Lord's Day Liturgy

When You Don’t Have a Name

So far in this little series of exhortations I’ve found analogies in pinched nerves, loose joints, broken bones, blood loss, and cancer. If I haven’t talked about your line of aches and pains, it’s not because I don’t care, I’ve just focused more on some of the things I’ve had to learn about. These aren’t my only personal connections; I could have talked about torn ligaments, tonsillectomies, Costochondritis, acid reflux/fundoplication, and migraines. But one thing these all have in common is that they can be diagnosed; they have a name.

I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever talked to who was more glad to not know what was wrong with them. As in, they were having serious, painful, possibly disabling sort of symptoms that caused them to seek medical help, but were happy to hear their doctor say it was just a mystery. Chronic is one kind of bad, obscure is a second bad on top of the already bad. Remember the woman who touched Jesus’ garment who had spent all her money for twelve years on doctors who didn’t heal her (Mark 5:25-34)? Yet as bad as her hemorrhaging was, she wasn’t questioning her condition.

What do you do when you know that something is wrong but you’re not sure what is the “that”? How do you fight an enemy you can’t name? What you must not do is nothing. Trying to get an answer may be frustrating, but sitting in silent sadness is frustrating and futile.

There’s a principle of interpreting the Bible called analogia Scriptura which means “analogy of Scripture,” or interpreting the hard passages in light of the move obvious passages. Perhaps we could also apply analogia sanitatis, the “analogy of health,” let the clear parts of what makes for health help set a context for the confusing parts.

What if something is wrong in your soul? (And of course soul and body work together, but for the moment focus on the soul side.) David wrote, “Who can discern his errors?” (Psalm 19:12) And what about “hidden faults” (also verse 12)? Well, these concerns come after the celebration that the law of the LORD revives the soul and the precepts of the LORD rejoice the heart (see all of Psalm 19:7-9). Don’t forget what you do know, don’t stop doing what you can do. Confess the sins you are convicted about. Pray for wisdom. Read and reread and mediate on God’s Word. And when you still don’t have clarity, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Tumors and Tedium

Of all the medical things I’ve learned, maybe the most surprising lesson is that 90% of your conversations will be consumed with a single topic as soon as you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is maybe the scariest word (that’s already in your vocabulary) that you can hear from your doctor, though it’s not always the most critical affliction. You don’t even have to have the worst kind. Let others know that you have cancer and you will be talking about it for months.

Nine years ago I had cutaneous leiomyosarcoma, a cancer in the arrector pili muscles, the layer of muscles connecting with hair follicles, with a tumor almost the size of a golf ball right in the middle of my chest. There are other kids of cancer—including subcutaneous leiomyosarcoma—that will metastasize all over your body and into your organs, the kind I had does not. My doctor initially thought it was just a cyst, so he jabbed me in the chest with novocaine 30-40 times and cut it out only to say afterward, “Hmmm, that doesn’t look like a cyst.” A week later he called with the lab results saying it was cancer. So I had to have a wider margin of tissue cut out in surgery. There were some post-op side effects, but then it was mostly done. A few years after that my younger sister had a massive brain tumor that couldn’t be cut out because it was wrapped around critical parts of her spinal cord. She lived less than six months from the day she was told what was wrong.

Many of you have had, or have, some type of cancer. How many types of treatments and medicines have they tried on Debbie? How many hours of travel, how many hours of dealing with side-effects, how many hours of explaining to others? It’s hard for it not to become an identity. Others ask because they care, but just giving updates can become a burden. Talking about it becomes almost as tedious as the tumors.

By analogy, all sins deserve death, and not all sins have the same consequences. Some sins are public, and some of the public sins sound more scandalous. The Scarlett Letter made adultery the most abhorrent in a 17th century community of Puritans in Massachusetts; that’s just an example. “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later” (1 Timothy 5:24). Though the Bible doesn’t use the word cancer, we know some sins spread through the body, some sins become almost a part-time job dealing with them.

But when there is repentance there is rejoicing. When there is salvation, we sing aloud of His righteousness (Psalm 51:13-14). Recounting forgiveness and reconciliation is never tedious.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Bloody Serious

Anemia is a deficiency in the oxygen-carrying component of the blood, or even more simply, a deficiency of blood in a living body (The Century Dictionary). The word anemia comes from the compound of two Greek words, an- meaning “without” and haima which means “blood.” Anemia results in loss of color, loss of energy, loss of strength, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats. Anemia is on a spectrum; you may be slightly or extremely anemic. It might be that your body is having a hard time producing red blood cells or it might happen that you have a serious incident of loss. Many moms are anemic for a while after the birthing process.

Seven years ago on February 4th I came home from teaching my classes feeling sluggish, but ran six miles on my treadmill anyway and then went to our elders lunch. I wasn’t feeling well—pale and sweaty and drained—and had to bail out to the car to lay down before the guys were finished meeting. Jonathan told Mo that afternoon that he thought something was really wrong because I had ordered the “girl-size” at MOD Pizza. I really thought I had a bad cold. Mo made an appointment for me with my family doctor that evening, and he called an aid car for me to ride to the hospital where I spent the next four days.

