Where was God? Again? We’re asking that question again? If we don’t need God, then why do we keep asking where He is? Why do we keep expecting God to show up and protect us when we don’t believe in Him any more? Why not expect Zeus or Athena or some other god to show up? If we no longer believe there is anything supernatural out there then why do we keep appealing to the supernatural? Why do we keep seeking God?
Here is why:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. Romans 1:19-24 (ESV)
God has put eternity in the hearts of all men. We are more than just animals. We are made in the image of God. We are filled with God’s attributes: love, creativity, empathy, mercy, compassion, self awareness.
So, how does this all figure in to the events of the last week? Oh, I’m sorry. You thought I was talking about the events in Boston! No, I’m talking about the events that took place in Austin. We went down to Austin to celebrate my daughter-on-law’s completion of her Ph.D. Here is a picture of us at her party (A Doctor Who themed party! You can see more pictures here.)
My daughter, Casey, had her first seizure when she was 8 years old. The subsequent two years were hell on earth trying to figure out the kind of seizures she had and how to treat them. We ended up at the Epilepsy Center in Los Angeles, one of only two such centers at the time. My little 9 year old daughter was attached to EEG leads for 24 hours a day on continuous video monitoring in a small hospital room. She couldn’t go more than ten feet from her bed and my wife stayed with her for 10 days before they made the diagnosis.
We treated Casey through four different neurologists over the years of her childhood. Just when we would find a good pediatric neurologist, that person would leave our local medical school and we would have to find another one. At Casey’s school, we had to go through the tedious process of getting the teachers to help Casey with her lessons and her instructions as the seizures affected the part of her brain that controlled reading comprehension.
Middle school years were a nightmare. Young girls are, no doubt, the cruelest creatures on the face of the planet. In the sixth grade, Casey endured 9 weeks of torture and extortion at the hands of a gang of girls before we found out the reason she was covered in bruises. We thought she was having a reaction to her meds!
Then, we had to find her a private school where she wouldn’t get beaten up every day for being “different”. She finally made it through middle school. But, the high school in our district would have the same girls as that middle school. Casey’s grades would not allow her to be in a “magnet” school. And, now at the private school, the high school age girls were even more cruel to her because she did not attend the church that ran the school.
We had to sell our dream home, build a new house, and move to another school district so Casey could get into a high school where she would not be tortured. She found peace and acceptance among her peers at this school, but now we had to weather the storm of standardized testing. Casey had to pass certain benchmark standardized tests to move up in high school and all of these tests relied on reading comprehension. There were NO exceptions for her seizures. Her senior year in high school, we had to change her medication and we knew she would have some breakthrough seizures so we planned that transition during the time she would take these tests so we could get a personal tutor hired by the school district to come and administer the test at home in anyway possible for Casey. She passed and walked across the stage in 2006 to receive her diploma. It was the proudest day of her life!
Since 2006, Casey has continued to struggle with her seizures. We had to transition her to a neurologist specializing in adults and to our dismay, there were NO neurologists in our town who specialized in seizures. Frustration after frustration ensued as Casey’s symptoms began to change and involve her face and her mouth even on maximum medication. She tried college and had to drop out because her professors did not understand her disease! Her last semester in college, the professor locked her out of the room and told her she had been faking her illness!
Our neurologist in January 2012, “fired” us. This from one of my fellow physicians! I was furious! I was so frustrated! Casey was approaching the age of 25 and she literally had no life! Now, at this point I should have been shaking my fist at God. But, I didn’t. My wife didn’t. And, to Casey’s credit, she had long ago accepted that this was her lot in life.
In June, 2012 God worked a miracle and we found a new neurologist in New Orleans. He saw Casey and instantly drew a totally different conclusion. Casey suffered from an extremely rare form of migraines, not seizures! She also has a rare metabolic disorder that produces this problem easily corrected by vitamins. Since June, we have been in the process of trying to wean her off of 17 years of seizure medication and onto migraine medication.
