I am glad to report that I am returning to work. I am doing so cautiously and carefully, as I continue to recover from open-heart surgery to replace a valve, and severe back pain due to a strep infection. The pain is mostly gone during the day. It comes back at night when I stretch out to sleep, but this is manageable. This is a big improvement from where I was a few weeks ago, and from what my medical team anticipated for the healing of my back.
As for the recovery from surgery – this is slower than expected. I am still building up my strength and stamina. This is also the result, I think, of lying in the hospital for three weeks, and limited mobility in the weeks at home. Fortunately I am now doing cardiac rehabilitation three times each week, which includes work-outs to restore the muscles and lungs. I know many of you have been through such rehab – or have relatives or congregational members who have – so you know the value of it. It is certainly doing the trick for me.
I am so grateful and awestruck at all the gifts, the calls and texts, the letters, emails, cards and more that I have received, expressing your concern for me, your well-wishes and prayers. I have heard from councils and congregations, from youth groups and prayer teams, from call committees and quilting groups, from folks all across our beautiful, faithful Synod – and beyond as well. Each of your contacts and prayers have meant so much, and have played a real role in my recovery and my ability to remain positive and hopeful.
I cannot thank enough, our Synod Staff, and Synod Council and Officers, who stood up and stepped in, from November 9th, through Advent and Christmas, to this very moment – their willingness to add extra work and extra hours, in a busy time of year, to keep the Synod up and running, so that I could focus on getting well. And be ready to return, with care and continued support.
As I return, I also reflect on my own thoughts and prayers as I went through this difficult chapter. Especially on dark nights when the pain was so bad, and I wasn’t sure if it would go away. When my weakened heart, before I got this great new valve – could have given out at any time. My prayers were constant and intense, and they were mostly pleas to God, to take away the suffering; but also to beg God to help my family and friends, and our Synod to stay strong and hopeful.
What I came to realize – as I faced pain I never knew was possible – were two things: first, that Jesus was with me, constantly. To be sure, in the person of my wife, and the medical personnel. But also, Christ himself was a very real presence, right there by my hospital bed. Jesus remained, even when I cried out, “Why me? Why so much pain? What’s the point of all this?” Jesus held my hand. He kept me living, and willing to live, even as the fear and the pain washed over me. He was really there. I know it.
And second – I came to a new reality. I realized: “How many people across our Synod tonight are suffering with pain like this, at this level? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? And across the country, around the world? Millions? How many of them, are without support from family or friends? How many can’t or won’t go to a hospital for treatment? How many have to go to work the next day, or have to take of children or family?” In the moments when I had some relief, my prayers turned to them. I felt connected to them – perhaps to you – more than ever before.
This connection, I pray, stays with me. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for sharing your moments of struggle and pain with me. Let us all turn to our God, who is with us in all our sufferings. Who gives us medical miracles like valve replacements. Who comes to us in surgeons and nurses, in pastors and chaplains, in family and co-workers, and yes, even by the Spirit bringing the real Christ close by our side. Our God who knows real pain and real suffering – alone, on a cross, and every time one of us suffers. Who faces death, who takes us beyond death to life, and who promises to wipe away every tear. May we believe, and share, this awesome truth.
On the Way of Jesus together,
Bishop Christopher deForest