Yesterday was very miserable with my sore throat, but I am feeling much better today, thank you. I wanted to write one more post before I wander off into the wild blue yonder of book writing, so here I go.
I have, in the past year, been struck by God’s providential provision and direction in my life. God is always leading and directing in our lives, but there are times when something happens which brings it particularly to our attention and reminds us that we should always thank God, and trust Him, whatever the circumstances in our lives, because He is sovereign and He is good.
I already mentioned in the previous post about the astonishing fact of the discovery and interest in my writing. Those of you who faithfully follow my blog are also aware of my inguinal hernia surgery in the beginning of January this year. I have been remiss in officially closing out that story and wish to remedy that now. Though you are all aware of the general facts of the case, not all of you are aware of the particular details of God’s faithfulness in this matter.
To recap from the beginning: As best I can determine, I probably had the inguinal hernia on my left side since birth. Most likely the inguinal canal on my left side didn’t close up properly. This is not particularly unusual for males. I first became (unwittingly) aware of this problem when I was probably 8-10 years old, but it didn’t really start bothering me (as best I can recall) until I was probably at least in my mid-teens, if not later. At that point I began to wonder if perhaps, possibly, I had a hernia but since it bothered me only slightly and rarely I never bothered to investigate the matter further. Then, around the time when I first moved to care for Grandma and Grandpa it began to bother me with more regularity and I was forced to investigate the matter. By searching around on the internet I managed to determine that I did indeed have an inguinal hernia, and as best I could determine the hernia was minor. At that point my life was still in turmoil from moving to live with Grandma and Grandpa and I really didn’t want to deal with this problem at that time. It was just one more stress and one more problem in an already stressful and problematic time of my life. I didn’t really see how I could deal with the problem. At that point I basically prayed, “God, if you want me to do something about this, you’ll have to show me how. Otherwise, Lord, I’m just going to trust you to keep me healthy.”
And that is how the matter sat for about a year. My hernia didn’t go away, but didn’t get drastically worse either. However, in the passage of that time, my thinking changed. My thinking was changed by various external factors, but all of those were brought to bear as God’s way of prompting me. The hernia continued to bother me and weigh on my mind. I was forced to confront the fact that it wouldn’t go away and that it could potentially become suddenly and catastrophically worse. Further, while “now” wasn’t a good time to deal with it, there likely would never be a “good” time and there very possibly could be a worse time.
So I began to investigate what would be required to get my surgery done. An internet search revealed that the cost of the surgery would probably be between $15,000 and $25,000. Gulp. To a man who has never seen that much money in his entire life, much less in a single year, that was a considerable sum. It was like being told that to patch a small hole in your body it would cost the equivalent of a few used cars. As much as I value a whole a sound body, the price felt out of commensurate with the work to be preformed. While taking care of Grandma and Grandpa I didn’t have the income to pay for that, I didn’t have health insurance to cover it, and I wasn’t even in the position to go out and get a job to pay for the surgery. Even before I investigated the cost I knew that, no matter what, I would have to borrow some money to cover the surgery. But $15,000 to $25,000 was more than just some. Sure, you borrow that much to buy a car, or a house, but to fix a little hole in yourself–to flush that much money into an unknown oblivion, a problem that I could still live with, and might not get worse and might not actually really absolutely need to be fixed? Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to go forward with this. I said, in effect, “Okay, God. That’s a lot of money. If you want me to go forward with this, you’ll have to provide the ability for me to borrow that much money in my current situation. If I can’t, then I will take that as the sign I shouldn’t go forward with this.”
After inquiring I found I could borrow whatever potential sum would be required for my surgery. “Very well,” I thought. “I didn’t ever want to owe anyone that amount of money, but since you say so, God, I’ll do it.” I didn’t know how everything was going to turn out, but I felt a peace about the matter.
But then when I was back home visiting with the family and discussing the matter Teman suggested I look into getting health insurance, and seeing if they would cover the procedure. Two things had stopped me from looking into that route. First, it was my understanding that insurance companies would not cover prior health conditions. Second, I hate dealing with health insurance companies. I don’t like bureaucracy and a myriad of rules under the best of circumstances, but I had witnessed Mom fighting with the insurance company often enough to know that getting a procedure covered could be a very frustrating experience. Rather than face uncertainty and frustration, it was my natural inclination to just simply pay the price and get the operation over and done with.
