Tuesday, April 01, 2008

In Celebration of Being Alive

My church will be partaking of the Lord's Supper this coming Lord's day. As I prepare my heart to come before the Lord's Table, I am reminded afresh of our Lord Jesus Christ's love for us in coming into this world, suffered and died for us to redeem us from sins and eternal damnation. Thank God that our Lord is risen and by trusting in Him and turning away from our sins, we are reconciled to God through Him.

In this life, we shall have our portion of ups and downs, joy and sorrow, wellness and sickness, success and failures, etc etc these being part of our fallen nature and living in a less than perfect world. The tricky thing for those of us with a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar, is how to handle these challenges so that they do not either escalate into manic episodes or dragged us down into depression. Both are detrimental to our spiritual, mental and physical well being. But sometimes no matter how hard we try and with whatever help we have, we may still find ourselves deep in the pit of depression or wildly manic. These are the nature of our illness and we need patience to wait for them to pass, as we wait upon God while using whatever means available for recovery. Waiting is difficult as we wrestle with our pains and confusions. It is a struggle to me but thank God for sustaining and delivering me time and again.

Sometimes we may wonder why God allows us to go these sufferings. Or if our loved ones are the ones suffering thus, we may question why. All sufferings are ultimately due to living in a fallen world and our struggles with remaining corruption. But beyond these sufferings, are the higher purposes God may have for us in drawing us nearer to Himself so that we may know more of His love and faithfulness and be made more dependant upon Him, in purging us and sanctifying us so that we may be made more like our Lord Jesus Christ and ultimately in glorifying Himself through His sustaining and delivering us. God also enables us to sympathize with others who are going through suffering and share His love and mercies with others as we seek to comfort them with the same comfort that God has comforted us.

I thank God that we are able to encourage one another and support one another through our blogs. And I believe one of the reasons is because God has allowed us to experience much pains and sufferings in our life and giving us the joy of trusting in Him. We are weak but He is strong and His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. Though we may never meet on this earth, we can continue to share and support one another just as the Lord encourages us and strengthens us through all the changing scenes in life.

Recently, I shared the story of "Love Token" from my collections of short stories. This morning, I re-read another short story in my collections. And this story reminds me once again of how I should view my suffering and losses due to bipolar. I hope it will encourage you too and enable you to look at your sufferings or losses in a different angle:

In Celebration of Being Alive

A world-renowned heart surgeon ponders suffering and takes a lesson from two brave youngsters.

More and more, as I near the end of my career as a heart surgeon, my thoughts have turned to the consideration of why people should suffer. Suffering seems so cruelly prevalent in the world today. Do you know that of the 125 million children born this year, 12 million are unlikely to reach the age of one and another six million will die before the age of five? And, of the rest, many will end up as mental or physical cripples.

My gloomy thoughts probably stem from an accident I have a few years ago. One minute I was crossing the street with my wife after a lovely meal together, and the next minute a car had hit me and knocked me into my wife. She was thrown into the other lane and struck by a car coming from the opposite direction.

During the next few days in the hospital I experienced not only agony and fear but also anger. I could not understand why my wife and I had to suffer. I had 11 broken ribs and a perforated lung. My wife had a badly fractured shoulder. Over and over, I asked myself, why should this happen to us? I had work to do, after all; there are patients waiting for me to operate on them. My wife had a young baby who needed to care.

My father, had he still been alive, would, I know, have given short shift to my petulant questioning. He would have said: "My son, it's God's will. That's the way God test you. Suffering ennobles you - makes you a better person."

But, as a doctor, I see nothing noble in a patient's thrashing around in a sweat-soaked bed, mind clouded in agony. Nor can I see any nobility in the crying of a lonely child in a ward at night.

I had my first introduction to the suffering of children when I was a little boy. One day my father showed me a half-eaten, moldy biscuit with two tiny tooth marks in it. And he told me about my brother, who had died several years earlier. He told me about the suffering of this child, who had been born with an abnormal heart problem, but in those days they didn't have sophisticated heart surgery. And this moldy biscuit was the last biscuit my brother had eaten before his death.

As a doctor, I always found the suffering of children particularly heartbreaking - especially because of their total trust in doctors and nurses. They believe you are going to help them. If you can't, they accept their fate. They go through mutilating surgery, and afterward they don't complain.

One morning, several years ago, I witnessed what I call the Grand Prix of Cape Town's Red Cross Children's Hospital. It opened my eyes to the fact that I was missing something in all my thinking of suffering - something basic that was full of solace for me.

What happened there that morning was that a nurse had left a breakfast trolly unattended. And very soon this trolly was commandeered by an intrepid crew of two - a driver and a mechanic. The mechanic provided motor power by galloping along behind the trolley with his head down, while the driver, seated on the lower deck, held on with one hand and steered by scraping his foot on the floor. The choice of roles was easy, because the mechanic was totally blind and the driver had only one arm.

They put on quite a show that day. Judging by the laughter and the shouts of encouragement from the rest of the patients, it was much better entertainment than anything anyone puts on at Indianapolis. There was a grand finale of scattered plates and silverware before the nurse and ward sister caught up with them, scolded them and put them back to bed.

