Spoonfuls of Courage: Seven Inspiring Stories for Everyday Living
Copyright 2017 by Charles W. Page MD
Scripture quotations denoted my NAS are taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1997, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.
Scripture quotations denoted by NIV are taken from the New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by the permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Camino Real Publishers
Nacogdoches, TX 7596p
ISBN 0-9831381-9-2 (e-book version)
ISBN 978-0-9831381-9-8 (e-book version)
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Everyone has a story. Not all, but some are worth telling. Having practiced surgery for almost twenty years, I have learned lessons from my patients. I have seen everyday people respond in extraordinary ways. I have learned from their example to see challenges, adversity, and suffering through a different set of lenses.
When we hear how other people respond in their circumstances, we sometimes realize our problems are not as bad as we first imagined. Our focus changes. We understand that we are not the only people going through tough times. We are not alone.
The stories you are about to read are real. The names have been changed and their circumstances tweaked to protect their confidentiality.
There are millions of challenges we face in life, but only one solution. The answer for adversity—whatever size or shape—comes when we believe God’s promises, embrace our difficulties, and change our focus. When we learn to demonstrate God’s adequacy, goodness and faithfulness through our tough circumstances, we experience abundance, joy, and victory.
We don’t need more information in our nanosecond world. We need courage, strength, and faith in a God who loves us more than we love ourselves. This work aims to give small easy to swallow doses of truth from the Scriptures, one spoonful at a time.
[_This compilation addresses three kinds of challenges people experience: the sick and suffering, prayer challenged people, and parents trying to raise their kids in this anything goes culture. _]
Enjoy and be strengthened. Take courage. Remember: Your greatest challenges may be your biggest blessings.
Spoonfuls of Courage:
Seven Inspiring Stories of Faith for Everyday Living
How to find peace in difficult times
Tips on how to endure those seasons of silence
How giving of ourselves brings life, joy, and purpose
How freedom comes by acknowledging our inadequacies
How to draw on our greatest strength in times of adversity
Some marks to aim for in raising teenagers
Some principles to remember when raising your kids
Things are never as bad as they seem: The courage to choose peace
We don’t need to fret the storm beating down on our boat, when we know the One who holds the sea in His hand.
When I entered the room, I didn’t have to ask Maria how she was doing. Her body language told the story. She fidgeted with her cell phone, tapped the bottom of the bed with her foot, and nervously pushed the buttons on the hospital’s TV control. I wanted to stamp her diagnosis on her forehead: Stressed out.
Maria grimaced. A sour expression came upon her face. “The gynecologist says I have an ovarian mass. They think it’s cancer.” Her husband’s cell phone interrupted our conversation. She placed her hand on her stomach, winced in pain, and grabbed the phone from his hand. “Give me that.”
Maria spoke into the phone. “I have cancer.” Her lip quivered and then her voice cracked. “They are doing exploratory surgery in the morning.”
Maria’s phone interruption gave her husband Rick a chance to talk. “Sorry, doctor. My wife’s normally sweeter than peach tea. She’s got a lot on her mind.”
Maria finished her call and gave the cell phone back to her husband. “Rick, your sister has the kids.”
Puzzled, because they were in their late sixties, I asked, “Who’s kids?”
Maria bit one of her fingernails. “We are raising our grandkids till our daughter is released from prison. This is the worst time to get sick. They have basketball and soccer after school.” A tear trickled down Maria’s cheek. “I never thought I’d be raising kids again.”
I struggled to steer Maria into telling me about her medical history. She talked about everything but her physical ailments. Family problems. Financial burdens. Finally, after getting the information I needed, I sat down at the foot of the bed. “Maria, most of the things we worry about never happen. And if they do, they are never as bad as we imagine. Don’t you remember what happened seven years ago?”
Maria nodded her head. “Of course I do. You removed my colon cancer. But the chemo was the hardest part. I lost my hair.”
I nodded. “You lost your hair—for a little while, but you didn’t lose your life. You suffered only for a season.” I looked at Maria. My pep talk was working. “Did things turn out as bad as you thought they would?”
Maria exhaled. “You’re right. I was a basket case when you told me I had colon cancer. But God saw me through. And you were right, things did not turn out like I imagined. I beat cancer the first time, and I can beat it again.”
Then Rick chimed in. “Maria, what if you don’t have cancer? If it is ovarian cancer, maybe they can remove it all in surgery.”
Rick grabbed Maria’s hand. “Let’s don’t worry about the grandkids. If you get sick, God will provide someone to take care of them. God always, somehow, works out everything for us.”
I sat and listened to Rick and Maria express one positive comment after another. Maria and Rick began to count their blessings. Their fear evolved into confidence. Their doubt changed into faith. Their worry transformed into peace. Thankfulness replaced self-pity.
I walked out of their hospital room, marveled at their change in focus, and thought to myself. I’ll have to use that line more often, “Most of the things we worry about never happen. And if they do, they are never as bad as we anticipated.” Maria’s irritability, pain, and discouragement had been replaced with peace, joy, and thankfulness. I suggested a change of focus. They did the rest. One little statement changed her whole attitude. One spoonful of encouragement completely changed Maria’s whole outlook.
