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Extreme Makeover: The Interior

by and Lee Anderson on July 7, 2006 in Profiles

In Adventuring through the Bible, the late Ray Stedman (CTh, 1950), told about Rex Stout, a famous mystery writer who also considered himself an architect/builder. In the 1930s Stout designed and built a fourteen-room house in Connecticut. Then he invited Frank Lloyd Wright to come give his opinion.

On his arrival Wright examined Stout’s work with a practiced eye. Stout held his breath, hoping to hear a word of praise from the master architect. Wright remained silent for a long time, but finally he spoke. “Beautiful spot, Rex,” he said. “Someone should tear this thing down and build a house here.”

Whether or not Stout took Wright’s advice, I don’t know. What I do know is that last summer, I began to believe God had decided to tear down the “house” of my life that I’d so carefully crafted.

It all started about thirty years ago. My wife Laurie and I came to Dallas to fulfill a dream. I came to prepare myself for ministry where so many others had prepared—people who’d had an impact on my life not because they knew so much about the Bible, but because they knew the Bible itself and communicated it clearly and with confidence.

In the spring of my second year of study, however, I experienced a complete mental breakdown, for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. I had to leave my studies, and my wife had to leave her duties as president of Wives Fellowship that semester. We moved to Connecticut, where my parents lived, and I began five weeks of medical treatment and several months of recovery.

After my release I returned to DTS, where Frank Minirth, MD (MA[BS], 1983), a Christian psychiatrist who was serving on the DTS faculty at the time, confirmed my diagnosis: I had what is believed to be a genetically influenced condition called bipolar affective disorder. It manifested itself in destructive symptoms exacerbated by the stress of graduate-level studies. Dr. Minirth encouraged me to continue preparing for the ministry, with the aid of medicine.

After graduating with a ThM in 1976, I set out with Laurie to serve the Lord. We spent thirty years in ministry, twenty of them in Texas. At times during those years I would soar at the privilege of preaching God’s inspired Word. At others I felt like I couldn’t make it to the end of a message. Though I counseled others struggling in deep emotional waters, I struggled to keep from drowning myself.

Laurie and I endured the opposition of some stiff-necked church leaders, yet we learned to love the ministry and the diversity of the Lord’s people. Both Laurie and I loved what the Puritans used to call the “enthusiasms” of the ministry.

Then last year, after ten years of fruitful ministry in New Jersey, I had a stroke. This was compounded by a severe toxic reaction to medications. This left me with a Social Security classification of “totally disabled.” My daughter and son-in-law had moved to New Jersey from San Diego just in time to help Laurie with the demands of my care. My daughter, Elizabeth, had to shave me and she and Laurie had to feed me. Severe tremors prevented me from keeping food on my utensils. My son flew in from Houston and stayed for a while to comfort me and to help Laurie move much of the parsonage furniture to the first floor. Elizabeth and Laurie felt they might have to put me in a nursing home because of their physical and emotional inability to care for me any longer.

When my symptoms became most visible to my congregation, one of our leaders spontaneously called forward all the men at the end of a worship service. He then asked them to lay hands on me and pray boldly (yet with reverent humility) for God’s healing.

The Lord was gracious.

After a stay in a local hospital, rehabilitation, medicine, and the ministrations of kind physicians, my brain adapted to the injury it had sustained. The tremors disappeared, and I was able to speak and walk normally (although with some weakness).

Because the toxic reaction damaged my kidneys and affected my overall ability to lead a local church, I resigned. Laurie and I moved in with my eighty-nine-year-old father, for whom we cook and care, living in his mortgage-free home.

I confess that I have, at times, felt bewilderment because of the physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual challenges I now face. No amount of planning could have prepared us for them. I had given my life to bring people to greater maturity in Jesus Christ, counseled people in great pain, and endured battering and bruising opposition from obstinate church leaders, only to find myself in this condition. Is this what I get for enduring a life that conquers seemingly insuperable hurdles? Where was the warm vision that Robert Browning expressed in his poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be—the last of life for which the first was made?”

The prophet Habakkuk found himself in a similar predicament. Facing what appeared to be the “tearing down” of his own “house,” he cried out to God.

“Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The LORD God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills” (Hab. 3:17–19, NKJV).

Habakkuk dealt with his personal terrors by capturing a renewed glimpse of his God.
“If Habakkuk had depended on his feelings, he never would have made [his] great confession of faith,” observes Warren Wiersbe. “If Habakkuk looked ahead, he saw a nation headed for destruction, and that frightened him. When he looked within, he saw himself trembling with fear, and when he looked around, he saw everything in the economy about to fall apart. But when he looked up by faith, he saw God, and all his fears vanished. To walk by faith means to focus on the greatness and glory of God.”

More and more I am making this perspective my own, even as I am making gradual progress in physical therapy. I hang on to the truth that my wife has repeated to herself and to me throughout our ordeal, “God is in control.” There are no accidents, only incidents, in the perfect outworking of God’s will. The King of the universe is too good to be unkind, too wise to make mistakes, and too deep to explain Himself. As the great British expositor G. Campbell Morgan once said, “Our joy is in proportion to our trust. Our trust is in proportion to our knowledge of God.”

Since moving to Connecticut, Laurie and I have settled into several comforting rhythms. One is to watch Extreme Makeover—Home Edition. Seldom do we make it through the program without crying for joy at what is accomplished to change a family’s life. At the beginning of every program there is the demolition of an old home to make way for one that is “made new.” That seems a fitting metaphor for our lives. And as the dust settles after our own “demolition,” we look up with expectancy to discover what God is going to do next.

Lee Anderson (ThM, 1976) and his wife, Laurie, now attend Greenwoods Community Church in Ashley Falls, Massachusetts, where Ed Eastman Jr. (ThM, 1979) is pastor.

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