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Pain: It’s About the Heart

All trials come down to being a heart issue. Last night I experienced the worst pain I’ve felt since my legs were mangled almost three years ago. It was relentless and prevented me from sleeping. How does one get through these issues? Here are three things that help me:

1. Gratitude

Yes, that’s right, I said gratitude. What’s to be thankful for when you discover phantom limb pains are not so phantom at all? They’re the real deal and your nerves are miss-firing every which way while your brain turns up the amps and tries to find something. Well, I’m thankful:

a. that I’m not experiencing this in a war zone without proper medical attention.

b. for the fact that I’m driven to Christ.

c. that this episode signifies a new chapter and the possibility of thriving mobility.

d. for verses like James 1:2-4 which are even more real than phantom pains. We are sanctified through these things.

How is this all measured? By our response.

In this case, it’s my response to pain and sleeplessness. Do I get grumpy in the morning because my rubber toast is cold? (It must be said that this is my fault – it took me a while to get to my breakfast. The food here is very good). No I must thank God that I have any food at all while I am experiencing this painful thing.

Another thing that helps me is:

2. Eternal perspective

Yes, that’s right – an eternal perspective. This is temporary; a blink of an eye in light of eternity (and a glorious eternity it is!). 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 covers this well and in light of suffering.

One more thing:

3. God’s Word

God’s Word helps me most, accompanied by the Holy Spirit who makes it real and makes the change inside of me. I can’t cherry pick what I think are the sweet promises of God and not go to the rock-solid passages I list below. No, I must get to the heart of what God is doing and He says what that is in the passages like these. I pray you’ll find the comfort I have if or when you are struggling.

God is good and builds us. What a tremendous tool box he has!

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…Romans 5:2-4

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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Real Romance: A Tribute

When I met my wife, Kathy, we both confessed to being hopeless romantics. I knew this was a good sign. Our relationship progressed rather quickly. Our claims proved to be true, as our times together included flowers (especially roses), dinner at an Italian restaurant with just the right lighting, dancing with flickering candles to our favourite ballads, and me opening the car door for her.

These were the kinds of things we were hoping for in a relationship and it ticked boxes for both of us. We had normal expectations of any new relationship that seems to be going well. We’d date, get engaged when the time is right, and get married with a big ceremony. The marriage would also be full of romance, we’d pool our resources, and do pretty well from the world’s perspective.

That romantic idea was just an idyllic dream. It wasn’t long before we had a better one. I’d crash my motorcycle (with someone else’s “assistance”), mangle my legs, and end up in the hospital for almost two months. I’d propose to her in the hospital, marry her in the registrars office, and honeymoon in the hospital because of an infection. We’d be apart for over a month after that as I went to a live-in rehab centre.

Our dates from then on involved her driving, loading my wheelchair into the car, and then helping me push myself to our destination.

For almost our whole time together, Kathy has been acting as caregiver to varying degrees (which involved unmentionable help with personal care in the early days). She has gone through every minute of my pain, which has been great pain at times! She has taken part in the struggle to regain some abilities and she helped me figure out how to walk again with crutches. We have ridden the rollercoaster together of hospital appointments and disappointments. Hopes were dashed and dreams were revised.

Kathy has had to relive the single life again numerous times due to extended hospital stays and we kept our hearts warmed over video the best we could. We accepted together that limb reconstruction had failed and amputation was inevitable (indeed, beneficial). There were (only brief) discussions about post-amputation attraction and renewed talk of commitment and loyalty.

Yes, that is romance – romance at its best. This is a romance that shows the love of a sacrificial, servant-hearted God to the world. I am blessed.

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God’s Harley

Harley Davidson Softail Custom

I have possessed three Harley Davidson motorcycles in my life.  The second you can see in the picture on this blog.  Of all the material things I’ve ever had in my life, this was the most valuable, valued and cherished.  I had almost become one with it.  When I sold it, I fought back the tears and got all choked up remembering our times together. 

I remember buying it.  My son, Tim, was with me.  I traded it in for the first Harley, which we outgrew.  I say we, because the darn boy grew so much that our feet bumped each other on the smaller Sportster when he rode pillion.  This would not do!  We went to the showroom of the dealership in New Market.  There she was.  A thing of beauty.  

When I look back at that transaction, I think of it quite differently than I did back then.  Let’s think through it together.  It’s like any other transaction that we participate in.  For those not interested in motorcycles (there must be a name for that condition), you can imagine my living room set.  My wife, Kathy, and I brought it home a couple of years ago.  It’s a nice leather corner sofa with a matching chair.   

You see, that motorcycle, or that living room set – or anything else – is not mine.  This is how I try to look at the things.  It’s more like, I went to the showrooms where these items were, and had them moved to my house.  No, wait, I had them moved to the house I was living in.  The house wasn’t mine (even though, in one case, my name was on the deed).   

How can we say we own anything?  God created the universe and everything in it.  It’s all his.  Am I stating the obvious?  If so, then why do we strive so hard to buy the next thing?  Why do we covet what others have and become discontent with our own possessions?  No, I don’t think I state the obvious at all.   

How preposterous it is to stress over getting on the property ladder, which is so difficult in the United Kingdom, or to presume upon fulfilling the American Dream.  We can have our names on titles, deeds, or etched on our jewellery, but it doesn’t mean we own it.  That patch of ground had been here thousands of years before some guy came along, staked it out, and pretended it was his.  The land watches us come and go just like countless people have done before.   

So when I saw that beautiful Harley Davidson Softail Custom in the showroom, I chose God’s motorcycle, made from God’s materials by God-created hands, skill and intellect.  I paid for it with non-money that sits in the “cloud” somewhere in the form of bits and bytes.  It was taken from God’s showroom to God’s garage for prep, and I took it to God’s house where he let me live.  Harley Davidson never owned it.  Nor did I.  We were just at different points in the transaction.   

