Don’t Bypass the Blessings
Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Prov. 27:1)
I started out on my typical morning run of three miles at Boomer Lake in Stillwater, Oklahoma. It was about 5:45 a.m. and temperature in the 20s. The early chest pains in the first mile were easily chalked up to running in the cold. While they seemed a little heavier this time, it was also colder, so there was no reason to be concerned. By the time I finished the run, I was fairly curious as to why my left arm wouldn’t cooperate with my stride and hung to my side with little sensation or feeling. It had only been a few months since I had met a personally ambitious goal. I discovered that running a marathon in under four hours would put me in the top 25% of marathoners, including the 20-somethings. That sounded good to a then 51-year-old man, so I determined to train for it. Because I made the goal, there was little thought of any serious problems.
A complete physical just a few weeks earlier had pronounced me very healthy with some elevated cholesterol being the only issue, although not a major concern. I was a runner. I was in great health. So, the chest pains, though pretty severe, caused no concern. The dangling arm was another matter. I explained it all to Lisa when I got home, and we decided somewhat nonchalantly that I would at least have it checked out. A week later my life was changed when a simple treadmill test demanded nitro and an urgent angiogram, which revealed four blockages of about 90%. A few days later I was lying in a hospital bed barely able to move due to the tubes and intense pain from quadruple bypass. I had no idea that was coming.
That a time like that demands reflection is an understatement. I am four months removed from the surgery and on schedule, though having the typical struggles with overdoing it and the days of hitting a brick wall. I am told it is going to be worth it once everything is healed, but that I won’t know what I might get back for a year. Regardless, I have already gained strength with several lessons the Lord has taught me through it all. I could never recount them all here, but I hope you might indulge me a few highlights.
Measuring Progress—Pastor Frank Wood went through this same process a few years ago and gave me some great counsel throughout mine. To accurately gauge my progress I had to learn to measure today, not by yesterday, but by the same day last week. I wasn’t always better than I was the day before, but I was almost always better than the week before. The ups and downs made it difficult to measure progress unless I took the long view. That provided hope, even on days when I felt intense pain. It reminded me of so many church members whom I have tried to encourage. Many of them get lost in the failure or difficulty of that day and need someone to help them see the progress they have made in the bigger picture.
Avoiding the Ditches—I get to employ one of my favorite phrases here. There is a ditch on both sides of the road. In marathon training, you learn to ignore the various pains. Something is always hurting. My first marathon was over five hours, so to cut over an hour off my time required intense effort and I couldn’t listen to each body part every time it groaned. Knees, ankles, calves, feet, and lungs would each take turns begging for mercy. But, there was one part I later realized had been trying to get my attention and I hadn’t listened—my chest. I was close to hitting the ditch of refusing to listen to pain. But, I certainly didn’t want to be in the other ditch with those who always have a pain. I am constantly amazed at how easily people are deterred by the latest pain. They haven’t learned that the greatest lives are not those that avoid pain, but use it to grow more effective for themselves and others. Ask Jesus or Joseph. Still, in my passion to avoid the ditch of whining, I almost ended up in the ditch of a heart attack. It reminded me to continue to avoid both ditches, not just the one that is most obvious to me at that moment.
The Treasure of a Church and Staff—I am still overwhelmed and emotional about the church family I serve and the staff I serve with. While I was lying in the ER before being transported by ambulance to Oklahoma City, the staff came to visit me and had already thought through and presented the concept represented by the phrase “six months free.” They knew I would need time to recuperate and how difficult that would be for a pastor who loves and lives the ministry. They took it upon themselves to lead the church down that path and the church bought into the vision. I had almost no interaction with church members and little with staff for several weeks. I never had reason to worry.
I’ve given my life to shepherd the people and staff that I love, and they returned the love in abundant measure. There was the $2,000 recliner upon my return home. The decision to cancel Men’s Advance, which draws almost 2,000 men to Stillwater every spring. A willingness by members to trust the staff to make decisions so that I could stay out of the loop for a while. The two-week cruise to Hawaii once I was strong enough to travel. And to top it all off, a welcome back service that is likely the most humbling gift I’ve ever received this side of salvation. Almost two months complete absence before I was back in services, and the deacons and staff reported that not one single member complained or created difficulty. No pastor deserves all Bible Baptist Church and the staff did for me, but I wish every pastor could enjoy such a treasure under the same circumstances.
The Sovereignty of God—I have never been much of a gardener until the last few years. I’m still not good at it, but Lisa and I enjoy the process every year. One reason I enjoy it is because it reminds me that when I have done everything I know to do, in the end, God is still in charge. I can till, weed, plant, fertilize, and cultivate, and there are still years where things don’t turn out like I planned. While it can be frustrating, it is also comforting. I’m not in control of everything. And I don’t want to be. I had attempted to eat right, keep my weight in check, and exercise well. The rest was in the Lord’s hands and I could trust Him with it completely. I can say in all sincerity I was never scared, and I don’t even recall being worried. I had no idea how it would all turn out, but every conceivable scenario was still under His watchful care. How could I ask for more? He loved me enough to save me and was deserving of my trust through whatever might come. As thy days, so shall thy strength be.
I wrote a Thanksgiving song a few years back, and I close with the last verse from Thank You For The Blessings.
If by this time tomorrow my life is almost gone.
And I find I’m not able to do the things I’ve done.
My heart will know the richness of life lived yesterday
With every breath left in me I’ll find the strength to say…
Thank you for the blessings that showered me each day
The simple scenes of beauty you placed along my way
The things I took for granted, so quickly threw away
Today I just say thank you for blessing me each day.