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Gary DeVaul Writings

When Wrong Seems Oft' So Strong God is the Ruler Yet
A Letter from Ogunquit
The Hands of Angels
Choosing Life
The Questions
Ginger Ale
The Changeling
Inside Out
Love in the Gap - Part I
Love in the Gap - Part II
Forgetting Stuff
Our Own Table
Teapots or Cracked Pots


Tuesday, September 23, 2003 2:05 PM CDT

Choosing Life

By: Gary DeVaul

Mark was in a conversation with a friend, when the friend asked a simple question that all of us have asked through the aftermath of his accident. "How do you remain so positive, your attitude is remarkable, your recovery, amazing to me?" In and out of formal ministry I've heard this question asked of others, and of course like all of you, I've asked it myself. The answer to the question can be of great importance to all of us in our daily lives, our struggles great and small.

When I was studying at Fuller Seminary the late Dr. Jewett, preached a sermon on 2 Corinthians 4. 7-12. "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in our mortal flesh..."

A few years later my mentor, Raymond Beckering, chose to preach on the same passage at my ordination. He entitled his sermon, "Cracked Pots." Boy was he ever right on!

Ray said, "Earthen vessels, well that's us isn't it?" Earthen vessels crack sooner or later, don't they? And of course when they do, that which they contain comes pouring out. That's what we mean when we see someone being tested in some way and we say, "Now we'll see what they're made of." And of course we do if we pay attention.

On one occasion in the hospital the machine that was dispensing Marks pain medication ceased to function. It was supposed to beep when that happened but for some reason the contraption failed to beep and Mark got behind the pain curve. The stuff they were using exits your body very rapidly and it takes some time before the new dose can catch up to the pain. That's what it means to be behind the pain curve. Because of the brutality of Mark's accident and injury, his arm was pulled off at the shoulder rather than being cleanly severed. In the process the nerves and vascular system were shredded, and of course the resulting pain in recovery was severe. In this case as the pain killer was ebbing and the pain was increasing, Mark asked me to readjust his pillows. I did, but it didn't help, and soon the veins in his forehead were bulging and his eyes were filling with tears. I headed for the nurses station only to be told to wait a minute while she finished her telephone call, something about putting "a leg of lamb in the oven". Well, that didn't go over very well and my legendary impatience flashed! Suffice it to say, the nurse was there in a jiffy. She fixed the machine, dispensed the pain medication and we waited what seemed an eternity for the medication to kick in.

The pain increased for awhile and in his suffering Mark didn't curse, or carry on, (I did.) he just asked to hold my hand and we both prayed. Now that's what Mark is made of. There - through the cracks in the earthen vessel - I could see the "transcendent power of God" doing what the transcendent power does best, it transcends! It asked only for the hand of a friend and it gracefully transcends the pain and agony until the medicine kicks in.

Oh, by the way. I apologized to the nurse and she replied, "Honey, I've been dealing with idiots all my life, don't worry about it." She knew a cracked pot when she saw one.

We learned about machines from that incident, we watched them carefully from then on, but we also learned about being struck down and not despairing. The transcendent power never imposes on us, but if we choose to tap into it, it never fails us either. It is the choosing that is important. The power is activated by our prayerful choice. "I set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore chose life..." (Duet. 30: 19) This is part of what Paul meant when he said, "always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in our mortal flesh." We often suffer as Jesus suffered, but if we choose as He chose - there is resurrection as well.

When asked by our friend how he manages to be cheerful and have such a positive attitude, Mark simply said, "What's the alternative? We can choose to go up, or we can allow the gravity of the situation take us down." Mark chose life. Sometimes that's not easy.

Often when confronted with obstacles as challenging as losing an arm, good manners and cultural norms have to be put aside in order to function, and a well honed sense of humor need replace them.

The other day in a restaurant Mark ordered his favorite entree, a hamburger. Usually, if I'm nearby, I will remember to cut his food, this time I forgot, and here's this huge hamburger wiggling and squiggling, not wanting to be lifted with one hand. I looked up from my meal to see that Mark had stuck his fork into the burger and was - with his face just a few inches from his food - holding the handle of the fork with his teeth while cutting the all American meal with his right hand! Not a pretty sight you say? Well, of course I was embarrassed for him and I moved to cut the thing in half. I said, "What are you doing?" He spit out the fork and replied, teeming with the dry wit he's famous for, "I'm trying to kill it before I eat it." The good people sitting next to us had been eavesdropping. They could see that Mark was struggling with one arm and they were embarrassed for him. Upon hearing his declaration of burgercide, they were disarmed and their table erupted in laughter.

Attitude has to do with how we live moment by moment, without struggling to choose our reaction incident by incident. Through years of working on his attitude, and praying, Mark has learned to live moment by moment; choosing life verses death and the transcendent power shows forth and we are amazed and blessed by his witness to us. By the way, humor is a direct descendent of God's grace, an absolutely essential element in choosing to choose life.

Now don't get me wrong. Canonizing Mark might please him, but I doubt it. He's still as full of stuffing as a Christmas turkey! He eats way too much ice cream. His cell phone has become an appendage of his ear. He's addicted to his computer, and his naughty sense of humor borders on the wicked. And of course, living with someone who always chooses life can be a real pain in the neck. But then - we're all cracked pots aren't we?

By the way. Helping our brother to choose life has been made easier by your support and contributions to the Trust. Please keep up your support; the really tough days are ahead. And remember, when your days get sticky, just visualize our buddy killing that hamburger with a fork in his mouth. The transcendent power will laugh, and so will you! Cracked Pots every one...

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