Thursday, November 27, 2014

He'll Do It Again

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Philippians 4:6, 7: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

Did you catch that phrase "with thanksgiving"? Why does God wants us to make our requests known to Him with thanksgiving?

Some years ago, when I was going through one of the deepest trials of my life, I first heard the song "He'll Do It Again":

You may be down and feel like God has somehow forgotten
That you are faced with circumstances you can't get through;
But now it seems that there's no way out and you're going under;
God's proven time and time again He'll take care of you.

And He'll do it again, He'll do it again;
If you'll just take a look at where you are now and where you've been.
Well, hasn't He always come through for you?
He's the same now as then.
You may not know how, you may not know when, but He'll do it again.

God knows the things you're going through, and He knows how you're hurting.
You see, He knows just how your heart has been broken in two;
But He's the God of the stars, of the sun and the sea, and He is your Father;
You see, He can calm the storm, and He'll find some way to fix it for you.

Oh, He's still God, and He will not fail you!
Oh, He's still God, and He will not change!
Know, Know that He's God, and He's fighting for you
Yes, just like Moses, just like Daniel, and just like Shadrach and Meshach, Abednego.

You may not know how, you may not know when, but I know that He'll do it again.
He'll do it again!

I clung to those words, believing that what the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever had one for me, my friends, and my loved ones in the past, and what He'd done for people in the Bible He'd do again for me.

And He did! More than I could even ask or think!

What happens when we begin to thank God for all He's done for us? It not only gives us perspective concerning our problems, but it lifts our faith to believe that what He's done for others and what He's done for us in the past, He'll do again in this time of need.

Thanksgiving is not just a day we celebrate once a year. As we give thanks every day, we will discover that a grateful heart is a contented heart. As we count our blessings, it will surprise us what the Lord has done. As we make our requests known to God "with thanksgiving," our faith will be increased to trust Him even more.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


It has been 16 days since Bob had his heart surgery. The dramatic recovery of the first five days is over. Now he is in the waiting stage as his body continues to heal itself from the trauma of the surgery. He still experiences a lot of soreness in his back and chest.

He sleeps, eats nutritious food, walks around the house for several ten-minute periods each day, does some physical therapy exercises, can shower and care for himself, and can even do a little cooking, but he is still not sufficiently healed to drive or resume all his regular activities. He reads His Bible and other inspirational books and rests frequently. I wait on him--he requires a little less help each day.

With all this waiting, I have been thinking about what it means to wait. One of my favorite Scriptures, Isaiah 40:31, promises "they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint." The one condition to this promise is that we wait upon the Lord.

To determine what a word in the Bible means, I compare Scriptures with other Scriptures. The word wait means "silence" in Psalm 62:1: "Truly my soul silently waits for God; from Him comes my salvation...." and "hope or expectation" in v. 5, "My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him."

In Proverbs 8:34, "Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors," wait means "to watch, to observe, to listen, to take notice so as to be ready to serve or minister."

Thus, a definition of the word wait based on Scriptures is "to have the heart hushed or silent in an expectant attitude and to hear what He might say so that we might do His bidding."

Only as we have waited on God can we fly, run, and walk. But the order seems backwards, doesn't it? An airplane taxis and builds up speed in order to take off and fly.

Growing up in Alaska, I had almost daily opportunities to observe bald eagles. I loved to watch them soar above the mountain peaks, above the storms, above the other squabbling species of more earthbound birds.

In his book, Broken Bread, J. W. Follette points out that during our waiting periods, God gives us the bird's eye view. As the Apostle Paul said, "God raised us up...and made us heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that...He might show the exceeding riches of His grace toward us" (Ephesians 2:6, 7). Only when we soar above the mundane things of this present life do we see life from God's point of view. Only then are we ready to do the work God has called us to accomplish. Only then will we be able to run and not grow weary, to walk and not faint.

I'm reminded of the refrain of a song, "He calls me aside to be tested and tried, but in the valley He restoreth my soul."

Our souls are being rested and refreshed in this valley experience. I wonder what God has planned for us to do for Him when this period of waiting is over.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

From Death to Life in Five Days

Tuesday, November 4, 2014, my husband, Bob, entered the hospital for surgery to replace the mitral valve in his heart. We knew it would not be a routine valve replacement because this would be the second time surgeons would cut through his sternum (breastbone). Fourteen years ago he had had a triple coronary artery bypass (which I wrote about in my two previous posts).

Going in for his biannual check up with his cardiologist early this summer, Bob was so proud of his excellent lab reports. They'd never been better since his triple-bypass surgery in 2000. He'd walked an hour every day, had learned to enjoy his mostly salt-free, sugar-free, and low fat diet, and had lost over 100 pounds. His Type-2 diabetes and chronic congestive heart failure were under control, although he did experience periods of breathlessness. But the left side of his heart had been severely damaged by insufficient oxygen prior to his bypass surgery.

"We need to consider a mitral valve replacement. I want you to see Dr. Sarabu." With those words, his cardiologist popped Bob's bubble.

We had met Dr. Mohan Sarabu, when a parishioner had had bypass surgery a few years earlier. Not only does he have a wonderful bedside manner, but all the nurses say he is just as good to them too. He is New York State's leading cardiothoracic surgeon, rated "Top Doctor" in the NY Metro Area every year since 2000, and practices at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, in the Hudson Valley just north of where we live. The hospital has been rated in the top five percent in the nation for cardiac surgery since 2009. Bob had been one of the first bypass surgeries done there.