Don’t Let Skin get in the Way of a Diagnosis
The following morning, we took Maria to surgery. We hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst. Would we find a large malignant ovary, an abdomen filled with metastatic cancer? Upon entering her belly, we were surprised. We removed a large ovary, filled with blood, twisted on itself. A benign ovarian torsion. No malignancy. Maria received a quick, straightforward surgery. We closed her abdomen, laughed, and reminded ourselves, “Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.”
You Must Draw It Out
Typically, we think living peacefully occurs in the absence of adversity. Peace equals no problems and no pain. But the tranquility Jesus gives transcends our situations. This gift isn’t grounded on conditions or based upon the lack of problems. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27, NIV).
Don’t Pray for Peace
You don’t need to pray for peace. You already have it. Christians often ask for things which their heavenly Father has already given in abundant supply. If you have received Christ, the Holy Spirit abides within. Although you may be unaware, you have a peace which surpasses understanding. God has already given you an ocean of peace to drink from in your time of need, deposited when you received the Spirit. Draw on it. Instead of asking for something you already have, ask God to help you appropriate the peace you have already received through the finished work of Christ.
Our Difficulties are Never as Bad as We Think
When going through trouble our mind multiplies our problems and minimizes our blessings. We create problems and situations which may never even happen. We imagine the worst the possible scenario. We let our hearts trouble us with doubt, fear, and discouragement. We allow worry to creep in and steal the peace Jesus has deposited. When worry invades your thinking, remind yourself, things are never as bad as they appear. God is in control. He has plan for your good and for His glory. God will either deliver you from your circumstance or give you the courage to endure whatever comes your way. Either way, God has your back. He guarantees it. So why worry?
Don’t Borrow Trouble
No thief is greater than the one called borrowed trouble. He fills our mind with things which may happen. He encourages us to meditate on our potential problems. Preoccupied with the what-if’s, our ability to carry out the tasks at hand weakens. All the while, he swindles our joy, faith, and contentment. Once we are distracted, he robs our tranquility, stealing today’s peace, replacing it with worry, dread, and fear. Borrowed trouble swindles the Christian out of their greatest asset: the ability to hear God’s voice, fellowship with Him, and face the issues which need our attention.
Don’t borrow trouble. Don’t allow it to enter your mind. Today has enough trouble to address. Jesus promised if we will focus on today’s real challenges, tomorrow’s potential problems will take care of themselves. Instead of thinking about what may happen tomorrow, focus on the things you need to do today.
Meditation Drives Worry Away
A mind filled with peace, displaces worry. When worry fills your mind, meditate. Focus on good, pure, and excellent things. Saturate your mind with God’s blessings. Be thankful in your circumstances. When you do, those distracting thoughts will flee from your mind. You are strengthened to do the real tasks which need to be done, today.
We forget what we should remember and we remember what we should forget. We forget God’s promises and remember our problems. Reverse your focus. When going through challenging circumstances, remember God’s faithfulness—the ways He has showed up in your past. The fractured relationships, He has restored. The answered prayers, God has answered. The unexpected blessings which appeared out of nowhere. Think of the people who were there to encourage you in your past trials. When we reflect on God’s character, faithfulness, and intervention in our past, our problems are soon forgotten.
When worry knocks on your door and threatens your peace, close the door. Don’t let it into your mind. Don’t surrender the blessing of calm contentment you have received. Draw deeply from God’s tranquil ocean of peace. Meditate on God’s unchanging promises. Don’t let anyone take away the joy you have been given. Be thankful. And most of all: choose peace.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:4, NIV).
Living in the In-between: The Courage to Wait
Waiting on God, especially in our seasons of silence, brings great blessings.
When I finished my surgical training I never imagined that caring for bedsores in a nursing home could be so fulfilling. I once lived for the drama of trauma. For years I loved the challenging, chaotic, and complicated problems. But age changes priorities. I’ve been there, done that. The slow pace of the old and often forgotten gives me time to hear their stories.
On one particular day, I walked down the nursing home hallway wondering if Max’s wounds had improved. Bedsores heal slowly.
When I entered the room, the deafening sound of the television almost knocked me over. Ethel sat in her chair, comforting her husband, turning her best ear towards the TV. She leaned toward Max, resting her hand on his shoulder. With her other hand, she clicked the buttons on the remote control.
With a loud voice, I interrupted. “What’s on the TV today, Ethel?”
“Gunsmoke. Just reruns.” She turned down the volume, put down the control and helped turn her husband.
Max’s stroke paralyzed one side of his body. He rarely spoke because of his aphasia, a condition where a stroke injures the speech apparatus of the brain. We rolled Max over on his side to examine his bedsores.
Max let out a stream of profanities, commanding us to stop.
Ethel gave me an apologetic look. “I’m so sorry. Max never said a bad word in his life—until the stroke. He’s the best man I know.”
Max spewed another battery of foul words.
Ethel grabbed Max’s hand, giving him a stern scowl. “Stop that. We don’t talk that way.”
With haste, I finished my examination and rolled Max down into a comfortable position. The cussing stopped. Max slipped back into his happy place.
Ethel smiled, shook my hand, and sat back in her chair. “Till death do us part.”
I looked at the couple and wondered why Ethel lived at his bedside. Max’s stroke left him a vegetable. He had no perception of his surroundings. He never spoke intelligible words except dirty ones if someone other than Ethel touched him. Max didn’t know much else and didn’t care.
