Last Wednesday night at Surfside PCA, our church enjoyed a very powerful communion service. Many of our people, including me, were impacted by the careful contemplation of Christ’s work on the Cross. The next morning one of our elders, shared his feelings with me in an e-mail. He said, “Last night was a very special night. I found myself waking up a lot last night, dwelling on the crucifixion.” Wow. What a powerful statement.
As Easter approached, I began thinking about what my elder had shared with me. I found myself longing to know Christ in a deeper way. I began to pray that Christ would help me to identify with him in his sufferings. I prayed several heartfelt prayers on Thursday and Friday, asking Jesus to help me to appreciate how much he sacrificed in order to provide me with the gift of himself. As I went to bed Friday night I decided that I would begin fasting on Saturday as one more way to reflect on Christ’s passion. I also felt that this fast would prepare my heart to preach the 8am service on Easter morning at Surfside Pres. On Saturday morning I began to work my plan. I woke up early to pray and think on the scriptures. That morning, I worked in the yard, then returned to the scriptures to read “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” At noon, I worked in the garage, then sat down to read in Matthew, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Around 2pm, I went over to the church to shoot hoops by myself – praying and thinking. I jogged around the church building several times. Breathing hard and sweating, I sat down and considered Paul’s words from Philippians 3 – my central text for Easter morning’s sermon, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings“.
I went back home and showered. I returned to the the church with my sister Samantha, who was visiting from Georgia. We were piddling around, making small talk, and doing this and that. Straightening my office. Working on a few odds and ends. Then something felt a little funny in my lower back. A twinge…and then a tightening sensation around my side and into my lap. I adjusted myself. Could it be? Then it happened. An old familiar feeling. A sharp pain ripped up through my lower back. A kidney stone. I’ve had two kidney stones before. But right at that moment, I knew that this one was going to be different. This one had a message.
An hour later, I was on my way to the emergency room. I sat down in front of the receptionist and began to feel the wretched tightening. Then “bam-bam”! Two excruciating deep stabs into my lower left side. “Oh my God!” I blurted loudly, the innocuous curse escaping my lips before I could stop myself. I grabbed awkwardly at my back. The receptionist was shocked. “You okay, sir?” Holding my lips tight together, I managed to squeeze out “ah…its…ah…kidney…stone.” She grimaced. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” After giving my personal information, Martha Jo and I took our seat at the rear of a very crowded waiting room. There were at least thirty patients in front of us. There was a father, holding his son. They two of them had been in a car wreck and the boy looked as though he might have a broken leg. There was a woman sitting in a wheel chair, rocking back and forth as a way to deal with her pain. There was large man hopping up to the receptionist on one leg. There was a young woman sitting in handcuffs beside a police officer. A ragtag bunch of sick people, all waiting for a doctor. Nurses ran back and forth and shouted out names. We sat there for about forty minutes.
I winced hard and moaned deeply as the tiny little barbed stone cut its own road through my kidneys. Beads of sweat popped out all over my forehead. My clothes were soaked. For whatever reason, all the spit evaporated out of my mouth. Martha Jo, ever vigilant, bought me an apple juice and sat beside me, ready to do whatever she could. I broke into cold chills. “Timothy Melton?” I went to the front where an RN took down more information and gave me a small clear cup. I knew what to do. I went into the restroom and filled the cup. As I screwed the cap back on I could not help but notice the color of my urine. It was the color of cranberry juice – a dark red mixture of urine and blood. I stood at the sink holding the cup in front of me, my pasty white reflection staring at the liquid. Three nights before, during our communion service, I had seen the same color liquid. “Lord, help me to identify with You in Your sufferings.”
I made my way back to my seat in the rear of the waiting room where Martha Jo and I would wait another forty minutes. After a bit, the stone relented, giving me a much needed moment of respite. Worn out and dizzy, I shared with Martha Jo what I had prayed last Wednesday night. And I prayed that prayer again just hours before while shooting hoops in the church parking lot. “Lord, help me to identify with You in your sufferings.”
God had answered my prayer. Not the way I wanted. Not the way I ever would have dreamed. Passing a kidney stone is a horrible experience. When I passed my first stone, about 15 years ago, I lost consciousness twice. My urologist later told me that a kidney stone, in its worst cases, causes the kind of pain one would experience at death. “It is like death, without dying,” he said. I have a female friend who had birthed twin. She told me that the pain of her kidney stone far outweighed the pain of childbirth. Hard to believe.
For the past two days, I have been suffering with this kidney stone. I would never in a million years choose to have this pain. It’s horrible. There’s just nothing like it. When the pain is at its apex, there simply is nothing you can do to get comfortable. To make matters worse, the pain medication that I’m taking has given me a relentless case of hiccups along with a good dose of constipation, just to round things out. So here I am, writhing and hic-upping and needing to have a bowel movement. I haven’t been able to sleep. I’ve thrown up several times. I’m exhausted. And yet…
And yet, I have family and friends around me who minister to me and serve me. I can lay down on a soft bed with a heating pad on my back. I have received countless notes of encouragement via e-mail and text messages. I have pain medication. I have cranapple juice poured in a glass with ice chips. I have the prayers of my church. This morning, I watched a beautiful sunrise that emerged from the horizon and shed rays of beauty over the pond in my back yard. All day today, I sat in my backyard, enjoying the weather in front of that pond, taking in the natural beauty that is Myrtle Beach this time of year. A mother mallard and her seven little chicks swam past me, a sign of spring and new life. This evening, I’m sitting in my soft lazy boy chair. My son, Camp is beside me. We are watching television together. In a few days, this tiny stone will pass away and my pain will leave with it. Yes, I know that there is more pain ahead. This will probably not be my last kidney stone. And one day, the pain and suffering of life will have its way completely, and I will move from this life to the next.
But my death will not be the end of my story. Jesus has made sure of that. He willingly chose to suffer and die for me. The pain that I have now, in this kidney stone, is in no way worthy to be compared with the agony of the Cross. He endured this agony so that I might be rescued from death and the Wrath of God. I cannot even begin to imagine the horrible suffering that Christ went through. And yet…
And yet, Jesus has been pleased to allow me to share in his sufferings, to get a taste of what he went through. The past two days, I have been given a slight suggestion of his pain. Nothing more than Pictures really. Snapshots that are all weaving a tapestry inside my mind: The stabbing pain in my side and back. The cold beads of perspiration collecting along my forehead. A loud shout of ‘O my God’! A cup of blood. A stone. A waiting room filled with sick people, cripples, prostitutes and prisoners – all in need of a physician. Prayers whispered in pain. Then this morning, there was the sunrise of Easter. The promise of resurrection and new life. The love of the Beloved. And the Spirit of Christ, walking with me all the way, pointing my eyes in the right direction, making sure that I pay attention, and helping me to remember the prayer I prayed last Wednesday night – “Lord, help me to identify with You in your sufferings.”
Even as I write this last line, I feel the dreaded tightening in my back that indicates the coming of yet another pain-filled episode. And so I whisper gently, “Thank you Lord Jesus. Thank you for answered prayer and sanctifying Kidney Stones.”