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May 3, 2016, 8:55 PM

Of Grace and a Bum Pancreas

   For the last few months, I have been dealing with a medical condition that can range in effect from occasional discomfort, to chronic pain, to  a disorder so serious that it can lead to hospitalization, and in extreme cases…death.

   No, I’m not terminally ill (at least no more than anyone else).  But, to be honest, I did worry that I might have cancer.  I was experiencing pain in my abdominal area, and back, which caused me growing concern as it steadily worsened.  As this mysterious condition intensified,  it struck me that the pain began after I started using an injectable diabetes drug (Victoza).  One weekend, the pain became so bad that I decided to discontinue the shots and go back to my old medicine.  The pain did not disappear, but it did seem to abate a little bit, and I called my doctor who had me tested for pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, the organ which naturally produces insulin.

   As a Type-2 diabetic, my pancreas still functions, but not adequately.  Type-1 diabetes (the most serious form) occurs when the pancreas fails completely.  If that happens, I will have to go on insulin for the rest of my life.

   The tests confirmed I have pancreatitis.  In reading about the disorder, I noted that there doesn’t seem to be a cure.  While my condition has improved since changing medicines, I don’t know if it will ever get entirely better.   I still feel discomfort, and sometimes  outright pain, and it seems to be impossible to know when those moments will strike.  I am feeling discomfort, even as I write this, but earlier today, I felt fine.

   It seems possible that I will have to contend with this condition to some degree for a long time.  Maybe for the rest of my life.

   That makes two chronic, currently uncurable, and even potentially life-threatening conditions, with which I must deal.  It was treating the first, that caused the second.

   I know many of you have had similar experiences.

   The human body is an astonishingly complex organism that functions through a series of incredibly delicate balances.  If one thing goes out of whack, it can easily knock others off-track.  Even the act of trying to fix a problem can lead to more problems.  Sometimes, worse problems.

   When confronted with situations like this, one can choose to rail against the unfairness of it all.  And, I don’t mind telling you I am a bit ticked-off to have to deal with all this.  But then, I remember how many other astounding processes continue to go smoothly…even in my ageing body.  Actually, the amazing thing isn’t that some of them have gone somewhat painfully and dangerously awry, but that so many continue to work with such reliability and resilience.

   Years ago, a colleague of mine attended a symposium on medicine and religion.  During a panel discussion, an immunologist was asked, “Why do we get sick?” 

   The doctor laughed and said, “Sick?!?  We don’t know why we are ever well!  There’s stuff floating in every one of our systems right now, that ought to kill us, and yet our bodies silently and efficiently hold them at bay without us even noticing!”

   I’ve always thought that was a pretty good example of grace.  And, it provides needed perspective.

   The day may come when my injured and faltering pancreas fails completely.  I will not be happy about that.  But, it need not be a death sentence, as it was in this country, not so long ago, and as it is in so many others, even today.

   It frustrates me that I can’t eat any more  S’Mores.  In fact,  I am currently struggling with a low-carb diet that is dreadfully dull, and which can cause my blood sugar to plummet so that I go weak in the knees.  (That happened just an hour before I wrote this.)

   I’m peeved that a medicine we hoped would make me better has actually made me worse.  But, I also understand that no medicine is without risks, and I’m not planning on suing anybody because I got the short-end of the stick on this one.

   All in all, I would rather be lying in a hammock in Tahiti eating Krispy Kremes.  But that’s not gonna happen. If I choose to just resent my status and gripe about it, I will not get either physically or spiritually better.  I can guarantee I will only worsen.

   But, if I use this experience to better understand the difficulties of others and to better appreciate what DOES work in my life and my body, then I can draw something positive from this.  The process of redemption is the application of grace to suffering in such a way that it eases the pain of the world.

   God’s grace was able to transform the cross…an instrument of oppression, terror, cruelty, and suffering, and turn it to a symbol of hope for forgiveness, mercy, and new life.  Jesus did not enjoy every aspect of this process, and I’m not so narcissistic as to believe God owes me a comfortable ride just because I’m a Christian.

   After Job has his life basically blown to smithereens, his exasperated and grieving wife tells him he should just curse God and die.  Job responds, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"

   Some people like to believe that God only sends us happiness and comfort.  But, often what is good for us, tastes like Castor Oil, and what God needs us to do for the larger world is seriously inconvenient and downright painful.  What we do with that pain is what can give hope to the world and purpose to our existence.

   I don’t believe God gave me diabetes or pancreatitis to make some point.  But, I think my situation can be used for good, if I am open to the possibility that grace can work in difficult and painful circumstances.  With that faith, I can bring something good out of my situation, and that is redemptive.

   That is my hope.


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