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 3

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If you are reading these posts, this is where the story began, 4 years ago at Rush Copley.

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Cheryl’s room in ICU is just to my left, and at the end of this corridor reads a sign above the door . . .

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. . .”THE SERENITY ROOM” . . .

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. . . of which the post below is all about.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Psalmist moaned, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” When we read these dirge-drenched words we too quickly leap-frog from Psalm 22 to the cross and leave the psalmist wondering if you and I even heard his groaning. Though Christ quoted this in his agony, David really did feel it first – and if you and I are willing to admit, we too have felt the dirge in our hearts.

I empathize with the lament psalms for there have been many things in my life that cause me to groan – just like your life. But what is curiously new for me is something deeper and tormenting than just lament – it is an acute awareness of God’s abandonment and yet an overwhelming sense to be near him who has abandoned me. I want to introduce you to a real place that I have recently visited but without my consent, a place where I have been dragged kicking and screaming with both feet, leaving finger-nail scratches on the frame of the door – it’s called THE SERENITY ROOM. If you ever enter this room without consent it will feel nothing like serenity; the very name is mockery. This room is filled with haunting aloneness and weeping into the night, carried along with the fear of what dreadful thing may come to pass. I’ve never been so far down into this Psalm 22 room until now. Is this simply a metaphor or allegory for some intangible explanation or experience? I wish it were, but it’s not just in my head and heart. In fact, you can visit this real room if you’d like – without the dreadfulness of it.

The Intensive Care Unit at Rush Copley Hospital is a brand-new, fully furnished healthcare facility that for healthcare professionals is surely a tour-de-delight; you get to help save lives with some serious high-tech stuff! The unit is a cul-de-sac of adrenaline spurred by the desire to do some good for a stranger. The staff is caring and top-notch; the rooms are advanced and very personal to the patient’s needs. But behind all that really nifty gadgetry are bodies in dire condition and family members literally brought to their wit’s end over the brokenness of their loved one. As you keep walking past these fancy catacombs, tucked away in a corner is a slender, lowly lit place that at first glance, does not look very threatening and appears safe. Above the door is a marble-like sign that reads in all caps: THE SERENITY ROOM.  This is the room that after midnight, after all that I could do for Cheryl, would become my retreat for some quiet and rest.

After spending all day absorbing the seriousness of her situation, this, hell-hole – “uhum”, excuse me, THE SERENITY ROOM became for me, a torture chamber. I was alone. I found myself on the floor weeping and sobbing, crying out closer to Psalm 22 than I ever have:

“My God, My God, why do you abandon me. Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”

There was nothing serene about this room because I felt that God was not there with me. In fact, “THE NIGHTMARE ROOM” would be a more appropriate name because, in there, you are alone with your fears that what is happening to your loved one is completely out of your hand and you can’t do anything about it but turn to the God who put her there in the first place – that’s nothing short of creepy. And right there is the strange torture of it all. You feel that God is a million miles away ignoring you and yet you want to be near him. He has forsaken you and still you cry, “do not be far off . . . come quickly to my aid.” I hated and loved that room at the same time.

So the room is real. Some of you have one – somewhere in your life already, and if not, in the future you might find yourself there for a moment, a day, a week, or longer. The important thing to do when this place is upon you is to cry out the Psalms to the God who seems to have forsaken you. If you don’t, you won’t know the deep comfort that you so desperately desire. It sounds strange and wrongheaded, but it is true:

“I will tell of your name to my brothers: in the midst of the congregation I will praise you . . . for his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 22:22; 30:5).

It’s a bitter-sweet place when all you’ve got is the Lord who seems to have abandoned you. If you are presently in this room right now, keep crying out to the Lord. He will satisfy your affliction with praise:

“For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (Psalm 22:24).

When you leave this room, there is a communion with God that draws you back night after night. Not because it keeps you safe from your fears, but because God ends up being bigger than your fears.

What Happened Today

Dr. Wheeler, Surgeon and Professor of Urology here at Loyola, who accepted Cheryl’s case was in our room, along with his attending physician. After discussion, they want to allow the Infectious Disease Control guys continue to “cool down” the infected kidney for the next several days, hoping to get the white cell count down to 10,000 by Monday. Today, it was down to 21k from yesterday’s 23k. That’s good news. Also, he let us know that the Cardiology Team has ok’d her surgery; the stress echo test came back negative. More good news. On Monday, a Renal CT will be done to check how both kidneys are doing. He talked about the option of how to determine to keep the kidney and remove the infected staghorn stone and the option to remove the entire kidney, saying that both were “formidable” because of the size of the infected area, keeping it from escaping into her blood stream. Another professor was in today with his urology student to learn about Cheryl’s unique case: endometriosis/menses monthly induced right lung collapses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catamenial_pneumothorax) who just experienced a 105.3 stroke level temp that was caused by an infected three-times enlarged kidney with a rare stone that shot up a white cell count that is on the level of leukemia. Cool – for a student, that is!

As of now, they are aiming for surgery either on Tuesday or Wednesday next week. Best case scenario: Out of the hospital on Jan. 2 or 3.

Cheryl and I are encouraged                                                                                                 1. She is alive and progressing by the hand of the Lord;

2. Transferred to room 6331 – aahh, much better; last night was the best night of sleep that we’ve had in 8 days;

3. I prayed a Psalm today with a crying man in the hallway;

4. Many of you are telling us that you are praying for us; acts of kindness and compassion keep coming our way;

5. God’s Spirit is comforting and giving us hope as Jesus Christ is lifted up in our eyes, our Sweet Savior and Faithful Friend.

Tomorrow is the Eve of Christmas – I’m going shopping!

Until Tomorrow

Now may Jesus Christ who was forsaken for your sake, give you peace by the time morning comes. Amen.

Ivan