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Trusting in the Truths of God

with Ed Underwood | June 10, 2009

Where is God when we suffer? Ed Underwood, a pastor and loving family man, found himself asking this same question as he became gripped by a form of chronic leukemia. Ed shares how he was first diagnosed, and how the intense pain and agony of the disease brought him to such a low point that he told his wife he was finished with praying. Hear him tell how his wife’s unshakable faith brought him through his dark days.

Where is God when we suffer? Ed Underwood, a pastor and loving family man, found himself asking this same question as he became gripped by a form of chronic leukemia. Ed shares how he was first diagnosed, and how the intense pain and agony of the disease brought him to such a low point that he told his wife he was finished with praying. Hear him tell how his wife’s unshakable faith brought him through his dark days.

Trusting in the Truths of God

With Ed Underwood
|
June 10, 2009
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: Am I making all of this up?

Dennis: Is this really true or is this a fairy tale. And yet, when you pull back and take a look at what the Bible teaches you’ve really got only a couple of choices. You’ve either got a choice of believing that there is a God who sovereignly rules in the affairs of men and women, or that there is no God and it’s all random. And I’m going to tell you, I think the overwhelming evidence of creation and of the scripture, well the scripture teaches us that God is in charge and he does know what befalls us and he loves and cares for us.

Bob: I remember having conversations with my boys as they were going through high school. And we’d talk about existentialist philosophy and different things they were being exposed to in school appropriately. And I remember saying, I think there’s either the truth of the Bible, or else Nietzsche was right, “There is no god, and life is absurd and you ought to live that way.”

Dennis: It’s hopeless. And we have a guest with us today who has been at that dark spot you’re talking about, Bob.  Ed Underwood joins us on FamilyLife Today. Ed, welcome to the broadcast.

Ed Underwood: Thank you, it’s great to be here.

Dennis: Ed is the pastor of a famous church that started in Los Angeles, Church of the Open Door. He is a graduate of my alma mater, as well, Dallas Theological Seminary, he’s been in the U.S. Army, a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, and he and his wife Judy live in Southern California. He’s written a book called When God Breaks Your Heart: Choosing hope in the midst of faith shattering circumstances. Now some of our listeners are in the midst of faith shattering circumstances right now, and they need to hear your story, Ed. Yours started really, over seven years ago when you were diagnosed with cancer.

Ed Underwood: Yes I was diagnosed with cancer, chronic lymphoma. And those who have been through this know that you get the diagnosis, a little at a time.  And, basically what happens is your doctors are hoping you don’t have it, and you can kinda see that in their face. And they send you to all the other specialists, and found out that I have a chronic leukemia, and it is a vicious one, and it shook my faith.

Dennis: What was the tipoff that you had a problem in the first place?

 

Ed Underwood: Well, what happened was, I had a knee infection. I have a fake knee, and it got infected and they couldn’t figure out why. They were thinking maybe it was an autoimmune thing, but when I had it put back in, I started rashing. And they could not stop the rash. And I’m not talking about poison oak; I’m talking about my skin being burned from the inside out, and just not staying on me. They could not keep my skin on me. So they take you to all these different things. And finally they found that I have a very rare, they call it an orphan disease, but it is called caesurae(sp) syndrome, and I’m one of the few that have it. And that was the diagnosis, but it took them a long time to get to that.

Dennis: Why do they call it the orphan disease?

Ed Underwood: They call it an orphan disease if just very few people have it. Which also means it gets very little attention from the medical community so there aren’t very many drugs, and they have to orphan in drugs from other diseases to treat it.

Bob: So, this rash that you were experiencing, how long was it from the time you first started having the rash until they figured out what was going on and could help you?

Ed Underwood: It was about six weeks for them to diagnose it. And then I went to the cancer center there and it took about two years before the rash finally got to a controllable state.

 

Bob: So were you in chronic progressive pain throughout this whole time?

 

Ed Underwood: Yeah, I really was.  And I had never been through it before. You know I hurt myself jumping out of airplanes and all of the things that I’d done in the Army, or in the Forest Service, but I had just never had to deal with chronic pain. And my family has never had to deal with that whole… Suddenly you’re an expert on T cells now, because I have a T cell lymphoma, so that’s our life, totally changed because of this disease.

Dennis: And the symptoms of this are really pretty tough. You literally itch you have a desire to scratch your skin, and yet your skin is coming off.

Ed Underwood: It’s coming off, your skin is like jelly, and it’s interesting that the number one cause of death with this disease is suicide. Because it is just itching—if you’ve ever had a rash that itches you can’t get away from it. And body fluids seep. I’ve ruined two couches I’ve had two real bad episodes of this.

Dennis: Over what percent of your body would you have this rash?

