Have Hope – Life Beyond Crohn’s

This is part 2 of Max Andrews’ journey with Crohn’s Disease. Click here to view part 1, and to see Max’s bio. Blessings of Having a Disease.

My name is Max Andrews and I have Crohn’s disease and have battled with it for eight years. I recently had a major surgery in which I had 15cm of my small intestine, a few inches of my colon, and my appendix removed.

There is no cure for Crohn’s and post-surgery there is usually a 50% chance of remission. Well, I have a 70% chance it will actually get worse and I will have more problems and surgeries down life’s path.

Crohn’s is responsible for the lowest valleys in my life. There were many times when I thought it was over for me and that this was all in vain. What I held on to, which got me through, and still gets me through all this, is hope. Hope that this will all have meaning and purpose to it. Hope is what makes me persevere.

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Today, July 20, 2012, marks the first anniversary of my Crohn’s surgery.  I have had Crohn’s for eight years and it has won the battle over a few organs. I was in serious pain for just over a month prior to the surgery. I spent my birthday last year, July 18, in pain. The next day I was going to go out with some friends to TGI Friday’s for a Jack Daniel’s steak to celebrate my birthday.  I wasn’t feeling well that afternoon and took a nap.  I woke up with a 105 degree fever. Leah rushed me to the hospital. I was not a good patient. I was angry. I refused to take the CT scan at first because I knew what they would find.  I gave in. I didn’t know what they would find. I was wrong. They found that my colon was perforated and I needed emergency surgery. They let my body rest for the night in the ICU. It was a rough night…

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I remember the nurses pushing my bed into the room where they prepped me for surgery. I was, of course, having fun with all the drugs I was on, but I knew what was going on. My Dad and step-mother drove out from Richmond for my surgery. I’m so glad they did. I saw them before going in thinking, “What if this is the last time I see them?” The staff let Leah back in one more time before I went unconscious. She had to hold on my wedding ring while I was in surgery. I remember asking my surgeon how many times he’s done this surgery and he said that my condition was “pretty bad” but that he has done thousands and this sort of thing was his “bread and butter.” I trusted him. These surgeries happen all the time, so why was I so nervous deep down?

Before Leah came back into the prep area to get my ring, I prayed. Even though I was high as a kite on the dilaudid and Valium it was the most serious prayer I ever made. I prayed for the surgeon and that I’d make it out okay. I felt like I couldn’t even pray for no complications. Even if complications happened I didn’t care, I just wanted to come out on the other side. This was the first time I seriously entertained the thought that I might actually die and these are my last few moments awake. Without the surgery I could have easily died in a short period of time, but I didn’t think that was going to happen.  I’ll come back to this in a bit.

It was about this time in the afternoon last year I was waking up in the recovery room.  I lost about three inches of my colon, 15 cm of my small intestine, and my appendix. I was sitting up in the bed. I opened my eyes and saw my surgeon sitting behind the nurse station doing paper work. He looked up at me and then looked back down. I knew I was okay. Then I felt an incredible amount of pain. A couple of nurses learned I was awake and came to my aid trying to comfort me. They told me my pain had to be down to a 6 before they’d let me out. The pain was at least a 9. I confess–I lied. I told them it was a 6 and they let me out. I just wanted to see my family.

You can read about my experience with Crohn’s in last year’s posts:

The Crohn’s Chronicles: Second Thoughts
The Blessings of Having a Disease
An Update on my Brief Hiatus

So, one year later… To be honest, I have thought about that day and experience every single day since. I still have physical pain and experience this pain every day. The doctors think it may be misfiring neurons–a phantom pain.  I can’t sleep at night because I can still feel that something inside of my gut is missing and it makes me uncomfortable in certain positions. I ended up spending 30 days in the hospital last year.  I have a 70% chance that I’ll get worse and that I’ll need surgery again in as soon as five years. I’ve been happy. I’ve been grateful. I’ve been sad. I’ve been angry. Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t make pain and suffering any easier. I’ve lectured for hours to university undergraduates on philosophy and the problem of evil. How can a good, omnipotent, and loving God allow such pain in this world? Sure, when we work it out philosophically and theologically it doesn’t become that big of a problem and we can make sense of it. However, experiencing it doesn’t make it any better and it’s not as clear as on paper. I’ve had doubts. I won’t lie about that. But you know what?

