This past Thursday, September 14th, I met a man who reminded me of Helen Keller’s famous proverb: “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” He had come to the practice field behind Medea Creek Middle School because his son was going to participate in the Fall Starz lacrosse Program that I have helped coach for years. I was making an appearance to see the boys and got to talking with him. He noticed the scar running up my neck and showed me his. He had just had a liver transplant.
I found myself – dare I say it – thinking Helen Keller wasn’t entirely correct. It should be said that “I cried because I had no shoes but cried even more when I met a man with no feet.” I say this because, for me, noting that others have it far worse than me does not mitigate whatever pain or suffering I have. Rather, the pain or suffering that I have enlarges my capacity to sympathize with others in their suffering. To be perfectly candid, prior to my head surgery, the trauma of a major surgery and the uncertainty of recovery when things go poorly – all these sorts of things, were purely academic to me. In fact, they could not be otherwise. There are some things that you will only have the vaguest apprehension of until you have entered into the world of another person’s difficulties. I found my heart aching for this guy. I wouldn’t trade recoveries with him for all the money in Las Vegas. But I sure am praying that all goes well for him.
In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul opens his letter to the church in Corinth with that thought:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
There is a redemptive aspect to our suffering, whether that suffering is very great or relatively minor. Whatever our suffering is, in as much as God comforts us in our troubles, we are by experience enabled to comfort others in their suffering with greater sympathy and compassion. Seek God when you suffer, so that you will be able to guide others who suffer to the source of all comfort.
Two days later, on Saturday the 16th, speech therapy began. This is something I had been very much looking forward to. Earlier in the week, I had received a notice that I was to call the Physical and Occupational Therapy Department at Kaiser to set up my first appointment. My first call went to voicemail and I couldn’t leave a message because the mailbox was full. A very frustrating experience. My second call enabled me to leave a message. When I received my return call, the very kind receptionist informed me that the next available appointment was in mid-October! That would never do. My voice is still very weak and labored – and I told the receptionist that I must go back to work in mid-October and as a pastor I need to start speech therapy asap to get my voice back. She was awesome. I would be seeing a speech therapist a couple of days later.
Two great things happened at speech therapy. The first was educational. It turns out that having been intubated for just about twelve hours, there were a number of potential difficulties associated with the stresses of that condition that could account for a significant part of my speech related issues. I am now slated to see an ENT specialist to get a thorough overview of the structures involved in voice production. The second was, I believe, an unintended consequence of a recommended practice. My therapist told me that I should be sucking on hard candies regularly to keep the back of the throat and the vocal chords from drying out. Well, just days after beginning this, I have found that the constant, subconscious activity of pushing lifesavers around the inside my mouth has just about restored a full range of motion to my tongue! As for the voice, in the mornings I have good tonal quality – I tire easily though and by afternoon it is considerably more frail and deliberate. And I am still limited to one volume – very quiet. I am unable to raise my voice at all.
It had been four weeks since I had attended a church service. I am quite sure that I have not missed more than two Sundays in a row since I was being “knit together in my mother’s womb!” (Psalm 139 reference). I would not miss a fifth in a row. So, hopped up on lots of Ibuprofen and Tylenol, I joined the rest of the Bjerkaas family in the minivan and off to church we went. On that second weekend of NFL competition, it was church 1, Bob 0. I loved being back at church, and I took time to greet as many folks as I could. After church, one of the elders, Tyler (who had preached an outstanding sermon that morning on 1 Timothy 2:5-6), came by to visit. And after that, I slept for TWENTY hours. I have got to remember to go slow and simply do what the docs say. Recovery is going to be two full months.
This week I have decided that I can’t push too hard. I am not going to visit lacrosse practices. I am not sure whether or not I will make it to church. I will keep working the exercises the therapist assigned – and eating lifesavers. And I am going to pray for folks I know who have had organ transplants. Who can imagine the hopes and fears of people who have experienced that procedure. Won’t you take some time and pray for the people you know as well?
N.B. Just a nice pic from the good folks at Lifesavers. It is a better choice than a pic of me sticking my tongue out of the left side of my mouth. Rather indecorous…