I gazed at Ethel, sitting in her chair, reassuring Max that everything was okay. I knew why Ethel stayed with her afflicted husband. With each prior visit, I had pieced together their story.
Every time I came, Ethel told little snippets of their life together. Sixty years of marriage. Ethel’s first husband died when she was nineteen. For a short time, she struggled alone, a widowed teenager raising two toddlers. When Max came along everything changed. Max and Ethel faced life—together. Max helped Ethel through a difficult season. Now Ethel was returning the favor.
I gave Ethel a kiss on the forehead, turned, and moved towards the door. When I reached the threshold, I heard Max stutter: “E…E…Eth…Ethel…Ethel.”
To my knowledge, these were the only intelligible words Max had spoken since his stroke. I turned back around and looked at Ethel. Her somber expression changed to one of joy. Tears ran down her face. Ethel didn’t have to say anything. Her smile told us what she was thinking.
Max’s words were worth the wait. She wouldn’t have missed them for anything.
Waiting to Hear God’s Voice
Living in an on-demand culture programs believers into thinking the same about God. We want to hear God’s voice and we want Him to speak to us—now—on our terms. How often do we give up praying because we think God is silent or doesn’t care? We lift up our requests, share our burdens, and nothing seems to happen. Nothing changes. We endure the same challenging circumstances with no apparent answer. We begin to think something must be wrong with us. Or that maybe God’s promises aren’t true.
We need to learn a lesson from Ethel, sitting by her husband’s side. Our loyalty, faithfulness, and patience are never overlooked by God. He’s always there with us. We need to give God time. If we wait long enough, we will hear Him speak our name.
Learn from Abraham
When we read the story of Abraham, we see the many times God showed up in His life. In each chapter of Abraham’s story, God spoke in a real, tangible way: in God’s call to leave his homeland; God’s reassurance of land and descendants; the Lord’s visit to Abram’s tent, foretelling the birth of a son; the angel’s intervention prior to the sacrifice of Isaac on the mountain. Sometimes, we get the impression that God was always speaking to the patriarch.
But we fail to think about the in-between times. In between each chapter in Genesis, years pass by. Silence. The monotonous interludes. Tending of sheep. Living in tents. Searching for water and grass in the desert. When we read the life of Abraham, we read only the highlights. We forget about the dull intervals in between. Those routine vanilla flavored days. The mundane times when nothing happened.
The Purpose of Waiting
I believe the in between times were more significant than the times God showed up. In those periods of silence, God forged Abraham’s faith. God used the everyday, humdrum life of the patriarch to transform his desires, develop his character, and strengthen his faith. Like Ethel, Abraham learned the value of waiting. In those long, uneventful intervals, Abraham learned to see the unseen and to believe the unbelievable.
Changing our expectations
Waiting on God is not a passive act. Waiting requires action. We listen for His voice. We anticipate His movement. We prepare ourselves to be ready. We believe His promises and claim them for our own. We continue doing the things which God has set before us. We cannot check out when God is silent and then somehow expect to check back in when God shows up. God doesn’t work that way. When we adopt this approach to the in-between times, we often miss out on those moments. When God shows up, we are gone. Like Ethel, like Abraham, we must stay in the game. We must be faithful, stay close and wait to hear His voice.
“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God beside you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” (Is. 64:4, NIV).
Pecans in Heaven: The Courage to Give Life to Others
Everyone will die one day, but not everyone will truly live.
I first met Katherine in the emergency room. She had an infection on her breast. Her problem was not an emergency, as her condition had already been festering for months. Her daughters, startled by the grotesque looking mass on her chest, whisked her away to be seen immediately. But Katherine was in no hurry. She knew the diagnosis already.
When I voiced my concerns about her cancer, she seemed indifferent. She comforted her adult children. “Everything is okay. I will be all right.” Then, out of nowhere she asked what seemed like a silly question. “Can I pick pecans in the morning?”
Her daughters, frustrated by their mother’s indifference, asked lots of questions. “How long, Doctor, has this cancer been present?”
I looked at Katherine’s innocent expression. “Several years.”
To everyone’s surprise, Katherine consented to the usual treatments: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation. But she endured it for a different reason. She underwent treatment not for herself, but for her children. Over time I began to understand her. She was not indifferent, indecisive, or noncompliant. She simply didn’t think of herself at all. Her depth of spiritual maturity had progressed to a level where life centered around others, not herself.
With each visit to my office she brought a gift in a paper sack. “Thank you, doctor. Here’s a sack of pecans, picked them in the Angelina River Bottom.”
Katherine never asked questions about her cancer, her prognosis, or her treatment options. Our discussions revolved around her ability to pick pecans on the river. For Katherine, life was about living. And life flowed from her time at the river. The muddy Angelina river bottom was her chapel; her place to pray, meditate, and think of ways to spread life. Katherine’s greatest joy came from her daily walks by the riverbank, gathering pecans, and enjoying time with the Lord.
During this time, my own mother developed lung cancer. I watched her shrivel like a raisin with each dose of chemotherapy. My mother’s situation left me discouraged, frustrated, and feeling utterly helpless. I performed life-saving operations for others, but could do nothing for the one I loved most.
