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Light in the Storm

After nine months of suffering in my body, I faced another major, unwanted surgery.  This surgery was anything but elective; it was the only option left in the fight against severe diversion colitis, a rare complication of having an ostomy.  The removal of the remnant colon would seal my fate, making my ostomy permanent.  I battled feelings of disgust over what my surgically deformed body would look like.  I battled feelings of hopelessness, knowing that the surgery was necessary but fearing it would result in further medical complications.  I had known nine months of complications to complications.  Yet, I also believed these truths:

(1) God exists outside of time (“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, the one who is, and who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8 EHV).

(2) God knows every moment of my life (“all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16 NIV).

(3) Regardless of the outcome, God can and will use these circumstances for my good and for His glory (“…as grace increases, it will overflow to the glory of God…” 2 Corinthians 4:15 EHV).

(4) Though the recovery process was guaranteed to be challenging, the surgery promised to bring resolution to this rapidly deteriorating condition.

The surgery itself, though long, complicated, and delicate, went well.  Through the use of robotic assistance, I was spared the long abdominal incision from sternum to pelvis.  Instead, I received several smaller incisions across my abdomen as the skilled surgeon did the operation, carefully working around my ostomy.  Additionally, there was one larger incision on my back-side through which the diseased colon was removed.

On the day that I was to be discharged from the hospital, I vomited just before the surgeon came to do morning rounds.  The very compassionate doctor tenderly assured us it was best for me to stay one more day.  That afternoon, I spiked a high fever.  A CT scan revealed two abscesses and a second portal vein blood clot.  I would be staying more than one day.

We were so very grateful for that unexpected onset of symptoms earlier, requiring me to stay put.  It was a little reminder that God was present; this was a ray of light in the storm. My hope was anchored to the eternal safety He promised through salvation (“Indeed, we who believe are going to enter His rest.” Hebrews 4:3 EHV).  As complications continued to assail me, I was being overcome by the darkness of the storm that had been raging steadily for more than nine months.  My body, the vessel, was battered and broken.  I began to believe that the storm would not end without me perishing in it, certainly not that day, but eventually.  For despite all the best doctors, the best treatments, the best care, the storm raged on in my body.

With two different antibiotics pumping through my veins, my fever subsided, and as the days passed, I began to gain strength and mobility.  I walked the halls with the bulb from my abdominal drain (placed during surgery) clipped to my hospital gown.  My IV pole kept me steady on my feet as I walked the halls of the ward.

During one walk, I felt a sudden gush down my left leg.  There was no discreet way for me to check on my abdominal drain or my ostomy pouch in the hall, so I turned and headed back to my room to call for a nurse.  My abdominal drain had clogged, and the resulting leak required a complete change of gown, robe, and socks.  After receiving assistance with clean up, I returned to bed.

Within a short time, my fever spiked again.  This made no sense!  I had been improving, but suddenly I was feeling chills and my temperature was rising.  I couldn’t get warm, but my skin was hot to the touch.  The charge nurse came in to help my bedside nurse.  She found that the clog in my drain had not been properly tended to; it was preventing fluid from draining out of my abdomen.  The fluid had been collecting at the site of the abscess throughout the day.  Within thirty minutes of the drain line being cleared, my fever broke, and the collection bulb filled twice as the infected fluid was drawn out of my body through the drain.

After a week on IV antibiotics and tolerating a switch to oral antibiotics, I was discharged home.  The next seven days were challenging, but we also understood that if I had been released a week earlier, my homecoming would have been wrought with many more issues and physical challenges.  Though unplanned, the extra week in the hospital enabled me to gain strength and provided a high level of care as I navigated those early days of healing from surgery.  This was another ray of light in the storm. It was nothing that we could have understood at the time, as my hospital stay lingered.  It was, however, something we understood in hind-sight.  This was evidence of His promise to use all things for our good (“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 EHV).

