On July 26th, 2017, my precious wife Margaret passed away at the age of 63. She had heroically battled the autoimmune disease sarcoidosis for almost thirty years, and despite decades of pain and disability, demonstrated a contagious joy throughout her lifetime.
How was this joy possible, even when she received the news this past April that she had a terminal heart condition? The answer to that question is simple, yet eternally profound: she knew the love of Jesus in this life, and the promise of Jesus for eternal life. You see for her, hope wasn’t to be found in the circumstances of this earth. Hope was found in looking beyond what she could see, to the One who died for our sins on a bloody cross, and rose three days later triumphantly demonstrating to the world that He was in fact God the Son. She knew the Lord’s love as expressed in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
So as the day of her death approached, her anticipation of seeing her Savior grew. As her physical strength deteriorated, she knew she “would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), and that to “be with Christ. . . that is far better” (Philippians 1:23).
My great comfort is that she is now in the very presence of God, free from pain, immersed in the splendor and glory of heaven. Do you have this assurance, as you think about the moment your life ends? If not, I would plead with you (and Margaret would as well) to come to Jesus. Put your total trust in Him and Him alone to forgive you of your sins and to give you the gift of eternal life with him. Prayerfully consider these words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
May the amazing love of God become more and more real to you in the days ahead.
This is my third blog post on living a life of purpose with a chronic illness. Once again this month I am taking an excerpt from my new book, Weak and Indispensable, A Life of Purpose for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Margaret woke me around midnight, and anxiously told me her engagement ring was missing. As I struggled to reenter the land of consciousness, I did my best to encourage her, and assured her that most likely it would show up somewhere on the floor in the morning. I figured the gold band with three diamonds wouldn’t be hard to locate in the limited areas of our home she navigates with her walker. She was concerned because she had absolutely no idea when it had fallen off her finger—the persistent numbness she has in her hands and feet (it’s called neuropathy), had left her clueless to where and when this had occurred.
Though I was confident the ring would show up, the next morning, as a precaution, I retrieved two bags of garbage that I had taken out the night before. In the unlikely scenario that her ring had somehow tumbled into the kitchen or bathroom trash, I didn’t want to run the risk of being tormented by the possibility, if her ring didn’t surface, that I had allowed it to become buried treasure in a Colorado landfill.
Over the next few days our all-out search proved fruitless, and as it became clear the ring wasn’t in the house, the two bags of rescued garbage began to beckon my name. So. on a Saturday morning, equipped with plastic gloves and a resolve to sift through an assortment of grossness, I meticulously initiated my refuse adventure. Bag #1, a slimy blend of decaying kitchen goodies, had everything from egg shells to salmon skin—but no ring. Bag #2, a plethora of bathroom trash, also was ring-less. . . that is, until I got to the very bottom of the bag. And then there it was, a bit soiled from the used tissues cloaking it. . . but never looking so beautiful and precious.
God’s truth as revealed in the Bible would encourage Christians (especially we healthy ones) to freshly realize the chronically ill and their caregivers are like Margaret’s missing ring. They may be surrounded by non-appealing circumstances: the difficult to look at “slime” of medical hardship and painful disabilities—but their symptomatic surroundings don’t define who they are—priceless gems designed by God to bring beauty and life-giving radiance to their churches and communities.
The Lord’s heart is clear on this matter. Isaiah 42:1-3 informs us, regarding the coming Messiah, that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” What does this mean? That the Savior is full of tender compassion for suffering people. He will not oppress his children who are afflicted and bring them to the breaking point. On the contrary, he longs to apply his balm of comfort, and provide for them the strength they need to endure. And amazingly, he also wants to show them the meaningful purpose they can fulfill in their daily lives.
Next month I will discuss practically what that significant, God-ordained role looks like for the chronic sufferer. If you are feeling like the purpose for your life is clouded today, I would encourage you to freshly come to Jesus. Read the Gospel of John, and see Christ’s great love for you. May God show you how to find hope and purpose in the days ahead.
