This morning is the anniversary of the day I was admitted to the hospital for treatment of an infection that eventually resulted in the amputation of my left foot and the beginning of a long year of rehabilitation. I wouldn’t have remembered the anniversary except it was called to my mind by a very unusual and startlingly vivid dream last night. I rarely dream in color but this was spectacular! As I watched, someone in a fiery red robe pushed a door open in front of me revealing a bright landscape shaped by rolling spring green hills, shelves of deep blue mountains retreating into a distant horizon all gathered below a sky of perfect turquoise with white clouds roaming its wide expanse. As I looked at this stunning scene I also felt but did not see a shell of darkness extending behind me stirring memories of the shadowy parts of the extraordinary year gone by.
I didn’t know what the dream meant and as I write this I still don’t. It could mean that a long journey through many difficulties is ending for me and is about to be replaced by something better except I don’t need anything better. I wouldn’t trade this past year for anything (an almost universal feeling among amputees). The person I am and the health,strength and joy that fill me today constitute a miraculous gain not loss. So what did my vivid dream really mean? Right now I don’t think it necessarily had a meaning; all I know is that I woke to what for me is a fresh new year filled with a peace that has erased all my nagging anxieties and substituted a powerful feeling of optimism about all of life including its challenges. I know I have the strength to deal with tough times because I have done that. But most important I have beheld the presence of a God whose love transformed the darkness surrounding my year long passage into the same beautiful light I saw in my dream, the light in which I live every day.
I find myself in the most frustrating part of my journey these days. On one hand, I have been blest with a surge of strength and energy as my body seems to be getting ready to resume a style of living that includes walking. On the other hand, I’m stuck awaiting the arrival of my socket, the most important part of a prosthesis.
I have experienced many delays throughout my journey but this one is tough. I know I can walk because I’ve done it using a training socket but I’m still wheelchair bound. I feel like a caged lion especially because it’s not a matter of something I can’t do physically. I’m eager to do things like shopping and going to church but at the same time, I really don’t feel like doing things in the wheelchair because that’s just not who I am anymore.
So how do I try to handle this part of the journey? The answer is with gratefulness. God has been working with me for a long time teaching me what faith really is. As I’ve described in these posts, I’ve experienced convincing miracles but I know now that they really don’t convey God’s deepest message for me. That message is trust which means turning over the management of my life to God. Miracles showed me that God is real and is with me but waiting has taught me how to trust God.
I will certainly walk (that is God’s promise) but it will happen when God says. I know the delay has benefited my growth in faith but it also may well have afforded time for my leg to heal in some way that will prevent a crisis down the road. I also know that the wait has refined my thinking about what I will do when I can walk. Once I looked forward to doing things like going to Golden Corral and eating all sorts of foods my wife wisely forbids. But now I’m focused on lifting the burden of transporting me to dialysis from my family and on doing volunteer work for some organization that matters to me. My discovery has been that waiting is hard but sometimes waiting may be the best possible thing for a person.
My journey through amputation toward recovery has included extraordinary moments, some of which deserve the name miracle. I’ve written about a few of those events in this blog but I have also experienced one unique experience that has been an everyday part of my life since this entire thing began about a year ago.
The realities of amputation and the challenges of rehabilitation have driven me to frequent prayer, but these prayers have consistently been thwarted. Whenever I would try to pray about something weighing heavy on me like the prospect for surviving the surgery or the longing to walk again I would hear a voice say to me in clear words “I’ve got this.” Whenever I then tried to continue my prayer I felt my words being thrown back at me as if the effort reflected a disappointing lack of trust. This total experience was in no way vague or mystical; it was visceral and direct.
Living daily with this phenomenon has changed me. I have learned what it means to trust God. A year ago I would have said that trusting God meant believing that there is a God and that God loves me. I now understand that it means much more than that. Today I know that trust is a matter of holding on to the idea that in every aspect of my life no matter how small, mundane or even difficult, God is working on behalf of what is best for me. My greatest challenge, one that I’ve learned is much tougher than getting back on my feet, has been the task of abandoning worry and embracing all of life with joy knowing that God is at work in every situation. As a result my frightened pleas to God have been replaced by praise and my once constant worries have been driven away by unwavering confidence.
So, what’s the coincidence that my title refers to? Yesterday I was on the phone with my mom when she told me a story about the days before my surgery. She was continually imploring God for my survival and that I might walk again when she suddenly heard a voice say “Don’t pray about this anymore. Your prayer has already been answered.” She told me that it felt a bit like a rebuke but she understood that it meant it was time for her to let go and let God take care of this matter. Today she wonders if we both heard the same clear firm voice. Who can say for sure, but I suspect we did.