At home, abdominal pain and fever became an increasingly concerning symptom as each day passed.  On my seventh day home, a call to the on-call surgical intern confirmed that I needed to go to the emergency room with an over-night bag packed.  Another CT scan revealed a new abdominal abscess and a third portal vein blood clot.

Upon being admitted to the hospital, I was put on a schedule of IV antibiotics and IV anti-coagulation drugs (blood thinners).  My discouragement was deepening.  I was weary of fighting the battles that raged on in this war to right my abdominal health following the perforation of my colon, now ten months earlier.   There was no end to the fighting.  From my hospital room, there was no end in sight.

The abdominal abscess was in my muscle wall and spread up through the oblique muscle.  The pain was crippling; every movement was agony.  We were told that a drain would be placed in the abdomen once the infection became “organized.”  The two previous abdominal drains I had were placed during surgical procedures; I was told that this one would be placed while I was awake.  I felt nothing but fear and dread.

Three days after being admitted to the hospital, I underwent the procedure to have the drain placed in my side.  My abdomen was cut open and a tube was guided by radiography.  I could not bear to watch the procedure.  As the doctor talked his way through, explaining step by step of what he was doing, I asked him to please not tell me any more.  A very compassionate male nurse stepped close to my ear and began whispering, “He’s almost done…  You’re doing so well…  I’m really proud of you…  You’re going to be okay…  He’s just about finished…  You’re doing great…”  His voice was the calm that I could focus on through a procedure that I hope to never experience again.

A collection bulb was attached to the end of the tube protruding out of my side and clipped to my gown.  After returning to my hospital room, I was overcome with emotion.  My thoughts were drawn to my Savior and the day His side was pierced.  Never more real to me had become the verse, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” (Hebrews 4:15 EHV)

As I laid in an empty room with my pierced side, I was again reminded of what Jesus suffered to redeem me (“He gave himself for us, to redeem us…” Titus 2:14 EHV).  The salvation He won for us promises eternal life.  From the cross, Christ promised the criminal hanging beside him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 EHV)  My thoughts turned more and more toward heaven.  I longed to be free from the prison of my body and to be made whole in heaven.

Paul wrote it so eloquently, “Now we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal home in heaven… To be sure, while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened… We know that while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. But we are confident and would much prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”  (2 Corinthians 5:1, 4, 6-8 EHV)

Silently, I held these thoughts close.  I had lost all hope for recovery.  The previous ten months had taught me to not trust the best case scenarios the doctors identified, but rather to expect there would be more pain, more complications.  There was always more.  I began to hope that I would die so that my suffering would end.  I held these thoughts, but I did not express them to the nurses who cared for me, to my pastors who sat at my bedside, or to my family who wrote and called and visited.  I wore as brave a face as I could manage, but inside I had given up.  These were my private thoughts.  My only remaining shred of hope was freedom through death.  The promise of heaven was the only remaining light through this storm.

The nursing staff were tasked with teaching me how to manage the cares of flushing the drain three times each day, measuring and recording the amount of fluid collected at regular intervals.

In addition to learning drain flushing cares, I was informed that the anti-coagulation injections that I had endured for 15 terrible days last spring would need to be resumed for 3 months.

I reminded the nurses that I don’t handle bodily fluids and needles well at all.  I tried my best to be a good patient.  Yet I cringed every time I had to flush the abdominal drain; I was completely disgusted by the fluid flowing in and out of my body through the syringe.  I cried when I administered the injections of anti-coagulation medication.  I had learned to cope with ostomy cares, but drains and needles were pushing me to my limit.  My discouragement was becoming a deepening darkness.  I was feeling completely overwhelmed with the schedule of numerous oral medications, injections, and drain flushes in addition to all of my regular cares of ostomy needs and my other long-term medications.  It felt like this all was more than I could manage, and I was drowning in the anxiety of being released from the hospital to do all of these cares on my own.

Not only was I overwhelmed by the responsibility that I was to carry on after discharge, I was still working through the emotional torment of grief over the physical trauma I had routinely experienced through the last ten months.

