Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - Pressed on Every Side by Troubles

As I continue to heal and recuperate from my near-death illness, I began to reflect on several things that have not only perplexed the doctors and specialists who are handling my case but also my wife and myself. One of the major questions is how could this have happened? Was it something I did wrong? Was I not taking care of myself as I should? Where did the source of infection come from? Why wasn't it presenting itself in a typical way so that it could have been diagnosed quicker? These are just a few of the many questions that rattle around in my head when I sit attached to an IV pole every six hours and infuse my medication. The questions get more poignant especially during the evening and early morning infusions. While in the hospitals, I would be in my bed with the lights out. In the darkness, the questions seemed to jump from my unconscious thoughts to my conscious thoughts and plague me to the point until I wept and began to ask them aloud. I gave the questions a voice, a tearful, heartfelt voice. I would ask God why did all of this happen and why to me.

Yes, I felt that I was, am and continue to be pressed from all sides with this horrible illness. With less than 1,000 cases a year reported, I felt like I had been singled out. Between medical bills and a host of other problems, I truly felt surrounded by the enemy and he was going to reduce me to a quivering mass of fear, uncertainty and doubt. He would creep into my hospital room when I was most vulnerable and whisper, "Where is your God now?" I will be candid with you. There were times when I truly began to listen to Satan's words and mouth that very question. I would ask, "Lord, are you there? Are you listening to my prayers? Do you see my pain and tears?" Yes, I broke down and did it regularly. When you face a life-threatening illness, it is only natural to feel alone and broken.

If you look at what I have to do every day, you will quickly discover that having a regular life is very difficult. I am attached to an IV pole for one hour every six hours. For the past eight weeks, I have been going through my daily routine every early morning, mid-morning, afternoon and night. Add on top of that, all of the medications I have to take at specific times. I literally have to set alarms on my cell phone with labels for each event to remind me of what I am supposed to do and when I am supposed to do them. My life, if you could call it that, is centered around a six foot tall IV pole I lovingly refer to as "Slim". He has been there for so long and I grow weary of carrying him throughout my home. I am tied to him via clear plastic IV tubing that is attached to me via a PICC line, a catheter inserted into my right arm that leads directly to my heart.

Each week I have to have a nurse change the dressing that secures it to my arm. Karen, my home healthcare nurse who is a God-send to my wife and myself, must change my dressing under sterile conditions. While she does her work, I have to wear a mask. If I breathe on the PICC line site, I could give myself an infection that could work its way to my heart. Yes, I could actually kill myself by breathing on my own catheter. Because of that line, I have to be cautious when I shower and move around. I have to wear an elastic sleeve to protect the head of the PICC line and its extension, the device I use to administer my medication. Just months earlier, I never knew about any of this and would have been quite content to have not known about any of it. I knew that adults as well as children had them and that special precautions had to be observed to take care of them. I just didn't think I would have to learn about them the hard way by having one myself.

So, you see what I mean when I say that I am pressed from all sides by trouble. If I breathe on my PICC site during a dressing change or fail to follow the right steps in the right sequence during an infusion, I could literally kill myself. Add the side effects of the medications that I am on and my other problems, you can see that my family and I face a lot of troubles. In short, 2018 hasn't been a great year for us.

As I continue through this, I have also been given a great opportunity to strengthen my faith in God and the teaching of His son, Christ Jesus. Just as the enemy continues to rain down blows upon me, I also hear the comforting groans of the Holy Spirit feeding my soul and heart with words of encouragement. Paul, in Romans 8:26, sums it up best when he writes, "And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don't know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words." It is through the prayers of the Holy Spirit that I am able to overcome the fear, uncertainty and doubt in my heart when it comes to my relationship with the Lord.

I often heard the same expression from soldiers who have been in combat, "There are no atheists in foxholes." I realize the same thing. The only way I can make it through this period of problems and pitfalls is to realize that I am weak and it is only through His strength and grace that I can get through it. The doctors have worked a miracle in saving my life, but I believe in the old expression, "It is God who heals and it is the doctor who collects the fee."

When I reflect on the timeline of my illness and on how quickly I went from being healthy to being connected to Slim, I am truly amazed by not only the celerity of the illness but also just how fragile things can be in my physical body. Paul, in his second letter to the church in Corinth, writes in chapter 4 starting with verse 8, "8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies."

Even though things may seem darkest before the dawn, we must continue to remain grounded in our faith and remain steadfast in God's grace. When we do this, we are a light that shines out into the world that proclaims the love of God and His desire to provide all with salvation. While in the hospital, I found myself sharing my faith with all those around me. I shared with them the words that did not come from the mind but rather the heart. I shared those words with love. Satan can do whatever he can to distract us from the Father, but we know that God will never abandon nor forsake us even in the darkest of hours. Paul sums it up best in 2 Corinthians, "7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves."

By having that faith and believing, we are able to share with all those around us so that they, too, can have that wonderful gift of undeserved salvation. Paul writes later in chapter 4 starting with verse 16, "16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever."

As we go through the trials set before us, we have an opportunity to share the gospel message with all and to know that by doing so we are able to bring glory to God. As Paul points out, we must fix our sights upon the Lord and those things that cannot be seen so that we can stand firm in His grace.

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. 
~ Numbers 6:24-26 New Living Translation (NLT)

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