Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 8, final.

Though I have dozens of short paragraphs and unfinished thoughts unwritten in my diary, scattered throughout the days and weeks of this episode, below was my last full-length entry. This will be my last one on this subject. If you have followed along, my hope is that you have gained a psalm-like voice for your own sorrows, that you see that the Lord is calling you to himself as you feel abandoned and cherished by him – all at the same time, and that you not alone. 

Today’s date is Jan. 28, Friday, about 3 pm  – exactly six weeks since this tour-de-psalms began on Dec. 17, 2010. As I write, sitting in the Surgical Operation Waiting Room, Cheryl is in her second surgery this week to remove left-over pieces of the stone in the right kidney. If all goes as explained, we should be home tomorrow.  We look forward to the tubeless silence.

Danger in THE SERENITY ROOM: There is at Least One False Savior in There

The heart is filled with irresistible urges for refuge and so are the psalms. But what the heart seeks for safety is not always safe. False hopes and trusts are always offering their wares for our heart, but seasons of fear and sorrow bring a special vulnerability to the equation – You are looking for quick relief from pain. As the first nights slowly ticked by, I began to face the possible reality of being a widower at age 46 – never really thought so deeply about it until now; never had to because nothing has ever come close to such forced meditation. I felt lost and unidentified – like looking in a mirror with no reflection. You’re gone.

I began to think ahead, prepare my mind, imagine what would I do, how would I parent as a single dad, how I would handle bits and pieces of my life that Cheryl has always taken care of – like balancing the check book and feeding me (two things that someone must do for me)! I tried to look on the proverbial bright side of things and I tried to not feel so hopeless and despondent as if my future without Cheryl was not a happy possibility.  I found myself anesthetizing my ache by imagining all the good that could come from Cheryl’s death (Please hold on to your booing and your tomatoes until you hear me out).

My future-gazing went something like this, in a matter-of-fact kind of way – sort of like a syllogism that reaches for a logical conclusion:

Major Premise: God is Good, Kind, and Generous (see, I was being a good theologian)

Minor Premise: Because God is all of the above, he will turn my sorrows into dancing (good so far)

Conclusion: God will make me happy again with another wife, more time for personal pleasures, and less time in the garden, because, I will subtly bring up gardening as I e-harmony for a new wife online. Any hint that she likes gardening will cause an immediate internet disconnect – oops.  Happiness secured.

But as my mind was meandering along this route the false Savior was exposed, hiding in the background like a thief to steal my joy in God and thus steal glory from God.  What alerted me in this night-watch hour were the psalms as God’s Spirit woke me from my delirium: My happy future without Cheryl was a Christ-less one, forged in my mind in less than a minute.  Was it a Christ-less one because I would deny my faith if she dies? No – not that I could foresee. But it was a future without Jesus because I began to equate happiness with a new wife, broader freedoms for personal pursuits, less time doing the things that are way beyond my preferences. In other words, I was putting my hope for a happy future not in knowing Christ more fully in my loss, but knowing Me more fully in my personal pursuits. Ok, now you can boo and toss your salad to me.

Not that my heart embraced this sordid conclusion, but it was there – and I hated it. It was a lie that the world, flesh, and the devil has hoodwinked the world with, and to my shame, me too and too often. What saved me? The true Savior as he walked me through his blessed hymnbook:

“Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me;                                                             let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!                                                         Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy,                                                   and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.                                                                 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?                           Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” – Psalm 43:3-5.

“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after;                                                   that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,                                         to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.                                         For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;                                                             he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock” – Psalm 27:4-5.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy;                            at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” – Psalm 16:11.

The false Savior in THE SERENITY ROOM was me.  And the false gospel message was the promise that I can make “lemonade from lemons” and believe that I can be happy again because God will give me all the things that bring me pleasure. Please don’t misunderstand: I do not mean to say that God is not concerned with resupplying relational and material gifts in the midst of earthly loss; He is concerned with our temporal happiness and will, if he deems it best for us, supply these needs. But our wise and loving Savior is most concerned with what brings us the most joy – Him! And all temporal losses are gain, if the loss is the means by which we come to know Christ more fully than if we had not lost.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”  – Philippians 3:8a, 10-11.

