Letter from Pastor Stephanie – June 2, 2022
Dear MBC Family,
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies
as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
From Romans 12
I am currently waiting in the hospital as I write this letter. Today is the day of Soren’s mandible extraction surgery. Soren and I left the house at 3:30 am to drive to Dartmouth for a 6:30 check-in and surgery. The surgery is a complicated procedure with more variables at this point than at any other time in his medical history. Part of the difficulty is how small Soren’s airway is which makes a breathing tube incredibly difficult. His ENT took the case especially, to help navigate the airway, as a favor to Soren, understanding the problems other anesthesiologists have had with intubation in the past. They plan on at least four hours of surgical time and then he will be moved to the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) while he is intubated. There will be metal on the outside of his chin and jawline that will contain small knobs that will be turned multiple times a day (in hospital and out of it), to achieve the alignment of his lower jaw with his upper teeth. He will have his jawbone pulled forward and down simultaneously. We are expected to be here a minimum of seven to ten days and then he goes home to recover, possibly with the metal still in his mouth.
We have been preparing for this surgery as a family for over six months. Planning through 3-D imaging and models made from CAT scans of his jaw along with many medical appointments. We have prepared Soren and the other children for not only the procedure, but for what will come after when he returns home. We have coordinated pickups, practices, food, care for other children while Mitch and I drive back and forth to spell one another. Our home, which is used to two parents “adulting” at all times, will be down to just one during this time.
Throughout the last few weeks, as we got closer and closer to this surgery, Marin would ask repeatedly “Are you sure he has to have this surgery”? It was a surgery that was considered elective until last summer when he was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. Therefore, my answer to Marin was always “Unfortunately, yes, he has to have it for his body to grow”.
There are surgeries Soren has had to keep him alive (g-tube, esophageal repair surgery and an emergency blockage removal in his bowels), but this one was to help him grow and have an extended life. It was for quality and for growth. Because he doesn’t sleep through the night, his pituitary gland isn’t operating the way that it should. You have to sleep to grow. That combined with his complicated airway, it was hard for him to breathe. Having a harder time breathing burns extra calories which Soren desperately needs. And though no one in our family wanted this surgery for him, we knew it was necessary. But still Marin’s words would echo through my mind “does he really need to have this”?
Why would anyone ever want to go through something painful, difficult and dangerous in order to grow?
There are times in our lives where growth requires walking through something difficult and painful. The physical act of bones stretching actually hurts, but when it is done in small increments as we sleep, the growth goes seemingly unnoticed. We have the understanding of “growing pains”, but pain in-and-of-itself is a whole subject our world does whatever they can to avoid. We have whole industries devoted to normalizing the numbing of pain in our world.
I agree that no one likes pain, and so I ask again, why would anyone ever want to go through something painful, difficult and dangerous in order to grow? No one who is sane or healthy would choose to suffer to grow.
But the great complicated fact is that in many ways, spiritual growth is the same. It is at times difficult, painful and feels very dangerous. To let go of who we are in order to embrace who we are created to be in God’s image is painful at times.
Many know the quote from C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader where the boy, Eustace, now a dragon due to his own greed, is undergoing the painful peeling back of the dragon skin by the Lion, Aslan:
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he
began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me
able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”
It is a quote that perfectly describes the process of our layers being peeled back. We love that quote for the dragon, but not as a necessary aspect of our spiritual journey. The systemic pain in our lives, our way of known behavior, escape mechanisms, how we use our time, how we see ourselves and others, what we think and what we say and how we interact with God’s Kingdom need to be peeled back and transformed from the way we have done things before we knew and followed Christ.
Paul, in the Romans passage above, writes that this transformation is necessary.
We will either conform to the image of Christ or to the world. We will either stay
in our learned behaviors or allow God to spiritually transform us. Consider what Paul
is saying, belief in Christ does not keep us from needing to be conformed into His likeness.
Belief is not the end; it is the beginning of the journey to look more like Christ and less like the world. We have a choice. We can continue to respond as the world does and we will even be praised at times for doing so, or we can, “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”. The latter requires God to grow us through spiritual transformation.
I have shared in the past that God began to spiritually transform me, once again, beginning in January 2019. It felt like I was going into a wall of darkness. I wasn’t depressed but I was feeling as if every way I responded to the world was coming into question. I remember telling people that I could feel God peeling back those layers as I faced the pain of growth. Sitting with God in silence and solitude allowed me to see the areas God was moving in my life specifically. The result has been a tremendous amount of healing especially a release from the coping mechanisms I have held onto since I was a child. Coping mechanisms that the world praised, but that kept me underdeveloped in other areas. I am by no means perfect or complete, but I am acutely aware that the growth that God wants us to go through to grow is not always what we would choose to walk through. We may at times sound like Marin with Soren’s surgery “do we really have to go through this”. And just like I answered Marin, so too God answered me “Yes, you do in order to grow”.
Our focus this past year has been on discipleship through spiritual transformation. Our sermons, Bible studies and small groups have been focused on exposing us to a deeper dive into discipleship, spiritual transformation, and spiritual disciplines. We will be offering the following this summer:
• Book Study using “A Deeper Journey” (on spiritual transformation) by Robert Mulholland, Jr. on Monday evenings beginning July 11th via Zoom. You do not need to have attended the class with his first book to attend this one.
• Sunday Morning (8:45am) Class for Adults and Older Teems on “Discipleship: Facing Difficult Issues Through the Lens of Beliefs and Love” beginning July 10th. We will use a round table discussion format to create a safe place for honest, prayerful dialogue on subjects such as race, gender, and sexuality.
• Small groups like Four Tuesdays in June at the Curlers / Thursday Evening Compline Group / Thursday Noon Lunch and Bible Study on Acts. There are also other groups that open for new members periodically. Check out MBC website for more information. www.MemorialBaptistVT.org
• A sermon series in the book of Galatians will begin in June and will continue our exploration of spiritual transformation. We’ll also be looking at transformation through the lens of Bowen’s Family Systems Theory or Systems Theory. Don’t worry, it will not be a series of sermons on psycho-analyzing, but instead will focus on how the church contains the very same structures we carried in our families of origin.
As we finished up this letter, after four and half hours in surgery, Soren emerged with a heavy metal look and some pirate scars to brag about in years to come. The surgeon said in his 25 years, it was the most complicated case he has ever worked on. He said it was like putting together a Swiss watch in someone’s mouth. They will keep him sedated through the weekend as I turn the screws to stretch his jaw. I asked for prayers for our family on Sunday and I continue to ask for you to lift us up. Especially the pain Soren will feel physically. Though I can rationalize that the surgery is necessary for his growth, it was incredibly painful to pray over him and leave him this morning knowing what he will have to walk through. The trust I had to put in the hands of the surgeon, who though talented and experienced, listed the many things that we are facing. But I know that God is with Soren and that we, just like Soren’s journey, are not alone. God is not using the pain of growth to hurt us, nor can we avoid pain in order to grow.
My prayers for us as a church is that we don’t run from these sermons, classes, or time as a body of believers, but that we allow God to grow us as He sees fit. If you are not already invested in one of the classes/groups listed above, please, prayerfully consider being part of discipleship at MBC.