GOD’S PRESENCE IN TIMES OF PAIN: TIM’S STORY

GOD’S PRESENCE IN TIMES OF PAIN: TIM’S STORY

By Paul Riddle

In early 2012, Belinda Curtis was diagnosed with a brain tumor; it was found that she had a highly aggressive form of cancer, and that her prognosis was poor. Within a few weeks she had lost her ability to walk. Despite the best interventions modern medicine had to offer, her condition steadily worsened, and in less than two years she was dead.

In a remarkable nine-minute video that can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/89197196, Belinda’s husband, Tim, minister of the Church of Christ in Georgetown, TX, tells her story and shares his reflections on how her illness and death affected him. What came through for me in Tim’s story was his and Belinda’s abiding faith in God, and their sense of God’s being present with them and walking with them through this ordeal.

Tim does not deny or minimize the sadness of Belinda’s decline and death, but for me his story is ultimately one of hope. Speaking of his sense of God’s presence, he says, “I think God is most present when we’re hurting and when we’re grieving… That’s when he is most with us… We don’t always feel it, but looking back, we will.” In the “desert” time of Belinda’s illness and the aftermath of her death, Tim experienced God in a new way. He discovered that God had not abandoned him but had come alongside him to walk with him through the desert, and that he would not be in the desert forever.   Tim’s story strengthened my faith, and I hope it will do the same for yours.

One Great Day

One Great Day

Great Physician

For healing we pray,

From Cancer

From Diabetes,

And Alzheimers.

How they afflict us

Wreaking havoc

Upon our bodies

Minds and families.

How long?

How long, O Lord,

Will the people suffer

Pain, loss, and sorrow

The failure of our health

To these dreaded foes.

Is all of life to remain

Under threat from disease

That bring grief and frustration

To all who bow under their weight?

We plead, O Lord

For a cure from these afflictions

And wait upon The Healer

While growing in His spirit.

Longing for the consummation of creation

When health is unending

And life never ends.

The Lion will lay down with the Lamb

And your people will leap with joy!

A Poet Out of Place

A POET OUT OF PLACE

By Paul Riddle

Nell[*] had a lot of miles on her. Years of poverty and living on the streets had taken their toll. Her skin was wrinkled and tanned from exposure to the elements. Her gray hair was unkempt. Almost all of her teeth were missing. Thin and crone-like, her slight body was almost swallowed up by the sheets of her hospital bed. She was, of course a “charity case,” impoverished and without insurance, whose treatment costs would be absorbed by the hospital.

What struck me most about Nell, however, was not her poverty, but her grace and dignity. Her eyes, though weakened by age, sparkled with intelligence. Her toothless smile projected warmth and acceptance. As we visited, and as she shared a bit of her story with me, I found my stereotypes of homeless people challenged. There wasn’t a hint of victimhood in her demeanor, and she didn’t ask me for a thing. We just visited, like regular people do.

As our conversation progressed, and as trust took root, she revealed that one of her passions was to write poetry. She recited from memory several poems she had written over the years, some of them quite good. As she recited her poems, we were both transported from her drab four-to-a-room hospital room to more pleasant places – the farm where she grew up, a garden she especially loved, a house she used to live in. And through her poems I met some of the people in her life – her beloved daddy, gone now for decades, a sister, a dog, a friend or two, and God, who was with her always. Her poetry was not literary, but it was eloquent in its authenticity, its trueness to her life as she had lived it.

Nell and I spent perhaps twenty minutes together, and I have not seen her since. Nevertheless, the memory of her dignity and faith, her poetic gift, and the gracious way she received me, remains with me. I am thankful that God brought us together for a visit that blessed us both.

[*] The patient’s name and certain details have been changed to protect her privacy.

Cows and Cotton

Bending low, Marcus pulled another boll of cotton from the stalk, and shoved it into the long sack that trailed behind him.  Barely mid morning, the sun beat down with the promise of a searing afternoon.  Sweat rolled down his face and the gnats swarmed his eyes.  By mid-afternoon, the sack felt like a load of bricks, but for this sharecropper, it was all in a day’s work.  He took great pride in bringing in the most cotton each day.  After the sun went down, Marcus was expected to milk the cows as he done early that morning.  Such was his life many years ago.

Now Marcus faced a dangerous surgery.  I had listened to his tale with great interest and was disappointed when the anesthesiologist interrupted the visit.  When asked if he understood how risky the surgery was, Marcus leaned forward in his chair and said with great conviction, “There ain’t no cotton nor cows in heaven!  I’m going to be just fine!”  His grandson laughed.

