Pyloric stenosis – and the cross of Christ

Regular visitors to this blogsite probably know that for almost all my adult life I have been a Christian pastor and preacher – and even a mission administrator and church historian, all good tutors in many ways.

Not until after my retirement did I think of working out how the story of my escape from death at 10 days old by pyloric stenosis (PS) could be used in my work as a Christian teacher.

I have often mentioned how thankful I am towards God for this gift of my life, to my parents for what they endured, and to the medical people who did their best for me and countless others under tough (1945) conditions and using rather basic surgical techniques and hospital routines.

I wanted to avoid repeating the truths that we might expect Christian PS survivors to utter: that life and all good things are gifts of God, and that both nice and ugly things can be used by God to build compassion and character.  All true, but…

Two posts earlier this year got me thinking.

Chris Welch blogged about his PS, arguing that the Christian church has PS: it enthusiastically drinks in the death of Jesus on the cross as the means of God’s forgiving us, but vomits out the “we are crucified with Christ” bit.  “All gain – but no pain please!”  True?

Then Wendy Williams wrote about her English students reading and reflecting on some of her myincision posts, and their at times soul-searching, heartening and affirming responses.

Two Sundays ago and following the Church’s agreed Lectionary (3 year cycle of set Bible readings), I spoke about Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus (see John’s Gospel ch. 3 vs 14-21).  I spoke from the heart more than from prepared notes, and said something like this:

Although the Bible often talks about God’s judgment, it is significant that when Jesus talked with Nicodemus he spoke only of personal choice.  Don’t blame God or deny the obvious, we judge ourselves, the verdict is in our hands.

Jesus referred to the bronze snake Moses had to put on a pole and commend the people to look up to it as a sign of their decision to trust God rather than grumble.  Some trusted their leader Moses and survived.  We are told that those who did not died.

Jesus linked this old story with his approaching death on a cross: “This is like the way I will be lifted up in crucifixion so that that whoever puts their trust in me won’t die but have life.

A snake and a crucifixion are ugly things, and people can argue they don’t need that, that I’m living an OK life and don’t need God or forgiveness or Jesus to die a horrible death for me.  But by the snake and the cross, God says to us, “sin” IS an ugly word but it’s real.  Trusting God, or a bronze snake or a man dying on a cross may seem silly, even ugly ways to deal with my failings, foolishness and imperfection (summarised as “sin”) – but the choice is ours.

Soon after I was born, I had an operation to save my life, I was vomiting myself to death, my parents were told I needed this surgery, and I was too young and small to spend time looking for alternatives.

When I was younger I hated the scar I carry, and felt ashamed and embarrassed about it.  But I’ve come to realise that what is ugly may be necessary if I want to be here today.

In reading about what happened to me I came across the story of one family from about the same time.  Because the parents hated the idea of surgery, they lost 2 sons to the same problem as I had.  When the third child had it too, they decided he’d have the operation, and he survived.  These parents learnt that when you have this condition, it’s no use hating an operation, a permanent scar on your baby, or blaming the doctor for what he said, or blaming God because your prayers were not answered.

For me what is hated and ugly is now a picture of an important truth.

John tells us that Jesus said:  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.  (vs 18-21)

Don’t blame God for a problem that cannot be denied or avoided: Jesus says here that the choice as to what we do is ours.

After the church meeting (of some 50 people) one man told me that he’d also had the operation for PS.  He detailed something of the circumstances of his surgery (about the same time as mine) and was grateful for the way I’d been able to link it with Jesus’ teaching about the cross of Calvary, an ugly but life-giving truth.

It all made me realise again how supportive belonging to various communities is for us all: especially when we can get them to intersect.

2 thoughts on “Pyloric stenosis – and the cross of Christ

  1. Wendy

    I love that you incorporated your ps experience into your sermon and that afterward, you were immediately affirmed by a man approaching you and sharing his own experience with ps. I also love that you compare the scar and the cross. These tragedies were certainly unwelcome, but look at the good they yielded. One can choose to look at the glass as half empty or half full. Do you think that your early experience with ps influenced your decision to become a preacher?

  2. Fred Vanderbom Post author

    Thank you, Wendy.
    To answer your question (a very good one): I would not have realised it at the time, and there were several other and important reasons why I chose Christian service. I wrote one of “Fred’s Pages” (my other blogsite) about this last year.
    But I certainly recognise now that my experience with ps was also part of my decision. Compared with my immediate family (I believe) it burnt some of the key Christian truths and values like brokenness, understanding, compassion and community deeply into my psyche. I grew up with these truths, but I also wanted to devote my lifework to living out and advocating them.


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