Why Trials Matter (July-Aug 2010)

By Matt Dabbs

by Jill Johnson
July – August, 2010

82 - What Really MattersOn January 13,2010, my father met Jesus. I wish I could create new words to describe the early morning hours before his death. Yet, words seem trite, trivial, and almost empty compared to the actual feeling of watching the man who gave me everything, leave everything behind. The last month of my dad’s life was heart-wrenchingly long and filled with torment. After 4-½ years of fighting an illness that even the best physicians in the world could not decipher, he “finished the race.” My dad, Kevin, a lifelong athlete with no health issues, developed severe heart failure due to unknown causes in October of 2005. He received his first heart transplant in June of 2006, but a few months later his new heart began to fail. Perplexed doctors could still not find the cause for his heart failure, and Dad was again placed on the transplant list. He received his second heart transplant in February 2007. After his third heart started to fail later that year, Dad was finally diagnosed with a very rare blood disease, Light Chain Deposition Disease. He underwent two separate autologous stem cell transplants in July 2007 and September 2009. His third heart had recovered full function in December 2009 when he developed a rare blood condition known as TTP. He died from infection only weeks later.

During the trials that the past few years brought my family, I have come to realize what matters most in life. I found that we, as fallen humans, cannot fully appreciate the blessings that God gives us until we endure the trials He ordains for us. Christ never promised his believers an earthly life full of health and prosperity. Peter states in his first letter in chapter 1 verses 6 & 7: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Jill and her familyTrials brought us closer to the body of Christ. Throughout the trials, my family experienced the love of the body of Christ like never before, stretching beyond my local church, across denominational lines, and around the world. Through Facebook, hundreds of people received daily updates in my Dad’s final days, letting them know how best to pray for his health and our family’s spiritual well being. Emails from California, messages from Michigan, phone calls from China, and prayer vigils in the Dominican Republic all reflected the greatness of God’s hand in our suffering. Trials allowed us, as Christians, to see the brokenness of life on Earth and long for our eternal home in Heaven. Trials revealed the true faith of my family–not to God, who in His omniscience already knew our hearts; our faith was revealed to ourselves and to those watching us. I found I am much worse than I ever thought I was, but I serve a Savior who is much better than I could ever imagine. Although the pain from losing my father can at times be crippling to my spirit, I know that I would not know Jesus the way I do now without experiencing those dark times.

With a life-long passion for writing, I’ve documented much of my life in prayer journals. Half way through my dad’s sickness, I created a blog to share what was on my heart, and what God was teaching me through suffering. Much of what I wrote was transferred to Facebook when I began sending out updates on my dad’s health. However two entries remain, one written at the half way mark of Dad’s sickness, and the other written after Dad’s death. I pray you find these blogs uplifting and that they will remind you about what really matters.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sometimes there is a pain so deep, so grave that in passing it is impossible to write about. The intensity of the emotion can still even the most active of pens. This pain is not fleeting such as beauty nor does it let loose of memory. It quiets the mind and enrages the soul.

Such is the pain my family has endured for the past 2 ½ years. Between the gaping calendar dates of each entry in my prayer journal are unwritten prayers and untold stories of hopelessness, agony and cries for mercy. Sometimes those holes were silence…because at times, there were no more words to pray. Only tears. If I could fill in the missing days, weeks, and even months it might look something like this. Life is beyond strange.

I remember the day that I walked into my Cultural Perspectives class following the phone call that completely changed my comfortable world. I had spoke with my dad regarding a shocking diagnosis of his health—severe cardiomyopathy, or heart failure. At that time I wasn’t even sure what those words meant. And I definitely do not remember what my professor taught that day. But I could feel my own heart racing inside of me, with every beat a new question about my family’s future.

