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 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.

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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 gccyorkville@sbcglobal.net.

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

Ivan