Greg Austin is a friend and brother. I felt prompted to share this for a few reasons. The first reason is that it reminds us of our own mortality and how fragile this phase of life is, and it gives a story of faith, but beyond faith, a God that brings peace and unspeakable comfort that go beyond faith or any human comprehension. Secondly, I would ask some of you to pray for Greg as he goes through this. He has touched thousands of lives, including Joyce and I, and we believe Father has more for him to do in the years to come. I hope you enjoy Greg's story. (Robert Ricciardelli)
There are buzz words that immediately captivate the imagination, that engage the mechanisms of hope and anticipation deep in our souls; words that seem to carry on their wings the very vibration of excitement and of fulfillment.
Combine the word “glory” with the word “cloud,” and like the old E.F. Hutton television commercial, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, everybody listens.”
The following is an intensely personal and therefore subjective description of what I currently call my own unique, but nevertheless I think, worthy of description, “Glory Cloud.”
First of all, basic foundation is in order. The word “glory” is variously translated, interpreted, understood. Not all interpretations are accurate.
I won’t weary the reader with a full rendering of the 12 Hebrew and 8 Greek usages of the word, but I do need to present at least a simple reference point for the sake of this discussion. My focus in this brief introductory will be of the Hebrew kâbôd or Kavod. In the first sense, kâbôd is “to be heavy in the good sense of abundant or copious.”
Nothing there about a thick, gooey ethereal “something” that “comes on” people during revival meetings and that can be “cut with a knife,” as many have erroneously claimed.
“Glory” gives us the idea of weightiness, and the concept of “presence” through ornamentation, ‘swelling’, cloaking or sheer inherent magnificence. Finally we see the notion of praise, praiseworthiness, shining or brilliance described as glory.
Looking to the Greek and the New Testament we learn more: Among the 8 Greek words translated “glory,” the most frequent is doxa. The New Testament focus of “glory” is upon the perception of something as having worth or value and of “a distinction between” objects or entities.
In 1 Corinthians 11 and 15 (among others), the word doxa presents a distinction between one and another. Paul reveals that there is a glory of man and another glory of woman, a glory of the sun and another glory of the moon.
Further, Paul informs us that “ . . . we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, (doxa to doxa) even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Permit me to provide my own, personally developed definition of “glory” in the sense I have here described: “Glory is the tangible and visible manifestation of the characteristics by which we know and are known.”
In other words, there is a unique “glory” or characteristic by which we discern that one orb above is called “sun” and another similar, but uniquely difference orb is called “moon.”
Thus, when we think of Moses on Mt. Sinai requesting of Yahweh, “Show me Your glory,” he is literally asking, “Show me Who You are!”
If you can accept my simple definition – that “glory” in the sense of God is at least partly the “Who are You” or the identification of His Person, His characteristics and therefore His character, we can move to the next word, “cloud.”
Climatologists, Meteorologists and Nephologists tell us that clouds are little more than water in a vaporous state. Clouds are simply condensed water vapor in the form of water droplets or ice crystals, suspended in the atmosphere.
The Bible uses “cloud” metaphorically to describe God’s presence. In Exodus 13 we discover that the Lord God “went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way.” The children of Israel identified God’s presence and the direction of His leading during the daytime by following the pillar of His cloud.
If we can bring together the two words, “glory” and “cloud,” we have “the tangible and visible manifestation of the characteristics of God evident and discernable.”
The Old Testament over and over joins these words together: Among them, Exodus 16:10, 24:16 and 40:34. In 1 Kings 8, “the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord.”
Jesus spoke of a time when the world will “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
Just over a year ago, I experienced two minor heart attacks. I ignored the first because my wife and I were in Palm Springs enjoying the hot, southern California sunshine, and I didn’t want to mar the trip with a hospital stay. I could not ignore or hide the second episode and found myself in the care of our local hospital staff. During that visit my good cardiologist Dr. Raed Fahmy, discovered my problem.
Unlike many other men in my age group, I do not have clogged arteries. In fact, the Internist who gave me the report of my angiogram said, “You have the veins of a 16 year-old! There’s virtually no plaque build-up.” Then my cardiologist stopped by my room bearing a diagnosis. The first time I heard the term “hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy” I thought Dr. Fahmy was speaking another language. Further, the condition meant little to me.