One night in the hospital, I had ventured into the bathroom, assisted by my nurse.  She gave me privacy while I tended to my task.  I was suddenly assaulted by a low pelvic pain, the same pain that had sent me to Urgent Care ten months earlier.  More distressing than the pain, was the flood of fears that suddenly drowned me.  When the nurse returned to assist me, she found me doubled over, crying. She helped me back to bed and tenderly tucked me in.  She offered to stay with me.  I told her I would prefer to be left alone.  She turned on some gentle instrumental music, turned the lights low, and left the room.  I cried for a long time.

The next morning, a test was run, and I was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection.  There was nothing that needed to be done, I was told, because the antibiotics I was already on would clear up this infection as well.  This caused increased puzzling and further deepening of the darkness I felt.

How could I develop a third blood clot when I was taking anti-coagulation medication?  How could I develop an infection that was treated by the antibiotic I was already receiving?  Despair took hold of my mind.  As complications lead to further complications, compromising my health while I was on medication to address these issues, I was resolved that my physical suffering would not end this side of heaven.

On my fourth day in the hospital, I was told that a sensitivity test was needed to determine which specific antibiotic would treat the infection in my abdominal wall.  I had been on a broad spectrum IV antibiotic, but the doctor needed to know which oral antibiotic could be prescribed for my release home.  I was told that if no oral antibiotic could be determined, they would perform a procedure to place a PICC line, a central catheter in my arm, so that IV antibiotics could continued to be administered at home.

This was too much for me to bear!  In the quiet hours of the night, I cried to God, pleading that something, anything would prevent me from needing a PICC line.  I was ready for Him to take me home because I was very certain that a PICC line would be more than I could cope with.

In the early morning hours, I had a lengthy discussion with my nurse about the procedure of having a PICC line placed.  We discussed pros and cons.  He reassured me that it is quite common for people who have serious, chronic disease to use PICC lines for a time.  He tried his best to quiet my fears and normalize this completely abnormal process.  Though I was grateful for the information and the time my nurse gave me to discuss this, I was more convinced than ever that I had no interest in going on like this.

Eventually I confided to my husband that I was done; I had used up all my fight. I had nothing left to keep going. I did not want to continue battle after battle, fighting complication after complication.  I did not want to deal with abdominal drains, injections, PICC lines, surgeries, unending medical cares.  I told him if another abscess or thrombosis was found, I wanted to sign paperwork to stop all treatment.  What was hard for him was that he could see that I was actually healing from my last surgery, but he understood that I had lost sight of hope that I would have better days ahead. His prayers became very directed for healing and for hope to return.

And then God……

Psalm 135:6, “The Lord does whatever He pleases in the heavens and on the earth…” (EHV)

Revelation 4:11, ““Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” (ESV)

1 Chronicles 29:12, “…You rule over all. In Your hand are power and might, and in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.” (ESV)

Psalm 121:2, “My help comes from the Lordwho made heaven and earth.”  (ESV)

Matthew 19:26, “…with God all things are possible.” (EHV)

After another week in the hospital, I was released home without a PICC line!  I truly believe that God intervened.  Originally told that the bacteria was resistant to the oral antibiotic the surgeon wanted to prescribe, the forty-eight hour sensitivity test mysteriously revealed the bacteria could be treated by the oral antibiotic!  We were shocked but delighted!  This was a beacon of hope shining in the midst of this storm!

Psalm 66:16-17, 19-20, “ …let me tell you what [God] has done for me. I cried out to Him with my mouth…  God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God…” (NIV)

By the time I was eight weeks post-op, renewed hope had returned.  Though I still had a great deal of recovery left, I was beginning to experience what the doctors had been trying to tell me all along.  Recovery felt as though it was just beginning, the recovery promised from my ostomy surgery eleven months earlier.

Each day has its ups and downs.  As of this writing, I am just eleven weeks post-op, yet I feel better than I have for the previous eleven months!  There are so many lessons, so many gems, so many treasures that I take out of the past year’s experiences.