Christmas was horrendous. Her “auras” as they are now called were debilitating and our neurologist finally added a new migraine medication that caused the symptoms to stop. But, the side effect for Casey has been depression and weight loss.
Which brings me to last week. We went to Austin to celebrate my daughter-in-law’s completion of her Ph.D. from UT Austin. From the minute we arrived Thursday before last, I was apprehensive. All I could think about was something bad happening to Casey. I don’t know why, but there it was. The first night, Casey had a pretty bad “aura” at the restaurant. Every day, she had these “attacks” where her mouth would stop working and she would grow weak on the left side of her face. Monday morning, April 15th, I was so anxious, so nervous, so panicky I was pacing our hotel room. Casey was staying at our son’s house. I had to talk to her. I had to know she was okay. I tried calling and got no answer. I texted and got no answer.
My wife couldn’t understand my apprehension and I was afraid we would have to go the ER. Something was happening. It was bad! Major bad! I could hardly breathe. We hurried over to my son’s house and Casey was fine. No problem. It took me about four hours to calm down and then, BAM, the explosions at the Boston Marathon.
I won’t go into this, but this reaction had occurred before in my life, most memorably the week before 9/11. I will share that sometime. Did I have some kind of “evil barometer” in my heart and mind? If I did, I didn’t want it!
Tuesday, Casey had some more “auras” and I insisted she return to the hotel with us that night. It was a good thing. Our suite had two bedrooms and Casey went into her bedroom to change into her pajamas. Suddenly, she was screaming for help. The door was locked! I tried to break it down. No good. Finally, I grabbed a fork from our kitchenette, bent a tine out and stuck it in the little hole on the door handle to open the door. What we found I cannot describe. Casey was totally paralyzed on her bed, unable to move for almost 7 minutes and totally awake the entire time. It was horrendous! It was horrible to stand there and not be able to do a thing!
Finally, it passed and she sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. So did we. She was aware the entire time, remembering everything.
That was when something broke within me. Why was God allowing my daughter to go through this? Wasn’t 18 years of suffering enough? Why didn’t He heal her? Where was He? For the first time, I was feeling anger toward God. For the first time I wanted to ball up my fist and shake it at the heavens and demand that God fix this! I couldn’t even sleep that night. I lay awake in the bed (my wife slept with my daughter) and replayed that scene over and over and over.
There was a debate this past Thursday at Broadmoor Baptist Church between Frank Turek and David Silverman, the head of the American Atheist Society. My apologetic group was involved in setting it up and we had all planned to attend. I told my best friend, Mark Riser that I couldn’t go. I might agree with the atheist!
You see, I know there is a God. My life is a testimony to God’s plan, God’s work, God’s redemption in spite of my failings. I have talked about this in many past posts and in my book, “Conquering Depression”. But, there are times when even the deepest of faiths threatens to crumble under the pain of suffering. Look what Job endured.
So, last night Sherry and I went to the “Hymns” concert at Cypress Baptist Church. My good friend, Philip Wade arranged and orchestrated a concert of his favorite hymns. The Shreveport Symphony played along with three church choirs. It was up lifting. It was exhilarating. It was powerful. The last song was “It is Well With my Soul”. The author of this song had lost his family on a sea voyage and while traveling across the Atlantic to London to meet his grieving wife, he wrote the lines to this powerful song. I still had my daughter!
I came home and watched the replay of the Boston Marathon bombing events from the week. I watched runners turn around and run TOWARD the bomb site to help out. I heard about doctors and nurses who went in to the hospital after running 26 miles to help out. I learned about runners who ran to the hospital to donate blood. I saw men tearing off tee shirts to make tourniquets. I watched first responders rush in to help in spite of the threat of more bombs. In the pursuit of the bombers, I saw men and women law enforcement personnel do everything possible without sleep, against exhaustion to bring the perpetrators to justice so that Boston could breathe a sigh of relief. And, I saw and heard millions raising their voices in prayers to God.
Why is it that we wait until bad things happen to reach out to God? Why is it that we place God somewhere in a closet or on a shelf until we need Him? It seems that this is the kind of God we want. A genie in a bottle who stays out of sight until we need Him.
