Thank you for the outpouring of prayers and encouragement in response to my message for February 28, “The Biography of My Left Knee.” Our heavenly Father has heard your petitions and I am grateful to Him and to you.
I received a total replacement of the knee. The surgery went well at the East Campus Hospital of Loma Linda University Medical Center. My aftercare was superb and I was discharged on Thursday, March 3.
I am now participating in an intensive program of physical therapy to restore the function of the knee and leg that have been ravaged by nearly 38 years of weight-shifting and modified gait in compensation for the brokenness and pain in my knee.
The path to healing runs directly through the pain of repentance from old habits and into the discomfort of stretching and realignment necessary to conform me to my Creator’s intention for the pattern of my walking.
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’ But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”he said to the paralytic “‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ ” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ (Mk 2:1-12).
We frequently seek to limit our disappointments and protect our sense of order by speculating on the borders between sovereign grace and human responsibility. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” seems like a great question until we realize our motive in asking this is to keep God in the cramped box of our understanding while allowing us the greatest leeway possible in how and when we can judge his actions and make our commitments.
“Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?” Jesus asks. In other words, “Do your questions have a point, or are you simply trying to delay coming to terms with the authority of the Christ to rule and reign in every detail of your life? What part of you or anyone you view in judgment is off-limits to the grace of Jesus?”
We may ask our questions with the manipulative resistance of the child who asks for one more story or one more drink of water before surrendering to the parental prescription of sleep.
We are more likely to take the defiant stand of the proud rebel, drawing our lines in the sand that delineate what we will accept and what we will not. The pride and fear of self blinds us to two truths when we take such a foolish stand. The sand may shift with the changing winds of the Spirit, and we do not own the sand upon which we outline our convictions with such rash assurance.
The ultimate truth is that “Christ is all and in all” (Col 3:11). Without the power of Christ the Creator, our best constructs, our best efforts are illusions. We cling to these illusions of discipline and control at our peril seeking to prove our worth even as we “begrudge his generosity” as something unearned (Mt 20:15).
A danger inherent in my prayer for strength to endure and power to overcome is my felt needs and stubborn will that I must endure and I must overcome. I insist I must be strong for you, Lord. I must prevail for your glory.
Perhaps my Lord has other plans. He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). I am inclined to reply, “Fine, good, Lord. That’s a beautiful thought. Why don’t we save it until we need it?”
If the cause is good and we have the energies and will to stand for it, what is the harm? The door is blocked so we remove the roof. The obstacles are thick so we tunnel through in zeal. The gap is too large so we obtain longer ropes and drop in for the blessing.
“When we do our part, God will do his part” is the conventional wisdom of service and answered prayer. The surgeon who first told me that my knee was beyond salvage also said that at my relative youth the artificial joints might have to be replaced once or twice again in my lifetime. His advice to me was to endure the pain for as long as I could before having the joint replaced. I did exactly that for the next ten years.
When we’ve fought the good fight, made the hard calls and navigated the difficult passage toward healing, Jesus regards our faith, and says something devastating like, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
“Where does that come from?” we think. “In the face of obvious physical suffering and disability, is Jesus blaming the victim?
That is a shallow and selfish emotional reaction. Our suffering affords us no special status or entitlements. Jesus, always and ever, takes the long view of things. His mission from the manger to the cross is to remove the barrier between God and his children. Sin is the barrier, not thick ceilings, grid-locked doorways, or paralysis of body.
So much of our disappointment with God stems from this point. We seek a bargain of our sacrifice and virtue for his power. We are willing to settle for half or less, when his only offer is the whole of his life. He is a Savior not a traveling companion, or a personal care assistant. He refuses to bargain even as he offers more than we could possibly conceive as our need.
A story in point . . . .
“158 over 111.” The nurse reads out the numbers and purses her lips. She glances at me. “Do you normally have high blood pressure?”
“Yes, unfortunately,” I tell her. I have undressed and gowned for surgery. There are no secrets after a week of pre-operative tests and under the bright florescent lighting of the surgical department ante room.
“Maybe it’s just your stress over the surgery. Go to a quiet place in your mind and I will take it again.”
“I tell you that it runs high, but OK.”
“156-108. Do you take medications for this?”
“No. I didn’t have high blood pressure until fairly recently. My primary care physician put me on medication, but there were side effects, the cause couldn’t be really explained, especially after I lost weight but the pressure stayed up, and I was advised on strategies to manage it. Anesthesiology and orthopedic surgery are aware of the problem and have a plan to manage it during the surgery.”
The nurse purses her lips again, puts her clipboard under her hand and leaves me.
I generally have good health based on the complete physical examinations that I have each year. The high blood pressure is an anomaly for which I have no explanation. For most of my 57 years it hasn’t been a problem.
The elevated second, “diastolic,” number is the major concern. It says that the pressure is staying high even between heart beats when the heart should be at rest. A good number would be something below 90. The 108 is going to draw attention.
There is a kind of shame to having high blood pressure reminiscent of the disciples’ judgmental question to Jesus in John 9:1: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind.”
Because of its relative lack of external symptoms, and the devastating effect that it can have on the cardio-vascular system over time, high blood pressure is described as “the silent killer.” It can be congenital, but most often lifestyle factors are identified as the problem. Alcohol and drug consumption, smoking, poor diet, high cholesterol foods, obesity, high salt intake, emotional and physical stress, overwork, too little sleep etc. all take can push up the pressure.
When someone learns that you have high blood pressure, you can almost hear the little check list of scrutiny scrolling through his or her thinking. “What is the hidden sin or failure of this person? Why doesn’t he take better care of himself?”