"The pericardium, the sac around the heart, was not closed after the first surgery," Dr. Sarabu told us as we discussed the procedure. "For that reason, there will be scar tissue, and the heart is mostly likely adhered to the chest wall and will have to be peeled away before I can access the heart itself. That can cause excessive bleeding."

We gulped. "What if I don't have the surgery?" Bob asked.

"Your condition will continue to deteriorate. Your heart will continue to enlarge. We can't predict how much time you will have, but it is better to have the surgery now before your condition becomes critical."

We took our time coming to a decision. We had confidence in Bob's cardiologist, Dr. Louis Kantaros, and Dr. Sarabu. But most importantly, we knew God was in control.

Once the date was set, I began to rehearse in my mind all the possible outcomes and fear besieged me--until I remembered the lesson God had taught me during Bob's previous surgery: rebuke your fear in the name of Jesus. When I am fearful, I will trust in God. Better yet, if I trust in God, I will not be afraid. Just blogging about that experience reinforced that message. Even throughout the seven-hour procedure, I felt the peace of God.

Bob came through the surgery well. During recovery, we asked questions about the procedure.

"The heart is normally just slightly to the left of center," Dr. Sarabu explained, "but there was so much scar tissue we couldn't find the heart at first. It was way to the left. The heart was so adhered to the chest wall that we only separated what was necessary to access the mitral valve. With the new valve the heart has a good chance of shrinking back to a more normal size."

In open heart surgery, they not only put you on the heart-lung bypass machine and shut off your heart, in the words of one nurse, "they shut down your body." Tubes and wires are inserted everywhere. Every bodily function is monitored and controlled from the outside. I don't think you can be closer to death. They spend the next five days gradually weaning you off all of those wires, drainage tubes, IVs, etc., until your body is functioning on its own and you can sit, stand, and walk without assistance.

By Saturday, Bob was set free from the last "attachments." On Monday, just six days after surgery, he came home to complete his recovery.

From death to life in five days!

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Nightmare to Calm My Fear? Part 2

(Writing this story has helped to prepare me for my husband's surgery tomorrow, so I wanted to publish Part 2 for this week's blog post earlier than my usual time. I hope it is an encouragement to you too.)

Awaking from a troubling nightmare, I pulled myself together, got dressed, and drove my husband to nearby Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York, before sunrise.

“You’re late,” they said. We had been given the wrong arrival time. They rushed Bob through the preparations, called me in to kiss him goodbye, and abruptly sent me off to the waiting room.

Not wanting Bob to see me cry, I managed to hold back the tears until I headed down the hall. Then the storm broke. I sobbed uncontrollably. I couldn't stop.

With reconstruction for the new cardiac surgery department in the hospital still ongoing in 2000, the waiting room was actually a wide hallway where everyone passing by could see me. Embarrassed, I retreated to a restroom down the hall to hide from curious eyes.

“I’m a minister.” I kept berating myself. “I comfort others. Why can’t I handle this better?”

On Friday, I’d been told that a nurse-social worker would bring me a pager so I could walk around, but she didn’t show up. After an hour or so, a volunteer began to set up coffee nearby. I have never been able to drink coffee, but I finally calmed myself enough to ask her about the nurse-social worker. She called her. It turned out that we had not been put on her list because Bob’s surgery was scheduled so late on Friday at the beginning of the holiday weekend.

The nurse-social worker took me into a consultation room where we could talk. “Your reaction is normal,” she assured me. What a comfort she was!

Soon after, a friend arrived to sit with me. With a pager now in my possession, I could go outside to get some fresh air and walk off my tension.

Shortly after noon, the surgery was over. All had gone well. “Go to the cafeteria and eat something,” the nurse told me. “When you get back, we’ll take you in to see your husband.”

“But I’m not hungry,” I protested.

“You must eat. We don’t want you to faint.”

Over salads, I told my friend about my disturbing dream. That’s when its meaning dawned on me.

The dormant animal that suddenly attacked me represented my fear of losing my husband. The setting at a women’s retreat, where all of us were carefully skirting around that seemingly dead animal, stood for all wives who experience that fear from time to time. I’d experienced it the year Bob fought in the Vietnam War. Then, narrowly escaping death several times, he was the only officer in his unit to come home alive, on Memorial Day 1970. That fear had lain dormant but had roared to life at this new threat to his life thirty years later.

Even in the midst of the nightmare, however, my instinctive reaction to that animal clutching at my throat was to rebuke it in the name of Jesus.

That was God’s word for me: rebuke your fear in the name of Jesus.

The Bible often tells us to trust and not be afraid. But we forget so easily. Even the Psalmist (56:3) admitted that he was afraid and needed to trust God, who has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.

Fourteen years later, my husband is again facing open heart surgery to replace his mitral valve. A “resternotomy” has its additional set of possible complications—scar tissue, adhesions, bleeding, stroke. As we prepare for the surgery and fear threatens to overwhelm me, I remind myself often to “trust God and fear not.” I may cry, but I’m putting my trust in Him.

When have you experienced overwhelming fear? How did you get through it?