Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Decorated Office

I received a beautiful gift from my co-workers when I was able to return to work this week.  My office was decorated in "celebration mode" with stars, banners and checkered flags hanging from the rafters (as well as a small giraffe with a puzzled look on his face).  This has really been a shared journey and I'm thrilled to share my sense of accomplishment with everyone who has loved me and prayed me through this past year.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Crossing the Finish Line

I realize that once started, the journey with cancer is a life-long proposition.  I've heard other cancer survivors talk about their ongoing relationship with cancer.  Somehow it's always a part of your life, there's a sense it which it may reoccur for nearly anyone, yet you must find a way to rise able the fear and dread of a reoccurance.

For today at least, I've put future fears behind me.  This is a day of celebration; a day I've anticipated for many months.  I crossed a finish line of sorts today, the final chemo treatment.  As far as I can tell right now, the treatment phase of my cancer is at an end.  Next comes five years of watching, waiting and testing.  I'm greatly encouraged to see that some of my personal physicians are the men who have created the national standards for ongoing testing.  Along with regular CAT scans, chief among these tests are Carcino Embryonic Antigen testing (CEA).  If cancer cells reappear, the CEA numbers in my blood work will indicate that further treatment is needed.  I've been told the test is highly sensitive; taking this test every three months for the next five years gives me some assurance that cancer won't sneak up on me again.

An even greater assurance that gives me even greater encouragement is the hope of Christ's sustaining presence through all of this.  I've come to the conclusion that while he is not the author of this evil, cancer has been his servant to disciple me into a closer fellowship with Christ.

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character produces confident hope. And confidence in him will not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Rom 5:3)

In some cases, cancer is his servant to bring a person to an understanding of their need of a savior.  In others, cancer is tool of discipleship, pruning a plant for greater effectiveness.  For many, cancer is sent as a servant to usher a believer into the presence of Christ.  In any event, cancer (and the evil one behind it) can have no more influence that Christ allows.  

While describing the redemptive sufferings of Messiah, Isaiah makes the point that he was despised and rejected by men (Isa 53:3).  Not merely despised, but fully rejected to suffer alone.  His only companions at the cross were his mother, several other women and John.  Having suffered the injury as well as the insult, Christ attends our sufferings in a different manner.  The limitations of physical sight in this body lead us to believe that we are also "despised and rejected," but Christ truly enters into our suffering and invites us with eyes of faith to embrace his presence.  

Hebrew 2 relates the necessity of Christ's full participation in our humanity and suffering, so that he will be able to strengthen those who are suffering:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants.  For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

For the past year, my body has been the subject of a constant onslaught of chemicals, drugs, surgeries, radiation and other painful procedures.  For a year or so before that, a growing colony of cancer cells were eating away at my insides.  But more importantly, more powerfully has been the onslaught of love, hope, encouragement and prayer aimed at my body, mind and spirit by hundreds of believers for the last year.  James says that the energetic prayers of righteous people are highly effective.  My gratitude is inexpressible. 

Second Sunday of Lent, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


My mind has started playing tricks on me, but I've found there's drugs for that.

"Anticipatory nausea" is a new term added to my vocabulary as a result of this experience.  There's almost always a physical nausea that accompanies chemotherapy and the medical team has been really good about keeping this under control.  However, the further I have progressed through these cycles of chemo, the more a Pavlovian response has kicked in; my mind has taken over and started dreading the next upcoming treatment.  Most recently, that dread manifested itself in anticipatory nausea.  When I drive downtown and see the Gonda building, when I smelled the Dial soap in those ubiquitous dispensers distributed throughout the Clinic, even when I walked down the hallway of St. Mary's Hospital yesterday to visit a church member, the uncomfortable urge in the back of my throat begins.

I am SO glad this Friday is "finish line" last treatment.

I know this sense of dread is completely psychosomatic.  I told my doc that I knew it was "all in my head."  "Just because it's all in your hear doesn't mean it's not real" was his wise reply as he wrote me a script for Ativan.

During Lent, I've been reading through the gospels.  It continues to amaze me that Jesus regularly and clearly told his disciples exactly what was about to happen.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  (Matt 16:21)

It really doesn't get any clearer than that.  He didn't say this just once, he repeated it over and over.  Their response ranged from being oblivious to misunderstanding the words.  Sometimes they argued with him that he was wrong, they volunteered to charge into Jerusalem and die with him, and on at least one occasion they responded by fighting among themselves over who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom after he was gone.  With friends like that...

So during Lent as my mind and body have dealt with a sense of impending dread for my bi-weekly chemo treatments, I've found myself pondering how a sense of dread affected Jesus, when the dread of the impending cross began, how he dealt with it and what he set his mind on to get him through.