Let me tell you about these two. The mechanic was all of seven years old. One night, when his mother and father were drunk, his mother threw a lantern at his father, missed and the lantern broke over the child's head and shoulders. He suffered severe third-degree burns on the upper part of his body, and lost both of his eyes. At the time of the Grand Prix, he was a walking horror, with a disfigured face and a long flap of skin hanging from the side of his neck to his body. As the wound healed around his neck, his lower jaw became gripped in a mass of fibrous tissue. The only way this little boy could open his mouth was to raise his head. When I stopped by to see him after the race, he said, "You know, we won." He was laughing.

The trolley's driver I knew better. A few years earlier I had successfully closed a hole in his heart. He had returned to the hospital because he had a malignant tumor of the bone. A few days before the race, his shoulder and arm were amputated. There was little hope of recovering. After the Grand Prix, he proudly informed me that the race was a success. The only problem was that the trolley's wheels were not properly oiled, but he was a good driver, and he had full confidence in the mechanic.

Suddenly, I realized that these two children had given me a profound lesson in getting on with the business of living. Because the business of living is joy in the real sense of the word, not just something for pleasure, amusement, recreation. The business of living is the celebration of being alive.

I had been looking at suffering from the wrong end. You don't become a better person because you are suffering; but you become a better person because you have experienced suffering. We can't appreciate light if we haven't known darkness. Nor can we appreciate warmth if we have never suffered cold. These children showed me that it's not what you've lost that's important. What is important is what you have left.


This story reminded me afresh that it is more helpful for me to focus on what I still have and to use them for God's glory and benefit of others, instead of dwelling on what I may have lost or are loosing due to bipolar. I am learning, by God's grace, to look beyond my bipolar. I am learning to manage bipolar as best I can by looking to God and using all the helps available prayerfully, so that I can be more functional and useful. I pray that God will enable me to use whatever strength, time and ability I have to serve Him, His people and the society at large.

Recently, Michelle too shared that although she may have health issues but she can still do a lot. She prefers to think of us as "differently-abled" rather than disabled. I like the word "differently-abled". Yes, we may have health issues or other physical infirmities, we have our limitations and our downtime may be more than others, but we are not disabled. We are "differently-abled". We do still have our gifts and talents just like everyone else. We can use them to the best of our ability and live a useful and meaningful life, to God's glory.

I am reminded also of what I learned in my Catechism Class :

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Question 1: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God,a and to enjoy Him for ever.b

a 1 Cor 10:31; Rom 11:36; b Ps 73:25-28; Rev 7:15

  • EQ 1(a) What is meant by the chief end of man?

A. The chief end of man refers firstly to the divine purpose for man’s existence and secondly to what man ought to aim at in his life and therefore that which he should seek after as his chief good and happiness.

  • EQ 1(b) What does it mean to glorify God?

A. To glorify Him does not mean to give God any additional glory since he is eternally and infinitely perfect and glorious.a What it means is to manifest God’s glory in our lives.b When we worship and acknowledge God in sincere praise and thanksgiving, we glorify him.c Similarly, when we sincerely endeavour, in our actions, at all times and in all situations, to exalt God’s name and to promote the interest of His kingdom in the world, we glorify Him.d

P. a"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt 5:48). b"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Pet 2:9). c"Whoso offereth praise, glorifieth me" (Ps. 50:23a; cf. Heb 13:5). d"Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31).

Read more .....

  • EQ 1(g) What does it mean to enjoy God?

A. To enjoy God, is to rest in God and to delight in Him.

P. "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever" (Ps 73:25-26).

EQ 1(h) How do we enjoy God in this life?

A. In this life, we enjoy God when we taste of His goodness and experience His special love for us which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This happens especially as we commune with Him in prayer, in the reading of His Word, in beholding His creation, and in contemplating His providence.

P. "O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him." (Ps 34:8). "And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us" (Rom 5:5).

  • EQ 1(i) How do we enjoy God hereafter?

A. Our present enjoyment of God will be perfected seeing that we will be glorified, hindered by sin no more, and admitted into heaven where we shall see Christ face to face, to rest in Him and experience a full sense of His love. Our enjoyment and delight in God will be perfect and inconceivable then.

P. "In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Ps 16:11b); "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God" (Heb 4:9).

  • EQ 1(j) Why is the glorifying of God and the enjoyment of God joined together as one chief end of man?

A. Because God has so designed man that the very means of enjoying God is to glorify Him.

P. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God" (Ps 50:23). "For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom 11:36).

(Read more ..... from my Pastor's short commentaries on the Westminter Shorter Catechism)


May we, by the grace of God, look beyond our weaknesses and limitations, and look to God alone whose grace is sufficient for us, whose love is unchanging and to whom we belong. May His love and faithfulness be our joy and strength daily. May He enable us to live for His glory and enjoy Him here and for all eternity!





I took picture of this beautiful Rose at the Sentosa Flower exhibition at Sentosa Island, Singapore.



"The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying,
Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love:
therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee
."
Jeremiah 31:3

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