November 27, 2018

But Jesus...

My friend Bobbie lives in Paradise, California – or at least she did until nearly the entire town burned to the ground earlier this month. Two weeks after the fire started, she and her husband were allowed back in and discovered that their home – though heavily smoke-damaged – still stands, as does her father-in-law’s. But her daughter’s home, her father-in-law’s business, and her church have been reduced to ashes. Her entire extended family escaped with their lives, but many of her friends and neighbors have lost loved ones.

My friend and one-time homeschool mentor, Wendy, had brain surgery a couple of weeks ago. The doctors removed most of a tumor that was blessedly benign. However, they couldn’t get it all because part of it is entwined with blood vessels, and they’re not sure if she’ll regain full vision in her left eye. Even if clear sight returns, she faces months of physical and neurological healing.
My friend and surrogate father, Jerry, has been wrestling with Stage 4 prostate cancer for over two years. It remained mostly at bay for a long time, but earlier this fall he took a serious turn for the worse.  Through a series of miraculous circumstances, he was able to travel to an alternative treatment facility in Mexico, where he miraculously bounced back. And now he’s home, following the clinic’s protocols, hoping for news of healing in a few weeks.

My brother Tom had minor surgery in September that somehow unleased what has become a virulent bacterial infection into his system. He was hospitalized twice since the initial procedure, and then endured a 30-day course of strong antibiotics delivered daily via PICC line. The specialists with whom he and his wife have consulted don’t expect the infection to return again but, as I write, Tom is in a holding pattern, hoping to avoid having any symptoms indicating that “the little buggers” have somehow survived the IV treatment.

My loved ones’ responses to their struggles both chastise and encourage me. Wendy’s vision may not be fully restored, but she – ever the optimist – jokes about her new hairdo and makes tumor jokes with her adoring husband and five sweet kids, focusing on the joy of being alive. Bobbie isn’t sure how they’ll rebuild Paradise, but she’s committing to stay and be Jesus’ hands and feet amidst the rubble. The bacteria plaguing Tom might return, but he’s living each day on faith that it won’t. Jerry’s long-term prognosis is uncertain at best, yet he smiles and laughs and appreciates the little things, just as he always has.

As they tell their stories, they recount reality without sugar-coating. But then each consciously chooses to make a mental shift and say, “But Jesus…” because they know Romans 8.28: “And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.”

As one of my pastors used to say, if you’re not in the midst of a struggle at the moment, you’re either coming out of one or getting ready to enter one. That’s just reality in our beautiful but still fallen world. If you’re like me, you might not respond to that as well as my loved ones. But I’m trying to remind myself that having gratitude and faith is a choice. No matter what each of us faces day by day, we can always decide to say, “But Jesus…”

UPDATE: Jerry went Home to be with Jesus on December 7. He'd come to terms a few days before his passing that it was the Lord's will to heal him in Heaven, not here. And now he is fully healed. Those of us who love him are heartbroken for our loss even as we rejoice that he is whole again in the presence of the Savior he served for so many years.


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