Learning how to ride the storms of life
Eric Gaudion knows how to help others suffering life’s storms.
Storms are big news where I live on the west coast of the Channel Island of Guernsey.
Gigantic Atlantic swells hurl themselves on the pink granite outcrops, crashing like thunderclaps, tossing seaweed and stones into the air. When they collide with spring tides, local flooding brings misery to homes and businesses alike.
Elsewhere in the world, tropical typhoons or horrifying hurricanes are destroying properties and threatening lives as we limp our way through this 'climate emergency'. And the pandemic has been one of the most violent storms in human history, raging across the earth, leaving behind the debris of grief, loss, fear and economic collapse.
All this became intensely personal for me when I was engulfed in a massive storm in my 40s. I was an Elim pastor who had been a missionary and was then leading the large and busy City Church in Cardiff.
After three years serving as a senior pastor, I became ill with pancreatitis, one of the most painful diseases known to humanity, which is often fatal. Over the following two decades I was admitted to hospital over 100 times, endured more than 30 surgeries, and needed opiates like morphine in industrial doses, but was still in relentless pain.
Many wondered how I kept my faith in a loving, healing God, but by his grace, I learned to keep trusting when faith gets severely shaken.
Today I am pain-free, praise God.
After 22 years of being hampered in life and ministry, isolated by unremitting suffering and disappointment, meaningful service has been restored.
In 2017 I received space-age pioneering transplant surgery at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, and against all medical expectations, I have done remarkably well.
Despite having no pancreas, spleen, gall bladder or bile ducts, I am well and not even diabetic. 'Islets' have been transplanted into my liver to replace those missing from my pancreas and they are chugging away nicely, producing the necessary insulin.
There are, however, very real scars from experiences like these.
Many are physical, but some are mental and invisible to others. Haunting paranoia and fear-inducing hallucinations were constant co-travellers during my frequent hospital stays.
Post-traumatic stress disorder has also been a very real part of my recovery from repeated near-death encounters.
But these decades of coping with agony and disappointment, with endless waiting for God to intervene, have equipped me with deep compassion for those whose miracle has not yet come.
That is the motivation behind my latest book 'Through the Storms – a manual for when life hurts.' In it I try to give hope to those 'hanging in there' during life's turbulent storms.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, churches have been pouring out love and concern to those in need around them, and it will not go unnoticed.
Our church at Vazon in Guernsey has seen a definite increase in numbers attending after the lockdowns.
Despite our fear that in-person attendance might not recover, we were thrilled to meet people who had been watching our live stream during lock-down and now want to be part of our fellowship.
Storms do not just leave debris and damage; they also stir up the seabed and produce food for seabirds and fish. There are mercies to be found in the mayhem.
Five key lessons I've learned
1. One day at a time
Surviving storms is about narrowing your focus to manageable boundaries. Jesus taught that we should live one day at a time; that tomorrow can worry about itself.
We should not burden today's strengths with tomorrow's worries.
There are many aspects to storms – wind, rain, flooding, trees falling – trying to guess the outcome can be a hopeless task.
But one thing is sure – the storm will pass, and after it comes a serene calm. All you are promised is today – grab it with both hands and live.
2. Allow yourself to be real and vulnerable
I was the guy other people relied on in a crisis. It was crucifying for me to have to be changed and nursed like a baby. It's so hard for men to be real and admit mental as well as physical needs.
But we are all much-loved children of God, and the only perfect one around is called Jesus. So, let's be real and let others know and love us as we are. How else can people pray for us effectively?
3. Lean back on the love and prayers of others
The Bible teaches that there are times when you must 'make level paths for your feet'. My wife's love and the praying support of family and friends has helped me through the most appalling storms.
But God's love is even more powerful and challenges me to let go and trust him.
What kept me going through all this was partly leaning back on His love and the glimpses I had of what lies beyond death.
Romans 8 became my favourite chapter. Letting go of condemnation and resting in the Father's heart were lifelines for me.
4. Don't give up
It's not easy to maintain hope and confidence in a storm.
When so many people were praying for me and yet procedures failed, or complications occurred, it almost seemed that the more I prayed the worse things became.
There were moments when I despaired of life itself and felt that I would be a lot better off in heaven. But if I had short-circuited God's plans for me in any way, think of the pain that would have caused my family.
And I would have missed the amazing developments in medical research that eventually brought the answer to my prayers.
5. Look for unexpected mercies
The Lord is the 'Father of mercies and the God of all comfort' (2 Cor. 1:3).
While I was crying out for healing, and it did come in the end, he was sending me new mercies all through the storm.
Practical needs were being met, nursing care was keeping me alive, financial gifts were coming in, God was speaking words of comfort to my soul.
Praising God and being grateful for the small things, even in the storm, can unlock joy and be a real witness to others.
Eric's book 'Through the Storms – a manual for when life hurts' is published by Instant Apostle. He is married to Diane, and is Associate Minister at Vazon Elim Church on Guernsey
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