I have hope.

Back to my prayer right before surgery. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Religion with a specialization in Biblical Studies and I’m almost done with an MA in Philosophy. I’m not ignorant of doctrine and theology, yet this was the first time I understood justification by faith alone. When I was praying I became incredibly conscious of my own sin and evil. My body may have been out of it from the drugs, but my mind was the sharpest it had ever been in this moment. I realized that there was nothing I could to atone for my own sins. If that moment was indeed the last few minutes of my conscious life, I couldn’t do anything to save myself. I couldn’t justify my wrongs. I couldn’t make things right. I mean, yes, I knew and understood justification by faith alone, but it was never as clear to me as it was then.

C.S. Lewis said that we don’t suffer the way the world suffers. We suffer differently. Why? Because we have hope. Without God there is no objective justice. In the end, the universe will either expand to maximum entropy or suffer a heat death and collapse back in on itself. Life is utterly absurd without objective meaning, purpose, and value.  Life can be subjectively absurd–like my inability to understand the meaning, purpose, or even value behind my pain. I can construct my own scaffolding of meaning, purpose, and value behind it but in the words of the early twentieth century atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell, this is a scaffolding of despair.

I ask that you consider helping me and share a message of hope by buying a shirt, which serves as a donation.  After 50 shirts are sold the proceeds will help me pay off a great deal of medical bills. Also, please see my video below.

Yes, my life is changed and I have physical and existential pains but my life is good and I don’t have the right to complain. God is good.

Please take a few minutes and view watch this video chronicling Max’s journey over the past year.


Thank you, Max for sharing your journey with us. May God’s grace and peace be multiplied to you and Leah both. You are loved.

 

The Blessings of Having a Disease

Today we’re joined by Max Andrews. This is part one of his journey/battle with Crohn’s Disease. He wrote this a year ago on his blog, Sententias. Approximately 6 weeks later he found himself having an expected major surgery. Thursday,  Max will join us again and chronicle the surgery and disease that has altered his life forever.  His official bio is below.

His unofficial bio by me (Marsha) is that he’s my first cousin once removed (my cousin’s son).  He graduated from Liberty University in 2010, got Master of Arts in Philosophical Studies ·Philosophy of Religion · in 2012, also from Liberty University. He’s presently a Graduate Assistant at Liberty University in the Philosophy Department. He’s preparing  to do his Doctorate work at the University of Edinburgh (where he’s been accepted), Oxford or Cambridge (which he won’t hear from until Spring).

Disclaimer: All the views expressed on Max’s website are not necessarily the views of Grace Café. But we welcome healthy discussion.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in May 2004 at the end of my Junior year of high school. Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease and mine happens to be in my terminal ileum atthe end of my small intestine.  When I first went to the emergency room seven years ago I felt like someone had reached into my gut and started twisting my organs around while I was digesting glass.  It was, and is, extremely painful and nauseating.  It was about the sixth day in the hospital when the doctor diagnosed me.  I wept once he left the room because I knew that this had ruined my life dreams of serving in the U.S. Army as an intelligence analyst.  Well, seven years later I can look at this disease and honestlysay that it has been one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me.

I’ve had a flare up (reoccurrence) about once a year since I was first diagnosed.  I refused long-term medication for a while since it started out as a mild case and medication wouldn’t allow me to join the Army.  I graduated high school and took a year off before going to college so I could work with the Army and doctors so I could enlist.  My attempts fell short and I could not overturn or appeal my medical disqualification.  It had been my dream since I was a young child.  I have a very patriotic family and both of my grandfathers served.  My mother’s father was an NCO in the U.S. Air Force around the Korean War and worked with nuclear bombs.  My father’s father was an officer in the U.S. Navy and served on the U.S.S. Dauphin. I felt it was my duty to serve my country.  I excelled in J.R.O.T.C. in high school as the Battalion Commander, the leader of over 250 other cadets and I was one of the most decorated (if not the most decorated) cadets in the school’s history.  I studied government until my second semester sophomore year of college.  I knew then that I was called to something greater; I knew that God had a specific purpose for me and his purpose was greater than anything I could have planned for.  I then became an undergraduate biblical studies student and I’m now a philosophy graduate student.  However, these are peripheral details that resulted from my Crohn’s.  The blessing is so much greater than any classes I’ve ever taken.