Here’s a question for your heart and mine when we are suffering and about to lose or think we’re going to lose something dear and precious to us:

Is the deeper fellowship of Jesus Christ the future gain of your present loss? If not, then you and I will waste our loss. Why? Because the red-ink spiritual economics of loss, without knowing Christ more fully as the goal, is only more negative loss. However, God does not withhold the positive economics of suffering: Christ + Loss = More of Christ.  All glorious gain!

It’s just a little after 5 pm. I just met with the surgeon: “Cheryl’s kidney is clean – we’ll cork the drain tube late this evening, pull it tomorrow morning and send her home around noon.”

The Lord is worthy of our hope and trust – all the time!

Ivan

 

Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 7

January 26, 2011

It’s here. The morning that the Lord has made like he has since the beginning when the heavenly host shouted with joy and the morning stars sang over what the Triune God had done (Job 38:6). Ecstatic joy, not erratic excitement, was and is to come and presently is the most appropriate response to God’s handiwork. Creation is the stage upon which the godliness of God is displayed in the cross of Christ. And this much-anticipated morning will be no less. I’ll get to this gospel message and my fear in a moment.

Cheryl’s laparoscopic surgery is today – around noon. It’s supposed to last about an hour. By this evening we’ll know whether she can return home tomorrow or if a second attempt is needed on Friday. We give thanks to God for your prayers, for God has chosen to use them and has safely brought us by grace to this moment. Keep us in prayer this day as you have – by the end of this day may our Risen Savior receive glory for what he has done for us.

When affliction is upon you it is as natural to contemplate your personal sins as is breathing air:

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.                                             The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.                                   Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins” – Psalm 25:18.

I distinctly remember the first time that I wondered if God was punishing me.  I was around age 9. I had a stomach ache from eating too many apples and thought that God was angry with me for some unknown reason. Even at that young age one can begin to muse on the mystery of personal pain and the vengeance of God. Thankfully, a little later the stomach ache went away and so did my wondering. And as a 9 yr. old, back to playing.

But when I was in THE SERENITY ROOM an annoying conundrum began to whirl around in my head that I have long entertained but not at this level: Are my sins, at least in part, the reason why I’m in this room? My tormented prayers began to sound out: “God – are you punishing me for some unconfessed sin? Have I angered you for the last time? Will you now get even with me?” Not all seasons of affliction cause me to question this way but this time was different. I was afraid – really afraid. This is why your heart has to be literally filled to the brim with the gospel as your SERENITY ROOM comes upon you like a thief in the night.

To honestly answer, “Are my sins, at least in part, the reason why I’m in this room?” – yes and no, is the gospel truth. Yes – because if there were no sins, at all, anywhere, nowhere in my life and in yours, and in the entire human race, then there would be no affliction. No Sin . . . No Sorrows! You and I suffer because of our contribution to God’s Wonderful Creation: We have sinned. It’s a grievous and outrageous act when a creature created in the image of God for the eternal enjoyment of God turns against his maker and then happily feels jealousy, envy, covetousness, murderous rage, lust, revenge, self-pity, selfish ambition, self-righteousness – and pride.  I do admit, it is a no-brainer to discern the connection between sinful laziness and getting a failing grade on a test, or the persistent pleasure of porn and a crumbling marriage, or a judgmental eye and lack of sustained friendships – all examples of the consequence of sin in the heart. But it is not so easy to discern the connection of personal sin to this kind of affliction.

Here is where the gospel is exquisite and requisite for THE SERENITY ROOM: If Jesus’ death on the cross was insufficient to satisfy the just wrath of God for my sins, this affliction would be directly related to my personal sins. In fact, if Jesus’ blood is not enough then nothing is! You and I would be thrown into a dungeon “yesterday” and we would never get out. There would be no grace – at all – in your affliction. But the prayer of the afflicted can sound like this as it did for me:

“Dear Lord, because you sent your son to die in my place,                                                     ‘remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;                                                     according to your steadfast love remember me,                                                                  for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!’ – Psalm 25: 7

And,

“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” – Psalm 103:8-14

Are my sins, at least in part, the reason why I’m in this room? Though in one sense, yes, but in another, with joyful praise, No. Jesus has died and is risen. My sins, not in part, but in whole – are nailed to the cross and I bear them no more. Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul.

