Remember that political ad in which the White House phone rings at 3 a.m. and someone has to answer? I know the experience. Sort of.

My phone call came late one afternoon. The caller, a church attendee I knew only casually, said he was at the hospital where his wife, Josie, was dying of cancer and might not last the night. Could I come right away?

Even though this call came many years ago, I'm still embarrassed when I remember that my first thought was something like: Where is our pastoral care staff person? I don't do hospitals. I'm the one who preaches, who leads, who casts vision. Oh, and I'm the one always telling people (from the pulpit) that I love them and care for them.

The caller said his dying wife was terrified. Despite the sedatives she'd been given, she was almost violent and could hardly be restrained. "Perhaps you can say something to her that will help her to relax and go to sleep," he said.

The hospital was a 20-minute drive. As I arrived, a family friend met me and escorted ...

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