Archive for the ‘providence’ category

When We Get Our Friends and Enemies Confused

August 28, 2012

As I am approaching the end of my chemo regimen [one infusion remaining! (September 5-7)], my wife mentioned that we should pray that this last treatment is successful at wiping out any remaining cancer cells that may have survived the first eleven treatments (in other words, any tough, chemo-resistant cells).  It made me realize that while I have been dealing with the side effects of chemo, I have unconsciously transitioned into thinking of the chemo as my “enemy” because of the unpleasant side effects.  After Patty’s comment, I was reminded that chemo is not an “enemy,” it is a “friend,” a tool being used against the real enemy: cancer.

This made me begin to think about the “tools” God uses in my life.  I generally greet unwelcome intrusions into my copacetic routines as “enemies” to “my peace.”  They mess me up.  They make me uncomfortable. They are irritating.  They are not “fun.”  And yet these “intrusions,” these events and circumstances, like chemo, may actually be the very means that God is using to accomplish a “greater good” in my life.

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s comments in 2Corinthians 12:7-10 where he asked God to take away a “thorn” in his flesh.  He was told that God would not take away the thorn because it gave opportunity for God to show His grace in Paul’s weakness.

“So to keep me from becoming conceited . . . , a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

“Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-10

And I am reminded of James 1:2-4 where the Apostle James told his disciples that they were to rejoice at their trials because those trials would be a means by which they would grow in maturity.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete [mature], lacking in nothing.”
James 1:2-4

Now, as I think of my chemo, I have to think of it as a tool, a means to an end.  It has its unpleasant side effects, but ultimately it is supposed to be for my good, to knock out the cancer cells, which are far worse and potentially deadly.

I am therefore reminded that God works in my life, providentially using events and happenings that I may not care for at the time, for my good.  As I think about my last chemo regimen I know that I must accept it as a tool, a “friend,” and not an enemy.  And I must, by faith, give praise to God for the various “tools” that He uses to accomplish His work in my life, even if they are, for the moment, unpleasant.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 5:1-4

“Dear Lord, please help me to remember your providential use of ‘tools’ the next time I mistake them as my enemies.  Convict me of my  presumption that things should always go ‘smoothly,’ or ‘pleasantly’ for my present comfort.  Let me, instead, humbly recognize Your use of ‘tools,’ to accomplish Your greater good in me, recognizing that this ‘earthly tent,’ will one day pass away when, ironically, this mortal body will be swallowed up by life.  Please keep my eyes focused on that which really matters, which shall never pass away.”

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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.

Hospital Doors

February 28, 2012

On Wednesday, while waiting to leave the hospital for the drive home after surgery, I sat on a bench near the hospital doors and watched the many faces coming in.  I had come in through those doors a half dozen times in the previous month.  I reflected on the thoughts that had gone through my mind each time I had walked through those doors.  On December 27, right after my diagnosis, I wondered about this hospital, the doctor I was about to meet, and what she would say and find out about my cancer.  During one visit, because I had fasted in preparation for a procedure, I wondered how soon I could eat lunch and what I would like to eat when I could.  During another visit I tried to make sense out of the very conflicting results I was getting from various tests, and wondered what the doctor would find that day.  I was back a couple of other times too, but when I came through those doors on February 2, it was for the surgeon to perform a colectomy to remove the section of my colon where the cancerous ulcer was found.  In my heart, it was my desire for God to be glorified in my life that day, but I also wondered what this experience would entail for my family and me.

That Wednesday while I waited for my ride, I wondered about each of the faces coming through the doors.  Some were the faces of medical professionals, coming in for a day’s work.  Some were patients.  Some were volunteers.  Some were family members of patients.  Doctors with stethoscopes and briefcases walked in next to chemo patients wearing knit caps.  Volunteers hurried by husbands who were carefully pushing their wives in wheel chairs.

I also realized that for a moment in time, the hospital doors framed together strangers who knew nothing about each other.  As I looked at the faces walking by, I realized that they were not looking at each other.  They all were preoccupied.  They all were wrapped up in their own concerns, anxieties, plans and daydreams.  I realized that I had been equally oblivious of those who had walked through the doors beside me each of the previous times I had entered.

