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Meeting God in the MRI
To God’s Comforting Power and Grace
By Jack Maltby (OGO)
I was an athlete.
I ran numerous 10Ks, many road races of varying distances, and two marathons. I had played tournament tennis and taught the sport for the local summer recreation program. I also taught and coached YMCA swimming. In fact I had two teams finish in the top ten (7th) at the National Swimming and Diving Championships in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
I say this not to boast, but to highlight the contrast between those accomplishments and my physical condition today.
In the spring of 2000, just a couple of months after my 50th birthday, I was diagnosed with transverse myelitis (TM), a debilitating autoimmune disease that affects the spinal cord. It left me with a high degree of numbness from mid-chest to my toes, no bladder or bowel function, chronic pain, and the inability to walk unaided.
Usually, the onset of TM is very fast. Those affected typically become completely paralyzed within 72 hrs. In my case, the onset was very slow – over a period of three months. Consequently, the doctors were understandably baffled by what was going on.
The diagnosis did not come swiftly. TM is a rare disease that affects only about one in a million, so the local doctors were not familiar with its various symptoms. And, of course, diagnosis by the preferred process of elimination required tests – LOTS of them.
I endured CT scans, upper and lower GI, tests for ulcers and multiple sclerosis, an MRI, and a host of others including a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). That one was no picnic!
A nurse friend, who had gone through a spinal tap said not to worry. It would be a snap. No big deal.
The procedure was done by my neurologist in his office. I put on the obligatory backside-ventilated gown, and was helped up on the examining table onto my left side in a semi-fetal position. After ‘numbing’ the target area in my lower back, he informed me that I would feel ‘a little pressure’ as he inserted the needle and prepared to extract about 20ccs of spinal fluid for analysis.
It did not go well.
After a minute or so I suddenly felt the most excruciating, burning pain that began in my right hip and traveled down to my feet like a nuclear shockwave.
I informed the doctor.
He heard me.
Very shortly it happened again……and again! I do not think it is possible to experience more intense, burning agony without actually dying. It was not the kind of pain that its memory fades with the passage of time like childbirth, (This explains why some women can have six or more offspring) and six years later I can recall the experience as vividly as though it were yesterday. At several points during the procedure the doctor asked me if I was all right. After what seemed like several minutes of total silence I asked the doctor, “Are you all right?” The procedure obviously was not going according to plan. My doctor then informed me that he was going to consult a colleague.
“Be right back!”
The head of the neurology department then arrived and finished removing what amounted to only 9ccs out of the intended 20. He didn’t have an easy time of it either. Thankfully there were no more atomic blasts, but later my wife counted at least nine puncture sites.
And, of course, the results of the fluid analysis were inconclusive. It was the results of an MRI that finally led to the final diagnosis of TM. (Why couldn’t they have just done an MRI first thing?)
I was placed on a high dose of solumedrol and steroids to combat the swelling that was strangling my spinal cord, but my condition continued to deteriorate. When I could no longer wiggle my toes, I was referred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where a planned three-day visit turned into seventeen.
The Mayo Clinic is very organized, efficient, and thorough. They began by repeating almost every test I had been through initially (and a few new ones) which included an MRI and -- you guessed it -- a spinal tap!
An MRI was schedule for my morning session with a lumbar puncture chaser to be done that afternoon.
Was I a little anxious? I would have been an excellent candidate to be a patient of Dr. Thorndyke at the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, VERY Nervous!! (Mel Brooks in “High Anxiety”) I went in to my morning MRI hoping that I would either be miraculously healed or die before that afternoon.
As I lay in the MRI with the jackhammer-like noise pounding in my ears, I sang over and over in my mind the songs from a CD by Greater Vision titled ‘Perfect Candidate’ (a marvelous CD). The baritone of this Southern Gospel trio, Rodney Griffin, is also a very gifted songwriter who writes most of the songs they perform and record as well as songs for many other Gospel Music artists. It was this CD that had already helped me through many long and painful, sleepless nights while still not knowing why my once virile and healthy, athletic body had so viciously turned against me. I had practically the entire CD memorized.
One song, in particular, had touched me greatly and had given me much comfort. It is titled ‘You’ll Carry Me Through’. There is a phrase from the chorus that says “You’ll carry me through, Lord, like You always do, Lord. You’ll hold me and hide me like good shepherds do.”
