Saturday, November 22, 2014

Doing it Afraid - Again!

It's never easy to face surgery again. I say again because of the number of times I have been through this before. Going into the theatre and lying down for this particular procedure on the table, waiting for them to put me out, is a very lonely place to be. It's always very cold due to the extreme air-conditioning and the fact that the poor patient is virtually naked under a thin surgical gown.  As each of the people present introduce themselves to me one by one their names go immediately out of my mind because I am TERRIFIED! I smile politely at each of them a bit like Mary Queen of Scots is said to have tipped her executioner so that he would make a good job of it with his axe. I am always reminded of the old gospel song that goes "You've got to walk that lonesome valley, You gotta walk there by yourself.  And no-one else can go there for you, You gotta go there by yourself!"

Yet I am not alone, not really alone. Once a long time ago, when one of these very same ops had put me into Intensive Care for several weeks, and I came very near to death (another reason why I get so scared!!), I felt the presence of Jesus very real with me indeed. In the midst of my terrifying ordeal, and very near the end, I felt him come to me and imagined that I could feel him sitting on the bed. You may think it was the drugs that caused all that but I know differently. There was something supernatural about the calm that came into my fevered mind and my pain-wracked body at that moment.  I wrote about it in my book Braving the Storm. It changed my whole life at that time and it still has an effect today.  Because on Monday, when I lie down on that table and they are inserting tubes and lines into all manner of orifices and veins, I will hush my heart with the image of the face of Christ, and remind myself of his words 'Lo, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age'.

And I will get through it.  Not without fear. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the will to go through despite one's fear. As Joyce Meyer says often in her television broadcasts, I will be 'doing it afraid'. And that's the only way to do it really. Honestly!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Growing through Storms

When storms come they usually leave a mess behind. Some well built structures get thrown around and carefully constructed items can lose their shape and purpose completely. How we deal with the shock, sadness and disappointment caused by all this determines whether we grow through the storm or are diminished by it. Certainly the equivalent of surges and storm force weather in my life have recently caused me quite a lot of pain and not a little disappointment too. The amazing pain control system placed surgically within my spine nearly four years ago and then renewed this July has lost its effectiveness completely. I am being told stuff about the nerves of the body growing tolerant or getting scarred so that they no longer pass the pain-relieving current as they did at first.

A month ago I had a stent fitted to my pancreatic duct to try and bridge a stricture and relieve the pressure and pain. There followed two or three weeks of relative calm.  I really thought this was it!  They have cracked it at last! Then the symptoms returned big time. Now it appears that the stent is blocked and so I must return to UCLH in London to have it removed and replaced with a larger one. The disarray in my life is great though not complete. My carefully constructed plans are once again thrown into a mess. I have to cancel a visit to the Lake District next week to attend a writer's retreat and put off a friend who was coming to eat with us over this weekend.  Grrrr!  Frustration and pain.

But it is so good to know that I have a shelter in these storms, in fact, in every kind of upheaval that life throws at us. Peace in a time of storm, hope when despair threatens, the assurance of eternal life in Christ, the comfort given by knowing that I am loved, the constant reassurance I find in my precious wife and her amazing support of me, the fellowship of praying friends - WOW! Like mid-Western Americans slowly climbing out of their hurricane shelters to witness the devastation that the storm has brought, I am saddened and shocked - but I know this damage is only temporary.  It will be repaired because ultimately my life is not a series of accidents and storms, but is held by a hand greater than my own. You can read more about this in my first book Braving the Storm.

I recall that, whilst gazing on desolation in the deserted streets of the destroyed city of Jerusalem a few hundred years ago, Jeremiah the prophet wrote "Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23). That perspective gives me hope. God is not finished with me yet. His mercies are new each morning and He still has a plan for my life. Well, maybe we'll get this mess cleared up soon eh?

Friday, November 07, 2014

Terrifying Period of Flashes and Bangs

It has been a tough few days for our little dog! She is normally very peaceful and spends quite a bit of time asleep, but bonfire night seems to just keep on going - terrifying her out of her already limited wits!  Just when she is about to go outside and do what comes naturally there is another almighty bang or screech and flash from the sky and she scoots inside again. Often she bounds into my arms and presses her head into my chest in an attempt to escape "the terror that flies by night". This is her first November with us and we were not looking forward to the 5th, pretty certain that she would find it hard, but now it seems to be every evening this week is the same. Hopefully this weekend will see the end of it at least for another year.

