How do we handle disappointments? Last week the first thing that my wife said to me in the hospital recovery room was: “The doctor said that you are not going to be very happy”. Even in my drugged state I knew what that meant. The doctor was unable to get all of my staghorn kidney stone blasted out of my kidney. This stone is very large, and extremely hard. I knew that it was over an inch long (3 cm) but I didn’t know until just before the second surgery that it is over two inches (6 cm) wide. My hope was that this second surgery would be the last one, and that a week later I could have my kidney stent taken out. Now I’m making plans for a third surgery.

It has helped me to be well informed about this kind of kidney stone. From the doctor and my research I knew that they almost never get it all out with one procedure. If the stone is soft, it can be done faster. Anyone really surprised that my kidney stone would be extremely hard? There is a chance that the third surgery won’t even get it all, though I am hopeful that it will. About a quarter of the stone is still there. Making sure that my expectations are not unrealistic is useful. It is easier to celebrate surprise results than it is to recover from built-up expectations.

Even in the midst of this slow process, I can’t get past how blessed I am. I live in a part of the world where this kind of treatment is easily accessible, and I’m in a position to be able to afford it. Even with health insurance, this is getting very expensive. I personally know many people who live in our country who just couldn’t afford to take care of a medical issue like this. I believe that this needs to be changed. I earnestly desire for everyone to be able to receive the same medical blessings that I’m receiving. I’m very aware of how privileged I am, and I’m humbled by this. I have no room to complain (well, maybe a little bit about my kidney stent).

I can confess that I’m not always the most patient person. I have been reassured, though, by the deep peace that I have been feeling as I go through this process. In time the stone will be gone, and this will become a sermon illustration. Even in the beginning when we thought that this might be bladder cancer, I felt God’s calming presence. Regardless of the diagnosis, I knew that everything would be OK. Focusing on the spiritual side of our lives changes how we respond to challenging times.

How often do we have challenging times in our lives? Each of us have our own set of challenges. It is easy to think that our challenges are harder and heavier than what other people face, but the truth is that there is always someone who has greater challenges. I am of the mind that our challenges can make us stronger. They can be looked upon as a curse, but God has a way of turning them into a blessing. What happens if we start at the very beginning looking for, and expecting, a blessing?

Some challenges are individual challenges, and others are group challenges. Is one harder than the other? Individual challenges can feel more lonely, while group challenges sometimes feel to me like they are more out of control. Our country is facing many group challenges, as is the United Methodist Church. Is there hope? I have no doubt that there is hope!

As Christians, let’s make sure that we lean onto God’s strength instead of falling into the world’s fear. What happens if we accept from the very beginning that God is big enough to handle these problems? Then what if we intentionally start listening for what God wants us to do? I’m confident that God doesn’t stay silent if we are willing to listen! Are we looking for God’s directions and blessings in the midst of the challenges?

It has been tempting to be disappointed with the struggles that the United Methodist Church is facing. I’m expecting, though, for God to act in a mighty way if we will listen! I encourage you to be well informed on the issues. One way to know the issues better is to attend one of our Holy Huddles. We are doing two parts. One for pastors, and another for laity and pastors together. Our South District Holy Huddles will be on October 5 from 10:00 AM-noon (pastors), and October 6 from 1:00-4:30 PM (laity and pastors). Both meetings will be held at Christ Church UM in Tucson. Arrangements have been made for the South District Holy Huddles to also have Spanish translation. Will you come and join us?

I continue to feel blessed to be a United Methodist, and I’m humbled that I’m allowed to be a United Methodist pastor. Even in the face of an unknown future, I’m feeling a deep peace. I wonder how many sermon illustrations will come out of this time in our history?

Your brother on the journey, Mark

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