The same is true for the living room set.  I liked it.  So God let me transfer the non-money from his account that has my name on it to the account that bears the furniture store’s name, after which the furniture was moved to his house he lets me live in.  It was his before I saw it and it’s his now.  When I sit in my chair with my feet up, I feel like a cherished guest. 

Why does it pay to see things this way?   

  1. It’s the truth.   

It always helps to recognise the truth. 

  1. It fosters contentment.   

If I feel unhappy with my sofa, I start to feel guilty – as if I’m insulting my host’s property!  More than this, if I live in a mansion or a tiny shack somewhere, it’s God’s mansion or tiny shack, and what a blessing it is!  I should never insult my Landlord!   

  1. It dissuades covetousness. 

When we see someone with something that we’ve just got to get our sweaty palms on, it puts things into a better perspective when we know that person doesn’t really own it, whatever it is.  It also helps us not have that unhealthy envious feeling of dislike.  Sure, he or she has that cool widget, but why covet what they don’t own?   

  1. It loosens our grip. 

Thinking this way of material things will help us loosen our grip and will direct our hearts to where our treasure should always be (where moths and rust don’t corrupt (Matthew 6:20-21). 

I hope to own another motorcycle again.  Or should I say “use” another motorcycle?  Keep another?  Arrange for the transaction?   

Yes, that’s what I mean.  

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A Bespoke Cross to Bear

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Luke 9:23

Bespoke.  It is a funny word.  It’s one that Americans don’t use much, at least when I last lived there 16 years ago.  The Oxford dictionary says it is a British word.  It simply means something is “tailor-made” or made for a specific customer.  It’s a good word and very handy to use.  Let’s use it to set the stage as I recount a story from the last time I was in the hospital (15th to the 25th of March 2020). 

I was moved from the hospital’s A&E (accident and emergency) to the very familiar orthopaedic ward.  This time was because I’d developed two types of infection in my failed leg – the leg that has been under reconstruction for the last two and a half years.  During this hospitalization, I was prepped for amputation.  It even had the ominous black arrow drawn on it.  I said goodbye.  Then the amputation was cancelled due to the corona virus pandemic.  But meanwhile, over those ten days, I stayed on intravenous antibiotics. 

My bedroom for those days was a bay with seven beds. I was in the middle on the left. Four beds were across from me, each adorned with colourfully lit, beeping machines, wires and tubes. In fact, those beds were, in a manner of speaking, bespoke: set up specifically for each customer of the bay. There were no walls between our seven beds until someone came and enclosed a bed with the blue curtains hanging from the walls. The room was painted light green and to my left I could look out the window and see the countryside. It is one of the best views in the hospital overlooking some of the biggest hills Cambridgeshire has to offer. If you know Cambridgeshire, then you know that’s not saying much.

My roommates were older than me, except one.  The men across from me (from left to right) were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.   (I use these names just for the sake of remembering who I’m talking about).  Peter was to my left, and Paul to my right.  It was an orthopaedic ward, so we all had issues with bones.  To some, that is stating the obvious, but if you’ve never spent time in the hospital, it may not seem relevant.  Let me just say there was a lot of pain in that room.  The pain was compounded by other issues which made for restless nights. 

Every night Luke would say, “Dorothy?  Is that you?  Where are you, Dorothy?”  This might begin at about 2 or 3am and continue for the next few hours.  Luke was a gentleman and very a good husband.  “Dorothy, did you make that noise?  Are you OK?”   

Mark would stir at Luke’s words and say, “pardon?  What did you say?”   

“I’m sorry?” Luke would answer.   

A nurse, aware that Peter and I were trying to sleep, desperately and pleadingly tried to settle Luke down.  “Dorothy is at hooooome, Luke.  You’ve had a faaaaall.  You’re in the hoooospital.”  It was a very repetitious singsong.  It was a truth he could accept for a moment, but he’d soon forget.   

John would wake up and be very angry about something or other.  Just when things began to settle down, Matthew would determine in himself to try to get out of bed and go home.  He was going to walk if he had to.  He was not physically capable, but he didn’t seem to care.  Was he bluffing?  Paul, to my right, had undergone surgery and during the night, under the influence of anaesthetics, became a very different person.  He began his socializing with the staff at about 3am.   

Yes, pain, confusion and distress were three words that describe the feelings observed in my roommates.  Peter was a bit younger than me.  He had diabetes and he also had such bad neuropathy that he couldn’t feel his legs enough to walk.  He had fallen out of bed and broken a leg (hence his stay with us).  He was cheery, but I couldn’t help but be concerned for his wellbeing.  This made me stop and think. 

I was very unhappy about my situation.  My leg decided to pack it in right when the medical professionals were ramping up for the war with COVID19.  I was fed up with the 33-month long battle of trying to walk.  But what about Peter?  He had a broken leg too, and it had problems with infection.  Not only that, but he couldn’t walk even before the break.  He also had a chronic illness that would threaten his lower limbs and organs.  He was destined to suffer poor health and be wheelchair bound for life.  My guilt was appropriate.  I wasn’t suffering as much as he was.   

So, I looked around the room at the others.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.  Paul.  No, I really wouldn’t want to trade places with any of them, with their various breaks and other ailments that coincided.  Though I was crippled for life, I otherwise had good health in mind and body.   

One early morning, during the dawn chorus, I had forgotten this new perspective and began to crack.  My roommates were very active most of the night, like all the other nights, and I couldn’t sleep.  I had been sleep-deprived for several consecutive nights and I lost most of my ability to cope.  Not only was the talking, yelling and arguing disrupting my sleep, it was a very negative feeling that I can’t quite describe.  So, I picked up my crutches and hobbled out of the bay and limped down the hall and left the ward.  It was about 4am.  I found a staff meeting room and curled up on a little sofa – a two-seater.  Since my leg doesn’t bend, that didn’t work so well.   