I know that tragedies happen to people everywhere, everyday. But that doesn’t make it easy. When extreme sickness comes upon you or someone close to you, life pauses. On the outside, everyone goes about their business, rightfully so, while your life is stagnant, like pond water in a world of rolling rivers. Others get older, marry, have children, work, take vacations, and simply live, while you are simply surviving, holding almost every breath for fear of what awaits the next. With every new day in the hospital, every doctor’s visit, checkup, every test run, you hope for good news in your heart while the pit in your stomach wants to tell a different story. After months of bad news, better news, good news, and bad news again, you wonder if the insanity of the situation will ever end. This kind of life is utter chaos. It is a serious mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, chaotic struggle to remain somewhat normal. There are an abundance of adjectives in the previous statement, but every one of them remains true to what has been.

I have learned and am still learning so much about myself, my family, my friends, and my Lord throughout Dad’s sickness. Just as Dad’s original physical heart was dilated and scarred from disease, my eyes have been opened to the stark reality of my own spiritual heart, dilated and scarred with sin. I have learned that people’s true hearts will be revealed in a time of suffering. I am so thankful for those who have stood by my family, praying faithfully, and believing with us in our times of despair. And I have been surprised, disappointed even, by some who have cowered from the situation, showing themselves as they truly are. I have been astounded by the support and faith of those we have encountered in the medical field. Thank our God for doctors who believe in miracles! I have learned that no matter how dark the hour, Christ is there. He has spoken and is still speaking to me, my family, and those surrounding us. I hope we continue to listen.

How many nights I have cried myself to sleep, persisting, begging, pleading for a miracle, I cannot say. How many times have I prayed the line, “Please Lord, just heal his heart,” remains countless. But seeing my dad today, two heart transplants and a stem cell transplant later, I see insurmountable miracles. Throughout the misdiagnoses, the strokes, the biopsies, the crazy rare disease, the chemotherapy, the surgeries, the WAITING, he is still alive only by the awesome grace of Christ Jesus. The Lord alone receives the glory for the miracle of Dad’s health, if even his life on earth ends today. Because today is really all any of us are promised.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The day before my dad’s death, I sat in the hospital lobby watching and listening to the buzz of life around me. Pondering what might lie ahead regarding my dad’s feeble physical state, my thoughts paused on a little girl as she entered through the revolving door. A child of about 4 or 5 bursting with energy was followed by what looked to be her mother. The little girl with long brown hair looked around as if expecting to see someone; and then, suddenly, her eyes lit up. She rushed to an older man who stood from his relaxed position out of the stiff chair. He picked her up and gave her a hug that only grandpas give, and they both smiled.

My eyes instantly filled with tears, and large wet drops rolled off my face, temporarily staining my black hoodie. At that moment, I knew that my future daughter would never get that hug. I knew that my dad would never see his grandchildren run outside at his home, or play basketball, or sing in the children’s choir.

I just knew.

I knew that he wouldn’t be there the day I come home with a glistening ring on my hand to announce my excitement that the Godly man we’ve all prayed for has finally arrived. I knew that he wouldn’t be there that day to walk me down the aisle and reply, “her mother and I,” while beaming with pride. I knew he wouldn’t be there to hold my hand through the struggles that a new marriage can bring, or to stroke my hair as I lay in the hospital bed looking at my sweet newborn baby.

For some reason, I knew.

I knew he would never see another birthday, or vacation, or Christmas. I knew he would never call me by his favorite nicknames, or be there to finish the latest Lego set with my brother. I knew I would never see him sit in his favorite recliner and laugh with my mom over something I’d said. I knew I would never again see the special smile he reserved only for her, his dear bride.

I can’t explain why, but I knew.

I knew that his time spent struggling for each breath would soon be over. I knew that the only person he loved more than his family, he would soon be face to face. We knew that every moment came down to this one moment, and that he could leave us knowing he had a life well lived. I knew this was the earthly end, but only the eternal beginning.

And knowing that, I give thanks.New Wineskins

Jill JohnsonA 2008 graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, Jill Johnson has a passion for children, teaching, and Jesus. While she is currently pursing her master’s degree in special education, she spends her time baking, writing, watching movies that make her laugh, and reading books that make her cry. Jill is also very involved with missions in the Dominican Republic. She lives in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, and calls Belview Baptist Church in Melbourne, Arkansas, her church home.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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