Stones in the Road, part II. Sunday, bloody Sunday…by Margaret Plumb

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Usually the social animal, Mike had left the church building hurriedly after sharing and before service was over. I couldn’t leave yet because I was leading more songs, but I saw him going out and knew something was wrong. When you have over 20-years as a married couple, best friends and co-ministers together, well, you just know.

Mike had been having a lot of trouble with his back. It had started a few years prior, and he’d had two laser surgeries in his lower lumbar. These had alleviated the pain for awhile, but then it would return in a different place in his back. Periodically we were getting prayer for Mike’s back problems. The pain became unbearable at times, and affected Mike’s interest in the ministry and other people, always his strength. We had traveled to several places to receive prayer for recovery, even flew to a church in Toronto, Ontario where it was reported that divine healings (and a few other controversial things as well) were happening. Although we were very much blessed there, mostly by the spirit of love, he received no physical healing.

My husband, though, has a high tolerance for pain and is able to withstand a lot and still appear like nothing is wrong. (Not me. If I have even a headache, forget socialization of any kind until it’s gone.) So he continued to function as founding pastor and one of the team of elders, preaching about half the time, along with a few others. Although he believed in the priesthood of believers and sharing gifts, he had a strong gift for preaching: stirring up, challenging, inspiring. And so others urged that he teach often. This particular Sunday was no different, he had shared a stirring message but then abruptly cut it short. I got up and filled in a little at the end before segueing into some more songs.

When I found him in the parking lot, and he told me what happened, I quickly got him out of there. We were both mortified, still being young enough to be appalled by this “freakish” event. I drove home to the sound of Sunday, Bloody Sunday by U2 on the radio. The following week was filled with blood(y) tests, examinations, MRI’s and cat scans. Our doctor pulled some strings and was able to quickly get Mike in for a consultation with a neuro-surgeon, to tell us the results. So we found ourselves in a Dr. ______(rhymes with “Killer’s”) office, waiting together nervously to hear the news. After what seemed like an hour, he entered brusquely, briefly introduced himself and then read us our rights. Mike had Spinal Stenosis (narrowing of the spine) plus Degenerative Spinal Disease. Basically the disease of an old man, like maybe 90. He did not explain any of this but told us bluntly that Mike would most likely be in a wheelchair within 2 years. When he saw our shocked faces he got a little impatient, and basically said, “Get over it, a lot of people can live productive lives from a wheelchair.” If he didn’t actually say that, it was inferred loud and clear, it really was almost that blunt. That’s what Mike and I heard anyway, when those words hit our guts. He said we needed to schedule an operation with him immediately (he seemed almost eager to cut), and that he had a schedule opening in four days. So, after four minutes of his time, he abruptly got up then and left, on to another patient or game of golf, the busy life of a neuro-surgeon.

Mike and I walked out to the parking lot in a daze…we stood outside our car, under a tree, and held each other and wept. I finally said, “I do NOT want that man operating on my husband!” To which Mike agreed.

We went home to research, consider our options and search out other neuro-surgeons in the area. When we told our team of church leaders, they were stunned and immediately began a prayer vigil. They were confidant that healing was in store, a mighty victory and testimony. Hadn’t God brought us through many, many obstacles before, as a church and we had prevailed? We were a group of people that not only believed in the supernatural, but had all seen and experienced divine healing first-hand. So our friends contacted all the prayer warriors they could, those gifted with special faith and a passion to pray, and they all went to work on their knees.

No healing was imminent, however, and after giving it a good amount of time, and through much pain, we scheduled an operation with Dr. Hacker, an unlikely name for a surgeon, but he came with excellent references. We had to wait more than a month to get in, though. That month took us on a fast downward spiral. The pain becoming excruciating, where Mike was sometimes only able to crawl. He then began to lose feeling and function in his right hand; his writing hand. This was scary for him; besides being a chronic remodeler and one who likes to do physical work, Mike at that time still did most of his writing manually on yellow notebook tablets, and I would type it up and edit it. ( A tablet wasn’t a wireless personal computer then, and it’s almost an obsolete word now in referring to a notebook. I recently told two different young piano students to bring a tablet for my on-going notation on their progress, and they each replied, “What is a tablet?” At that time though, 1998, it was still common to write manually; word processors being a fairly new alternative to typewriters. It really wasn’t all that long ago.)

Besides the fear of this hand-paralysis being the onset of full paralysis (a very real scenario according to the medical establishment), having to look at the possibility of retirement and deterioration while we were still in our prime, was almost unthinkable. We had established a ministry that we’d been in preparation for all our lives. We had forsaken all to follow Jesus. Throughout our lives together we had come through many trials; “fiery furnaces of affliction” that we felt had molded our character and-made us trustworthy to be servant-leaders. We had built our new ministry on a foundation of love, honesty and teamwork—and freedom for the operation of all the gifts. We were just beginning to see wonderful fruit and the dynamic mystery of the church functioning as it should, everyone sharing their unique talent and everyone having a “voice.” I was unable to grasp this new development and demise, and just barely able to acknowledgment it. Surely this season would pass quickly.

(continued in part III)

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4 Comments

  1. plumbeddown

     /  February 16, 2013

    It’s funny how you two have always complemented each other as a married couple (and as my parents). Even now, as a writing tandem, the two of you make for great memoir storytelling…dare I say your combined writing is better together than separate.

    Maybe you should get a paintbrush in dad’s hands and see what he can do…okay, maybe not.

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    • Thanks Chris…It’s funny, but just yesterday when Mike and I were at the beach, I got an idea about making pieces of art together. 3-dimensional. Collage is big, Mike would have to start an idea, of course, and I’d finish up with painting or something. I wouldn’t trust him to “add” to my paintings, though, shh, don’t tell him.

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  2. Our stories have a lot of commonalities, bad lower back while in ministry for 20 years, had bouts where I couldn’t sit for family dinner, had to lay down at meetings. Went to Wimber conferences in hope of being healed but was only put in an embarrassing situations.Then in 99 my oldest was in a car accident needing 24/ care from paralysis.Retired from official ministry In 2002 and the back finally went to the point where I couldn’t walk and pain killers lost their ability to help. I was operated on and though tender it has held up. Spent 5 years in a wilderness of despair, hopelessness,and depression……
    .Looking forward to part 3.

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  3. Joseph, thank you for sharing just a bit of your story. Of course we relate! Part 3 will be here soon, today probably. Sometime would love to hear your own story in detail, or just keep commenting here on our blog site. I love to hear similar tales.

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