I would learn in the following months more than I wanted to know about what is abbreviated as “HOCM” and the term would roll off my tongue as it had Dr. Fahmy’s when he stopped by my room that evening in June 2009.
HOCM is a relatively rare disease or condition. In America, an estimated 500,000 people have HCM or HOCM. By contrast, there are approximately 65,000 sufferers in Canada and roughly 8,000 in Ireland. About 1 in 500 people have the disease, but a lesser number are symptomatic. Perhaps you’ve heard of young athletes collapsing on the basketball court or football field, dying of heart attacks – HCM / HOCM is typically the cause.
We attempted to regulate symptoms with medicines, but within six months, when tests were again conducted, the results were not encouraging. Sheila and I will not soon forget the image of Dr. Fahmy walking into the examination room, carrying a large file. Opening the file and placing it on the examination table, Dr. Fahmy slowly shook his head and said, “Greg, Greg, Greg.” We knew the news wasn’t what we had hoped for.
Dr. Fahmy informed us that we had come to the end of medicinal management of the disease, and that he had come to the end of what he could do to help me. We were informed that I am in the lower 4 percentile of those with HCM, which means that 96% of those with the disease are in better shape than I.
We were referred to the University of Washington, a facility with great doctors and a stellar record for treating heart problems.
After meeting with a surgeon, we met with another, Dr. Ed Verrier, a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon and chief of cardiothoracic surgery at U.W. Dr. Verrier was not encouraging in his remarks. The bottom line was this: “I don’t want to do this surgery.” The risks involved in the very technical and challenging procedure were beyond what he found acceptable. Dr. Verrier told us, and the Physician’s Assistant who spoke with us before and after our consultation with Dr. Verrier, “If you need this surgery (it’s called a myectomy), you need to go to a facility and a surgeon who does a high volume of these (surgeries).”
And so we found ourselves speaking with staff at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. As I write this, we are two days away from leaving the Seattle area for Mayo and appointments with Dr. Steve Ommen and Dr. Hartzell Schaff.
Dr. Schaff is been called “The” world’s top surgeon for hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy. Not a bad guy to see if you’ve just got to have this surgery.
The surgery itself is a bit complicated, technically challenging and, well, “interesting” would be the word I choose to describe it.
Here is what the experts say about the procedure: “Surgical septal myectomy permanently abolishes systolic anterior motion of the mitral valve and mitral regurgitation, while normalizing LV pressures and wall stress.” Translation – the patient feels lots better after surgery.
The surgery reduces or eliminates obstruction of blood flow through the heart. This simply means that following surgery, I will be able to breathe without feeling like I am at 28,000 feet on Mt. Everest without oxygen.
As in all “open heart” procedures, the heart is accessed by separating the sternum. The heart is removed and the patient (that’s me) is placed on a heart-lung machine, or “cardiopulmonary bypass” pump so that the surgeon can work on a “still” heart. Afterwards, I will be able to say I know what it is to have the biggest heart in the world – the machine is enormous! An incision is made to gain access to the interior of the heart, and a thumb-sized portion of the septum, the muscle tissue that separates the two sides (Left Ventricle and Right Ventricle) of the heart. It is this muscle in my heart that continues to grow thicker and thicker, obstructing blood flow and hence oxygen from moving through the heart and into the aorta, and then the body.
Septal myectomy (the surgery) removes the obstruction by thinning the septum, which then reduces or eliminates the pronounced symptoms of shortness of breath, syncope (passing out), chest pain and stress. While I am told I’ll still have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, I should no longer experience the limitations I’ve gotten used to in the past six months. We’ll have to pray about the condition and my prognosis post-op.
Which brings me to My Glory Cloud.
I’m not new to the challenges of life, and of death. I have been presented with numerous opportunities to depart this life - ahead of what God intended, I might add.
To list them would bore the reader, but here are a few examples of some “exit opportunities.” Being shot at and missed. Falling from the side of a granite mountain during descent from the summit. I was able to clearly see my obvious first “bounce” more than a thousand feet below me – I wasn’t sliding or tumbling, I was falling in clear air. I managed to crash into a ledge. Here is an excerpt from my Climbing Journal regarding that day, “Down climbed approx. 1,000 feet when I fell – pack hung up on a rock flake. Injuries: Broken left hand, fractured Rt. wrist and scaphoid (carpal bone in the wrist); three broken ribs, left rotator cuff, bruised knee.” That was the good news. I could have fallen another thousand feet or so had it not been for a strategically located ledge. Then there was being shot at and missed. Oh, did I mention that a moment ago? But then, this was another occasion. There are other examples, but you get the idea. This current adventure is nothing new.