One perk offered at dialysis is a private TV. During those tedious hours, it’s impossible not to watch some and often a whole lot (though reading makes the time pass faster). What has amazed me is the incredible number of ads promoting some kind of pill or medical device, either that or offering legal help in suing the company that sold you said pill or device.
Watching this stuff my imagination takes off. I discover symptoms of maladies I can’t pronounce and in many cases don’t even know what they are and I even spot a few situations where I might be able to sue somebody. Being on dialysis makes it worse because I get a complete blood workup every single day as a natural part of the process along with a mini-checkup on arrival and departure. Needless to say, there’s always some measurement that’s just a little off which sends me to my computer in an effort to pin down the dread disease that might be threatening me.
I am in awe of the medical professionals who saved my life and now are giving me a new and better one, but enough is enough! There’s a difference between health and obsession about health. We all should care about our health but we shouldn’t become its servants. I am dismayed by the number of people who regularly dash off to emergency rooms with a stuffy nose or who demand a potentially addictive pill because of the slightest irritation. To me, this attitude is itself a kind of addiction and an exercise in self-absorption.
The cure for all this is putting our focus on activities that give our lives meaning and joy while understanding health as something that helps us pursue those activities. We do well to take care of our health but only because we want something much bigger, happiness and a productive life – greater things that truly deserve our time and attention.
In my latest post, I wrote about dialysis, how I don’t like it at all and indicated some ways I try to cope with it. Today I want to go beyond that and share how any tough situation can be transformed.
The secret to facing a difficult challenge is faith in God but more specifically faith that God is actively involved in your personal daily life. Lots of people believe in God but the Lord they worship is the God of the creeds who gives us heaven but little more. The Bible reveals a different God, someone who counts the hairs of our heads, who not only pays attention to us but participates in the mundane events of our lives.
I have witnessed this intimate attention over the last few months (see earlier postings) and know it now as a matter of fact, not just faith. One reason I write this blog is to share my discovery. I was always religious but my experience has taken me far beyond all that, it’s a paradigm change, a new perspective.
I no longer think of my life and God separately. God is there in everything that happens to me and everything I do – including dialysis. I have no idea why I’m on dialysis but I’m certain that there is a reason because God is part of it.
This assurance changes everything. Many people at my clinic view their treatments as a disaster. They lay in their dialysis recliner cold, wrapped in blankets, self-isolated, their head covered, all signs of deep depression, a depression they take home with them, as confirmed to me by their family members. But some of us are different; we take our treatment in stride with good humor, express appreciation for the technicians, nurses, nutritionists and doctors who work with us and treat other patients as friends.
For me, the difference is that I know that these treatments are part of God’s plan for my life. I don’t know the plan but I trust the planner. So I try to make the most of it – in my attitude and in other ways including this blog. The idea is as simple as turning lemons into lemonade, an old idea but one that always works. There’s nothing good about difficulties but they can be redeemed when we find a way to turn them into blessings for ourselves and others. We can do that when we remember that whatever our situation we are not outside God’s love. God is present and for that reason, the things we endure can and will yield something good. Instead of worrying or complaining we can trust God and keep our eyes open for opportunities to bring something good to light.
The most difficult part of my life is dialysis. A kidney injury years ago recently forced me to accept dialysis and I don’t like it. Make no mistake I’m grateful for it. Someone said dialysis is a form of life support – and it’s true, it’s a radical but beneficial medical intervention. But it’s still tough to deal with for many reasons including these:
- It’s an intrusion on my life three times a week and in my case five hours per session.
- Just as I am moving toward overcoming my amputation and regaining freedom of movement with a prosthesis, dialysis throws me back into dependence on detailed medical care, something I don’t like at all.
- Most of the time my energy and activity levels are high these days but dialysis wears me out and puts me in a funk for several hours after each session.
- It doesn’t just intrude it tends to dominate. I usually measure my weeks in terms of dialysis/no dialysis days and see only the free days as truly mine which depresses me. It also inconveniences my family and restricts many things like diet and travel.
Sometimes I come to a short-term peace with dialysis but more often it gets the best of me. The deepest problem is that barring a transplant (itself a long and difficult process) three days of dialysis is locked in for the rest of my life. That’s tough to take.
Two things sustain me. First, I remind myself that dialysis is a gift of God that makes everything beautiful in my life possible – and so I should and do give thanks for it. Second, as I move toward walking and driving again I’m making plans to do meaningful volunteer work. With dialysis there has to be a reason why, otherwise it’s just a matter of staying alive and that’s never good enough. But I’m teaching myself to think of my dialysis as making possible some wonderful things I will soon be able to do. That makes those long hours in the dialysis chair pass a little easier and binds the week together in a way that focuses on a broad future instead of a narrow medical schedule.