I think it's easy to look at the portrait of the beatific Jesus leaning on the rock with the light streaming down from heaven and dehumanize him; that is, to believe that his divinity overrode his humanity in Gethsemane and he really didn't feel the full brunt of the dread of the cross.  That famous painting is out of sync with the biblical record.  A raw, Ansel Adams-style photograph of the same event would reveal a man so racked with dread that the blood burst through his skin.  "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses..." (Heb 4:15)

When did the dread of the cross begin for Christ?  Certainly it intensified as he approached Passion Week.  No one could endure a dreadful agony of that intensity long term, but it must has started years earlier.  During his three-year ministry when he attended the high holy days in the Temple, when he saw the massive slaughter of the animals at the annual Passover, he must have felt anticipatory dread.  It must have felt it when he attended synagogue and heard the reading of Isaiah 53, "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows..." knowing as no one else in the room could have known that he was the object of that ancient prophecy.  History records the public crucifixion of 30 Galilean insurrectionists in Jesus' day, their crosses erected one after another along the road from Galilee to Jerusalem as a Roman reminder of what happens to "messiahs."  At some point in his adolescence, Jesus must have realized who he was.  But at what point did he fully realize what he was to do?

How did Jesus deal with the sense of dread, whenever it must have began?  The answer is probably buried in the routine of Jesus' life, a routine marked by a dogged determination to do the Father's will and a life of intimate communion with the Father.  Any time he had the opportunity, Jesus unequivocally told his disciples and the crowds that followed him of his absolute devotion to the kingdom of heaven, his commitment to fulfilling the Father's will.  
     "My meat and drink is to do the will of him who sent me..." (John 4:34)
     "I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (Jn 5:30)
     "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (Jn 18:11).  

Perhaps the best indication of how Jesus fought a sense of dread by a total devotion to the Father is found in the fact that that devotion was recognized even by his most bitter enemies.  Those who forced Pilate's hand and urged on the torture of the soldiers sat down to watch the spectacle of Jesus' crucifixion.  They yelled out, "He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him" (Mt 27:43).  Jesus' intimate relationship with the Father was famous even among his enemies.

I've dealt with the dread of chemo by focusing my mind beyond the finish line.  Once I get "hit by the bus" and crawl out of the "chemo ditch" for the final time, I'm looking forward to tasting my food again, regaining my strength, leading worship on a weekly basis, dating my wife and getting back to a regular workout routine.  Setting goals beyond the chemo is essential to surviving the mental side of this battle.  So what did Jesus look forward to to deal with his dread.  When he stood among his friends in the upper room, breaking the bread, pouring the cup and surprising them with the words, "This is my body...this is my blood," where was his mind?

Certainly his immediate purpose was to fulfill the Father's will, but Heb 12:2 says that, "For the joy set before him [he] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  Part of "the joy set before him" was a reconciled relationship with you and me.  He overcame the dread of the cross and suffered inexpressible grief for the sake of spending time with us. 

I am encouraged in my dread by knowing the Jesus knows exactly how I feel and endured his dread for the sake of knowing me.

Monday, February 28, 2011


Disappointment - His appointment, 
Change one letter, then I see 
That the thwarting of my purpose 
Is God's better choice for me. 

His appointment must be blessing 
Though it may come in disguise 
For the end from the beginning, 
Open to His wisdom lies. 

Disappointment - His appointment 
Whose? The Lord's who loves best. 
Understands and knows me fully, 
Who my faith and love would test. 

For like loving, earthy parent 
He rejoices when He knows 
That His child accepts unquestioned 
All that from His wisdom flows. 

Disappointment - His appointment 
No good thing will he withhold 
From denials oft we gather 
Treasures from His love untold. 

Well, He knows each broken purpose 
Leads to fuller deeper trust 
And the end of all His dealings 
Proves our God is wise and just. 

Disappointment - His appointment 
Lord I take it then as such, 
Like the clay in hands of potter 
Yielding wholly to Thy touch 

All my life's plan is Thy molding 
Not one single choice be mine 
Let me answer unrepining, 
Father not my will but Thine.

-Edith Lillian Young

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February Update

I haven't posted anything for awhile and I'm always amazed at the number of people who approach me to say that they're following this blog and enjoy reading.  For a long time I asked myself, "Why do they care to read anything I've written?  I'm not that good a writer and my 'medical drama' is winding down at this point."  It dawned on me after worship this past weekend, after a long line of people approached me to assure me of their prayer, that those who follow this blog don't do it for the high literary value of the writing...they do it because they love me.  (I'm a little slow sometimes.)  Thank you.

I was supposed to begin the final round of chemo (three bi-weekly treatments) last Friday, but the surgeon decided I needed one more week of recuperation before they "release the hounds" again.  I had no objections; another week to enjoy a normal life, get work done and stay involved in the worship ministry.  Mick and I had worked out a detailed plan to cover choir rehearsals and lead the Adoration Service; now it's 180 degrees out of phase.  "Blessed are the flexible."

