Many people have their lives taken from them in a flash. One moment they’re perfectly healthy as they go about their daily routines, and the next they’ve passed on.
Others have longer battles, during which time they are forced to face their mortality. We don’t get to choose which way we’ll go, but we do get to choose how we prepare.
For Thomas Roberts, it was his last days contemplating his life that helped him recognize that he didn’t want to be alone — that he wanted to follow Christ in baptism, even after living much of his life as an atheist.
The request to be baptized should have been straightforward. Roberts was at a hospital that had a chaplain, and there was a pool available nearby for a full immersion baptism.
The problem? Roberts was dying of lung cancer and was on oxygen: He couldn’t move around himself, and he couldn’t be without his supplemental oxygen, or else he would die even sooner.
Thankfully, his physician, Dr. Ashley Nichols, and chaplain Corey Agricola worked together to figure out a solution so they could grant Roberts’ final wish.
“On Sept. 4, with only days left to live, UAB School of Medicine patient Thomas Roberts decided he wanted to be baptized,” the University of Alabama at Birmingham posted on Oct. 1. “He was surrounded by his wife, son, two sisters, niece and nephew, and his UAB Medicine care team.”
“It was a major effort by a lot of moving pieces and different teams to pull this off,” Agricola told UAB News. “If it had not been for the team, this could not have happened.”
“Dr. Nichols made it clear he would only be able to be off oxygen for a few seconds, which meant we couldn’t roll him down the ramp in the pool wheelchair, so we had to use the chairlift to place him in the pool.”
Despite having been a chaplain for some time, Agricola wasn’t shy about the fact that this particular moment was bound to be his most cherished.
“I have served in the ministry over 20 years and seven of those at UAB. This is the greatest day of my career,” he said before baptizing Roberts. “Thomas, you never thought you would preach a sermon in your life; but you preached today. You made an impact on people who you do not even know.”
“We thank God for the good and perfect gift of this day,” Agricola continued. “This is one of the greatest days of your life, Thomas, because we are celebrating your new life.”
Roberts’ nephew, Davin Gibson, praised the team who made the moment possible.
“You moved everything around — all of the departments worked together to make it happen,” he said. “I give all the glory to God, but you guys rocked it.”
Roberts’ family found the ceremony moving, and said he looked to be at peace after he came up from the water.
“It brings me complete comfort and peace because I know where he is going now,” Gina Gibson, Roberts’ sister, said. “I don’t have to worry about it. Now there will be great joy just knowing where he is going. He is at peace. He was born again. You could see that on his face after the baptism. He was born again.”
Sadly, Roberts passed away on Sept. 10. But his family can be comforted in the knowledge that they’ll see him again.
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