even as you fight this battle. We are praying that God will continue to use you for a long time to come. Peace for you and Linda and your family. Love, Lilia

  9. Patrick & Theresa FullerSeptember 18, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    Dr. Dan,
    Thank you for your uplifting words. Our family continues to pray for yours.
    The Fuller Family

  10. Dan, the business of life took me away from your blog for too long. I agree with the comment that you should put this into a book. It would be an inspiration to all, as we all, in various ways, face this reality. You have communicated the experience of facing death head on in an unflinching and incredibly helpful way. Your words are a priceless guide for the most difficult part of life. May God continue to bless you, whatever the outcome. Your meditations give me courage.

    Stan Neal

  11. Hello Dr.Dan.....

    So sorry to hear of the progression of disease. I know first hand how hard that news is to bear. I can well tell by your tone, the fight isn't over as of yet. I wish you good news and viable options on your visit to UVA. I thank you for allow us in, to journey with you and observe your stamina, grace and courage under fire. Know that many of us have learned and walk in your footsteps hoping to emulate a small fraction of your dauntless spirit.

    God bless...

    Debbie Hennessy Stage 4 MM
    Chesapeake, VA

  12. hi,
    It has been a while since i have seen you but just wanted to tell you that i still thank about and pray for you and your family. Just reading your blogs reminds me of how sweet and wise you are. Really miss you as my doctor and have yet to find another as good.

    All my best to you and yours

    Christy perry