Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Gout, suffering and diarhea.
On and off, for about the past 12 years or so, I have flair ups of gout. It’s a little embarrassing as gout is a disease people think of as something 18th century British waifs get as they sit begging on the side of a cobblestone road in a Dickens story for a few tuppence or an old apple as they cry out, “have mercy on me, I’ve got the gout, Gov’ner!” (cough, cough).
But gout is alive and kicking in 2011 and right now, it’s kicking me in my knee pretty hard. I couldn’t sleep last night. I’ve been up for a while. It’s a pain that hurts no matter what you do. There are small, spiky crystals that settle into your joints and hurt like, well...the dickens. The tendency to get gout is fueled by genes (my Dad got gout), systemic tendencies (especial kidney function), reaction to various foods (red meats, asparagus, cauliflower, shellfish, etc), being overweight and even ethnicity (pacific islanders have the highest rate of gout in the world. I’ve always wanted to visit Tonga.)
We get sick. Sickness seems to be a part of the deal no matter what your chosen life pursuit is. People in missions or “full time ministry” (not a fan of the term) don’t get a sickness pass. In fact, getting sick on a short term mission trip should be part of the promotional brochure. “Join our team for a 21 day trip to Finscuvina where you’ll share the love of Jesus with orphans, learn about another culture, grow in your relationship with God and get a mind blowing case of diarrhea. Yes, that’s right, you’ll get stomach cramps that are so bad, it’ll make you question your faith in a whole new way. Join us!”
In the Winter of 1991, on a 24 hour drive from Romania to Germany, I shivered in the 2nd bench of a VW microbus stuffed with way too many team members and our luggage. I had a fever, diarrhea and was the most uncomfortable I had ever been in my life. I remember running to a toilet on the hungarian border only to find the strangest looking contraption I had ever seem. There was no place to sit on an elongated type bowl that resembled a banana seat on a kids bike from the 70’s. It seemed you were supposed to straddle it. I had no strength so I just sat down on the thing. Sorry for the visual, but I was miserable. That would make a good line in a rap song like all the kids these days seem to enjoy.
We made it to Germany and were staying at a church in Augsburg. I quarantined myself in the church basement and writhed on the floor in an unparalleled agony for a couple of days. I had massive sores on my head, a scorching fever and could not eat. I was miserable. I slept on the whole plane ride home. Turns out, I had caught impetigo from the orphans we were working with in Romania. Some thanks, eh?
We get sick. I don’t know why. My friend is in agony in the hospital right now with a strange spinal issue that some of the best doctors in the country can’t figure out.
Dear friends, who last year went for broke and moved to Thailand to work with street kids had their whole world pulled out from underneath them (the mission they went to serve was not a relational or philosophical fit), then they got the joyful news of a new pregnancy that has laid the wife in bed with sickness for about 10 or so weeks now. They are confused and coming home to uncertainty, in need of all kinds of healing, housing and fresh direction from God who doesn’t seem to be making the way too clear at the moment.
Another friend who was in YWAM with us continues to suffer with undiagnosed pain that puts her out of commission more often than not.
We pray for healing. Sometimes things get better, sometimes they don’t. It’s hard to understand.
Looking back on that trip to Romania, I don’t really think too much about being sick. In fact, when I talk about that miserable road trip, I laugh about it, almost proud of my battle story like an old guy that shows his scars from the war. For that trip, I mostly remember the way Ana Maria, a little orphan who adopted my heart and how she loved me so deeply and purely. We were short term best friends and she taught me so much while we played games, fumbled through language barriers, shared snacks and sang “Miss Mary Mac” way too many times. She probably gave me impetigo. But the suffering is a funny afterthought now.
The bible says that Jesus, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising it’s shame. We are that joy. He was able to endure the cross because relationship with all of us was on the other side of it. The resurrection pushed the reset button on creation and set about redeeming human suffering and opened the way to know God and enjoy him forever. Jesus felt it was worth it.
I have wondered if Jesus looks back on the cross the way we look back on an incredible time of suffering that we have come through. If he sometimes laughs and talks about it in the way we would tell an old battle story. Does he talk about the proud scars of a risk taken that cost a lot in terms of pain but was totally worth it. “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ “ John 20:27
I am not pretending to have answers for our suffering. While I’ve been writing my gout attack has begun to ease off as my nsaids kick in. My friends are still in pain. I do know that there is joy set before all of us and joy to be found right now. Jesus suffered and still suffers with us. He is not aloof from our pain. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.” Hebrews 4:15.
And one day, as Andrew Peterson wrote in his beautiful song paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, “We will look back on these tears as old tales.” Until then, we carry on, supporting one another in love, bearing one another’s burdens, rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep.
Please feel free to show off a battle scar in the comments section or share on what suffering has meant to you. I’d love to hear your thoughts.