For the first time in a long time, I can look expectantly ahead, hopeful of what God has in store for my life.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:10 (EHV)

Christ was always my light in the storm.

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Losing Hope

“I loathe my life. I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.  Your hands fashioned and made me; and now you turn and destroy me.  Remember that you fashioned me like clay; and will you turn me to dust again?  You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.  You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.  I am filled with disgrace.”  Job 10:1, 9, 11, 12, 15

I had gotten to that point.  I felt suspended somewhere between what I was FEELING about my body and chronic disease state… and what I KNOW about who God is and how He administers our existence.  I felt distraught.  I was distressed and utterly discouraged in the unending barrage of medical complications and manifestations of disease.  The thick rope that anchored me steadily with knowledge of God’s goodness and care seemed to be thinning as the weeks passed into months without reprieve.  There was no end in sight.  Every corner I turned presented another serious complication.  I was losing hope.

Disgrace was the theme that wove through multiple domains of my life.  My body had been segmented into parts, routinely examined and explored, studied and surveyed.  Though the medical professionals treated me with utmost dignity, there was no dignity in what needed to be discussed and dissected.  Invasive examinations had become routine.  Disgrace describes as well what had become of my vocation.  At one time, working in a profession that I loved, using my graduate degree to its fullest potential, my career had finally reached the point I had dreamed of fifteen years earlier when starting out at a small junior college.  I had served in leadership roles, administered programs, managed teams of staff.  Due to the compromises of my health, I stepped away from my chosen vocation and settled into a position of part-time secretary, for which I was desperately not qualified.  I felt grateful for the job but disgraced by what had become of my life’s work.  My timeline for post-op healing was written on a “Return to Work” form; yet the reality was that I struggled with the idea of returning to a work that was a symbol of my failure and frailty, a daily reminder of my loss and limitations.

In moments of contemplative truth, I reached out to my closest loved ones to confide my feelings that seemed to close on top of me like a cave-in.  Besides compassion and a commitment to pray for me, there was little that could be done.  They heard my hopelessness, but with no end was in sight, there was no hope to offer. The circumstances were terrible; no words of insight or wisdom could take the terribleness away.

For family devotions, my husband decided to read “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom.  When he chose this book, he had no idea the depths of discouragement and pain that I would be enduring as he daily read page after page of this incredible true life story.

Corrie and her sister Betsie were Dutch underground resistance workers rescuing Jews during Germany’s occupation of Holland in World War II.  The sisters had been arrested and sent to prison camp; their arrival at Ravensbruck in Germany was their third place of imprisonment, far worse than the previous locations had been.  Upon arrival at their overcrowded, flea infested sleeping quarters, Corrie was feeling distraught by the situation.  There was no end to their suffering in sight.  The circumstances were terrible.  Corrie was distressed and uncertain of what to do.  Betsie reminded her that the answer had been given to them that morning through their Bible reading:

1 Thessalonians 5:15-18, “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Betsie insisted that they immediately turn to the Lord in prayer and give Him thanks.  Corrie’s resistance to this idea was almost humorously described in her account.  With Betsie’s prodding, she and Corrie took turns naming things they were grateful for in the midst of their terrible and hopeless circumstances.  After identifying thanks that their smuggled Bible had safely passed through inspection and thanks for the overcrowding of women who would be able to hear the word of God read each day, Betsie gave thanks for the fleas!  Corrie’s reaction was the same as mine would have been.  FLEAS?!?!  How can we thank God for fleas???  But Betsie’s faith spoke with resolve, reminding Corrie that God’s Word tells us to give thanks in ALL circumstances.

That night, as I laid still, too afraid of the pain to move, I listened to the words of Betsie.  My body had become my prison; pain and disease were its evil captors.  Beside me lay my Bible.  Betsie was right; all the answers I needed to all the questions and longings of my heart would be found in those pages.

