By Keith Johnson

Keith Johnson is a native of Pennsylvania, and is an ordained minister and a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (2006) where he received his Theological Masters degree (Th.M). Keith pastors a church in the Villages, Florida, while his wife, Patti, serves on the Care for Pastors team. They have three grown children. When not serving, they escape to their favorite place on earth; the beach.

    When the Bottom Falls Out

    Wednesday, December 13, 2023

    As pastors we spend our days and weeks preparing others for the challenges of life. While we do a good job of that, a question arises. How well do we prepare ourselves? In other words, we counsel others according to God’s Word. We give comfort in the hospital and at funerals, but how well have we prepared ourselves when the bottom falls out from under us?

    Recently the bottom fell out on me and my wife, Patti. It happened fast in one afternoon. At this writing, it happened about a month ago. We left the house expecting to return in a couple of hours having no clue what we were about to encounter. One Friday afternoon we went from Patti running a low-grade fever to needing emergency surgery in six hours. On that day we entered a valley that we continue to live in today.

    It took the urgent care doctor one minute to examine Patti and send us off to get a CAT scan “stat”. The scan revealed something that alarmed the Radiologist. Her direction was clear, “Get to the hospital now”. Once in the Emergency Room, the doctor speculated what the others had hypothesized; Patti may have a ruptured appendix. We waited, we prayed, we called family and close friends.

    After waiting for four hours, a nurse handed my wife a hospital gown and informed us that the surgeon on call had arrived and was waiting; no time to think, little time to say some last-minute prayers and they swept her away.

    Once she was prepared for surgery, they allowed me to see her once more. It was then the surgeon told us that he did not know what it was. What he did know was that it could be a tumor. A what? And with that they wheeled her away. I am accustomed to sitting in Emergency rooms and surgical waiting rooms with others, but this was different. It was my wife and my mind ran wild with worry. A tumor? Emergency surgery? Faster than a Top Fuel dragster runs its course my mind raced to worst-case scenarios. Ruptured appendix? Tumor? Cancer? Could this be it? I am not ready to lose her. After what felt like an eternity, the surgeon came out, his exact words were, “It’s a mess” and “we don’t know exactly what it is”.

    I felt like the carpet had been pulled out from under me. In one afternoon, we had gone from seeking antibiotics for an infection to emergency surgery to an unknown threat to Patti’s life. It’s scary how quickly life can change. As I drove home alone from the hospital late that night, worries relentlessly crashed upon the shores of my mind. I reminded myself of God’s promises. Words of comfort like, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). So, like David did in Ziklag (1 Samuel 30:6) when the bottom dropped out on him, I turned to the Lord to find strength in Him.

    The next days were long. My wife was recovering, but what hung above us was the news the pathology reports would bring. Would it be good news? We told ourselves everything was going to be alright. We prayed and we trusted telling ourselves she was fine, but it wasn’t to be. On the third day after the surgery, the surgeon delivered the news. The pathology reports were not yet complete. One thing was certain.

    It’s cancer.

    Patti took the news in stride. But I stopped. I dropped. I wasn’t ready to lose her. No one can fix this. What do we do now?

    I remembered the Apostle Paul and how he reacted when in an impossible situation. He was arrested, beaten, whipped and thrown in jail. As he languished in a cold dark cell shackled and with no apparent hope, he worshipped (Acts 16:25). That night as I drove home in the dark, I turned on some of my favorite worship songs and sang to the Lord. I realized that I had done what I always do; when trouble comes, I freeze and focus on it. All I can see is the mountain of trouble before me. When I worship, God comes into the picture and dwarfs my problem. It’s at that time I shift from telling God how big my problems are to telling my problems how big my God is.

    It was also at this time that I remembered King Hezekiah’s response when Isaiah told him to get his house in order because he would not recover from his illness. Hezekiah’s response was instructive. He turned to the wall, cried out to God, and wept bitterly (2 Kings 20:1-11). What he did next was pray. The doctors couldn’t fix him. His wealth couldn’t help him. Only God. He gave God a report. He reminded God of how he had served God faithfully. How he had walked with God and served God with a whole heart. It was like he gave God a credit report. Think about it; when we go for a financial loan, they always ask for a credit report. They want to know how reliable you have been in the past to keep your word and pay back your loans. In the same way that is what Hezekiah was doing. He gave God a credit report on his life. God had given him life and he was faithful to use it for God’s glory. And grace upon grace God heard and sent Isaiah back to tell Hezekiah that he would heal him and give him fifteen more years.

    So, since Patti was not aware of this, I prayed and pleaded for her life. I reminded God of her faithfulness, and her single-mindedness to serve him and please him. And so, I begged God to preserve her life promising that what life He gives us we will give back to Him by serving Him.

    These three lessons guided me through the initial stages of the journey we continue to find ourselves on. Was I ready for this? Not really. Can we ever be fully prepared for the times when life throws us a curve? I don’t think so. But maybe the lessons God taught me will help prepare you for those times when the bottom will drop out of your life.

    Can I remind you of one more thing? People say, “God will never give you more than you can handle”. That is simply NOT true. He WILL give you more than you can handle. But never more than HE can handle. For me, the lessons I learned from David, Paul, and Hezekiah helped me draw near and persevere through some difficult days.

    How will you handle life when the bottom drops out?

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