My family has no history of high blood pressure. I made it through most of my stressful career without it, until my weight increased. My physician recommended a major change in my diet for the rest of my life. I made that change, lost a good deal of weight and the blood pressure improved. I still hold to the diet, but 18 months ago, the high blood pressure reappeared. This has concerned me, but battling the insistent pain in my traumatized and disintegrating knee took precedence for me over any other health problem.
My anesthesiologist with his colleagues and residents come to my gurney and go over their plan for my surgery. They ask me about allergies to medicines and past surgical experiences. I answer their questions and sign a consent form. They place their IV needles and locks in my arm. One of them takes my blood pressure again. It is still high.
“Are you working with your physician to do something about this blood pressure?” the attending anesthesiologist asks me.
“Yes,” I say, “but we are at a loss now as to what to do.”
“Well, it is in our range for doing surgery, and we’ll watch it closely, but you need to do something about this,” he admonishes me.
My kindly orthopedic surgeon comes in and goes over the informed consent form with me. I wrote that form for this hospital, but now I read it over and sign it. He verifies that it is my left knee to be replaced and pulls up my gown to mark it. He laughs when he sees that I have already written on it, “This is the knee!!!” accompanied by a smiley face.
I believe in my hospital and my surgeon. I am their lawyer. But you know, it’s my knee and I’m taking no chances.
The surgeon takes my hand in his and prays to our heavenly Father for me and for the success of the surgery in a direct but friendly tone as if speaking to his senior colleague.
The anesthesiologist returns and administers my initial sedative. My last thought is the prayer I breathe in my heart. . . “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
I awaken with my left leg thrashing on the table like a fish landed on a boat deck. The anesthesia team notices that I am awake. “Sorry,” one of them says.”We are placing a pain catheter. Does it hurt?”
“Nothing that I can’t stand,” I wheeze out through a mouth that feels and sounds like its been packed with dust.
I wheedle and beg for ice chips over the next half-hour as they place the pain blocks. Finally, they wheel my gurney to my room where I join my wife and a cheerful nurse.
A physical therapist has me up and walking by afternoon. I am leaning on a walker, but I can already feel something that I had forgotten. . . my left knee feels solid and stable.The pain of the surgery is controlled. Things are looking up.
The miracle begins to unfold in the evening. The night nurse is taking my vital signs at the beginning of her shift. She reads my blood pressure out loud. “123 over 73.”
I glance over at her. “What is my blood pressure reading?
“123 over 73.”
“There must be a mistake,” I say. “Can you take it again?”
The pneumatic cuff purrs and tightens around my arm. “124 over73,” the nurse reads out.
“Amazing,” I mutter.
“Why do you say that, sir?”
“I came into surgery with high blood pressure. A few hours after my leg was cut open, chiseled and pounded, the blood pressure is down in the normal range. That’s amazing. Are they giving me medication to lower it?”
Over the next two days, I push the walker through the hallway and do exercises. I even make it up and down four steps several times. The room fills with wonderful smelling flowers and friends. Every time my vital signs are taken my blood pressure is well within the normal range to my growing delight. My knee, even after the trauma of surgery, is in less pain than its been in years, although that could be due to the pain medications.
My bed is beside an east facing window. I awaken on the third morning to the sunrise and the thought that “I’ll be going home today.”
My surgeon comes in and we talk about my rehabilitation. “Any questions?” he asks.
“Yeah. You know that I came in with high blood pressure. By Monday night it was down to 123 over 73. It’s stayed down in that range ever since. What’s up with that?”
“Kent, your knee was horrible. The fibula had worn a hole in the head of the tibia and they fused. A chunk of the tibia broke off on the inside leaving very little for the fibula to rest on. You’re leg twisted and bowed in at the knee. This had to cause you brutal pain. I don’t know how you fought through this for so long, but your body reacted. Chronic pain and inflammation can run up your blood pressure. It’s down now, because your body is letting go of its defense against that insult and is feeling relief.”
“Thank you,” I say. “I’ve been wondering why the drop occurred. Thank you.”
When he leaves, I lay there alone for a moment. I am surprised by tears welling up in me. “Where are these coming from?” I ask myself. But the flow continues. Something hard has broken open deep within me and let me go.
My body contained a punishing, jagged wound. Whatever its cause, I owned it over time and inured myself to its pain. I did not fear the surgery. My timing wasn’t right. I could be strong.
So I was, but not strong enough.
My knee is on the mend, but who knew that it was my spirit that needed healing.
I am frankly overwhelmed by this. I was carrying something ugly, damaged and punishing inside of me, with my body struggling and failing to deal with it. Finally, I surrendered to other hands and received healing for my jagged, inflamed knee. The healing extended to something deeper and more malevolent than I even knew, self-harm caused by my own efforts to be tough.
“Son, your sins are forgiven.” This healing is a demonstration of pure grace that staggers my comprehension of Christ and the cross.
Like I said, overwhelming. I lay awake at night and ponder this. It devastates me with love and truth. How many other damaged, broken, ugly things do I carry around, seeking to work them out for myself?
I don’t know much about surrender–obviously not. Surrender is a hard process of relinquishment, not a one time event.
He knows me better than I know myself and grace is sufficient for what he knows.
“125 over 83.”
I am resting tonight in this wonderful peace,
Resting sweetly in Jesus’ control;
For I’m kept from all danger by night and by day,
And His glory is flooding my soul!
— W.D. Cornell
O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,
Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.
Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.
Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.
Kent and his beloved Patricia are enjoying their 31st year of marriage. They are the proud parents of Andrew, a college student.