When I think about Jesus Christ’s resurrection, I find inspiration throughout the Bible, from Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah who foretold of the Messiah Who would sacrifice Himself so that we could be forgiven our sins and reconciled to God, to New Testament writers such as the apostle Paul who took the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, to the Gentiles. I would like to share a few verses that have inspired me and talk a little bit about how God has used them to revive me.
(Note: Most of the verses referenced are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible.)
- These things I have spoken to you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
- …lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:20)
The testimony that I want to share right now is not really about my salvation experience. It’s about a wilderness experience that I underwent for sixteen years or so, a kind of wandering that had me thinking that God had cast me off forever. It stemmed from a chronic brain disease. In other words, I have a psychiatric disorder or mental illness. When the severest symptoms first appeared, I was deeply involved in church activities. I attended worship services regularly. I taught a Sunday school class. I spent part of one summer as a camp counselor for middle school girls from church. I considered learning how to play the flute again so that I could join the church orchestra. Poetry that I wrote focused on the Lord instead of secular themes that I had explored since childhood. So, I did not understand what was going on when I started hearing voices and seeing what I can best describe as shadowy but solid human-like figures. The activity increased rapidly. When it became non-stop, I prayed constantly, even in public. I had trouble falling asleep. And, when I was able to fall asleep, I had trouble staying asleep. I joined a discipleship group at church on the recommendation of one of my mentors, to no avail. My primary care physician had me hospitalized for observation. I checked myself out of the hospital when he told me that he was going to bring in a psychiatrist for a consultation. The chaplain who I met while I was in the hospital referred me to a Christian doctor who was once a psychiatrist but was wary of the psychiatric profession. He counseled me on a regular basis and did eventually refer me to a practicing psychiatrist who was a Christian. I saw him a couple of times. A minister friend of my father’s spent time meeting with me, as well. And, for a while, I stayed with an elderly woman from his church, just to try to get away from the activity that I was enduring in my own home.
Needless to say, my life–my new life–changed dramatically. I had to quit my job. I had to give up the Sunday school position. My church attendance dropped off and I eventually stopped attending services altogether. I thought that I was demon-possessed and that my salvation was an illusion.
In 1995, I moved back to San Antonio, Texas. I stayed with one of my brothers and his family for several months while I tried to sort through what was going on. Another one of my brothers got the ball rolling on semi-regular therapy with a psychologist. She, in turn, got me into treatment through the local university health system after I threatened suicide in a phone call to my parents shortly after I moved into my own place.
Eventually, I received psychotherapy through the local medical school’s training program. One of the therapists was able to break through. Around 1999 or so, I recovered enough to be able to start writing poetry again. Many of my poems were about brain disease and the effects of brain disease. I rarely wrote about spiritual themes. Sometimes, though, I considered going to church or seeking spiritual counseling again. However, I still thought that the Lord had given me up. It seemed pointless to try to approach Him.
Over the years, I learned how to shoot and edit video. I produced a community television program dedicated to creative writers and made a few short films. I hoped to use the various skills for a full-time career as a producer. Then, one day in April 2008, I woke up with intense pain in my left eye. Although my ophthalmologist was able to give me some drops that relieved some of the pain, my vision in that eye deteriorated over the next several months. I was sent to a neurologist who thought that I might have pseudotumor cerebri. (She also mentioned the possibility of multiple sclerosis during one appointment.) I was having other health problems, too. Before any conditions could be confirmed or ruled out, the vision in my right eye also started to deteriorate. Not too long after that, my ophthalmologist sent me to a Retina and Uveitis specialist. He tested me for tuberculosis. The test came back negative. After a thorough exam, he said, “It looks like sarcoidosis to me.” (Basically, sarcoidosis is an autoimmune disorder in which clusters of inflammatory cells can affect multiple organs. Even when a flare up ends, scar tissue that affects normal function of the body’s organs can be left behind. Sarcoidosis can affect the eyes in the form of uveitis and other disorders.) Sarcoidosis is suspected in my case but has yet to be confirmed. However, the disorder has affected my eyes, skin, kidneys and other organs. When I think about ailments I’ve had over the past two decades, some of them fit a diagnosis of sarcoidosis. I’ve even wondered if the brain disease is secondary to the sarcoid. Some of the other health problems that I’ve had in the past few years are most likely unrelated to an autoimmune disorder.
After the specialist made his diagnosis, he prescribed oral corticosteroids to try to suppress my immune system. I had many episodes where pain would hit me hard, though, often in my muscles and joints. For some reason, when I would feel the pain, I began saying, “Thank You, Lord!” After a few weeks of this, I laughed to myself when I thought about how I was thanking God for pain.
My life took another turn when I came close to dying on May 2, 2010. I won’t go into great detail, but emergency medical technicians rushed me to the hospital after I experienced difficulty breathing, among other things. I didn’t fully realize I had come close to dying until an emergency room doctor told me that a CT scan showed bilateral pulmonary emboli, multiple blood clots in both lungs that apparently had resulted from a large clot in one leg breaking free and breaking up. A different physician pretty much took over from there. An ultrasound that was done the next day revealed that another blood clot was still in my left leg. Pulmonologists consulted with a physician from my hematologist’s practice. They discussed the different treatment options and risks with each other…in front of me. (I also had a bleeding issue. So, I was bleeding and clotting at the same time.) An endocrinologist was part of the treatment team, too, because the oral steroids had evidently caused Cushing’s syndrome, leading to diabetes. You know your health situation is precarious when doctors tell you things such as, “You’re lucky you didn’t die from this,” “You’re still not out of the woods,” and “They’re trying to come up with the best plan to treat you because they’re probably not going to get a second chance at it.”
During my approximately week and a half hospitalization, I had enough solitude to contemplate what had happened in my life, not only the brush with death, but also the distance I had felt from the Lord for so many years. At one point, I watched a news report about people who had died in flooding back east. At another point, I thought about the fact that Mother’s Day was going to fall on May 9th that year. As I looked at flowers and “Get Well Soon” cards and other encouraging expressions from family and friends, I thought that, had the Lord not spared my life when a large clot broke off from my leg and broke up into many pieces in my lungs, those flowers could just as well have been a funeral arrangement and my parents would have buried me just before Mother’s Day.
Late one afternoon during one of these moments of solitude, as I thought about how I was blessed, not lucky, I dined on some broth and looked out the hospital window. Although my vision was very hazy from the uveitis, I could tell that it was a sunny day. I was grateful to be alive. I was grateful for the broth. People like to joke about hospital food. To me, it tasted wonderful. I was glad that I was here, period. And, it was a joy to have some eyesight. A sense of gratitude overflowed and I said, “Thank You, Lord.” When I said those words that time, two things came to mind: the passage about the ten lepers and the words “thy sins be forgiven thee”. (Luke 17 contains an account about Jesus healing ten lepers. Only one glorified God and thanked Him. He was the only one who received spiritual as well as physical healing. “[T]hy sins be forgiven thee” is from Mark 2:5.) I started weeping and said, “I thought You had left me!” That’s when Hebrews 13:5 (“…I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”) came back to my mind. I cannot adequately explain the comfort, the reassurance of God’s presence that overwhelmed me in that hospital room. It was “…the peace of God, which passeth all understanding….” (Philippians 4:7)
My health has been up and down since that particular hospital stay. It’s improving. No matter what, I know that the Lord will not leave me. That long, lonely wilderness experience in which I mistakenly thought that the One who created me had abandoned me has ended. Hope is back. There is reconnection with God. I am restored. And, that is the promise of Easter.