Health Parole

Health Parole
“When I feel fine, but, being weeks in the hospital at a time, I’m obviously not fine.”

On Saturday, I was discharged from the hospital. Again. Really, I need to completely avoid going anywhere near Emergency Rooms, as every trip seems to mean a week or longer admission. This time I was in for intestinal bleeding. I woke up as usual on Friday morning, 7/29, and went to the bathroom. I thought I just had diarrhea- until I saw that it was bright red. Off to the ER I went, and there I stayed for two weeks. You see why I need to avoid ER’s.

I should also hibernate  or sleep through July’s and August’s – anything that will allow me to skip past these two months. This is the third straight July-August I’ve spent time hospitalized. I did a quick review, and counted 7 times in the past 2 years that I’ve been in for a week or more, including stays in every July and August.

And my birthday is July 30. Quite the gifts I’ve been getting. Dialysis because of kidney failure and fluid in my lungs. Diverticulitis and draining an intestinal abscess. And this year, a colonoscopy, with an endoscopy, too!

This year I’m 54. Part of me is wondering whether my body is fighting itself in some sort of rebellion against aging – or whether I’m simply just getting older and breaking down physically. In any case, my health concerns have been extreme.

There are two interesting things about this incident. One is that I missed the opportunity to co-lead worship at Celebrate Recovery (CR) Hudson on 8/11. Normally, I just play acoustic on the worship team Thursday nights. We knew for several months that the worship team leads would be off last week, but somehow I never felt the urgency to prepare for it. Now I think God was all along making me aware that I was going to miss it.

However, I’d already started work on this lesson for CR Worcester, half of The Seven Reasons We Get Stuck in Our Recovery. And I got out on Saturday, just in time to finish putting the lesson together for tonight (Monday). (Right at 5:30pm) Chance? I don’t believe in coincidences. These are the ways God speaks to us.

The second thing – and actually, I’ve experienced this during every health incident these past two years: There is a logical reason my stays are long. Let me explain. In January 2015 I had open-heart surgery to replace my aortic heart valve with a mechanical one. This requires that I now take blood thinners. Have you heard of Coumadin/Warfarin? It takes several days to take effect or to age itself out of the body. During hospital stays, the doctors prescribe stopping the Coumadin and replacing its effect with a Heparin IV drip. Heparin leaves the system in hours, so it’s much better when a surgical procedure might need to be done quickly. The trouble is, in order to be discharged, the Coumadin level has to be brought back to a “therapeutic” level, which can take days. We watch it rise from 1.3 to 1.4 to 1.6 to 1.9, to finally over 2. (Therapeutic is 2.5-3.5, and I was 2.4 today, so they could have insisted I stay even longer.) Meanwhile, the patient has to stay on the Heparin IV, and Heparin levels have to be monitored, and these can only be done as in-patient.

So the patient has to stay, but he/she is recovered from whatever put them in the hospital in the first place. He/she is just unable to leave. Clotting on the mechanical valve is a low, low odds but highest risk thing. All that can be done is wait. We refer to it as being a “Coumadin Captive” or a “Heparin Hostage”. This gives me a lot of time to think. And to learn to be patient. To become ready. I’m imprisoned. I have no control of my situation or where/when I can go. My only choice is in regards to how I spend my time; what my mind is up to. Can anyone relate?

So what thoughts have I had? What do I mean by becoming ready?

Verses Philippians 1:20-25 best describe my state of mind:

:20 I will let God use my life to bring more honor to Christ. It doesn’t matter whether I live or die.
:21 To me the only important thing about living is Christ, and even death would be for my benefit.
:22 If I continue living…, I will be able to work for the Lord.
:23 It would be a hard choice. Sometimes I want to leave this life and be with with Christ. That would be much better for me!
:24 However, you people need me here alive.
:25 I am sure of this, so I know that I will stay here and be with you to help you grow and have joy in your faith.

Regarding :24, I don’t mean “you people need me here alive” in the sense of being prideful, but in the sense of God reaching “someone somewhere” through my words and actions, and that He has work for me to do here on earth. He’s not ready for me yet.