A fantastic, caring health care assistant found me and escorted me to a new room with only two other men.  I’ll call them James and Jude.  James had two broken legs with Taylor Spatial Frames on them and little prospect for complete recovery.  He had many breaks and infections.  Jude was another diabetic who had a break in his lower leg and I have become familiar enough with the world of orthopaedics to know his recovery was not straight forward.  He, too, was facing amputation.  James was discharged and replaced by Timothy.   

Now, Timothy…finally someone who had less of a problem than I did.  He had an injured knee and would probably have a knee replacement.  There were no underlying health problems and I suspected he would recover nicely.  He would not qualify for a blue badge.  That’s when the penny dropped.  I asked myself if I’d rather trade places with him.  Eight other men were obviously worse off than me, at least to my mind.  But here was a young man who should fare much better I will.  So now would I trade places?  No, I would not. 

I was thankful for this object lesson because it showed me that, despite my difficulties, I love my life.  I am blessed.  My suffering – my trial – is mine and mine alone.  It is designed just for me.  It is my cross to bear and no one else can carry it.  Our crosses are uniquely made for just the right test of obedience.  Would I endure it in obedience or grumble and dishonour God?  Will I let it do its work to conform me to the image of Christ or fight against it?  Luke’s cross is made for Luke, and Peter’s is made for Peter.  But I have my own bespoke cross, which I carry because God saw fit that I do so, just as he did for you as well.  What shape is your cross?  Do you carry it or try to leave it behind?  Do you try to trade it for someone else’s?  I encourage you to carry it.  It will produce perseverance, character, hope and maturity (Romans 5:3-4, James 1:4).  Glory to God. 

And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:8
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Almost an Amputee: Stopping and Surrendering Some More

Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

A week ago, I spoke in a vlog (see here) about the “stop, serve and surrender” model for life. I said there is a lot of talk about peace lately, but that there was something missing. I figured that surrender was the necessary element for peace to exist. And for surrender to exist, we must stop. The Corona Virus (CV) has done that one thing nicely: getting us to stop. I encouraged everyone watching to stop, surrender (an enemy army can’t surrender without first ceasing to resist!) and then serve out of the joy, peace and love that overflows from “being in the room” with God.

Right after I spoke those words, a nurse came to my hospital bedside and told me to prepare myself for amputation on Wednesday. It was discussed amongst the staff that it would be less risky than to wait until COVID-19 was in full swing. They soon whisked me away and put a central PIC line in for antibiotics and drawing blood. There was a flurry of conversations and activities that prevented me from really getting my head around it all.

The next day, Tuesday, I spent the day saying goodbye to my leg.  I made a couple of videos, putting my toes in the grass, putting a shoe on my right foot, and wearing jeans with my right leg filling up the material one last time.  I talked about how this leg had served me well for over 50 years with too many walks and adventures to remember.  Honourable mention was given to walking 100 miles across the thumb of Michigan when I was 17, hiking through the dense woods in Canada’s Agawa Canyon, and the 24-Peaks Challenge in England’s Lake District.   

I was just coming to terms with the fact that I would go to bed the next day without it.  Then another nurse came to the foot of my bed and said the amputation was cancelled.  I was sent home the next day with osteomyelitis in my tibia as we hedged our bets that I’d be OK; it would be less risky than compromising my immune system with traumatic surgery while the pandemic crisis rose to its peak. 

Over the next few days, I felt something akin to PTSD, which could have only been worse if they had actually cut off my leg.  Never, in the 32 months since the accident, have I felt so much anger and angst.  Yes, I wanted an amputation (who says that?!), but complicated issues had kicked that can down the road for a while.  We had just got to the point where I knew I’d be able to schedule something soon.  Then IT came along.  After coming to terms with what was coming and what would happen to the NHS, I resigned myself to the fact that my amputation would be delayed indefinitely.  As soon as I surrendered to that fact, we discovered the infection.  The rollercoaster really took off. 

So now, what do I do?  I’m certain that my words about stopping, surrendering and serving in that vlog were for me more than anyone.  I have to stop again, because my brain is working overtime.  It had been catastrophising, killing me off with a bout of osteomyelitis and septicemia.  But that was only after being more crippled up by the infection destroying my whole leg instead of just half.  I need to stop.  I need to get in the room.  There is God.  Then I need to surrender these fears (and the anger – which is aimed at no one in particular, I must add). 

Steve Campbell, one of the senior pastors of my church (The C3 Church, in Cambridge, UK), convinced me that I need to do this blog.  He doesn’t know it yet.  While he was preaching on the subject of peace on Sunday, he mentioned having not only the peace of God, but peace with God.  Amongst many scripture references, he mentioned Romans 5:1, which says “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…”  

That verse was heavy on my mind last week, especially because I included it in my book and in a little talk I gave at a church in Essex some time ago. (Regarding my book: I received notice from a publisher that they cannot take any more submissions due to virus-related issues – my first rejection notice and right while I write this blog on this subject!). God is reminding me now of a particular point: I once had a problem much worse than this.

You see, before I was justified by faith (that is, declared “not guilty” and pardoned for my sins), I did not have peace with God.  I was in a condition that kept me separated from God.  I am reminded that this separation could have been forever and this profound problem is the worst one I had in my life, and it had eternal consequences.  But going through Christ, by faith, this trouble has been resolved. 

Now I am reminded that no other trouble is anything compared to that one which has been fixed. I have peace with God, which means I have access to him as my King, and my Heavenly Father. What does it matter that I have one leg or two? I will stand in the presence of His glory! What does it matter that I am healthy or ill again? I will live with him forever! And this, in a glorified, resurrected body (see my blog about this here).

