By Scott Keith –
Upon graduating from Concordia University in 1998, I accepted the position of Director at Arrowhead Lutheran Camp (ALC). After completing my BA, I had originally planned to go directly to graduate school in Europe. When the money for graduate school didn’t pan out, I was, understandably, adrift. So, being offered the camp position was, in many ways, a dream come true. Camp wasn’t as prestigious as a European degree, but, at least, I would be able to feed my wife and two sons.
Also, returning to camp was nostalgic and exciting. From the time I was six years of age, I had been a camper at ALC. Later, when I was a teenager, I started working there. By the time I was twenty-one, I had held almost every job there was to hold, other than director. I had been a maintenance worker, dishwasher, janitor, cook, junior counselor, counselor, lifeguard, and even worked as a program director. Many of my “firsts” happened while I was at camp. In fact, I met my wife Joy at camp, and our daughter Autumn was born on the mountain while I was working there.
Needless to say, I embraced my new position as the Camp Director with zeal and dedication. I jumped right in! But, after just less than a month of working at camp, I started to get very sick. It came on suddenly. Headaches, nausea, blurry vision, and overall body aches. I did what any well respected man of the house would do; I kept calm and carried on acting like I was just fine. Soon, I was in a world of hurt. My head felt like there was an elephant sitting on it, I could barely stand, and I had started vomiting uncontrollably. I was no longer calm, and carrying on wasn’t an option.
It was obvious that I needed to go to the hospital, but our health insurance through the camp had not yet kicked in. Having no health insurance meant that if I went to the hospital, we would be on the hook for the entire cost. Joy didn’t care, and even though I was almost sure I was dying, I had just enough stubbornness left in me to try to wait it out. To wait for death, I think. No matter how much she protested, I simply wouldn’t budge. Besides, what was she going to do, pick me up and carry me?
Joy, being who she is, found a way to do just that. She called my friend Bobby. Bobby was big and very strong. Despite my protests, Bobby managed to scoop my nearly lifeless body up into his arms, carry me to the car and take me to the little mountain hospital. Turns out, the doctors didn’t quite know what to do with me when we got there. Test after test showed nothing. Still, my heart rate continued to fall, my head felt as though it was going to explode, my fever was running 104°, and I was obviously not well.
Eventually, one of the doctors suggested a spinal tap. After he had taken the sample of spinal fluid, the scene––one of the last things I remember from this night––was almost comical. He said to me, “wait right here; we’ll be right back.” And with that, everyone in the room disappeared. When they reemerged, they were all dressed in what I can only describe as Space Suits. Turns out, I had bacterial spinal meningitis. The last words I remember before I passed out were from that same doctor. He told me, “You are nearly dead. If you make it out of this, kiss your wife and hug your buddy. If she had not made him bring you here, you’d have been dead for sure.”
The next thing I remember was waking up to the sight of my brother in a full environmental suit saying, “Are you okay, dude?” I was in a completely different hospital and had been asleep for three days. I was “OK,” but just barely. There are many repercussions of having spinal meningitis that I have suffered: some of which no longer vex me, but some still do to this day. The hospital stay ruined us financially for some time. But, over time, we managed to get ourselves straight again. Over the course of the next couple years, I lost a good amount of my hair. But, bald is beautiful, so I carry on. As a result of the severe infection, I also developed tinnitus, which is a constant ringing in the ears, and eventually a good amount of hearing loss in my left ear. These are known side effects of having spinal meningitis. Though they are not always common, they are more likely in those that had delayed treatment. Silly me.
Of all of the side effects, the tinnitus and hearing loss have been the most difficult to endure. Tinnitus is, at first, infuriating, then extremely bothersome, and eventually progresses to the more moderated level of annoying. On the whole, it simply makes it difficult to sleep through the night. The hearing loss, however, is a bitch. I constantly find myself moving a little closer to people and positioning myself so that my right ear is dominant. Most of the time, this little bit of extra effort on my part works well. Moving a little closer, usually does the trick, allowing my right ear to do the heavy lifting.
On the whole, I think that we treat our sin like my hearing loss and other meningitis side effects. I think we believe that we can just move a little closer to God, and with that little bit of extra effort make our position before Him right. Sure we’re sometimes annoyed by our sin, much like I’m sometimes annoyed by being bald and almost constantly annoyed with the ringing in my ears. But soon, even that we get past. Much like me growing a rocking beard to distract others from the fact that I am bald, we all put on an outside show to distract others and ourselves from the fact that we are deep sinners. The problem is, no outside show will work. We can’t even move a little closer, or position ourselves in just the right way so as to please God.
Just like I needed to be scooped up in someone’s arms and carried to the hospital despite my protests, our sin is so deep that we need to be scooped up and carried to the foot of the cross despite our Old Adam constantly protesting against the offense of that same cross. The cross offends us because it shows us what my spinal tap showed me; we are dead men walking. We cannot get over the annoyance of our sin, we cannot do anything about it, and we cannot move ourselves a little closer to God. The only thing we can do is protest His salvation for us; yet, Christ still saves us. Christ makes us new. Christ sets us free from the bondage of our sin, from death, and the power of the Devil.
In the Word of life that is the Gospel, and in His Holy Sacraments, He moves a little closer to us, picking us up in His arms, ignoring our protests, and carries us to the Father’s house where we will receive His reward. Our God is great in His offense. He offends our attempts at self-healing by being our Great Physician. Our close is never close enough; His closeness brings life. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)