Two months ago I was revisited by a long-dormant health problem in my life. Way back in 2007 I was diagnosed with a medical condition called cavernous hemangioma, a cluster of blood vessels at the base of my brain. At the time, the symptoms that had resulted in me going to the doctors were lightheadedness and dizziness. My neurologist was pretty certain I had some kind of inner ear issue going on, but ordered an MRI just in case. The MRI revealed the problem at the base of my brain. I guess it could be something that could be serious or not. In fact, it was around 25 years ago that I lost one of my parishioners to a similar type cluster of veins that burst in his brain (Paul was in his 40’s). Part of my philosophy in my faith journey is to enjoy each day that the Lord gives me to serve Him and to seek to make Him known. Because funerals have been such a big part of my pastoral ministry and I’ve had to bury people that I was very close to in each of the churches I have served, I tend not to take tomorrow for granted. I really find Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes a good guideline for life when he writes, “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and to do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God”, (Eccl.3:12-13 NIV).
I guess when I was originally given my diagnosis, I could have had a fearful response. I could have decided to make only safe choices in my life that were in my comfort zone because of my condition, but there are many things that I would’ve missed if I had functioned out of my fear. I would’ve never gone to India for three weeks in the winter of 2008 or spoken at seven different churches, led 15 chapel services, and taught about 30 Bible classes at Kerala Baptist Bible College. I would have never organized a church trip to Israel, as it could have been too stressful on my brain if I had worried about it. I tend to be a worrier when traveling anyway. I never would’ve gone back to India a second time, where I ministered to nearly 150 pastors at a pastor’s retreat, taught two days of classes at Carmel Bible College, ministered at 10 different village churches, and baptized the man who was traveling with me in the Bay of Bengal. And yes, it was actually in Hyderabad, India that I had one of my worse and most frightening experiences with my brain condition. After an all-night train ride from Eluru, one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, we went to have lunch with a former church attender at NDC who had invited the pastoral staff from her church to join us for lunch. After lunch, while visiting with the pastors, my brain began to explode, and my head did much spinning around. Had I been home in the United States I would’ve certainly have gone to the hospital, but that didn’t seem like such a good option in Hyderabad. Fortunately, through prayer and rest, the symptoms subsided after a few hours.
If I allowed that frightful experience to stop me from traveling there are many other things that I would’ve missed. I would not have gone to Jerusalem in 2014 to study at Yad Vashem, which also had produced a huge panic attack in my life trying to catch my connecting flight in Toronto where I was interrogated for 20 minutes by the ELAL security team before boarding my plane for Tel Aviv. That frightful flight experience could have stopped us from flying later in the year to Hawaii, where we had one of the most awesome vacations in our whole lives. That vacation was topped off with a nightmare experience flying back when our flights were canceled not once, but twice and when we finally boarded the plane in Honolulu after an all-night delay, (having spent all night in the airport) I spilled a boiling cup of hot tea onto my lap shortly after our flight’s departure. Maybe that should stop me from traveling, but less than six months later I would lead a team of six from NDC to the Philippines, where I had the privilege of teaching 2 classes for a week at the Word of Life Bible Institute while my co-laborers and fellow team members ministered and served in completing some incredible building projects for the benefit of Word of Life Bible Institute in Laguna. Being at the center of God’s will doesn’t mean that things will always go smoothly, but we can always trust that we will experience Jesus’s presence and assistance in the midst of our difficulties.
My neurological episode two months ago was probably not precipitated by any stressful thing happening in my life, but by a physical exercise that I was doing at the gym that morning. I’m not saying that I don’t have a lot of stress in my life these days, because this year has been very difficult on the stress meter, but I think it was exercise-related more than stress-related. The symptoms that I experienced two months ago mirrored a stroke and resulted in the multi-tests that were done at the hospital on October 9th and why I went there in the first place. One of the things that I really believe are the days of my life are numbered and are in God’s hands. David in Psalm 139 after talking about being intricately woven together in his mother’s womb, writes- “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” (Ps. 139:16 NIV). That doesn’t mean that I live carelessly or frivolously, but I have chosen not to be controlled by fears in my life that I have no control over. I know one day I am going to die, but I cannot allow the fear of death to dictate how I live today. Because of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for me I know one day God is going to bring me into His presence and what a glorious moment that is going to be. However, until that moment occurs, I plan on enjoying the goodness of God in my life by experiencing His amazing grace daily and seeking to do as much good as I can in the time that God has given to me. For me, faith means trusting God with every aspect of my life (including my life) to do whatever He pleases.
All for God’s glory,
Pastor Rich Sivo