Occasionally, when someone asks me how I’m doing, I jokingly reply, “Upright and ambulatory.”
It’s a health care expression describing a patient who is regaining his strength to walk after an illness or trauma.
Those words fit me last week.
My week was packed with preparing to teach, preach and speak for local organizations and churches. We also were planning a family vacation. Suddenly, life interrupted on four different fronts.
My sister was hospitalized with a serious infection.
My brother’s wife had a respiratory arrest and is on a respirator with a feeding tube. His business is hurting without her, and he’s struggling to pay for his insulin.
Meanwhile, my grandchildren and their parents were evicted.
But none of this measured up to the news that one of our children was assaulted.
While my children are OK, it would be nice if four times could be my annually assigned quota, much the same way I’m limited to buying four crates of soda at the warehouse stores.
Unfortunately, there is no such quota. The same chances that make it possible for you to win the lottery two weeks in a row are the same odds that you’ll get a terminal diagnosis following the loss of your only child to a drunken driver.
In the meantime, life wasn’t giving me a break from obligations.
I had committed to preach in a local church, but as I entered the sanctuary, I felt very absent from my task. I saw people, but there was nothing about them that made me want to engage them. I may be able to give them a sermon, I thought, but I don’t know where I’ll get the energy to care.
Physically, I was feeling like I do when I have a head cold. I heard myself breathe and talk, but I sounded like a different person, someone I’ve never met. It seemed like I was watching and feeling an out-of-body experience.
As I sat on the pew waiting to preach, I studied my notes. The notes rang like hollow answers composed by a confused man who thought he knew all of life’s answers. He didn’t.
A staff member slipped into the pew with me and I shared the sketchy details of my week.
“I know that you can see me,” I told him, “but I don’t feel like I’m here.”
He stared back at me with knowing eyes and said, “Maybe we should pray.”
Gut check with God? Probably not a bad idea.
This is the part in the story you’d likely expect me to write something like, “I prayed, I preached and I prospered.”
At first, the prayer felt perfunctory and awkward. Yet, never the less, something happened.
When I started preaching, the words I heard were helpful and hopeful. God stepped in and restored my strength and guided me back into the flow of life.
There is an ancient text in Isaiah 40:31 that says:
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
They walk and don’t faint.
In other words, God has three ways to answer our cries for help.
Sometimes, he mounts us on an eagle and flies us over our problems.
Occasionally, we’re blessed with enough strength to run right down the middle of our problems.
Finally there are times — like for me last week — when God simply gives us the ability to remain conscious and not faint. In other words, God helps us to remain “upright and ambulatory.”
That, for me, was a wonderful answer to my prayer.