Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 1

For many, Christmas is just as painful and sad as it is a happy time. This post and a few others to come is about our sad Christmas days back in 2010. The following comes directly from my diary, unedited for this blog so that you can get the full picture. But the reason for making my diary public is so that if you are sad this Christmas, for whatever reason(s), or you know someone who is, then may my thoughts and meditations on scripture, the nature of suffering, and God’s providence help guide you through this Christmas season.


Here is a pic of us singing Christmas songs together at Loyola Hospital. And here is my first diary post.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It’s 11:30 p.m. and I’m just now getting around to sharing what is happening with Cheryl and what God is doing in our lives. First, to my church family and friends who are praying and serving us in various ways, we thank God for your love and compassion for us – your prayers are wafting up to our Lord like sweet perfume.

Beginning today I will be writing a daily entry to update you on how Cheryl, myself and our family are doing. If this is your first time hearing about our circumstances please forgive me – I have thought about many of you who may not know what has happened to Cheryl and have wanted to call and tell you but I have been consumed with the urgency and seriousness of this trial. Let me begin.

“At your right hand are pleasures forever more,” “why do you not hear me?,” “you have been our portion for many years Lord – why do you crush her?,” “when I am afraid I will trust in you – please, I beg you Lord, save her life.” These and many more psalm-driven prayers have been my cry in recent days and I will never read the psalms again the same way; the next time we worship together singing, “The Lord Is”, I’m going to dance in the streets as David did.

What is going on in our lives causes me to shame my past worship of God in the psalms. But God is good to this sinner and child-like as I am to approach him, “for he knows our frame – he knows that I am only dust.” I’ll share more about the Lord’s heavy hand upon me and what he is doing to me with the psalms, later. Now to Cheryl.

Since coming home from Thanksgiving Cheryl has been feeling sickly like she normally does when she returns home from being away. She has always suffered with a variety of ailments that she attempts to manage on a daily basis. In the foreground are these daily symptoms but sneaking up on her in the background was a vicious infection in her right kidney, harboring a mushy 5 centimeter stone that had swelled the kidney to three times its normal size.  It came to the foreground like an unsuspecting beast over a hill. By Friday night, Dec. 17, we went to Rush Copley Emergency. They discovered the problem and began to drain the infected kidney. This was the right thing to do even in hindsight by all attending physicians. By Sat. afternoon Cheryl’s body was septic. All of a sudden, her vitals plummeted and an emergency response team was on her within seconds. I could not believe what I was watching – I thought I was going to die as I saw Cheryl’s life barely hanging on.

Over the next 12 hours, having been transferred to the ICU, every minute was life threatening. Even today, one of the chief urologists here at Loyola said, “you were a ticking time bomb.” But by God’s good grace, by Monday morning she had made progress. The Infectious Disease Control doctor did a fantastic job at stunning the infection into sterility – for now. With even more improvement by Tuesday morning and after three days of round-the-clock testing, sticking, scanning, sucking, draining, injecting – she was transferred to Loyola by ambulance this afternoon.

Where do we go from here and what is the challenge

The team of physicians here are facing a challenge because: a) Cheryl’s right bottom-lobe lung collapse that comes each month; b) the infection spreading by trying to remove the stone; c) wait too long to remove the stone thus giving the infection time to regroup and attack her; d) her body is not capable of enduring a surgery – not yet. By tomorrow her team of doctors are going to decide what to do to save her life, either by removing the stone safely, or removing her kidney safely. The safety issue is keeping the infection from getting loose during and after surgery. We thank God that it is contained at this moment but the when and how to get Cheryl ready and strong is the tricky part. This is why Rush moved her here to Loyola.

How to Pray

First, that Jesus Christ would reign supreme over everything, from rogue bacteria to the rise of the sun – his name is great and will be great in all the earth! Second, as the minds and hands of these folk at Loyola touch Cheryl’s body, God’s mind and hand would be on theirs. Third, that God would spare her life for his glory, for as the psalmist cried, “how can I praise you if I go down to the grave.”  Fourth, that our hearts would trust him for whatever comes.