Life does the same thing.  It frames me together alongside strangers that I don’t even know.  I, in my own little world — they, in theirs.  In Matthew 5, Jesus presented the picture that His followers were to be influencing and providing light for their world.  I don’t naively believe that it is my responsibility to personally interact with “everyone” who “happens” to walk through doorways next to me.  But I am challenged to consider, when in a moment of time life “frames” me next to others:   “Do I, in that passing moment, pay attention to, or care, or speak to them about what is on their hearts?”  How many times am I “in my own little world,” thinking my own private thoughts, without a thought or a care for that other soul who God has providentially arranged to be right beside me?

Jesus said:  “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 5:13-16

Solving a Maze

January 16, 2012

The last couple of weeks have been interesting.  It has been very much like trying to figure out a maze on paper.  With a pencil one tries different paths and then finds that one after another, each path seems to be taking you to a desired end, but instead leads you to the same place, a dead-end.  In diagnosing medical conditions, doctors need to rule out improbable causes from probable ones.  It is interesting when you are the patient.  Each test could lead to an answer to the puzzle of what’s wrong with you.  As you go through each test you weigh all the “what ifs,” both good and bad, for what that test could reveal.  You don’t want to become too “invested” in the results of any particular test because you know that another test could invalidate any earlier conclusions.  This is the maze that I have been living for the last couple of weeks.

Many paths have been tested; but the results have been inconclusive.  After my colon cancer was diagnosed on December 15 I had a CT scan to see if the cancer had spread to other organs.  Good news, it hadn’t.  Then a second pathologist interpreted the biopsy.  Bad news, confirmed, it was cancerous.  Then I was given a blood test to see if there were any indications of cancer.  Good news, there weren’t.  Then I had another (abbreviated) colonoscopy. Good news(?), the ulcer was not found.  Then a PET scan.  Good news, no cancer found.  Then I was given a DNA test to see if the biopsy was someone else’s.  It was mine.  The sequencing of all these tests was giving the impression that there definitely was cancer in my colon on the day of colonoscopy #1 (December 13), but the cancer seemed to be off the radar from then on.

With each test, I couldn’t help but “imagine” what results (a) versus (b) could mean.  Naturally I was thankful for every result that indicated “no cancer.” But the seeming contradiction between the initial diagnosis and the follow-up tests was hard to reconcile.  On December 15 I became aware that God telling me it was time for a detour from the predictable (see “Detour Ahead, Exit Now,” below).  My mind was racing, thinking of all the ways my life could go with a cancer diagnosis – Metastasis? Chemo? Radiation? Surgery? Numbered Days?

First I wondered about metastasis and very numbered days, then I wondered about errors, “Whose biopsy was it?”  “Did the doctor make an error? Or the lab?” Then I wondered if God might have healed the cancer.  The result of every test could have been (a) versus (b) and it was hard to not reach premature conclusions whenever a test result came back.  I was wrestling with the questions, “God, what are you doing?”  “What’s going on?”  “God, have You, in fact, healed me? Or have You not, and would I be foolish not to pursue the recommended medical advice?”  “Or if God really had healed me, would I be foolish to let them remove one side of my colon, as a precaution, ‘just to be sure?’”  [I certainly didn’t like the last idea at all!]

I knew that when King Nebuchadnezzar threatened Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego with death they acknowledged that God could deliver them miraculously, if He would so choose, but they didn’t know if God would (Daniel 3:17).  Similarly, I knew that God could have healed my cancer after it was first diagnosed, if He wanted to, but I didn’t know if He had.  Many people were praying for me, and I would imagine that some were praying for God to heal me.  However, from the beginning of this journey it has been my prayer that God would do according to his will with the result, not necessarily of my healing, but rather with the result that He would be the most glorified by what He would choose to do in my life.

I knew that the Bible recorded that God used hardship in the lives of many of his servants for his purposes, even though his purpose was often hidden from the view of the particular servant.  I wondered what God was going to do in my life.  Would I know his purposes?  I had many questions, and no idea of what the doctors were going to conclude, or if God was doing something miraculous, or where God was leading.

However, last Friday (January 13) I had colonoscopy #3.  It was a full colonoscopy, and myRoswellParkdoctor was able to find the ulcer this time.  After the procedure she said, “I found it, it is small, and that is good – but it needs to come out.”  Then, all of a sudden, it became clear to me that the other “paths” in the maze, some of which had appeared to be very appealing, were dead-ends.  God now seems to be showing me, “This is the way, walk in it.”  So, in this I will rejoice and continue to pray that God will do what He will so that He might be the most glorified.