That was my natural inclination. That is what I wanted. But after Teman mentioned the suggestion, I couldn’t shake it out of my mind. Why shouldn’t I exercise due diligence and at least investigate the possibility? If I was right and the insurance company wouldn’t cover a prior condition–well, that would settle the matter. But if they would cover the procedure and it was cheaper than simply covering it myself, what exactly was I accomplishing by being recalcitrant? I was certainly showing that I was stubborn, and don’t like change or frustration, but it wasn’t demonstrating a trust in God. So, reluctantly, I investigated whether a health insurance policy was a possibility.
To my surprise, I discovered it was. Maybe. Probably. That got into the issue of how life is never so clear or certain as we might like. After searching on the internet, I found a policy that seemed to suit my needs. It appeared, from what I had read, and as best as I understood (and I was painfully aware of those qualifying facts) that they would cover a prior existing condition if it had not been diagnosed by a doctor. This last fact was key. If there was no official diagnoses before you were on the plan, you were covered. Otherwise, not. As best I understood from what I read. Laws and rules always have their fine lines and carefully cut distinctions which puts one person in and another person out, sometimes for seemingly capricious reasons. That’s why I don’t like rules and laws. Using laws and rules to determine your course always seems like a bad idea to me because they are tricky things. Someone might tell you after the fact that you misunderstood the laws and rules, or else that they changed. Any maybe the insurance company was hiding some bit of “gotcha” information that they would spring on me and invalidate my coverage after I had paid for the policy and had my surgery completed. I don’t trust companies.
It came down to this: A quarter of a year of insurance coverage cost approximately $1,100. If I was right in my understanding of the policy, the insurance would cover the surgery and I would only have to pay the policy cost, plus the expense of a few odd doctor visits. That felt like a big if. If I was right, my cost could be 1/10th or less than what had been previously projected by paying my own way. If I was wrong . . . well then, I would have the $15,000+ expense of the surgery and the $1,100 for the insurance policy. In other words, if I was wrong I would have flushed $1,100 down the drain–which, being the stingy sort of fellow I am, was not a prospect I relished.
Could I be absolutely certain that I would be covered? No. Should I take the risk? After praying about the matter, I felt I should. I felt that if I was trusting in God, I didn’t need guarantees that my fleshly mind could rest in with absolute security. I was to trust in God, not man. To the best of my understanding, taking out the insurance policy was the wisest course. I could be wrong, but even if I was wrong, God would still be faithful in providing. So I took out the insurance policy.
At the time I was contemplating the insurance, I didn’t even have the money out of pocket to pay the $1,100 for the insurance policy, much less the surgery. But then a strange thing happened. I got a check for some books that had sold, and Grandma gave me a completely unexpected and exceedingly generous birthday check. I hadn’t told her anything about my monetary need. I had not spoken, or even hinted in the slightest. Out of her own heart (or God’s prompting, to be more precise) she gave me a large birthday check completely unlike what she had done the previous year. Between what I had got from the sale of books, Grandma, and my savings, I had just enough to cover the insurance bill. It did not escape my notice that the bill had been precisely provided for.
Afterward, What followed was the litany of doctor appointments. I went to a general practitioner who examined me (he said the hernia was minor and in no danger of intestinal strangulation but it was still best to have it repaired) and referred me to the surgeon. An appointment with the surgeon scheduled the surgery and then the appointed day of surgery arrived. The surgery, and its immediate aftermath I have already related in an earlier post, so I will not bother to repeat that here. Suffice to say I began an uneventful recovery.
Then, in due time the hospital and doctor submitted their bills to the insurance. At which point they were promptly provisionally denied over the possibility that my condition was “prior existing” and not covered. This was pretty much expected on my part–the insurance, not wanting to give up any money, would want to make sure they really had to cover me–but nonetheless this raised my anxiety level quite a bit. We’re weren’t playing a small stakes came. Well over ten thousand dollars was on the line, and that doesn’t sit comfortably with me. Now we were going to find out if I had read my insurance policy right. Now I would have the chance to experience the very thing I already knew I didn’t like about insurance companies–endless phone calls, and endless delay. The doctor had to fill out a form stating when he had diagnosed my condition and send it back. The insurance company had to reevaluate my claim. Getting all of this sorted out took multiple phone calls–and I hate making phone calls–and lots of waiting for the wheel of bureaucracy to turn. I had to watch my claims like a hawk to make sure nobody screwed up the process, and I had to face increasingly more insistent hospital bills demanding payment ASAP.