I’m not saying that it is easy to discern the connection between personal sin and suffering. But I’m just happy as can be in THE SERENITY ROOM for my Savior’s sweet sacrifice has removed my sins from me.

As these gospel drenched, cross anticipated psalms filled my heart and my crying began to cease, I fell asleep whispering to myself:

“God is satisfied with his Son.                                                                                                  I am in the Son and the Son is in me.                                                                                      I am afflicted.                                                                                                                            God loves me like he loves his Son.                                                                                        Jesus is enough.                                                                                                                     I love Jesus. Praise his name!”

Ivan

Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 6

January 6, 2011

It’s been a whirlwind of a week since I last wrote you. We’re still out of the hospital and waiting for the 11th to see the surgeon. Cheryl is steady as they had hoped; no evidence of infection getting out of control, temp is steady, pain is minimal – in fact, Cheryl is feeling very well all things considered.  The nephrostomy drain tube remains and will remain throughout the ordeal. Our church family is full of good works, helping us to bear our burden, as are countless friends and family throughout the Church of Jesus Christ who are praying for us.

There really is nothing more to say at this point until next Tuesday (“no news is good news”). There are several forks in the road that the surgeon may take – all of which the Lord knows already and he has promised to not leave us nor forsake us. We still covet your prayers:

  • That we will not waste this trial, but rather prove that Jesus Christ reigns and is worthy of our trust;
  • That though the Lord afflicts us, we will not lose sight of his good intentions;
  • That the effects upon the lives of others will be to the praise of the glory of His grace;
  • That our faith will not fail;
  • That though the outward man is wasting away our inner man will be renewed;
  • “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (psalm 73:26) – that we would believe it;
  • That the surgeon next Tuesday would do what is best for Cheryl;
  • That the infection would stay put and not escape until the doctors have safely removed it, either with the stone or with the kidney;
  • That from Him, through Him, and to Him, would all beauty and praise be to Him from His people (Rom. 11:36)

 

And now, let’s return to THE SERENITY ROOM

I saw others tortured in there – alone with themselves, with others, but painfully alone with their fears. Taking a break outside of Cheryl’s Intensive Care room, you can peer into that room down the hallway. The door has a full length window with a blind to close for more privacy . . . it’s usually open. I often looked toward the room during the day, dreading it and desiring it at the same time. Dreading to wrestle with my fears in the presence of the Lord and inwardly fascinated with the prospect of being so near Him. As I said, I sometimes look toward that room. Once, I saw and heard a family arguing about what to do with their loved one. On another occasion, I saw another woman weeping, refusing to go back and attend her dying loved one in the sanitized catacomb. As she stood just outside that room of torment, an ICU nurse approached her: “You have to do this – you are all that she has. I’m sorry but you have to go through this with her.”  I felt so sorry for her. I wondered if she knew Jesus.

The apostle Paul said, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). What was happening to me was and is happening to an unknown massive host of people around the world, even most of you in my own church family. It is common to suffer, to be in torment, to be confused, pressed, and weighed down from many sides with only the prospect of it getting worse.