However, God scheduled a divine appointment for a discouraged doctor. A heavenly cure for my self-pity. My cure came in little sacks of pecans. One day Katherine came into the exam room, placed the pecans in my hands, and started her interrogation.
“Your nurse told me about your mother’s cancer. How is she? I’ve been praying for her down by the river.”
I opened the sack of pecans and cracked one open with my boot. “Thank you, I love pecans.”
I looked at Katherine’s face, full of contentment, joy, and life. I had never made the connection before, but when I looked at her face, I saw my mother. In a strange sort of way, I was helping my mother by helping Katherine. I encouraged myself thinking that maybe someone extended grace towards my mother. They were doing what I could not do, giving what I could not give. Perhaps my mother, like Katherine, returned the favor, giving life, comfort and strength to some discouraged health care worker. An unending cycle of giving and living.
Over the next year, Katherine’s medical appointments became times of fellowship and encouragement for the both of us. Her conversation gravitated to my mother and her progress. Katherine’s concern for my mother defied explanation. Why would someone dying from metastatic cancer be concerned about someone else’s chemotherapy? Who was helping whom? Instead of giving to Katherine, I seemed to be on the receiving side.
Katherine’s battle with cancer paralleled my mother’s. The day came when Katherine had to be admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. I stopped by on rounds for a visit. “Katherine, where are my pecans?”
She coughed and did her best to smile. “I’ll bring you some when I get out of here.” I knew how Katherine’s story would play out. We both knew her time was coming. I watched Katherine and noticed her friendly grin becoming more serious. “It’s getting close, isn’t it, doctor? By the way, how is your mother doing?”
I sighed. “She’s in hospice now. The chemo isn’t working anymore.”
“She’s gonna be fine. I will pray for her.” Katherine coughed again. “I’m ready to go, doctor. Don’t let them put me on a breathing machine. Let me go when it’s my time.”
I paused. “I will. Katherine, did you know that my mother loves pecans?”
“Imagine that,” she said sarcastically. “I’ll pick her a bag too.”
It wasn’t long until both Katherine and my mother passed into eternity. The following year, I walked into my office to find a garbage bag filled with pecans sitting on my desk. Fastened on top of the bag was a card addressed: from Heaven. I rocked back in my chair, cracked a pecan, and read the postcard. “We promised Mother that we would bring you some. One of her last wishes was to bring you fresh pecans every year.” I peeled off the hull, enjoyed a piece of heaven, and thought about Katherine, my mother, and the events of the past year.
I thought about heaven. The Scriptures tell of a place in eternity, a spot with a flowing river, a tree bearing all kinds of fruit, a place of healing. When I think of that spot by the river, I see my mother, Katherine, and others I know. I believe they are there. They experience complete healing, wholeness, peace, and joy, living in God’s presence. They walk by the water, pick the fruit from the tree, and fellowship together. I believe there are pecans in heaven.
Let it Flow
Rivers have little control over where they run. Sometimes they course down the path of least resistance. And other times they beat against the hard places. The gentle flow of water pushes on the rocks which hinder its forward progress, until finally they give way. Let God’s river of life flow through you, without reservation, without discrimination, without fear. Like Katherine, God will use you the most when you recognize it the least. Heaven only knows the influence you can have on others. Release your abundance. Let it flow through you, in spite of your feelings, discomfort, and challenges. Think of others more than yourself. Consider their interests before your own.
Living by Giving
The unexpected happens when we release what we have received in Christ. Instead of losing what we have, we receive more life. Living comes through giving.
Katherine learned to live by giving what she had received—little sacks of pecans. Though her body wasted away, consumed by cancer, her spirit flourished. Dying, yet living. Wasting away on the outside, but living the abundant life within. Sick, yet experiencing health.
Everyone has something to give. Katherine gave a bag of pecans. Give what you have, experience life and watch it nourish others. Don’t dam up your stream.
“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” (John 4:13-14, NIV).
Pants on the Ground: The Courage to be Vulnerable
In the middle of surgery, the unthinkable happened.
I was in the middle of a mastectomy for breast cancer. Prior to the mishap, the operation progressed in the usual, routine fashion. The anesthesiologist hid behind the curtain, peering at his Facebook page. The squiggly lines on the heart monitor lulled him into boredom. The circulator clicked buttons on the computer, occasionally asking questions about the antibiotics, start times, and other minutia.
Concentrating on the task at hand, I placed sutures in the breast mass, orienting it for pathology. “Long—lateral. Short—superior. Double stitch—deep.”
“Double D?” asked the circulator.
I shook my head. “No. I’m talking about the orientation on the breast specimen. Two double stitches have been placed on the deep margin.”
I handed off the specimen, irrigated out the wound and began to close. Then the catastrophe hit.
My scrub pants fell to the floor.
Goosebumps covered my legs. I took a quick glimpse down at my feet, confirming my fears. Then, I looked around the room. Everyone kept working. They were unaware their surgeon had no pants on. Fortunately, I stood on the far side of the table, away from everyone else. I peered over the curtain at anesthesia, trying to deflect everyone’s focus elsewhere. “How’s everything going?”
“Great,” the anesthetist responded. “I’m gonna wake her up.”
“Carry-on,” I muttered.
I surveyed the room again. No one realized my chicken legs were exposed. My surgical gown draped my body. I stitched the deeper layer closed, thinking about how to get myself out of my mess—without anyone knowing.