I started in the Psalms.  David’s passionate cries and emotional outbursts expressed with words the groaning of my own heart and mind.  I continued in the book of Job.  Without explanation, his livelihood, his family, and his health were all stripped away.  The contempt and despair of life became words with which I could identify.  I kept reading.  Day after day.  Day after day.  I kept flooding my mind with these words.  And this is when hope finally returned.

Hope came because I know the end of the story.  After being tormented by the reigning king, David became king.  After losing all he had and despairing of life itself, Job was blessed far more than he had previously known.  After weeks of suffering from flea bites, Corrie and Betsie realized that it was the fleas who kept the guards out of the sleeping quarters, thus enabling the Word of God to be freely shared every day in their overcrowded barracks.  God’s Word became light in that dark prison camp.   God’s Word became hope in the midst of their terrible circumstances.

I don’t know if the terribleness of my circumstances will resolve here on earth, but I do know that the end of my story here is a place of no more pain, no disease, no suffering.  I do know that the end of my story here means eternity with Jesus in heaven.  I don’t know how long the journey will be between now and then, but I will say with Job,

“Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 2:10, 1:21

 

 

 

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Fear Overcome by Faith

I admit it… I am afraid.  Next week I will submit my body to the skills of a surgeon I met one time.  I will enter into several hours of deep sedation under the care of an operating room staff of masked strangers.  They will operate from above and below.  While removing the final segment of my colon that has become irreparably diseased due to diversion colitis, they will create two large wounds to heal when the operation is complete.  It is an extensive and delicate surgery.

If experience is our best teacher, than I have learned in the last nine months that my body will puzzle the experts with its process and condition, and I have learned that the “rare complication” is not so unique when you become part of its statistic.  The portal vein blood clot, the liver infarction, the C-Diff infection, and even the diversion colitis were not the normal course for recovery from my March illness and surgeries… but they were my course.

Now my path has brought me to another unwanted surgery, a surgery that will make my ostomy permanent.  There’s no turning back now.  There is no possibility of reversing the ostomy.  The diversion colitis has determined this path.

I am reminded again of the truth that I clung to as a life-line through the early days of my recovery as each day brought waves of uncertainty and complexity: None of this takes God by surprise.

King David wrote many Psalms that expressed fears he battled; David clearly describes how faith in our all powerful God conquers those fears.  David wrote of his enemies, of the nay-sayers who slandered him and tried to pull his focus away from the Source of his strength.  Yet David knew the faithfulness of the Lord, his God, because experience had been his best teacher.

Psalm 3:1-5 Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”  But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.  I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.  I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

Next week, as I face another major surgery with significant risks, I would not be honest if I said I wasn’t afraid.  Fear is overcome by faith.  My experiences of these last nine months have been a remarkable teacher.  I know that I am deeply loved by God, and He gives me strength.  I deeply love the Lord, and in Him I find courage.

Next week, when I lie down to sleep, I know that I will wake again, because the Lord sustains me!

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Lord of all pots and pans…

Ephesians 1:12, “… so that we… might live for the praise of His glory.”

Why do we do “good works” as Christians?

This question about motivation came up in my women’s Bible study class this week as we work our way through the book of Ephesians.  Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus declaring who they are as a result of our Father’s gracious plan (chapter 1, verses 3 – 6), the Son who carried out the plan (chapter 1, verses 7-12), and the “seal” of the Father’s plan in our hearts through the Holy Spirit (chapter 1, verses 13-14).  This beautiful doxology of praise in verses 3 through 14 remind us not only of what He accomplished for us, but also of who we are because of His completed work.

It was the plan of our Heavenly Father to bless us in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).  We are not an after thought.  Before the creation of the world, He had a plan for us (Ephesians 1:4).  We are forgiven and redeemed (Ephesians 1:7), and our inheritance is secure (Ephesians 1:11) as adopted children of God (Ephesians 1:5).  All of this was according to God’s will (Ephesians 1:11) so that we might live for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:12).

