Monday, June 25, 2007

Three Months into Hospice Care

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)

14 comments:

Anna said...

Amen, Bob! I'll keep praying your request.
Love, Anna

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Anna. We take it one day at a time, as you do. May you and yours experience the presence of God today.

Bob

Lori said...

Bob - Thank you for posting an update! It is good to "hear" your voice through this blog while I'm in Colorado. You're in my prayers!

The sermon I heard this Sunday talked about Loving God and taking what is often "abstract Christianity" and making it practical. The speaker asked the question . . .
How could I love God so that He could feel it?

It's been a question I've been pondering.
Lori

Anonymous said...

what a question, Lori! Amazing thought.

There is a major theological concept involved here, however. It has to do with the passibility/impassibility of God, or, looked at another way, the question of whether God can change or not --even a little bit. If our loving thoughts, words, or actions cause God to feel loved, Gog has changed! And we did it. This is a heretical thought to some hard-core theologians, because it seems to connote that God can be manipulated by mere humans. {This is at the core of the Greg Boyd -do our prayers change God's will - controversy - does God know our future freely-made decisions.}

Bob Thanks for writing!

jes said...

Dear Bob;

Thanks for eloquently expressing what you are feeling and thinking at this time in your life. May God's peace surround you as you seek to know how to follow God in this 'valley of the shadow of death'.

Your friend;
Jane

Peter said...

Thanks for your post, Bob. You continue to teach and minister to all of us through your words, and your fine example!

May you feel His benediction in every moment of your life!

Peter

Brother Dan said...

Bob,

Reflecting upon your influence in my life I cannot help but think you are bin nearly every little town you drive through you see a name you recognize on a church billboard under the title of "pastor." For every pastor you have had a part in forming you are effecting a community of believers. This is not to say that there is not a role for you in this penultimate stage of your journey. Only know that you are at work. You are at work through myself and countless others and you continue to be an example for us all.

Wishing you
Peace,
Courage,
and Joy

Li N. said...

Bob, thank you for your writing. I just found out about your blog. You have always been a benediction to me. The sweet presence of Jesus radiates through you.

I so appreciate your words. I am sad that you've had to suffer much, but I am so encouraged by your openness and your continued heart for His glory and Kingdom.

I have struggled when friends are experiencing possibly terminal illnesses with what is the best way to encourage and uplift them. People often ask for prayer for healing, and, of course, that is always our human desire. But I am struck with the paradox that in focusing on healing, the urgency of the time may be overlooked, and moments may be lost for His work. Your words are so refreshing and moving. Thank you for sharing your journey.

I join my prayer to yours and others who pray for you.

In Him,
Li N.

Anonymous said...

Li,

What a needed thought -- I needed it myself and I'm sure others do also. An overemphasis on prayer for "healing" really can detract from more essential matters.

It would be great if you or other readers of this blog might give some specific examples of this principle.

Rich blessings to you,
Bob

Li N said...

I have been thinking about your suggestion to give examples, Bob. I'm not sure my examples completely show what I meant, but I'll share a few things from my experience and observations.

One woman, who died several years ago, had said, when near her death, that no one had walked through the actual dying process with her because they all were praying for healing and would not even consider the possibility that she might not be healed. She said she had no one she could share her thoughts and feelings with about dying. I didn't know this woman personally, but I heard about this situation and never forgot it.

I had a friend who died last summer. In her pursuit of healing strength, she isolated herself and would not allow people to visit her. I finally was given permission to visit her a few days before she died, after eight months of not seeing her, and she was still asking for prayer for healing. I cannot sit in judgment over such an individual's decision, but I wondered about lost opportunities to touch people's lives with the evidence of the Lord's presence while walking through that Valley.

I know when my mom was dying, it was clearly understood between us that we were trusting the Lord for healing, but at the same time, we had freedom to talk about her feelings about dying without feeling that were lacking in faith for the healing. She could review her life, talk about heaven, and could make the most of her time. For example, she was able to put forth effort to fulfill a lifelong dream -- just six weeks before she died -- even though it wasn't easy for her.

It just seems to me that concurrent with trusting the Lord for His healing, if one looks with open eyes at the possibility that days are numbered, the time might be better redeemed for His use.

After I posted the original comment, however, I must say that I was convicted in that I realized that ALL of us, whether knowingly walking through this Valley or not, should embrace a sense of urgency about His work. That shouldn't be a unique attitude of those who are experiencing illness.

Li

Amy said...

Bob, I want to be like you when I grow up. C said you and Judy were a blessing to her the other day. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Bob,
Thanks so much for putting energy into this project and for each benediction. They fill me with such joy and peace.

May the God of hope fill you, Bob and Judy (and Abigail!) with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit...Romans 15:13

Kim

Anonymous said...

Since none of us can predict the moment of our death, your prayer strikes at the heart of what I need to pray each day, too! Living life with a view toward dying fills each contact we have and each task we perform with meaning, and helps us set our priorities.

You can be sure of my prayers for you, dear friend!

Laurie

Mike said...

Bob and Judy:

You two have been a major blessing in my life. I thank the Lord for bringing me and Amy to Bethany and for getting to know you two. I think this is a great way to reach out to others, as you still continue to bless me even though I don't get to see you often as I would like.