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?                                                              How long will you hide your face from me?                                                                              How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?              How long shall my enemy (the fear of my wife’s death) be exalted over me?                       Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;                                                                       light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,                                                                   lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”                                                                     lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.                                                                         But I have trusted in your steadfast love;                                                                                 my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.                                                                                   I will sing to the LORD because he has dealt bountifully with me.” Psalm 13

THE SERENITY ROOM is common to man but what is not common to man is the steadfast love of the Lord as he weeps with you in your torture chamber. The difference between you dear saint and the one who does not know the Lord, is not suffering – for all suffer, but that you are not alone – He is there throughout the night with you. And though that is what makes THE SERENITY ROOM all the more horrifying at first like it did for David in psalm 13, in the end there is rejoicing to have been with the Lord, to have known a deeper level of trust that you did not have before entering that room. This does not mean that in one night the rejoicing may come through, it may be weeks or months or even a lifetime of weeping, rejoicing, weeping, rejoicing – dread and desire. But what is sure for all those who know the uncommon union of suffering and rejoicing in and with the Lord, your heart will rejoice, the grace to escape the total failure of your faith is certain, and your salvation will cause you to sing prayerful songs because – can you believe it?!?! – he has dealt bountifully/extravagantly with you. I need this and so do you!

I kept my guitar with me in the ICU room with Cheryl every day. Why? Because I needed to sing and play to the Lord and to Cheryl. I needed to believe that the Lord was being gracious with us – so I sang and played, and as I sang and played my guitar just 50 ft away from THE SERENITY ROOM, it was proof that my enemy was not prevailing over me – but that Jesus Christ was my Triumphant King who rules over all.

Keeping you posted on the Lord’s bountiful work,

Ivan

Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 5

Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010

I recently confessed and pleaded:

“Cheryl, I need you because God is not finished changing me  . . . you have been the main instrument of my sanctification, please don’t go.”

Psalm 71

Be to me a rock of refuge . . . Rescue me, O my God . . . Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent . . . O God, be not far from me: O my God, make haste to help me! . . . O God do not forsake me until I proclaim your might to another generation . . . You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.”

Sanctification, change, metamorphosis, transformation, alteration – when Jesus changed our hearts to love him more than our sin we were so happy. That’s what these words mean and what God means to do to us – change us from acting like our fallen nature icon – Adam, to our risen nature icon – Christ, the new and perfect Man.

One of the fears that God troubled me nightly in THE SERENITY ROOM was my sanctification. It was a double-cross, as if God were playing with a stacked deck against me and no matter what I did, he was going to burn me at the table; I was set up for the swindle. If God takes Cheryl then he takes away The tool by which my life has and is being changed for my good. If he leaves her, then he leaves me with The tool by which my life has and is being changed. Are you confused? Let me explain: I DON’T LIKE TO BE CHANGED. God had me cornered no matter what happens.  And if he does take her, it is a sure bet he’ll change me without her: maybe he’ll give me a new wife that wants two gardens (good grief!).

It is the Lord who takes us where we do not want to go. He causes us to see things that terrify us: calamities, afflictions, and many troubles. I felt that he was laying me over an anvil and beating the sense out of me. At one point in the night where his hand felt so heavy upon me I began to think, “. . . just get away from me – don’t touch me – leave me alone if this is all that you have for me.” And since I was thinking it, the Lord was hearing my inward groaning, as I lie there alone clutching Cheryl’s personal, red blanket, holding on to it as if I had the power to hold her life in my hands. And then the irony of that room fell on me like a heavy dew: I wanted God to be so near me that if I opened my eyes I could see his. I wanted him to hold me with his right hand. I wanted him to assure me that he will never leave me, though he has made me to feel like he is unhinging my bones (Psalm 22:14). My gut hurt and ached for hours as I cried all night (vss. 14-15). But David did say that weeping will tarry throughout the night but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5). The Lord walked out of the room with me as the morning dawned. I asked the Lord to “turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16). And he did.

If at times Sanctification threatens to undo you, you are not alone. God is changing you and since we are all too fond of saying, “I don’t like change,” change we must. Why? To get ready for our new home with God. You and I are being fitted for another place, a place where there is no corruption of any sort. But on the other hand, we really do like change don’t we – on our terms? And there’s the prick in the side: God does not take our advice, our counsel, on how or when we should change. It’s a good thing he does not – right? “Yes,” we reluctantly agree. But deep down, we know we love change because we see Him more clearly, he is warmer and sweeter now that he has afflicted us and there is less of us and more of him. Like a gallon of Wisconsin Maple Syrup, it takes a lot of draining to produce such a small amount of pleasure, but Oh the rich satisfaction!

