Author Dr. Charles Page on How Stories of Faith Can Bring Hope to those in Pain

Charles Page

Dr. Charles Page, known as "the best guy to know on the worst day of your life"- is a surgeon, a storyteller, and author who has an amazing way of merging health issues and his faith through writing.  His new devotional book - "A Spoonful of Courage for the Sick and Suffering: Transforming Your Greatest Challenges into Your Biggest Blessings" releases in August.  The book is for anyone who is overwhelmed with sickness, discouragement, and health challenges - to let people know they are not alone. 

A doctor sees humanity at their worst moments - in the midst of a person's most severe illness and pain. But doctors also experience ordinary people who refuse to be defined by their illness. People who rise above their diagnosis with courage, faith, and resolve.

Surgeon and author Dr. Charles Page shares some of these patients' inspiring stories in his new book A Spoonful of Courage for the Sick and Suffering.

Q:Thank you so much Dr. Page for doing this interview with us. Congratulations on your new book A Spoonful of Courage for the Sick and Suffering. Can you briefly tell us what is the book about?

A Spoonful of Courage for the Sick and Suffering simply tells inspiring stories of truth, hope, and faith to encourage anyone struggling with pain or illness.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

Practicing surgery for over twenty years has helped me realize the impact faith has on someone who experiences an illness. I've seen people respond--in both positive and negative ways--to a change of health. I marvel at how some of my patients demonstrate God's faithfulness, adequacy and strength in difficult circumstances. Over the years, I've listened and learned their life lessons. This book compiles some of their stories.

A personal tragedy gave me a kick in the pants and helped me push forward with the book. My office building caught on fire and burned down three years ago. The word spread quickly in our community and my patients began sharing their experiences with me. One patient told me about his burning house story. He had an invalid wife who he couldn't move her out of the bed. There was nothing he could do. He watched his house burn to the ground with his wife inside.

When I heard these stories, I realized two things. First, I had no reason to throw myself a pity-party. The financial loss of my office paled in comparison to what that man had lost in the fire. Second, their stories inspired me to keep going. They gave me strength, hope and confidence in God's purposes and plans.

Interestingly, in my burned down building, I found four things which I could rebuild my life upon-things better and stronger than before. Each one of these items has a special significance to me. In that burned staircase, I found a Bible which had survived the fire. It was parched and charred, but the words hadn't changed. The truth remained. I also found an old black doctor's bag sitting on the steps, the kind used in the days gone by on home visits. I realized my practice of medicine would never be the same, but my career took on a new vision and purpose.

A little further up the stairwell, where it turns, I found the burned remains of pictures of my five children. I was surprised to find that their pictures-although tarnished by the heat--were still intact. I realized I had not been putting a priority on my family. I realized I still had my family to lead and influence.

At the top of the stairs, I found a wooden cross nailed to a burned wall. The wall, now charred and blackened by the fire, had been beautifully stained before the fire. But when I removed the cross, I found the wood that it had covered had retained the elegant stain. Now in the middle of that hideously burned wall a beautiful imprint of the cross was on display.

Like that burned wall, God often imprints his image on our lives in our suffering-on view for all to see. In the midst of mess, God's fire burns an unmistakable likeness of Himself into our lives. We bear His marks when we experience affliction. You've been a practicing surgeon for over 20 years.

Q: Can you tell us about your observations on how faith affects someone going through an illness?

Faith helps us see the opportunities in our circumstances. When we realize that God has allowed our adversity for a purpose we begin to look upward instead of inward for the answers.

As human beings we're trying to make sense out of our suffering. We ask those introspective questions. Why me? Why now? Why not someone else? Why this particular challenge? Why God? Why are you letting this happen to me?

Understanding that we will never understand all the why's we are asking-at least on this side of eternity-is the first step. I've learned that sufferers who look upward, focusing on God's promises, understanding His loving nature, and leaning upon His faithfulness, progress towards healing.

In the next step, individuals learn to focus outwards-at others. Despite a challenging illness, the best thing that a sufferer can do is encourage and help others. My mother died of lung cancer about four years ago. I felt helpless. I could perform life-saving surgeries on others, yet there was nothing I could do for someone I cared for deeply. Then along came Katherine.

