Hope In The Face Of Affliction

(One year ago today, after spending the night by my brother’s bedside, we said our last goodbyes just twelve hours before he passed into eternity. As I reflect upon his final years as he struggled with various illnesses triggered by diabetes, I have no doubt that our conversations about faith helped inspire my decision to establish this blog. If you or anyone you love has been impacted by severe affliction, I trust that this post, which is adapted from my remarks at Ronnie’s funeral, may resonate with you no matter what trials you may face.)

image“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

In the weeks leading up to Ronnie’s passing, I was drawn not only to God’s Word for comfort and inspiration, but also to some of the writings of one of my favorite Christian authors, Philip Yancey, who offers uncanny insight and wisdom on the subject of pain, suffering, and grief with books like “Reaching For The Invisible God”, “Where Is God When It Hurts”, and “The Question That Never Goes Away”.

You cannot talk about Ronnie’s life without addressing the suffering he endured when diabetes entered his life. Yancey reminds us that while the Bible is certainly a source of great comfort in times of trouble, sickness, and grief, it never gives clear answers to many of those troublesome Why? questions we all face in this life. Even at the end of the Book of Job, where God had the perfect opportunity to address the problem of pain and suffering- the longest speech by God in the entire Bible- he seems to avoid the topic entirely. God’s reply to Job in a nutshell is that divine providence is a mystery that only God understands.

In his initial struggles with the diabetes that would dominate his life, Ronnie wrestled with those unanswerable Why? questions. He had difficulty sensing God’s presence or even accepting that God heard his prayers. He felt unworthy of God’s forgiveness for past transgressions. But through the years, as he focused on God’s Word, and as he drew closer to God through his affliction, he began to recognize the presence of God, experience the reality of God’s forgiveness, and receive the assurance of his salvation. And those things made a tremendous difference in his outlook.

Only God knows whether it required years of affliction for Ronnie to come to that assurance. But God’s Word informs us that he works all things together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28) I saw that Biblical truth exemplified in Ronnie’s life. After one of his last hospital stays, he told me that looking back on all that he had been through, he could see the hand of God guiding all the circumstances of his life. That is evidence of a mature faith- the ability to reassemble all the events of our life around trust in a loving God, believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.

As I examined his Bible before preparing my remarks for his funeral, the verses from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 that are cited at the top of this post clearly had very special meaning for him. He had started to view this life from a heavenly perspective.

Lessons from the 23rd Psalm
In times of grief, we often quote the 23rd Psalm, a psalm most of us likely memorized in our youth. But I doubt if many of us have ever noticed a subtle transition in that psalm. It begins with those reassuring words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” But then the subtle shift occurs, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (KJV)

Have you ever noticed the subtle shift in perspective there? When the psalmist spoke of experiencing green pastures, still waters, and paths of righteousness, he spoke of God more distantly, using the third person, “He maketh me to lie down, he leadeth me, he restoreth me”. But when he begins to speak of the valley of the shadow of death and the presence of enemies, notice how his tone becomes more personal, referring to God no longer as “He”, but as Thou or you. “Thou art with me … thy rod and thy staff they comfort me … Thou preparest a table before me … thou anointest my head.”

God had drawn closer in his trials. Yancey says that those reassuring words, “Thou art with me” are the best biblical answer to the question that never goes away in difficult times. Where is God when it hurts? … He is with us. No matter the circumstances, we have the assurance of “Immanuel”, which simply means “God with us”.

Grieving With Hope
Since delivering my Mother’s eulogy eleven years ago, I have spoken at several other funerals, including those for my sister, Paulette, my Uncle Frank, my Uncle Ralph, my dear friend, Jay, and most recently, my Aunt Carolyn- the last surviving sibling of my mother and father. As I look back on those messages today, years after their passing, I still grieve. Tears come to my eyes. I can be sitting in church, and the choir starts singing “In Christ Alone” which was sung at Paulette’s funeral, and I rarely get through it without choking up.

A few years ago, at our church in Hendersonville, we hosted a singing group called “This Hope”. I love that name- it is based on Heb. 6:19 which says “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” They sang a song I had never heard- “There Is A Heaven”. The lyrics hit me like a brick. The writer laments about a friend who has died too soon. He talks about the days they could have had together. But then he reflects on his friend’s destination as he gets to the chorus, singing “But I know there is a heaven. And one day I’ll see you there. Where Jesus holds us through forever. There will be no goodbyes when I see you in Heaven. I close my eyes and see you basking in the presence of our Lord. The fullness of His grace you now know face to face.”

As I processed those words, I began to cry once again. But for the first time since my sister and mother’s deaths, they were not tears of grief or sadness. They were tears of joy as the thought of them together in their heavenly home overshadowed my grief.

As I remember those loved ones, I grieve only for myself and those of us they left behind- but not for them. They are basking in the presence of our Lord. The fullness of His grace, they now know face to face. While times of grief are always times to reflect on experiences from our past, as Christians we must remind ourselves that there is also a future. Based on God’s promises, we grieve knowing that because of our faith in Christ and the promises of God’s Word, we’ll be together again one day with all those loved ones who preceded us in death knowing Christ as their Lord and Savior.

And my prayer is that because of your relationship with Christ, you can be as confident of that as I am. And that on the day The Lord calls your name, you can face it with the same dignity, grace, peace, and positive expectation that they did.

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In memory of Ronnie and all those loved ones who are awaiting us in Glory, please enjoy “I Will Rise” performed by Chris Tomlin.

Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV)

 

Walk, Walk, Walk

A Guest Post by Hale Meserow

image(Note: The following testimonial is written by a member of my Sunday School class, Hale Meserow, who suffered a heart attack last week after being diagnosed with diabetes eight years ago. As many of you know, my brother, Ronnie, suffered from diabetes for many years before his death last year. Many of your lives have been impacted by either diabetes or heart disease – or perhaps both, as turned out to be the case for Hale. I found his account very informative and trust that his words might help you should you encounter some of the symptoms he either ignored or explained away as his attack was occurring. Or perhaps you might need to start the exercise program that likely saved his life and walk, walk, walk!)

Hello, Friend…

As you probably know, I am recovering from a heart attack. Here is the series of events that I’ve experienced in the last couple of months.

I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes about eight years ago. Incidentally, as a warning for others, it came about because I was experiencing terrible leg cramps, especially at night. That was a result of dehydration in my muscles, which was caused by the body expelling water to dump excess sugar into the bloodstream. That and intense and pervasive thirst are classic symptoms of diabetes.

For the most part, I have been fortunate to keep my diabetes well within control over the years via a combination of medication, good meal choices, and reasonably diligent diet control. However, I began to notice an escalation in my blood sugar count beginning in July. I more or less shrugged it off and vowed to maintain a better diet. But due to poor self-control, my diet did not improve; on the contrary, from about November on, my sugar intake increased (holidays and all that). Whereas my blood sugar numbers should have been 110-120, I was experiencing regular 200+ readings and could not bring them down.

Finally, on December 31, having experienced massive chest pains four days before and an extraordinarily high blood sugar reading that morning, I walked into the emergency room at the local hospital here in Hendersonville, NC and asked for help controlling my blood sugar. They put me in a bed and took all the normal readings. The emergency room physician questioned me carefully and soon discovered the chest pain event I’d had, which led him to do a specific test measuring an enzyme that the heart produces when it has experienced an attack. Sure enough, my reading came back 25 times normal. “You’ve had a heart attack, my friend,” he said. “Why didn’t you come to the hospital when it was occurring, especially since it lasted all day?” I replied that I’d had none of the other classic symptoms of a heart attack and just considered it to be a bad muscle pull or perhaps a tear caused by my dog who loves to jerk on the leash when I walk her. As a warning to you, ANY sharp and lasting chest pain is dangerous and should result in a trip to the hospital as soon as possible.

I was taken to Mission Hospital in Asheville, about 25 miles north, which fortunately is one of the finest heart hospitals in the country. There, over the next three days, I was examined, poked, prodded, given this medication and that EKG and ultrasound and so forth. They withdrew blood from my veins virtually every three hours around the clock for heart testing plus a smaller sample from a finger at the same interval for sugar testing. At one point my sugar count was 414, which is quite dangerous, and at another it was 60, which left me shaky, weak, and mind-fogged. Finally the staff got me stabilized and I was allowed to leave the hospital yesterday afternoon, January 3rd.

The upshot is now a highly regulated lifestyle, with careful sugar and carbohydrate counting, specified food combinations and the exclusion of others (goodbye pizza, ice cream, pasta, bread, rice, cookies, chips, etc.), blood sugar testing and self-injection of one of two types of insulin four times daily, and ingestion of copious types of pills for heart health. It’s not a pleasant routine, but it’s absolutely necessary for the preservation of my heart, life, and health going forward.

One fact is very important here. The cardiologist who performed a catheterization in the hospital told me that I have 100% blockage in one of the two main arterials which feeds the heart and 30% blockage in the other. Normally I would have been immediately taken to the operating table and undergone a double bypass operation. That’s a very difficult and precise procedure which involves at least a six-month recovery and can produce quite dangerous after-effects, some of them fatal. But because of a workout habit and the fact that my wife Sue and I have regularly walked 2-3 miles, 3-4 times a week up and down the hills of the Hendersonville area from April until the end of November, followed by daily walks of 1.2 to 1.5 miles (depending on the track we chose) with our new dog Mandy, my heart developed a number of “collaterals.” These are mini-arterials which bypass the bypass and enable the heart to receive the oxygen and nutrients it requires to function. In essence, the walking saved my life. It certainly saved me from a massive operation. Instead of surgery, my heart-healthy therapy going forward consists of the medications and regular (even increased) daily walking.

Clearly my blockage was caused by diabetes. The doctors have confirmed that. But whatever the cause, the walking and a reasonably healthy diet overcame the danger caused by the blockage and kept me ticking. The undeniable lesson here is WALK! Walk at least a mile every day, even if that means a trip to the indoor mall in bad weather. A brisk pace is better than a stroll, but a stroll is far better than being sedentary. You just never know what’s going on with your heart; my cholesterol numbers were always very good even while the blockage was building. Walk, walk, walk! Under any circumstances your heart will thank you, and under the most extreme circumstances (like mine) it may well save your life.

I am grateful to my Lord Jesus for being with me all through this and for sending me the warning signs that led me to the hospital. He is always faithful, just as He promises.

May God bless you and your health in this next year and beyond.

Hale Meserow
January 4, 2016

(Hale is an accomplished author. I have just downloaded his book, “Minnesota: The Great State”. If interested, you may check out the books he has written by clicking this link and typing Meserow in the search line. I can testify personally to the benefits of a regular walking routine. Last year, I walked 500 miles and am shooting for 600 this year. Keep walking, my friends. And if you don’t have a walking routine and have no plans to start one, maybe you should read this account again! It just might save your life.)