Friday, December 11, 2020

Underside of Joy

I recently read a novel called The Underside of Joy. This story took place in Northern California based on a woman marrying a divorced man with two young children. They lead a peaceful life enjoying the beauty of the region and the children finding love even after a difficult abandonment by their mother and death of their father. Great pain comes through real and metaphorical deaths. Yet in the end a crisis brings a new reality of shared suffering causing healing to occur. This is also a biblical theme through Jesus’ resurrection. Even in Malachi 4:2 we read, “For you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” Often life is full of difficulties that eventually work out for believers as Romans 8:28 tells us saying that God is working all things together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.

The Apostle Paul endured beatings and shipwrecks, stoning and imprisonment as he pursued his calling to witness of the gospel. Have you experienced anything like that? I have. The providence of God was working out these trials for his good and God’s glory. Hosea 2:15 says, I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres (or the gateway) of Hope” (The Message Paraphrased). This is the message that Paul shared wherever he traveled.

I have written at length about my life’s adventures and Gods place in them, even if I didn’t understand His purpose at the time. It seemed that He was using survival through Alaskan wolf attacks, auto accidents, plane crashes and tumbles down waterfalls to keep me alive for His purposes when I was not yet a Christ follower. However, I now see His hand in it and several other stories I will now share.

“Death to Life”
The preface in my 2014 book Great is Gods Faithfulness, speaks of God’s Word Living Through Us. This is the story of my life and death struggle resulting from a tick bite. My frozen joints, high fever, and headaches led physicians at the University of Virginia Medical Center to tell me that I was dying from an undiagnosed blood borne cancer, or immune-depressive disease. They sent me home on a dangerously high prescription of Cipro® from which I had a severe adverse reaction. That night while lying in my sweat soaked bed, unable to move, I prayed aloud Psalm 103 saying, “Praise the Lord and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” As these words were cried out to God, hot oil-like warmth came over me from head to toe bringing God’s complete healing. His word will not return void but will accomplish His purposes as Isaiah 55 promises us.

This experience confirmed my plan to complete seminary and become a hospital chaplain to care for people in crisis. Upon returning to Milwaukee I would obtain a consulting gig that would lead me to become the first chaplain for Aurora Psychiatric Hospital. However, I was to have another life altering experience while still in Virginia.


“Dark to Light”
On that same assignment in the Blue Ridge, my wife sat me down and told me that I was negative about everything. In fact she said that she could not take it any longer. This was a frightening ultimatum.  I am blessed to report that these strong words brought a transformational change that has been a light in the darkness and joy in the morning. Her not so subtle words were life changing and a blessing to my life outlook.

“Holy Spirit Healing”
God soon also used an intense implosion of a large church congregation to bring healing to me through severe depression that almost took my life. A desperate request from the senior pastor caused me to leave chaplaincy work to take the congregational care position at my church for a season. However, soon I was the only pastor left standing after the senior pastor’s abuses had brought a schism and ousting of all other clergy. I preached, taught, and counseled broken members still standing after hundreds had abandoned ship in acrid anger and torn fabric. It was too much for me, but God was present. On Pentecost in 2012, as I led worship, Acts 2 was read from the pulpit. As the dynamic word of God came down speaking of the Holy Spirit’s dramatic filling, it was so for me. The powerful Spirit once more enfolded me in His healing power and warm embrace. Joy sourced through me bringing clarity of thinking, and strength in every part of me. My suit was soaked through and my face was aglow. The guest pastor standing near me observed the transformation as I told her that I was in ecstasy. I had submitted under the stress and stayed beneath His hand. Now He had prepared for me a new assignment. Obedience releases grace.

