Can I share a personal story with you?
In late July-- the day after"Worship and the World to Come"released-- I went in to see a local ENT about the hoarseness I had been experiencing for several weeks. I discovered that I had a polyp on one of my vocal cords and that there was also a significant amount of bleeding. Surgery was recommended, but I decided to wait. I had heard a few horror stories of situations where things went horribly wrong. I took a few days of vocal rest-- near total silence-- and then had a short course of medication that alleviated the symptoms. I preached three services that weekend, officiated a wedding the following weekend, and then was silent for about 5 days. I stayed home, did not preach, and limited communication to the minimum. I had hoped that plenty of rest, fluids, a humidifier, and various teas would aid the healing process. There was a brief moment, after a follow up visit in late August, where I thought the polyp was gone, but as it turned out, the local ENT just did not have the tools that allowed him a proper look. As I continued moderate vocal rest and my other therapies, I hoped the bruising would go away. After another appointment in mid-September, my local ENT recommended I see a specialist in Denver. I was able to get in the following week. There, with their amazing equipment, I was able to see that the polyp was still there and that there was a bleeding vessel that was hemorrhaging inside the vocal tissue. He wanted to schedule surgery, and I knew it was time.
In August, through a friend of a friend, I had been connected with the best vocal surgeons in the world at the Voice Center at Massachussetts General Hospital in Boston. The Center Director, Dr. Steven Zeitels, was kind enough to consult with me for free over the phone. (For fun and just to marvel at the Lord’s gracious provision, Google his name.) I found out that one of the surgeons at the Center, Dr. James Burns, takes our insurance. In late September, after I knew surgery was indeed the path ahead of me, I reached out to Dr. Burn's office. He was gracious to call me that same day and spoke with me for almost 15-minutes. There, in my moment of anxiety about surgery to my vocal cords, Dr. Burns calmed me and explained the procedure and the technology that they had pioneered. He was like a pastor. (I told him this after the surgery, and he said he had never heard that before!) They were able to schedule me within 10 days. After much prayer and consultation, we made the quick decision to cash in air miles and fly out to Boston on October 4th.
The trip had sweet moments interspersed with occasions of worry and fear. On October 7th, the day of surgery, I woke up with an overwhelming sense of the presence of the Lord, His joy and His nearness. As I was laying in the pre-op room, I kept reciting Psalm 23 and the opening lines of Psalm 18, “I love you, o Lord, my strength.” Dr. Burns, his team, the nurses at the hospital, the anesthesiologist, and everyone involved was incredible kind and reassuring. It was an incredible day, and the surgery was a total success. In my follow up the next day, it was amazing how tiny his incision was to cut out the polyp and how precise his use of the laser was to ablate the blood vessel without it radiating to the tissue.
Two weeks of total silence are required post-surgery to let the healing be complete. And it will be a few more weeks after that before I can preach again. (August 2nd was the last time I preached.) But the healing has begun. I couldn't be more thankful.
Here's what I've learned...
The mission of God takes place through the participation of human beings. This is not a concession God made because of the Fall; it is the intention God had from the creation of the world. God made human beings in His image so that they might rule— reflect His wise and loving order into the world, cultivating and extending the flourishing of creation.
After the Fall, reflecting and representing God’s rule takes on the shape of healing. Wherever the brokenness of sin touches, wherever fragmentation and alienation occurs, the mission of God looks like putting back together what evil has torn apart. This is why there are so many healing stories in the Gospels. Jesus is not performing party tricks to impress people or loosen them up for his message about going to heaven when you die. He is demonstrating signs of the Kingdom: *this* is what it looks like when God’s rule comes near— the sick are healed, the hungry are fed, the lonely are welcomed, and the sinner is forgiven. The mission of God through the Church is to look the same. Christians in every occupation have the same vocation to be healers.
But I think thecalling to be healers happens through all God’s image-bearing human beings whether we are aware of it or not.That original call seeps through our work, even if we don’t realize we are embodying a sign of God’s Kingdom. I’ve seen that in my own journey to healing. The Lord had said to me in August that He would heal me, and I have been reminded of how He heals through His image-bearers. The mission of God takes place through the participation of humans; the vocation of healing is a reflection of God’s restoring rule.
Along the way, I have also learned a lot about patience and trust. I realized how much anger and fear lurks beneath the surface (when you're silent, you can really be present to yourself!). Knowing that you will go into a hospital room without your wife by your side or even in the waiting room (blasted Covid!) has a way of provoking anxieties. By paying attention to my own anger and fear, I realized how much I fight to stay in control. But control is always an illusion.
We are not in control, but we are deeply loved by the God who is. God's love for me-- the love that will not let me go, the love that never abandoned me or left me alone-- is the reason for my patience and trust.
God's "control" is not like that of a puppet-master, pulling the strings of every event in the world. I think of God's "control" in three ways. First, God's control is Hispresidingover all the events of history and of my story. He is attentive, alert, and aware. Secondly, I think of God's control as Hispresencewith me through it all. Just as God in Jesus was present in the world assuffererandSavior, so God is present with us, co-suffering with us and ultimately working to bring about His salvation. Finally, God's control is Hispromiseto perfect all things. He gets the final word, and His word always brings life. Resurrection and new creation are the end of the story.
I am so grateful for the goodness of God and the way He works through people. We have been so blessed by the texts, messages, carpool help, care for our children, meals, support and unceasing prayers from friends and family around the world. Each person is part of this healing story.
May we all continue to participate in the healing mission of God wherever we are today.