March 8-10th, 2009
Where is God when life hurts? This is the 14th in a series of Real Time Reflections from five years ago today as my family and I were in the throes of an F5 tornado. Some of these reflections will be included in the book I am currently writing regarding our experiences five years ago up to the present time.
Before I write about what occurred on March 8th-10th , 2009 I need to back up to Saturday March 7th when the children all came up to visit me.
Regarding the 7th Karla wrote:
“Mike and I both thought that Saturday was a very good day! It started after a good night’s sleep for Mike and ended with me getting home for a couple days with the kids.
What a joy it was to have the kids up to visit Mike! They were all relieved that other than being much thinner, Dad is looking pretty good. We reserved the dining room so that we could all eat pizza together. We decided that Mike needs to eat pizza more often because he eats a lot of it!
Then it was off to physical therapy where everyone was impressed that he was walking and going up and down the short set of steps. The girls were at the gift shop when Mike started, so they didn’t know he was walking. As they were coming down the hall, you could hear Elisabeth say very excitedly, “Look! Dad’s walking!” He was also able to hold a large size dowel and work on picking it up and down. He ended that session by walking from the therapy gym back to his room. Quite amazing!
PT was closely followed by occupational therapy. Mike was pretty wiped out after that, so we got ready to head for home. He was so happy to get to see the kids! Luke even played the songs from a piano performance we had missed, which Mike thoroughly enjoyed…”
Later on the 9th regarding the Saturday visit by the children:
“…Mike still has his sense of humor, but some of the nurses don’t. As the kids and I were getting ready to leave last Saturday, Mike was overconfident in his newly acquired skills and thought he could get from the wheelchair to the bed by himself. He was not at quite the right angle and was leaning too far toward his weak side and fell over on the bed. He landed on the heart pillow all open heart patients get so that they can hug it when they cough. This apparently helps with pain. Mike just laid down, saying with a smile, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. Goodnight!” We all got a good chuckle out of it. We did need to call the nurse in to help. We managed to get him upright before she came in. She asked what he needed, to which he replied, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” Saying that he’d fallen got quite a rise out of her! We assured her he hadn’t and was just joking. She really did need to have a sense of humor!
On a more serious note, Mike said he had another productive day of therapy. They added another session of speech therapy, which pleased him. He would like to see things improve more quickly in that area. He was also able to lift his arm for the first time. He had not even done that prior to open heart surgery day. I talked to him at around 8 tonight and he was exhausted. I am glad he is able to get good sleep now! I am anxious to see the improvements he’s made when I get back there on Wednesday.”
Why? Why? Why? Safety even in doubt and despair.
Mike’s first post, post-emergency open heart surgery: March 8, 2009
“After going through serious brain surgery for the removal of a peach-sized brain AVM, experiencing sleep deprivation for what seemed like 100 days on end, a blood infection, at least 22 blood clots in my lungs…one of which was 7 centimeters in length, open heart surgery, and who knows what else (I haven’t even read my own blog for nearly 25 days) I can honestly report to you all that the LORD is still my strength and my song.
And that my wife Karla is precious beyond compare! Not only for enduring all that she has had to go through, but also for updating and informing all of you at the tail end of many rough days.
I am still largely “out” on my right side, meaning I have very little movement there. The substance of my right side movement is a slight movement in my thumb. While I cannot yet lift my leg, I can somehow walk…. even unassisted! I also have good resistance strength. I am able to resist one way yet not in others.
Anyway keep praying! (posting took 2 hrs)”
As I read these words five years out I think to myself how could it possibly have taken me two hours to write just 184 words? That’s just over 1-1/2 words per minute! I try to choose my words carefully, but that is ridiculous. And it’s not as if I was distracted. I was sitting in a chair focusing all of my mental and emotional energy on this post after an exhausting day of therapy. I think this was the first time that I had really stepped back to take a clear look at the realities at hand. I had just been through brain surgery and massive complications that nearly ended my life, and was just coming to terms with these facts. And they were overwhelming to me. I remember the tears streaming down my cheeks as I wrote this post.
Seeing the children on Saturday had been a huge encouragement for me. But now once again I again had to put them on a shelf emotionally so I could focus on giving them the best possible dad with the best possible functioning when I would be going home in what would turn out to be less than 3 weeks (on the 27th of March). If I let my mind go toward my children I would have been an emotional wreck.
Physical trials and sufferings not only weaken otherwise strong and proud people physically, but they also weaken them emotionally as well. I had no idea how weak I could be. Karla was my greatest earthly support and as I wrote “precious beyond compare.” I still feel that way about my wife of 27 years as the trials have made our marriage stronger and more precious.
Richard Sibbes, a Puritan once wrote in a book called the Bruised Reed, (in the year 1630) “After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks.” Karla and I have experienced this bruising in a way that we will never be able to forget.
As I read from my posting on this day I confidently wrote “I can honestly say to you all that the LORD is still my strength and my song.” I believed it then and I believe it now as I type these words today, five years later. However, this does not mean that my faith did not experience any bumps in the road.