So, chemo will resume on Friday, Feb 11.  Gets me out of buying an expensive Valentine's Day dinner for Charlene (believe me, I'd much rather ditch the chemo and spend big bucks on my wife!).  The end is in sight.  By the time we get to mid-March, I'll be through with chemo and will be able to get life back in order.

At our staff devotional time the other day, one of the pastors talked about joy and asked people to share recent blessings in their life that bring them joy.  A handful of people shared some interesting and significant things that had recently happened in their life.  As I built my mental list, I discovered that as a result of my cancer battle I am finding joy in simple, everyday blessings that I once overlooked.  I walk out the door in the morning in this brutal cold (-10 !!) and am thankful for the strength to walk to the car.  I drive to work singing "All Creatures of our God and King" or "Holy, Holy, Holy" and am thankful for a voice to sing.  I step into my office and see yesterday's stack of jobs and a growing "to do" list and am thankful for a job where I'm needed and can make a contribution.  And don't even get me started on the list of blessings I count when I get back home at the end of a busy day.

I'm looking forward to this all being over.  In the mean time, it's all good.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

On the Day I Called...Wow!

During the long (and life-changing) journey, I've been studying the longest book in the Bible, the book of Psalms.  I've taken a psalm a day (okay, I've missed a few, but we all do) and have found wonderful encouragement and strength along the way.

While reading Psalm 138 the other day (I'm nearly at the end of my cancer treatments and nearly at the end of the Psalter), I read a phrase that caused me to suddenly look up from the page with wide-eyed surprise:

"On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased" (Ps 138:3).

Okay, I've got enough faith to believe that God hears prayers, although I have no idea how he can hear all the prayers of all who cry out to him simultaneously.  But without thinking it through, my mental picture of God's hearing of prayer has been a bit like my getting email.  You're certain to get a reply from me when you send an email and I'll do what I can to help you, but that email is probably going to sit in my inbox for a bit while I'm working on other's requests or taking some time away from my PC.  Not so God.  I like the New English Translation here, "On the day you called I answered."

Do we have enough faith to believe that God not only hears our prayers the instant they are prayed (or perhaps even before since He knows our thoughts before we think them [Ps 139]), but that the answer comes immediately?

Now it's certain that we may not realize that the answer has been given simultaneously, but just because we don't instantly grasp God's answer doesn't mean that he hasn't answered instantly.

An example of the supposed delay in answered prayer is found in Daniel 10.  Daniel fasted and prayed for three weeks, then one day while standing on the banks of the Tigris (in modern day Iraq) an angel appeared to him with a message from God.  The angel revealed to Daniel the immediacy of God's response to his prayer and the reason behind the supposed delay:

Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, "Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you." And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.
Then he continued, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come."

Okay, I have to confess that I don't totally get that "Prince of the Persian kingdom" and "Michael...came to help me" stuff.  It appears that "We don't wrestle against flesh and blood" (Eph 5) stuff was going on with Daniel, and it may account for the "delays" we experience in answered prayer, but the point is that Daniel was heard by God on the day Daniel prayed and God dispatched a messanger with the answer on that same day.

God doesn't have an "inbox," it's ALL "instant messaging" to Him!

So...pray.  I am.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fearfully and Wonderfully

Left to their own, things naturally fall apart.  In school we learned to call this natural phenomenon the "second law of thermodynamics."

So how is it that muscles heal and tissues regenerate?  Is there some invisible intelligence within each cell that just "knows" how things are supposed to be?  But then what about that principle that things naturally fall apart?

David noted in Psalm 139 that we are "Fearfully and wonderfully made," and my recent experiences have left me with a sense of wonder at what God has created and entrusted us with.  Healing is a gift that he gives and a process that he superintends.

I had surgery last Monday to reverse the temporary ileostomy that has been in place since September's surgery. The doctor predicted a five-day hospital stay and weeks of post-surgical recovery, but they also said that the sooner I was able to get up and start walking, the sooner my system would get back on track and begin functioning normally.  Soon after surgery, I developed the reputation for being the patient who spent more time walking the hallway than resting in his room, and Charlene was with me every step of the way.

By God's grace, I was discharged after only three days.  There's still a bit of soreness and the recovery is on-going, but I'm grateful to be regaining my strength (if not my weight) and able to return to work.  I'm not going to push too hard or try to come back to full speed too fast, but I'm grateful that none of the horror stories I heard about the recovery period have happened to me yet.

I have three chemo treatments planned for February and early March, then I'm looking forward to putting this whole process in my rear view mirror (except for the life lessons learned).  Thanks for your continued prayer and encouragement.