The Lord is my Shepherd -- at least I thought He was, until the accident. In one phone call from my distraught, pregnant sister-in-law, an identity-viewing of my brother's shattered corpse and a funeral where my heart convulsed in unspeakable pain, my secure complacency in a God whose love I took for granted turned to a cold quiet fury at His treatment of me. While never speaking to Him or reading the Bible I had assumed He would love and protect me. Now I walked through the valley of the shadow of death and I did not feel Him with me. His rod was hard on me; I refused to lean on Him and received no comfort.
It was a cold journey from there, living solely for myself while, like indistinct figures lurking in the background, the questions lingered. What kind of God was He? Did He care? It seemed He just left us to get on with life while He looked on from a distance.
I loved my job as an anesthesiologist with a special interest in Intensive Care, yet there were times when I longed for a caring God. Those in ICU needed more than medical expertise. In crisis, priorities change; from temporal and material they become eternal: "Who will see me through this?" "What if I die, where will I go?" I needed God to answer those questions, but the God I thought I knew seemed too remote for that.
Then one evening, at a church service I sceptically attended, the love filling the place overwhelmed me. My disappointment and anger at God rose in me like giant icebergs of pain. I stayed behind for prayer. "God seems so distant," I complained, "I don't see Him at work."
My counselors were kind. "You seem a competent, professional man, why don't you ask God to help you, even when you think you can manage on your own? Surrender your independence and include Him in your whole day, not only when you think you need Him. Start to pray and read your Bible."
Longing for the love I felt there, I obeyed. Four days later, I awoke before dawn in the presence of God. I thought Jesus had come again, so real was He to me. I knelt in my living room bathed in His light and worshiped till it was time to go to work. At work, Jesus felt so close I actually apologized to Him for checking the patient's vital signs during the anesthetic. "I know You are in charge here, Lord, but I need to do this, because it is my job!"
An exciting journey began, of praying with my patients and seeing God respond in amazing, often miraculous ways. I lived for Him and was never more fulfilled.
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18 years later cancer cells invaded my beautiful wife, Penny. They infiltrated her lungs, gnawed at the bones of her spine, hips and ribs, overran her bone marrow, and finally attacked her brain. Through the agony of seeing my princess wasting away, breathless and weak, yet with optimism that radiated like a solid lighthouse on a stormy sea, I leaned in to Jesus. And He was there. Through the pain came strength that did more than sustain; it produced an inexplicable joy. Agony and ecstasy intertwined around the tangible presence of my Shepherd.
One morning, knowing she would not last the following day, I arose early for prayer. Suddenly the Father's goodness fell on me palpably like a mantle, sustaining me as He told me it was Penny's home time.
That afternoon, with a sigh, she was gone.
Once more I had walked through the valley of the shadow of death. How different it was this time with God to trust and lean on. In it all I feared no evil, for He was with me.
And as I looked back I saw His goodness and mercy had indeed followed me. The death of my brother, raising my questions, was His rod of correction, showing me a God who DID love, who WAS present but to be leaned on, not presumed upon. He was preparing me for a greater trial so that when the time came, He could be my staff on which to lean. Jesus became my comfort as I rested on Him. My memory, though still painful, is one of being carried through a time of exquisite anguish leaning on powerful, gentle Jesus, the staff of God.
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