Tuesday, October 8, 2013

When Prayer Isn't Safe...

          When I was four months pregnant, I had to take my mom to the  ER for acute pancreatitis.  She was a medicaid patient and was seen by a young intern over the next several months as the pancreatitis flared up periodically. Each time she went to the doctor he ordered an ultrasound, each time it didn't show anything abnormal, and each time he told us  that as long as she wasn't developing any other symptoms, she just needed to follow the BRAT diet until the nausea subsided. Since medicaid would only pay for 3 ultrasounds in a twelve month period and since the BRAT diet took care of her monthly bouts of nausea, she quit going to the doctor.
         Nine months later she could barely eat  half a carrot and half a potato without saying she was full.  At that point I persuaded her to go to the ER. We made 3 trips in about 4 days before they finally admitted her.  The first time we went,  UAMS was undergoing renovation- there was no air in the ER room where we were, it was early summer, and we were miserable.  UAMS had a great staff for the most part but their motto back then seemed to be: "If a little waiting is good, more waiting is better..."  On this particular day, we waited.  And waited.  And waited.
         The heat was so bad that I finally got out of a chair and sat on the floor of her cubicle, hoping it would be slightly cooler on the tile squares.
          While I was on the floor, I tried to memorize the second half of a  verse out of the Amplified Bible:
         " ... those who love Him [who hold Him in affectionate reverence, promptly obeying Him and gratefully recognizing the benefits He has bestowed]".  I Cor. 2:9b  (Emphasis is mine.)
          At that time, the expanded meaning of loving God resonated deeply within me:    showing prompt obedience, thankfulness, and affectionate reverence toward Him.  I found myself, in spite of my circumstances, pouring out my heart to Him. At one point, His presence seemed so near that I felt as if  I could reach out and touch Him.  I remember to this day (and this happened 23 years ago), silently lifting my heart in praise and telling Him how I loved Him with all my being.
          The very next instant, these words went through my mind, authoritative and unmistakable:  I am getting ready to take your mother Home.
           Where had that come from???
           Not from me.  I knew my mom was sick but I didn't expect her to die, wasn't even thinking about her at all at that moment.
            Maybe it was from God.
            I immediately rejected that thought.  No, it couldn't be.  God would never respond with something so negative, so unpleasant, when I was pouring out my heart of love to Him.
           At that time I didn't realize that when we enter into prayer with God, we can't restrict Him to things that we want to hear.  We have to accept what He wants to say and He only says what is true, which sometimes includes things like, "No, this cancer won't be healed here on earth..."  "Yes, the ones you've helped will betray you..."  (See the life of David in the Old Testament). "No, your spouse won't come back to you... but I will be sufficient..."
           I remember sitting bolt upright in that ER cubicle, putting my hand-written memory card away, and deliberately focusing on anything except God and prayer.
           However, deep in my heart I suspected what I had "heard" was from  God. Honestly, I was sure enough of it being from  God that  I pretty much quit praying for about 6 months; I didn't want to run the risk of hearing something bad like that again.  So my prayer life, such as it was, became meal time blessings and sporadic, rote, "Now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep" type of prayers.  I never let my "quiet times" go below the surface during that period of my life.  This God, I was learning, truly was not safe to know. And after my experience at the hospital, I doubted His goodness.
         Meanwhile my mom struggled with health issues for the next 8 months, during which time she had several medical procedures, two surgeries, and she also steadily lost weight.  Her original problem had been  a stomach ulcer that had scarred over, blocking the exit which allowed food to drain out of her stomach.  That  stomach problem had caused the recurrent bouts of pancreatitis from 1990 to 1991.  Now they tried various means to unblock her stomach and for almost a year, she was really sick. But then  she rallied and went on to live a fairly normal life for the next three years or so.  (Mom had her first episode of pancreatitis in the spring of 1990.  My experience at the  UAMS ER happened in the summer of 1991 and my mom transitioned to Heaven in Dec. 1995).
          As she resumed routine activities, I put the odd prayer time at UAMS totally out of my mind.  I decided I had misunderstood and that it was my imagination, the heat, and/or stress over my mom that had given me such a crazy idea.
         Then in June of 1995, the doctor told us an x-ray revealed some suspicious spots on her liver and so he referred her for more medical tests.  She was admitted to the hospital  and  went through some inconclusive exams. Finally she was taken back for a second attempt to "scope" her  while  I and my uncle sat in a waiting room at UAMS, biding time until the doctor could tell us whether she had  pancreatic cancer or not.  By this point, one of  her  doctors (who had been the intern who failed to diagnose her correctly several years earlier) had come to us and frankly apologized for not taking her case more seriously when she first got sick.
      Now, as I sat there  in yet another hospital waiting room, I felt anger burning within me towards that doctor.  If only he had been more thorough... If  only he hadn't written mom off as just a medicaid patient, an elderly lady who was probably high strung.  If only....
         I began to feel my blood boil and at that moment, God clearly spoke to me again, saying the same thing He had said 4 years earlier: I am getting ready to take your mother Home.     Suddenly I was transported back to that miserably hot afternoon in an ER cubicle where I had poured out my heart to God and He had responded in such an inexplicable way.
       Now I knew, at least in part:  God was telling me even then that what mom had would eventually culminate in her death and that this was His plan. His plan.  Which meant that four years later, I wasn't sitting there because of a doctor's error. I was sitting there - and mom was undergoing tests in a nearby room - because this was God's sovereign will. It was her time to go Home, no more and no less.
      As  I thought about it, other things became clear to me.  I now understood that for several years He had been getting both of us ready for her home going. During that interval, she had developed a couple of heart issues and that turned out to be a blessing, as odd as it sounds.  A few weeks before mom died, her hospice doctor told me that they might not be able to control her pain from the cancer for much longer and that I should pray that she would die of heart trouble before the cancer got much worse.  I've always been thankful that she did die of heart trouble and that her pain meds were never ineffective.  Had she not developed the heart issues in the last few years of her life, her death could have been very bad.
      I'm sure God had more reasons than that for the extra time that He gave us, many of which I won't know this side of Heaven. I do know that  mom got to spend a lot of time with our little son whom she dearly loved.  She also  grew a lot in faith during those years - as her body weakened, her faith became stronger.   As for me,  I   had  time to adjust to her gradually declining health. Because I was so close to her, I really feel  He  graciously  warned me, and then gave me time to prepare for our eventual separation.
     And then, on that June day in 1995, when I felt myself becoming flushed with anger towards one of her doctors, God reminded me that 4 years ago in that very same hospital He had told me this was going to happen.  With that reminder, my anger towards the young doctor just vanished. Instantly. And it never returned.
     Grief is so, so hard. How much harder would it have been if I had become bitter and angry towards the doctor who was young and just made an honest mistake? In His mercy, God spared me that.  Plus, since that time I've always been aware that the issues of life and death are truly in His hands.
      God is sovereign. He is our creator and the lover of our souls.  He knows the future and what is best for us. And He knows what we need to hear when we need to hear it.
       Prayer is essential. But it's not a one-way street. When we open our  hearts to Him, He answers but it's not always what we want to hear.  I sort of wish someone had told me that before my experience in 1991.
      The bottom line is that God is, as C. S. Lewis pointed out,  not safe. Nor does the Infinite necessarily   make sense to our finite minds.  His ways truly are higher than our ways (Is.  55:9).
      But He is good.
      Even when we can't understand His ways, we can trust His heart.



  1. As genuine as ever. I'm still waiting on a book...

    1. Thanks,Kimberly. If I ever write one, you will be in it... All good of course!