The Sanctity of Human Life
About the Guest
Culturally, when we talk about the sanctity of human life, we tend to focus on the plight of the unborn. But life itself extends to our last dying breath. Gary Thomas, Jim Stroud, and Jim Garlow tell stories of caring for souls at the end of their lives.
Gary ThomasGary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon and Houston Theological Seminary in Houston, Texas. He is the author of 20 books, including When to Walk Away, Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, Cherish, Sacred Parenting, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning Authentic Faith. He has a master’s degree from Regent College, where he studied u...more
Jim GarlowJim Garlow is the author of the bestselling Cracking Da Vinci's Code. He has authored ten books total. Jim pastors Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego and hosts the daily radio program, The Garlow Perspective, heard on more than 425 radio stations daily. Jim’s wife Carol is a graduate of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. She serves as Minister of Prayer & Intercession at Skyline Wesleyan Church. Jim and Carol have four children and five grandsons.
Jim StroudMr. Stroud has served as a founder, director and officer of Capital Senior Living Corporation (CSU:NYSE) and its predecessors since 1986. Capital is one of the nation’s largest operators of residential communities operating 112 senior living communities with an aggregate capacity of approximately 14,600 residents. In 2009, Mr. Stroud returned to Stroud Companies, the real estate and investment Company he founded before Capital. Stroud Companies is a privately held real estate and investment...more
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The Sanctity of Human Life
Michelle: Jim Garlow is a busy pastor and an in-demand speaker, but he found himself having to make the difficult choice of caring for his wife Carol, who was dying of cancer, or doing part of his job, which was speaking at high-profile engagements. Here’s Jim.
Jim: I was supposed to speak at a thing in Washington, DC. She heard that I cancelled because of how she was feeling. She found that out; said, “No! I’ve been praying for years for you to have a voice there. You get on that plane. You call them back; you tell them you’re going.” I did.
I am wanting to make sure I treasure every day. Being away from her is getting a little harder. At the same time, I probably hold a record of the number of changed schedules, and having to ask to be released from speaking engagements multiple times, and credits I have with airlines for cancelled flights.
Michelle: It’s Sanctity of Life week, and we’re going to talk about the value of life—all the way to the end—on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting an elderly couple. He’s crowding in on 100, and she’s a few years younger than him. Let’s just call them Fred and Ethel. Fred brought our three chairs in close together so that our knees were almost touching. Ethel has Alzheimer’s and was asleep for most of the visit. While her head bobbed softly, Fred kept patting her knee. Occasionally, in her sleep, she would reach for his pinky; and she would just hold it.
It was a beautiful picture to me of love. I know that a lot of work had gone into that picture, and that it hasn’t always been that idyllic life. I asked for their story and listened to him share about meeting her, and getting married, and having their first baby. I also heard from him his standpoint of all the sacrifices that Ethel made on his behalf. Now, he said it was his turn to make sacrifices and care for her.
There’s a word that describes that perfectly; the word is cherish. We’re going to talk about cherish, because we’ve hit mid-January; and this weekend and this week, we’re reminded of the sanctity of life. Usually, our minds turn to the unborn and abortion when we hear “sanctity of life.” But really, sanctity of life is bigger than just the unborn baby because all of life is precious, from the beginning to the end.
Today, I want to spend some time understanding that bigger end-of-life aspect. There’s a portion of our society that has become near and dear to my heart, and that is the elderly. I volunteer some of my time at a local nursing home. Volunteers: they sit with folks; sometimes they read books out loud; sometimes they sing songs; sometimes they just sit there and just sit! It’s really given me a deeper understanding of how our bodies are slowly wasting away. But even a person, lying on their deathbed, was created in God’s image.
Today, we’re going to hear from Jim Stroud. He’s going to talk to us very practically about how to help our aging parents, or grandparents, or our spouses. We’re also going to hear from Jim Garlow with that touching story of when his wife was dying of cancer.
But first, I want to hear from Gary Thomas. He is a speaker and author; and he has written the book, Cherish. In the book, he shares a story of his friend, Greg, who was a young doctor in residency. Just imagine being a young doctor; your whole reason for being a doctor is that you want to fix people. But for some people, who are at the end of life, it’s not about fixing. Here’s Gary sharing the story of his friend, Greg, when he was making rounds in the hospital one day.
[Previous FamilyLife Today®Broadcast]
Gary: A woman was there, in her 80s, a neuro-muscular disease that left her in a wheelchair. She would sit at an angle; her mouth was agape; she would occasionally drool. All she could do was moan. There was this 80-something-year-old husband, very spry, filled with energy; a lively kind of guy.
Greg was struck; because usually, it’s the other way around—he says the wife is caring for an ailing husband—but in this case, it was reversed. As a young man might say, he knew all the care that might be required, and looked at this man and he said, “I felt sorry for him.” At this point in his life, he’s having to care for someone who needed this much care.
