Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Grandfather, the Walking Miracle

Well, since I'm suffering from an episode of insomnia now, I figured I'd take the time to write a little bit (no sense in torturing myself trying to get to sleep!).

Of late, God has really impressed on me the idea that He is wholly sovereign. That's not a new concept by any means, but I guess God is really helping me to "explore the space" of that a bit. I've known of the theoretical idea for some time, and I've even had some personal experience with His immutable power. But really, as with all issues of sanctification, this process of understanding takes time to develop. I have come to know that our God is an awesome God, who does as He very well pleases whenever it pleases Him. And He is good.

In particular, I wanted to share with you a story about my grandfather, Larry Garfield. Approximately a month ago, he slipped in his bedroom and hit his head on the floor. He was barely conscious after the fall, but he had enough presence of mind to use the emergency call device that connected him with my aunt who lives next door. My aunt and uncle came into his double-wide trailer and discovered him on the floor. They rushed him to the hospital where he was immediately prepared for emergency brain surgery. The doctors were fairly convinced that, even if he survived the surgery, he would probably be a "vegetable" for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, the doctors went ahead with the surgery, at the urging of my family. All of us prayed like crazy that God would do a miracle. Now, my grandfather's advanced directive indicated that he would rather leave this earth than live in a nursing home, so the doctors were somewhat perturbed that they performed a surgery in (what seemed to them a) direct contradiction to so clear an instruction. Well, my grandfather beat the odds and survived the surgery, but he remained in a quasi-coma for the next week.

After about a week, my grandfather began to show some signs of life, like twitching and making sounds. Eventually, he opened his eyes and began to follow people around the room with them. This was extremely encouraging to us all: Grandpa might make it after all! We continued to pray fervently, hoping that God would yet heal him. But then, my grandfather began to develop pneumonia. The doctors became very concerned, considering the difficulty of fighting the affliction from a hospital bed. They began to give my grandfather antibiotics. First, they gave him relatively weak antibiotics to see if his body would respond. It did not. Then, they gave him stronger and stronger antibiotics until they had exhausted the possibilities. Still, my grandfather's pneumonia would not go away. It was then that the doctors indicated that his chance of survival was very remote, and that the best tack -- in view of my grandfather's advanced directive -- was to take him off life support. After much prayer and thought, my family decided that that was the best course -- the course that Grandpa would have wanted us to take.

That weekend was filled with so many tears. I remembered how many good times I had had with Grandpa: the rafting trips, the fishing, the rock collecting, the "Hello you!"s and so much more. What a great, godly man he had been. But then, I got word that my grandfather was actually starting to improve! Now, he had been sent to "Comfort Care" -- a euphemism for a place where people are allowed to die comfortably. And yet, not only was he was still alive, he was getting better! According to the nurses there, only about one patient a year is upgraded from Comfort Care. Well, by God's amazing grace, the 2010 Patient of the Year is my grandfather, Larry Garfield. Yet, with so many encouraging signs, there was still no guarantee that my grandfather would ever enjoy anything remotely close to a quality life.

And yet, for the Garfield Family and Grandpa's Immediate Family of God (i.e., the local church), there remained persistent hope that God did not save Grandpa just to leave him a vegetable. While the doctors remained skeptical of any further recovery, we prayed all the more steadfastly that God would heal him completely. Well, God has been answering our prayer. In the few days following his removal from life support, Grandpa began to talk again. Only a word at a time, but discernible words nonetheless. And he began to move some of his limbs. And after a while, he began to form whole sentences. God was healing Grandpa! My family (who were present) began to note his personality coming back. He had a twinkle in his eye again, and even told the nurses "The pleasure is mine!" when they introduced themselves. What a dear, sweet man! :)

