When Jesus Visited Me

Some things you never forget.

I’ll never forget how Jesus visited me in my hour of weakness and fear.

2015 was a whole year of increasing pain and declining health that resulted in two discectomies and 3 months of recovery. I was frequently discouraged, often in pain. Yet, praise Jesus, I was never alone.

Related post: What Faith Looks Like When You’re Afraid

On the night I awoke in more pain than I could imagine, Jesus sent my wife to look over me, to see that I got the help I needed. He sent paramedics with medical training to carefully lift me from my bed, carry me down the stairs, out the door, into the ambulance. He sent me a staff of care-givers: surgeons, nurses, technicians to help put a stop to the degeneration that led me to Northside Forsythe Hospital.

The next day, Jesus sent my pastor to pray for me and chat about the kitchen I would continue building for Dawn after this was all over. Then, he sent Alan and Barbara, and Sam and Bobby. He sent Graciela to sit with Dawn during the surgery, and Jesse and Susan afterward.

Later, he sent a small army of family, friends, and neighbors one-by-one, or in pairs, to visit me during my recovery:

My Mom and my children, and my first boss in the IT world, Loren; my friend and neighbor, Robin; Steve and Elaine from our old church; and Julie, and Mark and Aleta, Willette, and Steven from our new church; my running friends, Jason and David, and Patrick, who also served Dawn and me communion since I couldn’t go to church. He even sent my neighbor, Matt, to rake my lawn of fallen leaves.

Jesus also sent me gifts of food, books, and puzzles, and coffee and candy, from my colleagues at work, and even from my old boss, Kevin.

When it was clear I would need a second surgery and more recovery time, Jesus kept sending them. They called. They visited. They asked about me at church. They prayed with me. Chris and Mark sat with me as I, in visible anxiety, was being prepped for that surgery.

Related post: When Your Surgeon Looks Disappointed

Jesus sent and they came, and came. Some by word, some by a meal or a gift, some by my side. Some visited me in the name of Jesus. Some in the name of friendship. But, all because Jesus sent.

I have never been the object of such affection and compassion.

Nor, shall I ever forget when Jesus visited me.

 

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Learning to Pray My Fears (and Phobias)

Living with fear is something that everyone who lives in the world must do; but praying our fears is the privelege of God’s people. All through the Bible, you will find the prayers of people dealing with fear: Moses, Elijah, David, even Jesus.

Especially Jesus. 

His prayer in Gethsemane before the crucifixion is the prime example of how faith prays while in deep fear.

I soon found it was the only way I could pray about my fears, too.

MY FEARS AND PHOBIAS

In two of my most recent posts I was trying to start dealing with, and praying, my fear of back surgery. I have always had a phobia about being cut, sliced or stabbed. I still turn white as a sheet whenever I’m in the same room as a blood test needle. And I’ve always thought of back surgery as the kind of thing that never leaves you normal again.

When Your Surgeon Looks Disappointed was my response to the news that the emergency surgery I had on October 2nd wasn’t enough to fix my back and leg pain. At that time, I only wanted to hope I was “dreaming in slo-mo, or that a genius doctor will find the reboot switch, or that God will grant me a long and active life.”

What Faith Looks Like When You’re Afraid was my response to the news that my L4 and L5 vertebrae needed to be fused together, complete with bone graft and titanium screws. By this time, I was really trying to get past the “I don’t want this. I don’t want this. I don’t want this” stage.

PRAYING FEAR LIKE JESUS

The more I prayed, and the more I bathed myself in Scripture (I have a lot of time on my hands now), the more I found I could only pray one way about my fears: like Jesus did.

The words just can’t help being said:

 Father, heal me. Father, deliver me. But if not, Your will be done.

I couldn’t help praying them because although I know God’s power, I have to constantly learn to trust His kindness toward me.

The central issue when praying our fear is trust—pure, simple, relational trust. God comes to us as Father, and is constantly working in us both to challenge and deepen the quality of our trust in Him, and to re-demonstrate His trustworthiness to us.

The Bible is pretty clear that everyone, Christ’s followers included, will suffer in this life. Pain, misery, anxiety, fear and death are universal. But Scripture is equally clear that God has promised an eternal reward to those who trust Him, a reward that is beyond comparing with our present suffering.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.—Romans 8:18, ESV

 

SURGERY IS TOMORROW

I’m happy to share that a more conservative surgery (discectomy on L3) is planned for tomorrow instead of the previously planned L4-L5 fusion. After getting a second opinion, it seems probable that the discectomy will relieve my pain. The fusion may not be necessary… yet.

This takes a big relief off my shoulders. For now.

I don’t know where this road will end. I hope I’ll be completely repaired and able to re-engage my active life. But, Your will be done.

I hope this will be the last surgery on my back and that I’ll never need the fusion. But, Your will be done.

I hope I can return to a job I love and complete a kitchen for the love of my life. But, Your will be done.

You know what this means don’t you?—It means this fearful journey through (what is, to me) a valley of the shadow of death, is a test of my trust that belonging to God, my God, is worth all pains and fears.

Is He worth it? Your will be done.

Will He take care of me? Your will be done.

Can I trust Him with my life and death? Your will be done.

Will He comfort me in my pain and my fear? Your will be done.

