In February of 2012 I celebrated fourteen years of marriage with my best friend Lollie, in a hospital. We organised for our children to stay with their grandparents and planned to spend a few days relaxing, eating and doing those things people do when they celebrate their engagement. When we arrived at our destination I felt extremely lightheaded and almost fainted. So we rushed to the hospital where they performed an ECG (Electrocardiography) on me. The ECG revealed that my heart had irregular patterns.
And so it was that we spent the first two days of our anniversary sitting in hospital, riding the ambulance and waiting for the results of various tests. During my hospital stay they placed three armbands on me. They were white, pink and yellow.
On them were three pieces of information.
The white one had my name on it “MR TJ Smith”, some numbers “595400000040” and my doctor’s name “Dr.D Pretorius”. The pink one described the test I was going to undergo, “Angiogram”. The nurses called the procedure and “Angy”, which my wife commented sounds kind of nice. The yellow one identified the two medical conditions that plague me, “Cardiac” and “Asthmatic”. These were the three armbands that labelled me. TJ Smith identified by a number who will go for an Angiogram because he is a cardiac asthmatic.
Reading “Asthmatic” and “Cardiac” was a reality check for me. It reminded me of the stark reality of my brokenness and my vulnerability. There in front of me were two of the things that challenge my hubris and any illusions that I am invincible or immortal. Even though I had a heart attack last year followed by a triple bypass, the fact that I am broken can elude me sometimes. In my busyness and activity I can easily ignore my own brokenness. But then there is a yellow armband.
More than those labels
But, I am more than my brokenness and labels. I am more than number 595400000040 who is a cardiac asthmatic. We are more than the labels that are ascribed to us. I am also husband, father, friend, pastor, joker, jogger and Lion’s rugby team supporter.
One of the hardest things in life is to bring our fragmented lives with their shattered identities to the One who ultimately names us.
Because Jesus loves us with all our stuff and invites us into a relationship with Father, Son and Spirit where we are named and offered the gift of healing. This does not mean that I can ignore all those other labels, even though some will have to be ignored. What it does mean is that I have to herd all those other labels under a Label that can bring wholeness and coherence to the rest of those ordinary labels. Like stray sheep we have to bring those labels into the sheep pen with a shepherd that can name us in a way that the other labels become secondary.
In John’s Gospel I find a whisper of what it could mean to be herded into the camp of Jesus the Shepherd. In the first chapter of his book John writes that, “But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.” (John 1:12, The Message). Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of “he gave them the right to be called children of God” is refreshing. In Jesus’ day your name signified something of your character and also what you would become. That is what I find so refreshing, that I, Thomas Jacobus Smith an asthmatic cardiac can be and become my true self – a child of God.
Of course it would be nice to just be Thomas Jacobus Smith without the asthmatic cardiac part. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Like Paul’s thorn in the flesh this is something that doesn’t seem to “leave me”, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that is should leave me” (2 Corinthians 12:8). So I am working through another whisper that Paul described. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”(2 Corinthians 12:9). Even within this broken body I can discover my real identity. It is through grace that I get to know my true name. This true name erodes or reorders the other labels that shout out to become the primary identifier of my life.
While I lay in the hospital bed I looked at my yellow, white and pink armband and prayed a prayer of thanks that those labels were not the ones that ultimately defined me. Our journey into wholeness initiates with the loving invitation of the One who loves us and calls us into a relationship of love. From this relationship we are called into a life of wholeness. This is a lifelong journey.
After my tests they found that my heart is ok. The doctors don’t know what happened. This frustrates me, because I don’t feel like I have control. Which is true. But it reminded me that my life is in the hands of Someone else and that I am a child in the arms of a Good and Beautiful God.
Imagine that you have three armbands with labels on them, what are written on them?
Which labels have caused you pain?
Which ones have given you life?
If you could write your own labels what would it be?
What do you think Jesus would write on your label?