I can relive that morning in my head like it happened yesterday…
I shuffled out of the bedroom hoping to retrieve a cup of coffee to sip while I got ready for church. As I entered our family room, I found Rev propped up on the couch with ashen skin and blue lips. (I’d only seen that one other time when visiting a young friend just hours before she went home to be with the Lord.)
I wanted to call 911. Rev refused. He’d been sick for so long that he was as sick of the poking and prodding as he was his illness.
So, I agreed to call our friends at church first, I needed to tell them he wouldn’t be there to teach Bible Study that morning and I wanted to talk with a couple of nurse friends and ask for their advice.
They were a God-give blessing … telling me what to look for and assuring me that we could monitor him at home and if things didn’t get any worse, we wouldn’t need to call the EMTs. The hard news … they told me that it was time to admit that Rev had to have the surgery his doctors were recommending. And although, I didn’t want to admit it – I knew they were right. Rev’s body was beginning to shut down.
At this point, you need to know about this surgery called a Pericardial Stripping. Most cardiac surgeons don’t want to do it. It’s long, messy, and depending upon the health of the patient going in, the percentages of a successful outcome are very low.
We were told there was a good possibility Rev would die on the operating table or have a stroke or heart attack within the first 24 hours … but that surgery was the only way to save his life.
God blessed us with a miracle through the gentle hands of Dr. Jennifer Lawton, who has since moved from St. Louis to Baltimore where she is now the Chief of Cardiac Surgery at John’s Hopkins Medical Center.
So, why am I sharing this story with you?
Because to this day, Rev and I still can’t explain the strength and hard to understand peace God gave us through those months leading up to, through, and beyond Rev’s surgery.
It is believed that Paul wrote the following in a Roman prison cell:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6–7
Just a few years earlier, I’d been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and although I’d like to tell you medication fixed the problem … it didn’t keep me from being anxious, it just kept me from feeling like I was going to throw up all the time. I was still a world-class worrier!
When You Need Strength and Hard to Understand Peace
This time, was different. Throughout the fifteen months of Rev’s illness, with God’s help, we lived Philippians 4.
- We prayed and then we prayed more. We also had a small group of dear friends who were praying for us.
- We thanked God for every single day. No matter what happened or what news we received … we thanked God for the gift of another day together.
- We refused to focus on negative what-ifs. Rev said early on, “If I wait until I’m healthy to be happy, I may never be happy again.” So with God’s help, we found joy in the little things and made laughter a priority.
Sure there were moments when we cried together as we prayed or simply held each other because we weren’t sure where to turn or what to do during the long eleven months we spent waiting for a diagnosis. But we also looked for reasons to laugh and took time to celebrate whenever possible.
So, my friend, if you’re going through the impossible today, I want you to know God can give you the strength and peace you need to do this thing … whatever it is.
I read these words this morning in the Life Application Bible Notes for Philippians 4:6–7:
Do you want to worry less?
Then pray more!
Whenever you start to worry … STOP and PRAY!
God’s peace is different from the world’s peace. True peace [God’s peace] is not found in positive thinking, in absence of conflict, or in good feelings. It comes from knowing that God is in control. Our citizenship in Christ’s Kingdom is sure, our destiny is set, and we can have victory over sin. Let God’s peace guard your heart against anxiety.
I still get tears in my eyes thinking about our pastor inviting the congregation to the front of the church that Sunday before surgery and watching the chairs empty as everyone joined hearts and hands as our pastor prayed, “Father, spare his life!”
I can still see myself kissing him in pre-op wondering if that would be the last time this side of heaven.
I can visualize every inch of the waiting room as I sat with our children and a few friends through the six-plus hour surgery ending with our 7ft tall son asking to hug petite Dr. Lawton when she came to tell us that surgery had gone well.
I remember walking into the ICU for the first time and hearing the nurses laugh at one of his one-liners.
And later that day when he told the kids and me, “I knew I’d be okay going into surgery because I’d either wake up here with all of you or I’d wake up with Jesus and my mom and…”
That’s hard to understand peace!
That’s knowing “our citizenship in Christ’s Kingdom is secure and our destiny is set.”
David wrote, “The Lord gives His people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace.” Psalm 29:11
I do believe that’s why Paul called it “the peace which exceeds anything we can understand.”
You and I can’t will ourselves into a state of strength and peace. Believe me, I tried for years!
What we can do … is ask God, He will graciously give us both.
The thing is, I think we want it to be a one and done. We want to be able to pray, “Father give me your peace and strength” as we go right on worrying about the things of life.
Which is why we need to remember Philippians 4:6 comes before verse 7…
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.
Don’t worry … STOP and PRAY! You and I can tell God what we need. But I believe it’s in the remembering what He has already done that peace takes root and starts to grow.
Because, if He doesn’t do one other thing for you and me, He’s given us Jesus! Our citizenship in heaven is secure! Our future is prepared.
And in the meantime, whatever is going on, whatever we’re going through, God will give us everything we need … even strength for the battle at hand and hard to understand peace.
May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord. 2 Peter 1:2
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