Ed Underwood: One Hundred.100% of your body.

Dennis: Now Ed, you were trained at Dallas Seminary

Ed Underwood: I was.

Dennis: I mean, you had a four year degree, which is incredibly thorough.  You know Hebrew, Greek, you’ve heard from some of the leading Bible scholars in the world.

Ed Underwood: I’ve been privileged as you know.

Dennis: How did you counsel your own soul? Because we do counsel our own soul theologically.

Ed Underwood: We do. And what I would say is: the text. I’ve gotta tell you, I love the text.

Dennis: The Bible

Ed Underwood: There was the night that I told Judy that I wasn’t going to pray any more. This was before I was diagnosed.

Bob: Before you were diagnosed?

Ed Underwood: Before I was diagnosed, just when I was suffering.

Bob:  So, you’re having the rash and they don’t know what the problem is.

Ed Underwood: I was having the rash. I was weak. They had saved my life but it just would not quit. And our daughter had come down with her kids and the grandkids are there, and my life is so different I can’t even talk to the grandkids. The grandkids wouldn’t come to me because this is a disfiguring disease. They were afraid of me. And I went upstairs and Judy said, “Well honey, let’s pray.” I said “I’m through praying. I’m through praying, there’s no way that I could be God’s child. I’m a father.  And, I know a father’s heart. And I would not let this happen to my child.”

She didn’t argue with me. She just said, “you can’t do this.” And then her prayer was, “I’m going to pray that God would bring you back. To him, and to me.” And it was the text that brought me back.

 

Bob: Were you really, I mean in your heart were you thinking that all that you had thought and believed about God had to just be bogus?

Ed Underwood: I didn’t want to. Because I’ve had so much—I’m a Jesus Movement guy. I came out of a pagan home. Since I trusted in Christ, my relationship with him has defined my life. Judy and I met that way. I just couldn’t understand; how could he let this happen? It just broke my heart.

Dennis: And was there anger also in your heart?
 

Ed Underwood: Oh, yes. There was anger in my heart. You hate to admit it and you heard people say all these things through the years. “I’m angry at God, I don’t think he still loves me…” And in the back of my mind was always, “Yeah but I won’t do that. Because I’m really, really committed to Christ. I can understand how this would happen to other people.” But I’m telling you, that night, I had decided that it wasn’t worth it to pray.”

Dennis: And you know, if you haven’t ever been there, in that situation, you really can’t guarantee how your own soul will respond in a situation like this.

Ed Underwood: You really can’t.

Dennis:  Barbara’s nearly died on four different occasions from a rapid heart rate.

Ed Underwood: Wow.

 

Dennis: I’ve seen a teenaged young man, our son, stricken with a disease that took away his ability to run.  And he was an athlete. And he was not a scholar, but it tossed him upside-down as a teenager for the last four or five years of his adolescence. I’ve been a part of burying a granddaughter.

Ed Underwood: Mighty Molly, I read the story.

Dennis: Mighty Molly seven days old.

Ed Underwood:  Boy did I identify with that.

Dennis: And Ed, if you haven’t been at those moments, there are dark moments in our lives, when we do question.

Ed Underwood: Exactly.

Dennis: We question God’s judgment, God’s love, and even, as Bob said, God’s existence.

Ed Underwood: Right.

Dennis: You were right there.

Ed Underwood: Oh, I was right there, I was all the way there. I was all the way there. In fact I dedicated the book to Judy. ‘Cause I say very honestly, without her faith, I would have lost mine. Without her prayers, I would have died.  And I believe that. Because, having watched people I love suffer, it’s harder to watch the one you love suffer than it is to suffer yourself. And she just has such a great faith. But I was right there I just remember thinking, I should have stayed in the Army, I’d be a colonel, I’d have better insurance and if there is no God, I’d be way better off. My life would have counted for a lot more.

Dennis: Ed, you’ve—we’ve been talking here for a dozen minutes and you’ve gone into the description of the disease, the pain you were experiencing. But it was only as you began to talk about the faith of your wife and the hope and encouragement that she gave you that you began to become emotional.

Ed Underwood: She’s my bride. You know, we met Jesus—We kinda met Jesus together. Neither one of us came from a Christian home. We married way too young. Everybody told us not to. We raised each other. And we have made a lot of mistakes that kids who come from pagan homes make; the mistakes of excess. But Jesus has been our only hope, and I lost it that night. And it was my Judy who kept me there.

Bob: Was anybody else aware of this crisis of faith that was going on?