My 1977 Bowling Team Photo–In case you are wondering, I am second from the left.
This is the second of my series of blog posts on the topic of purpose. Today I am again drawing from my work on my new book, Weak and Indispensable, A Life of Purpose for the Chronically Ill and Their Families, which I hope to complete in the fall of 2017.
I have been a high school math teacher for the past thirty years. It is a career that I am very grateful for, and hope to continue for another five to ten years. Due to my life-long interest in math, on those rare occasions when I am asked about the athletic accomplishments of my youth, most folks assume I was either on the chess team or a member of my school’s math club. Their assumptions are pretty close. I have one varsity sports letter to call my own—in the grand game of bowling. As a high school senior, I shocked everyone (including myself) by finishing seventh in the nine game tryouts. As a result I became seventh man on a seven man team.
Since bowling is a sport where only five players can participate at a time, player number seven is just a smartly dressed team representative among the crowd. As my varsity season began, it became very clear very quickly that I wasn’t ever going to be the “go-to” guy who had to strike to secure our team’s victory. No, usually during the matches my biggest decision was whether or not to go grab a cola before the third game began. When the season concluded, I think I may have bowled a total of seven games in competition. That’s seven out of over a hundred. But, I did get a shirt. I did go on a bunch of bus rides with the team. I did have a great seat watching my teammates compete.
At the end of season banquet I got my varsity letter, but whatever pride I felt at that moment was subdued by the reality of my competitive insignificance. They didn’t need me to win any matches. No one recalled a clutch performance by Michael Robble, because there wasn’t one. I only rolled my bowling ball if our opponent was hopelessly out-matched or if three of our starters were bedridden by an outbreak of the stomach flu.
Sadly today, folks who have a chronic illness or disability can often feel like I did on the bowling team. The confines of disease make it difficult to believe they still have a life of usefulness. Let’s face it—when we see healthy people living active lives, it is all too easy to think we are less important. So the key question of this month’s blog post is this: With all our medical limitations, is it REALLY true that our lives matter to God, our church, and our community?
Well, to find the answer to this question, we must look beyond the constraints of our medical reality. For if true meaningfulness is to be found in health and activity, then millions of people have become bench-warmers in the mission of life. The good news, however, based on the Bible, is that first and foremost, we can know our lives have significance in the Lord’s eyes. How? By getting to know Jesus.
His love for you and me is not based on our accomplishments. It is not based on our ability to do things. Rather, it is based on who He is. The scriptures tell us this: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
If you are feeling like your life has no real significance, make it your goal this month to get to know Jesus. I’d encourage you to read the Gospel of John, and prayerfully ask the Lord to reveal Himself to you. For living a life of purpose begins by knowing the personal love of Christ. He is the one who can transform your soul and bring to you forgiveness, hope and meaning.
Have a blessed holiday season!
This is the first of a planned series of blog posts on the topic of purpose. It is being fueled by the writing of my new book, Weak and Indispensable, A Life of Purpose for the Chronically Ill and their Families, which I am hoping to complete by September of 2017.
Living with a chronic disease or disability is a rough road. Incurable physical afflictions have weapons that are painful and relentless: the progression of symptoms, disabling pain, discouraging longevity, and envy-tempting restrictions. Just in the past year Margaret has experienced the development of early stage heart failure, coupled with blindness in her right eye. These conditions have been added to her deluge of chronic fatigue, searing chest pain, shortness of breath, joint pain, and abdominal discomfort. As her husband and primary caregiver, I have had to look at the progression of her symptoms with a helpless sorrow. My wife is losing her medical battle in a painful, sequential, physical progression. One thing in all of this is certain—apart from a medical miracle, “normal” for us in the foreseeable future is a life permeated with an array of symptom-induced troubles we wouldn’t wish on anyone.
