As some may know, this has been a summer of struggle for me and our family. Even as I begin to write about the challenges we have faced, I’m immediately aware, perhaps in a special way as a pastor, of the acute and chronic burdens many in our church and community face. My heart goes out to those ones in a fresh way, as I seek to make my way through what the doctors tell me is largely resolved. But for me and for others who face struggles, short-term or chronic, the effects carry forward. Daily we all have opportunity for negative obsessing, or positive maturing in Christ.
I’m also cognizant in a new way of the variety of difficulties people face. Mine was one of physical health, but others deal with struggles in marriage, parenting, addictive patterns (themselves or with a loved one), financial, employment, divorce, church conflict, mental illness, miscarriage, past choices.
If you know our story of the last few months, you may want to just scroll down to the summary of the upcoming sermon series I’ll be sharing. If not, here goes:
In late April, I was awakened one morning around 4:30 am by some chest discomfort. I assumed it was some kind of heartburn, but since I felt a bit nauseous and my skin got clammy, I decided to call two M.D. friends. Both said essentially the same thing, that it was likely a gastro issue, but since I was now headed toward my mid-forties, if I wanted to get a cardio workup, it would not be a terrible idea. On May 9, I went in for that testing, expecting just to rule some things out and at least get a thorough checkup. Since I was hospitalized in 2014 with a pulmonary embolism which I got by failing to move around enough on a flight back from a Peru Mission trip, I have learned to at least be a bit more aware of my health!
On May 10, I got a call first thing in the morning from my cardiologist, who also happens to be a friend and church member, and to my surprise, and perhaps his as well, the results showed potential blockage in a coronary artery. He encouraged me that it might be a false positive, but when he said I should get in for an arteriogram to confirm, and if necessary get a stent, the next day, I understood clearly that it might be a significant concern. I had a busy day, so was not able to speak face to face with my wife, Patience, until that evening. That was a tough conversation, but just that morning, she had shared with me a passage from Psalm 16 that she had been meditating upon. It brought us comfort. “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.” We would need it in the next 24 hours.
May 11, I went in for the procedure. It was sobering to be the only guy under 60 in the waiting room. Patience and I prayed several times, but as the kind nurses assured us, the docs do these procedures every day. I won’t go into great detail about what happened during my procedure, but I was awake for the entire time and recall it vividly. The doctor and support staff walked me through their video analysis, and all looked good…except indeed for notable blockage in the suspected artery. The doctor doing the procedure was finishing explaining to me that it was not quite severe enough to need a stent, and that they would treat with medicine. Then something happened. I let the medical folks know something felt very wrong. All the personnel rushed back into the room and assessed that ventricular tachycardia had been triggered, the spasming of the lower part of my heart, a life-threatening event. After several rounds of chest thumping and electrical defibrillating, I was quite honestly not sure if they were going to figure things out and whether the Lord might be taking me home much earlier than I certainly expected to go. At just about that same moment they resolved the issue, and not surprisingly, the doctor decided a stent might be worth doing after all. I have been told later that this happens one in so many thousand times during these procedures. I certainly did not expect it to happen to me.
After several days of recovery in the hospital, I was released, with a promising prognosis, and several new medicines I’ll be taking for life.
In my youth I was hit one time by a car while riding my dad’s ten-speed bike, but walked away without a scratch – my dad’s bike was not so lucky! When I was in college I was rescued from a rock face in North Carolina, while foolishly attempting to climb without the right gear. Nine years ago, Patience, me and Clement (in utero) were rear-ended doing 70 on the interstate while headed to the first step in our church planting journey, producing significant injuries for Patience. And I already mentioned the pulmonary embolism. But I have certainly never been more scared for my life than I was on May 11.
Our family and our church body, and friends have a been a great support as I have been working my way back to health, in the Lord’s strength. It has been 2 steps forward and one step back at a few points. But as you can image, God has been gracious to use this season to draw me closer to Him, and Patience as well, and to link us closer, as husband and wife. It is not easy to be the care receiver or the caregiver. Even when physical things seem fine, the mental impact takes its own time to heal.
One of the things that has helped me, and I hope will be a help to others, whatever type of struggle they may face, or have faced or will face, is looking to Scripture. In particular, a booklet that I uncovered through our Hoover library Hoopla app, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” by John Piper, has helped me frame up what God is doing, and how I can align with it, even if I don’t do so as much as I would like.
I don’t know all that the Lord may want to do with this experience in my life, with this difficulty, suffering, struggle. But at least one way I am pursuing is to preach an 8-week series, based on some of Piper’s key points, with a modified title, “Don’t Waste Your Struggle.” We will start on Aug 12, at our 8:45 am worship service at a church building we currently share with another congregation at 560 Lake Crest Drive. I look forward to how God is going to meet me as I continue to process my struggles in light of His gracious Word, and I look for God to meet his people through these messages, for those who can be present, or who may listen later through our podcast.
If you want a glimpse of where we are headed, here is our series outline.
August 12 – Hope-Filled Groaning – Romans 8:18-25 – Carrying and delivering a baby is painful and difficult, but a mother endures it, and even welcomes it, because of the result. So too, may we view the struggles of this life, as opportunity for increased hope in the heavenly deliverance, which is to come, for all who are in Christ.
August 19 – God Ordained Gift – Job – This is a tough one. When we struggle, we feel cursed. Sometimes God is disciplining us but as a loving father. Whether that is the case in all instances or not, God invites us to see our difficulties as designed by a sovereign and good being.
August 26 – Comfort from Odds or God? – Psalm 20:7, 2 Corinthians 1:9 – Especially with physical illness but also with other struggles, we can incorrectly hope in our odds. Odds of getting another job soon, or our child relinquishing their problematic behavior, or of the stock market recovering. God desires for us to trust in Him, even as we may choose to remain aware of any helpful statistics.
September 2 – Researching Our Redeemer – Psalm 1 – We waste our struggles if we spend countless hours studying…books on divorce recovery, articles on church conflict dynamics, blogs about breaking from addiction – but do not direct equal attention to studying God.
September 9 – Contemplating a Good Death – Psalm 90:12 – When we struggle, we do not always think of it as a reminder of our fallen world. But it is. We waste our difficulty if we resist thinking about the limitations of this life and learning to hope more in heaven. We are not called to seek escape through death, but we are invited to be those who are aware of life’s limitations and are preparing ourselves for heaven, as well as usefulness in this life.
September 16 – Deepening Human Relationships – Whether we are introverted or extroverted, one way we miss what God is doing in our seasons of difficulties, is if we move away from others rather than toward them. Numerous passages of Scripture invite us to be both givers and receivers of comfort from other people.
September 23 – Growing Godliness – Luke 9:25 – One thing struggles do, if you will excuse my innuendo, is to scare the sin out of us! Whether we have brought the challenges on ourselves or God has determined them for us, we are invited to seize the moment to grow in righteousness, and reject our sin.
September 30 – Glorify God in Our Struggle – Philippians 4:19 – Lastly, and maybe somewhat obvious, we are encouraged by the Lord to have our eyes on His glory in all things. If we can move away from “why is this happening to me?” we can begin to see “how is this a chance to magnify God?” Tough, but vital.