Ed Underwood: A couple of my closest, closest friends. And as transparent and as vulnerable as I maintained myself, I knew intuitively that I’d better not be sharing this with a lot of people. So, I’m sure my kids knew. It was all a fog, I forget what was going on around me at that time. I’m living from test to test. I’m putting on all these medications trying to keep my skin on in the middle of all of this. But there were just three or four people besides Judy that I let in.

Dennis: Were you still preaching at the time?

Ed Underwood: Oh, no; which was another reason I couldn’t understand why God did this. I really didn’t think Church of the Open Door would survive my death.

Dennis: You know, we started this broadcast by talking about, there perhaps were people listening who are in a faith shattering crisis. There are also maybe those who are listening who are married to someone who’s in it. And, what Judy models here is the importance our words, our faithfulness and our love have for someone who loses hope.

 Ed Underwood: Exactly. 

Dennis: And, you know, it can be a teenager who’s losing hope, it can be our spouse that’s losing hope, it can be our parents, as they age who lose hope. We really are important in one another’s lives to continue to just stay the course.

Ed Underwood: Intensely so. Intensely so.

Bob: Unpack that a little bit for us. What is it that Judy did or didn’t do that was right during that time?

Ed Underwood: She didn’t argue with me and correct me and preach at me. She loved me, she stayed up at night reading the Psalms, and I told her I didn’t want to hear them. She said, “Well, I’m going to read them anyway. I’m reading them for me.” I can still remember falling asleep and her reading our favorite Psalms. And then, when I told her I lost my faith, she just looked at me. She was crying, she said, “You can’t do this. He’s everything to us. I’m going to pray that God would bring you back to him and me.” And I think that when I found John 11 the next day, it was God’s answer to her prayer.  Because it was that text that gave me hope.

Bob: I’m surprised you even went looking back in the Bible. I mean, given where you were emotionally, I’m surprised you even picked up a Bible.

Ed Underwood: I think it’s what Dennis was just saying. I think there was something about Judy’s unshakable faith. And you gotta realize, I’ve got some friends, who still believed for me. And they were saying the kind of things that I needed to hear. Sometimes, they were a lot more frontal with me, than Judy was.

Bob: So they were saying hard things to you.

Ed Underwood: They were saying hard things to me, but not shaming things. There’s a difference between a hard thing and a shaming thing. Grace is a safe place it’s not a soft place. So, I felt safe with them.

Dennis: Give us an illustration of something they might say to you, in the midst of that that feels safe, yet is still an exhortation to step up and out of your despair.

Ed Underwood: This is after I started back on my way back toward God, and I was kind of tracking again, but I still had, we called them “the greased pig exercise” where, we get to the point—since your skin regulates your body heat. We’d get to the point where I would just be shaking, like you see people from a burn.  And then I would have to go upstairs, take off all my clothes and rub this Eucerin paste all over my body.  And that, of course would make me burn up, and so I would have to sit in front of a fan until my body finally regulated. I had to do that about every three hours. And it was just miserable, and I would moan and wail, and so I wrote to Bruce. And I said, “Have you got anything that will help me through this?” And he said, “You need a discipline of praise,” Is what he told me, “You need a discipline of praise.”


And I wrote him back, this is Bruce Wilkinson. I said, “Easy for you to say Mr. ‘Jabez’ man.” And he said, “Ed, I’m telling you, you need a discipline of praise. I’m not going to back off on this.” And he said, “I want you—just try it next time.” And he gave me this discipline of praise: Five verses that mean the most to you in life, five ways that God has worked in your life and about twenty things. And I just had to discipline myself to praise God. And, it pulled me through. In fact, I would say, I never want to do the greased pig thing again, but I miss those times, some of the most intimate times I’ve ever had. And if Bruce would have backed off and said, “OK, I’m sorry Ed, I don’t understand.”  I never would have probably done that, and I would have missed that blessing of the Holy Spirit to draw me closer to God than I can remember being, during those times that I was so, so much in pain.

Dennis: So safe words speak the truth.

Ed Underwood: They speak the truth in ways that the relationship comes through too. And they’re words that don’t protect God.  They’re words that connect to God. That’s the way I would put it. The words that protect God for the sufferer just do you no good. People who are so worried that they gotta take care of God. So when you say “I’m losing my faith.” They start giving you all of these verses about how good God is and all that. You need verses, and you need truth that connects you to God. God doesn’t need protection, he’s God. If God was going to protect himself, he’s risking it. He’s risking suffering and all the questions that we’re asking for the sake of being able to reach us with his redemptive plan. So, they would be words that don’t protect God. Words that connect people to God.

Bob: You know, you mentioned John 11. And this week we’re going to unpack that a little bit as we continue to hear more of the process that you went through in this. But, as I think, this has been helpful for any of us. Whether we’re in the position of doubting, questioning, wondering about, is there a God, or whether we’re coming alongside someone who’s in that position to know how we can love them, support them, encourage them, exhort them, how we can be safe without being soft, and help steer them back in the right direction.