Having your pants fall in the middle of surgery poses quite a dilemma. The obvious remedy, reaching down and pulling your pants up, is not an option. If I reached down and yanked up my britches, then I would have contaminated both myself and the patient. If I stepped away from the table, removed my surgical gown, and pulled up my scrubs, I would have suffered a more horrific fate. Exposing my condition in the operating would have lived far past the moment. For the rest of my career, everyone who worked in the operating room would have called me Dr. Pants on the Ground Page.
I closed the skin, assessed my priorities, and thought about how to save face. I wondered what kind of underwear I was wearing. By the time the case finished, I had a plan. When the dressing was placed on the incision, I pointed to the wall. “Look. There’s a roach on the wall.”
For a nanosecond, everyone turned, trying to find the roach which wasn’t there. I pulled up my bottoms, sighed in relief and gave myself a pat on the back. My diversion worked. No one would ever have to know about my close call.
Before I left the room, the anesthesiologist gave me a thumb up. “Excellent job.” A mischievous grin covered his face. “By the way, I hope you tie your knots on your patients better than you do with those scrubs of yours.”
I turned and left the room. He knew what happened, but didn’t say a word.
How to Approach Exposure
You never know when you’re gonna get caught with your pants down. Times of exposure come at the most unexpected times. How do we respond when those embarrassing moments present themselves? What do we do when our naked, ugly self has been displayed for all to see?
Don’t Hide from God
We shouldn’t try to ignore, hide, or explain ourselves in the sight of God. God knows everything about us: our faults, failures, fears, and feelings. He knows our circumstances better than we do. Since the dawn of time, mankind has been trying to cover up its inadequacies. Our schemes to hide our true selves never work. We can fool others, and even ourselves, but we cannot fool God. So, let’s stop trying. God has a better way.
Vulnerability Begets Acknowledgement
Being exposed can be the safest place on the planet. Think about it. A sense of freedom exists, knowing we have nothing to hide. When everything’s out on the table, nothing else can hurt us. We don’t have to worry about what others think. Although the truth hurts, we are positioned for change.
When you come to the end of yourself you are in good company. Peter exposed his inadequacy when he denied Jesus. After his exposure, the self-confident, self-assured, self-seeking disciple could not hide. Peter’s pants were on the ground. When the cock crowed for third time, everything changed.
Acknowledgement Brings Transformation
Something wonderful happened to Peter in his time of vulnerability. He realized that in his own strength, he could never live up to his own expectations—let alone God’s. Peter didn’t hang himself, like Judas. He journeyed through guilt, shame, and grief to a better place. But how? How did this transformation occur?
Peter had witnessed the impossible become possible. The resurrection. Just as Christ’s death led to victory, Peter’s death to self gave rise to a newness of living. In this life, Christ could do for Peter what he could not do for himself. Peter agreed with God about himself, fessed up and started over. But this time, Peter embraced the life of Christ living through him.
Transformation Brings Freedom
Peter learned to live the exchanged life. The old Peter had died to his aspirations, confidence, and abilities. Now Christ could live through him, achieving what Peter could never attain on his own. The disciple no longer had to pretend to be something he wasn’t. Peter was loosed from self-condemnation, free to fulfill his purpose. Forgiven. Restored. Peter had been freed to live as the man God created him to be.
Your Hands and His Hands: The Courage to Ask for Strength
When we draw on God’s source of power, our hands are strengthened, giving us the ability to do the impossible.
The operating room bustled with intensity. The medical team prepared the patient for surgery. I wrote orders, put the x-rays on display, and talked to a floor nurse on the phone.
Exhausted after living in the hospital for three days, I wondered how I could survive another second without sleep. As the case progressed, people higher up on the surgical ladder appeared. First the Thoracic resident, finishing his seventh year of postgraduate training, came to make the incision. Next, came the attending, a renowned heart surgeon with thirty years of experience. He dissected out the structures in the neck, exposing the carotid artery and all its tributaries. Being at the bottom of the surgical hierarchy, I held a retractor and tried to make myself invisible. With each new surgeon scrubbing into the operation, I moved farther away from the operation.
Finally, the OR doors swung open. The hero swaggered in, like a cowboy entering the bar in a Wild West movie. For a moment, silence filled the room. An old man in his late eighties, strode into the room, wearing an odd-looking pair of white boots. The soles on the boots, which were six inches high, detracted from his five-foot-two frame.
This was Dr. Michael Ellis Debakey. The mastermind behind MASH hospitals. The inventor of the heart-lung machine. The pioneer of complex aortic aneurysm repairs. The one who blazed the trail in heart surgery, artificial hearts, and cardiac transplants. Even his initials—MED—portrayed his competence. In his time, when people thought of medicine, the name Debakey entered their mind.
I watched him gown himself and totter forward. He shoved his way into the crowd of surgeons and took control. Now displaced from the surgery, I stretched my arm, trying not to let go of the retractor. I stood behind Dr. Debakey unable to see the operative site. Debakey repositioned my hand to better expose the neck.
“If you move, you can pack your bags.”
I stood like a statue, doing my best to remain unnoticed. Without notice, Debakey looked at me with his cold black eyes. His facial expression soured. “Have you found those x-rays?”