Friend, are you a Christian?  If you are – if you have trusted in Christ to restore you to the Father – then you have had your worst problem fixed forever.  Anything else does not compare.  You may say, “my afflictions are worse than someone else’s.”  It doesn’t matter.  The Master has a large tool box and knows just what you need to conform you to the image of His Son.  You may say, “my afflictions are not as bad as someone else’s.”  It doesn’t matter.  We should not rejoice that someone is suffering worse than we are, and let’s not dishonour them by complaining about our circumstances.   

Finally, I’m reminded of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:17: “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” If we really, really believe this – if it is 100% reality for us – then we can go through any trial and uncertainty with the joy of knowing we have our God, our Saviour, our Joy and Peace with us now and forever.

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Stop, Surrender, Serve

www.youtube.com/watch

My mind is very cluttered so concentration is difficult. In the midst of the pandemic crisis, I have developed osteomyelitis. This comes from old wounds from the motorcycle accident. The medical community has decided amputation should be hastened to avoid risking problems down the road. I did this video, instead of writing. I usually prefer to write, but hopefully this will do for now. I pray you are blessed by the message.

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The Calling Abyss

“Whenever I find myself in the cellar of affliction, I always look about for the wine.”

Samuel Rutherford
https://www.pexels.com/@elti-meshau-107925

The abyss is calling. It is calling everyone with nothing. It offers nothing, takes nothing and gives nothing. Who will answer its call? Normally the answer is nobody, but when people are in pain, then nothing can appear to be a better option. This is when the abyss really re-states it’s call: “I offer nothing, take nothing and give nothing.”

It’s at this point when the call can be tempting. Pain or nothing? The problem is, the more you move into the abyss the more it calls you in. “I offer nothing, take nothing and give nothing.”


If you answer it’s call the problem is that one day you will look around and there will be nothing! You can shout, rant and rave at the abyss and it will take it all and then then still not care because all it will offer, take and give is nothing.

It will just try to draw you in all the more.


To choose life may mean to choose pain, but it is the better option. It may be the hard option but it leads to life. When you hear the abyss calling it is better to turn your back to it and choose life instead, even if it means dealing with pain and hurt. It can be the hard choice to make but it is the better choice to make.


For us as Christians, choosing life can very much so be turning to God.
Choosing life can also mean not doing what you feel you want to do. We may need to take it one step at a time, but one small step in the right direction is one small step back to life. They may not be easy steps to take but they are steps that lead back to life.

Rather than allowing ourselves to be drawn into nothing it is better to try and choose life. As always some things are easier said than done. Part of the journey is to be aware that we have a choice. Then we need to endeavour to make the right choices.

This article was written by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous (for now). I am honoured to publish his thoughts for him.

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Body Image (3): Greatest Body, Wounded Parts

All believers…are one body…closely connected together in Christ, and consequently ought to be helpful to each other. 

John Wesley
“Helper” carries my crutches for me and needs a rest.

This is the third and final installment of the Body Image series.  I write this for the wounded who find it difficult to push forward.  Not just for them, but for those who know someone who is wounded and finding it difficult to move forward.  We can feel so compelled to serve Christ, which we should, but sometimes limitations fall on us and that becomes a troublesome thing.   

Let’s look at this in relation to the Body, the Body of Christ, the Church.  I will try to keep things simple by getting to a main point made by 18th century theologian and revivalist John Wesley: “we are closely connected together in Christ and consequently ought to be helpful to each other.”  That was his comment on Romans 12:5.   

Paul writes a similar message to the Corinthians and says to each person that their “unique manifestation of the Spirit” is given for the common good.  (1 Corinthians 12:7).  He describes different ways people are gifted and then likens them to body parts in order to diffuse strife that has built up from jealousy over gifts.  Paul makes it clear that each one receives different gifts, each for a particular, unique and important purpose.  For the sake of unity, he writes, “…so that there should be no division among the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”  He goes on to say that if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.   

I remember standing on my legs and trying to walk 2 meters between parallel bars while trying to recover from my motorcycle accident.  My right leg, though broken much more badly than my left, was stronger because it had a “Taylor Spatial Frame” on it.  It held my leg together like a strong exoskeleton.  It was the leg that made full weight-bearing possible and allowed me to stand.  It took up weight for my left leg, which had no intact ligaments to speak of and a dislocated knee cap.  I look around the church and see people who, despite having issues of their own, prop up those who are even weaker.  God, bless those people.   

I have video footage of my first steps.  My arms were recruited to pull the rest of the body into a standing position.  They had to work very hard to do so.  Then, to walk those mere two meters, my arms carried virtually all of my weight, as my legs were wasted away.  Arms are not made for walking.  Their muscle mass is much smaller than the legs’ and designed to do other things.  After a few labored steps, all of my energy was drained and I trembled under the strain.  I look around the church and I see people who have to do work designed for someone else because that someone else is unable to.  God bless those people.   

Over the last two years of using a wheelchair and crutches to propel my body, my shoulder has become weary from overuse.  I try to strengthen my upper back muscles, which helps, but make no mistake: it’s life span will suffer.  The shoulder, the hero, has been sacrificing itself for a lengthy period of time for the benefit of the rest of the body.  How else could the rest of the body be as useful if it could not get around?  I look around the church and see people bearing one another’s burdens at cost to themselves.  God bless those people. 

My legs serve to illustrate what has happened to me in the church.  Because of the injuries to them, the acquired disability, the resulting mental health struggles and other complicated knock-on effects, I feel I have been taken out of commission.  For years I served in the armed forces, supervising as many as 63 people.  The most rewarding aspect of my role was the pastoral care involved.  The second most rewarding role I found myself in was teaching.  After retirement, I eventually found my way to education in a pastoral care role.  But since the accident, I have not successfully returned to work for a substantial period of time so now there seems to be a great void from not exercising the gifts I feel I have.   