Next came the feeding test. Could he eat on his own? Yes! Grandpa passed with flying colors. He was now able to eat on his own again, sans feeding tube. We have recently gotten word that the doctors (finally) consider him an excellent candidate for living at home again! Just yesterday, Grandpa took his first steps since the fall last month. And what a story it is! Here is an excerpt from an email my aunt wrote yesterday:
Of course you all knew that Dad has always been a determined man. Perhaps it has never been more so evident than today at PT. Casually Marc, the PT said, "Let's see what you can do at the parallel bars Larry." Pleasantly surprised by Dad's "minimal assist" walk while holding on to the bars, Marc and Beth, the OT decided to have Dad try a walker. Sitting in his chair with the walker in front of him, Marc and Beth encourage Dad on the count of three to stand. Up he goes, then step after step until 24 steps later he sits back down. Ha-rah! Shall we go again? "Sure," replies Grandpa. This time Dad stands up with his own oomph and starts out for another 12 steps before he is forced to stop by the doorway in front of him. Rest. "Shall we try a different walking surface? Can you go further?" "Yeah" with a confident nod, responds Dad. So out to the carpeted hallway we go for a final 30 foot walk before sitting down to the well deserved applaud of us on-lookers! Both therapists were clearly amazed and were adjusting their expectations for Grandpa on the spot. Of course Grandpa gave his sheepish grin that makes him so endearing.

So Dad is clearly on the road to recovery. But, like every other step of this journey we are still witnessing the grace of the Father powering his progress. What a wonderful place to be. It is a privilege for me to see so many of the characteristics and mannerisms of Dad return one by one: from that sheepish grin, to his winking at me, to that momentary grimace he makes when he doubts what your saying is so, he's coming back and it's a joy to observe. TGBTG!

What more can I say? To God, indeed, be the glory!

John 11:25-26
And Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Ephesians 3:20-21
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Time Well-Wasted: People Matter

Well, I haven't written as much as I thought I would, owing mostly to social priorities and a full-time job. But I have come to believe that spending time ministering to people is never a waste. Honestly, though, there are times when I feel like I should be spending more time developing useful skills for the Kingdom or honing my talents or something. Now, I think there is a time and a place for that, but it's evident from the Gospels that Jesus put a premium on personal time with people. The best example of this (that I know) is in Mark 6, where Jesus neglects his own need and the disciples' need for rest to preach to the people. It's actually kind of funny the way the story unfolds.

The disciples of Christ had just finished their town-to-town ministry -- you know, the "don't bring your swords or a change of clothes and preach the Good News" charge they had received from Jesus. They had gone to many towns and preached the Word, healed the sick, and cast out demons -- a pretty wild and eventful trip, to be sure. They had walked dozens of miles without a change of clothes, and hadn't stayed in their own beds for a long, long time. Mark reports that they were so busy doing ministry they didn't even have time to eat. So, it's really no surprise when Jesus suggests that they get away from the people and get some rest. So Jesus and the disciples hop in in a boat and set sail across the Sea of Galilee toward a quiet, secret destination. Only problem is, Jesus was so attractive to the locals that they literally ran around the rim of the Lake to meet him once more. (Oh, that I would desire Him as much!) If I had been one of the disciples, I'm sure I would have been ticked. I mean, really, you've devoted a good chunk of time and energy to spread the Gospel: is it too much to ask for a little free time? But here is Jesus' response:

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. "This is a remote place," they said, "and it's already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." But he answered, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?" "How many loaves do you have?" he asked. "Go and see." When they found out, they said, "Fiveā€”and two fish." --Mark 6:34-38

Not only does Jesus teach them for a long time, but He tells the disciples -- all of whom are incredibly tired -- to give the crowd something to eat! From this context, it's not hard to understand why the disciples responded the way they did! But Jesus shows Himself, once again, as the perfect example of true servanthood, as alluded to later in the 2nd chapter of Philippians. Of course, you know the rest: the disciples find 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and Jesus multiplies it and feeds at least 5 thousand people. Eventually, Jesus breaks away from the disciples and the crowd, and catches up with the disciples on the water! Such was the attractiveness of Christ. Would it be that the Church were always so desirable!

The bottom line I read out of this is that God wants us to pursue souls, first and foremost. Jesus had compassion on the people: not just for the sake of their physical bodies, but also for their starved souls. Just as Jesus, we need to place the interests of others above our own and empty ourselves. Sometimes we will be tired...sometimes we will be hungry...sometimes we will be dirty...but God wants us to lay ourselves down all the same.

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. --1 Corinthians 9:19-23