I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the fact that every life has a story and every story is full of life…
Let me tell you one that’s absolutely true. I remember. I was there.
Here’s a quick calendar of events that happened from January through April of 1988 as a background:
Late January: We moved from our “borrowed” home in Austin to Julie’s parent’s basement.
Early February: We rejoiced and celebrated a year of full-time deputation by reaching the 100% mark! But meetings had been scheduled, so we kept travelling in Missouri and Kansas until early March.
Late February: Jim’s Dad (Jerry) had a health crisis while travelling in Arizona. We suggested that he get a second opinion from Mayo Clinic, less an hour away from our home near Austin, MN.
Early March: Jim made the last deputation trip (a return visit) to a church in South Dakota. Julie stayed home because she was 9 months pregnant.
Evening of March 14: We attended the BMM Tri-annual Conference in Owatonna, MN.
2:00 AM, March 16th: Julie woke up Jim so that he could take her to the hospital. Josiah stayed sleeping peacefully in Grandma and Grandpa Hansen’s basement.
4:22 AM, March 16th: Joy Anna Leonard was born at St. Olaf Hospital, Austin, MN.
Evening of March 16th: Back in Owatonna and accompanied by our pastor, (sleepy) Jim was included in the Inner Circle, the prayer of dedication for those going to their field of service before the next BMM Tri-annual meeting. Julie, of course, couldn’t make it to the event.
March 26th: The doctors at Mayo confirmed that Jim’s Dad had terminal cancer and that any treatment would cause more suffering with no hope for an extension of his life.
April 6th: While cleaning out the freezer in anticipation of the impending move to Brazil, Julie baked two loaves of frozen bread dough. Jim ate lots of it!
2:00 AM, April 7th: Jim woke up Julie so that she could take him to the hospital because of intense abdominal pains. Baby Joy Anna went along for the ride and 18-month old Josiah stayed sleeping peacefully in Grandma and Grandpa Hansen’s basement.
So here’s the rest of the story…
Jim was admitted to the Emergency Room at St. Olaf in Austin, MN, and we were told to wait for the doctor on call. As we talked, prayed and waited, two huge questions loomed in our minds:
1) What was the cause of his pain: the large amount of warm, homemade bread he had consumed the previous day or was it something more serious? and 2) On whom could we call to be Jim’s doctor?
I was raised in Austin but my family doctors were in the retirement stage and their new female partner was my wonderful OBGYN. Although she had accompanied both of my pregnancies and had delivered both of our children, Jim didn’t feel comfortable with her, especially since his case obviously had nothing to do with having a baby. Honestly, our minds went blank and we asked the Lord for wisdom. As we prayed, we heard an insistent rustling on the other side of the closed curtain in the isolated ER area. In the next instant, the curtain was pushed aside and we heard the incredulous question, “What are you two doing here?”
There stood Dr. Russell Kooy, general surgeon, faithful member of First Baptist Church in Austin, an all-around talented guy, and an angel sent from Heaven. I’m not sure who was more surprised at that moment; him or us! We had obviously forgotten about “Doc” Kooy, but God hadn’t. It took a few seconds for us to gather our wits and all of the thoughts that were racing through our minds. Jim quickly explained what was happening and then we heard his reassuring response. It went something like this: “I was called in to stitch up a guy who cut his hand while working on the line at the Hormel (meat-processing) plant. I’ll be back in a little while to take care of you, so don’t let any other doctor examine you. I’m with you on this one and we’ll get to the bottom of it.”
True to his word, he was back and took full charge of Jim’s case. But, during those early hours of the day, every test came back negative and nothing could be confirmed. Wise Doc Kooy admitted Jim for observation and ordered more tests throughout the day. To make a long story short, 6:00 in the evening finally rolled around. Nothing seemed to be happening then everything happened at once: Doc Kooy gave Jim a gentle poke in the lower right abdomen which proverbially sent him to the ceiling in intense pain just as the lab nurse walked in to announce that his white blood counts were nearly off the charts. Appendicitis was the diagnosis and they whipped him off to surgery. A few hours later, he was back in his room trying to sleep off the affects of the anesthesia.
Wow. God had been so good to us! He sent us a godly man who patiently walked us through a day of waiting for test results, an emergency surgery, and a short hospital stay. God gave us peace and calm in the midst of the storm by sending a friend, servant and skilled surgeon to care for Jim. The surgery went well and there were no complications. Mind you, there were some other interesting consequences as a result of the whole episode.
– Jim spent his 25th birthday (April 8th) in the hospital. (The nurses brought him a cake, sang to him then told him he wasn’t allowed to have a piece. Dietary restrictions, you know.)