Salvation does not depend on me.  Christ’s completed work on the cross is not dependent on my decision to believe He did it or on my good works to accomplish.  Redemption and forgiveness of sins was in accordance with God’s plan and design.  It is Christ’s work that secures my place in heaven for eternity.  The good I do, therefore, is not to ensure my salvation.  The good I do, then, is “for the praise of His glory.”

The message of Brother Lawrence in the little book entitled “The Practice of the Presence of God” has been foundational in my thinking about motivation.  I first read this book as a teen, and I have read it at least once each decade since.  Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century Christian from France who lived a simple life, working in the kitchen of a French monastery.  He is said to have been a large, clumsy man who was unlearned, yet the simplicity of his faith and the message of his life reveals that he understood deep communion with God.

Brother Lawrence wrote of his motivation: “I engaged in a religious life only for the love of God, and I have endeavored to act only for Him…”  He worked from the perspective that “set times of prayer were not different from other times; that he retired to pray according to the directions of his superior, but that he did not want such retirement, nor ask for it, because his greatest business did not divert him from God.”

Brother Lawrence did not have a fanciful life of walking around in elaborate robes, constantly studying Scripture, and continually engaging in great theological debates with rulers of church and state.  His duties were to cook and clean the kitchen.  “…in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of God, and with prayer, upon all occasions, [asking] for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy…”

His prayer became, “Lord of all pots and pans and things… Make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates!”  It was with this motivation to do all things for the love of God and as an action only for Him, that Brother Lawrence was able to “turn even the most commonplace and menial task into a living hymn to the glory of God.” *

So it is true for us as well.  Justification, the forgiveness of our sins and redemption through Christ’s sacrifice (Ephesians 1:7), has been accomplished.  It is completed.  It is finished (John 19:30).  Sanctification, the process of renewal, is an on-going work of God in our lives.

I think Brother Lawrence had it right.  My Saturday morning chores of changing bedding, cleaning the floors, and tending to a week’s worth of laundry, can become a hymn of praise when I do my work for the love of God, endeavoring to  do all things only for the His glory.  Likewise, when I sing a special song in church, send a card of encouragement to a friend, or bring coffee in for my co-worker, it is for the love of God and for His glory.  Whether in my home or in my community, my “good works” are not about me.

My prayer today will be: Lord of all pots and pans and things, may I faithfully complete my tasks, motivated by my love for You.  I cannot do this unless you enable me.  I will only fail if You leave me to myself; it is You who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss.*  May I live for the praise of Your glory.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.  

* Quotes from “The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims, a Classic of Practical Christian Devotion with Brother Lawrence, pp. 18 – 20 and introduction.  Revell, Fleming H. The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims. Grand Rapids, MI: Spire Books, 1958.

 

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Say Something… Anything!

I’ve known Jean for just shy of 2 decades, yet in the last 6 months, our relationship has transformed despite the 200 miles that now separate us.  Several years ago, Jean suffered a devastating and unexpected loss, and the woman who remains on this side of widowhood is very different from the married woman I met at church all those years ago.  These days, I can describe Jean with one word: Encourager.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11

Throughout the long months of my recovery, through various complications and an endless stream of medical disappointments, my friend Jean has sprinkled little words of hope, encouragement, and inspiration.

Recently I thanked her for the way she has ministered to my heart through her words, and she confessed that sometimes she doesn’t “know what to say or how it will come across.”  Yet she never fails to say something… anything… as a way of communicating, “I see you, friend; I hear you.  You are not alone.”

Jean shared with me that it is because of her own suffering that she has learned to be present with others through her words.  These are the things she “learned from grief.”

