16 months ago I resigned the pastorate at my home church. After preaching nearly every week, every Sunday (at least, often 3-5 times in a single week!) since 1988, I needed some time to rest. 25 years of talking where scheduled, to those who came to listen. I have spoken the gospel at nearly 500 unique venues, in 37 states, and 28 different countries.
It all started as my little family moved to Kitsap County to escape California, where sex and drugs and rock'n'roll were truly what our lives had been about, until we met Jesus. Took us a while to find a church. But once we felt God direct us, we stay until he directs us differently. 30 years now, 15 years an associate and lead pastor, plus the ten years that our fellowship sent us as missionaries.
That last pulpit I had responsibility for, and privilege to serve, was in the only Protestant church I was ever a member at, since I became a Christian in 1980, Hillcrest. After preaching in several different places each week as a missionary I was called to the same pulpit for ten years. That felt very biblical to us. I was a pastor again! Yet, somehow in the middle of all that, which I still don't understand, things got more difficult than I ever expected.
I had three strokes in nine years, the first under the stress of living in Vietnam, growing the underground church that I still love. The third while leading a staff meeting at Hillcrest. Then brain surgery to try and fix the 'leak' in my brain. A fourth, and most debilitating stroke occurred in the process of the surgery. Somehow that stroke got 'missed' in the hospital, and for nine months things got worse instead of better, till a caring doctor helped me understand what happened.
I have been struck, with the most horrible pain, over the entire right side of my body. When this nerve issue was discovered after the Civil War it was considered the most hideous that doctors had seen, with a huge rate of suicide. A small 2"x 2" lesion, in just the wrong spot on my brain, torments me night and day. It is impossible to adequately describe.
But here goes:
The pain? Imagine you got sunburned real red on the entire right side of your body. Draw a line down the center from the top of your head to your right foot and toes. Then someone mistakenly rubs you with Ben -Gay instead of sunburn treatment so it sinks in, over that entire area. Then that evil person rubs the bottom of your feet with sandpaper, nails, glass, he let's ants fill up and bite really hard, easier as you go up the leg, but still bad.
Sometimes it feels as if someone with big scratchy finger-claws has grabbed a hold of my chest on the right side and has a firm grip. Can't breathe or sleep. I also have an area on my right ribs that feel like (again depending on weather or stress or fatigue) somebody punched or kicked me right there, BAM. And, a bad headache most of the time along with the burning, yeehaw!
I had a broken collarbone twice playing football. I was a linebacker! Each time it ached and I had to wear a strap that pulled my shoulders back, for 10 terrible weeks. I wanted to play football. I was impatient, that's why it broke twice! I am still impatient, so try to imagine whatever broken bone you have had, that deep aching pain, for three years without stopping! Being kicked, with a jackboot, every morning, from now, until Jesus sets me free. With painful burns, fresh, over 50% of your body. How would you respond?
I have responded by resting, trying to control the pain, and resolving my anger with God, myself, and the world in general. I have gone back to the basics: Do I still believe in God? Why? Has He called me? Why? Can I still preach? Maybe a few times a month.....we'll see. Until then, I can write. We do have an internet thingy...
Now my wife and partner Jodi are missionaries again. What we desire to do, more than anything is to encourage young missionaries. We meet with them, encourage them, and we hope to raise funds for them. Hillcrest is our base, and we will go from here to wherever he sends us. I will be sending one little note a week, via this blog. If you or your church would like to hear my theory about why and how God allows pain, we'll come and talk. Or, if we can preach on 'completing the task', our mission, we will.
We cannot let the pains of this world stop us!