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First Thoughts

A Disappointing Health Update

This morning I shared some hard and frustrating news with First Baptist.

In the last week, I learned I will require another surgery for ongoing neurological problems in my brain. It is painfully ironic that I was learning about my need for this fifth brain surgery during the week of the release of my new book, which had its origin in my very first surgery.

The release of that book seemed, in my mind, to be commemorating the end of this season of struggle.

Let me explain this unanticipated setback.

How I Got Here

In 2018 I was diagnosed with what doctors called a vascular compression of cranial nerves in my brain. That means a cluster of blood vessels was applying pressure to a crucial nerve in my brain that controls movement on the right sight of my body. That pressure was creating serious pain and increasingly uncontrollable movements on my right side. It was leading to difficulty keeping my eyes open, difficulty speaking, and difficulty chewing.

By 2020 multiple neurosurgeons confirmed that brain surgery was required to relocate the blood vessels and relieve the pressure on the nerve. I had surgery in September of 2020, but an error in that surgery required a second one in the spring of 2021. Unfortunately, another error in that second surgery made my problem worse than it had been before.

At that point, we made the decision to find another surgeon who performed a third operation in August of 2022. In the kindness of God, that surgery worked, but the repeated opening and closing of the enclosure around my brain called the Dura created a leak. Another brain surgery was required to fix that leak.

That was the fourth surgery, and until very recently, I believed the last.

Where I am Now

In recent weeks, the spasms and pain have returned. Doctors have me on medicine to manage some of the symptoms, but I am struggling significantly and quickly getting worse. After testing and multiple doctor’s visits, we discovered that scar tissue has formed where my nerves were healing. The good news is that my nerves are healing. The bad news is that the scar tissue is now applying the same kind of pressure to my nerves that the blood vessels were. The only way to fix that problem is with a fifth surgery on my brain.

The surgery needs to happen soon and will take place in the next few weeks.

Where Is God in All This?

Disappointment seems too small a word to describe my response to this development. The last few years have been the hardest of my life. I ache to know that some of that trouble is not yet behind me.

As disappointing as it is, I know God is good. I know he loves me. I know he is doing good things.

I said in The Great Love of God,

In your life, God is going to ask you to do things that overwhelm you. Things you cannot understand . . . Perhaps God has placed challenges in your life that seem impossible to overcome . . . When God intervenes in your life, it is to show his love. You need to trust this. (Page 131)

This surgery represents one of God’s interventions in my life. It is not what I would have chosen. But I know he loves me. I love him. I don’t have the first clue what he is doing, but I trust him. I know he will use this for good. I am eager to see that good and experience it.

Where to From Here?

In the next few weeks, life is going to get hard, and I would appreciate your prayers.

After four of these surgeries, I know what to expect. When I wake up from surgery, I will be in tough shape, and I am going to be in pain. Would you pray for me to have a quick recovery and that this surgery would finally fix my neurological problems?

Would you also please pray for Lauren and my kids? I can’t help thinking that Lauren has the worst of all this. While I’m unconscious, she is concerned and praying for me. After I wake up, she gets a weeks-long demotion to single parent and nurse. Ask God to give her strength and courage.

Pray also for my dear church family. When I go through these trials, they go through them with me, and it is a burden. I am surrounded by a remarkable team of leaders who do excellent work in my absence, but being gone creates more work and makes life harder on everyone. Ask the Lord that our church would grow stronger through this latest ordeal.

Suffering is the surgery a loving God does on our souls. My neurosurgeon is going to create significant pain with scalpels and drills to solve a problem that cannot be addressed any other way. In the same way, God sends painful circumstances into our life as the exclusive remedy for spiritual challenges we might not even know we face.

God is doing wonderful things in this trial. As the God of great love, he doesn’t know how to do anything other than good things. Though it can be hard to see the good things he’s doing, his ability to do them is not in doubt. God never intervenes in our life to harm us—only to help us.

I believe he is helping me now. I can’t see what that help is from here, but he will show me when it is time.

One of the things that has been clear to me through these difficulties is that he has surrounded me with the most loving, supportive, and prayerful family, church, and friends anyone has ever had.

I love each one of you and am so grateful for you.

Your kindness and care mean more to me than you will ever know.

Thank you.

Pastor Heath.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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