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (emphasis added)

It is an interesting reality that through suffering, people draw closer or people fade away.  I learned this lesson at the age of ten.  My mother died of breast cancer when I was in the 5th grade.  Ten-year-olds don’t know how to manage the big work of grief, and some adults don’t know how either.  My best friend, with whose heart my own seemed to share a beat, suddenly disappeared after my mother’s funeral.  Her mother didn’t know how to cope with grief and didn’t know how to teach her daughter to be a friend in the midst of grief.  In the passing of my mother, I also lost my best friend.  Days of silence turned into weeks, weeks into months.  More than 30 years have now passed but not a word between us.  I was the same little girl who loved to roller skate, giggle, swim, and have sleep overs.  I was the same but different.

Nine years ago, I suffered another devastating loss of a loved one.  In the same way as the loss of my mother all those years earlier, I experienced people drawing close and people fading away.  There were two women in my life, at that time, who called me nearly every day.  They understood life and loss enough to realize that I was the same person, but for that season, I was different, and the care they provided could impact the way I managed my grief work.  They understood that I needed intense love and support so that I could work through the complications of loss and come out the other side, the same person but changed.

This season of recovering from medical trauma and the resulting complications, has been similar.  Friends and family have drawn close or faded away.  I am the same person, but I am different.

I still need the women in my life to encourage and inspire my walk with God and my roles as wife, mother, and employee.

I still need my pastor to be my wise counsel and challenge my framework around how God’s word is alive and active in my life (Hebrews 4:12).

I need my siblings to check in and ask the tough personal questions about details that are delicate regarding my health.

I need my co-worker who asks me at least once a week, “How are you really doing today?”

I need the dear grandmotherly woman from church who regularly sends me cards in the mail with Scriptures.

This season has been another reminder to me that my words have the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21).  One of the many redemptive purposes of suffering is so that I can comfort others with the comfort I have received from Christ (2 Corinthians 1:4).

My words need not be eloquent; if I fret about what to say, I may say nothing at all.  My words need not be my own; I can share an inspirational quote or a verse from God’s word.  My words can be in a text, over the phone, or as I pass someone in the hall.  I just need to say something…. anything!

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:24

 

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The wound was about him; the forgiveness was about me.

     The words we hear… It has so much less to do with the words themselves and so much more to do with the relationship between speaker and listener.
     In the early days of my surgery recovery, a man I have known my whole life remarked to me that “Ostomies are gross!”  The words stung, like some sort of parental rejection.  I stiffened at these words.  It felt as though porcupine quills had emerged at the startling threat to my acceptance of this life change.
     The ostomy was not my choice.  The surgical amputation of a third of my colon was the last resort to other less invasive failed medical interventions.  I was left a semicolon.  This is the hand I was dealt.
     Each time his words floated into my awareness, I dismissed them with logic.  I reasoned that he is an inconsiderate extrovert.  I reminded myself that the colectomy was an emergency action taken to restrain the infection assaulting my body.  I comforted myself with the truth that my illness does not define me; who I am is defined in God’s Word.
     I told myself many times that I forgave him for the thoughtless comment.
     Yesterday I learned that he was hospitalized, a portion of his foot was amputated as a last resort to other less invasive failed medical interventions.  My initial thought was one of concern and compassion.  The following thought was snide: “Perhaps I should inform him that four-toed feet are gross!”
     In that moment, I knew that I needed to forgive him.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

     Just as in Christ, God forgave me…
How does God forgive me?

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression…? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:18-19

     So, I understood the course I needed to take.  Pardon of his thoughtlessness.  Forgiveness for his offense.  Mercy in the face of rudeness.  Compassion in the place of impertinence.
     He, the one who caused the wound, is completely unaware of how his words impacted my heart.  He is utterly ignorant of how is words shook my then fragile acceptance of a life-changing medical trauma.
     It was less about the words, and more about who he is in my life.  If the same words were spoken by one of my teenage sons, I would have unpacked their thoughts and feelings with them.  If the same words were spoken by a customer, I would have dismissed it entirely.  It was less about the words, and more about him.
     I forgive you.
Forgiveness: the work of God that has long brought me freedom from emotional wounds.
      I forgive you.
The wound was about him.
     Forgiveness is about me.
Forgiveness is setting my heart aright after it has taken a blow.
Forgiveness is walking the narrow road as a Christ-follower.
Forgiveness is about loosing the bonds that shackle me to the offense.
     I forgive you.
And now my heart feels only sadness that he is facing a life-changing medical trauma of his own.  I wish him courage.  I pray for his healing.  He is forgiven.
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Redemption through this Suffering

