I’m not a fan of writings that for the most part seem assembled from the quotations of scholars, historians, and theologians, weaving them together like some great tapestry of spiritual enlightenment. To me, such writing seems oddly disconnected from the soul of the author which leaves me cold. I’d so much rather read a personal testimony from the author’s own life experience. What was your condition, how did the Son intervene, how were you healed or blessed, and what did you learn? That’s what I want to know, for no derivative of commentary ever touched my heart like the open, honest, and vulnerable testimony of a brother or sister in the Son.
And yet, it is a daily devotional-commentary I receive by email that has had me on the receiving end of the Lord’s chastisement several times these last 2 weeks. Whoever is in charge of publishing excerpts from an author who died in 1971, has obviously been spying on me and selecting them with intent to hit me squarely between the eyes.
It first happened while I was lying on a gurney in the emergency room 2 weeks ago, strapped to an EKG monitor, and with an IV in each arm, I spoke frankly to Karen about the possibility of my death. She refused to hear it of course, admonishing me to speak faith but still I wanted her to know that I loved her and she was free to return to her family in Illinois, leaving the care of my elderly father who lives with us, to my siblings. And I apologized to her because our wish has been for a Notebook ending to our lives together. Again, Karen spoke words of encouragement, even while I lamented the Back to Eden garden I’d started in faith but now could not finish because of the heart attack.
With the words of lament scarcely off of my tongue, my cell phone vibrated at 3am alerting me that the latest devotional had arrived in my inbox. That, in itself, is extraordinary, since my phone is set to “do not disturb” until 9am. The word of encouragement read:
I wept. So my garden would thrive; God would see to it that it did. But would I live to see it and take care of it like I hoped? You see, these last 20 years of walking and alternately stumbling with the Spirit, have taught me NOT to read anything into scripture other than what it says. Yes, it will rain, and the fields and trees will produce their crops, but the scripture makes no promise for the farmer who planted and cares for them.
Transferred to a hospital an hour away for an angioplasty to open an artery that was 99% blocked and insert a stent to keep it open, the attendants in the operating room and I laughed and sang Don McLean’s “American Pie” together, where already I was thinking of some parody lyrics more fitting my situation:
Bye, bye bacon cheeseburger pie
Felt my ticker start to flicker
And thought I would die …
Wow, Father, You couldn’t have arranged for a better bunch of folks to take care of me or a DJ to spin tunes for my angio-party.
It was in that moment I dared to believe that I might live. Pretty dumb, huh? All the godly encouragement my wife could offer together with God’s timely word, and it’s Don McLean and singing with the med-techs that renewed my hope. Certainly if loving care was the balm I needed, the Father immersed me in it while flat on my back in the OR.
On the day I was discharged from the hospital, again a devotional left me God-smacked.
By His Spirit, I understood the message to be one of chastisement. For I had been going about the garden project God led me to do in my own strength, determined to complete it on my own, despite a number of setbacks, not the least of which was spring thaw and the frustrating season of mud. You see, God’s intent for Back to Eden gardens is to plant and work them “in community”. Private ownership and boasting of one’s efforts to re-create Eden is hardly the spirit of community.
In the 2 weeks since I was discharged, I’ve done some non-strenuous work in the garden, such as plant potatoes with a cordless drill and a long bulb auger attachment, and transplant a few rows of strawberries. Since the garden is downhill from the house and strenuous walking is prohibited for now, I’ve been driving the riding mower down to the garden. It took 3 days, working less than 30 minutes per day to plant the potatoes and strawberries. On the 3rd day, after I’d scratched out the 3rd row in the soft compost and mulch for transplanting the strawberry starts, I was sweating bullets so Karen called an end to the day’s work.
Looking back at it, that last row was as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. Contemplating whether to straighten the row while staring at it from the deck above the garden, God reminded me that there are few straight lines in creation. Deciding then to “leave it be”, I uttered something that in hindsight, is a prophetic declaration of faith:
This garden, planted in weakness, will be our greatest ever because God will make it grow!
Finally, some words of faith from this mouthy mouth.
The single most difficult thing about the aftermath of a heart attack for a man, isn’t the unknown, the medical bills, the new medications, diet and exercise routine. No, it’s the helplessness. The heart within me that physicians had once said after I took a stress test was the “heart of a bull”, a heart with a BP of 120/80, pulse 60, and good cholesterol numbers before the attack, has nonetheless been injured and will require months to heal. Limitations on activity and medications that cause fatigue and shortness of breath, have left me with dozens of unfinished projects and nowhere to turn for help but to the Father. And the strength and unyielding determination in which I’ve always prided myself, have left me deeply humbled, when I struggled to unscrew the lid on a drink bottle that Karen had already broken the seal on and re-tightened.
Helplessness sucks. Two weeks of it sucks even more. That helplessness is my new normal? That’s discipline. Which brings me to the devotional I received today.
The Lord may get you off activities and shut you up to inactivity, and you go through an awful time and say the Lord has forsaken you, all has gone wrong. What really is it? Why, it is growing pains! Has it not proved to be growing pains? In the long run it was not all wrong, it was all right. You came to know the Lord whereas before your whole life was taken up with things. You have been shut up and you came to know the Lord inwardly and you have come to a state of spiritual efficiency which is so much greater that you can now meet the external situation. He has been misunderstood, but He was working unto your efficiency, exercising us unto efficiency. These, the growing pains, are terrible. You cannot help anyone who is suffering from growing pains, and you must stand aside and see them going through.
So through numerous and various directions this growth takes place by the painful exercise produced by the way the Lord is dealing with you. Chastening – a poor English word. It is child-training or discipline. Take the word disciple; one who comes into association with someone in order to learn, and the Disciples were chosen that they might be with Him in order to learn. That is discipline, learning. We do learn through suffering. Even the Lord Jesus was made “full grown” in this sense, complete, through suffering. We take the same way unto full growth. It is child training, discipline, learning by way of experience. That is chastening. Making us sons out of children, full grown men out of infants. I feel that we want to have more faith in the dealings of God with us along this line.
Already I am seeing benefit from the Lord’s hand upon me. Until His chastisement, I have not had the understanding or compassion that I’d like to have for my father who is in serious decline nor a teacher friend of Karen’s who in her late 60’s has been dealing with a far more serious heart condition.
My, how affliction has changed my prayer life for them and awakened the heart of compassion within me.
No one said that the process of giving a man “a new heart” would be easy or painless. Still, it’s worth it.