“You Failed Retirement”
I announced to the Elder Board that I was retiring as God had released me from my call. I spent the next few weeks trying to heal fully and rest in God’s providential love. However, after only six weeks, my wife announced that I had “failed retirement.” My initial response was anger and confusion. I was just trying to figure out the next steps when it became obvious that change was again in the offing. This short-lived retirement has turned into a blessing as I have returned to my true calling as hospital chaplain, now for Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Here I encourage and comfort people in crisis. Since I am working part-time, I use other days for writing and blogging. Even though I abhorred writing my Master’s thesis in healthcare administration, I now love to write about God’s kingdom and how to walk in it. My four published books include, This is The Way; Walk in it (Vols. I&II); Hospital Parables: “Front-Office to Bedside,” and Great is God’s Faithfulness. My blog of the same title goes worldwide with some 500 people from Ukraine and Russia reading it weekly along with folks from many other countries. I feel blessed that 10 years earlier another chaplain friend from Roger’s Memorial Hospital had encouraged me while convalescing from hip surgery to “Do something useful with your time.” And so I wrote my psalms devotional for small group spiritual care at Rogers, Great is God’s Faithfulness. Now finally published in 2014, it has become part of the Roger’s ministry. Bless you Carol. Being in God’s will brings blessings.

James, Jesus’ brother said, “Consider it pure joy when you come into trials of diverse kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance, which must finish its work so that you may mature and compete lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). He goes on to say if you don’t know what to do in the trial that you should ask of God, believing with all your heart, and He will respond generously with what and how to respond. It seems that strong statements from women in my life have been important and transformational.

“When You Drink Your Personality Changes”
Very recently as we sat down to dinner after a long day at the hospital I had taken a glass of wine to relax. My wife said it seems when you drink that your personality changes, and not for the better. This was another life changing word. I grew up in an alcoholic family, starting to mix my mother’s drinks when I was only 12 years old. I did not drink hard until college where I became the Beer Chugging Champion; hardly a high honor, excuse the pun. My father loved wine and so I would too. I tried not to drink during the workweek with limited success. I tried abstinence a few times and only returned to more regular imbibing. Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler Proverbs 20:1 admonishes. It is true. It is a stumbling block to God honoring behavior.

I recall and replay vividly a recent couple of dramatically awful evenings with my brother and sister-in-law. We were at our home for a birthday celebration and my brother had provided a very costly bottle of wine.  After consuming the outstanding Pinot Noir together and opening a buttery Chardonnay, I was well on my way to feeling nothing good. Like my alcoholic mother before me, I was transforming from light to dark again.

After receiving what I have considered condescending orders from my sister-in-law again, something I had endured for over 30-years as the younger and less intellectual brother-in-law, I had had it. I yelled, “Stop your condescension” and went on to dramatically lambast her in the presence of my brother and wife. The dam(n) had broken open like the spillways in California. Damage was done and relationships broken. Even though I have written an apology note seeking forgiveness, it has not been received. The only response has been, “nice note,” and my brother very angrily telling me “she is angry.”  Well, this is not good for a witness and especially to a Christian testimony.  I realize that I might be becoming what I hated in my mother. I have prayed and written and meditated and now have a clear guidance from God that I must stop drinking. Paul said, “Everything is permissible-but not all things are beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23). I have committed to the Lord my vow and shared with my accountability brother, my wife and two other close friends. This is a public expression of brokenness and desire for change. Again Pam’s words have become a blessing. The Lord is my strength.

"Random"

As you have read, I am a Christian writer. I have had the privilege of working with a Christian Publisher, Caritas, and a Christian editor. My editor works with our Spiritual Care department at the hospital, so I have seen her almost daily. Since I decided not to publish any more books, but only blog at this time, I am no longer utilizing my editor’s skills, except just to send her my essays. However, very recently during our usual morning greetings she said in a harsh voice, “Do you ever look critically at your writing, it is so random.” The words were direct and not only a surprise but very disturbing. I took a few days break from writing and then decided to continue to write as God was continuing to give clear guidance on that. I am not writing towards publishing another book, and not sending my editor any more writings. Perhaps this is good as I have only sold about 250 copies and my wife also wants no more books as we have lost some $10,000 on the work. I know that many readers have been positively influenced by the work, and I still have a blog with over 5,000 readers so far.

Writing Christians essays and books in an anti-Christian nation is risky. I will take that risk that someone’s life might be transformed.  I will head the voices of people who hopefully have my best in mind. As well, I will watch for the "randomness" of my works. “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).


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