On a deeper level, I have had to ask myself if there is a beneficial purpose for a family like ours. Are we destined to just play our version of “Christian Survivor,” where our major accomplishment in life is to simply persevere? Is the primary point of our disability and pain to burden others? Are we facing our medical challenges to be a living counterexample to people, so they can be thankful they don’t have to suffer like us? Or is it possible, despite our daily limitations, there is something with immense significance we are called to do? Is there a truth-based mission to be embraced and followed when our medical prognosis is so discouragingly negative?
Let’s face it—in our action-orientated culture that promotes worth based on ability, activity, and achievements, for those of us whose lives have been slowed by chronic illness there can be a heart-crushing crisis of purpose. The world of disabling physical affliction can leave you to wonder if your life now has substandard value. After all, you can’t do the things you used to, or the things you want to. As a patient, the key accomplishment of your day may be to safely navigate your home for a few trips to the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. As a caregiver, your daily list of successes entail providing quality care for a loved one while at the same time shouldering the weight of life’s typical challenges. Whether you are a patient or caregiver, our performance-driven culture may make you feel like you’ve left a life of once productive value to one of seemingly burdensome, fatiguing irrelevance.
Is this the case? Are the sick, disabled, and those who care for them somehow less important? Since they can’t be “doers,” does that mean they have lost their significance in our churches and communities? Thankfully, the answer to these questions is a resounding “NO!” As you shall see, God has designed a life of significance for the chronically ill, both individually and in the lives of other people.
So, stay tuned. Over the next few months, our blog will be highlighting key truths that will inspire you to live a meaningful life with your chronic illness.
May God richly strengthen you in your medical battle.
In the early years of Margaret’s illness, occasional flare-ups were more of an annoying nuisance, not an all-consuming trial. Her most challenging health days were typically during times of bad weather, so we adjusted our lives around the theme of “with the rain comes the pain.” And, since we lived in Arizona, these rain-pain combinations were quite spread out, which allowed us to live a fairly normal, active life.
Chronic illnesses, however, are seldom content to lie dormant. In our case, about a decade after her initial diagnosis, we experienced the development of persistent, non-weather-related symptoms. Sunny days morphed into days of pain. Even something as simple as removing a can of soup from the cupboard became problematic. Her autoimmune disease (called sarcoidosis) was on the offensive, and despite much prayer and numerous medical counter-offensives, her body steadily deteriorated.
On the relational side of things, the decline of her health transformed us from a “go to” outgoing couple to a pair of chronic disease captives, bound by the chains of disabling affliction. Where once our phone rang frequently with a multiplicity of invites and requests, within a short period of time we were beaten down with a deafening relational silence. We struggled with feelings of an acute loss of purpose—and felt the pain of loneliness by omission.
Can you relate? Chronic disease has an inescapable and oppressive companion called loneliness. It makes itself known through the combination of having few who understand what your world now looks like, coupled with your inability to consistently interact with others. So, is there anyone who truly gets what we are going through? Is it possible, even with a serious health condition, to know you are accepted, loved, and understood?
Margaret and I’s present reality is that she is 99% home-bound. The remaining 1% is only for special doctor’s appointments. At the time of this blog post, she has only been out of our home twice in the past ten months. Though not in hospice care, the magnitude of her disability makes it virtually impossible to leave the medical safety of our house. So, we are an easy couple to find. She is here all the time, and except for my hours at work, I am home quite a bit as well.
In preparation for writing this blog post, I asked Margaret, “Are you lonely?” Without hesitation, she answered, “No.” How is this possible? With all her symptoms and her land-locked reality, how is she truthfully able to say this?
Well, her answer is rooted in a precious biblical truth. You see, there is One who truly understands the loneliness of chronic sufferers. His name is Jesus. Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.”