This little character is very affectionate and trusting but she does get very scared when at home. She seems to regard every passing vehicle a threat to our household security and each person walking away from the shop an agent of some terrible enemy!  Mysty is wrong, of course, but we can't get the message through to her yet that there really is nothing to be scared of in even the most appalling banging and screeching from nearby fireworks.

All this has got me thinking again about fear and how paralysing it can be. There is so often no link in reality between the veracity of the threat and the level of our fears. We can be intimidated by things that will never actually hurt us, but the fear itself is enough to cause us real distress. I find it helpful to remember that the New Testament tells us to 'fear not' 366 times - one for every day and one for a leap year also. Of course education and awareness helps to subdue our fears, as we become aware of the actual threats that we face in life.  That's why this month of November being designated as pancreatic disease awareness month is important for me.  But beyond that, and far more important really, we need to learn to really trust in the One who does have the power to disarm enemies and protect his own. "Just like the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord's love surrounds those who trust in him, to deliver them."

So when life disrupts my peace with its threatening and noisy displays I must try to focus on God's promises and presence with me in the storm. Like Mysty I must run into his arms by faith and find the comfort of pressing into his heart and hearing his reassuring words of comfort to settle me and deliver from every fear.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Pancreatitis Awareness Month

The pancreas is a long and slender gland shaped roughly like an ox-tongue, about 6-8 inches long, sitting in the top of your abdomen. It normally does two things: firstly in an exocrine function it produces enzymes that dissolve meat and fat in your gut.  Secondly, in its endocrine function it makes hormones like the insulin that controls and regulates the levels of glucose (sugar) in your blood. These hormones are produced by tiny cells known as the islets of Langerhan after a German doctor who first spotted them.

Pancreatitis happens when stones, strictures or other blockages cause the enzymes that usually go into the digestive system where they are activated and work on what you eat, to get stuck inside the pancreas.  Unable to do their usual digestive work there these enzymes start devouring the flesh around them, producing terrible inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).  In some extreme cases, like mine, this can become life-threatening, even long after the original cause of the blockage has been removed (in my case gall-stones but often the overuse of alcohol) and can result in hemorrhaging pancreatitis with massive internal bleeding, or necrotising pancreatitis where gangrene sets in within the pancreas, both of which have happened to me over the years and require long-term stays in hospital, often in Intensive Care Units. The long term effects of such attacks of acute pancreatitis can occasionally produce chronic pancreatitis which is the breakdown of the flesh of the organ, producing overwhelming pain and digestive problems. In fact, the dreadful pain of pancreatitis has been described as 'one of the worst pains known to man' and also as being 'like the pain of a heart-attack only it just doesn't stop'. This means that sufferers of this debilitating disease are often in and out of hospital and may need opiates (morphine etc) for pain management.

There is not enough research and funding being put into these diseases and so the month of November 2014 has been designated in the USA as pancreatitis awareness month.  Please pray for those who are searching out treatments and support mechanisms for those suffering from pancreatitis and cancer of the pancreas. In the UK there is a very good support line for pancreatic cancer at Pancreatic Cancer UK and there is also help and information for those struggling with various forms of pancreatitis at the Pancreatitis Supporters' Network where folk who have walked the pathway before us share their wisdom and experience. Let's pray for breakthrough and ask the Lord Jesus Christ, who is described as 'the Great Physician' to grant his comfort and healing to anyone reading this post who suffers from this pernicious illness. Thanks!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What are you Wearing Today?

My wife tells me that changing seasons are a real nightmare for a lady! Getting the right clothes for the new weather patterns can be very challenging especially when, as at present in the UK, the seasons are sort of blending into one. As for me I don't worry at all about seasons and my decisions on what I wear each day are largely made on whatever is nearest to the wardrobe door! I seldom think about what to wear and certainly don't spend long choosing - well there's not a lot to choose from for us blokes, is there?

