Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Back - well sort of

Just in case people had thought I'd emigrated I have been struggling a little with ill health over the past two weeks which has had the effect of dragging me down somewhat or necessitating a visit to the doctor. He sent me for some blood tests. Although all the tests are not back yet it appears likely that my stomach has been colonized by a bacteria with the unprepossessing name of 'h pylori helicobacter' whose screw like shape enables it to penetrate the protective levels of mucus on the stomach linings causing all kinds of interesting problems on the surface of my stomach. Apparently it is a precondition for the development of ulcers, and if not treated, cancer. The condition is exacerbated - and possibly activated - by stress, and treatment is usually with an acid suppressant and a course (or two) of antibiotics although there is no guarantee that that will entirely eradicate it, hence the need also for a change of diet.

I have to add that I am still awaiting confirmation of this but all the symptoms are there - bloated stomach, loss of appetite, belching, pain by the lower rib-cage, reflux, nausea etc. Luckily one of them - lack of sleep - seems for the moment to have eluded me (along with vomiting). I sleep like a log and dream vividly. What the blood tests did reveal so far, however, is that I need to lower my cholesterol and lose weight. The second of these, I am pleased to say, has been quite easy as I eat very little because of the almost constant discomfort, nausea, reflux and loss of appetite I experience on a daily basis . Lowering the cholesterol however may take a bit more doing but I have started taking steps in that direction. But things get a bit more complicated because I have to cut out dairy - and I love cheese/milk/butter - and now gluten which apparently make the symptoms much worse. Until I started looking at these things I did not realise how hard it is to avoid wheat! And what do I put on my cereal? And should I even have cereal? And on top of all that I am to avoid citrus, spices, caffeine and anything that produces acid. Happy days!

Luckily there is a lot on the web - too much in some ways - and gradually I am learning to drink herbal tea - without milk of course - use a vegetarian butter substitute on my crackers (although they have to be pure rye or oats) and generally try and eat more healthily. That still leaves fish, meat, vegetables and some fruit so its not all bad.

Enough of the medical history and on to the real reason I am writing this. God works in mysterious ways, as the saying goes, and even with all the above going on He still manages to teach me important truths:

First, the value of Christian fellowship. Recently a member of my congregation, Sylvia, offered to pray for me after the morning service and, praise God, it worked - for a while. However it wasn't so much the answer to prayer that was the important lesson here but how God designed the church to be a fellowship of believers offering support, prayer and comfort to one another in the bad times (and the good). It was humbling to be prayed for and I must say I really appreciated it. So thanks be to God for fellow Christians like Sylvia.

Second, the whole issue of food and stomachs got me thinking about fasting and self-control. As I was praying about my stomach a verse popped into my head from Philippians 3:19:

"Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things."

God made food to sustain and strengthen us. It is important for good health and enjoyable too. In its place it is a wonderful thing. But like any good thing it can become an obsession of sorts. Instead of being the servant it can become the master, or, as Paul describes it, a god!  I must admit to being someone who loves food and for over ten to fifteen years has outgrown shirts, collar sizes and trousers in the process. Now however, with the need to lose weight and take care what I eat, I am giving more thought to the place of food in my life. Yes I have to be careful that I don't bet equally obsessed with dieting, but re-thinking my philosophy about the place of food has been an interesting exercise.

Also it puts fasting into some sort of perspective too. As well as being a useful (and biblical) spiritual discipline, it is a God-given instrument to exercise the sort of self-control that puts food and the bodily appetites back into their proper perspective reminding us that only Jesus is Lord. No-one or no-thing else should be. So seeing my present feeding regime in that context is a useful lesson to learn.

Lastly, there is the whole issue of healing and its place in the Church. Healing was an important part of Jesus' ministry and work but ONLY within the context of the Kingdom of God. How it serves the Kingdom and achieves God's will is the predominant motivation. We would say, always, that healing glorifies God and would surely serve his Kingdom purposes. But sometimes illness or need can serve His purposes too. Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' kept him humble and reliant on God. Caring for those in need gives us an opportunity to prove that our Christian faith is more that just skin-deep. When Paul writes about the need to cry with people who are crying, or to love one another surely he had this in mind. As I said earlier letting someone pray for me was humbling, but I need humbling and so healing aside, it was good for me to be prayed for.

I must add too however that I believe in healing and will always pray for it. One day there will be no more illness and no more disease and when a person is healed we see the Kingdom of God breaking in. But when healing does happen the kingdom is breaking in but not here in its fullness and so whether we like it or not, illness etc. is here to stay for the time being.

So as you can see although I want to get rid of my unwanted guest h pylori helicobacter I am grateful that God is able to use it to get across some important teaching. My only hope is that I have learnt the lessons required and I can soon enjoy a healthier and less uncomfortable life.

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