God used Crohn’s to alter the course of my life.  This one event was a catalyst for so many changes.  Since getting Crohn’s I have gotten saved.  Since being saved I started asking myself the deeper questions of life and existence, which led me to study philosophy.  My relationship with God continually grows and I think about God throughout the entire day.  There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about God or ask him questions about him and existence.  God has used Crohn’s as a means to demonstrate my purpose in life.  Well, it’s not so much that I know my meta-purpose, so to speak, but it’s a way that God has shown me thatI do have purpose and meaning. When I think about the way my life would have been without Crohn’s I don’t believe I would appreciate my existence and God’s work as much as I do now; because of that I have no problem believing Crohn’s is a gift from God.

My Crohn’s has gotten worse in the last six months.  Last December I spent four days in the hospital while visiting family in Pennsylvania.  I had bad Crohn’s pain and vomited nearly two dozen times in just a few hours.  I’ve been in another flare up for the last two weeks and the pain has gotten bad in the last few days.  Yesterday, as I hovered over the sink having just vomited, sweaty and in pain, I thought to myself, “Is this really a blessing, Max? Is this really a gift from God?”  My inner monologue soon responded with and emphatic “absolutely…”  Why do I equate all the [what would usually be called] happy or good things with blessings (i.e. achieving a challenging goal, having a surplus in the family budget, good health, making it into the right school, getting the right job or career, etc.).  Why do we not always consider pain and suffering a blessing?  My pain and suffering have been very minimal, and that too is a blessing (I’m not going to neglect the usual “good” things either), but pain and suffering have allowed me to be spiritually and intellectually honest with myself, others, and God.  So many times we equate “bad” things like disease, cancer, disasters, etc., with pointless suffering or judgment from God.  Why is suffering always unwanted? Perhaps because it is what it is, painful. Not only is the pain physical but mental and spiritual as well. Disease, cancer, and disasters wound and kill.  Why is death feared and always treated like an enemy?  For those who do not have their sins atoned for they are justified in fearing pain and death because this is as good as it gets for them.  I’m not anti-medicine. I believe we should do what we can to stay alive but if we’ve done all we can to alleviate pain and prolong life why make an enemy with what remains?

This isn’t always easy.  Pain and suffering are ideally avoided, but when it happens own it. I believe God controls every tiny detail in life from allowing you to stub your toe in the morning to suffering through painful cancer, there is purpose and meaning in that.  The first chapter in the book of James calls for us to consider trials a joy.  This is a beautiful paradox because our knee-jerk reaction to trials, pain, and suffering are usually turning against God or being angry.  It’s quite the contrary. God uses trials, pain, and suffering as a means of preserving us through his grace and this grace is what enables us to persevere in faith.  Remember, this grace is manifested in the pain and suffering and we need to know that there is purpose and meaning in it.  We don’t have to know what it is but we need to know it’s there.  I’m still going through Crohn’s pains right now and I’m currently being treated with long-term medication.  This disease is incurable and it can only be controlled at best, but I thank God for giving me this disease.

About Max Andrews:

I am  a husband and a philosophy graduate student.  My graduate research is in philosophy of science and religion.  My thesis is on the fine-tuning argument from cosmology and physics in multiverse scenarios.  I have lectured in logic, existentialism, metaphysics, epistemology, the philosophy of science, theological liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, personhood, free will and determinism, theological fatalism, axiology, moral argument for the existence of God, various cosmological arguments for the existence of God, fine-tuning argument for the existence of God, and the problem of evil.  Following my graduate work I plan on pursuing my Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Science: Physics with aspirations of attaining a professorship at a university.

Contact: mlandrews[at]sententias.org