Jesus is the Person who completely understands your world of medically-induced loneliness. He knows all about it. Read about his life as recorded in the Gospels. There you’ll find that throughout his lifetime he often dealt with being maligned, misunderstood and rejected. And, in his ultimate act of love on the cross, for the first time in Christ’s eternal existence, he experienced the rejection of God the Father. When he bore the penalty for our sins, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Knowing Jesus experienced this incomprehensible separation from the Father gives us our greatest comfort—for we know he can fully sympathize with our medically isolated lives.
The Lord wants to break the cycle of loneliness for those suffering with chronic health conditions. It begins with prayer. Set aside a time this week and talk to him about it. Tell him how lonely you feel. Tell him why. Tell him what you’re frustrated about. Share with him about all the people you feel have let you down. Then ask him to bring people your way, faithful friends who can provide for you the comfort and companionship the Lord desires.
We had few friends in Colorado when we moved here. As we settled into our new life in the Denver area, there were some painful lonely times. But during those early years here we learned that only the Lord is a “friend that sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). And, as we learned to talk to him openly and honestly about our loneliness, in his time he brought to us compassionate, wonderful friends.
My primary encouragement this month would be to make Jesus your closest friend. Ask him to reveal to you how much he loves you and cares for you. Then, prayerfully, aim to connect with a local church in your area where Christ is proclaimed and folks demonstrate a loving care for each other. With God’s help, may you see, as we did, your loneliness displaced with a fresh expression of the Lord’s love for you.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Hebrews 12:25).
Over the years, I confess there have been times when I have let the strain of Margaret’s illness drive me to a point of despair and hopelessness. During these periods of discouragement I have also found myself getting angry with God. Perceiving our situation to be too big a load for a family to carry, I have either given the Lord the silent treatment, or blatantly told him that our situation was not fair. During these times I found myself living a two-faced Christian life: externally I wore the facade of loving and trusting God (my Christian happy face) while internally I stewed with anger and distrust. Can you relate? Today do you find yourself gripped with anger as you think about your medical challenges?
Throughout the twenty-seven-plus years of our health struggles, often folks have asked Margaret and me questions like these: “Why aren’t you bitter? How can you possibly have joy and thankfulness in your heart in light of all you have been through? Your medical challenges have lasted so long, and they are getting worse—don’t you feel you have a right to be angry and complain to God?” These are great questions. With the longevity and severity of her disease, common sense would say we should wake up most days grumbling, murmuring, and harboring all kinds of angry thoughts toward God. Yet as I write this month’s post, Margaret lies in her in-home hospital bed with peace, hope, and joy in her heart. I too, find my soul grateful for all the Lord has done for us.
How is this possible? Why isn’t Margaret habitually whining, complaining, and showing animosity aimed at the Lord and our family? Has she somehow worked up a happy face? Is this a manufactured joyfulness due to an abundance of human fortitude? On the caregiver side of things, is the peace and contentment I regularly feel in my heart the result of a gutsy resolve to not let her illness get the best of me? Have I somehow been given a special dose of caregiver hope due to my strength of character and my personality type?
Just to be clear, both of us are still prone to sin. Neither of us has attained a level of maturity where anger and bitterness issues have been permanently resolved. Yet, with God’s help, most days we sense hope, peace, joy and gratitude in our hearts. How can this be? The only explanation I can provide is this: it is the miraculous fruit of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.
If you are bitter today, I have good news for you: the Lord can set you free of your anger and bitterness. You don’t have to clean up your life first, nor do some measure of good deeds to get God’s attention. Jesus would implore you to come to him just as you are. He stands before you with open arms and says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
For us, there truly is only one reason we have joy, hope, and peace in the midst of our medical struggles: His name is Jesus. He is the only lasting remedy for bitterness of the soul. The life-changing power of his gospel has transformed our lives, and it can transform yours as well. Jesus is the “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Christ wants to (and does) comfort and encourage medically broken people with his love. He is the good shepherd, and by his power he can “restore [your] soul” (Psalm 23:3). His precious soul restoration can change you from a bitter person to a thankful person. Fear and distrust can be quenched by his assuring words, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Doubts about the dependability of his care can be annihilated by the knowledge that he brought full provision to the greatest need you and I will ever have—being separated from God because of our sins.