I read an email message from a dear and close friend in Germany this morning. The church there has been praying – interceding – talking to the Father about my current health situation since they learned of my condition a year ago.
In the past weeks they have amped up their prayers, even volunteering to pray for me twenty-four hours a day. They entered into a “water only” fast on my behalf.
Phone calls have come to me from Iceland and from points across America. Emails have poured in from Ireland, England, Germany, Holland, Northern Ireland and America. My local Brothers and Sisters, with whom we experience regular and close fellowship, have prayed without ceasing since learning of this disease. Around the world, people are lifting my name to the Father.
Whatever you may believe about prayer, and the power of prayer, I will testify that among its functions and attributes, prayer is a creative force; it is much more than merely an outlet for the frustration of not knowing what otherwise to do for a friend. Prayer opens heaven’s doors so that glory may spill into our lives.
There are those who teach that God may be turned, that we may change God’s mind and purpose through prayer: I do not subscribe to this philosophy. I believe that through prayer, we enter into the Father’s plan, we engage His heart, we find His purposes and align ourselves with that “good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
A God Who could be made to conform to my wishes, my hopes, my plans would be no God at all.
He Who declared, “I am the Lord, I change not” is indeed “the same, yesterday, today and forever.”
Our place, our part in prayer is to activate both our faith and to tap into the pulse and the heartbeat of our heavenly Father, from Whom comes “Every good gift and every perfect gift,” and with Him “there is no variation or shadow of turning.”
I don’t know the reason, or reasons, that God has not chosen to visit me with His healing touch. I have experienced divine healing on other occasions. I have prayed with many who have either instantaneously or gradually received His healing favor.
I do not lack faith to believe for healing. I am not concealing sin in my heart so that God will not hear my prayers. I am neither Job nor Judas. I believe and I trust, completely and implicitly in my Father’s good purposes and the reasons – even when I am not privy to them – that He heals this one and does not heal that one.
I can also testify that I am currently, and have been for some time, dwelling in a place of the realized manifest presence of my Savior and Friend, Jesus.
We have waited for this surgery date since the middle of May, now more than two months. During that time I read, researched and learned more about my condition and the surgical options for relieving my symptoms. If you are at all squeamish, you won’t want to know the details of the procedure. If you were at all “normal,” you wouldn’t want to undergo this surgery.
But as distasteful as this season may be, none of it moves me. Nothing that I have experienced, nothing that I anticipate has shaken me or given me cause to doubt the love, the faithfulness, the care or the nearness of my Savior. No, instead, I have become more aware of Him, until sometimes I find myself completely lost in Him and cannot easily discern between which of us is speaking, writing, thinking, breathing. He overwhelms me. I am overshadowed by His grace and His love. I am compressed by Him. I am surrounded, infused, pressed into and pressed upon by the real and nearly tangible presence of Jesus.
I’m not dreaming, nor am I fooling myself, fantasizing in the hope of overcoming dread or fear.
The verse that reveals, “Perfect love casts out fear” is more than a nice saying; it is reality. I have determined that Trust trumps Fear at every turn. If my trust is in Jesus, fear can find no lodging in my heart or soul.
And so I am surrounded, lifted, protected, carried by this awareness, this knowledge; this experience, this “Glory Cloud.”
It is a Cloud of His presence, a cloud of His person. It is a cloud of His glory, of the realized manifestation of the characteristics, the very nature of Who God is.
And just as climatological conditions create the clouds that silently drift across the heavens above, so the conditions – the established climate of prayer and of God’s
willingness have conspired to create around me, My Glory Cloud.
Soaring above the minutiae of life in this cloud, I recognize that prayer does more than provide deliverance “from” . . . prayer provides deliverance “in.”
From my heart, there is a deep and unspeakable thankfulness for every person who has prayed for me, who continues to pray. Your prayers are being heard, they are having effect, they are moving me deeper into His purpose, His design, His will.
And so, from the high vantage of My Glory Cloud, may I encourage you –
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” No matter your own challenge, regardless of what you may be facing today, God will carry you; He will keep you, in His Glory Cloud.