Now I don’t know about the cotton and cows, but Marcus was convinced it would not be one of hard labor.  Marcus was headed for a reward, and he faced surgery with a firm conviction that God would be with him whether he lived or died in the upcoming surgery.

To rest in God’s promises is to have the assurance that Marcus had.  I don’t know if he survived the surgery, but he did survive life, and his reward in heaven will be great.  There, Marcus will find rest at last.

– By David Martin

Living Beneath the Lighted Cross – A Personal Reflection

Living Beneath the Lighted Cross – A Personal Reflection

By Paul Riddle

Overlooking the sanctuary of Bering Drive Church of Christ, where I worship, is an illuminated cross. To one side, behind a decorative brick wall, there is a light switch, which controls the light that illuminates the cross. Posted on the wall next to the switch is a note, written many years ago by Bill Love, who was minister of that church for over twenty years. The note says, “This switch is always to remain on, out of respect for Jesus, and to remind us that we, his disciples, are called to live under his cross.” The first time I saw that note I was moved – not only by fond memories of Bill, but more importantly by the power of the symbol of the illuminated cross.

The always-lighted cross in my place of worship challenges me to reflect on the relationship between worship and the rest of my life. What light does the cross cast on, say, my Monday morning commute? How about my dealings with patients on Tuesday afternoon? How does it illuminate the way I treat the person behind the counter at the sandwich shop at lunch on Wednesday? The mechanic at the garage on Thursday? My wife when she comes home after a long day at work?

How does the cross illuminate my sense of self-worth? My ideas about what constitutes success? My attitude toward failure (my own failures and those of others)? My decisions about how to use my time, my money, and my talents? By the way, does the cross cast a critical light on that little word “my?”

The lighted cross also stands as a beacon of hope, reminding me that love is more powerful than hatred, that hope is stronger than despair, and that God is deeply and personally invested in me, in you, and in the redemption of all humanity. Far from being merely a pious decoration, the lighted cross is a potent reminder of the bond we Christians share in our Lord, of the sacrifice that forged that bond, of the love that motivated the sacrifice, and of the life to which we who live under it are called – both when we worship together and then go our separate ways to be salt and light in the world.

Diagnosis Cancer

Diagnosis Cancer.

Life expectancy six months.

Or less.

Stunned.

Silence descends

Into my soul

As I realize

My life has come to its end.

I grieve, but wonder why.

When I am dead,

I will not grieve.

But my loved ones will.

Looks like I have the easier task.

Let go. Stop breathing.

Hospice will help me go easy.

I’m afraid, you see.

And when it’s over,

Where will I be?

Dreamless sleep, or

Conscious glory.

Waiting for faith’s fruition,

Trusting the resurrection

And the culmination of all things

Beautiful and blessed.

– By David Martin

The Eagle and the Landfill

The Eagle and the Landfill

By Paul Riddle

Victor (not his real name) exuded dignity – in the best sense of the word. He had been fighting a medical condition for several years that had cost him his job and a great deal of his freedom to do what he wanted. But there was no self-pity about him. Rather, he had a clear eye and a positive outlook. He was much more inclined to give thanks than to bemoan his situation.

As we talked, Victor told me the story of a trip he had made to Alaska. He had always had a fascination with bald eagles, and the opportunity for eagle watching was one of his main motivations for making the journey.

Victor’s first sight of bald eagles was at a landfill, and it was a huge disappointment. His image of the eagle was majestic – like the eagle on the Presidential seal. The eagles at the landfill weren’t like that at all. Picking at garbage – as Victor put it, “taking the easy way,” they appeared to him craven – not at all like the wild, free animals he had always imagined.

A few days later, Victor was graced with another view of an eagle. He and his party were in the back country – far from human settlement. Victor looked up, and there it was – a bald eagle, soaring on an invisible carpet of air, circling, watching keenly for its prey. Moments later, the eagle swooped down, out of Victor’s line of sight, toward its target. Victor said his heart leapt as he watched the eagle. He was captivated by the beauty and power of the great bird.

As our conversation unfolded, it became clear that for Victor, the eagle – the one soaring above, not the ones picking over the landfill – was a metaphor for how he sought to lead his life. He faced the challenges of his condition without complaint, with a positive attitude, and with dignity. I was moved by his story, and I went away from my visit with him feeling that I was the one who had been ministered to. The next time I face a difficult situation, I will remember Victor and the soaring eagle.