Vandalia United Methodist Church

From the Pastor's Study

Living in Gifted Time

Two of my earliest memories come from a hospital stay when I was four years old. One was being in a bed at St. Francis Hospital and being aware that I was having a hard time breathing. Sitting across the room were my dad and grandfather, both smoking cigarettes, and a blue haze had filled the room. Fifty-seven years ago, people could smoke in the hospital, apparently unwilling to recognize the harm that smoking could do to one’s health. The other memory is related to the same hospital stay. I suddenly awoke and recognized that four nurses were holding me down while a doctor was using a syringe to pull fluid out of my chest. From where he was drawing the fluid, I do not know, but I can still see the pink fluid in the device.

From the time I was four years old, I’ve had health issues. In my mind all my episodes seem related. The reason for the November through January stay at St. Francis Hospital in 1962 was diagnosed as Rheumatic Fever. A similar experience when I was in fourth grade was diagnosed as a recurrence of Rheumatic Fever. That bout occurred late enough in the school year that they let me advance to fifth grade without any further work. A similar experience when I was in the eighth grade was diagnosed as Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA). Even though the onset and the symptoms all seemed the same, they came with a different name. The doctor who treated me told me to tan as dark as I could over as much of my body as I could. Following doctor’s orders, I discovered that my Archie Bunker-type father did not want to take me anywhere. The onset of the episode occurred in March of that year, and I finished out the school year working at home with a tutor.

A pattern was becoming apparent. The onset of illness was preceded by a stressful situation. In eighth grade I was being bullied at school. In 1987 my father had passed away six months prior, and I was trying to balance my mother’s needs while attending seminary and serving as a pastor of a church. I was making my way to the church following a week at seminary, and I was picking up my dog at the farm when I recognized symptoms of illnesses from the past. The emergency room doctor didn’t agree; however, and I was sent home. He told me, “You have what we call the flu.” That was Friday; and by Monday, I was in the ICU at Methodist Medical Center in Peoria. JRA had flared up again. It was the same pattern of feeling like I had the flu to severe aches and a fever of 106 degrees. With the use of steroids, the symptoms abated rather quickly; and yet, steroids have their own set of issues.

It was in 1998 that my last episode occurred. The symptoms started after a round with a parishioner making false accusations. Within two days I went from feeling ill to being on life support. When I arrived at St. Louis University Hospital (SLU) via helicopter, I had no blood pressure. My brother told me it went downhill from there! I was taken to SLU because they had the better heart transplant program. Initially they installed a balloon pump, then a ventricular assistive device. At that time a patient only came off a VAD by two different means: a heart transplant or the patient died. After three weeks on the VAD, my cardiologist told me my heart just started working normally again. He said he couldn’t explain it. I told him I could. I had been healed by God. After a total of twelve weeks in the hospital, with nine of those weeks in intensive care, I went home and returned to work several months later.

I have been gifted time. In each of these episodes, beginning when I was four years old through the last episode twenty-one years ago, I was told that death was a possibility. By the time I experienced that last and most severe bout, I was not afraid. I had learned that God will take care of me. Returning to the farm in 1998 to convalesce, doctors predicted that my heart would fail rather quickly, and they wanted to put me on a transplant list. I told my brother I had no worries for whether I lived or died, I knew that God would take care of me.

Aren’t we all living in gifted time? Whether you have been healthy your entire life or have had a life of illness, each morning we awake to the precious gift of another day. Each day is an opportunity to live our lives in gratitude. We say thank you for the gift of time by living our lives in praise of God and in service to others.

My dad was sixty years old when he died of cancer; my mother was sixty-nine. My brother died six years ago at age fifty-eight from complications following hernia surgery. His death made me more cognizant of my family history and even more aware of my own mortality. I am anxious to do things that the demands of the ministry have prevented me from doing. At age sixty-something some people are winding down in life and down-sizing. I feel like I am about to be set free from a cage of responsibility, stress, and anxiety that has kept me locked up for thirty-five years. God willing, I will soon be able to turn the page and start a new chapter in life where I can serve God in novel and exciting ways.

No one knows what tomorrow will bring. I pray for the opportunity to share the remaining time God has gifted me on earth in productive ways of building his kingdom; and when he takes me home to his heavenly kingdom, my service will begin anew. Because of Jesus Christ, my gift of time will last for eternity.

Thankfully yours,

9:30 AM Worship Service
10:40 AM Sunday School

First United Methodist Church of Vandalia :: 618.283.3684