Entries in trials (5)
The day that I intellectually knew would arrive in my life came a bit unexpectedly on April 25th. My appointment with my cardiologist was planned for five months and it was a follow-up to check on a bad aortic valve that I had had as long as I could remember. My health was good but my tests were bad… bad enough that my doctor strongly suggested surgery for a valve replacement. I was a bit stunned but not shocked. I knew that the surgery would one day be necessary, but I was feeling so well! After hours of thought and days of prayer, Renee and I both felt that it was time to take the step. I am writing these words nineteen days after my surgery and am doing well so far. Here are some post-op lessons:
1. You cannot rush recovery. I am an impatient man and prone to make things happen faster if I deem the pace is too slow. Recovery, however, has a pace all its own, and taking the requisite time to heal is the fastest way to true recovery.
2. Pain is a tutor. Instead of masking pain, learning from it is necessary in understanding the healing process. I don’t care for pain, but I need to heed it at every turn and allow it to teach me the best direction to head for my healing.
3. Taking care of your heart is a good thing. It is true… you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Having attention drawn to one vital part of your physiology is a true attention getter. Blood pressure, beats per minute, arrhythmia… all these factors are crucial in living a healthy life. I need to pay attention!
4. Life is best lived moment to moment, not event to event. Seizing the moment is the best way to live life. Too much is missed otherwise. I am continually struck with the fact that every day is chock full of wonderful stuff, stuff that is too easily missed if I don’t pay attention.
5. God is the One who heals. Certainly this is a no-brainer for believers, but it is all the more poignant when one’s life hangs in the operating room balance. The only time I was brought to tears before my surgery was in the waiting room of my surgeon’s office. In that room hangs a painting of an operating room scene with a surgeon and his team working on a patient. Standing next to the surgeon, guiding his hands, stands Jesus, the Great Physician. It still brings tears to my eyes…
6. Doctors and nurses are key instruments in God’s healing. What wonderful people! Words cannot express my gratitude…
7. Each day of healing is a unique journey. Ups and downs are inevitable in the healing journey, and even though I knew this, I am reminded of this process every day. Patience…
8. Family and friends are a healing balm. My wife’s care, my family’s comfort, my friends’ concern all join together to make the burden lighter and the days less stressful. I thank God for them all.
I’m still in the healing process, but I trust the learning process will never cease. Thanks to all of you for your love, care and concern. I love you right back!
I have been coughing for a month and it is probably been the most frustrating illness I have had in quite some time. I have a cold. Or, probably more accurately, I suffer from “the common cold”. I wish it were more dramatic, that descriptor. Something like “The Phlegmatic Flare-up” or “The Pulmonary Piranha”, because at times it feels as if evil little fish are swimming around in my lungs causing all kinds of pain and mischief. But, alas, I am left with no other categorization than “I have a cold.” It’s not a very impressive illness and everyone seems to respond by saying “Oh, me too.”
Sometimes, the most emotionally difficult hurdles to jump are seemingly the smaller ones. The co-worker that talks behind your back, the friend who stands you up, the spouse that just doesn’t seem to care about what you’re going through to the extent that you want him or her to. I find that it’s not the dramatic challenges and difficulties that are the most dangerous; it’s the little ones that don’t seem to be or shouldn’t be so hard. No one can fully understand or comprehend that the small and seemingly insignificant difficulties that we encounter every day are the ones that sap our energies the most. And it’s during those times that we need to be most on our guard. You see, the common cold can become pneumonia if it is not dealt with appropriately. And the small stressors can become roots of bitterness and anger that can lead to bad decisions and chronically bad attitudes.
Solomon stated in his “Song of Songs” that it’s the little foxes that spoil the vine and the Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:13 that: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man [there’s that word ‘common’ again!]. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” So my encouragement to you is not to let those “little” frustrations fester and begin to fetter you. Instead, give them the appropriate attention they need, and then, before God and in the presence of a trusted friend or counselor, allow these wounds to be appropriately dressed and healed and may your physical and emotional “colds” soon be healed!