Now I have never been an emotional person. I never judge truth by feelings, and actually am very analytical and objective (Typical guy thing). But as I was ‘singing’ this song in the MRI, I was suddenly swept up in the arms of Jesus. It was as though He had picked me up, cradled me, and flooded me with His presence and peace.
And He ‘spoke’ to me. Not in an audible voice, but in the power of this incredible experience He lovingly whispered to me “Do not be afraid. I am here”. There were no promises like ‘everything will be OK’, or ‘I am going to completely heal you and erase all your troubles’. Just “I am here”.
As I came out of the MRI, my wife could tell that something had happened. I was not the same guy that had gone into the tube an hour before. As she wheeled me through the Mayo complex, I began to see other people as God must see them; in spiritual as well as physical pain; uncertain, fearful, and needing the assurance of forgiveness from the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep. I could see that there were so many who were in much worse physical condition than I. And my heart broke for them.
I might have emerged from that MRI with the calm assurance that the coming spinal tap would be a breeze. After all, Jesus was with me! God is good! How could I be afraid? But my encounter in the MRI did not suddenly make me superhuman or give me super faith. Even though I had experienced God as never before, and even though I looked around me from a new perspective, I still had reservations about the upcoming spinal tap.
When my name was called in the waiting room for my test, we were greeted by a rather tall, thin, very plain-looking nurse with very straight, mousey, dishwater-blonde hair who ushered us into a small room where I was to be punctured and drained of precious spinal fluid. I very carefully and graphically explained to her that the Dr. needed to be aware of my previous trauma. I did not need a repeat performance. She answered my concerns in a rather timid, weak voice by saying, “There is no Dr. I will be doing the procedure.” My wife could immediately see from the look in my widening eyes and the ashen shade creeping over my face that I was not reassured.
She helped me up onto the table into the semi-fetal position, and as my wife cradled my head the nurse explained that it was somewhat like tapping the sap from a maple tree. “You’re going to feel a little pressure….” And I thought, “That’s easy for you to say. I’ve heard that before.”
I was just getting ready to ask when she was going to start when I heard her say, “Well, that’s it. You were the best maple tree I’ve had all day.” In just a few minutes she had removed about 30ccs of spinal fluid and I was done. (“O ye of little faith…”)
Since that trip to Rochester, Minnesota, I have continued to endure the after-effects that are a result of the nerve damage caused by TM. It still is not easy. Days are a struggle and nights are still long. But whenever I am tempted to give up and give in, I know the reality of those words He spoke to me in the MRI.
“Do not be afraid. I am here.”
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Once I was Blind, But now I See
By John Gordon (John3v16)
I would only believe in God when it suited me. I would call on His Name when in a crisis but when the crisis was over I would soon forget about Him again.
Then shortly before my 22nd birthday I had a very real dream. I dreamt that I had become totally blind. I can still remember the frightening reality and even the horror of that dream and the relief of finally awaking to realise that it was... just a dream. But such was its impact upon me that I prayed a sincere from the heart prayer thanking God for my sight; that I was not blind... that I could see.
I believe that dream was from God, by His grace He was exposing my carnal state before Him; that I was in fact blind spiritually for I did not know Him. Sure I would pray to Him for help from time to time but I still did not know Him.
Then coincidentally or was it? As God's timing is perfect... a colleague at work 30 years my senior began talking to me about God and Jesus Christ. Everyone knew Fred was a Christian as he would never attempt to hide his faith. His whole face would fill with a countenance of joy whenever he mentioned the things of the Lord to me.
I soon began to feel a deep conviction of sin, I knew in my heart that I was a sinner and I sincerely wanted to turn over a new leaf. I bought a Bible and began to read it from Genesis 1:1 but found it laboriously hard reading with “Ye olde King James English”. I began to go to Church on Sunday mornings but I found that I was still seeking. There was an empty void in me, a hunger to be filled, but I did not know for what.
Fred discovered that I was a keen chess player so he invited me around to his place one evening for some games of chess. Under those circumstances I was happy to oblige for he had failed to persuade me to attend a Bible study evening in his home. After we had played a couple of quick games (he lost quickly) he asked if he could pray for me. Then with our heads bowed he suddenly paused in prayer and said, “John, do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord & Saviour?” I replied, “Yes.” He then continued in prayer and thanked God for His mercy and grace in my life. Then we played another quick game of chess.
Soon after his wife arrived home from attending a Bible study group in someone else's house. He told her that I had accepted the Lord Jesus into my heart that evening. She was overwhelmed with joy and happiness for me and with tears she praised God. I was very surprised at her reaction, was it really that wonderful what I had done? I did feel a peace within and at peace with God my Maker, but I wasn't overcome with emotion.