On March 2-3rd, 2009 the Central District of the Evangelical Free Church was having their annual meeting in Des Moines, Ia. Normally I would have attended. I have many friends in the E. Free Church. One good friend of mine took it upon himself to find a quote from a regular Patros Logos article that I had written earlier for the home-school newsletter in our state, (2000-present). He brought it to this conference, had it put on an 18 by 23 inch poster, which he had laminated…upon which three dozen people expressed their well wishes for us.
The words of mine that were on this placard were as follows: “…God is in control. Regardless of the tribulations and trials we may undergo, all of these tribulations and trials are under the hand of an Almighty God, who is not only all-powerful, but He is also good and loving in all of His ways toward us. Mike Evans, from Brothers Be Empowered By Providence”
This friend sent it to me in a round cardboard tube and I had it put up in the room for me to look at. I think it arrived somewhere between March 8-10th. It was on the wall at the end of my bed. I had previously believed these words and taught this theological truth for many years. Now I found myself coming face to face with whether I actually believed them or not. When the rubber met the road, and I had nothing left in the tank, so to speak, did I really believe that God was in control? Did I really believe that He had a hand in this trial? Did I really believe that God was good and loving toward me in these days?
I lay awake at night staring at these words I had written by my own hand, asking myself these questions. I was uneasy. I was offended. My own words made me queasy. In fact I remember asking Karla to put something over this poster to hide the words…for a day or two. It is a difficult thing to explain a feeling of doubt. But that’s what it was. No doubt about it. It was a doubt based not upon my prior experience or belief, but based entirely upon my present circumstances. I knew better than to let any present circumstance dictate prior beliefs, but it was a struggle. I kept looking at these words, particularly at night when doubts do their dabbling. Wrestling.
I had always told the people I have shepherded over the years the importance of having their doctrine and theology (beliefs about God and His ways) in place before the difficult things came their way. In fact I had even told them that I would not be standing at their bedside after a tragic event quoting Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” On the contrary it has always been my intention to weep with those who wept, not give them a double wound.
Here I was, weak and helpless, brain surgery that had left me paralyzed on the entire right side of my body and unable to speak in the early days…only to be followed by sleepless night upon sleepless night in the ICU, only to be followed by a blood infection, blood clots, and finally emergency open heart surgery. So here more than three weeks from the original brain surgery and I can only move my toe and my thumb a very little bit.
This is when I actually began to think of just exactly what the absolute sovereignty of God entails. And this is what I have come to believe. The absolute sovereignty of God is either the most hellish and damnable lie in the universe or the only true source of comfort in any and every trial. The line between these two statements is separated by a razor blade’s width and yet which direction one falls determines everything about how we view God and ourselves. Everything.
I have come to realize that there is no comfort at all in a middle of the road position between these two statements. If there is anything at all that happens in this universe apart from the eternal perspective of One who sees the beginning from the end and takes every possible contingency into account in His providential ordering of everything, in love, then there must be some events that are outside of His governance. And if there are any events that are outside of His governance then I reject the proposition outright as that of an impotent god. An impotent god is no god in my estimation, but rather a god of our own making. God’s got guts. He has a very strong stomach indeed. And yet He is also able to sympathize with us and enter with us in our weaknesses, trials and sufferings.
I realize that this is a wholly inadequate explanation of why evil and suffering exist from the human vantage point (theodicy). It is not my intention to give simplistic answers to complex and unanswerable questions. What had happened to me was not good. God worked good from the depths of our trial, just as He had promised.
But in non-moral things there are ways of acknowledging the coinciding of God’s absolute sovereignty and human responsibility. For example, what is the relationship between what I have said regarding the absolute sovereignty of God and prayer?
I believe with all of my heart that prayer makes a difference in what God does or does not do. I believe that I am alive today because of the prayers of tens of thousands of people throughout the world that were storming the throne of God on my behalf on the day I coded. The blog had 5,790 hits on that one day alone.
But I also believe that God ordained those prayers be made on my behalf. Every single one of them. We are responsible to pray and God is responsible to work His sovereign will (prompting people to pray). Both occurred on that day and every day. Praise be to God!
I had written the words in front of me on the laminated poster during a time of relative ease and comfort. Now they both offended and comforted me simultaneously. I am glad to have had that experience of doubt and wondering if I really did believe it all.
I remember hearing John Piper say in a sermon once how followers of Jesus could rest safely inside the impenetrable walls of Romans 8:28, where nothing could touch them. That was what I was experiencing even in these very real doubts that came on the heels of the most traumatic month of my life. I never want to experience that again…both the trauma and the doubting. But then God doesn’t consult us regarding His plans.
Nothing did ultimately touch me. My faith in God and His plans and purposes in all things are stronger than ever. My understanding of God’s ways, however, continue to be a conundrum in my mind. But then God does not ask me how He should work, does He. Nope, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). From our earth bound perspective God’s ways often if not always seem to be manifestly inefficient. But then again God sees the big picture from the tallest mountain, with nothing but loving purposes in mind.