But I wonder? If I have something to do, why do I keep ending up in the hospital for weeks at a time, “feeling fine, but obviously not being fine”? The answer is in :20: sitting there thinking and being patient, I became and become ready. Ready to “let God use my life.”

Let me fill in a little background info and give an example of how God uses our circumstances to force us to change. In 2010-2012, I worked as Direct Care Staff at Advocates. Anyone? I was able to attend CR Lexington, and volunteer as a small group facilitator and as a musician with the Worship Team, eventually leading worship. It was during this time that I first met Mark C of CR Worcester, when he was at CR Hudson. I frequently attended CR there, and even provided worship and shared my testimony.

Then I got cocky and prideful, in short, thinking it was me and not God. (That’s another part of my testimony.) In a matter of months I found myself employed instead at the USPS from 2012-2014, working 6 days/week, and unable to attend any CR meetings. I would’ve been miserable if I’d been able to take a moment away from the hours of work.

And that brings us to July 2014, when I was diagnosed with kidney failure. I haven’t worked at the USPS since. (Although, funny story, they converted me from a temporary contractor to a career employee in August – almost two months after I stopped working. I’m still an employee today.) Once again, God changed my circumstances to get my attention. And that first stay was when I really dwelt on Philippians 1:20-25. Each hospitalization and Coumadin Captive period gave me time to revisit those verses and what it means to be ready to let God use my life. These past two weeks were no different.

So, the 7 REASONS WE GET STUCK – and perhaps THE biggest reason that I have encountered in my life, time and time again.

You have not completely surrendered your life and your will to the Lord.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 TLB
For good judgement and common sense,
Trust in the Lord completely;
Don’t ever trust in yourself.
In everything you do
Put God first, and He will direct you
And crown your efforts with success.

Trust the Lord in everything. The “big” things and the “small” things. I’ve had 8 years of recovery from pornography use. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in 4 years now. God has helped me with these. But in other areas of my life, I still struggle. One of my biggest fights is with complacency. I sit back too often from a “hard day’s work” and think I can take it easy now. This leads to wasting and killing the precious time God has given me. Most recently, this is evidenced by again playing video games and binge-watching TV/movies. Or I start to worry about the future, and how I’m going to earn a living once I get a kidney transplant and come off of disability.

So, literally, hospitalization is me being held a hostage. A captive, time and again. Imprisoned by my circumstances, by my physical needs. And then, also quite literally, I’m given what I call a “HEALTH PAROLE.”

I like to study the words that come up in my time being still with the Lord. Yesterday, it was the word “parole” that was prominent. Interesting thing about it. Its dictionary definition includes a “Historical use” section which reads:

“A promise given by a prisoner of war not to escape…”

The current meaning is

“The release of a prisoner [by the authorities] before the completion of a sentence, on the promise of good behavior.”

I see an intriguing parallel to God’s “Old” and “New” covenants. In the old, the sinner gives the promise to follow all the laws. In the new, God, The Authority, first grants the release based on the promise of Jesus’ work.

Two weeks in the hospital is a sentence that’s hard to ignore. But my health improves, and I’m given release with my attention again firmly fixed on God.

Isaiah 55:1-2 NLT
The Lord will guide you continually, watering your life when you are dry, and keeping you healthy, too. You will be like a (well watered/well-watered) garden, like an ever-flowing spring.

A curious thing about the word “well”. Well (a good feeling) and well (a shaft in the earth) come from different root words. One is “to will, wish”, the other is “a wave” (of water). So I like well-watered for use in the verse. The source for that garden is a well reaching deep into the earth for an unlimited supply of healing water.

And there is a parallel between the physical growth a garden gets from a good well, from what my physical body gets from a hospital stay, and the strength and foundation my spiritual self gets when God is renewed and reinforced as my source of living water. I drink spiritually from His Word, His purpose for me, and His Commandments (especially the greatest and second which is like it: to love God, and to love our neighbor as myself). In other words, there is a correlation between my study of God’s word, my awe of God, my active doing, and my spiritual health, my keeping humble perspective as to who God is and who I am.

Proverbs 3:7-8 NLT
Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.

Psalm 119:93 NLT
I will never forget your commandments;
For you have used them to restore my joy and health.