It turns out I had an internal bleed and had lost half of my blood.

There was no conclusion on the cause after a variety of tests and -oscopies. I was on the edge of getting a transfusion, but they decided to let me build back red blood cells on my own with iron supplements and such. At first I was so worn out that watching TV took too much energy. That was also the start of problems with my internal temperature system, and one of the reasons there’s a fan built into the pulpit; I’m often hot/cold when I should be the opposite.

How true when the Lord said, “the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life” (Leviticus 17:14). I had used anemia as an analogy for spiritual life before, little did I know how bloody serious it is. If you’re sinning, stop the bleed. It will drain the life right out of you.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Casting Off

In his final bundle of instructions to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

I want to focus on “help the weak.” What does that look like? Before the answer, add to the mix this exhortation in Hebrews:

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12–13)

This context is a bit more narrow than Thessalonians. Here the knees are weak, not from being shy in front of a girl, but from being disciplined by our heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:7-11). Help the weak. Strengthen the weak.

It makes me think of when Cal broke both of his arms within nine months of each other (1/6/20 and 9/21/20). I’ve never broken an arm or leg, so there were new things to learn. When you break a limb it’s weak and needs extra support. This usually involves coming alongside with support; a cast helps to immobilize and protect and give the bone time to heal.

It turns out that the body also employs an internal, temporary scaffolding tactic. Between days 4-21 after the break, a soft callus forms around the broken bone, not strong enough to eliminate the need for a cast, but still providing support while new cells build new bone. Then in the last stage, “cells called osteoclasts do some fine-tuning. They break down any extra bone that formed during healing so your bones get back to their regular shape. When you reach this stage, returning to your normal activities actually helps you heal” (source).

To help the weak we provide strength through external support. To help the weak we provide strength so that eventually they don’t need external support. The goal is to get the cast off. Of course this depends on the kind of break, the other problems you have; it’s always a balance. But we confess our sins and we counsel others in order to be strong in the Lord.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Bad All Over

I have often thought it would have been profitable for me to go to medical school. But I really have problems looking at (or smelling) blood, and I have a deep, bone-marrow level physical sort of empathy for seeing or hearing about kids who biff onto concrete, so I would be a horrible doctor. But, wow, a little more anatomy and pharmacology know-how would be helpful.

Last week I used an illustration of nerve pain, and that caused Mo to say, “Hey, you could do a whole series of confession exhortations riffing off medical problems.” And I thought, that sounds fun. So I’ll continue with one of her problems.

She has a genetic defect named after two late 19th century dermatologists who identified it, Edvard Ehlers and Henri-Alexandre Danlos, so Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, or EDS. It is a connective tissue disorder, affecting skin and joints and blood vessel walls. Depending on the type of EDS, you might be extra bendy (hypermobile), or your blood vessels could burst (vascular).

The symptoms can become debilitating and excruciating (while the vascular type is life-threatening), especially if there is a time of sickness or injury. While the muscles are strong enough they compensate for poor collagen in the ligaments, but if the muscles become weak, the joint ligaments can’t do their jobs, and things easily get out of place. Anywhere there is a joint, there’s a possible dislocation, or subluxation which is a slight misalignment of the vertebrae. Of course that causes numbness, tingling, swelling, debilitation, pain, headaches/migraines. EDS is not currently curable. It’s a managing game, and building up what can be strengthened.

Every time I read the following passages I think about the things we’ve learned about EDS.

[Christ], from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:16 ESV)

Christ, who is the Head, has joined us with joints, With His blessing they work properly. Sin weakens the connections and dislocates the members from one another. It’s bad all over when the joints aren’t doing their job.

This five-minute video from December gives some testimonies of what it’s like living with EDS. And here is a page with some more descriptions about EDS and the history of its diagnosis.

Enjoying the Process

This Too Shall Pass

We interrupt our regularly scheduled post of substance to report this recent medical incident.

I took my first trip to the Emergency Room via ambulance Tuesday morning. On my way to work I was in so much pain that I pulled off the road. Quickly realizing that I could not continue I drove home and immediately dropped to the floor, writhing and wriggling, sweating like nobody’s business. Unable to diagnose the sure problem, my mom-in-law concluded that calling 911 was the best option and I agreed reluctantly. The EMTs arrived shortly thereafter and concluded that I should take the Aid Car to the ER. After a few hours and a CT scan the doctor concluded it was much ado about a kidney stone.

Had I known it was only a kidney stone I would not have ridden in the ambulance nor probably even visited the ER. But it makes for another good medical story as well as another large medical bill.

For those interested, my status is still in the “working things out” stage. The doctor suspects this too shall pass sometime in the next hour to one week.