And When I Die

Under the foggy haze of pain medication during my second child’s delivery a problem in delivery gave me the impression that I was dying….I was not alarmed. I thought to myself simply, “This is what it feels like to die……” and prepared to surrender myself to death. It was not what it seemed and I later marveled at how easy it was to surrender without fear to the notion of death. I guess thinking of Barbara Bush’s death has reminded me of that time….and this dream about which I wrote

Awake from Dying…… by Cathy Boyd Byrd | posted at Jan 12, 2016
“There are times when something can really bring life into focus, like awaking from a vivid dream about one’s impending death. I went to sleep about 8pm and about three hours later I awoke, having dreamed that I had terminal cancer and was facing an unspecified time remaining in “life as it is”. What was on my mind in the dream was the process of dismantling the Titus 2 Ministry in keeping with the corporation’s” no conflict of interest” clause and tidying up personal aspects of my life that such circumstances would necessitate.
There was no sense of distress or alarm in it. There was, however, concern over how my husband, Bill, would manage the pets and home without me. The simple solution, at least in my dream, was that our son and his wife, Billy and Joni, would move in with him and help him manage.

Things beyond those immediate concerns that have seemed important to me of late no longer seemed so. Dying was simply a process of tidying up and disposing of personal things before I left. It seemed that I understood what God wanted me to do and, although no one else appeared in the dream, there was a sense in which they, too, understood what was needed and were ready to help me do it.

When my eyes opened and I was conscious of it being a dream, I realized my stomach was in a bit of a knot. Knowing that I would not be able to go right back to sleep, I got up. I looked around our home as I walked to the kitchen and felt the safety and comfort of it. It has been, since we first moved into this lakeside home in February 2005, a “sanctuary” to me, a place where God is and where I connect with him in daily ordinary ways. I pulled that feeling around me a little closer and thanked God for the reassurance that, while it is fine to enjoy what I have here and now, this is temporary. This place is not really “home”, in the “forever” sense. God has something more, something equally special and comforting or better.

I don’t know why God would bring me such a dream, except perhaps to remind me, once again, of the important things in life and that “life as it is” is transient and brief. Friends or family who may read this, don’t be alarmed. I have no awareness of any physical illness or pending medical problems and I am not superstitious, fearing that sharing such a dream might make it come true. However, it will, in fact, come true some day to some extent or another. I don’t know the means or time of my death, but I do know it will come. If not by sudden accident, then I will have time perhaps to do those “tidying up” things. If it should come suddenly and I don’t get the time to do that, then someone else will. Maybe the message is that I need to begin the “tidying up” now, today, without hurry or haste, but to spare others the task someday. Hold the things of this life lightly. Jettison the non-essentials. Be ready. (I had thought I was!)
Here in the wee hours of another new day I am reminded of the warnings and encouragements of Luke 12:

“Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your lifeb]” >[b]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
41 Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”
42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
57 “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
I have no special insight into end times, those of the earth or those of my own life. But I do know that God is sovereign, God is good, and God cares for me. However and whenever the end of my time goes, I hope to be found ready to go and having been faithful to have “stored up things” in Heaven that are rich in God and not in the earth.”

In addition to that childbirth experience at age 21 that felt like ‘near-death’ and this dream experience, there was a third time that I felt death’s breath close by….It was when I was hospitalized for a psychotic break in response to clinical depression over 20 years ago. In the exhaustion of trying to hang on to my sanity, I surrendered to the Lord’s hands. In some kind of disassociated mental state (which I really think is more like Paul’s description of the 3rd heaven!), I felt myself in another place, not physically, but spiritually, and talking with God…not seeing him, but being present with him in a dark geodesic dome-like place with tiny lights twinkling, revealing the shape of the space. God said to me, “If this is too hard, you don’t have to do it.” I believed at the time that I was being given permission to simply die, I was so exhausted and confused. But I had not been suicidal and I spoke out and said, “No. I want to get well. I want to be here for my family.” (We had our first grandchild due in 2 weeks.) Suddenly, from wherever I was in spirit, I was back present in the moment and aware of my surroundings and people with me in the emergency room. I was told I had been conversing with them and participating in answering questions I was asked. But the deepest part of who I am was with the Lord and making a volitional decision to keep on living…. psychologically choosing to live and get well, even if I was not actually at physical risk of dying.

Someone asked me today about the notion of “3rd heaven”, what did I think it meant. To formulate a notion of a “3rd heaven”, one would have to have a concept of a 1st heaven and a 2nd heaven, neither of which, as far as I am aware, are explicitly referenced in scripture. However, because of that experience and some other insights and experiences over the years here is a theory others may consider:
1st heaven….. or simply “heaven”, as distinguished from “earth”, as in Genesis…God created heaven and earth….They are 2 separate realms. In the minds of worldly-minded people, the physical realm is a different realm than “heaven”, which is a spiritual realm. In our natural physical state, we think of “heaven” as a place that is “there” and earth as a place that is “here”. The first degree of understanding of heaven is as this place separate from the earth that is inhabited by spirit beings.

2nd heaven…. This is a more accurate understanding of reality, in which one understands that by entering into relationship with Christ, she is entering into eternity here and now and that heaven or “the heavenlies”, referring to the spiritual realm, are actually present all around us here in the earth….the spiritual realm and physical realm are actually both present simultaneously and concurrent with one another. As one grows into deeper spiritual understanding that becomes clear……. Like Elijah asking God to reveal to Elisha the presence of the spiritual realm warriors who stood ready to protect them from attack. The less attached to the physical realm we allow ourselves to be, the more we are likely to get glimpses of this other-worldly reality and begin to experience the things of heaven right here on earth…, joy, peace, etc. We learn to live transcendently, above the limitations of the physical realm and its brokenness and difficulties. This is Kingdom living for the believer….here and now….”thy kingdom come, thy will be done, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.” Not just when Jesus returns but as his followers embrace and live into the values and attributes of heavenly existence while still in the realm of the physical earth.

3rd heaven…. This is a rare experience of feeling one’s spirit removed from the physical realm and being temporarily shown something of the reality of the spiritual realm. It’s not really an “out of body” experience, as in my experience of it, my body and soul continued present and engaged in the physical realm. But my spirit communed with God for a brief moment….long enough for him to allow me to examine and express my desire to live and be whole. In talking to my Christian counselor about that experience, she said she thinks that people in acute mental distress do face a time of making a decision…. to simply give up on life and accept the chaos and confusion of an unstable mind or to rally the internal resources to work through the complexity and work of recovering its order and balance. In my distress, I had lost touch with reality because it was too painful to face at the time, but when it came right down to it, I didn’t want to die. I wanted to find the mental, the emotional and psychological strength to do the work to heal. I disassociated briefly from the physical and emotional demands of the moment and my self-awareness went to the place of my spirit, where the Holy Spirit, too, resides in harmony with my spirit, and we had that conversation, spirit to Spirit. It’s not an out of body thing….it is a deep within one’s psyche spiritual connectedness with God thing. Paul’s and other’s stories, like Isaiah’s vision of God on the throne, and John’s vision of the heavenly city are such experiences. God allows you to see the spiritual realm, where he resides AND WHICH IS ALREADY CONNECTED TO AND ACCESSIBLE BY YOUR SPIRIT! Third-heaven tranlations of one’s spirit are noteworthy, to say the least!