To make this more of a concern, I have recently stepped down from a leadership role in a fledgling ministry because further life-changing operations await.  Staying in the role would have caused the mission to suffer because it won’t get my undivided attention or full strength.  I am broken-hearted over this.  The feeling of uselessness and failure comes in waves, even though I know these feelings are not legitimate.  

So what do we make of these seasons when our wounds (be they, physical, mental, emotional or even spiritual) take us out of action?  Any suggestions or principles I propose here can feel like hard-to-swallow medicine.  Here’s what I’m thinking.  I hope they are helpful to you: 

  1. God is sovereign.  He doesn’t need our service.  That sounds harsh, but it’s true.  He has everything he needs to live happily forever.  He desires our hearts.  David says something like that in Psalm 51:16-17.  See, our gifts and services (done in joy, by the way) are for the greater good of the church and the church is to glorify God through the Great Commission.  If something that is beyond our control inhibits us, having an understanding of this principle can take the pressure off! 
  1. God is sovereign.  He does everything for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).  That includes anything that’s going on and whatever our wounds are.  Just remember too, that, according to the next verse, the aim is to be conformed to the image of his Son.  That’s a glorious thing.  Incidentally, that will include having a body, mind and soul that doesn’t get wounded at all!   
  1. God is sovereign.  (Have I said that yet)?  He is very economical and orchestrates many things together for the good of many people at the same time.  That includes those who get to support you and do the work you would have done under different circumstances.  Though it may be extra challenging for them, they will also grow and become more conformed to the image of Christ.   

So take heart my friends, my brothers, my sisters.  Do what you can and don’t give up.  Pray.  The rest of the body needs it.   

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Body Image (2): A Perfect Future

And doesn’t it make sense, then, that even now we should start getting ready for that great time by using our bodies as living sacrifices of worship and instruments of righteousness for the glory of God?

John Piper

This is the second of three in a series I’ve called “Body Image.”  It should be the third, but this issue has become so pressing to me that it had to be next.  You see, it’s about the future’s body image.  This image is a very literal image, and one that you’ll be most pleased with.  So will I.  The image I have in mind is what is sometimes known as a redeemed body, or a glorified body.   

Please allow me to groan outwardly for a few minutes before we climb back up to the peak of joyfulness about the truth of our situation. You see, “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.” (Romans 8:23). Oh, I certainly am groaning, along with all creation, to be liberated from the bondage of decay.

You may have read that my decay has been a bit hastened by a motorcycle accident.  Here’s something I posted in social media about my plight some time ago.  Having another look at it as helped me see things in a new light. 

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this year is that I now see heaven as my home and my preferred place of dwelling.  This is new.  Since July 2017 I have learned to rejoice, yes, and Praise God.  The weariness and drudgery of recovery has taught me to lean forward.   

The body I took pride in keeping strong is broken.  My best knee barely bends and the other is fused.  As I learn to walk again, recovering balance and muscle mass, I drag around about twenty pounds of metal that is fastened to my leg with posts, screws and wire.  I am never comfortable.  Ever.  Many times each day that discomfort crosses over into pain, especially at night when my better leg feels as if it’s being ripped again. 

My chest and arms ache with fatigue from bearing some of the weight my legs once bore.  All the time.  My ankles hurt so much when I first stand in the morning I’d much rather stay in bed.  Wires pull on my thigh continually and sometimes they feel like they will tear through.  My hands hurt from the crutches and carpal tunnel has developed, weakening my right hand’s fingers so that cutting my nails is nearly impossible.   

My left elbow has developed bursitis causing an unsightly knob of fluid to grow and leaves me aching there.  Sitting in my wheelchair too long makes my right foot black from lack of circulation.   

My stomach has been brutalised by repeated courses of antibiotics forcing me to deal with urgent issues that are hard to deal with because clothing is hard to get past my frame. 

Meanwhile previous issues still plague me.  My tinnitus still rings its chorus of dissonance of three or four tones of ringing and crickets-chirping.  Blepharitis dries my eyes out to the point of pain and at night I can hardly open my eyes.   

But all this is so temporary.  This body will not be my home forever.  For the first time I believe (and not just say I believe) that I will be fitted with a resurrected body. 

… 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 

Perhaps there will be scars, like the scars of Jesus who went before us.  They may be a reminder of what has taken place on Earth to prepare me for the kingdom, conforming me to his image (Romans 8:29).” 

Much of what I said over a year ago is still true.  That painful metal frame is gone, along with the bursitis, but there are new problems due to my leg not healing properly during the reconstruction.  I still use crutches and my levels of bodily fatigue are as high as ever.  This was exacerbated by trying to go back to work full time.  During this time, the simple act of filling out a very thorough questionnaire for an orthopaedic consultant has triggered a psychological downer for me.  This has brought me to a new dilemma.   

I’ve experienced a new level of mourning for my limbs.  Mourning for my walking.  Mourning for the odd miscellaneous tasks that I either can’t do or can’t do with ease.  So now as I struggle with doing life, I ask myself, how can I glorify God if I’m getting depressed?  How can I “do all things for the Glory of God” if everything I do is not its best because I just don’t have the mental or physical resources to perform?  How can I love others as I’m supposed to, especially since my job really can’t be done well without doing just that?  Everything I do seems to be filtered by the limitations of this broken body and its exhausted brain. 

As I have pondered these questions, I only came up with one answer, and that came from what God has shown me before; I have to trust that God will be glorified somehow by my surrendering these very questions to him.  That’s still a work in progress.  However, I learned something more important, and I suspect that has something to do with these struggles.   

