Archive for the ‘illness’ category

The Folly of Forgetting in Times of Tranquility

November 29, 2013

Two years ago I was diagnosed with colon cancer. One year ago, at Thanksgiving, I gave thanks that my colon cancer surgery had been successful, my six months of chomotherapy had ended, and there were no signs of cancer in my post treatment blood tests, CT scan and colonoscopy. Last week I had my latest check up, and there continue to be no evidences of cancer, for which I thank God. The Lord has taught me much during my pre-surgery, surgery, and treatment times.

Everything has gone very well for me. The surgery went well; there were no complications in the days and weeks afterwards. The chemo treatments went well, and I did not experience the more unpleasant side effects. However, regretfully, over some of the intervening months, I found myself casually, and a bit materialistically, thinking, “You have the surgery, you do the recommended treatments, and everything turns out well.” Such thinking was foolish, naive and presumptuous! [It doesn’t necessarily follow that “you have the surgery, you do the recommended treatments, and everything turns out well” — as many can testify! ]

Recently I was convicted by a passage in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter eight.* In a context that emphasized evidencing fidelity to God by obedience to his commandments, Moses cautioned the Jewish nation to “remember,” and not forget God’s commandments, and what God had done for them. Three times, Moses told them that God had intentionally “humbled” them and “let them be hungry,” while at the same time meeting their actual needs of food and clothing, so that they would learn that those seemingly needful “things” of life were not needed as much as they needed God (vv. 2-5, 16).

Then they were reminded that the blessings of tomorrow would come from God (vv. 5-10). But they were also told not to forget God when they had “eaten and were satisfied” (v. 12-14ff.), and not to presume that their fruitfulness was solely the result of their efforts (vv. 17-18).

“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’

You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth . . . .”

Deuteronomy 8:17-18 [ESV]

These verses convicted me of my foolishness, naiveté, and presumption. I do not live in the physical world solely by my strength, or abilities, . . . nor by what medical science can accomplish in its strength. It is all of God. The outcome of my surgery and chemotherapy treatments were all of God, and my good checkups are all of God. Just as it was God who gave me strength while going through the trial (cf. Deut. 8:2-6), it is “God that gives power” during later times of blessing. Whether to be fruitful in one’s life, or to be healed, it is all of God (cf. Deut. 8:11-18).

In a sense, it was easy for me to trust in God as I was going through the diagnosis, surgery, and treatment periods. God was humbling me and putting me in a position in which I had no alternative but to trust in Him. But as the days, weeks and months of good checkups went by, my initially theocentric (God-centered) perspective was subtly influenced by a materialistic one, one that contemplated, “You have the surgery, you do the recommended treatments, and everything turns out well.”

I realize, in consequence, that times of blessing can be more dangerous than times of trial because, like the warning for the Children of Israel, in times of blessing we can “forget God,” think that the present tranquility comes from the power of our own hands, and forget that all blessings come from God and that “He gives the power.” For a while I was, in a sense, tripped by the “folly of forgetting in my time of tranquility.”

Thank you to all who have prayed for me and my health situation over the last two years. God has graciously chosen to bless me with healing. I pray that in all my ways I may “acknowledge Him,” whether in times of trial, or times of tranquility. Moses’ warning was insightful. It is so easy to call on God when in trial, but to attribute success to material efforts, when really, all successes come from the hand of God.

“In all your ways acknowledge Him . . . .”

Proverbs 3:6a [ESV]

*Deuteronomy 8:1-20 [ESV]

1 “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers.
2 And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.
3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
4 Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.
5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.
6 So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.
7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills,
8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey,
9 a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.
10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.
11 “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today,
12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them,
13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied,
14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,
15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock,
16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.
17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’
18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.
20 Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.

Body Today

January 24, 2013

Living with the side effects of chemotherapy varies from day to day.   Since I completed my chemotherapy in September my body has recovered from some of the side effects.  I can now drink cold beverages again; very thankfully, my sense of taste has come back(!); and one aspect of my sense of balance seems to have returned.  But certain neuropathy side effects continue and are bothersome.

On the other hand, I am very thankful that the tests I have had in the last couple of months indicate that there are no present evidences of cancer.  Since cancer is seen as the natural enemy, this alone gives reason for rejoicing.

But, discontent with apparent healing of the cancer, I have gone through periods of longingly setting my focus on some future day when, I presume, all the side effects of chemo will be behind me too, and my body will be back to “normal.”  That is, I will be able to touch, feel, write, type, walk, and run without impediments.

I have now found myself convicted that such longing undermines an appreciation for the healing which the Lord has provided, and evidences a discontent with “this day, which the Lord has made.”  Furthermore, it shows a presumption of the nature of that “future day” when — I presumptuously hope — all side effects will be behind me.  But James writes . . .

