Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
The following incident is a true story which took place in 1996, in a land far, far away; only the names have been changed to keep the innocent from going to jail.
Having dodged most of the assorted germs, flu and nasty little airborne viruses of the season, the tenacious bug finally sank his viscous little fangs into this preacher. Well, talk about crash & burn! Monday afternoon my wife and I had eaten lunch with my Aunt and Uncle from Port Richey. By Monday evening I felt so bad – body aches, weakness, fever – I was popping aspirin and invoking the chicken soup clause from our wedding vows (...and promise to pamper my husband’s boo-boos, etc.).
You may have guessed I am not a very classy or silent sufferer. When I am sick I really don’t want company – only a card that says your heart is broken, and for you, the meaning of life is now uncertain because of my pain. Sympathy is a wonder-drug to us wimps.
So, indulge me as I continue shamelessly begging for sympathy.
By Tuesday morning my poor little body had a temperature of over 101o. I was sick of chicken soup, and my thoughts had drifted to trying to recall where I put my last will and testament. Tuesday night I lay in the bed figuring I would die soon – by 3 AM I was afraid I wouldn’t!
On Wednesday morning Elizabeth called the doctor for an appointment (guys and other mule-like life forms do not call doctors). Elizabeth had informed me it was a toss-up whether she would call the doctor or the Beggs brothers (local funeral director). She said my eyes were fixed and dilated. She chose the doctor when she became convinced I was still alive. What convinced her was when she tried to take the Nyquil bottle from my hands – I growled and bit her. (If I’d bitten a second time, she would have called Beggs – She would have killed me!)
There were some really unique experiences attempting to get a semi-delirious preacher dressed, and loaded into the car. Later I was told I wanted to ride the motorcycle (our lawnmower) to the doctor. However, Elizabeth finally got us to the doctor’s office...and that’s where the point of this epic came to boil.
When we walked into the overcrowded waiting room, there were no seats available. I volunteered to stretch out on the floor, but they put me in a wheelchair. Now, I want you to know my doctor is a caring, compassionate healer. It was NOT my doctor, however, who put me in that chair – it was the nurse from Auschwitz. I believe she is related to Heinrich Himmler, or maybe Adolph Eichman. Most nurses I have known have reminded me of the sweet fragrance of Florence Nightingale – this one brought visions of the Marquis de Sade.
I had taken too many pain pills, and was having difficulty remembering how to do difficult things (like keep drool inside my mouth). Gestapo Gertie was giving commands that required hand-eye coordination and utilization of the brain – I had neither.
For instance, you cannot…
…stand still please on the scale…
…if you do not know where you put your legs.
You certainly cannot…
…keep that thermometer in your mouth, Mister…,
…if the feeling left your lips a few minutes after you took those six cute little pills.
Now, I am not a very cooperative patient when sober. If you make me chemically drunk, adding a side-order of mild delirium, you will have a virtual zombie on your hands; most of the time in that office I could not have told you my name. With me in that unusual state, Nurse Goebels told Elizabeth to take me over to the hospital for an X-ray and blood test. I remember thinking, Free at last, Thank God-A’mighty I’m free at last.
But it was not to be!
Nurse Gertie Goebels insisted on wheeling me all the way to our car, which was parked on the grass in front of the office.
It doesn’t sound ominous – a nurse giving you a wheelchair ride to the car. What could go wrong?
Little did I know that Gertie’s wheelchair-pilot training had included the obstacle track and bruise maneuver. With every fiber of my being aching and crying for a final resting place, my wheelchair chauffeur hit every bump, hole and uneven place on the ramp; she worked the parking lot like a pro, turning pebbles into boulders, causing exquisite, torturous waves of cranial pressure echoing off the sides of my temples. This was a downhill run with the precise execution (no pun) of an Olympic champion.
Approaching the finish line (the car), I figured the worst was behind. But what does a dead man know? The car was in the grass, and this patient’s wheelchair-torture chamber was rolling along the pavement.
And Nurse Gertie was going for it all.
As we neared the end of the pavement I heard a gasp from behind (much like the accentuated grunts a pro tennis player makes when he hits a searing ferocious backhand cross court for a winner.
With a second grunt, the nurse from Hades kicked the wheelchair from LaLa Land into high gear, enough traction to navigate a worm hole at warp speed. Her calculation was perfect. Instead of sailing over the lawn to the car, the wheels dug in the turf, locked, pivoting all the weight forward, and somersaulted the ecclesiastical baggage (me) headfirst onto the lawn – a perfect four-point landing!
Moving in for the kill, Gertie shouted Get up! I meekly replied, You the man!
I usually visit the weak and failing – the powerless ones. I am a Pastor, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. This experience, however, turned the tables. I was the one in someone else’s hands – my fate under someone else’s whim.
The Apostle Paul said that he had learned during the weak times of his life – the times when he had put his own agenda down and just trusted God for everything – that in those times of his choosing the trust of weakness, God’s strength showed brightest. Now, I was not weak by choice – nor was this a spiritual weakness. But the analogy serves Paul’s intent.
My nurse missed several opportunities to be a source of compassionate healing and comfort. She allowed a sense of frustration with my weakness to ruin her faithfulness to her nursing oath. She did not see the pain in front of her eyes – that need for which she was trained, and had dedicated her strength. She missed the boat, because someone in front of her was not cooperative.
Comparing that ministry to which you and I are called, Christians are to overcome that kind of evil with much good. It’s hard, but it’s better than dumping those in need on the front lawn!
For You, Today…
You are liable to find yourself confronted with someone in need; they are everywhere.
And the patient probably won’t be himself.
So, serve a little chicken soup; be a healer. And try to remember the wheelchair is an instrument of mercy. Serving the occupant onto the front lawn is “help” that isn’t!