Then, he looked down at the sheet—and he saw her address, and he saw the husband’s address—he realized she wasn’t at a [nursing] home. He didn’t pick her up on the way to the doctor’s office; he was her primary caregiver. Again, he found himself saying, as a young man might, “Please, God: not me ever.” Then, the resident physician got a page, and so he had to leave. That left Greg alone with the husband and the wife.
Greg was a little embarrassed——there was nothing he could help with—he wasn’t far enough along to actually treat. The husband kind of sensed the awkwardness. He broke the silence by saying, “She’s my fishin’ buddy; you know?” He [Greg] said, “What?!” “She’s my fishin’ buddy. We used to set trout lines in that lake over there, two miles away. We’ve been fishin’ all over. This one here—she’s my fishin’ buddy.” He was beaming as he said this.
Greg sat transfixed for ten minutes as he regaled him with story after story about what they’d had in their life together. When the husband reached up and wiped a little drool off his wife’s chin, Greg was sort of reminded: for him, it wasn’t any different than when she was a 20-year-old, and they went out for ice cream; and as a little act of flirtation, he was wiping a little ice cream off her chin. He looked at her that way. After going through this moment, he said, “Gone was any feelings of pity. Instead, in its place, was envy.” Here was a young man who envied this man that had this relationship with his wife.
Here’s the key point that I would make: Greg wasn’t envious of him for loving her. When he was being faithful, and caring for her, and serving her, it actually kind of made Greg feel sorry for him. But when he saw this husband cherish his wife—to cherish a woman in her 80s, beset by disease, not even able to communicate, just moaning and drooling, with all the wrinkles—when he saw a husband cherish that wife, that’s when he envied him. That’s the power of cherish.
Love is important—we need to celebrate love; we need to proclaim love; love needs to be the bedrock—we need to call each other to love. But there’s something special that happens when we say, “I want to take the next step, and I want to cherish my spouse,”—not only what it does for us—but the way it can inspire the next generation.
Michelle: Wow; what a sweet story. It kind of reminds me of my time with Fred and Ethel, and just how he was caring for her. She had spent many years caring for him, and now he was caring for her. Great story about cherishing from Gary Thomas.
As I walk the halls in the nursing home, and see the lonely faces, I realize that there’s only a few of those people who are cherished, who have people who spend time with them on an ongoing basis. They don’t have community; many of them don’t. Community is what we all need, because God created us for relationship. Community is hard; it’s hard for those of us, who are young and vibrant and busy with life. But imagine what community is like for someone, who is into their 80s. There’s a lot of practical outflow that needs to happen with this.
In fact, Bob Lepine sat down with Jim Stroud and talked about how his grandparents and his mom had to wrestle through some of the practical-ness of life and aging. Here’s Bob.
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Bob: I was thinking about my grandparents, who lived in Flint, Michigan, all their lives. My grandfather worked at the GM® plant in Flint; that’s where they raised their kids, and that’s where they lived into their 80s.
My mom—meanwhile, she got married—and we moved around the country; she was living in Kansas City. Well, here Grandma and Grandpa are up in Flint, Michigan; Mom’s in Kansas City. When there are health issues, there is nobody but the neighbors; and you’re not sure what you can depend on there. Mom started feeling like she needed Grandma and Grandpa to be close. She went and talked to them about moving to Kansas City. Just like your dad, my grandfather couldn’t imagine leaving where he’d lived his whole life and not cheering for the Detroit Tigers; right? [Laughter] It took some badgering on my mom’s part to ultimately have them sell their house and move their belongings into a retirement community in the Kansas City area, where Mom was living.
Here’s how that marked my mom. After my—both my grandparents passed, and they died in their 90s—when my mom got into her 70s/in her late 70s, she moved into an assisted living retirement community, a place where it was staged so that there was independent care for a period of time; and then, if you needed more care, it was available onsite.
She moved in; and I thought, “Mom, you don’t need that!” She said, “I don’t now, but the time to move in is not when you need it. The time to move in is now, where you can build relationships and make friendships.” She was loving me by making that choice to move into that kind of a community; that’s where she lived until she died. It was a rich period of more than a decade, where she lived in that community, and made friends, and had a level of care that was helpful, and then more care when it was needed.
Jim, you know there are some old folks, who/they are a little settled in their ways. They put up resistance when you start saying, “Maybe, it’s time not to drive anymore,”—the loss of that freedom is huge for a lot of older people—or when you say, “Maybe, you ought to move to another place,”—“I’m not; I’ve lived here for 45…” What do you do, as a young person, if you’ve got a mom or a dad, who’s just dug in?
