Since I last posted on this blog (May 22) I have been experiencing further turbulence with my physical health, and thus with my whole being. Some readers have been asking how I am doing, so I offer this update, always grateful for your gracious thoughts and prayers.
As some of you know, I had a heart transplant in November of 2003, and my journey has been a bit rough since then. While I am filled with gratitude for the extension of life I have received, and for the peace and purpose of God I receive daily, I also struggle daily with frustration and an unwholesome attitude of resignation to circumstances instead of restfulness in God. Because I can’t do all that I would like to do, I allow myself to be hindered from what I may be able to do.
My most serious physical problem since the transplant has been rejection: the immune system trying to get rid of the new heart. Because of several episodes of rejection which put me in the hospital, and because of several other post-transplant complications, I had to go on disability and needed to retire early from teaching theology and ethics at Bethel Seminary in the spring of 2005.
My immune system has not retired however, and has finally identified the specific characteristics and vulnerabilities of the invader (the new heart) and is now working to shut it down. In early April I was told that I quite likely have six months or less to live, because of “Transplant Vasculopathy”—the condition in the arteries that nourish my heart. After becoming inflamed the arteries have been swelling shut steadily. Nothing can be done to stop this obstruction, medically speaking, except another heart transplant, which I have declined.
Therefore, for three months I have been in hospice care, living at home with Judy, my wife, and being visited regularly by nurses and other hospice personnel. I have expressed my wishes to die at home, if at all possible, and to avoid the more common hospital experience of death. The hospice philosophy favors a more natural death, without major technological attachments. I use oxygen daily, as well as numerous medications, but am relatively free to move about both within and outside of the house for short periods of time. Every day is somewhat unpredictable, so I seldom schedule activities. The experiences of weakness and nausea, and at times, total exhaustion, are my greatest daily hindrances.
I am continuing, as God’s strong arm enables and my weak body responds, to work on several projects for the furthering of Christ’s kingdom. I am continuing my attempts at writing and publishing for the developing nations (the “majority world”) and I am hoping to do more with this blog. By God’s grace I will remain faithful to the ministry he has given me, until God calls me home. I appreciate the thoughts and prayers of you who lift me up often and support God’s work through “The Benediction Project” (the name not only of this blog but also of my total life ministry until death).
May I give a major prayer request in this regard: Pray that I will know when God is nudging me to ease off from ministry tasks and when God is nudging me to press forward in the areas just mentioned. Sometimes I want to “pack my bags,” as it were, and just sleep the days away (I sleep more and more hours each day) and yet deep down I want to do much good, especially through writing. I have talked with the hospice personnel about the dying process, and I find these discussions profitable. I felt quite validated recently through one such talk, but the plain truth is that only God knows how and when each of us will be taken home. Sometimes I think I am close to that time, so I reason “why bother with any further ministry?” At other times I think I may have months (or years?) to live, and so I become eager to work. As you know, expectations are tricky things. They can pull you up or push you down, depending on past circumstances. Here is where I need prayer.
Please join me in praying: “Oh God, help me and everyone entering into this prayer, to know when and where and how you desire us to serve you. Show us the people most in need that you are asking us to reach. Keep us from pushing ourselves when you are not leading, and keep us from indifference, laziness and clever rationalizations when you are showing us your direction.”
Since I cannot speak to you or touch you physically, may I close with a rich benediction from the Word of God (you may wish to put your hand on top of your head, or ask someone else to do this for you, to symbolize the mighty and gentle hand of God on you):
“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)