How close is Heaven? Dr. Reggie Anderson believes it’s close. As he’s cared for dying patients, he’s seen enough to make him long to be at home with the Lord. He believes as we live, we walk toward heaven.
Dr Anderson’s book, Appointments with Heaven, can be found here.
One minute sample:
CS: This is Cynthia with Heart of the Matter Radio, for women seeking the elegance of God’s wisdom.
The just shall live by faith. That was the cry of the Reformation. When you see pictures of the reformers, like Martin Luther, he wore a black robe and held a huge Bible because that was the foundation. A peasant who knew the word could disagree with a theologian because the word was the authority.
What does it mean to walk by faith? Today we have the impression that faith is a blind leap. However, Christianity is not a blind leap. In fact, we are the ones who started the whole idea of apologetics because we make a truth claim, and there’s tons of objective evidence out there.
In my interviews with Pamela Christian, we’ve talked about many of those. We have enough objective evidence to perhaps move us, say today I’m 90% certain that Christianity is true. Faith is what bridges the gap between that 90% certainty and the 100%.
What we’re talking about today is in a different category, and I call this encouragement. C.S. Lewis talked about this, heads you win, tails you lose. He believed it was okay to see God’s hand in our lives and to see things through the eyes of faith. And in hard times, God does encourage us, because he’s there.
In 2008 when my husband was very ill with encephalitis, I sat in his room feeling very tired and lonely. He’d been in the hospital for three days by that time, and I was tired, had very little sleep, and was just plain worn out. Add to that, his condition was very frightening. The possibilities were bad and I knew it. I was on edge a little.
I remember I had just read Acts 17 where the apostle Paul said in him we live and move and have our being, and of course that was talking about God. And I sat, looking at the room and all the beeping instruments and the antiseptic smell, and I wished for flowers. And five minutes later a pink lady came in with two dozen roses and a gift basket.
I could look at that as if that was a coincidence, or what I did do was that I felt like it was the hand of God. God did more than just answer my prayer, he planned ahead because he knew I would pray this before it even happened.
Today we live in a dangerous time. The world is changing fast, and many Christians are nervous. But I believe God offers encouragement for times like these. So today we’re going to talk to Dr. Reggie Anderson about the experiences he’s had caring for the dying patients. Dr. Anderson is in family practice, he lives in Tennessee, and his book is called Appointments With Heaven.
Welcome, Dr. Anderson.
RA: Thank you, Cindi, for inviting me to your show.
CS: Tell me a little bit about your faith.
RA: Sure. When I was a young boy, I grew up in lower Alabama, and my parents were great Christian folks and we were in the church almost every time the church doors were open. My dad was a deacon with the church and Mom taught Sunday School. For the most part, I felt like my Christian walk was as good as it could get.
Until the age of 15, and at that point everything changed. Two of my best friends were murdered in a mass murder in south Georgia, where my mother’s family is from. I could not really understand why a good God would allow such a horrible thing to happen to these young men and their entire family.
And so the only way I could reconcile it was to say there wasn’t a God, and that he wasn’t there to protect my family and friends. So I ran from God as fast and as far as I could, and became a student and a disciple in the church of academia, and actually went to college that way and went to medical school as an atheist.
When I got to medical school, things changed though, because I was standing there in gross anatomy lab and looked down at the human body in front of me and I realized that there was art and that science couldn’t explain it. So I started searching for the artist.
A friend of mine, a young lady that I had asked out on a date but would not go out with me because I was an atheist and she was a strong Christian, gave me a book called Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. I took that book on a camping trip and started reading. I read straight through it sitting by a fire, and also had a Bible that my mother had sent me, and I read the gospel of John. And I fell asleep, and started dreaming. That dream is more real today than even where I’m sitting right now.
In that dream, Jesus came to me and he said “Reggie, why are you running from me? Your friends are right here with me in paradise.” I turned and I could see them, and they were clearly happy and healthy and well and there were no bullet holes in them. They wanted to be right there where Jesus was, and so did I.
Even to this day, I still want to be there. That moment in time, I knew for a fact that all the doubt was erased and that I was his, and his forever. I could never turn back, at that point.
CS: You told a story in your book about the first time that you escorted someone to heaven. Can you tell us that story?
RA: Sure. When I was in residency, one of my nursing home patients came into the emergency room and I’d known her for several months. Even though she had dementia, that evening in the emergency room she looked up at me and recognized me and called me by name. She said, “Dr. Anderson, I think I’m going to not be with y’all very long.”
We’d done an EKG on her and I realized that she was indeed having a major heart attack. And she had made it clear in her paperwork that she did not want to be resuscitated or put on any sort of life support. And so all we could really do was try to make her comfortable. So as I was walking with her to her hospital room, she held my hand and she said, “Dr. Anderson, would you please stay with me tonight, because I’m thinking that I’m going to meet Jesus tonight and I need an escort.”