You see, a year ago, I longed to move onto my new Home and looked forward to that glorified body.  No more pain! What a deal!  Only since then I have come to realize that there lies a misguided motivation.  Don’t get me wrong – of course we long for relief.  That’s only natural.  But how much more do I now want this new body so that I can glorify God!  That’s the key – such a marvelous revelation!  I should hope for the glorified body, not to end pain and deficiencies, but so that I can be equipped to worship and glorify a God who will be seen for the first time with the eyes of a body that can survive the presence of His radiance.  My new person will delight, unhindered for the first time, in the God who is my joy. 

Some people don’t have physical challenges as bad as mine.  Some people have much worse.  But some day there will be great equality with great bodies that will do just what they have been meant to do all along – that is glorify God in a most fulfilling way.   

Jesus, see that mountain over there?  

Yes Russ.  

Remember my days in the mountains?  

Yes Russ.  

I want to worship you up there. Can you be there when I get there?  

I certainly will. I would be delighted. Come, let’s walk together.

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Body Image (1): Beautifully Ugly

It is a great honor that God confers upon us when he desires to dwell in us.

(John Calvin).

Let’s face it. My entire lower body has become visually unattractive. Objectively speaking it is no longer aesthetically pleasing. In short: my legs are ugly. On the left side, the upper thigh has two wrinkly pink patches, each about the width of a duct tape strip. The back of the knee has a gaping hole that folds over itself like the skin of a pachyderm when the knee is bent. That hole was plugged up with skin from those wrinkly pink patches that cover ligaments and tendons, but you can still see them move because there’s no other soft tissue there. There is a bulging hernia on the shin and scars on the knee. Still, the left side looks adorable compared to the right.

On the right leg, there are countless pink/purple dimples from holes made from the pins of a frame that held my leg together for 16 months. Some of these holes are actually more like track marks from those pins dragging through the skin as the leg was stretched. There is another elongated crater on the shin from being cut open to alleviate “compartment syndrome.” That spot received some skin from those wrinkly pink patches too. There is a huge, uneven patch of red skin from scarring that turns dark purple or orange, depending what’s happening at the time. Flesh was sewn up in various places; most notably the spot through which the knee and femur so rudely appeared during the accident. The right leg is in a permanent 10 – 20 degree bend. The overall leg shape is just too weird to explain. It is lumpy, especially when it’s swollen.

See, my legs are ugly. I am faced with them every day and try to learn from them. There are three lessons I’ve kicked around over the last few days: 1) my temple is still a temple, 2) there is a great analogy about the body and the church, and 3) there’s a future regarding our bodies and a hope we have because of them. Here are my thoughts on the first subject:

It’s Still a Temple

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19). 

At the turn of the century, my fitness addiction was in full swing. I became a certified personal fitness trainer. When this phase was at its peak, I lifted weights for an hour and did an hour of cardiovascular training each day, up to six days per week. My body was one of my gods, but I was never satisfied with it. My own body image was skewed. When I came to my senses, I still felt fitness was important but began to view these efforts as a stewardship issue. I only have one body so I must take care of it.

Since that time, I have retired from the Air Force (one motivation for staying fit) and have gone through various phases of fitness, from being a complete couch potato/desk jockey, to preparing for the physical demands of the 24 Peaks Challenge (see my blog Good, Good Water).  After my accident, I found that my previous efforts had paid off and I was able to do things that others in my situation couldn’t.  But lifting weights, one of my favorite pastimes, wasn’t working out for me very well.  It seemed like whenever I exerted myself, I got an infection and had to hold off on physical conditioning.  When I went back to work, fatigue set in so badly, any type of exercise became unrealistic.  This was very frustrating. 

The frustration lasted for about two years.  Once this summer (2019) started for me, which was early July, I was able to train in earnest.  I hit the gym for six weeks, concentrating on building up my strength.  (You can see some videos on the “Rejoicing Bones” YouTube Channel: https://youtu.be/l4Dy_zEeS5U).  The progress I made was very satisfying.  In some areas, I have regained all the strength I’ve lost since the accident two years ago.  Some people have told me that I am an inspiration.  That is good.  But I don’t feel that there’s been any other way for me to respond.  I’ve been given one body to last this side of heaven, so I need to make it last for a couple of more decades – maybe three, Lord willing.   It’s still the body I have to honor God with.

Now, the body will fail eventually.  That’s why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:16 that we are outwardly wasting away.  So, does that mean I’m wasting my time by working out?  Absolutely not.  I want to give all I have to the Lord until he takes me home.  This means I want this body to be as serviceable as possible.  I also think that, if quality of life improves from what I’m doing, my mind will be sharper and I’ll be able to speak up for the God who has done such wonderful things for me.  While I’m on this earth, my legs may not work so well.  I may even lose one of them.  But the rest of me will have to be taken care of.  It is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  And it is beautiful.   

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Good, Good Water

… they acted contrary to the dictates of common sense, in that they not only changed, but that they changed for the worse, and made a bad bargain for themselves. 

Matthew Henry
Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan

You’ll never be productive when you’re thirsty.  I mean really thirsty.  Dehydrated.  One of the most punishing, physically demanding feats I have ever attempted proved that to me in 2014.  It was the “24 Peaks Challenge” in England’s Lake District.  The fundraising trek included walking up 24 of the highest mountains of the region, all being 2,400 feet or higher, within 24 hours.  I managed to walk all day both days conquering most of the peaks, but I was set back on the first day.  My muscles began to seize within the first few hours.  I thought I wasn’t eating enough, and the guides did too.  So, I stuffed my granola-type snacks in my mouth which promptly turned into a horrible paste and stuck in my throat like great globs of goo.  No, goo would have gone down better.  I thought I would choke.  

