Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Man Who Couldn't Die

Today we are celebrating the life of our dear friend David Kuo who passed from this life into eternal life last week.

David was an incredible husband, father, and Christ-follower. Words cannot describe his impact on this world and I look forward to continuing to hear story after story of how God used him here. To know more about his life and professional career, you can read the articles in the NY TimesWashington Post and Charlotte Observer, but today I just want to talk about who we knew him to be and what his death has taught me.

I met David for the first time about 2 years ago when he came to speak to my team at Forest Hill. He shared the incredible journey God had him on and the powerful transformation and restoration Jesus had done in his life. I remember being so inspired by him. Even after only knowing him a few hours, his life had had a profound influence on me. Over the last two years I would come to know David and his precious family on a much more personal level as his battle with brain cancer raged on and as my sister's had just begun. There were so many things to love about David, but here are a few that just stick out in my memory.

David was intentional - with his words, decisions, and relationships. When he spoke, he took his time and chose his words so deliberately. I admired this about him.

David was so peaceful. You always left his presence feeling like time stood still as his spoke and as he poured himself out so graciously to those around him. About 2 or 3 weeks before he died, he was in the hospital due to various complications with his illness. Without going into tons of detail, David's illness was packed with many highs and many, many lows. He had had practically every type of treatment available, had multiple craniotomy's, dealt with difficult symptoms and terrible side effects for years. On multiple occasions he had been given only months to live, but always somehow endured and beat the odds. It was like he was a man who couldn't die. David was a fighter and incredibly strong, but the last few weeks of his life were definitely the worst as he suffered from everything from broken ribs to meningitis ON TOP of his brain cancer. Zach went to visit him in the hospital just a week or so prior to him contracting meningitis. When Zach came home that night, he was not sad or discouraged, but so uplifted and at peace. Even though David had faced and was facing so much, even though he was currently enduring so much, he still had the strength of character to douse his loved ones in peace, love, and wisdom. Zach went there to encourage and support David, but he left having received what he intended to give.

David was incredibly generous with his time, resources, words, and love. When my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer last April, I immediately emailed David, asking for his advice. Within a few hours I got his response-
"Call me." and the digits of his phone number. 
I called him as soon as I got it and we talked... for a long time. And he offered me hope and encouragement and honesty as though it were the special at a restaurant. Not long after, my sister and family were in Charlotte after visiting Duke about treatment options and David came over to our house... for 5 hours. He patiently sat with my family and shared his story and answered their questions. He gave advice and yet again, dished out hope and peace with a side of faith-building encouragement as though it were his job. After this encounter, he and my sister began a friendship and I am so grateful that David was a friend to her during this last year.

David was brave. He not only faced and fought brain cancer for 10 years, but had this incredible unusual perspective on life. He was not afraid, not even of dying. One time, he and Zach were out at a park and they saw a large non-poisonous snake. David wanted to touch it, even be intentionally bit by it, because he had never been bit by a snake, knew he never would be bit by one in heaven, and he was curious to have that experience. (Who thinks like that?!)

David believed "love does" and made a difference in the world. Over his hospice bed last week, his wife Kim recounted various stories of David doing everything from coordinating Medair aid to help people in the Nuba Mountains to picking up hippies on the side of the road and inviting them over for Easter lunch and a bounce on their trampoline. Nothing stopped this guy.

David was candid and genuine. He always told it EXACTLY like it was, even if that included some curse words. :) Gosh we loved this about him and just how raw and honest he did life. It was so refreshing.

David was witty, ridiculously brilliant, sensitive, and wise. During one of Zach's visits with him in the hospital, he asked him, "If you could change one thing about your life (not counting his illness), what would you change?" He responded with,
"I would have been more patient...(30 sec pause, David style)...I would drink deeper from the present moments."
That's pretty good advice I hope we can live by in our present days.

So even though we had been waiting for David to pass on for a while now, even though I could see it was coming- as I sat next to his hospice bed, holding his hand for over 2 hours the night before he left this earth, even though I knew that only incredible healing and God's glory was waiting for him on the other side, it actually happening was still a sucker-punch to the face (to say the least). Even though it seems somewhat silly, David's death still took me by surprise. The night it happened, I was literally shocked. I just couldn't believe it was real. He was the man who couldn't die after all. Even though I knew he was dying and had seen it with my own eyes just hours before, I still expected to see him well, see him healthy and like new. This realization and clash between my expectations and reality perplexed me. Why did I feel that way or think that? Why was it so hard for me to grasp that he was gone? Why was I so very sad? I know he's in a better place. I am rational and logical, but my thought process seemed crazy to me. As I sat on my sofa, tearful, mind racing, and exploring the depths of my grief, the Lord revealed to me a word that summed up the core of my emotional turmoil-

Separation.
Permanent separation.

I realized that I wasn't sad about "death" (after all, we see plants, animals, and sometimes even people dying all the time), but rather about "separation" that results from death. The thought of David's lifeless body bothered me because it was now very different and separate from those left behind. The thought of Kim without her husband or Laura, Rachel, Olivia, and Aiden without their dad bothered me because their family would never be reunited again, this side of heaven. The fact that David's spirit was now gone, forever, permanently, really bothered me because it seemed so separate. These thoughts turned into internalized ones as I became overcome with fear of one day being separated from Zach. Heck, this even explains my extreme dislike and fear of outer space (yes I know that sounds crazy, but hear me out) because it is a massive, black, lonely, isolated, separate place. The thought of being in outer space, floating, in a space suit, in the darkness, terrifies me to my core because it feels so overwhelmingly empty, void, and... separate. That to me is hell.

As I mulled this word over and the aching separateness caused by death, the Lord reminded me that even though David is now separated from this world, he is united with Christ. Forever.

Forever.

I realized that "the man who couldn't die" actually couldn't (not really), because of his faith in Jesus. David would never experience that separate, isolated feeling from his heavenly father because he gave his life to follow his son Jesus. That thought brought much peace about David, but such doom for others. Processing all this pierced my heart as the weight of all those who don't know Christ hung over me like a thick blanket. I was overcome with an urgency to share the gospel, the good news about Jesus, so everyone has the opportunity to live with God forever instead of being eternally separated. Maybe that's why God allows us to experience death and feel the pains of this separation here on earth. It's a reminder of the fragility of life and how much we all need someone to save us from that dark, separate place.

David's service today was such a beautiful testimony and celebration of his life here on earth. He loved and is loved by so many. Words cannot describe his incredible legacy that's been imprinted on each of our hearts. It is truly breathtaking to see how many lives he has impacted and made better. Here's a pic of the balloons released at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Even though my time knowing David here on earth was cut short, I am so incredibly grateful to have made such a wonderful friend and known him these last two years. Even as he was slipping away last week, I will always treasure those hours I had with Zach and Kim as we sat around his bed holding his hands while we talked, shared stories, and laughed. I really look forward to doing that again in heaven, but this time, David won't be confined to a hospice bed or a broken body. None of us will. And it will be glorious. Thanks be to God and this incredible, extravagant gift.

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