– He was put on strict lifting limitations. He could hold Joy Anna but only while he was sitting. We set up a step stool in front of the changing table so that Josiah could climb up for Jim to change his diapers. And we were supposed to be packing for our move to Brazil. That was put on hold for a while, but Jim isn’t one to sit still…
– Dad Leonard was still in Rochester, recuperating from surgery and waiting to be released to return to Ankeny, IA, where his parents lived. Jim was able to drive so he took advantage of the time to visit daily with Dad. Absolutely precious.
To say the least, we were rejoicing in God’s protection and provision. Once again, He had showed Himself faithful and true. We were reminded again that “all things work together for good to those who love God”.
But one huge question remains unanswered in my mind: So, what about the guy who cut his hand? Did he accept the consequences with grace and calm? Did he realize that his “accident” was being used of God to bring us a very special doctor at just the perfect time, in just the right place? Nah, probably not. Not unless Doc Kooy, in the process of stitching up the man’s hand, told who he had just happened to find waiting in another section of the emergency room.
Have you ever felt as though God is somehow using you, through some kind of suffering, to be the part of someone else’s bigger, beautiful masterpiece? It may even seem like mere coincidence because there’s no rhyme or reason. There’s real pain, yet no real answers. I know that’s how Job felt. He suffered real, traumatizing pain and questioned God’s purpose but was never told why. He was, however, able to see the completed masterpiece later on in his own life because of God’s repeated blessings. Think of the valuable and precious lessons he and his friends learned along the way! (Job 38-42)
Another example would be Joseph and his brothers. Joseph felt real pain (betrayal, lies, imprisonment, abandonment, etc.) yet he kept his eyes focused on his almighty God. That focus enabled him to withstand the immediate pain and hardships and kept him going long enough to see (in part) God’s overwhelming blessings. He won so many spiritual victories in his journey but only his bones made it to the Promised Land. Consider his brothers; they just wanted to be rid of a pesky younger brother of whom they were incredibly jealous. They had no idea that they were actually fulfilling his God-given dreams (which irritated them to no end), helping him to rise to a position in which he would actually save their lives.
So what about the guy who cut his hand? So what about me? I know that God is working on me daily, to make me more like Him. He can do that in any way He wishes; by giving me a principle role, a small speaking part, a part in the crowd or even as a stage hand or designer. Who am I to question His method or His means? I simply need to understand more of who He is. That’s exactly what Job discovered through all of his pain. Pain isn’t always easy to handle, especially in a world that seems to have the idea that pain isn’t good for us. If Jim had ignored his pain, the situation could have gotten pretty ugly. Pain won’t kill you but the problem it calls attention to will, if it’s not given due attention. And that’s where the comfort of Romans 8: 28 truly hits home: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
As I reflect on 2013 and look forward to 2014, I know that God has given me some painful situations on which I need to meditate then leave in His hands to see how He will work things out. That’s easier said than done but exactly what I need to do to grow in His grace. Some of that pain is indirect; not necessarily created by me or even what I would consider deserved. Many times that type of suffering isn’t looked upon with great patience or delight. But that doesn’t make any difference in God’s overall plan. (Isaiah 55: 8-9) He wants to mold me, no matter what it takes, to His image.
So, what about the guy who cut his hand? I know it’s a bit overdue but I’d like to express my thanks.
Therefore, to the man from the Austin Hormel plant who cut his hand in the wee hours of the morning of April 7th, 1988: thank you. Thank you for being a key player in a story of which you never knew the beginning nor ever discovered the ending; for being an important part in the bigger picture of which you never saw. Thank you for enduring the traumatic pain of those God-induced circumstances. Thank you for bearing a scar on your hand for the rest of your life because we were in need of a caring, skilled surgeon. Uh, that brings to mind another story. Incidentally, I know another “innocent” man who has scars on His hands because God needed Him to be the key player from the beginning to the end in the most important story ever told; the very principle part of the bigger picture that is yet to unfold. Indeed, an extremely difficult role and totally undeserved, but very lovingly and obediently executed. Because every life has a story and every story is full of life. In this case, that life is eternal… “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2Corinthians 9: 15
Please read Philippians 2: 1-18 and Romans 8: 31-39 for the perfect conclusion.
Hugs and sincere wishes for a wonderful, God-planned 2014, Julie
P.S. Thanks, Doc Kooy, for getting up from your warm bed on a cold night when your call buzzer went off. Thank you for allowing God to use you to encourage us in our time of need. May He richly bless you!