The Worst of Times, the Best of Times

It was the worst of times; it was the best of times.

By reversing the order of the opening statement in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, I seek to emphasize God’s goodness to us amidst severe difficulties.

Dori and I agree that 2018 has been the hardest year for us since 1976-1977, our first year as missionaries in Taiwan. We have encountered trials of various sorts that have tested our faith and endurance, but God has upheld us and even brought us to a place of rich fulfillment.

Health concerns have dominated our minds and our time since Sarah began to suffer from acute pain in her abdomen in January. Because Sarah couldn’t stand or walk for very long, Dori’s weekly visit to College Station, 80 miles away, now involved staying two days or longer instead of one to care for Sarah and little Blaise. I sometimes went with her. Sarah was finally diagnosed with endometriosis. The first surgery was April 24, the second August 7. Each time, we accompanied her during her recuperation. Naturally, our hearts went out to her we watched her struggle for months with almost unbearable pain. She hopes that a pain-blocking injection on December 19 will offer some respite while she continues physical therapy. She has posted some beautiful blogs at

Meanwhile, aggravated by stress, minor surgery, and a bad case of poison ivy, my chronic fatigue began to turn into brief “crashes” that increased in frequency and duration, culminating in what my neurologist called a “physical breakdown” at the end of April.

In addition to serious fatigue, I was emotionally fragile, sensitive to noise, virtually voiceless, and when I could speak, unable to talk without giving myself a headache. She advised me to stop work and “be quiet and let God speak to you.”

After extensive tests of all sorts, she and another physician independently decided that there was nothing wrong with my body chemistry, and that “low mood” had worn me out. I agree, except that I now see that I’ve been pushing my body to its limits for many years now.

My Board graciously ordered me to go on a sabbatical to get some rest, medical attention, and time to reflect and recover. Since then, I’ve made many visits to eight different health care providers and have undergone further tests. To my dismay, I learned that I have osteoporosis in my smaller bones and something close to that in the larger ones.

Several injuries, including a hairline fracture in my foot, have kept me from exercise, so that my muscles are also very weak. In the providence of God, I have been brought physically very low. I’ve also known moments of discouragement.

Nevertheless, I can say with the Psalmist, “The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.” Psalm 118:18

All this has driven me to seek God’s face, pore over the Scriptures, read and ponder several books that friends have recommended to me, and spend much time in prayer. The Lord has graciously exposed hidden patterns of thought that can only be called “toxic”: perfectionism, people-pleasing, pride, worry, and other habits of highly ineffective people (I owe this phrase to my friend David Turner), all stemming from several deep idolatries.

At the same time, our Father has encouraged me with countless words of grace, mercy, and unconditional love, producing in me a deeper joy than I have ever known before. He has used Dori to demonstrate his love to me through constant and tender care, daily lavished upon me even as she has tended to the needs of Sarah and Blaise. Her sacrificial but cheerful service has been beyond praise. Thanks to her and to the prayers of friends, I am beginning to feel better.

My turn to help her came on September 1st, when a partially detached retina took Dori to Austin for eye surgery. For the next six weeks, I had the pleasure of “driving Miss Dori” (suggested by the 1989 movie Driving Miss Daisy) to church, the store, doctor’s offices, and Sarah’s home. We had a lot of quality time together as a by-product. She’s fine now.

One of two highlights of our year came right in the middle: On August 1st, I conducted a wedding for a former member of the Chinese Christian Fellowship at UVA – in France! God worked what I termed “something like a miracle” by giving me the strength to make the trip, lead the rehearsal and the wedding ceremony, and enjoy several days sightseeing with Dori in Paris and Burgundy. You may read about his many mercies to us at

The other highlight was being with Sarah and Blaise for eight days this past week while Sarah’s husband was at a conference. Watching a little child enjoy the wonder of Christmas for the first time gave us immense pleasure. The photo below shows him enjoying the little table we gave him.

Singing in the church choir has brought great joy to Dori. As I write these lines, she’s rehearsing for tomorrow night’s community choir Christmas concert, “Joyous Christmas.” We plan to finish out this remarkable year of God’s grace with my brother Peter and his wife Sally Ann in Auburn, Alabama.

May the profound and invincible joy of our Incarnate, crucified, and risen Lord fill your hearts in 2019.