I diagnosed Katherine with a locally advanced breast cancer. At first, I thought she was intentionally living in neglect. Over time, I learned that Katherine wasn't in denial, she simply was so other focused she didn't have much time to think about herself. She knew that her time had come. She had lived a fulfilled life. She was ready for Heaven. And if God so willed for her to pass with breast cancer, then she was content with that. Somehow, Katherine learned about my mother and her diagnosis. When she did, her conversations shifted to me and my dying mother.

Katherine's way of expressing concern and love for others came in a little paper sack. She would fill these sacks with pecans while walking down by the river. With each pecan put in a sack, she would offer up a little prayer for that person. Katherine brought me a lot of sacks filled with pecans. Instead of looking inward, Katherine was looking upward and outward. I can never express how much her encouragement meant to me during this tough time in my life. I was her doctor, the one supposed to be imparting advice, encouragement and strength. Here was a woman dying of breast cancer who showed concern for someone she didn't even know.

By the way, Katherine lived much longer than anyone-including me-anticipated. I believe it was because she had a focus, a purpose and reason to keep going. Giving to others kept Katherine going. That's one example of how faith affects someone going through a health challenge.

Q: Every page of your book tells stories about people who have modeled faith and courage in their difficulties. Can you give us some examples?

One of the last stories in Spoonfuls tells about an immigrant from Somalia who came with a gallbladder problem. When I examined her, I was shocked to find that she had scars in the exact places where we would make our incisions for surgery.

When I dug further into her story, I learned that the witchdoctor had taken a hot piece of iron and burned the skin over the area where she had been having pain. In Africa, traditional medicine often practices self-mutilation hoping to scare the pain away. After some reflection, I realized we often do the same thing. Instead of learning our lessons in our adversity, growing and experiencing healing, like my patient, we scar ourselves for nothing.

God never wastes our trials. Our health challenges always have a purpose. Sometimes our afflictions help us empathize and encourage others. God always places opportunities in our suffering.

Q: What would you say to the person who has just been diagnosed with cancer or who has recently had an abrupt change in their health?

Focus on the facts. Often, learning you have cancer, evokes overwhelming emotions. Instead of being driven by feelings, focus on the facts. Rest on these certainties when facing tough circumstances:

When we feel afraid:

We fear the unknown. We fear the changes in our health and lifestyle that cancer can bring. Spiritually speaking, the facts tell us we have nothing to fear. God will either deliver us from our circumstances or give us the ability to endure them. Either way, we win. And come what may, God gets the credit.

When we feel alone:

For certain--we are never alone. If the Spirit of Christ lives within us. Also called the Comforter, the Holy Spirit encourages, enlightens, empowers and equips us to face what is before us.

When our life feels out of control:

Guess what? We were never in control to begin with. But God is. The scripture reminds us:

"He is before all things and in Him all things hold together." (Col. 1:17, NIV).

We can be assured, resting in the knowledge that although we don't know what tomorrow holds, we know who holds tomorrow. Nothing happens in our lives-even cancer-which is not controlled by an all-wise, all-loving and all-powerful God.

When cancer makes us feel inadequate:

In one sense, we are inadequate to face cancer. Jesus reminded us:

"apart from me, you can do nothing." (John 15:7 b, NIV).

But through God we can do all things. We can move forward in confidence trusting God to do his part as we fulfill ours. God never places us in circumstances beyond His sovereign goodness. We have to learn to trust Him.

Q: Why do you call yourself the 'best guy to see on the worst day of your life?

I'm a surgeon. When I meet people, it's usually under dire circumstances. Cancer. A busted pelvis from a car wreck. A festering abscess. Internal bleeding. I'm the guy you never hope to see but you're glad to have met when faced with an illness.

My broad experiences have given me the opportunity to observe how people respond in their life tragedies. I've listened and learned from them. This work compiles some of the life lessons I have learned from them.

Q: What difference can A Spoonful of Courage for the Sick and Suffering make in the lives of those going through an illness?

Most of us falter, not for lack of information. We fall because of lack of inspiration. When we are facing adversity, we need to connect with others who can encourage us. A Spoonful of Courage unites readers with a great cloud of witnesses. They stand before us and cheer us onward. Nothing motivates us more than someone who can empathize with us in our illness, who has experienced similar circumstances, and who has modeled how to survive them. First this work reminds readers that they are not alone.

This work reminds the ill to look for the opportunities their adversity brings: the fortune of growing in maturity, faith and hope; the invitation to a deeper intimacy with God; the occasion to influence others in a greater way. The goal of each spoonful is to help readers find the possibilities in their health problems--a change of focus.  

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