1 Timothy 4:7-9 puts it in terms of “exercising”.

Spend your time and energy in training yourself for Spiritual Fitness. Physical exercise has some value. But Spiritual Exercise is much more important for it promises reward in both this life and the next.

People exercise physically thinking to postpone or avoid death. Yet I would forget that Spiritual Exercise keeps me prepared and ready to live or die based on God’s will, not on mine.

This is the second of the 7 REASONS I GET STUCK:

I become afraid of the risk in making the necessary changes in my life to follow God’s will.

There are actually many fears wrapped up in this one: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, fear of leaving my comfort zone, fear of the hard, demanding work it will take with the good chance of not seeing any result.

Recovery is about a total healing and transformation of ourselves, from the inside out. In every thought, feeling, word, and action. A fundamental change in how I approach and accept and seriously attempt to carry out God’s plan for me.

One of my favorite stories is that of Jonah. He was sent to Nineveh but, being afraid, he ran the other way. And what happened? Eventually, he got the message and went. And succeeded! And, what’s amazing is, all he had to do was talk! How easy is that?! And so we are called to follow and seek to know/accept God’s will for us. What am I called to do that’s all that different Jonah: to talk the talk, to Share God’s Story in my life by getting up here in front of you to worship or give testimony or teachimony, and to walk my talk to let people hear my words and see my actions and to let them put the two together to see if they match.

(1 Peter 3:15 and verse about speaking the word…)
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Go and make disciples of all nations (by talking)…

How will they know unless someone speaks the Good News to them.

Another way that faithful spiritual exercise helps me is with another of the 7 REASONS I GET STUCK:

I have not fully understood and accepted Jesus’s work on the cross for my forgiveness.”

This comes from thinking that “my sin is different, unforgivable, it’s just too big, too evil.” But we are also called to follow and seek to know/accept God’s forgiveness. The Bible can’t put it any plainer:

1 John 1:9 TLB
But if we confess our sins to him, He can be depended on to forgive us… from everything

Ephesians 1:7
So overflowing is His kindness towards us that he took all our sins through the blood of his Son by whom we are saved.

Romans 8:1
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I have a personal example of these verses in action. In 2008, I reached the point of complete and total desperation. I was ready to quit, to end my struggle, to take my life. But Jesus intervened, saved me, and the next action I took was to confess to someone I trusted my deepest, darkest sin. And what happened is miraculous! Amazing! I was speechless at the result,and could not ever have anticipated what happened, how God moved in my life. And those two events, being saved from death at my own hand and the miraculous way God took my confession, are what changed me at the very heart.

So, another thing that frequent hospitalizations has done is to remind me of those early days, just after I had seen the light for the first time. There is no one like a newly born-again Christian.

Hebrews 10:32,34-36 ERV
Remember the days when you first learned the truth. You had a hard struggle with much suffering, but you continued strong.
And you were still happy when everything was taken away from you. You continued to be happy, because you knew that you had something much better – something that will continue forever.
So don’t lose that courage that you had in the past. You must be patient. After you have done what God wants, you will get what He promised.

Finally, tonight, the other REASON I GET STUCK so often:

You are not willing to ‘own’ your responsibility.”

Psalm 139:23 GNT
Examine me, O God, and know my mind; test me, and discover… if there is [still] any evil in me, and guide me in the everlasting way.

This is the reason that pulls me away from considering how my past has damaged relationships, particularly with those most dear to me, my wife and my children. I can’t change the past and how they were hurt when I was God-less. These days, I find that I can still get pulled away from my focus on God and on them, and just let them sit, let them be, take them for granted, focus my attention here or on people not placed in my stewardship.

But the principle is the same. All I’m called to do is show God to them through my  words – particularly my words – and my actions, and whether or not the two sync up together.

Hebrews 10:24-25
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.
We must not quit meeting together, as some are doing. N0, we need to keep on encouraging each other. This becomes more important as you see the day getting closer.

The world today surely does make me think that day is coming soon. And the most important way I can face it is to continue trying to water the fruit of the spirit in my life, and treat people with peace, joy, love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and my own self-control. These are what recovery is to me.

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