Jim: I think one of the best ways of communication that we share with adult children—and now with your listeners—is the indirect method. Oftentimes, when they are dug in and they’re independent is: number one, I go back to respect and sensitivity. I have to respect my loved one for what they’ve achieved—
Jim: —and the sensitivity of how to approach them.
Oftentimes, indirect is a great way: “Mom/Dad, I had a friend [whose] mom/dad did this. All of a sudden, it created a problem worse,” or “They got up in the middle of the night and broke a hip. Then, all of a sudden, they’re in the hospital,” and “They knew that they had problems with their coordination,” or “They knew the medications they were on were not the right medications,”—it’s the indirect way of doing that.
Another way is what I call the personal approach; that is: “Mom/Dad, I love you. I appreciate all the sacrifice you’ve given, and I’m concerned.” When your parent—as hard and entrenched as they can be—understands your heart and the direction you are coming from, then it’s important. The worst thing is for your parent to feel they are being parented, and that’s the situation where it becomes more reactionary and defensive.
The indirect way is a good way to start; likewise, the empathy of: “This is the way I really feel. I care for you.” And then, the third thing is timing. Oftentimes, there are a number of opportunities: healthcare fairs, senior centers, other areas. Compared to what it was 30 years ago, it’s vastly different. Now, there are a number of organizations—for profit/not for profit—that have senior fairs, where they can go to them. You can take your loved one and then they can meet individuals in the community—either in the home healthcare area, or in the skilled nursing, or assisted living, or memory care—and they start understanding that: “This care is very important.”
What happens with this care, when they start hearing satisfaction surveys—that
90 percent of the seniors, after six months, like where they live—now, if you take that same survey the first month, it’s 30 percent—so it goes from 30 percent to 90 percent. We use the example of the rosebud. You know, a rosebud, by itself, hasn’t even bloomed; but it needs the right soil; it needs the right sun; it needs the rain/the right amount of rain. If it doesn’t get one of those three, it can wither and die on the vine; but given the right soil—which could be a senior living community or staying at home: the right care and the right social activities—they blossom. That’s what you see if the needs of a senior are met the right way.
Dennis: One of the things that you continue to underscore and heighten is the respect for your parent. I really like that because, as they grow old, there is a good bit of aging that robs a person—who has been very vigorous, maybe a hard worker, very smart—where they are experience losses. They need an adult child to respect who they are and also give them a voice. Speak to that concept of “giving your parents a voice” as you talk about these issues.
Jim: It’s important, because they’re connection points. Oftentimes, a connection point can be the personal experience, as I always use the phrase, “You taught me.” Because if it’s the—“You taught me,”—it’s the lesson you learned from your parent. Now, what you’re doing is exercising that lesson: “You taught me to care; you taught me to respond. Now, what I want to do is recognize the need; and then let’s talk about the decision. Let’s not just sit there and have it [be] the elephant in the room; let’s really sit down and talk about this.”
As Bob’s story was with his mother, the key to that successful aging was timing. The worst thing is when it’s a crisis—to either bring in home healthcare as a crisis situation, because you have a crisis; and someone else comes into the home—or likewise, if you go into a hospital and then move into a senior living community—it’s a crisis environment. What you don’t want is that situation. You want it to be one where it could be handled the appropriate way.
Michelle: Jim Stroud giving us some very practical advice—practical advice on having conversations with our folks, and our grandparents, and perhaps with our spouse—those conversations that honor them, uplift them, and cherish them.
That’s what we’ve been talking about today—is about cherishing the whole entirety of the sanctity of life—not only at the beginning but, also, through the end. Jim Stroud is president of Capital Senior Living Corporation. You can hear more of the interview on our website, FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.
Hey, we need to take a break; but on the other side, we’re going to hear from Jim Garlow and how he cherished his wife as cancer ravaged her body. Stay tuned.
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Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. If the Bible is true—and I believe it is—King David of Israel penned in the Psalms that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” And we are fearfully and wonderfully made because each human is made in God’s image. That’s pretty incredible. It also means that, from before the cradle to the grave, all of life should be valued.
We’ve been talking today about the sanctity of life and taking a little bit different spin on it. Usually, people talk about the unborn when they are talking about the sanctity of life; we’re talking about the end of life. What happens when the end of life comes a little bit sooner than you would expect?—like maybe when you’re thinking you’re young/you’re in mid-life; you’re happy—and all of a sudden, you receive the diagnosis of cancer or your spouse receives the diagnosis of cancer—and your life changes instantly.
That’s what happened to Jim Garlow. Jim was the senior pastor for many years at Skyline Church in La Mesa, California. He’s also an author. When Jim’s wife Carol received the diagnosis of cancer, and started suffering through some of those side effects, Jim found himself as her main caregiver. Here’s Jim.