And so I knew that that would be a very special night. So I stayed with her and prayed with her that night, and as the veil parted I could feel that the presence of the Lord was in the room. The whole room just changed.
CS: You have said that you sensed certain things when a patient is dying, and even if there is someone else in the room, say the family or whatever, they usually don’t pick up on that. Can you kind of explain that to me?
RA: Sure. I think I’m one of the objective people in the room, as the physician. Most of the people that are in the room with their loved ones as they are dying, either can’t see because their eyes are filled with tears and they can’t hear because of the cries in the room, so I’m the one holding the hand and listening to all this going on. And I think God has allowed me to be in that place, and it is a very holy time that we are able to encounter. Each time I look for the signs that God is present with us.
CS: Can you describe for us the sensations that you have when you’re in the room and a patient is dying?
RA: Sure. It’s as if somebody opened a door on a spring day and the whole room kind of lights up and becomes fresh. I sense a smell of like citrus and lilac, kind of a flowery garden smell that’s very different than what you would expect a sterile hospital room to be.
CS: Exactly. They tend to be stuffy sometimes.
RA: Yeah. And dark.
CS: Yeah. I can recall when my grandfather passed away, my parents were staying with him and they described, as he passed, that a huge smile crossed his face just as he died. And I can imagine he was seeing Jesus at that moment.
But you also had a few bad experiences. Can you give a picture of that?
RA: Sure. I recall specifically one that was described in my book. This gentleman was known in town to be a pretty bad character, and most of my encounters were in the emergency room stitching him up from a bar fight and that sort of thing. All of my encounters with him were very negative when it came to anything to do with God or Jesus. He was very adamantly opposed to any kind of discussion or openness to talking about his spiritual life.
When his time came, he had developed cancer and I knew that the was going to die within a short time, despite all of our efforts to treat the disease. He had continued to smoke and drink and things that were not of benefit to him. Again, as he was laying in his hospital bed, I approached him and asked him if he would like to talk to anybody about his spiritual life, and he just started cursing and saying there is no such thing as a spiritual life and I don’t have anything to do with your God or anybody else’s.
And then he started gasping, as if he were fighting for his last breath. I think he knew that this last breath here would be the last one that he would be able to enjoy, because the place he was going, the place that started to open up in front of us, was very cold and very harsh. Instead of smelling flowers, it was almost as if somebody had spilled diesel and sulfur in the room. When I pronounced him, I could not get out of the space quick enough.
CS: You also described what you called the gaze of glory. Can you explain what that was?
RA: Sure. As believers, I start seeing people a day or so before they actually pass, they start looking past the people in the room and start looking into their next forever home. Usually it’s up and to the right, but it is always a sense of happiness and they start looking for those and sometimes will even talk to loved ones that have passed away ahead of them.
CS: Do you think they actually see someone?
RA: Yeah, I believe they do. I think they are starting to communicate with the heavenly realm. And I do believe that Jesus probably brings with him a greeting party, at heaven’s gates.
CS: That sounds like fun.
RA: Yeah, it does.
CS: When you have talked to other doctors about these experiences, how have they responded?
RA: For the most part, because I work and practice in the Bible belt of the US, there’s quite a few Christian believing doctors, and they’ve actually come up to me after the book came out and given me congratulations on being bold enough to share. And they’ve shared some of their own stories with me.
Of course, I’ve had some that are not Christian that have kind of questioned my sanity, perhaps. But I do believe that what I’ve seen has been something that is fairly common if you’re open to it and looking for it and a believer.
CS: So other doctors have shared that they have had similar type experiences?
RA: They have, yeah. And especially those that have worked primarily in hospice or the nursing home/geriatric world, that have been at the bedside. Not every doctor has the opportunity, as I have, to be at the bedside of as many people.
CS: This says something about you that is very impressive, that you are willing to sit there. A lot of people would not be willing to do that. They would feel uncomfortable because it’s not a pleasant experience, or that it’s frightening even. Especially with family members who are grieving and so on. I just can’t imagine that would be something some people would just running to do that because they love it.
But the fact that you take the time to sit there and stay with them during this time is just amazing. What a ministry you have to these people.
RA: Yeah. I look at it as a ministry of sorts, but I also look at it as a reassurance to me, personally, that God gives us that he is real and that he is every present and that he is just as present today as he was thousands of years ago, and that he wants that relationship on a daily basis with us.
I don’t look at heaven so much as something that we’re running toward, out in the far distant place, but I think of heaven and Jesus as walking right alongside us and it’s just one breath away.
CS: Yeah. I know you also talked about making a decision for yourself about resuscitation, and as a nurse in the family I was involved in that process for both of my parents as we were trying to decide what to do next. For instance, with Mother it was do we add the NG tube.
