A Testimony from a Jar of Clay
“You have pulmonary sarcoidosis.” The doctor said it like I should know what that meant. He then asked me if I’d ever heard of sarcoidosis. I replied “only on TV” – that it is always the wrong diagnosis on the popular television drama, House, M.D.
What it meant was that the chronic shortness of breath that I had been experiencing had a cause, and I would have to begin taking a strong steroid medication to control it and prevent the spread to other organs. I recall how anxious I began to feel. Nobody told me that the medication itself would heighten my sense of anxiety or that coming off the medication would induce feelings of depression. But I made it through the 15 months or so of treatment, although I put on 40 pounds of extra weight. I felt well enough to ask to return to corps work for the last four years of my officership. I’d been stationed at Training Colleges for 11 years and I wanted to pastor a corps again. So we were transferred to a corps in crisis. I plunged into the pastoral care and preaching and administration that mark a large corps totally confident that we were where God wanted us to be. Just to be safe I found a new doctor in the new city and started regular checkups. Soon I was feeling the familiar shortness of breath and asked for some tests to be run.
Less than two years after my original diagnosis, a new doctor confirmed that the sarcoidosis was indeed worse and announced that the disease had progressed to stage four – meaning unlikely to respond to treatment. “What can we do, doc?” I asked hopefully. He shrugged and opined that I would be too old, too fat, and ineligible for a lung transplant due to the complicating pulmonary arterial hypertension I’d developed. I began having to use oxygen at night and then for the exertion of strenuous activity. Within three months strenuous activity included showering and tying my shoes.
As a corps officer, preaching had been one of my passions. I had to give up a lot of direct programming because I couldn’t keep up with the kids. I had to give up playing in the Corps Band, and sometimes singing with Songsters. But my preaching had been unaffected. Somehow, each Sunday, God gave me the strength to preach the message I’d developed and crafted. Until the Sunday after Easter.
All morning long I struggled; I couldn’t catch my breath. Usually I put the oxygen tank aside to preach but I knew I couldn’t do so that morning. So I swallowed my pride and informed the congregation that I would be preaching with the cannula hose attached to a portable oxygen tank. Then I made a joke that the noises from the valve make sounds like Darth Vader breaths.
Somehow I got through that message and people seemed to have been helped and blessed. As I reflected on what God may have been saying to me on that Sunday, the fourth chapter of 2nd Corinthians came to mind and I read again verse 7:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
I guess I would have a right to be embarrassed if I failed to deliver the powerful message I’d crafted — if that message had been from me. But God had laid the issues on my heart. He had inspired the scripture I was expositing. If power happens to leak out during the sermon, it is his power, his choice. I am a vessel – a clay pot.
Paul goes on in verse 16:
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
My outer man had seen better days. The wasting away had begun in earnest. This disease took away my freedom, my natural powers, my dignity. What I needed was the inner renewal because I seemed to be more prone to lose heart. I mourned my losses and sometimes was depressed. I felt so selfish – me, me, my, my, I.
But God gives the blessing of seeing his power at work in the words he has inspired me to preach. My sermons seemed to help people. I preached in Spanish at a Hispanic corps, and two seekers made their way to the altar. As I reflected on that morning, I recalled what Paul heard from the Lord when he begged for his “thorn” to be removed (also in 2nd Corinthians):
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me… For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV)
I couldn’t boast about my weaknesses yet. I needed some more grace for that. But I experienced from time to time the soothing of renewal of my inner being (2 Cor. 2:16). It wasn’t a magic bullet that killed my doubt and depression with a single shot.
The future seemed to be certain for me – irreversible lung damage and an early “promotion to glory.” Ironically like an episode of House MD, further testing revealed that the disease wasn’t sarcoidosis, rather a fibrosis disease within the lungs, and there was no cure. We had to retire early. We moved to Texas so that when I died, Nancy would be with our daughter, Jennifer. We attend the Dallas Temple Corps where I was able to help with the Hispanic Ministry teaching the Spanish Sunday School class.
My new doctor in Texas surprised me when he urged me to consider a transplant. Remember that the Michigan doctor had told me I was ineligible for a lung transplant, but this hospital used different criteria. I was approved for transplant in January, 2014, and received a bilateral (double) lung transplant two weeks later.
My recovery has been amazing. I don’t need supplemental oxygen. I can speak without shortness of breath. I can sing again.
I take medications that suppress my immune system and leave me open to infection, flu, and colds, all very dangerous when one has a compromised immune system. Nothing is certain. My body may yet reject the transplanted lungs. There is no guarantee that I’ll be able to continuing preaching and teaching.
But I am convinced of this — that God uses jars of clay – the power is his, not mine. He decides when and how it comes out. And I am so grateful for God’s great grace.
Major John Mowers
April 6, 2014
The Colony, TX, USA.