When God afflicts you he does so with precision and purpose and it will feel like he is forsaking you, not always, but sometimes it will feel this way. David wails and cries in lonely estrangement throughout the night only to know the nearness and comfort of the Lord more deeply than when the night began (Psalm 119:50, 75, 82-83, 92, 107, 145-153).

When you find yourself in the serenity room, don’t run and hide from God, you can’t. Don’t busy yourself with background noise like tv, sports, finance, hobbies, shopping, fighting, protesting, drug-abuse, alcohol abuse, food abuse, . . . rather, go down on your knees, sturdy yourself for the change that is about to take place and go ahead and “ask, When will you comfort me?” (Psalm 119:82-83) Then what? Do it again tomorrow night. Go back to your room, the one that you both love and hate, where all your fears are exposed before the Lord and know this God who mysteriously is both your painful sap-sucker and closest friend.

Where the Lord has Cheryl Today

Cheryl’s white cell count steadily hovers around 11,500 to 13,100. The doctors are very pleased with this stability. The infection is under control; still there, still lethal, but tamed. They had a short meeting yesterday, spoke with us briefly, then will meet again today and tell us their plan. Here is what we do know as of last night (which could change by this evening): They want to take her off IV to oral antibiotics tomorrow on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, run the labs and vitals to see how she responded to the change. If she does well, they may discharge her leaving the nephrostomy in to keep draining the infection, giving her body more time to get stronger and more time for the infected kidney to shrink back as close as possible to its original size. The options remain to either remove the kidney or remove the staghorn stone. If the kidney can be saved, we were told last night there will possibly be multiple laparoscopic surgeries to remove the stone. Google images for this stone will explain why it cannot be removed at once without tearing the kidney up.

Cheryl’s pain level has come down and she is sleeping much better. So am I. The weekend of worship for me with my church family was medicinal, yucky but healthy. I needed it. The Greatest Story Ever Lived is a Never Ending Story as lovers of Jesus Christ hold fast to him year by year, throughout the earth until he returns.

Continue to pray as God leads you. We’ll keep you informed as we hear new things. May Jesus Christ sweeten your day with Himself.

Ivan

Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 4

167680_1747814095773_6366690_n

P1050744

It’s Christmas, 2010.

I bought Cheryl a Replica Tiffany DragonFly Lamp (not a real one of course! – and now in the corner of our bedroom). I wanted her to have beauty in her room – something that instilled hope and peace, something to quiet the soul, to give light, to give her some of the colors that she loves. When someone is suffering, bring some beauty into their room. We have to remember that we are whole beings, both spiritual and physical, and often the one affects the other. When struggling spiritually, you can actually make yourself sick (Psalm 32:3). And when struggling physically, doubts, unbelief, hopelessness, cynicism and despair can begin to eat at the soul (Psalm 42 and 43). It is not a betrayal of God’s Word to use physical means that the Lord created to lift your spirits. We were made to behold beauty, to feel the smoothness of oil that heals the wounds, to smell aromas of lavender, cinnamon, amyris, red cedar-wood, vanilla, and tea tree.

When visiting people in the hospital I take two things with me: my bible and my guitar. To read scripture, pray, and play a soft piece of music, sometimes humming the melody gently, has stirred hope and healing in those who suffer. What a great mystery: God’s marvelous design of our humanity, weaving the tangible with the intangible.

All of this reminds me of the promise that we have in our Lord. One day, the body will never be interrupted with suffering. One day, the body will never experience the dissonance between hope and healing. One day, the body will never know the loss of senses as present aging stretches the simplest joys further and further out of our reach. One day, the agonizing tension of longing to be dead as a better alternative to living in pain will be gone. One day, for all who know themselves as crucified with Christ, will be raised with him (Galatians 2:20). One day, in Christ, we will be raised incorruptible (1 Cor. 15). Not only will we not know sin, but its effects too. The reason why we light up our rooms with beauty is because we know deep down that that’s the way it’s supposed to be. One day . . .