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:
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
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.