Suffering, Jan and My Friend Don

July 25, 2011

The school of suffering graduates rare scholars

"The school of suffering graduates rare scholars."

The newbies fill the waiting room today.  They are talking across the room to one another not realizing that their energized voices do little to mask the fear they now are living in.  The stories they tell are new to them but sound so very old to me.  Each story plays the same basic cords, just arranged a little different.  Most of the stories include God somewhere.

Jan is in triage… blood draw, “how are you feeling?”, pulse and temperature, “any problems?”  Nothing much has changed in the routine of the medical mundane.  I’ve tuned out. Been there and got the T-shirt, as they say.  Instead, I’ve plugged in my earphones and listen to music while I write.

“Emmanuel, the beginning and the end.
King of Kings, healer and friend,
Jesus, you have saved us all.
To our knees we fall, you have saved us all.”

It has now been a year and a half since the transplant.  Slowly, Jan is healing.  The setbacks now remind us of how far we have come, not how far we have to go.    After 20 years of a slow but deliberate slide, she will be free to dream and plan.  Jeremiah quoted God, “I will give you a future and a hope.” Yes, He has.  It has been so costly, so achingly slow, draining to the place where we have realized just how little is needed to thrive… not just stay alive, mind you, but thrive in the goodness and mercy of God.

The Stem Cell Transplant

After all of the years being with her at every crisis I could not go through this valley of death with her.  The night before brought on my overflow of tears as well as the memory of the well worn paths that had brought us here.  Life was going to change, no doubt.  We just didn’t know how, had no idea whether it would be an end or a beginning.  The paths we had traveled were now behind us.  New territory was ahead and it would be either both or one of us that would now trek forward.

A week of chemo that could kill was followed by a tiny bag of funny colored liquid that they hung on her IV pole and dripped into her.  That was it.  No fanfare, just a big medical yawn.  Hard to believe that a little sandwich size baggy of stem cells was all the life needed to heal her of what had been killing her all of these years.

The chemo would stay active for months, releasing the poison continually while the new stem cells worked hard to combat it’s effect. It would be months before hospital rooms would not be her mainstay.  Thousands of hours, countless hospital staff, hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Every part of dying save the last breath was greeted with well honed faith.  Every assault against her person met with joy and trust.

An old preacher of the early 20th century wrote,

“To do and suffer God’s will is still the highest form of faith, the most sublime Christian achievement.  To have the bright aspirations of a young life forever blasted; to bear a daily burden never congenial and to see no relief; to be fettered by some incurable physical disability – to be able to say in such a school of discipline, ‘The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?’- this is faith at its highest and spiritual success at the crowning point.  Great faith is exhibited not so much in ability to do as to suffer.”  Dr. Charles Parkhurst

Yes, I know.  To be sick in today’s church is equal to not having faith. To be sick in today’s church means that Job’s friends line up with their reasoning and spiritual incantations to condemn instead of comfort.  But to those who have unreasonably suffered and not wavered in faith, the heart of God is shown.
Paul said it best,

“… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…”

There is no deep understanding of pain unless one has experienced the loneliness of a cross.  Once that has been accomplished, the first response to another is compassion and nothing else.

I have a friend who is preparing to meet the Lord.  Certainly, a Christian prepares to see Jesus from the first day forward but then there is that day when dying becomes a reality.  Don is without a doubt one of the people who has given so much to so many.  His ability to lead others in worship has touched millions, yet the real joy was in being with Don and Marian with a few friends and laughing together.  The piano was literally an extension of his enormous love of Jesus and His church.  His heart for worship could never be ignored.  When he leads, you are compelled to follow him to Jesus’ throne.

Even with modern medicine he has suffered a lot.  And we, his friends both distant and close, want him to know this… Don, you have done well.  Thank you for making us less afraid by watching you.  Thank you for teaching us how to rejoice in sorrow.  Thank you for being faithful to Jesus and to us.

“The school of suffering graduates rare scholars.”  For some like Jan and I, we now walk a path of victory on this earth.  For Don, he prepares to see the face of Jesus and to hear His voice say, “Well done.” And in all these things I am reminded over and over that the goal in life is so very simple that it can be captured in two simple words…  finish well.

For most, that means to live out the mundane with a heart overflowing with the eternal.  For others, live grateful for the extension of life that has been granted.  For some, look to the finish line that is promised over the final hill… and smile.  The race has been run, friend.  Your reward draws near.



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