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Yeah, Well, Maybe Sickness Isn’t That Funny After All

March 15, 2014

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It had been a month of unbelievable stress to me.

I thought I had endured the trials, but my body was telling me otherwise.

The classroom was a blur.  My head was roaring in pain, even though I had gulped down medicine an hour ago in the front office.  I looked across the room and realized that I was unable to focus my eyes clearly.  My chest felt as if I had swallowed glass, and sweat was beading on my forehead.  I tried to keep calm and continue teaching.  “Okay, then, let’s turn in our notes to the second of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.  Take a look at the screen and let’s review…”

There was a slight tapping on the door.  I looked through the window and saw Kathy and Denise, two of the school secretaries, motioning me to come out into the hallway.  I stepped out and Kathy immediately grabbed my arm.  “Denise is going to cover your classes for the rest of the day,” she said, pulling my arm.  “We’re getting you to the hospital right now.”

“Now, wait…” I protested weakly.

Kathy marched me down the hall.  “I called my sister in Houston.  She’s an E.R. physician, and she said you’re showing the classic signs of a heart attack.  The car is right outside this door.”

Before I knew it, I was stretched out on a hospital gurney with my shirt ripped open and wires pasted to my chest.  I stared at the white-roomed ceiling and heard the rhythmic beeping of the monitors,  breathing as deeply as I could – was this as serious as I feared?  I had already vomited through an interview with the attending doctor. What happens now?

Lord, is it my time to go?

I heard at noise at the foot of the gurney.  My wife Jill appeared with my two teen sons Nicholas and Peter. She was pushing little Julianne in a stroller.  I struggled to raise my head.

“Wow, Dad, you look really bad,” said Peter.

“Thanks,” I replied.

Julianne giggled and pointed toward the monitors that were strapped to me.

“What do those numbers mean?” asked Jill, pointing at the heartbeat and blood pressure indicators. I could tell she was rattled, and her eyes were wide and uncomprehending.  “Those numbers there, those rows of numbers…”

“Well, I , uh…” I began.

Julie squealed in delight. This was fun to her.

Nicholas looked at me and glanced around.  “Mom, we shouldn’t all be in here. let Dad have some quiet.”

“But why are those numbers fluctuating like that?” she asked.  “They’re going up real fast and the beeping is increasing.”

“You’re really gray-looking,” Peter said to me.

“Look, the numbers are going higher,” Jill said as she wheeled Julie nearer to the machine.

“I , uh…” I said.

“It’s probably because you’re stressing Dad,” said Nicholas.  Baby Julie laughed and clapped.

“You look kind of pasty,” said Peter.  Nicholas grabbed them both by the shoulders and pulled them back toward the doorway while baby Julie giggled and threw her stuffed bear on the floor. Peter stumbled and waved to me while Jill maneuvered the stroller into a table, knocking over a cup.

Great, I thought, I’m dying and I’m in the middle of a vaudeville act.  

It turned out that I was suffering a severe case of acid reflux, which can bring on symptoms similar to a heart attack.  A few weeks of proper care and I was rolling right along, but I did take away a valuable lesson.  I got a Heavenly message that I’m not as durable as I’d like to think, and the Lord gives me a gentle but firm reminder to re-establish my focus on Him.

Jesus is the source of my strength, I am reminded.  He’s the well of energy and of  endurance, and I do best to rely upon Him.

It’s best summed up in the Scriptures, in a letter by a gentleman who would have great insight into infirmities.  Paul was a man with poor eyesight and trembling hands, relying on scribes for his writing duties.  Some Bible scholars believe the shock of the vision on the road to Damascus changed him physically, and I don’t doubt that such a shocking epiphany would do the same to me.  Paul didn’t care, though – it gave him the right perspective.  The second of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians states “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses … in hardships … in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It goes without saying that we Bible teachers must be durable.  Not only do we handle the educational side of things, there is the spiritual side of the equation as well.   We counsel.  We exhort.  We help arrange mission trips.  We organize prayer times.  We are involved in chapel.

Yet within that toughness must always be the reminder that we are not independent, that a reliance on Jesus for instruction and power is not only a great example to our pupils, it’s necessary for our spiritual survival.

I unloaded the elementary school students at the San Benito County Fairgrounds.  Our field trip was not educational this time; it was a jolly flat-out day of rides, exhibits and carnival food.  The whole school was excited and ready for action.  The principal divided up the school body into groups that were led by teachers, and I was assigned a group of ten kids.

“Okay, then ladies and gentlemen, where would you like to go first?” I asked. “The midway?  The 4-H exhibits?”