Fortunately, a guide had an epiphany and advised me to drink water.  Our little tour had started early that morning and sideways rain was our introduction.  Like a good little trekker, I donned my raingear.  Raingear is like an oven.  Mine was anyway.  I successfully avoided hypothermia by baking myself and sweating out all my fluids.  I didn’t feel it though, because it felt wet and cool outside.  So I was oblivious to the dehydration that was sneaking up on me.  I lived in the Mojave Desert for over 3 years, visited Tunisia, and other hot places but I had never experienced this phenomenon like that before.  I could barely walk.  My muscles just would not budge!  

I drank a lot of water, hoping an air ambulance rescue would not be necessary (no, I saved that experience for the 2017 motorcycle accident).  The guide promised to get me some more water from the mountain streams if I drank more.  I did.  I’ll never forget him dipping my bottle in the stream at a strategic location (uphill from the sheep and their by-products and near plants that filtered the water a bit).  He didn’t think we needed purification tablets up there, but I used them anyway.  It didn’t taste nice but it sure was wet! 

Before long, after descending the mighty Great Gable, I began to feel re-energized.  Production returned, and I was able to climb the even-mightier Scafell Pike.  I now imagine all the muscle cells refilling, gaining volume and functionality.  I think I will easily recognize the symptoms of dehydration in the future if I’m ever foolish enough to let that happen again.  I finished day one of that walk with a lot of energy and was even able to run a bit at the end.  But miles were lost and some Peaks were left unconquered.   

I told this tale in public to illustrate the need to be “like a tree planted by streams of water” as described in Psalm 1 a couple of years later.  Very shortly after that I pulled up stakes and went as far from the stream of water as I could and withered up like a nasty prune.  (For more of that, please see my first blog, “Why My Bones Rejoice”).  However, since 2017, and especially after having my legs redesigned in a motorcycle accident, staying near to the stream of water in Psalm 1 has seemed like a pretty good idea.  More than that, being foolish enough to endanger myself by straying again scares the tar out of me.  Why would I want to become incapacitated like that again and feel so horrible?   

God repeatedly uses the fresh, life-giving, life-sustaining resource as an obvious object lesson.  I’ll only speak for myself, but I wonder if God uses it because I’m so thick (stubborn? proud?).  In one of my favourite passages, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that he provides a living water, one that will prevent thirst forever (John chapter 4). 

In Revelation 7:17 we read “For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” 

Psalm 42:1 says “as the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”

Psalm 36:8-9, “… you give them drink from your river of delights.  For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” 

But the one that convicts my heart most pointedly is Jeremiah 2:13 

“My people have committed two sins: 

They have forsaken me, 

    the spring of living water, 

and have dug their own cisterns, 

    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” 

I’ve heard more than one preacher point out the truth of this verse so I get no points for originality.  But ouch.  Is he talking about wayward Israel or is he talking about me?  Yes.  Changing the source of water is a bad bargain. Every time I’ve traded the Living Water for some other hair-brained idea I have found I stink at making cisterns.  They never hold water.  Even if I were good at it, the water in it would be stagnant and who knows what kind of bugs, vermin and disease would lurk inside.  No, not for me.  Not anymore.  There is a spring of clean, living, loving, life-giving water and I want to stay right there!  Incidentally, since God is so big, I like to visualize, not so much a mountain stream, but something like Michigan’s magnificent Tahquamenon Falls.  Who could run out of water there? 

If you have ever found the Spring of Living Water, please let me encourage you to stay there.  Don’t leave Him.  You’ll shrivel up and dehydrate, even if you don’t feel thirsty.  You won’t have any life in you or be able to function the way God has designed you to.  If you have wandered from the Spring, come back!  Right now!  Joy and satisfaction wait for you.  If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, maybe you’ve never been to the Spring at all.  If not, then the water you find in puddles may seem to satisfy.  My prayer for you is that you’ll really feel just how dehydrated you are.  Whatever your situation, whatever your place, run to the Spring of Living Water and drink.  Jesus is the one who’ll lead you there.   

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Why My Bones Rejoice

Every broken bone would then become a mouth with which to bless God! — Charles Spurgeon

Broken bones hurt. When it’s a big bone, like the femur (thigh bone), the pain is among the worst a body can endure. The pain is as deep as the broken thing itself and there’s no relief to be had until the wonders of modern medication kick in. When David wrote Psalm 51 he painted just such a picture of his heart’s grief and pain over his fall. If you’re not familiar with the Psalm, it is one of King David’s Psalms known as the penitential Psalms. They are aptly named as he wrote them from the depths of despair over his own departure from God’s Way. He was the King of Israel, the boy who had slain the giant with a sling and stone because he dared to defy the God of Israel. He was called a man after God’s own heart by God himself (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). He was first in the line of kings that would eventually lead to the Messiah.

Yet he broke. His eyes betrayed him and he coveted another man’s wife. Then he took her. Then he plotted her husband’s death through military action to cover up his indiscretions when he learned Bathsheba was pregnant. The prophet Nathan confronted David with the truth and he was devastated. It seems almost like the shock of the charge woke him up from some sort of heart-hardened spell. When I think of the reality of that discussion between the prophet and king, my heart breaks for David because his story is close to home for me and countless other Christians who have dethroned God and replaced him with another.

More than once in my life have I leaned on David’s writings and mulled over the words “against you and you only have I sinned” or “restore to me the joy of my salvation.” But the last time I drank in the words of this Psalm, I had a very real object lesson to go with it. I had fallen hard and rejected God, becoming virtually faithless and wondered about the truth of Heaven and eternity. It seems we don’t use the term “backslidden” much anymore in Christian circles, but Charles H. Spurgeon used the term several times during his sermon on the 21st of March, 1869. More than six thousand words were spent that day on Psalm 51:8: “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have broken rejoice” and no words were wasted. You can read it at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons15.xiv.html#xiv-p0.1A

Yes, I was officially backslidden and though the period of time was only about 2 years, it turned out to be very destructive and very painful. In January of 2017 I began to realize that I was in desperate need of The Good Shepherd and I was one messed up sheep and the pastures were not really greener but a barren wasteland that made less sense than Alice’s Wonderland. Getting back on the Way was hard mostly because my heart wasn’t where my head knew it should be. But I began to walk in that direction, knowing that the crustiness of the heart would eventually chip away.

