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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.

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His Gentle Whisper

1 Kings 19: in the immediate wake of a great victory, Elijah was so overcome by fear and exhaustion at the threat to his life that he cried out to God, “I have had enough, Lord… take my life!” (vs 4)  He was ready to be done.

In early July, four months after my  ostomy surgery, I was learning the devastating news about complications we could not have predicted even in a worst-case-scenario discussion.  My best friend uttered the very words of my heart after hearing the diagnosis, “How much more, Lord?”

As days turned into weeks, God was using the wisdom of the doctors and the cocktail of medications to win the battle my body fought against the C-Diff infection.  Severely weakened by the infection and its treatment, each day was a struggle.  As the bacteria was being eradicated from my body, some symptoms resolved and others remained.  The symptoms that lingered became a clear indication of what was happening to my body; it was indeed my liver that was suffering.

My gastroenterologist ordered another CT scan. It was my fourth scan in four months.  The risk of exposure to the radiation was less than the need for imaging of my abdominal organs and the blood supply to each area.

Following the scan, there was a long delay before the doctor came to discuss the results.  She was not supposed to be in the clinic that day; she was seeing me on her lunch break.  My husband and I assumed she had been detained by a morning procedure.

She entered the exam room dressed in scrubs and apologized for both the delay and her appearance.  Neither one were a concern for us; we were simply grateful that she made time to meet us that day.  She explained that her delay was due to the findings on the CT scan and the resulting conversations with my surgeon.  It was not someone else’s bad news that kept her; it was my own.

Over the next hour, she discussed the situation involving my liver, my continued symptoms, and concerns related to me working outside of the home.  In her ever gentle manner, she guided us to understanding what was found and how we needed to move forward.

Another complication.

“How much more, Lord?” 

The CT scan in April discovered the portal vein blood clot, and showed that it was restricting blood flow to the left side of my liver.  The July CT scan discovered that the right side of my liver suffered an infarct; it showed a wedge-shaped piece of the liver had lost complete blood supply and become necrotic.  The belief was that a portion of the blood clot broke off and lodged in the right side of the liver, causing the infarction.

A hepatologist (liver doctor) and a hemotologist (blood doctor) were added to my care team.  The vitamin and mineral supplements I had been taking for years were no longer allowed, to prevent strain on my liver.  Decisions about medications, consumption of foods and beverages, and my activity level will be filtered through their impact to my liver.

1 Kings 19:9-13, “There he (Elijah) went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

“He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”

Throughout these last several months, I’ve learned to listen for the gentle whisper.  If I could borrow this imagery from Scripture, I might compare the ostomy surgery to a great and powerful wind that tore my body apart and shattered life as I knew it.  I might compare the portal vein blood clot to an earthquake and the C-Diff infection to a fire.

Similarly, I can assert that through all of it, the Lord was my protection; He held me safe in the cave of His loving care.  He has kept my heart encouraged and my spirit lifted through His gentle whispers.

On one particularly discouraging day, a former colleague opened instant messaging with me.  Her starting comment spoke to the very need of my heart.  We chatted about my struggle.  She reminded me of the promise from Ephesians 2:10 about the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do, identifying that He wasn’t done with me yet!  God whispered hope through her.

In a quiet moment on a solitary day, as I laid wrapped in a hand-made quilt, I re-read the handwritten label stitched on the underside.  The sweet quilt maker from my church family had written my name and her name and the date of her gift.  Then she wrote, “A quilt is something you make to keep someone you love warm.”  God whispered love through her.

On a day filled with disappointments, I poured out my heart to my sister.  She listened.  She validated the pain and the losses.  Then she shifted my focus to the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”  God whispered courage through her.

Every day, through the hugs of my boys and through the endless compassion of my husband, God continues to whisper.  Through His Word, through the hymn writers of ages gone by, through my pastor’s homilies, God continues to whisper.

In my fear or exhaustion, I may question, “How much more, Lord?”  At the end of one battle, I may not feel capable to face the next threat on my life.  Yet through all that has transpired through these last several grueling months, I have felt God sheltering me, and I continue to hear His gentle whisper.  He whispers hope.  He whispers love.  He whispers courage.