Well, that was where God was on Monday. That was where God was Tuesday night. Right where we had left Him. For many, God was distant on Monday. For me and my wife, God was right there in that hotel room with us when Casey had her episode. In spite of my doubts and my anger and my anxiety, God will NEVER desert us. His faithfulness is absolute in contrast to my fickle, human nature
Look again at those verses above.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
We want to worship the god we see in the mirror. It is the only god we can control. And, we have this illusion that if we can control god, we have complete freedom. We can do anything we want. It was this freedom of will that allowed two young men, deluded by radicalism, to place bombs at the Boston Marathon. But, in that freedom, we also have the choice to love. And, it is in that love that we truly see God. Not in the broken, failing visage of the mirror. But, in the light that shown across time and space from the ultimate suffering God endured on the cross. No amount of suffering any human can endure can ever match or overcome those last few hours of life of the Son of God. God KNOWS what we are going through. God sends peace and comfort because He has BEEN there! But, we must seek it. We must immerse ourselves continuously in that love.
The days ahead for my daughter are still challenging. She will eventually get on the proper medication for her migraines and one day, she will have a normal life. I trust God to take care of her. He owns her.
When I went through my horrible depression years ago, I never imagined that God would use my suffering to help others. In 2001, my pastor, Mark Sutton and I co-authored “Conquering Depression”. Over the past 12 years, this book has literally saved thousands of lives. I cannot take credit for that. It was not my choice to endure depression and write a book about it. It was God’s plan. And, if I choose, I can look at those years of suffering as a waste, a loss, an abandonment. But, clearly, that suffering was part of God’s plan to help others. Recently, Mark and I were offered a new contract to update our book and we hope to release the new book in the fall of 2014.
My point is, how can I shake my fist in anger at God when He is using that very anger; that very doubt to grow and mature me; to help others who feel that anger and doubt? Rather, I must have a paradigm shift. I must realize that everything works toward the good in God’s plan. Even my daughter’s illness.
I do not know what God has planned for my daughter. But, instead of continuing in anger and doubt, I have chosen another path. I will sit down with my daughter and talk about how God used my depression for good. If I can help her use her illness to help others, then perhaps that is the plan for her life. How many people out there are suffering from the incorrect diagnosis of epilepsy when they are, in fact, having migraines? Our neurologist said, “4 out of 6 neurologists misdiagnose migraines as seizures”! Perhaps this is my daughter’s purpose. Perhaps I can help her see this. And, perhaps once we both realize this is part of God’s plan we both can say, “It is well with my soul”.
When I look at the man in the mirror, I’m not sure who he is. It’s not the image I have of myself in my head. I’m still that slim, athletic twenty something guy that was running 6 miles a day and had a 28 inch waist. Now, I’m lucky if my thigh is under 28 inches in diameter!
Getting old is NOT for the faint of heart. Since 2009 I’ve had neck surgery, almost broke my hip dancing to Thriller on the XBox, had major problems with my legs related to a herniated disc in my back that will one day have to come out, chest tightness in May resulting in a cardiac catheterization that was normal, and just recently a brush with prostate cancer. It was that last thing that plagued me now for almost three months.
My PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen also known as Profound Stress Anxiety) doubled on a routine screening test in November. My urologist recommended a biopsy with the statement, “When your PSA doubles at your age, the changes you have cancer are 30% or 3 chances out of 10”. My father had prostate cancer. His father died of prostate cancer. I decided to go for the biopsy. Problem was, I could not have it until January. I would not be off from work and in town long enough to have the biopsy until then. True, I was off the week of Christmas, but who wants a shiny new prostate biopsy for Christmas!
It is all said and done, now. And, looking back I’d like to make some observations:
The Anticipation of the Event was the worst part of the whole thing. Endless waiting for the day to arrive. This has really opened up my eyes to what patients go through after I tell their physician, “The CAT scan shows a mass and I recommend a biopsy.”