“The rides!” yelled Joey.

“The Hammer Twist!” cried Shelley, and the kids all shouted their agreement.  The Hammer Twist was a unique ride, best described as a loop-and-corkscrew combination.  You entered a two-man egg-shaped capsule that would spin in a circle high in the air like a Ferris Wheel.  However, you did not stay level to the ground; when you were at the top of the arc, you were upside down.  Combined with this was the fact that you were rotating to your left in a 360 degree spin the whole time.  This was a brutal time, but the little kids loved it.  There weren’t many people in this time of the mid-morning, so we got on fairly quickly.  As I waited in line, I had noted that the length of the ride was about forty seconds.  That would be about all I could handle – I’m not good with spinning around for an extended length of time.

“Hey, teach,” said the operator of the machine.  “These some of your students?”  He was looking at my school badge.  He was a twenty-something carney with shoulder-length hair, aviator sunglasses and a faded Oakland A’s Billy Ball T-shirt.  I nodded back.  “How are you doing?” I asked as we loaded into the capsule.

“Oh, not too bad,” he replied.  “Kind of slow.”

“Well, I thought I’d bring my kids over to break the monotony,” I kidded.

He grinned.  “I appreciate it,” he said as he closed and locked the capsule.  “I’ll treat you right.”

I should have realized what that meant.  That may have been a generous gesture for him, but it would not bode well for me.  The ride started up and we went into our first circle spin, complete with corkscrew.  My stomach lurched and I groaned as I glanced at my watch.  Forty seconds and I would be off this spinning contraption of death.

Except that wasn’t Billy Ball’s plan.

In his magnanimous way, he extended the ride’s length of time.  Through the spins I realized that we were going past forty seconds.  Ricky was sitting next to me and flopping around like a rag doll. “Wow,” he said happily.  “This is a long ride.  We’re getting a lot for our money.”

All I could see was the ground and then the sky flashing by me every other second. Somehow I pulled my wristwatch up to my face.  We were past a full minute and ten seconds.  I could hear kids squealing in delight to Billy.  “Longer!  Longer!”

“No!” I shouted through the wire facing.  “Slow it down!  That’s enough!”  I didn’t know if I was being heard.  I groaned and tried to hold my head from being slammed against the side. I looked through the mesh.  Ground-sky.  Ground-sky.  Ground-sky.

We had cleared two minutes.  I couldn’t see straight.  The corkscrew effect was slinging my brain around in my skull.  My stomach was doing flip-flops. “Hey,” I called without trying to burp.  “Billy Ball!  Let’s wrap this up – urp – shall we?”

By the time to the ride came to a stop I saw that we had been riding for two minutes and forty-five seconds.

Never, never had I been so seasick in my life.  Never.

The whole world was spinning around me. My feet were stumbling along the dirt pathway away from hated Hammer Twist.  It felt like the ground was Jello.  I couldn’t get my bearings.  I tried to focus on the kids.  They were as chipper and energetic as ever – and worse still, they wanted to come over and hug me and pull my arm toward the other ride.  I was beyond queasy – I knew if they touched me I would vomit.  I was desperate.

“Wait. Hold on, right here,” I said as they stopped their advance toward me.  I held out my hand in a warning.  “I am really, really, really dizzy and sick from that ride, kids.  Really, really, really, urp, sick from Hammer Twist and I don’t want to be touched right now. ”  One little girl advanced to me anyway.  “Listen to me!” I snapped.  “I am so sick that I might puke if you touch me.  And if I throw up, you might be in the line of fire!”  The kids withdrew at a safe distance.

How I got through that day I will never know.   I clung to poles, picnic tables, horse stall gates, concession stand walls, anything to get the world to stop spinning.  Rides were out of the question.  So was food.  When 2 o’clock came and we were loading the vans I sat heavily in the driver’s seat and moaned.  We’d have to move, wouldn’t we?  The first turn out of the parking lot was brutal, as my stomach lurched again.  I honestly did not think I could steer the van on the highway without vomiting, it was that bad.

When we got back to the school I stumbled toward the chapel and grabbed a football on the way to a bench.  Using the semi-deflated football as a pillow, I lay on that bench, staring at the swirling, undulating ceiling until six o’clock that night.

I knew that I had enough stability to shuffle to my car and slide in gingerly.  I gripped the steering wheel and braced for the two-mile voyage.

My ride back to my apartment never exceeded ten miles per hour.  All the way I had a quiet prayer:  Okay, Lord, I see that I have limitations, but next time could You not teach me in such a dizzying way?

Urp.

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