Summary: The hardest thing in the world is to consider suffering and trials a gift from God.

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The Hardest Thing in the World

James 1:1-4

February 4, 2007

Have you ever felt like you’d been body slammed by life? I remember Christmas vacation of my sophomore year in high school. For some reason, the wrestling coach decided that we needed to practice. We practiced for 3 or 4 days of that vacation, and I showed up at every one. Not all of my teammates were so dedicated.

One day, there wasn’t anybody there for me to practice against. All of the underclassmen and the guys in my weight class hadn’t come. So I was teamed up with a senior heavyweight. This guy ran me ragged and beat me up one side of the mat and down the other.

I remember at one point, he was holding me chest height and parallel to the floor. I saw my young life flash before my eyes and can still hear the coach yelling from across the gym: “Don’t hurt him!”

One of the things you don’t know about me is that I used to be a state certified EMT. Passed the state test and everything. Still have the patch for my jacket somewhere. In my second senior year of college, I got a call from a high school classmate. Fort Wayne had just begun putting ambulances in service which were staffed by Emergency Medical Technicians or EMT’s. My friend called me up and asked me what I was doing and had I ever thought about becoming one?

So I did the EMT thing for several hours each Saturday morning for a number of months. Learned all the blood and guts stuff. Our teacher was a former army medic who had done a tour of Vietnam, and didn’t spare us any gory details. Watching the films on Saturday morning without having eaten breakfast just about did me in.

I think I’ve told you all about this before. Back in the mid-nineties, I started having trouble swallowing. It turned out that I had a disease called Achalasia, which means that the muscles in my esophagus didn’t work to move the food down into my stomach. I lost about 35 pounds, and the doctors in Elkhart didn’t seem to be able to help. So I headed up to Mayo Clinic on December 16, 1996 for a three-day stay: diagnose the first day, treat the second day, and be dismissed the third day. The problem was; they ruptured my esophagus. I had Christmas dinner pumped through a tube in my chest.

The next spring, I buried Sara Greenwood. Sara was a pastor’s widow and a member of the church I was serving at the time. She found a malignant melanoma on her leg, but ignored it too long. The cancer metastasized and killed her.

A couple weeks after her funeral, I found a malignant melanoma on my back. The doctor said that it was just on the borderline between OK and potentially dangerous. The good news is that the only lasting effect I have is a seven-inch scar.

When people ask me if I have ever had struggles and challenges in my life, I tell them, “Yeah, I know what hardship is like. I was a wrestler in high school who used to get beat up all the time, had a ruptured esophagus, a cancer scare…and, o yeah, at eight o’clock in the morning on an empty stomach, I’ve watched movies of babies being born.

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