I remembered the previous day. The radiologist had forgotten to take a specific view which Debakey wanted. To save face, the radiologist blamed his mistake on me—the intern. Now all eyes had turned away from the surgery towards me. The rest of the team knew what had happened, but no one dared to speak up. I had been thrown under the bus.
Like a browbeaten soldier in boot camp, I answered, “No sir.”
“Are you incompetent? Or do you simply not care?”
I didn’t know how to answer. Trying not to incriminate myself, I remained silent. Debakey grumbled under his mask and returned to operating. The noticeable tremor in his aged hands disappeared as he opened the vessel. With poise and grace, he scraped the plaque off the inside of the artery, like stripping off the peel of an orange.
The monotonous beeping of the heart monitor sounded like a lullaby in my sleep-deprived ears. I yawned and looked at the observation room above the operating table. Spectators peered down through the window, studying our every move, watching the surgical legend perform an operation he pioneered fifty years ago. A Carotid Endarterectomy. I wondered why I did not share their enthusiasm. I was supposedly living the dream of many surgeons.
I pulled on the retractor like a water-skier holding on to the bar. A sense of dread filled my mind. I thought about the forty sick patients needing my attention outside the floor. If something happened to one of them while I was in the operating room, I would be held responsible. I thought about the foot films that never existed, the ones Dr. Debakey had blamed me for losing. How could I be blamed for something beyond my ability to control?
While a multitude of thoughts plagued my mind, I felt a hand squeeze mine.
“Boy. You better pay attention. Pull on that retractor.”
My body jerked. My mind came back into focus. For a moment, I dozed off. I had fallen asleep—standing up, holding a retractor, in the middle of surgery, in front of the man who threatened to hold my paycheck. My spirit was willing, as they say, but my flesh was weak. Fortunately, I was the only one aware of my power nap.
Dr. Debakey mumbled through his mask, talking in his weird Cajun-Lebanese drawl. “Boy. Do you know the difference between my hands and your hands?”
He stopped the operation and glared at me. “Answer my question. What is the difference between your hands and my hands?”
The old man continued operating. “The difference between my hands and your hands is the brain behind my hands.”
Over the years, I have pondered the meaning behind Dr. Debakey’s question. The source of our strength matters. Simply put, some have more brains behind their hands—more skill, training, capacity, insight, intelligence, and experience. But eventually, everyone comes to the point where their own abilities are not enough. What then?
What is the source of our strength? What empowers us to perform the tasks we are called to do?
The Source of Our Strength
If we depend upon our own skills, determination, and abilities to carry out our mission, then we will come up short. God never intended for us to live the Christian life based upon our own strength. God never intended for his followers to live the Christian life in their own power, doing His work through their hands. Victory begins by living the exchanged life—not I, but Christ—living through me. Working with our own hands, we will experience stress, fatigue, and frustration. However, if we stop working in our own power, focus upon God’s inexhaustible supply of grace, and draw upon His strength, we will be unstoppable.
The source of our strength determines our effectiveness.
What is Our Source?
Nehemiah knew the difference between his hands and everyone else’s. His strength lay in the source which strengthened his hands. When he put his hands to the work of rebuilding the broken walls of Jerusalem, he depended on God’s grace, power, and strength working through his life. During great opposition, he drew upon the source of his strength. Nehemiah made a simple but profound request:
“Lord, strengthen my hands.” (Neh. 6:10, NIV).
Not My Head
The wise leader didn’t ask for enlightenment. God already gave him a clear vision—the plan, the resources, and the opportunity to rebuild the wall. Nehemiah knew what to do and how to do it. Nehemiah needed God to intervene and work through his life—immeasurably more than he could ask or think.
When facing challenging circumstances, we don’t need another vision. We need resilience. We should ask for the ability to carry on with the task to which God has called us. The obstacles before us suggest we need to change course, to move in another direction, to change our vision. In spite of this, the reverse is true. The opposition exists because we are moving in the right direction. Evil naturally opposes the possibility of change for the good. Obstacles before us indicate we are making a difference. Instead of quitting, we must strengthen our resolve. God never said rebuilding what is broken would be easy. We should expect opposition. We mustn’t quit. We shouldn’t ask for a new vision, when God has already given us specifics. We must stay the course, until God changes it.
Not My Heart
Nehemiah didn’t pray for encouragement. He had already experienced a great measure of success. Favor with the King. Resources for the construction of the wall. An uneventful journey to Jerusalem. A remnant willing and able to rebuild the wall. An enterprise which had already overcome several obstacles and challenges. At this point in the work, the wall had almost been completed. Nehemiah saw God’s reputation being restored, and Jerusalem, the city of God, protected from its enemies, displaying God’s faithfulness, adequacy, and goodness to the nations.
Strengthen My Hands
Instead of enlightenment or encouragement, Nehemiah prayed for empowerment. He asked for endurance to carry on with the work. He trusted, not in his own hands, but God’s. In the middle of setbacks, He drew on the ultimate source of strength. He asked for God’s power to be displayed through his life. He prayed for strength of hand—the mental capacity, leadership skills, and the determination—to finish the task set before him.
When we face opposition, adversity, or trials, we should pray for strength of hand. Asking to be empowered by the Spirit. Ask for God’s might to move through our lives and into our work. We need to look to the source of our strength. And expect God’s power to move through our life into our work.
