Friday, January 15, 2021

I Am Loved

Do you ever wonder if you are loved? I certainly have. In fact the first 40 years of my life I did. I grew up in a family of some privilege, but also with dysfunction. We all have families with problems. Mine had alcohol and mental illness, primarily in my mother. My father’s own father had committed suicide jumping off the roof of his then prosperous business in a major recession at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a family secret that got out. We were no longer wealthy, but stigmatized. An uncle paid for schooling for my father and his brothers. The WWII hit and my Dad became an artillery officer fighting Rommel and the Nazis from Africa to Italy. He was hit by a German 88MM shell and left for dead in a crater under a jeep. However, he was found by another soldier and raced through the German lines to an English field hospital where he would be stabilized and started a series of 18 operations and 18 months in hospitals.

My father returned home to a three-year old son and his now alcoholic wife. He was angry. He had not learned how to express himself properly through role models or war, so I never really knew how he felt about me. We were not allowed to talk about anything substantive or painful at the table, I guess it would have been hard. Everything was “fine, fine, fine.” Perhaps you can relate to this upbringing.

I have written about anxiety at home as I never knew if I would be greeted with a warm or angry mom. It was “walking on eggshells.” As a result, I sought control through extreme exercise and dieting, read starvation. I developed an eating disorder that would take me to a place close to death. A family friend carried me out of professional tennis tournament in Milwaukee back home to begin a very frightening effort back to life. The medical field was yet to understand eating disorders. By the way, because of my own sad experience I became a chaplain and counselor in psychiatric hospitals for women and some men facing this often-fatal psychiatric syndrome that warps body, mind and spirit.

I was anxious, with a feeling of nausea, all of my life until age 40 when the Lord entered my life in a Damascus Road-like conversion. By then I was a hospital executive specializing in helping “turn around” troubled hospitals. This very intense career path meant 14-16 hour days dealing with layoffs, re-engineering of systems, angry labor unions and medical staffs. Anxiety, fear, anger and distrust were the bywords in these facilities. I have written many stories about this “dark” period in my book Hospital Parables: “Front Office to Bedside.”  Professionally, I oversaw several successful turnarounds; however personally the toll was again almost fatal to my family, career and my soul.   Suffice it to say, the stress caused me to lose perspective and judgment in many ways that took me back to excessive drinking and other vices.

I was married in my early 20s to a wonderful former high school classmate and nurse. Our marriage was very satisfying, however neither one of us had skills to express emotion. My wife came from a family that just did not talk. Her father worked every day as a dentist, providing well financially, but not emotionally. Her mother was absent as a professional shopper leaving my wife to take care of the other four children. She grew up as a caregiver, explaining a 46-year nursing career.

I am not looking for excuses for my own behavior, but understanding. One major thing I lacked was a sense of the love of the father.  I am speaking about my own and God the Father. My parents were too busy socially to take us to church and get a solid religious foundation, and certainly not a sense of salvation. I had no knowledge of how the trinity related to any reality. Even though my own family now attended a Lutheran church, where I became the head of the church council, I never heard the gospel or an invitation or need to be “saved.”

But God intervened, inviting me to receive Him as Savior and Lord at the lowest point of my life traveling as a “Crisis Manager” in troubled hospitals. The irony of this would become clear much later. Now I was kneeling in several feet of snow emblazoned by the headlights of my car in a midnight blizzard along Lake Superior to receive God’s invitation to receive Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord.  The journey has been long and hard since then, but I was changed that night. I have been in counseling and received much more clear guidance from God as He has spoken audibly to me saying, “This is The Way, Walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). This is also the title of a two-volume book of essays that I have written on how to walk in this “Most excellent way,” as the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:31. The next Bible chapter, known as the “love chapter,” deals with how love looks in our lives.  The love of the Father is a promised reality in Scripture and I too have experienced it palpably.

God wants us to find joy out of fear in our lives through His healing power made perfect in our own weakness. This seeming paradoxical telling us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, that when we are weak, that He is strong. I hear often in my hospital rounds that we must be strong. Well that is true, but our strength is not from ourselves, but from God. God presented Himself to Joshua when he had become the leader of the Hebrews after Moses death. He said, “’Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’” (Joshua 1:9). 

I am now reading a book for a men’s Bible study called, The Strength You Need, by Robert Morgan. It delineates passages of Scripture that empower. Of particular encouragement for me is Nehemiah 8:10 saying, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”  Nehemiah was a cupbearer for Persian King Artaxerxes and grieved for the fallen walls of the Holy City of Jerusalem. He found strength in God to raise up the people and rebuild the walls and their spirits through the power and healing of God’s word in the Bible. He was a leader, encourager and father-like figure in history.

It was nearly 20 years ago now that I can recall a very special healing time in my life. I go to the basement, one of my “man caves,” to study Scripture, exercise and journal. There one pre-dawn morning I sought God for the love of the father that I had never received. This blessing of the father is a Jewish tradition started with Jacob, a Patriarch of Israel. As I prayed, the Holy Spirit of God embraced me. I could feel a very strong and warm hold around my entire body lifting me off the floor, wrapping me in a love of the Father. It was for what seemed perhaps 15 minutes that I lay suspended in His arms above the earth and my troubled past. I was being shown the complete love of God the Father to replace and exceed anything I might have ever received or lost from my own earthly father. It was ecstasy and reality for me. I had been healed deeply and indelibly.

John the Apostle was known as the “Apostle of love.” This love is about a relationship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We live in a dark world. I recently attended and served a family in our hospital as they received the news that their youngest son had committed suicide and that he was now brain dead. The grief and anguish experienced was terrible. This 18-year old boys organs were harvested the next day to at least be a gift of life for many others. I “debriefed” staff the next day to help them process their own trauma and grief experience. Yes, life is difficult and we all suffer.

John said, “God is light; in Him there is not darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).  We who believe this truth have an “anointing” to continue in hope, loving in words and actions. You see this love of the Father is greater than he that is in the world and will overcome the darkness. This love of the Father drives out all fear and allows us to love one another through it. John tells us that this is the “victory that overcomes the world…only he who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” 1 John 5:4-5).

Love is patient and kind Paul tells us. It is never rude and does not grumble. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13 paraphrase). Get the love of the Father.

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