“Local” anesthetic is NOT anesthetic! My urologist placed a probe up inside my rectum and then uttered these words: “You’ll feel a little pinprick when I deaden the tissue.” Pinprick my, well, my lower anatomy! It hurt! Bad! I use local anesthetic on just about every procedure I do, although my procedures usually go through the skin which is far less sensitive than the lining of my, well, lower anatomy. I now have a new appreciation for what my patients are feeling when I use local. From now on, I will say, “This will feel like a big wasp sting and it is going to hurt like hell”.
Completing the procedure in a timely fashion helps a great deal. My urologist was quick and efficient and literally, the 14 biopsies took less than a minute. It didn’t make them any less painful. But, I hardly had time to think about what was going on before the next biopsy was being done. I’ve noticed this in my own practice. I try not to prolong the procedure with unnecessary “down time” such as preparing the biopsy tray or long chit chat with the patient. Get it done as painlessly as possible and as efficiently as possible. It is wonderful news to hear from my patients when they tell me what I told my urologist: “It’s already over? Thank goodness!”
Getting the news, good or bad, is very, very stressful. I was scheduled to return a week later for my biopsy results. Being a physician, I knew that the results would probably be in much sooner than that. My urologist showed me professional courtesy and called me the minute he had the results. In one way, this was great. I didn’t have to wait a week. On the other hand, it was harrowing. I didn’t know WHEN I would get the news. I would almost have preferred to wait a week knowing the exact date and time I would find out as opposed to watching the clock and the calendar and my iPhone screen waiting for the call. I was a nervous wreck with anticipation. But, good news or bad, I was relieved just to finally know.
Expect the worse and when it doesn’t happen, you are relieved. If it does happen, you are prepared. My wife doesn’t understand this. My father taught me this principle when on the first night in my new bedroom after my sister moved out he brought a hammer and placed it on the night stand by the bed. “What is that for?” I asked. He looked at me and frowned. “To break the glass out of the windows when the house catches fire so you can jump out.” My eight year old mind was alarmed and I slept with the hammer clutched in my hand the entire night but truly never slept waiting for the first tale tale odor of smoke. But, by anticipating what it would mean to have a positive biopsy, I was already prepared. I had researched the treatment options and had even chosen the surgeon and oncologist if the biopsy was positive. I was prepared. And yes, when I heard the results were negative, I danced with glee; shrieked with joy; and thanked God and everyone who prayed for me.
Telling people “It’s going to be okay.” just doesn’t work very well. I learned this the hard way. My friends told me over and over, “Don’t worry, Bruce, it will be negative. You’ll be fine.” I am not normal. I started tallying these remarks and when they were approaching 100, I realized that if this were a democracy, there would be no way I could have prostate cancer. However, there was only one “vote” that counted and that would be the pathologist who examined my biopsies and declared them truly normal. In my atypical, paranoid way the more reassurances I received, the more certain I was that my biopsy would show cancer. Certainly not my friends’ fault. They meant well and it was ME who was having a problem. Weird, warped, paranoid Bruce! Go figure! But, what this taught me is that when I have a friend or relative in this situation in the future I am going say, “No matter what the outcome, I’m thinking about you and praying for you and if there is anything I can do, let me know.” But, then, thank goodness most people aren’t as paranoid as I am! Or, or they????
So, let me play off of that last paragraph with the thought that brings all of this together. What we need is HOPE. From my friends, my wife, my children, and everyone who prayed for me, I received hope. I can’t receive hope from the world. Our world is not founded on the hope of Christ. It is founded on the hopelessness of chance; randomness; relativism; naturalism. Only the worldview of Christianity gives us ultimate hope. It tells us that the pain and suffering of this realm are nothing compared to what lies beyond. For, in our future is Another Country with a swift Sonrise and a fair shore where pain and death are but a distant memory. A New Heaven and a New Earth. Our scientific view of the universe promises only a slow, cold death as the energy of the universe dissipates. And, we cannot change the universe. But, there is a second creation coming according to Christ; a world in which these trials and pains are nothing more than training programs for what lies ahead. Hope. That is what got me through the endless weeks. That is what got me through 2012.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13