Disclaimer: I certainly recognize that many others have gone through more serious, long-term stays in hospitals. These are just a few thoughts from my own personal experiences this week.
Our oldest son, Gary, went to the ER with respiratory distress early Monday morning. He was admitted to the ICU, sedated and paralyzed, and put on a ventilator. My husband and I hopped on a plane and have been with him ever since. While I wish Gary and his sweet wife, Chelsea, didn’t have to go through this, there are several reasons I feel blessed to have been here this week:
God’s Family has no geographical borders. Our home is in Colorado. Our son’s home is in Alabama. We have been welcomed and helped by Christians here just as if we were one of their own.
Christians are second-milers. Oh man, I don’t have enough word-count to share every kindness that’s been extended to us. We’ve had visits and messages of encouragement. We’ve been brought snacks, homemade bread, blankets, parking tokens, meals, a gift certificate to a restaurant that delivers to the hospital, a vehicle to borrow, and magazines. We’ve only slept in the waiting room one night because of the generosity and thoughtfulness of friends and local churches. The kindnesses just keep coming!
Every prayer matters. Within a couple of hours of our first morning here, we had four different area preachers come by and pray with us in the ICU. Through the years Neal and I have circled up with folks for a prayer around a patient’s bed. I never really knew how courage-bolstering that could be. So many others have let us know they are praying. Every single time, we feel comforted and grateful.
Things get put into perspective. The world goes on outside these hospital walls but in here it feels like time stands still. We are mostly focused on life, faith, and family. Questions rise to the surface: Does Gary know how much I love him and how proud he makes me? Do our Christian friends know how acutely we feel their concern and how much it means to us? Through it all, we’ve been praying and contemplating.
Love is greater than fear. It seems like every time my heart begins to worry, some kind gesture or word comes our way. We are really seeing the Light this week. Its warmth covers our cares.
Inside beauty is invaluable. Oh, our sweet Chelsea. She has helped Gary through things that weak stomachs won’t want to read about. She works long hours and sleeps short nights in a hospital room but has yet to complain about a single thing. Just now Gary asked her, “How are you holding up?” She answered, “I’m fine, Hon. You don’t have to worry about me!” She is a cutie pie but more than that, her inner beauty has been a blessing to us all. She is a worthy woman and we thank God for her.
Progress is worth celebrating. Every little step on the road recovery causes rejoicing. From big things (like coming off the ventilator) to little things (like sitting up for the first time), we smile and hug each other as we witness evidence of improvement. I was never so excited to walk in and see someone eating applesauce. When we share these good bits with others and they rejoice with us, it makes us smile all over again. Consider how much more important spiritual progress is for new babes in Christ or for those making their way back from waywardness. Every small step is a victory. If we celebrate with them it can only encourage them to keep trying.
God is so good!
I was going to include a point about vanity. It doesn’t matter that I only had five minutes to pack and left behind hair products and other beauty essentials (um, like tweezers). Our first visitor was an old college friend we haven’t seen in over 26 years. We’ve been meeting people for the first time and reuniting with family members this week. I’m wearing sweats and have my hair pulled back in a ponytail. I was going to include that point about vanity, but I do care. I wish I looked better. Ah well, I haven’t learned everything in the ICU.
Every now and then I get caught up in the what-if’s. This afternoon was just such an occasion. I was worrying about something to the point that Neal asked me what was wrong. I unloaded my fears. “What if this happens….what if this doesn’t happen…?” Neal listened and reminded me that God is in control. I said, “I know but what if…..?” And I proceeded to try to get him to understand all my reasons for being concerned. He finally said,
“Even if the very worst scenario happens, God will be by your side and I’ll be on your other side.”
Okay, that was powerful. How comforting to know that, no matter what, God will never leave me and neither will my husband. That truth helped me take a deep breath and let go of the useless worrying. I thank God for His promise to always be with me (Heb. 13:5). I thank God for Neal’s wisdom and his commitment to caring for me. I know that next time my “anxieties multiply within me” (Psa. 94:19), I will recall the peace-giving image of God and Neal flanking either side of me.
I wonder how many others need those words said to them? I can think of individuals I know who are hurting and could probably use the reminder that they’re not alone. May I never get so caught up in my own little world that I neglect to comfort those around me. That’s part of the purpose of the church, right (Heb. 10:24-25)? I love knowing that I could go to another Christian with my fears or failures and be reminded of God’s faithfulness and their love. May I ever strive to be that Christian for others, too. I may not be able to solve problems or make the pain go away, but I can certainly hug more, pray more, and remind more that “God will be by your side and I’ll be on your other side.”
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another…1 Pet. 4:8.