Friend, come to Jesus today. What he has done for us, he desires to do for you as well. Yes, your bitterness can be cured by the living Savior who died for your sins, rose from the grave, and is coming again. If you would like some help in the understanding the good news of Jesus Christ, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to assist you in any way I can.
Margaret and I have been married for almost 27 years. For all of our years together, she has battled health issues to one degree or another. Over the years her symptoms from the autoimmune disease sarcoidosis have progressed from occasional flare-ups to our current all-consuming, disabling reality. This morning as I write this blog post, she tries to rest, propped up by her hospital bed, and getting breathing assistance via her oxygen concentrator. She is now in early stage heart failure, and recently lost the vision in her right eye. Yet we still have hope and peace. How is this possible? How have we been able to endure all these years of illness, and face the future with a poor prognosis on our medical horizon? Why aren’t we just another example of the casualty of divorce, since so many marriages don’t survive when they are invaded by a serious health condition?
Well, the answer these questions is linked to three practices I would encourage you to prayerfully consider. In them lies the key to how we have been able to endure, and how we continue to endure. And, I might add, not just endure, but actually grow in our love and commitment to each other. Here they are, and I pray they are an encouragement to you.
- Cultivate Your Personal Relationship with God. You might be thinking, “Come on, Mike, give me something practical here. What do you mean cultivate your personal relationship with God?” Well, let me put it this way: Enduring illness in your marriage for the long haul cannot be achieved by relying upon human strength or fortitude. Frankly, left to our own resources, there is no way we could have dealt with Margaret’s illness for a year, let alone 27 years. We have needed (and still need) supernatural help. And that help can only come from the living God. A.W. Tozer said, “Acquaint thyself with God.” The Bible tells us, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:4). This is the most important thing you can do for yourself, and your marriage: Seek the Lord. Ask God to reveal himself to you through the Person of Jesus Christ. Dig into God’s word, the Bible. Apply the promise of Jesus, when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
- Make Your Marriage Relationship Your Top Priority: The Lord is passionate about the health of your marriage, as you should be. God’s design is to strengthen your marriage through your medical challenges. So, make decisions each day that build your marriage. Love your spouse. Spend as much time as possible with him or her. Love as Christ has loved the church. For me, as Margaret’s husband and primary caregiver, a vital marriage-strengthening practice is giving her the priority of my time. I usually come home immediately after work, to help her and spend time with her. Let’s face it–nothing says “I love you” more strongly than wanting to be in the company of the one you love! Being with her helps our communication, it builds the depth of our relationship, and it provides the context to strengthen and protect all we have together.
- Join a Church that Inspires You to Persevere: For some of you, I realize the thought of connecting with a local church in your community may be the last thing you want to do. Let’s face it—often people, even professing Christians, just don’t understand what the chronically ill and their families are going through. And, sadly in our culture today, some churches have embraced an erroneous theological position that God wants all his people healthy and prosperous—not exactly a welcoming context for those of us dealing with health issues. The good news, however, is that Jesus is the Head of the church, his body, and his desire is that “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). So, we can pray and trust him to lead us to a Christ-centered church where biblical doctrine is proclaimed, and where we can be comforted and cared for. For Margaret and me, we would have never made it if it were not for the prayers, encouragement, and practical support we have received through our church family. The Lord doesn’t want you to face your troubles alone. He wants you to be strengthened through other people, particularly those who love Christ and understand his heart of compassion for the sick.
May God strengthen you in the days ahead, and if you have any questions about this month’s blog post, feel free to contact us at email@example.com.
Looking for additional encouragement? I would highly recommend Michael and Christy Hardy’s blog, chronicencouragement.com.