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”– yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

James 4:13-16

So what if God doesn’t want to remove all of my side effects?  What if He wants me to stay “the same” as I am right now for the rest of my life?  Will I perpetually be “discontent?”  Will I be constantly “living” in a tomorrow that may never come — and failing to live in the “today” that God has graciously given me?  Am I expecting heaven on earth?  Am I living as if this world is all there is, with my hope fixed on a resolution in this life which may never come?   If so, I will not be living a life submitted to the Lord’s will.  To paraphrase Psalm 118:24, the Lord has been leading me to meditate:

“This is the body that the Lord has given me TODAY,

I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

God may choose to allow my present condition to continue the rest of my life — for His glory, and His purposes.   Or God may allow my cancer to come back.  Or He may choose to heal those bothersome side effects.  Regardless of His choice, I must trust that His way is perfect, and glorify Him through the body He has given me today.

“As for God, His way is perfect.”

Psalm 18:30a

Carpe Horam — Seize the Hour

July 21, 2012

It has been several months since I have completed a new post for this blog.  It has been during these months that I have been receiving my chemotherapy.  There is a direct correlation between my “silence” and my treatments.  While I am thankful that I have now completed eight of the twelve bi-weekly infusions, I have been challenged by the various “demands” which the infusions bring on my body.

My infusions are on Mondays at the Regional Oncology Center and take most of the day.  At the end of my infusion on their pump, I am hooked up to a portable pump, which continues to give me more of one chemo agent for forty-six hours.  Two days later that infusion ends and I am disconnected.  On that day, day three of my chemo cycle, I find that I usually am very fatigued, and need to take a couple of naps during the day.  The same is true on day four and day five (and sometimes day six) of my cycle.  Consequently, on five out of the fourteen days of my chemo cycle, I really can’t “count” on getting very much done.

This means that in each two-week cycle, I have nine out of fourteen days to get done whatever I need to do for work, home maintenance, etc.  But, on those remaining nine days, I can also have fatigue or some other chemo side effects that “sideline” me.  This is the primary reason why it has been a while since I have written another blog post.  I am much pressured to get done what is absolutely necessary each week during my good hours (preparing for speaking and preaching) and find that my writing is getting “squeezed out” in the process.

Although many people have heard the expression, “Seize the Day” (from the Latin: Carpe Diem), I find that the expression, “Seize the Hour,” is more fitting to describe what God is teaching me now.  I have come to realize that I can treat my “good” days very presumptuously.  That is, I’ve found myself thinking, “I can’t count on getting anything done on my first five days, but I can count on getting things accomplished on my nine good days.”  Upon reflecting on this thought, I have been convicted by James 4:13-16.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’– yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’  As it is, you boast in your arrogance.  All such boasting is evil.”

James 4:13-16 [ESV]

I have learned that I don’t know what tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or the day after that, will bring.  In fact, even on my “good” days, I find that I can have a productive morning, but then be overwhelmed with fatigue in the afternoon and accomplish nothing.  Let alone tomorrow, I don’t even know what the rest of today will bring(!), and I must not be presumptuous that I will “do this or that.”  Instead, I find that only if the Lord wills, will I “do this or that.”  Which means that I can only count on “this hour.”  This is the hour which the Lord has given me.  I can use it wisely, or I can fritter it away.  But if I do “fritter it away,” I am acting presumptuously that the Lord will give me a later hour for that which I could or should do presently.  This has led me to try to remember to Carpe Horam, “Seize the Hour” — to do, in the present hour, as wisely as possible, what God would have me to do.

I understand that Horace, from whom the phrase, Carpe Diem, “Seize the Day,” is quoted, didn’t have the same perspective that I have.  In fact, he used it in a context to emphasize that since the future is uncertain, one should put a minimum of trust in the future, seize the day, and enjoy its pleasures.  Instead, I am being challenged to make the most of the present hour, for I cannot, without presumption, count on a later hour.

The Illness Idol

April 16, 2012

There are many books, articles, websites, resources and suggestions made available to cancer patients.  Some are helpful; some are not, but all take time!  More than once, I have become frustrated with how the “cancer issue” has rudely thrust itself in front of me.

Illness is an idol that can engulf all my waking time and attention.  It can breed self-absorption and suck up all of my limited strength, attention and energies.  It entices and lures me with different voices.  It challenges me to study it and figure how I can increase my odds at “beating” it — while bankrupting my attention to the One Who is worthy of all praise, and distracting me from His work.    It suffocates and would choke-out my interest and desire to serve God with my limited strength.  This has led me to the following prayer.

“God, deliver me from this preoccupation.  I want to be a wise steward with the life and breath that You so graciously give, but I don’t want pursuit of life and breath to dominate my life.  My life is Thine.  You are in control and will preserve my going out and coming in, according to your will.  My efforts to micromanage my life in an attempt to preserve it are of no avail — unless You so choose to deliver me.  Keep me constantly in your care.  Preserve, or take my life, as You so choose.  May I not be unwise or a poor steward, but please deliver me from preoccupation with trying to preserve my own life.  May I seek You alone, and your will.  Please, please, put in perspective the amount of attention I should give this albatross, and don’t let it take from me waking hours that should instead be focused on You and your will.”