 

Dennis: Bob, I think in the Christian faith, sometimes we become, well we lack authenticity. And in our efforts maybe to protect God like Ed was talking about, or somehow wanting to appear spiritual, or really try to offer someone spiritual help, we don’t allow faith to have the dark underbelly of doubt, and of disbelief.

 

Ed Underwood: That’s right.

Dennis:  And honestly, if you look at the disciples’ lives, they experienced both. They had great faith, and they had disbelief. And as we’re talking about here, I’m just reminded of a great quote that I’ve shared on this broadcast numerous times. But I want to mention it right now, because there may be a listener who needs to hear this quote by Tom Skinner, who was chaplain of the Washington Redskins. He said this, “I spent a long time trying to come to grips with my doubts, when suddenly I realized, I had better come to grips with what I believe. I have since moved from the agony of questions that I can’t answer, to the reality of answers that I cannot escape. And it’s a great relief.”  And, as I hear your story Ed, it wasn’t that you denied the existence of your doubts, you ultimately moved toward those things you knew to be true. And that were worthy of faith.

Ed Underwood: Wow. Dennis, I’ve never heard that quote before. But as you were speaking the words I remember thinking, that’s exactly what happened—what happened to me. It wasn’t what I didn’t know about Jesus that brought me back, it is what I knew about Jesus that brought me back. And the stuff that I know about him, makes him absolutely worthy of my trust. And the things I learned about him through this makes me want to follow him even more.

Bob: And you’ve captured that really well in the book that you’ve written that describes this whole experience. It’s called When God Breaks Your Heart: Choosing hope in the midst of faith shattering circumstances. And I think people wrestle all the time with where is God in the midst of suffering, and how do we understand a good God when there is so much suffering? And through your own experience and looking at the account of the death of Lazarus in John, chapter 11, you’ve given us insight into the reality of God and what he’s up to, and how we’re to understand it when we walk through these kinds of difficult, tragic circumstances.

We’ve got copies of the book When God Breaks Your Heart in our FamilyLife resource center, and I want to encourage our listeners, go to our website FamilyLifeToday.com, information about Ed’s book is available there. Again it’s called: When God Breaks Your Heart, and the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.

We also have information on our website about the brand new book that, Dennis, you’re wife Barbara, and your daughter Rebecca have written that is called A Symphony in the Dark  that tells the story of the birth and life and death of Rebecca’s baby daughter Molly who died a year ago next week. In fact next week we’re going to be spending some time looking at Molly’s life here on FamilyLife Today. And the book is just out and I want to encourage our listeners to get a copy of this new book as well. It is powerful.

There’s information on both books our website FamilyLifeToday.com You can order from us online, or you can call us toll free at 1- 800-FL Today. 1-800 358-6329. That’s 1-800 F as in “family” L as in “life” and then the word TODAY. 

Let me just quickly mention, there is also on our website a short clip—a preview of what we’re going to be listening to next week as we hear Molly’s story. So if listeners would like a chance to preview what’s going to be on the air next week, go to FamilyLifeToday.com.

You know as we are unpacking Ed’s story this week on FamilyLife Today, I was thinking about a message that you shared with our staff, Dennis, a while back. A message from Psalm 34 where you talked about finding encouragement and hope and help in the middle of trial and tribulations. It’s a great message and one that a lot of our staff asked for copies of so they could send it out to friends and folks that they knew who were walking a very difficult path.

This month we want to make that CD available to any of our listeners who will help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.  When you call to make your donation, or when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, and make a donation, you can request a copy of the CD message from Dennis Rainey, “Trials and Tribulations: Encouragement, Hope and Help found in Psalm 34.

Let me just say quickly a word of thanks to those of you who are able to make a donation this month. We appreciate your financial support.

We’ve faced some difficult decisions here at the ministry in the past several months. We’ve had to make some adjustments because of a decline in donations. We’ve had to release some staff and make other adjustments as well. So we appreciate those of you who can make a donation of any amount this month. And when you do, feel free to request a copy of this CD. 

If you’re making you donation online, at FamilyLifeToday.com, just type the word “trials” in the keycode box on your donation form online. Or call toll free, 1-800-FL Today, make your donation over the phone, and just ask for a copy of the CD from Dennis. Again it’s our gift to you this month, and our way of saying thank you for standing with us, and for your financial support of this ministry.

Tomorrow we’re going to hear from Ed Underwood about the lesson he learned on prayer, as he lay dying. And I hope you can be back with us for that. I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch and the entire broadcast production team. On behalf of out host, Dennis Rainey I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.

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