Mid-July.  My symptoms were increasingly bothersome.  We wondered if the C-Diff infection had returned or if there was yet another complication to address.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18

It had been two weeks since learning the news about the liver infarct (the portion of my liver that died due to a blood clot).  The reality of this long-term issue and its long-term needs was settling in.  Indeed, my physical body is diseased; improvement will happen with time, but full recovery is impossible.  As my husband says, “None of us get out of here alive.”  We are not made for this place.  James 4:14 reminds me that I am just “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

Instead of focusing on the temporal, the deterioration of my body is a continual reminder to focus on what is eternal.

In mid-July, I returned to the hospital for another lab work-up; the results brought both comfort and concern.  The C-Diff infection was gone.  We were tremendously grateful and breathed a sigh of relief!  Yet the exclusion of C-Diff confirmed the new symptom culprit: diversion colitis.

Diversion colitis is a complication of having an ostomy. It causes purulent inflammation in the remnant colon.  It usually begins within a year of the colectomy surgery.  Some individuals are asymptomatic.  For those who experience symptoms, they can range from mild to severe.  The underlying cause and symptoms of diversion colitis can be treated with medication, but surgery is the only method of correcting diversion colitis.

The diagnosis needed to be confirmed by scope and biopsies.  As is true with all gastrointestinal diagnoses, the doctor needs to see the damage and disease to determine the diagnosis.  My procedure was scheduled, and I counted the days until relief could begin.

By the day of my procedure, my symptoms had grown increasingly distressing.  The pain was debilitating.  Though even on my hardest days I refuse to spend the day in bed, I spent most of the day prior to my procedure confined to my room.  Prescription pain relief took the edge off and provided enough calm to end my tears.  The count down of days became a count down of hours.

Biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.

After a week of trying to find a pharmacy who carried the medication and obtain authorization from the insurance company to cover the prescription, we decided to try a different medicine.  I am thankful that my Crohn’s disease is treated by the eight pills I swallow each day.  The diversion colitis treatment, however, is not so simple.  Each administration requires about thirty minutes.  Like ostomy care and injections for the blood clot, I had to learn a new process, gather appropriate supplies, and learn to quiet my heart in the midst of new challenges.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Romans 8:18-25

What started March 3rd as an Urgent Care visit for abdominal pain had resulted in a cascade of issues.

  • 13 days in the hospital, requiring 2 abdominal surgeries
  • Re-learning life as a semicolon
  • Left hip nerve damage and left leg instability
  • A stay in rehab to learn how to walk with a weakened left side and receive support with wound care
  • Portal vein blood clot
  • C-Diff infection
  • Liver infarct
  • Diversion colitis

Being subject to frustration, shackled by the bondage of decay, I wait eagerly for the redemption of my body.  Complete healing in heaven is my hope, and for this, I wait patiently.

Yet in the mean time, I cling to the promise that I am “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance” for me to do (Ephesians 2:10).  Therefore, I live one day at a time, believing that He is transforming the suffering of my body into good for His glory.  As Paul wrote, “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…”  Earlier in Romans, Paul writes that, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (chapter 5:3-4).”

I do not know what will come next.  Perhaps there will be more complications.  As it is, I have six medical appointments ahead of me, with more to come.  Yet this I do know: God is using this suffering to knock off rough edges in me, to soften the places where I have grown hardened and to refocus spiritual disciplines that have grown lax.  There is redemption through this suffering.  God is using this suffering to work in the hearts and minds of those who journey with me and in others who read these reflective and deeply personal writings.

To God be the glory!  Great things He has done.