Things to Remember; Things to Forget

view from Hillfoot Street Dunoon

So at some point in this blog about my recent hospital stay, I should write something funny about the food. I can’t. It wasn’t funny.

Scotland’s National Health Service is under attack from every angle. Criticisms, some justified, are as copious as rainfall, and for those who have never lived here – it rains nearly every day. My surgeon was skilled, hospital employees were caring and competent, and the facilities were outstanding. No way would I bash the health care system which literally saved my life. Chronic, agonizing pain is a killer. Cauda Equina Syndrome is synonymous with killer pain.

As a title of respect in the UK, surgeons are introduced as “Mr.,” not “Doctor.” So it is with upmost respect that I thank my surgeon, Mr. Bhattathiri,” not only for his skillfulness in surgery, but for his genuine compassion. His name may be spelled with a “B,” but he genuinely put the “care” in caring.

I believe the Bible, including 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “I everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” And I know that I know that I know that, “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.”

I don’t know why this happened to me. I don’t know why I had to have major back surgery. But I do know that I’ve been blessed by all the years of good health that God has given me. Soon, Cauda Equina Syndrome will be merely a memory.

The food? Not so much.

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No Fear…Absolutely

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There are no easy answers for why bad things happen to good people, and why a loving God allows them to happen.

There are a lot of chipper, upbeat standard answers that sometimes make those afflicted with pain and suffering angry. Sure, they may be true – but in the midst of pain who wants to hear: Everything that happens in your life is a consequence of the decisions you’ve made and your actions. True or not, I can’t imagine walking into a hospice ward to visit a person with lung cancer and saying, “Well, this is your fault for smoking.”

True or not, in the center of a storm of pain, hardship, and suffering – telling someone that God created a perfect world, which was ruined by sin, and that God never intended bad to enter His perfect creation is not much comfort. Action to help the person is needed more than all the glib clichés one can deliver.

Please, I welcome your prayers, but the following is Not a plea for sympathy. When my hip pain started a few years ago, I ignored it. I declared stoutly, “I don’t need to go to the doctor. Even if an x-ray shows a problem, I will never let anyone cut me open. So why go?” So I exercised, ran, and prayed the pain away. I was a Texan, after all, and just like my character Texas Miz Mike in my mystery-romance-suspense “Bridge” series, Texans stand up to crisis. They don’t back down even from rattlesnakes.

Prayer works. From the time I was a new Christian and God removed my warts, to the time my son was scheduled to have a metal rod inserted in his spine and God healed him instead, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever – and Jesus heals. Prayer works. But sometimes we don’t get the answer we want or expect. Sometimes God answers “No.” Sometimes He answers “Wait.” For me this time, God’s answer was “NO.” For whatever reason, God did not heal me and I became increasingly worse. By worse, I am on crutches. I can’t open my mouth to take a bite of food without throwing the utensil down and hollering in pain.  Sneezing, yawning, coughing – the pain is so intense that it would knock down an elephant. Fortunately, I’m a Texan.

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The MRI showed a “huge” bulging disc in my spine that presses directly into the nerve. Instead of my right hip, the pain has spread to both hips and makes it impossible for me to drive because I can’t lift my foot and press down on the clutch. Why do I have this pain? Why has God not healed me? I don’t know. I do know that the Bible says to give thanks in everything, because this is the will of God for me in Christ Jesus. So I give thanks. I know that everything works together for good to those who love the Lord. Everything. How is this horrific pain working together for my good? I don’t know exactly, but I have an idea.

No fear. The greatest fear a person faces in life is death. Once that fear is eliminated – there’s nothing to fear. I lost my fear of death when my 37-year-old son died in a plane crash four years ago. He’s in Heaven and I will get to see him again when I get there. Everyone must walk through the valley of the shadow of death to get to Heaven. But shadows aren’t real. They can’t hurt. Shadows are an illusion. No fear.

