I am grateful to Mike’s wife, Eileen, for her permission to publish this here.
There really is nothing like the view of the setting sun from the fourth floor North Elevator lobby at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital. I could see for miles from those giant windows. I was assigned as the chaplain to the fourth floor – oncology – this summer. As a new chaplain, there were a lot of hard days for me ministering to the patients and families as they each dealt, in their own way and time, with the reality of cancer.
One day, as the sun was setting behind ominous clouds, I was making my way through the elevator lobby when I saw a couple sitting there chatting with each another. Neither was dressed in a hospital gown, so I wondered if they were waiting to see a patient. After greeting them, I learned that the man was in fact the patient – on 4 North for a week-long round of chemo for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He later told me he liked to try and fool everybody into thinking he wasn’t a patient. For about a half hour, this patient, his wife, and I had a fascinating conversation about life, cancer, faith, and hope in Jesus Christ.
From then on, this patient – this man, this person, this Son of God – and his wife and I became fast friends. Michael Palsgrove was unlike any patient I’d ever met, and I’m still waiting to meet another one like him.
After our initial encounter, I always kept my eye out for Mike’s name on my floor roster and would enjoy all of our chats – some five minutes, others almost an hour – about a whole variety of topics. I learned that Mike and his wife, Eileen, were heavily involved in their church, the Evangelical Free Church in Crystal Lake, that he was a high school teacher, a dad and husband, a community leader, and a missionary whose goal was simple: bring Jesus to people and people to Jesus; this mission took him all over the globe to places like Honduras and Budapest.
I was so honored when Eileen and Mike gave me a book, Visual Theology, which I still treasure and read often here in the seminary. I was reading this book again on a whim last week, a day before I had to return to Good Shepherd for a meeting. Mike was on my mind as I was leaving the hospital, so I asked the woman at the desk if by chance the famous Mr. Palsgrove happened to be up on 4 North. Her face dropped as his file appeared on the screen.
“Sorry chaplain, but do you know his wife?”
“…I would call her.”
Of course, in hospital world, such a response can only mean one thing. Michael Palsgrove died October 6, 2016 surrounded by his family and friends after a year long battle.
Michael was not just another patient. I didn’t know him very long, but it was clear that we had a mutual best friend in the Lord and immediately a connection was established. In all of his teaching, his mission work, his volunteering, his parenting, his relationships with family and friends – Mike was first of all a disciple of Christ. His joy, his peace, his strength, his witness came directly from a real, living, dynamic, and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. St. Paul reminds us that we “have died, and our lives are hidden now with Christ in God, so that when Christ appears in his glory, we too shall be revealed.” (Col. 3:3) In the same way, Paul tells the Galatians, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20)
Michael Palsgrove was a man radically converted and transformed by Jesus Christ. He knew well the feeling of the prophet Jeremiah, who exclaimed, “It is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it back. I cannot!” (Jer. 20:9)
Christmas is coming soon. At Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the God-man, into the world. God became a man, in human flesh; he lived our life and died our death; he became like us in all things but sin. God drew near to us. He remains near to us.
The Lord is near. This claim is unique to Christians. We do not believe in some abstract or absent deity; we do not worship a god who hides himself in trees or animals; we do not lift praise on high to the mysterious universe; we believe in and worship and praise Jesus Christ, the Word of God who not only became flesh for us, but the gave his flesh for us, on the Cross and in the Eucharist, for the life of the world.
The Israelites, of course, pined and waited and begged and strayed for hundreds of years in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. When he finally came, many did not recognize him or rejected him because he wasn’t who or what the people thought he’d be. But those who yearned for him the most – the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the children – they were the ones who recognized him immediately. In Matthew 11, when John the Baptist was sent to prison for his work as the one announcing the coming of Christ, he understandably grew a little impatient. He sent his disciples to Jesus to ask the question so many of us have asked, “Are you the one?” Jesus gave very sound advice: look at reality; look at what is being done by me and around me: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are clean, the deaf hear, the poor receive the good news, the dead are alive.
Friends, if these are the things that the Messiah was able to accomplish in those who barely knew him, what is to be said of us, his brothers and sisters, in whom he lives and works?
In our short time together, Mike Palsgrove taught me many things about life and about death. But the lesson that he shouted, yelled from the housetops – not with words, but with his steady way of life: Jesus Christ is the One. He is the way and the truth and the life. He is the savior, the redeemer, the Lord, and my best friend. He is the One. Jesus is alive! He is truly living and effective in the hearts of those who receive him.
Receive the Lord, who comes to you. Receive the Lord, who is drawing near to you. When you do it, remember Mike. Say a little prayer for him and his family. But more than anything, put into practice the very basic lesson he taught so well, to so many: the Lord is near.
Mike, thanks for everything. May you be at peace.
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.'”
Lost and weary traveler,
Searching for the way to go
Longing for someone to know
May you find a light
May you find a light
May you find a light to guide you home.
There are weary travelers,
Searching everywhere you go
Strangers who are searching,
Longing deeply to be known