I felt like I was on the receiving end all day long. I went to bed last night with a full heart and an overwhelming love and gratitude for God and His family. Here’s a sample of what I got:
A sermon that served as a reminder of God’s merciful grace and His presence in my life. It seemed tailor-made for me.
Lots of warm hugs
Some sisters specifically asked how I was doing with my boys leaving home. They hugged me and told me they were thinking about me.
A couple of friends know of a confidential situation that is weighing on me. They took the time to listen and assured me of their prayers.
A new Christian led a public prayer for the first time. It was heart-felt and beautiful. I was reminded of God’s power to transform lives. I was filled with joy and grinned all the way through the prayer.
A couple of men responded to the invitation yesterday morning. Others went up to sit with them on the front row to offer support. I love that. It makes me feel good.
Last night a godly, faithful widow responded to the invitation. She mentioned a specific sin she struggled with and asked for forgiveness and help to overcome it. I was so touched by her humility and courage. My love and respect for her grew even more. She went forward to ask for help but I wonder if she knows how much she helped me?
The fellowship seemed to linger longer yesterday. We stood in the parking lot “forever” chatting. No one seemed in a hurry to head home. We talked about nothing overly significant…just flowers, school, our kids. On the way home I told Neal how dear it is to just share LIFE with so many fellow Christians.
The tone of this post is completely self-focused. And really, I left some things out that I was able to take away from yesterday. The focus of our coming together to worship shouldn’t be “what can I get out of this?” “Does it meet my needs?” We are to gather together to GIVE. We’re to bring our hearts to God (Matt. 15:8,9). We’re to bring our sacrificial offering (2 Cor. 9:7). We’re to encourage and exhort one another (Heb. 10:24,25). We’re to offer up praise (Acts 2:41-47). And yet, I couldn’t help but notice all that I GOT.
Yesterday wasn’t an isolated case. I always “get” when I gather with fellow Christians to worship and learn and grow. Even though my purpose and focus should be on bringing, giving, and offering, it’s amazing how I can leave with a heart so full of everything I have taken in. It reminds me of the saying, “You can’t out-give God” (Luke 6:38).
“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
Last night after dinner, Neal explained to his cousin, Naomi, that we have never lived close to our families, and that he would’ve liked our sons to have had more opportunities to be with their grandparents and other family members. Naomi replied, “But you’ve had your church family.”
Oh yes, we have had our church family! Whether in AL, VA, or CO, we’ve had brothers and sisters and role models and friends. When we were young newlyweds and then new parents, we had couples take us under their wing and act as our own parents would. Our boys have had adopted grandparents and mentors. What a treasured blessing! But that’s just one aspect of the beauty of the Lord’s church. Consider some other blessings of being in God’s Family:
Continual support and encouragement (Heb. 10:24,25)
The much sought after feeling of belonging and community (Eph. 2:19)
Being with people who try to treat others with love, honor, and respect (Rom. 12:10)
Available help in time of need (Rom. 12:13)
Never having to suffer alone (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:26)
A feeling of usefulness and purpose (1 Cor. 12:14-25)
Togetherness, devotion (Acts 2:42-47)
Fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7)
Always having family (1 Tim. 5:1,2)
Being loved even when unlovable (John 13:34,35)
Being in God’s household (Eph. 2:19-22)
Pure and sincere love (1 Pet. 1:22)
Sometimes relationships in physical families are severed for various reasons. Or sometimes it’s just not possible to be with our physical family as often as we’d like because they live so far away. But God’s Family is God’s gift to us. In God’s Family we always have loving relationships.
Sadly, some have not felt the love or sense of belonging in their church family. If this is the case for you, there are a couple of things you can do:
Make sure you are doing your part to reach out, love, serve, and sacrifice for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes we are quick to point out when others let us down but neglect to consider our own lack of involvement. Maybe no one called you when you missed a service or two. Before feeling indignant, do some soul-searching. How many people did you call that week? Focus on being an active, loving, giving member of your local congregation.
Remember the church is worldwide. Perhaps you worship with a small congregation and when experiencing a difficult situation you received little to no support (and maybe even received criticism or were the object of gossip). In those cases, it helps to remember that the Lord’s family consists of more than just your local congregation. There may be another one in the next town over. You can find brothers and sisters (and their love and support) nearby and worldwide. Look for strong, encouraging members and groups on Facebook. Write letters of encouragement to stateside missionaries or those serving on foreign lands. There are all kinds of ways to connect and serve in God’s Family.
God’s people are wonderful. None of us are perfect, and we may even let each other down occasionally, but I’m thankful for this blessing of our dear church family. I can’t help but think that if we each strive to be even more close and loving in the Lord’s church, those in the world around us will want to enjoy this blessing, too.