I didn't want to be "fanatical" like Fred, therefore I had resolved to keep my conversion to myself. But Fred invited me back to his house to introduce me to another man about my “new found faith”. He was a gentle, well-spoken, levelheaded man and he sold Bibles. He sold me a Bible that was a lot easier to read and understand, called, “The New American Standard Bible”. This chap asked me a few questions, then he said, “John, where is Jesus right now?” I was about to say, “He (God) is everywhere.” But right then I had a revelation. It came to me in an instant and I said, “He is in me, Jesus is in me.” “You’re right!” He said.
When I arrived home I got on my knees and thanked God and Jesus for being merciful to me. With tears I confessed and repented of every unholy and ungodly sin I could think of that had weighed upon me and had burdened me with guilt.
That same night I had another very real dream. I dreamt of seeing Jesus on the cross and I wept and wept, for I knew He was hanging there because of my sins. As I was contemplating all of this a raucous mob suddenly came along and asked me to join with them, for they were totally oblivious of seeing Jesus on the cross. I said, “No, I am a Christian.” So they ridiculed me and as with a show of contempt bumped me with their elbows as they went on their way.
I believe that dream was from God also. That He was graciously preparing me for some knocks and trials that were ahead in my life; but that is another story.
I was “born again” on December 4, 1978, at age 22, the night I said, “Yes.” To the invitation, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?”
Soon after my spiritual re-birth I believe God tested my faith with a challenge; "Did I love Him more than chess?" So I gave up my love of competitive and postal correspondence chess in order to study the Bible more diligently. Because I took that step of faith, I believe God gave me a deep love and reverence for His Word. Passages often "come alive" with meaning and relevance... even in today's world. Truly God's Word is timeless and living, infallible and eternal truth. For me it's always a joy and a great privilege to read and study the Word of God.
I only started playing chess again in 2002 when I discovered ICC through a google search.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Jesus) Revelation 3:20 NASV
“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind.” (Jesus) John 9:39 NASV
May God by His mercy and Grace open your eyes also.
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By Toby Landes (Timotheous)
I was raised as a Christian. From an early age, my mother read me Bible stories, taught me about Jesus and explained the message of Salvation. At 5 years old I was already a ‘born again’, ‘witnessing’ Christian. I spent my Sundays and Wednesday nights in church until the age of 23 when I moved to Dallas to go to work for Texas Instruments. I hired on as an electronics technician going to school at night working toward a degree in Electrical Engineering.
There I met a chemist who was probably one of the smartest people I had ever known. This guy not only had a Ph.D. but also had post-doctorate work in his particular area. We became friends. As it turned out, he was an atheist. Naturally our conversations eventually turned to religious matters and he questioned me as to why I believed in God. My only answers were:
1. My mother told me.
2. I had feeling of comfort and peace when I prayed.
3. I had seen people recover from illnesses after prayer. The recoveries had no explanation other than divine intervention.
These he dismissed saying,
1. “How could I know that what my mother had told me was true? What if she were wrong?”
2. “Our minds can produce any feelings we want. How do I know they came from God?”
3. “Our mental attitudes can produce amazing effects including healing processes. How do I know this wasn’t all I saw when I perceived ‘divine intervention’?”
After much debating, it became increasingly clear that I was not able to refute a single one of his alternatives. I simply could not adequately defend my belief in Christianity.
In time I got my degree and drifted away from the chemist. I found work as an engineer in another department. But the arguments he had raised stayed with me. It took some time but I finally realized that I had no reliable basis for my beliefs. I could not be sure that God existed. Of course I could not be sure that He did not exist either. This, I concluded, was the definition of an agnostic. So I figured that that was what I was.
At that time I made the decision to mentally make the transition from Christian to agnostic. But I prayed a prayer in case God were there. It went like this:
“God, I don’t know if You are there or not so I am now an agnostic. Please bring me back to You. If You are there I know that You will.”
I knew that if God existed, He would honor the prayer. But it was going to have to be a rigorous proof. I had no intention of being fooled again.
For the next ten years my life was chaotic at best. I had no real goals and no real purpose. With the faith that had guided my life gone, I tried new lifestyles and assumed new attitudes. My days were spent just trying to make a living and maintain some semblance of happiness. Always in the background was the vague knowledge that deep down I wanted to know for sure whether God existed or not.
