You’re strolling along one of the dykes winding through the picturesque tidal flats in Richmond, BC, and happen upon a dad and mom frolicking with their five children. The squeals of laughter punctuating the air might lead you to conclude: “That family has it made.” Ironically, it is another, more foreboding proverb that rings true: “Looks can be deceiving.” In a few hours, this dad will pay a high price for his brief expenditure of energy.
Ken Kutney grew up in Kelowna, BC. His wife, Joy, a spunky missionary kid, travelled the world. She and Ken both earned bachelor degrees from Western Pentecostal Bible College in Abbotsford, BC. There they formed a friendship that blossomed into marriage. Ken subsequently pursued a master’s degree at Regent College. They then planted Steveston Christian Church, nestled in a historic corner of Richmond, B.C.
Ken and Joy experienced their share of challenges, coping with the needs of two autistic children, but this positive family just couldn’t be beat. An avid sports enthusiast, Ken’s passion for hiking, canoeing and martial arts rounded out his love of music and painting.
However, after eight years of ministry, Ken developed a rare blood disorder known as Hypereosinophilic Syndrome (HES). The effects of HES were extreme joint pain, progressive damage to the organs, and allergic reactions to most foods. A temporary sick leave became a way of life for Ken as he struggled each day just to get out of bed. Ken describes his journey at this time:
“I’d literally go hoarse trying to sing or speak for an extended period of time. The cramping muscle pain and weakness left me too weak to play my guitar, piano or sax. All the gifts I had been creatively using in church ministry seemed useless. Going from full-time ministry to practically being a shut-in, I wondered, ‘What do I do now?’ Compared to my energetic family, it felt like I could only move about in slow motion, as though I were on a different planet with heavy gravity. It was a huge swing from enjoying life as an active dad and an outgoing and adventurous church planter.
Art and seasons of change
The first autumn of my illness, my girls presented me with a spectacular collection of leaves and a wildflower that, ironically, grows in dry, sandy conditions. As I helped them press the leaves between stacks of heavy theological books, I was inspired to imitate the Creator’s lavishness. Overstepping the bounds of any sketching I had previously dabbled in, I ventured into my first watercolour work. Through the slow and painful process, I had this driving sense I was defying the death gloom of winter. With the mixing of these rich, vibrant colours, I found my ‘voice’ for encouraging others to see beauty in the seasons of change.
How is his creativity expressed now?
It has opened up pathways into my community. Reaching new people has reinforced my conviction that ministry can and should take on many forms.
I better understand what people challenged with chronic conditions go through — a vicious cycle of illness, fatigue, tension, stress, anger, fear, depression.
My painting, ‘Safe Harbour,’ addresses how we choose to approach change in the stormy seasons of life. For me, daily letting go of the negatives and holding fast to blessings, large and small, have made all the difference. More than that, my inner spiritual life is deepening in ways I don’t fully understand. I have a stronger faith. The calmness works from the inside out.
Has illness changed your theology?
I even tried reflecting on the theology of suffering over the years with a couple of my doctors. One specialist surprised me recently as he pensively replied, “Sounds like you have already begun your PhD in Life.”
I used to preach on abundant life as something that starts here, not only in eternity. Nothing wrong with that exegesis, but my application was that we should be thriving instead of merely surviving. Well, after three years of survival I think there is a lot to be said for a faith that can hold on. Overcoming faith is great. Everyone enjoys a victory. But there is a deeper aspect to our faith, the kind that sustains us in the trials.
Can you be a grace-giver to someone who is really struggling?
It’s what church is all about. Not sugarcoated promises or clever salesmanship of religion. The Bible is clear that life has its storms. Unpredictable circumstances do not have to disturb our inner peace. The storm is not in me — I happen to be in the storm. Despite the daily trials of chronic and painful illness, I seem to keep bobbing back up to the surface like a cork. That in itself is a miracle.
When questioning your own self-worth, you have to stop and go deep, asking, ‘Who am I?’ Other chronically ill people have helped me realize that I had to stop trying to be what I had been. I need to figure out who I am supposed to be now, and learn to be good at that.”
Susan Wells, lives in Delta, BC. She is a home decor specialist, humorist, author and inspirational speaker. This article was originally published in Testimony magazine. http://www.testimonymag.com