Finally, (and none too soon in my book,) the insurance company approved my claim and payed the bills in full (as full as an insurance company ever pays–they never pay the full listed bill and the hospital and doctors who accept it must swallow the difference . . . the surgeon got so little it was almost pennies for the dollar). With that the adventure was over, the burden lifted from my shoulders. It was all done.
The total cost of the surgery that I had been potentially facing was as follows:
- $60.00 Referral from Primary Doctor
- $194.00 Pre-surgery consult from surgeon
- $2,244.00 Base surgeon charge
- $1,122.00 second surgeon charge
- $890.00 Anesthesia
- $11,138.17 Hospital bill
- Total: $15,648.17
That is what I was potentially on the line for. What I ended up paying was as follows:
- $60.00 Referral from Primary Doctor
- $194.00 Pre-surgery consult from surgeon
- $250.00 Anesthesia (Insurance had a co-pay)
- $1,123.95 Insurance Policy (one quarter)
- Total: 1,627.95
I ended up paying approximately 1/10th of what I could have been required, and I was able to pay it all directly out of my own pocket. I didn’t owe anyone a single penny. It was a complete reversal of what I had expected.
God can preform dramatic miracles where the dead are restored to life or health is renewed in the twinkling of an eye. But God can also perform quiet miracles in the little things so that what would have cost far beyond the ability to pay is made payable and what was impossible becomes possible. The fact that such miracles are quiet, and without general acclimation makes them no less miracles and no less occasions in which we should thank and praise Him.
If God hadn’t intervened, I never would have applied for insurance. It was against my personality. If God hadn’t intervened, Grandma wouldn’t have given me an exceedingly generous birthday check. If God hadn’t intervened the insurance company would have fouled up my claim and not paid. In so many ways and at so many times it looked like this entire thing wouldn’t come together–and yet it did. The fact that there was no thunder or voice from heaven makes it no less the work of God.
That might seem a fine conclusion to this story, but that wasn’t the end of the matter for me.
We are very contradictory creatures. One minute we are praying and seeking God’s face and trusting and resting in Him–the next minute we are scrambling like mad while trying to forage on by our own strength. In reflecting upon events, I judged that if I did well in seeking God’s face and trusting Him in the time leading up to the surgery and through the procedure, dealing with the insurance afterward was a different matter entirely. Knowing that total and complete trust is God’s rightful due, this failure troubled me. It did not reflect well on how I would conduct myself in the rest of my life.
Let me explain.
While a review of the facts clearly demonstrates that God was sovereignly directing in events, that fact was never in question for me. I knew and believed that no matter what the outcome, God would have been faithful. It is all too easy for us, in our fleshliness, to tell God that He is only faithful if He handles a situation as we think He ought. But the faithfulness of God transcends our understanding. God’s faithfulness was most clearly demonstrated in the event that–to human eyes–He was declared most unfaithful. The crucifixion of Christ, to human wisdom, was the abandonment of Christ by God the Father. Jesus had trusted in God–and look what God did! God let him die. But we know, by faith, that God was faithful because He raised Christ Jesus from the dead–He had something better in store, something that could only be laid hold of after the cross. In the same way in our own lives we must be careful to never think that God is faithful only if He saves us from the “crucifixion” in our own lives. God can save us from crucifixion (or sickness, or hospital bills) but sometimes His faithfulness is most perfectly shown by “resurrecting” us from those things which “kill” us. And, in the end, the faithfulness of God to each one of us is penultimately expressed in our literal resurrection at the end of this age.
I understood this, and through the whole struggle post-surgery in dealing with the insurance company it wasn’t as if I felt the faithfulness of God was on the line. I knew, no matter what the outcome, God was faithful. But what I struggled with was trusting God in the sense of resting in His will. It is one thing to believe that an Almighty God controls all things. It is another thing to acknowledge that everything from His hand is good, and to rest in peace in that truth. It was in regards to that question I found myself lacking. I knew God would be faithful to whatever conclusion He had ordained. My acceptance of that conclusion–and my willingness to wait upon it–was a different matter. It is one thing to believe that God is all powerful. It is another thing to believe He is all good, and to rest in that goodness. When the testing got tough, Job had a problem with that second matter too.