Will I experience His peace when I’m afraid? Your will be done.

DARKER AND LONGER

To those of you who face roads that infinitely darker and longer than mine (just an hour ago I heard that a friend of mine is having emergency brain surgery today!!), I commend you to Jesus, to His work for you on the cross, to His prayers for you. And I hope you are learning, like average me, to prayer like Him too.

Grace to you,

Lon

 

What Faith Looks Like When You’re Afraid

The thing I dread most has come upon me and, I’m afraid.

Since mid-February of this year, I’ve been dealing unsuccessfully with lower back pain. I ignored it for a little while and continued to run and lift weights. One of my joys in life is meeting friends to run 10-14 miles on Saturday morning, followed by Starbucks.  When the pain got worse, I stopped all exercising and dabbled with things I’ve never done before: Seeing a chiropractor (twice) and an accupuncturist (once).

By Memorial Day weekend, I could barely walk more than a few steps at a time. I finally went to see my doctor. He’s conservative like me, and recommended trying physical therapy first. If that didn’t work, he would send me to a physiatrist to get epidural cortisone injections. Last resort: Surgery.

Three weeks of physical therapy did nothing for me. So, on I went to the Physiatrist. He ordered an MRI which revealed two herniated discs, one not-so-bad, the other really bad. My first round of coritsone injections was pretty effective at reducing my pain (procedure #1).

But, by August, the cortisone effectivenees abruptly stopped after 4 weeks. I delayed for a few weeks, and finally decided I had to give it a second go (procedure #2). This time, the effectiveness was almost nil.

Still no running. No weight lifting. But, I was building kitchen cabinets, using a stool in my workshop whenever it was too painful to stand.

Again, I delayed getting a third cortisone injection. But, by late September, I could no longer manage things. I went to see my doctor on September 30th for his advice and to get pain medication. He referred me to a surgeon, and gave me a pain prescription, the first in this months-long ordeal.

I went home and took a pill. I felt better for a little while. But that night everything fell off the cliff. I was delirious with pain, even with Percocet in my system. Dawn had to take over.

At 1 am on October 1st, two EMTs carried me out of my house, put me in an ambulance and brought me to Northside Forsythe Hospital. The ER Staff put something strong in me via IV to calm me down, and ordered another MRI. This time, things looked worse.

They admitted me immediately. The next day they operated  (procedure #3) to remove the material that had leaked out of my L4 disc and was pressing on my nerve, causing the pain. I now have a walker to help me get around the house. And I’m on short-term disability leave from work.

A week later, I saw the surgeon to follow up. I wasn’t doing well. Just getting me to the appointment was a painful ordeal, and my surgeon looked sadly disappointed. He ordered another MRI.

Four days ago, I saw the results. At first, I thought I was looking at a pre-operation image.

It wasn’t.

My post-operation disc now looked like a flat tire squeezing out under the weight of a car. My disc was so badly damaged that there was no longer enough internal material in the disc to support my weight, so now the disc itself was pressing against my nerve.

Surgery has been scheduled to fuse my L4 and L5 vertebrae together. Honestly this is about the scariest thing I’ve ever faced even though I know many people have had this surgery done successfully.

WHY I’M AFRAID

See, I’ve always had a phobia about being cut or stabbed (ironic that I took up woodworking and carpentry as a hobby). And I’ve always had a phobia about back surgeries. I think there was a time in my life when everyone I met who had back surgery had bad results and needed further surgeries. Now, here I am, 0 for 3 with procedures that were supposed to “fix” me, and with procedure #4 glaring at me with its Jack-O-Lantern eyes.

The phobia part of average Lon is trying not to think about what’s coming soon, and whether or not I’ll be “fixed.” The phobia part of average Lon is worried I’ll never experience the joy of running even 2 or 3 easy miles with my friends. The phobia part is worried I might never be quite normal again. The phobia part is worried there will have to be procedure #5, and #6, or more.

WHERE’S YOUR FAITH, LON?

What about the part of average Lon that trusts God’s providence? What about the part of me that believes wholeheartedly that God is always working for my eternal good behind the scenes of every good and bad event in my life (Romans 8:28-30)?

Those of you who are Christians know I have to reach a point where I am able to hand my fear to God. You know I need to trust Him with my phobia, trust Him with the outcome of this surgery—whether good or bad—and rest in Christ alone.

But the honest truth is, at this moment, I’m not there yet.

Because I’m average.

The usual theme running through my head (and prayers) is, “I don’t want this. I don’t want this. I don’t want this.”

So, I don’t have any counsel for you about how to get to that place of quiet rest in Jesus when you face your worst fears. All I can tell you is that it’s a process. It takes time, even when you have a solid, biblical worldview to guide you. I can tell you it will always involve prayer and Scripture. It will always require a clear understanding of who God is, and a solid trust in His purpose for your life. The support of a prayerful Christian community (e.g. a home church) will be invaluable, too.

And yet, even with all this, it may still take time. And, for me, in God’s mercy, I have until November 13th (my procedure #4).

In that time, I would appreciate it if you would pray that God will bring me to that place of peace that passes all understanding. Paul’s counsel to the Philippian church about fear and prayer and peace needs to sink deeper into my soul.

Thanks so much, Lon

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:6-7