At age 33 I decided that what would really give meaning to my life was to be a marriage counselor. Naturally this meant going back to college. I enrolled in a couple of night school psychology classes. One of these classes had a teacher who turned out to be an evangelical Christian. He didn’t mention this much in class, but somehow he seemed to zero in on me. Every night he would walk out to my car with me talking to me about God and about my lost faith. I couldn’t seem to get away from him. I also couldn’t get away from the ring of truth in his sincere convictions. Because of this experience I decided I just had to know what the truth was.
At the same time I had two engineering associates who I knew were Christians. Each of them recommended a book for me to read. One of them was Who Moved the Stone?, by Frank Morrison. The other was Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell. Normally I am not much of a reader but I began a study of these two books that would ultimately change the entire course of my life.
Frank Morrison was a lawyer in the early 1900s who, influenced by the critics of the day, set out to research the events surrounding the death of Christ so as to prove that His resurrection was a myth. He hit a snag when he got to the large stone or boulder that was placed at the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. If fact it was such an insurmountable snag that he reversed his direction and wrote the book mentioned above. In this book he systematically shows how the resurrection can be nothing short of miraculous.
I was impressed but not convinced. How were we sure that the historical records of these events were accurate? What about the possibility of aliens coming to earth who had vastly superior technology, etc.?
The other book was quite modern and significantly more technical. I wound up spending a couple of years ingesting and digesting the information presented. As a scientist, I approached this not necessarily as a skeptic but certainly from the standpoint that data in the form of substantiated facts, not theories or opinions, were required for me to consider them pertinent. My intention was to reach a logical conclusion about the existence of God.
I decided that part of my focus would be the Resurrection of Christ. It seemed obvious to me that this event, more than any other, substantiated the existence of God and His nature. At the time I felt that relying on the Bible for the facts about this was ludicrous on its face. Instead, I figured that non-Christian historians of the day would tend to be unbiased. I found that there were quite a few of these. The overwhelming consensus was that the disappearance of Jesus from the tomb was common knowledge at the time. But the ‘how’ was still obscure. There were also references to sightings of Jesus for some time after the resurrection but these tended to be hearsay and not particularly reliable. Most the eyewitnesses seemed to be those who wrote the Gospels or who were their intimate associates. The Bible seemed to have all the best information.
In the McDowell book there is a large section dealing with the history, reliability, and accuracy of the Bible. Of particular interest to me was the information dealing with the preservation of the four Gospels. Without going into details because they are too lengthy, I, as an engineer and scientist, became convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that the words we find in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts are reliable and accurate translations of those written by those four authors. I became convinced that the events we read about were exactly what they believed to be true. I became convinced all of the conversations and dialogs they wrote about actually took place. I became convinced that the words attributed to Jesus were essentially the words He spoke.
I now felt I had enough information to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the resurrection happened as depicted by the Gospels. But how? And more importantly why? I figured that it was possible that aliens with vastly superior intellect and technology had done all this for some unknown reason. Then I realized that the answer lay in the words of Jesus, accurately recorded by his disciples.
He said that He was God come to earth as man because He loves us.
He said He had come to save all people from the consequences of their unloving behavior.
He predicted that He would be killed by His enemies and would come back to life on the third day.
He said that He is the Way [door and safe passage to], the Truth [absence of error and method of achieving], and the Life [eternal and ongoing wellness and happiness].
This tied it together. These did not seem to be the words of an alien being. They were certainly not the words of a lunatic and there could be no purpose for Him to be lying.
I then conceived of the possible argument that the disciples had concocted a collection of stories in order to preserve the memory of their dead hero. These were dispelled by my reading a monograph by Simon Greenleaf, the famous Royal Professor of Law at Harvard University, entitled An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice. In this treatise he outlines that after Jesus’ ascension, His disciples continued to proclaim the facts they knew to be true. This they did with courage and vigor in the face of tremendous adversity, torments and horrendous deaths. They had every possible motive to carefully consider the grounds of their faith and to recant it if they did not know it to be true. If their testimony was not true, there was essentially no possible motive for its fabrication.
For me that was it. The logic was complete. I could not reasonably doubt the existence of God nor the truths asserted in the four Gospels. It has been over twenty years since that day that I knew that I knew it was true. In that time that knowledge has not wavered. Recently I was asked this question:
“Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?”
My answer, both on an emotional level and on an intellectual level, is categorically, “Yes!”
For an outline of my logic and the entire Greenleaf treatise please go to http://www.tlmk.net/LogicalPath.html.