So I found myself not resting. Sure, I wasn’t laying awake at nights in a cold sweat with worry–but even by fleshly standards it wasn’t a problem that warranted such a reaction as that. But the fact was, I was struggling with an attitude that viewed the matter in accord to the measure of fleshly standards and concern. The matter weighed on my mind and I fretted.
That is quite natural, someone might say. Why does that bother you?
Why? Because in reflecting on it I saw the poverty of my own faith. I failed to wholly rest in God in this small thing. Sure, I started out good, but when it came to the point when I was really weak–then I stumbled. If I stumbled in such a small thing, how much more would I fail in a big thing? If I did not have faith to rest in peace in the goodness of God in this small thing–if I was agitated by this small problem while I was young, single, and without any real responsibilities–how much more so would I be troubled if I was a father facing such a thing with a family to feed, and some loved one who was sick? It would be a crushing weight which I would not be able to bear. What might have seemed like a little failure of trusting God in the matter of a medical bill was really an indictment of my total inability to live my life as I ought. I was brought face to face (not for the first time) with the reality of my utter lack of strength. I am a worrier, and as soon as a bill rears its head–or as soon as some trouble comes that I don’t know the outcome–that is when everything begins to crumble.
I don’t have the faith to trust God in my life.
To superficial Christianity, that statement is anathema. In worldly Christianity, we talk about how much faith we have in God. That kind of Christianity boasts about one’s own ability to hang on to God. But the truth is that we are not able to hang on to God–it is God who hangs on to us. It is not our faithfulness on which we stand in our relationship to God–but on His faithfulness. In a roundabout way, that was the lesson I learned (not for the first time, and not for the last) from this hernia surgery. Not only do I come a little bit short in trusting the goodness of God in my life–I come completely short. It is very humbling to think about how you are going about something in faith and then discovering that when your feet are really held to the fire your faith isn’t quite the stuff you thought it was.
Looking at how I reacted to the testing that came out of my surgery, I had to admit that but for the grace of God I would be controlled by neurotic paranoia for the rest of my life. I didn’t have some great solid faith that would sustain me and guide me through every trouble. I am a man who likes to be in control, and as soon as it is apparent that I am not in control my fears and concerns spring up and then instead of the peace that comes from knowing the goodness of God, I am wrestling with how I might possibly save my own hide from this disaster–or what I will do if I can’t. Always trying to make plans, always trying to save myself–that’s me. So much for my great faith.
This realization was a humbling one, and at first it was very depressing. But as I continued to reflect and ponder on this example of my abysmal failure I began to see it differently. In seeing my failure I also once again saw the truth of what my hope and confidence in life really rests upon–that is, true faith. In my failure I was reminded again of where my strength really comes from. Coming through my surgery and the experience afterward, I couldn’t look forward at my life and say, “I have the faith in God to face whatever comes.” No, instead I had to say, “I don’t have the faith to face the troubles which will come in my life. But God is faithful and He will be my strength through my failures, and purify me through the testing. Though I stumble and fall, He will forgive me, and pick me up and draw me closer to Him.” It is from the nature of who God is–not who we are–that springs the fountain of true faith and hope. That is a humble position we should always acknowledge. It should never be our faith in and of ourselves to be able to trust God enough that should give us confidence–either for our ultimate salvation, or for our daily living. It is knowing the faithfulness of God to His promises that is the foundation for our salvation, and our daily living.
If our confidence in our lives is founded upon our belief in our ability to give a reciprocal faith to God–then we will always find the foundation failing way when the trials of life come. Because, we will never have sufficient reciprocal faith to give to God in the hour of our need. If we think we have that faith and strength then we are trusting in ourselves and we will find that confidence in vain. The great hope for all of us is to come face to face with our compete inadequacy–and to realize that it doesn’t matter because God is faithful and it is Him working in us that will sustain us until the end. As it is said, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16). It is a confidence based upon who God is, and what He has done in Christ Jesus, not in ourselves.
And so, in looking back on my experience throughout the surgery I must look at my future and say that my confidence of my standing in the trials to come is based in the faithfulness and strength of God, not my own. It is because God is faithful, not because I am faithful, that I have hope in all things. For, certainly I will stumble and fail, but it is God in Christ Jesus who is merciful and faithful to lift me up and forgive me. It is God who is sufficient. I can look at my life and say, “But for the grace of God I will fail in every disaster and time of testing,” and that is a statement of confidence. The grace of God in Christ Jesus–that is our confidence and hope.