Hospitals, emergencies, and unknowns…our health can be a great interruption in our lives and can take us away from the things that we desire to accomplish. There is a reality that our lives are finite and the time that we have needs to be stewarded well. Last week was a hospital week for me. I have a history of gastric bleeds and this one required hospitalization and a blood transfusion. To say I was sobered was an understatement. But these are the best teachable moments we have and here are some of the things I learned or was once again reminded of:
- Relationships are most important. Right before I went to the hospital, my wife asked me if I was afraid. I told her no I wasn’t, but I was sad in thinking that I might not see my grandchildren grow up and I would miss her and my kids.
- God speaks loudly through our pain. If ever there were a time to realize that I am not in control it’s when I’m ill. God is in control and I am better for acknowledging it and accommodating myself to where He is taking me.
- I need to take care of my body. I am an American (with German heritage!) and I push myself too hard and don’t care for my physical body as I should. Nothing like an IV in your arm to remind me that I need to pay more attention to my physical needs.
- I need to use my time well. Our lives here on earth are finite and I need to avail myself of the time allotted to me in such a way as to wring every drop of life out of every minute I live.
I could go on, but you get the gist of where I’m going. If you read this, it’s just a friendly reminder to stay focused on the things that matter: your relationship with God, your loved ones, and the tasks that God has privileged you to perform on earth. Everything else is fluff.
It doesn’t take long once you hear the newscasts and read the papers to figure out that we live in chaotic times. Japan’s tragedy, Libya’s upheaval, gas prices skyrocketing, and the economy still in the doldrums… all these are a reminder that all is not as it should be. Life, in the words of M. Scott Peck is “difficult”. I am reminded during times like this that I continually long for life to line up and be perfect. I want my ducks in a row.
Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that it will not happen. Right about the time when things start going well, something breaks down: a car, a relationship, a body, or a dream. After some time it will leave you in despair asking the question, “Who’s in charge here?” The answer is found in Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 6:28 ff: “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire , will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” The answer is not cliché, it is reality. God’s in charge here…
So as you go about this week, take a minute, 60 seconds, to center and reflect on the fact that whatever happens, whoever is hurting, there is a greater purpose and a Greater Power at work in all that transpires. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” God’s in charge here…
This has been my summer for reunions. My 43rd high school was in June (we had all turned 60) and it was the first reunion that I had intended since I graduated in 1967. It was great to renew acquaintances and revive some long ago memories. This last weekend Renee and I visited Minnesota where students from Moorhead State University gathered together to also renew acquaintances from the 1970’s. We were in campus ministry there and these students were involved in our work.
The time in Minnesota was in short wonderful. What struck me about the two reunions was that the one involving ministry was more meaningful to me and I was again reminded of one of the lasting qualities of spiritual relationships: connectedness. The memories of these two disparate groups were poignant and fun, but there was a certain weightiness to the time with the students (now very much adults) to whom we ministered. I am reminded as I write this of the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: “For there is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all in all.”
These words become more and more significant to me as I grow older. Relationships make up the most important part of our lives. And the fact remains that our faith in God connects in a way that goes beyond what mere humans are capable of. Below is an excerpt from one of our students, Mark Warren, who has had an interesting journey to say the least. Please take time to read this… your heart will be warmed.
"After earning my B.S. in Biology in 1976, I went to New Staff Training out at Arrowhead Springs with the goal of reaching students with the life-transforming message of Jesus' grace and love. After four years at Indiana State in Terre Haute, I was assigned to Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, where I met and fell in love with Susie, whom I married in June of 1983. Shortly after our first anniversary I was preparing for a career change into X-Ray Technology, and during the physical exam that was part of the admission process into the X-Ray program, I asked the doctor about some strange twitching I had started noticing in both biceps about six months earlier - which led to an appointment with a neurologist, which led to the 1984 diagnosis of ALS. So at the age of 31, while embarking on an exciting, hopeful, optimistic new journey of life with my beautiful new wife, our lives came to a screeching halt with the news that I had 3 to 5 years to live.
'Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.' Matthew 11:28-30
In the middle of June in 1984, I had an 'a-ha' moment. It was just a few days before I learned I officially had ALS, and I was contemplating the validity of those words of Jesus from Matthew's Gospel, because after years of long-distance running and weightlifting, I couldn't run anymore, I was having trouble speaking, my bicep and thigh muscles were twitching strangely, I felt out of balance, weak, and my soul was not at rest. All that I had believed about God for a quarter century was hanging on what I made of this situation, so I poured my heart out to God, asking for the faith and strength and all I would need to throw my trust on Him completely. I didn't realize until after much reflection, but that was the beginning of a life-altering journey - a new vision, a new calling, a new adventure of faith, a new opportunity to be a voice attesting to God's never-ending faithfulness, all-sufficient grace, and undying love in the life of an ordinary man facing an extraordina ry health challenge. The uncertainty was still there about the details of my medical diagnosis, but I sensed a new certainty that having put my trust in the validity of Jesus' words, He would lighten my burden and enlighten my path. And after asking for faith and strength, I received newfound strength to live out my faith - strength that has upheld me throughout the 26 years I have lived with ALS (21 of those years on a ventilator).
My life with ALS is an adventure of faith that in many ways has made me love our Lord Jesus all the more. I still miss being able to run, to breathe in fresh air, to sing, turn pages in a book, look through my binoculars at the Andromeda Galaxy, take a vinyl record out of its album cover and put it on the turntable, drive down the Interstate with the windows open and radio blasting, have a prime rib dinner, eat popcorn at a movie...and every single day I want to tell Susie with my own voice that I love her, hold her tight, and take her lovely face in my hands and kiss it. But through ALS I have learned to focus more on what I have than on what I've lost, and believe me - what I HAVE is infinitely more valuable, infinitely more precious. I have the love of my beautiful wife, a selfless love sweetened and deepened by the trial we share; I have the love and support of two dedicated families; I have incredible friends with whom I'm able to communicate regularly via email; I have skilled, ventilator-trained, compassionate nurses who care for me and allow Susie to work full-time as a Special Education teacher; I have a personal relationship with the living Jesus, who tells me, 'In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.' And I still have the goal of reaching people with the life-transforming message of Jesus' grace and love.
ALS has brought new significance to my life by intensifying and refocussing my dependence on Christ. As you all well know, having faith in Jesus doesn't mean the removal of troubles - His peaceful presence within a believer provides a solid assurance that they won't face those troubles alone. Being a Christian doesn't insulate me from life, and sometimes life is tough: sometimes my trach needs constant suctioning - pneumonia lurks in my lungs and is a constant threat - the tube feedings that keep me alive produce nausea. But Jesus promises to be with me as I face the challenges of life with that merciless taskmaster and relentless tutor known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. And in Romans 5 I read that the tough times I endure as a part of living with ALS can actually build perseverance and character into my life because they draw me toward the eternal hope I have in Christ.
'He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.' Jim Elliot
As I'm sure you all know, Jim Elliot was a missionary who was murdered by some of the people with whom he was endeavoring to share Jesus' message of grace and love. Later, the very people that speared him to death came to know and love Jesus. Jim Elliot was no fool. His life was cut short but his influence for good will last for eternity. I adopted his quote as my life motto about the time I came on staff, and now that my life has been stripped of just about everything conventional wisdom would value highly, Elliot's words stand stronger and taller and wiser. Even if ALS takes my earthly life, it can never touch the eternal reward I have gained by receiving God's amazing, all-sufficient grace, and then investing this fleeting life in the eternal cause of Christ."