“I love you, LORD, my strength.” (Ps. 18:1, NIV).
Lawnmowers, Old Trucks, and Skid Marks: The Courage to Let Go
Don’t you wish kids were like an old truck, coming with an owner’s manual to tell you exactly what to do in specific situations?
Most teenagers think their parents are clueless, out of touch old geezers. They fail to recognize just how much their parents are onto their game. Their parents have already been there and done that.
My friend Bob started a lawn mowing service with his two teenage sons. Bob used his father’s 1961 step-side Chevy to carry the boys, their lawnmowers, and all their supplies to work. The old truck didn’t have power steering, power windows, or power brakes. And of course—no air conditioner. Despite all that, the step-side was the perfect vehicle for the eldest to learn to drive on. The metal frame protected them from harm and the engine wouldn’t go more than forty miles per hour. The worn-out transmission, a “three on the tree” type, would sometimes stick in gear.
After several weeks of mowing with their father, the time came for the boys to venture out on their own. The big day came. Bob gave his boys instructions and then shut the truck door. “Stamp all the way to the floor on the clutch, son. If you don’t, the gears will stick.”
The boys sighed, rolled their eyes, and nodded. “Don’t worry Dad. We’ve got this.”
Bob watched the boys take off in the Chevy. Forgotten memories filled his mind. Bob remembered his dad giving a similar set of instructions when he was seventeen. The truck lurched forward. Bob coughed as a cloud of smoke rose from behind it. His eyes filled with tears. Fortunately, he could blame the exhaust for his outburst of emotion. The boys turned out of the driveway and waved good-bye, trying to look calm and in control. Bob saw the huge dent on the driver’s side of the door. He thought of his overconfidence and failure to heed his father’s words. He waved and wondered. Would his sons fare better than their father?
The boys decided to make a small detour. They headed to a convenience store instead of going straight to the job. They had forgotten to fill up on gas. On the way, they approached a curve a little too fast. Big brother pumped on the brakes and tried to downshift into second gear, but the transmission stuck. He panicked. He tried to turn the steering wheel, but the truck kept hurtling forward. It jumped the curb, missed a tree, and plowed into someone’s front yard. The truck stopped just before hitting a parked boat. A near miss.
The teenagers apologized and offered the neighbor a free yard mowing. The man, happy to have his grass cut, agreed to their terms. He promised to forget the whole incident. No harm, no foul. And no phone calls to the boy’s father.
A few weeks passed. Bob and his boys went out mowing again. This time Bob drove, giving the boys pointers on how to change gears. He passed the store and rounded the tight curve, pointing to the ruts in the front yard. “If a guy’s not careful and doesn’t slow down around curves like this one, he could end up losing control. He could run off the road like that guy did. Look, some fool almost hit that boat.”
Bob watched the boys turn pale. They looked at each other and then their father. Dumbstruck, the boys were afraid to say anything. The expression on their faces said, how did he know? Bob continued down the road, and changed the subject. He talked about the old truck and reminisced about their grandpa. He never revealed to his boys that he knew what happened at the corner. He didn’t have to. They had learned their lesson. The boys, of course, never fessed up about their close call. But they lived with the suspicion that dad knew what had happened.
Giving kids enough freedom to grow, gain experience, and develop new skills while keeping them safe makes a parent feel like they are walking a tightrope over a deep chasm. One wrong step and it’s a free fall. If they don’t learn to take risks, then they will never mature into adults. They want to be free, but are clueless about the risks and responsibilities of their new-found liberties. We should give our children space to make mistakes while keeping them under a watchful eye, decreasing supervision, while perpetually praying for them.
Each kid possesses unique qualities. They are not like a 1961 Chevy. They don’t come with an owner’s manual, a set of instructions detailing every possible scenario. One of the most powerful metaphors in Scripture describes what we should aim for in raising healthy kids. The finished product should look like arrows in the hand of a warrior.
Arrows are straight
Children, like arrows, must be straight. A crooked arrow never flies a great distance. We live in an if it feels good do it world. We must ground our offspring in absolutes. Right and Wrong. Good and Evil. We should model truth, integrity, and character, doing the right thing simply because it’s right. Ultimately, we want them to make God-honoring decisions.
Arrows are strong
A weak arrow shaft bends or breaks under pressure. Children growing into maturity must understand that God is the source of their strength. Parents must model emotional, physical, relational, and intellectual strength. We shouldn’t micromanage our kids. Strength develops when one’s muscles are tested.
Arrows are sharp
Just as an arrowhead pierces its target, children are created to engage their world. We need to prepare our kids for battle, showing them how to penetrate their culture with truth, grace and love. Sharpness also includes discernment: a razor-edged insight into what’s happening around them, the capacity to see problems on the horizon, the wisdom to look deeper into an issue before accepting it on a surface level, and the ability to consider consequences before they make decisions.
Arrows are balanced
A lopsided arrow travels off course, landing who knows where. The weight of the fletching on the back and the arrowhead at the front must be balanced. We should nurture them to be tender on the inside, but tough on the outside. Steadfastness in the essentials and flexibility in the nonessentials. Let us remind them to stick with eternal principles yet display common sense, love, and grace in all situations.