For many 2018 begins with stating resolutions or doing some serious goal setting. Both customs are terrific but they lack one thing. They focus on what I can do in the new year but fall far short of what can be done.
I believe each of us should always strive to do our best but I also believe that our best is very different from what is possible. For me, the more interesting question is, what can God do? My journey through amputation, rehabilitation and into recovery has taught me that God can do far more than we usually think. In fact, the Bible tells us that we do not receive many things we want or need simply because we do not ask.
For example, I pray daily for my small church, Eagle Ranch, asking that it would grow. Thinking in a small way about God I used to ask the Lord to send the church a visitor or two and that was it. But having seen staggering miracles on my journey toward healing, today I ask God to bless my Church with every kind of abundance.
I now suspect that my former prayers, while sincere were kind of wasting God’s time. God likes to do big things so we don’t need to pray for “blessing” when what we really want is healing or ask for “help” when we actually long for a resolution to a problem because God can and will do what we really need – if we are bold enough to ask.
Besides expanding my spiritual vision I find that this insight has changed my daily life in an amazing way. No longer limited by what I can do and no longer faced with a God whose potential is almost as limited as mine, I think a whole lot bigger these days. I enter this new year excited because it isn’t just my new year, it’s also God’s. There is no limit – none at all – to what is possible so I live unbound from whatever seems to confine me at any given moment and free to strive toward a future as big as God’s call and my highest dreams.
I learned last week that I will be fitted with a prosthesis somewhere around Christmas. Everyone tells me that this is a perfect Christmas present and I agree! But maybe for a different reason.
The deep theme of Christmas is the sovereignty of God. At Christmas God turned the universe upside down. For centuries people had faced the prospect of being confronted by either the wrath or grace of God, no one could be sure which it would be. But when God came into the world as one of us he exercised his sovereign freedom in a way no one had fully expected. For those who recognize his coming, Christmas means that for them the threat of wrath has been replaced by the fact of grace.
That part of the Christmas message is what makes my prosthesis a perfect present. My survival, rehabilitation, and recovery show that the Lord who changed the history of life on earth at Christmas is still blessing and transforming his creatures. No doubt my healing is a gift but it is a minor one. The greatest gift was given at the first Christmas because that gift makes all other gifts possible. Every last one of us can look daily to God confident that we have a friend who having lived as one of us understands our needs and hears everything we have to say to him. That is the true joy of Christmas.
Trust plays a huge part in the recovery of health. But I’ve learned that it’s easy to confuse “trust in” and “trust that”. “Trust that” is confidence that a specific event or outcome is certain to occur. “Trust in” is confidence in a person.
For Christians, God is a person so trusting God is always a matter of “trust in”. It’s not different from the trust a person might feel toward their doctor or spouse except the trusting person likely views God as having powers and faithfulness that make trust in God a better bet than trusting anyone else. “Trust that” confuses trust in a person (even God) with confidence in the certainty of an event in such a way that the trustworthiness of that person is called into question should the desired event not occur as sought or imagined.
As I’ve journeyed through my recent health challenges I’ve engaged in both kinds of trust and learned that I find little comfort when I select certain outcomes and “trust that” God will do what I want. But peace and joy permeate my life when I simply put my “trust in” the person of God. Today I don’t worry much about this or that outcome, it is enough for me to know that God (who is always in charge) works to bless and not curse me. I don’t know what events and outcomes are held out before me but I know that the person who holds them loves me and I find all the comfort I need in that love.
I recently endured several days of soreness following a medical procedure. It is astonishing how discomfort can wear a person down. I had maintained a positive attitude for a very long time and through many challenges but now I was starting to slip into quiet despair. I even noticed that I was praying less often and spending far less time reading the Bible.
All this was a very odd because, as I’ve written here before, for months I had been blest by an overwhelming sense of the presence of God accompanied by events that seemed full of mystery and even miracle. Now all that seemed far away.
Then one day the pressure sock that binds my left leg preparing it for a hanger slipped off as it sometimes does. When it did I discovered that the massive scab that once covered most of the remaining amputation wound had slipped off exposing fresh healthy skin. My doctor and I had been waiting six months for that moment because it meant I was ready for a prosthesis.
My world turned upside down; joy shoved despair aside, expectation swallowed up depression. But was there a lesson for me in this? There sure was. God’s hadn’t abandoned me for a moment or changed his plans for blessing but because of my self-absorption I had turned my back on God. But the thing that struck me most clearly was that my failure had not cancelled out God’s faithfulness, it only kept me from enjoying the strength and peace that flows steadily from the Creator. I have learned that when it seems that God must have departed for a far country it is more likely that I am the one who wandered off.