I was gaining ground and began to really understand that God was drawing me back. Over the months, I had survived church without any lightning bolts but never completely surrendered – that is until 3 July, 2017. That’s the day I met the future king in my underwear. In short, I was in a collision on the way into Cambridge (UK). My Harley Davidson crashed into the barrier, ripping my jeans off, throwing me in the air and breaking my legs to pieces somewhere along the way.

My left leg was ripped open because it folded the wrong way at the knee and the right one was ripped open in various places because the bones broke through and the soft tissue didn’t hold up so well. There are many details which are recorded elsewhere and I do hope they will become widely available because of all that’s to be learned from the ordeal. But for now, I’m focusing on those broken bones (one pinkie-finger (wait that’s not the masculine way to say that, is it?), three toes, one femur, one tibia, one fibula and one knee that’s not a knee anymore). I don’t remember the pain, meeting the thatchers who were the first people to come to my aid, Prince William, who co-piloted the air rescue helicopter to the scene, or the countless medical professionals who worked for hours to save my life and limbs. Still, I’ve seen many photos of the ordeal and still feel the pain from those broken bones. My legs are scarred, disfigured and deformed and I still can’t walk without crutches.

While my physical recovery began very slowly and still continues, somewhere in the horrifying ordeal, the Shepherd found his lost sheep and picked him up in his arms. I came out of my induced coma six days later and began a horrific nightmare the medical profession calls “delirium.” The details of that horrifying, altered state of mind are more vivid than the reality was for about two weeks. Still, though, parts of me – the rebellious heart, the stubborn head – were all fading away in the light of an inexplicable surrender and peace. It’s like I was being cleansed and restored and I found myself clinging to the feet of the Saviour.

These last two years have been very challenging as I strive toward normality, building my strength and re-learning how to walk. There have been dangerous infections, over a dozen operations, and over 100 X-rays (one doctor said he was surprised I wasn’t glowing). But that’s the nature of broken bones. They need intervention, tremendous care and a long time to heal, especially when broken through high-impact trauma. Spurgeon said in his sermon:

But if it should come to a broken arm, and leg, and rib—if in many places the poor human frame has become injured—how exceedingly careful must the surgeon be! Often the very treatment which may be useful to one member may be injurious to the other—disease in one limb may act upon another. The cure of the whole, where all the bones are broken, must be a miracle! If a mass of misery – a man full of broken bones – shall yet become healthy and strong, great credit must be given to the surgeon’s skill.

He explains that the broken bones in Psalm 51:8 are the deep, inconsolable pain of a backslider’s heart and conscience. I couldn’t say it any better myself. For sure, it was my heart that really needed help in July of 2017. The Great Physician (the one who moonlights as a Shepherd) did intervene. He did provide tremendous care, and he has guided me through much-needed healing. This Surgeon is a miracle-working, skilled Master of his trade and I’m forever grateful. The heart was healed because the bones were broken. My deformities, scars and pain serve as glorious reminders of all this. Some people say I’ve had life-changing injuries. Yes, that’s true. I have been changed. But it’s more accurate to say that I’ve had life-giving injuries.

I am moved by the charge to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:12). Please remember that eternal life doesn’t start after death. It is now! Life is there for the taking. Jesus said “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:9-10). If eternal life were to be taken hold of, I now imagine it to be with my hands, arms and everything else I could wrap around it. It is life forever with the one, awesome, holy, loving God the Father. I cling to it and never want to let it go. God answered the prayer: my broken bones now rejoice.

Behold the Beauty: 2020 Focus

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

A few days ago, someone close to me reminded me of some of my less finer days.  This person didn’t mean to do so, as things came up in casual conversation.  However, the details of my vileness were brought to the forefront of my mind and I felt filthy.  I felt like a grotesque worm wriggling in rancid heaps of rotting refuse.  It was like someone dumped some smelly, dark sludge over the pure white robe of righteousness that was issued to me by the Captain of my soul.  I felt useless and wondered why in the world I was left in the world.  There I wallowed for two days in the ultimate funk.  I know this was not the proper reaction from me but I couldn’t seem to help it.  I am keenly aware that there was some sort of enemy seizing the moment to take me out of action.  It worked magnificently as my focus was on my poor, pitiful self and not the Savior.   

Don’t feel sorry for me.  Oftentimes I think very highly of myself.  I can go the exact opposite way, look at the Saviour and start thinking about the wonderful things he can do for me.  I can even turn our worship songs into a session of self-focus.  Look at me!  Look how much God loves me!  Look what he’s doing for me!  That’s a lot of me.  Don’t get me wrong – we need to understand as much as possible how much he loves us and has given so much for us.  But can we begin to worship the giver’s gifts?  I think so.  So, it is good to stop.  It’s good to stop thinking about ourselves.  Shift the focus. 

I’ve traveled a fair amount, mostly due to being in the Air Force, and have seen some beautiful things.  The Scottish Highlands (notice I mention that first), the Swiss Alps, The Great Lakes (where I’m from), The West Coast Highway, and Great Redwood Forest, to name a few.  When I think about it, I’ve never taken in the spectacular scenes of the Grand Canyon and said “it’s doing so much for me!”  or “Look how it’s making me look!”  No, I just look.  The picture is there, live, in all its glory and there’s very little thought of me at all.  Instead it’s just there and I can’t help but focus on it.  We can recognize the beauty as a gift of God, but let it remind us of the ultimate beauty of God himself.  Let our focus stay right there.  It’s a great way to start the New Year.