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However, I love mobility. I want to walk, run, swim, climb mountains – keep moving. Therefore…I was determined that no doctor, no surgeon was ever going to touch my spine. Until…the pain. It took severe pain to grow me past the fear of having surgery. My surgery is scheduled for next week and I would be jumping in joy – if jumping didn’t hurt so much and if I could lift my feet. I am thrilled. I am totally unafraid and totally ready to surrender my life, health, and spine to whatever surgeon God provides. Trusting God totally and totally without fear.

I can’t answer the question of why bad things happen, or why Jesus didn’t heal me this time as He has in the past. Mysteries belong to God, even though I write them in books. But this I know, pain has pushed me to grow beyond fear. Totally.

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Unexpected

One day I ran 3 miles. The next day I had to buy a walking cane to get across the room. Unexpected.

Life changing, unexpected events – many of them history changing – are called “black swans.” Risk Management was invented to identify, assess, prioritize, and stop black swans. Black swans were thought non-existent until some were found in the wild – unexpectedly.

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Label them black swans and employ risk management – but it is impossible to stop the unexpected.

Black swans in recent history, many in my lifetime, include Chernobyl. Folks were expecting nuclear war at the time. They weren’t expecting nuclear devastation from an energy plant.

A few more black swans: the sinking of the Titanic; the assassinations of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.; the attack on Pearl Harbor; 9/11, the Beetles breaking up.

Unexpected can equal good; the lab accident that led London’s Alexander Fleming to discover penicillin; the creation of Israel as a Jewish State in 1947, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Most recently, headlines around the world proclaimed in shocked tones, “Trump Pulls Off Biggest Upset in U.S. History.” The man who had never before held elected office is now the President of the United States.

Black swans are not imaginary or non-existent. They are everywhere! Admittedly, my black swan is minuscule in terms of U.S. history and world events…but I’d like to ditch it and the walking stick.

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When black swans slide across our horizon, we need to remember that God is still in control. Surely no one in history suffered more from the unexpected sightings of black swans than righteous Job. Satan wanted to turn Job against God, so he destroyed Job’s family, wealth, and health. Job’s own wife told him to curse God and die. Job’s friends came to comfort him. “Job,” they said, “you’ve sinned against God or you wouldn’t be in this mess. It’s your fault.” Yup, we all know a few “friends” like that.

Job’s responses are legendary: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb…the LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” “When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”

In the end, God blessed Job and gave him twice as much as he had before. Good for Job. As for me…I just want to stop swimming with black swans and get back to walking again. And, by the healing power in the name of Jesus, I will.

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Broken Sticks…

One day that bat-fowled fiend satan was smarting off to God and God asked him, “Have you considered my faithful servant Job?” That ornery ole devil smarted off again and said that the only reason Job worshiped God was because God had blessed him so much. So God allowed that mean ole devil to take away everything Job had except his nagging wife. Job said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away and blessed be the name of the Lord.”

So that cursed serpent said, “Let me at him again! Then he’ll cuss you up one side and down the other.” So God allowed slimeball, sleeze satan to touch Job’s body. I mean to tell you, that poor ole boy had boils from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. He was so messed up he had to take his boots off to scratch. Job still blessed God.

Then along comes these three friends to comfort Job. Let me tell you: when you’ve got friends like these, you’re up to your armpits in enemies. They started in on Job something fierce about how he must have done something powerful bad to get punished by God and how he was a terrible secret sinner. After a bit, Job had had about all the comforting he could stand from these fellers.

So Job says, “How long will you torment my soul, And break me in pieces with your words?” (Job 19:1)

I challenge you. Take a stick and break it. Put it back together. Does it fit right? Is it as strong as it was before you broke it? Can you put it back together perfectly so that you can’t tell it’s been broken?

Your words can break people or heal them. When you get angry and break people with words, an apology never quite does the job of mending the relationship. There is always that jagged, hurting shard of memory that spoils the symmetry of the friendship and mars its previous flawless beauty.

Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Choose to speak life with your tongue instead of breaking sticks that will never mend.

At the end of Job’s story in the Bible, God held Job’s three friends accountable for their stick-breaking words. He told them they had not spoken what was right and true and ordered them to apologize to Job and have Job pray for them. Then…”the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.”

Words are powerful. Communication is a gift from God. Use yours to build, not break.

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