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Jim: The church was so gracious; they allowed me to focus on her totally for that first eight months until we could get her back somewhat to be able to function normally. There was one span where they could not stop the vomiting—it just wouldn’t quit—seven weeks of it. There were also many other challenges going on.
She had just vomited again on the bathroom floor—this was a Saturday night—and I was cleaning it up. [Emotion in voice] I started groaning; I got into a pity party. I thought of two pastor friends, right in San Diego—they were very good friends of mine, [whom] I loved deeply—I started complaining to the Lord, saying, “This guy’s getting to do this. That guy is getting to do that. And I’m cleaning up vomit on the bathroom floor, late Saturday night. It isn’t fair, God.”
I so clearly heard an impression of the Holy Spirit saying, “You are doing right now the greatest ministry you have ever done in your life.” That was one of those change points. I realized, “Wow! There’s nothing I’ve ever done, or perhaps ever will do, that is more significant in kingdom eyes than cleaning up vomit on the bathroom floor, approaching midnight on a Saturday night, for my wife.” That was a major change for me.
Dennis: What I hear you saying is Ephesians 5 incarnate: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.”
Jim: I’ve not always been the best servant. My wife’s been a great servant of me and other people, and I learned a lesson in servanthood that I needed to learn. I can honestly say the best five years of our marriage has been the last five years—
Dennis: Now wait a second.
Jim: —by far the best. When you get into this zone, where you realize you could potentially lose someone that you care deeply about, you suddenly contextualize those challenges of conflict. All of a sudden, the things that were really annoyances—they’re just there, and they’re not going to change—but they don’t matter anymore.
I have been astounded at my view of her strengths. I’ve realized how incredibly wonderful she is, to the point I’ve found myself saying repeatedly to her—and I never said this in the first 36 years that I can recall; now, maybe I did; but I just don’t recall—for the last 5 years, she’s heard it from me: “I’m so glad I married you,” “I am so glad I married you,” “Oh, I’m glad I married you.” The last five years—she’s, at night, ready to go to sleep—“Carol, I’m so glad I married you.” Her strengths have become greater.
I told a guy—I had a conversation—just spontaneous conversation last Monday; we were standing out front, out in the parking lot of our church. I said, “With each passing day, she gets better and better.” Now, by that, I meant in my eyes. I don’t think that’s because I’m delusional now; I think that’s because I was a little bit blinded then. I’m seeing what I’ve had all these years; I’m going, “Wow! Praise God for this woman in my life.”
Dennis: Jim, I’m going to ask you to do the impossible. You’ve shared a couple of very poignant moments with Carol as you cared for her during her five-year battle with cancer. If you could only clip out one experience—one setting, one scene, one experience with Carol—do you know what it would be and why?
Jim: It’s just/I can tell you the context always is holding her, just holding her. Most women love to be held and love to be touched—maybe all do—it’s just holding her and then, a little bit of a back rub, a little bit of a neck rub, a little bit of a scalp rub. We joke and laugh; you’ve got to have a sense of humor in this. She’s had no hair through most of this journey. It’s come back several times; but then, loses it again. So scalp rubs are pretty easy, so holding her and touching her.
There are sometimes she’ll roll over and say, “Touch me.” So I make sure, and those are the precious—it’s not any one specific date—it’s just multiple times doing that and holding her tight. When I do that, I am just so thankful I can do that; I get so grateful. When she’s in the hospital, and I’m home alone in bed,—
Jim: —I think, “Oh my. Oh my, I don’t like this.” To be able just to hold her is really, really a rich experience for me.
Michelle: Jim Garlow: just a great reminder that, when life and death hang in that balance, gone are those petty arguments about who needs to take out the trash, and who’s going to do the dishes, and who left their towels on the floor. It’s really about each other, and it’s about our life, and about God.
Carol passed away not long after Jim’s conversation with Dennis and Bob. They had been married for 42 years. As he said, it was those last years that were their best years together. You can hear that entire conversation on our website. Go to FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.
As we wrap up our conversation today, talking about the sanctity of life and the vulnerable—that’s the unborn; that’s the elderly; that’s the disabled; those who can’t speak for themselves—we need to remember that, in our society, we need to remember that how we treat the vulnerable is a marker on, not only on our society, but our Christianity. How are we loving, and how are we cherishing? It’s just something to think about in this Sanctity of Life week.
Next week, Hanna Seymour and Jacqueline Anderson talk about the complexities of dating and singleness. Deepak Reju and Shaunti Feldhahn are going to add their insights and wisdom from their years of research and counsel on singleness. I’m excited about our time together. Whether you’re single, or if you have single friends, make sure to tune in next week.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, and our co-founder, Dennis Rainey, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producers, Marques Holt and Bruce Goff. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
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