Our Present Condition

Cheryl is improving by the hour in all her vitals, including the most important one: her white cell count on Sunday was over 70,000, on Monday – 51,000 and for today – 27,000. Normal is around 12,000 so she’s heading in the right direction! One of the attending physicians came in her room here at Loyola (#3136), and after reviewing her case and talking to the gang at Rush Copley, could not believe how well she looked and how vigorous her body was responding. In happy disbelief, “you don’t look anything like I expected.”  Her hope is steady as I read and pray the psalms to her each day. As for myself, it just doesn’t seem appropriate to say that I am exhausted in every way – but I am. And yet, there is no other reason on earth that would be more appropriate and godly than to be exhausted for Cheryl’s sake. This is not a contradiction with doing all things for the sake of Christ, for when I love Cheryl to this degree it is the most Christ-like thing that I could ever do.  I wish I could say that I have always loved Cheryl as Christ loves her – to my shame, I cannot. In fact, I have never loved Cheryl as Christ loved and continues to love her. He alone has died for her sins and raised himself for her justification and will never sin against her with selfishness and pride – but I have, and as my sinful inclinations have a track record, I will sin against her again – pathetic . . . isn’t it? But, this is the grace that is happening in my heart as a result of this trial. I’ll say more about this and other grace-filled dimensions of this episode later. For now, my heart rejoices to know the love of Christ and you cannot say that you know the love of Christ until you lose your life for the sake of another.

Until Tomorrow

Cheryl and I are truly blessed to have a church family and friends like you. We would not have made it this far without you. Your prayers and acts of kindness are the means by which God is sustaining, literally by the hour. Please keep it up – we need you.  I am in contact with Thomas Payne, the deacon board and a few others to express specific needs. They will contact you if I am in need. If you want to speak with me by email, please do so at

And now, I must go and cry out to God psalm 27, bringing the psalm to our context: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” vs. 1



I Remember Christmases Past and Long for What They Hinted At

In the eyes of a young boy, approaching where Main Street intersected with Broad Street was magical. In 1972 it was the only red light in Summersville, WV. There were two golden Christmas angels mounted on the electric poles opposite of the other. They were huge to me – especially the trumpets that they held, directly facing the other as if they were about to blast a sound to usher down a legion of angels and open the heavens. Walking down Main Street was like watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” – I can see the old courthouse with the canon in front and all the decorations that seemed to swirl like candy canes, matching the barbers pole swirly thing.

I remember mom turning our front porch poles into candy canes by wrapping foil and red paper around and around. I remember the old Christmas lights with their clips, and the glass tree-topper that was kept safely in the box that once held an electric iron. I remember when I got the electric football game, the rip-cord racing car, the rock’m sock’m robots, hot wheels cars and double loop race track. I remember hearing Santa Clause outside in the garage one late Christmas Eve shouting Ho-Ho-Ho. We ran out into the garage and saw this massive pile of toys (found out later that it was our neighbor who faked jolly st. nik).

I remember visiting grandparents on Christmas, and running into lots of family members. Lots of laughter, food, and smiling faces. I remember walking into grandma Hall’s living room past the fireplace – there it is: grandma’s Christmas tree in front of a big picture window, so pretty and sparkly. I remember visiting grandma White. We’d walk in and she’d say, “What you fers up to?” I loved her smile. I remember the routine of it all – I loved it.

I remember getting a box of assorted flavored LifeSavers from a neighbor. I remember lots and lots of snow. So much that it seemed like driving through a fairy-land tunnel on our one-lane road. The trees were so weighted down they hung over the road creating a secret passage to a happy-land where time stood still. I remember when there was nothing wrong with the world . . . and there it is.

I had no idea that cancer was slowly killing my dad, that cancer was slowly growing in my mom, that Watergate and Vietnam were eating away at the hope of a country, that oil prices were sky-rocketing, and that a recession was about to hit. I had no knowledge of the devastating effect of polio on so many children – though I had a friend who wore those metal sticks on his legs. I had no knowledge of the university and college turmoil in Ohio and California. I had no knowledge of the racism that was still spreading its ugliness in our culture. I did not know that my grandparents missed their own mom and dad at Christmas and secretly sorrowed the loss. I did not know that there was so much wrong and so much to cry about. I did not know that pain and suffering were part of Christmas. I did not know that moms and dads wept together on Christmas Day as they held their dying child in their arms at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Christmas’s of my childhood hint at an irresistible desire: We long to live in a time and place where there is nothing, absolutely nothing but Joy and Peace. Not because we’re too ignorant of the sad reality, but because there is full wide-eyed knowledge that all that causes pain and tears is truly gone. We long to live with no fear of impending sorrow. We long to never be alone again. We long to live in a land where it feels secure and safe as a little boy feels when he wakes up on Christmas morning to the smell of fresh cinnamon toast, hot-chocolate, and the love of a mom and dad, cuddle up to the fire-place . . . and just sit. All is quiet. All is calm. All is bright. All is well.

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us) . . . the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matt. 2:23, 4:16).

I’m going to this place – it’s where Jesus is. Come with me . . .