After having dropped out of college in my freshman year with a mysterious flu-like sickness, I struggled in US hospitals in Washington State for three months with various diagnoses that all turned out to be wrong.
Finally at the end of May, 1975, I returned to Victoria, BC, where our family physician put me in Royal Jubilee Hospital and ordered several medical specialists to do a battery of tests to determine why this 20-year-old young man was so sick.
After two days of tests, Dr. Herbert Domke walked into my room to talk to me about the results. There were tears in his eyes. I knew that a lady in our local Victoria church was in the same hospital and that she was his patient, so I asked “Is Mrs. White OK?” He answered with the chilling words, “No, it isn’t Mrs. White; it is you that I’ve been crying about. I know how important you are to your family and it is hard for me to share with you our findings.” He then went on to tell me that I had a rare autoimmune disease that is 85% fatal. After that I don’t remember much of what he said. I’d had a muscle biopsy the day before and it was those results that confirmed the diagnosis.
I could share many things with you about this experience, but one thing you have probably already guessed: I was among the 15% that live. I will turn 65 in three months, but back then I would happily have taken ten more years if it had been offered to me.
As anyone who has faced a grave prognosis, especially early in your life, can tell you – you are forever changed by the experience, both in good and not so good ways. One of the good ways is that you can help people who face a similar threat to their temporal lives, which is just hard to do if you have not known that kind of threat yourself.
So with all of us facing this pandemic I want to share just a few things that I learned from that experience.
First, our fears are real and I believe only our Creator can give us freedom from those fears. And it may require a spiritual battle like Jacob had with the angel to get to the point where your soul says, “I will not let you go lest you bless me.” This battle each of us must fight on their own, but it is the most worthy and noble battle you will ever fight. The peace and comfort from making God’s unconditional love your own is beyond words.
Second, you should not think this is a time for inaction. When I accepted my diagnosis, I set about doing all that I could to gain back my health. I asked to have my bed moved to the old Victorian sun room at the end of the hospital wing. Since I was so young and on the terminal patient floor, the nurses agreed, and I was able to enjoy the large tall windows that opened to the sky and the Gary Oaks that grew around the grounds. I also asked if I could have two meals a day instead of three and that they be sent at 9 am and 3 pm and that they be vegetarian. The hospital dietitians and kitchen agreed.
Third, I spent a lot of time beside my bed in prayer each day, earnestly asking God to heal me if it was His will and to help me get through whatever my future would hold. After those times of prayer, I found additional peace. There was also a wonderful old chapel attached to the WWI-era-built hospital with a marvelous old organ. I would shuffle down there two or three times a day and play hymns that would lift my spirit and give me comfort. I never saw anyone in there. My mother had always had a piano in our home and I had taught myself to play by ear, so this turned out to be a great blessing for me during this time. One special hymn I played often was the hymn, “Abide With Me.” It will forever be special to me.
After a month the enzymes in my blood which they used to monitor the illness slowly started to return to normal. I was temporarily discharged one Sabbath and will never forget the joy of attending our Victoria Seventh-day Adventist Church. I cannot really capture in words the elation I felt as I sat in God’s house. At that time I had no idea that my remission would be permanent, that I would marry a picked-by-God special woman, have two wonderful children and have a fascinating career as an artist. This afternoon as I write this I live in a beautiful little cottage on a remote beach on Northern Vancouver Island with my wife. We are blessed to have our 25-year-old son with us during this pandemic.
But has it all been pie-in-the-sky-perfect for me? Far from it. This isn’t heaven yet for any of us. It’s a brutal, harsh world that is difficult at best for almost all of us. It is meant to be. God cursed the ground for our sake. We learn and grow little from ease and comfort. For years I battled alcoholism, depression, and obesity. Through AA I was given a second miracle 26 years ago when I had my last drink. But the battle with self is never over in this life. Yet through it all I knew and know that I have a Savior Who is mighty to save.
So this is the main thing I’d like to share with my online friends today: Only as the need arises does God meet our finite human weaknesses and fears with His infinite strength and power. He is the author of our faith. He alone is our hope. Once we realize our utter helplessness we can lean on Him, because we believe His promises, that “He cares for us.”
This is the Life Preserver we can hang onto with assurance today. Like the old hymn says “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”
As a crisis arises, it is at that hour that God gives us His power and grace. Not usually before. I once told a wise pastor “I don’t think I could have faced the burning at the stake like those great Protestant Reformers did.” He replied “Neither could they. They were only given the ability to face their martyrdom in the hour that they needed it.” And that is how it is for you and me. We will have to wait patiently for His grace. Things may seem overwhelming, but in the hour that we most need it, God will be there to comfort and guide us.