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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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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