Arrows need direction
Let’s really know our kids. Listen to their passions and dreams. Observe their habits and interests. Spend time with them. Ask them questions. Learn who they are. Place them in experiences that stretch their faith, their thinking, and their perspective. We can pray for insight, ask for wisdom, and encourage them daily.
Parent warriors, prepare your arrows for battle. When the time comes, shoot them towards their God designed target. And watch them soar.
“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalm 127:3-4-5).
Icing on the Cake: The Courage to Believe in Your Parenting Skills
Have you ever looked at your kids, considered the awesome responsibility, and said to yourself, “I am not qualified for this job?”
If that thought hasn’t crossed your mind then you are not a parent. Raising a child at every stage has its own unique set of challenges. When they are babies, knowing when and how to change a diaper can be intimidating. When they become teenagers, we learn the art of how to suggest an idea in their dull brains so that they think it’s their own. With each step of the parenting journey, I’ve learned that God equipped parents with the essentials to nurture kids into functioning, well-adjusted adults. My wife models this principle daily.
One evening my wife and I took our five kids out to a restaurant. Our youngest child, Charlie, had to go the bathroom. My wife, occupied by our two middle kids fighting over a cell phone, looked at me and pointed at Charlie-boy. “Can you take him?”
I surveyed the room. A young couple sitting nearby turned up their noses, frowned at us and even snarled at our kids. Their romantic dinner had been disturbed by the battle brewing at our table. Worried another disturbance would erupt into a barroom brawl, I grabbed Charlie’s hand and moved towards the bathroom.
Charlie had that weird expression on his face. The kind he usually got before he delivered a package in his pants. “Daddy, I can’t make it. I’ve got to go poo poo.”
“Don’t push, Charlie.” I picked him up and hurried to the bathroom, disregarding the cold stares of everyone in the restaurant. Fortunately, a stall was open. I caught my breath and watched Charlie deliver the goods—just in the nick of time. Charlie and I were relieved, but for different reasons.
When Charlie got off the pot, what I saw startled me. Red colored fluid filled the toilet. It looked like clumps of grape jelly, were sinking to the bottom. I put on my surgeon hat and assessed the situation. I had seen thousands of lower gastrointestinal bleeds. I worked through all the possibilities of intestinal bleeding in a five-year old. A Meckel’s diverticulum? Maybe an ileocolic intussusception? I picked up Charlie and examined his abdomen. No abnormalities could be palpated. He smiled at me, pointing to the blood-filled commode. “Daddy, I never had red poop before.”
I scratched my head, put down my son, and gathered my thoughts. “How ya doing, Charlie-boy?”
Charlie showed me his hands. “Dad, do I have to wash my hands?”
After a good hand washing, we walked back to the table. I tried to act like everything was under control, but on the inside my guts were churning. I looked at my wife, trying to be calm. “Honey, have you noticed anything wrong with Charlie in the past few days?”
She gave me a funny look. “No, dear. Charlie has been fine. What’s up?”
Charlie overheard our conversation. In a loud voice, he interrupted. “Mommy, my poo-poo was red.”
Heads in the restaurant turned. Eyebrows raised. I felt the penetrating stares of everyone in the restaurant. My wife laughed and leaned in close to Charlie. “Have you been eating that red icing in the refrigerator again?”
Charlie nodded. “Yep. I’m sorry, Mom.”
Little Charlie had faked out his father, but he couldn’t pull one over on his mother. Mom didn’t need to know all the causes of intestinal bleeding in pediatric patients. She knew Charlie and used her God-given common sense. I thought about my wife while I ate, my salad mixed in with a little crow. Moms need to give themselves some credit. God had enough confidence in them to trust them with children.
Don’t be Intimidated
The responsibility of raising kids can be overwhelming. But let us take heart. God has even more skin in the game than we do. In fact, He wrapped Himself in human flesh, died on a cross, and rose from the dead to give our children an abundant life. He created our children and wants them to fulfill their life purpose—even more than we do.
Parenting by Grace
For the Christian, everything needed to raise godly children has been given. Based upon the finished work of Christ, God has prepared a deep well of grace. That said, we must draw upon what we have received. Where we are lacking in certain areas, God will make up the difference. His sufficiency more than compensates for our inadequacy as parents. Sometimes, this means getting more training or asking for wise counsel. Other times, God steps in. He brings others in to pour into their lives.
Do we believe God has entrusted His children to us for a purpose? Remember, He longs for them to know Him as their heavenly Father. He desires to do for our children what we cannot do for them. So, let’s relax. Let’s give God room to work in our children. We can trust Him. Then, by faith, do our part. And finally, give God space to make up the difference.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (Js. 1:5, NIV).
Dr. Page is the best guy to see on the worst day of your life. Chuck practices surgery in Texas, enjoys watching sunsets with his family, and loves mowing grass with his bush hog. Chuck has a heart to inspire others and encourage in their spiritual lives—especially in times of grief and adversity. To book Chuck for your next event, email him at the following address: [email protected]
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Spoonfuls of Courage: Seven Inspiring Stories of Faith for Everyday Living is the first in the Spoonfuls series. This particular book encourages the sick and suffering, prayer challenged people and parents raising their kids. These seven inspiring stories will help you change your focus, uplift your heart and encourage to take positive steps forward by giving easy to swallow doses of scripture. These spoonfuls help remind us how our greatest challenges can become our biggest blessings.