In my Bible reading today I found a real challenge to think more deeply about what to put on today. Colossians chapter 3 describes some of the ways in which First Century Christians lived before they started following Christ and how that changed once their faith started affecting the things they "put on" daily. "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices." (Col. 3:8-9) That is a wardrobe of clothes as ugly as the bottom of an eagle's nest after dinner time! Those are the old tattered garments of a life lived without Christ and with no concern for others or their feelings.

Within a few lines, though, the author of the New Testament letter shows the contrasting outfit that Christian believers are invited to "put on" each day. "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity". (Col. 3:12-14). Now that really would bring about a new season in my dress code!

So as we face the world today, let's choose what we will wear from the wardrobe of faith and peace that Jesus holds open before us. It will lead to peace in our hearts (vs 15), unity in local churches, and a powerful sense of Christ's lingering presence in the world reflected in the lives of his modern day disciples.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

London used to be regarded by millions as the centre of the civilised world. Even now it vibrates to the echo of every language under heaven and creaks under the weight of countless crowds of visitors, tourists and immigrants alike. In the last couple of weeks we have been there twice for medical help, as the hospitals in the nation's capital are among the best in the land. Whilst being grateful for the skill and dedication of the team that have worked with me to try and overcome the chronic pain of pancreatitis, I am only too well aware of their limitations. The government that sits in Westminster may control the lives of many millions but there are lots of things they simply cannot fix.

As we dodged the teeming crowds around two of the biggest of the capital's hospitals we were struck by the fact that all the wisdom, power and sophistication of man simply cannot clear the streets of the detritus of self-destructive patterns of life. People of all ages sleep in shop doorways while piles of rubbish are picked through regularly by those seeking something to eat, or to sell. Desperately needy people can't get a hospital bed due to overcrowding and everywhere people are gazing into small screens and tapping gadgets rather than speak with one another. Loneliness abounds in the place of such human activity.

In all this it seems that a return to the basics of the gospel is desperately needed. People matter more than political power posturing and personal profiteering. God loves us so much that he gave his only Son for our salvation and to offer each of us a purpose and an eternal home in heaven. May God bless his church in central London and prosper every effort to reach the nation's capital with the message of his love. London needs Jesus - I need Jesus - and thank God he is available for us!

Friday, October 10, 2014

All Things Tough and Testing

I've got a new line for the old hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful"! Now it begins "All things Tough and Testing".. It doesn't work musically but boy does it fit my recent experience! I won't bore you with the details save to say that I am facing 3 operations in the next few weeks and am in desperate levels of pain. Apparently I am sitting on a time-bomb with stones and a stricture in my pancreatic duct, and the £30,000 worth of electronic gadgetry inside me has failed (again) and requires me to go through the whole July surgery once more! Add to that some decidedly unpleasant personal plumbing and you have a mixture fit for the 'dunghill' to wax all King James Version.

When I can think clearly through the fog of opiates and the sharp sense that there must surely be a spear right through my upper abdomen - and doesn't it stick out at the back too? - I startle myself with a sense of well-being. Before you call the men in white coats there are reasons for this state of calm that are not just drug induced. I have found special help this week in certain obscure (but not pointless!) Bible verses. One is found in Ephesians 4:6 where it says that my God and Father is "over all and through all and in all". I had not considered that before but it has sealed my soul in a firm compost of comfort this week while I try to bear fruit in a barren environment. God is in charge - not the doctors, nor the devil and thankfully not me!

Another came at me sideways from the good old book of Psalms - ancient Israel's national songbook. Reading almost like a medical report it says: "You couldn’t stand the sight of food, so miserable you thought you’d be better off dead.Then you called out to GOD in your desperate condition; he got you out in the nick of time. He spoke the word that healed you, that pulled you back from the brink of death." (Ps 107:18-20 The Message) Wow!  Now that gave me hope.  Of course I realise that wishful thinking may be at work here, but actually choosing to trust in God's promises and his words is proving to be a powerful steadying force in this trying time.

So although I am messing about with the first line of the old hymn, perhaps the ending can still stand?  "The Lord God made them all" And if that's true then I'll be OK, even if the time-bomb does go off.