After my dad passed away, I had seen him the day before and he had taken my hand and just told me how much he loved me, and he said you know, I don’t think I’m going to be here much longer. And I’m okay with that. And that was the first time he had ever been that comfortable with death. His whole life he’d been afraid if he got this or he got that, he would die or whatever. And he was ready to go, but he didn’t really want to and all that.
I thought, well, that’s different. And I promised him when I came again I’d bring his Bible because I thought he was getting better and that it would be awhile still. But he was gone the next day, and I didn’t see him again.
But that change in him.
RA: I think God does give that, especially in the last few moments or few days right before. I think he gives confidence and that’s why when patients are starting to look past this world and into the next, it gives them a sense of peace. And people that have previously feared death, all that fear seems to melt away and the rest of us are left holding their hand. But they are, for the most part, very very happy to be parting.
CS: I was sitting there looking him over thinking he does look better on the surface. He was very energetic. But, of course, we had major organs were failing and there was nothing in his bag. So I wasn’t quite sure where we were in terms of him improving, but I didn’t realize that he was going to go soon afterwards.
I treasure that conversation because I think that was his goodbye to me. And that was the last time I talked to him.
RA: Right. Yeah. It’s special when God gives us, also, the gift to allow our loved ones to say their parting words. I see that quite often, where they rally right before in order to say goodbye.
CS: I knew that. It’s just the difference, I think, in the head and the heart. It’s much harder to process that when it’s someone in your family.
How does this impact your views of being resuscitated yourself?
RA: Well, I personally know exactly where I’ll be after I take my last breath here. And so I am looking forward to my first breath in heaven because that’s really where we are created to be, with God. This is a broken world that will be eventually restored, but until that day I know that being with Jesus in heaven will be a great reward.
I have no fear of that transition because I’ve been there with so many people as they’ve made that journey. I know that I love my family and I love being here, so I’m not really suicidal. It’s just that I don’t hold onto this world and to this earth as much as I do the next.
CS: How does your view fit in with being pro-life? Obviously, as Christians, we want to value life because it comes from God. Which means we wouldn’t take a life, for instance an abortion. So how does this all kind of fit together?
RA: Well, I am pro-life. And as a physician I do what I can to make this life and the body that God has given us as a temple, and we should protect it and care for it just like we would in our home, in our temple that we worship in. It’s to be revered.
But, at the moment that God calls us home, I think sometimes modern medicine has gone a little bit beyond what we should be doing, at times, to try to fix things that are not really fixable. We spend so much time and effort when really, many people at the end of their life, just want to be made comfortable and given respect and dignity, rather than put in the ICU and placed on life support machines.
CS: Right. It’s certainly a question that we all should consider. I know that Ray and I have talked about it, my husband, that we want the person who is caring for us to understand the disease process so that if it’s inevitable, they don’t prolong it. But if we experience, say, a car accident or something and our health is basically good, that if it was something we could get through, we certainly would do that.
RA: Oh, absolutely. Yes.
CS: I think that’s the big difference, is that we’re not just hey, if it looks like we’re going to die just let it happen.
RA: Yeah. You’re right. Use good judgment and lean into the wisdom of your healthcare providers. But also lean into the wisdom of God and where he’s calling, and try to balance the two as you care for your body and your soul, as well.
CS: I think I learned some things when my parents both passed. At that time my husband was very ill, and I was feeling very stressed and overwhelmed. But looking back on that difficult time of trying to deal with those three—my husband was ill, my father got sick, my mother got sick—I realized that God does use that end of life time to continue teaching you.
I interviewed Cynthia Ruchti, she wrote a book that had some of those issues in too, and we talked about how the end of life is also something that God uses in all of our lives. It took me awhile, when I got past it, to look back and see that. But I could see that even that whole process that they went through was worthwhile.
All of that to say, God has a purpose in our heartaches and even in the end of life.
RA: Right. He does not waste pain and suffering on his children, for sure.
CS: No, he doesn’t.
I find it amazing that God has time, because he’s got to run the universe, that he has time for us. That’s just amazing and very special.
RA: Right. He knows the hairs on our head, and for some of us, I don’t have very many, so it’s easier to count. He is a great God and I can’t wait to be closer to him, even though he is right here beside us at every moment.
CS: Dr. Anderson, I want to thank you very much for being the kind of person who’s willing to care for the sick and dying, and also for being willing to tell your story and put it in print so that people can also receive that encouragement. And I appreciate you being willing to share your story with me.
RA: God is good. It’s all a journey, and I think he wants us to all share both our joy and our hard places with each other, just to encourage each other that we’re all headed in his direction and it won’t be that much longer. Thank you.
CS: Thank you.