“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5 NIV
Early in 2021, I had an experience in the dentist office that set me on a course I was not prepared for. As I was getting ready for a simple procedure, the assistant took my blood pressure. Her reaction to the reading began the spiral into what I call a very dark and painful season. My reading was so high, even the dentist looked at me as if to say, “Do you really want to do this today?” I concurred and said I better get it checked out. My wife and I made a trip to the ER and, though the news was not bad, what I did not know was how this event had a connection to something very traumatic in my life just a few years earlier.
My father passed away four years ago this November with a heart attack due to heart disease. When he passed, it was the first we heard that heart disease was in our family. It was Thanksgiving morning when I got a call from my stepmother that she was taking my dad to the hospital with troubled breathing and pain. These were not new symptoms. He had been experiencing them weeks before, but really did not do anything about them until now. Once they got settled in the small hospital that was close to their home, they learned dad would be transferred to Springfield closer to where I lived. They had the means to take better care of his condition. Later that day I paid him a visit and we shared Thanksgiving leftovers that my wife had prepared. This visit with my dad did not cause me alarm. I was thankful he was safe and in the best place he could be. Everything looked in control and the heart catheter scheduled for the next day would surely show the problem that could be fixed.
That evening after I returned home, things started to change. My dad called and the sound of his voice frightened me to attention. I could hear the panic and I sensed chaos on the other end of the line. What I remember most was how scared he was at what was happening. I cannot remember a time when I experienced my father in a panic. He always played himself off as cool under pressure, but now on this phone call I knew that my father needed me. I quickly changed and headed back to the hospital. When I arrived, I found he was being moved to ICU. He seemed a little calmer and I helped him make the transition to his new room. We were told that his condition was worsening, and they wanted him on a floor that could take care of him. Though I was not so confident as I was the first time I left, I again felt he was in the right place. I arrived back home to crawl into bed. I was looking forward to the next day bringing news of what was wrong with dad and how they could fix it. Shortly after my eyes closed, my step mom called. The words I heard were confusing, unbelievable. “Your dad is dying!”
My anxious journey down the interstate into Springfield was a blur. What was happening? I arrived at the ICU to find my dad in full cardiac arrest with a team of medical professionals on top of him trying to save his life. The sights and sounds of that room were all so familiar. I had been here before as a pastor holding the hands of others who were watching their loved ones fight for life. But this was different. This was me. They were working on my dad. I prayed for strength for him to fight and not give up. There were so many more things to do and speak to one another. Not now dad! Once they got him stable, they quickly took him to the heart cath lab and the long journey of saying goodbye began. Days would go by before my father passed. We will talk more about that in upcoming devotions, but there is a reason why I have told you the events so far and why I stopped when I did. I explained to you an event that was in my memory that would now once again, unintentionally, revisit me after the dentist appointment.
So here I am at the dentist office. Before I sat in the chair I was not even thinking about my father, my experience with him in the hospital or his death. I just wanted to get the procedure done and get out of there. Even later, at the ER, I was not too concerned about what was happening as the doctor assured me it was most likely a medication adjustment. But something was happening that I was not ready for. The events I was experiencing at the hospital, doctors’ visits and taking my blood pressure at home and seeing high readings rushed me back to a marker or memory in my mind. I went back to the hospital room with the team of doctors and the scary sounds of bells and alarms. I saw my dad, identified with his problem, and suddenly I was introduced to panic and fear. I could feel it creep out of my chest and flood my mind as anxiety said, “I am moving in for a while”. Anxiety was taking root and flexing its all-familiar muscle in my life. My world that felt pretty much in control suddenly slipped out of my grasp. I had no control at all. Was I becoming my father? Was what happened to him now happening to me? What about my family? My granddaughter who was on her way into the world? How can I lead a church feeling like this? The door was opened, but over the course of the journey, I learned that God was doing something much deeper than the enemy could ever think of doing. What the enemy was using to destroy me, God, as I learned to follow and trust Him, was and still is bringing to me a life that I had never lived before.
Over the next few devotions, I want to take you through my journey of anxiety, depression, fear and the intensity of spiritual growth that builds faith that is able to trust even when the enemy has pulled up a chair. My story is still being walked out but with a much better perspective. It will go hand in hand with a sermon series I am preaching in October called, “Out of the Gray” that will help those who are dealing with anxiety and depression. I understand that many have experienced similar stories like mine who one day everything was so colorful and full of life only to, in a moment, turn gray, dull, and dark. You are not alone and... you are not without hope!
Psalm 23:5 is a reminder to us all that even when the enemy moves in, God provides a table for us, and He anoints our heads with His oil. He knows how to take care of our minds. Oil is a representation of the Holy Spirit. As believers, the Holy Spirit lives in us. Scripture teaches us that He is the comforter, teacher, and reminder of everything Jesus revealed to us about the Heavenly Father. In this series of devotions, we will look at what God’s word says about our thoughts, our feelings, and how leaning into Him through application and with the help of others, will bring us out of the gray and back into the life you enjoy.
God is with you! You are going to be ok.