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

Habakkuk 3:18

Joni Eareckson Tada

January 3, 2012

When I do aerobic exercises at the gym I usually listen to an MP3 of some conference lecture, or occasionally I read magazine or journal articles. When I went to the gym today I wanted to be sure that I could hear my cell phone if I got a call from a doctor or the mechanic who was working on my car. Consequently, instead of the iPod, I pulled a couple of magazines out of my gym bag before heading to the stair-step machine. It has been quite a few months since I’ve read any articles. The magazine I “happened” to pick up was the October 2010 issue of Christianity Today. It had been left folded open to pages 30-31. As I glanced down I saw that the article title was, “Something Greater Than Healing,” an interview with Joni Eareckson Tada.

In 1967, at age 17, Joni was severely paralyzed in a diving accident and has been living with quadriplegia ever since. For the past ten years she has been living with chronic pain. Last year, at age 60, a month before the article was written, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today, January 3, 2012, I appreciated all of what Joni had to say in a way that I wouldn’t have a month ago. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

——————————————————————————————–

CT: How has your perspective on suffering and healing changed since your breast cancer diagnosis?

Thankfully, it hasn’t changed at all. You examine Scripture again and follow every passage regarding healing. I did that with my quadriplegia, and I did that again 10 years ago, when I embarked on a whole new life of chronic pain. Just a month ago, getting diagnosed (more…)

Unanswered Questions

January 2, 2012

I am very thankful that since my last post God has enabled me to get done what “had” to be done before several deadlines, and I have been able to spend time with my family in Pennsylvania.  Prostate cancer has been ruled out by the blood test last Tuesday and the specialist in Syracuse has said that an aneurysm found during the CT scan does not need any intervention (and will only need to be checked every six months).  However, my colonoscopy on Thursday was unsuccessful in marking the ulcer for surgery and raised a number of questions.  Simply put, the doctor couldn’t find the ulcer.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, we haven’t been able to communicate with the doctors because of two “phone tag” situations just before everyone went home for a long weekend.  In retrospect I “wish” I had made additional provision so that the doctors’ offices would have been able to reach me.  As it now stands I really don’t know what the doctors are thinking or planning.  I was still under anesthesia when I last spoke with my doctor after colonoscopy #2 last Thursday, and that doesn’t facilitate clear-headed communication.  [After my first colonoscopy the doctor and nurse had told me not to drive, or make any major decisions, or change my will during the balance of that day!]  Patty and I remember parts of what the doctor said, but do not know “where we go from here.”  I believe it is possible that the doctor may not have looked deep enough for the ulcer (even though she went twice the distance that it was supposed to be), or it may be that my biopsy got confused with someone else’s (which is now being checked through the DNA), or it may be that the surface of the ulcer somehow “healed over,” or maybe the ulcer itself is healed.

In fairness to the doctor, I am probably confusing some of what she said, but from somewhere within my foggy still-anesthetized mind I believe she did say something about removing that “side” of my colon.  Tomorrow morning I am supposed to have a pre-op appointment in Buffalo with the surgeon who would be doing the surgery, but I have many unanswered questions, I can’t talk to the doctors and I am not comfortable with the idea of anyone removing “one side of the colon” when the doctors do not appear to be sure that that is where the cancer is (or was?).

So, today, how do I deal with my “unanswered questions?”  I am frustrated with myself for not having handled provision for phone communication differently last week – even though what I told the “check-in” staff on Tuesday made the most sense at the time.

I can’t help but think about the various times in my life when I “wish” I had done something differently hours, or days, or weeks before.  I think, “If only I had . . . ,” things would be different now.  But what about God?  Where is/was He in all of this?  Couldn’t He have somehow prompted me to have made a different decision last Tuesday?  Couldn’t that have eliminated my current frustration if I had been able to speak to the doctors (or nurses) last Thursday and/or Friday?  Yes, it certainly could have.  But since I believe that God is good, sovereign, all powerful and all knowing, I have to conclude that He has a purpose in allowing this chain of events to unfold in this way.  Quite frankly, I’m not very happy about it.  I don’t like having unanswered questions about procedures that could significantly impact the rest of my life.  I wish I knew what was going on inside my colon and why the doctor couldn’t find the ulcer.  I don’t know how this will unfold, but for now, I must instruct my soul to remember that God . . .

“He is the Rock, His [work is] perfect: for all His ways are [right]:

a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He.”

Deuteronomy 32:4

GPS is Spinning

December 27, 2011

Last night we drove to Buffalo so that we would be in town for an 8:00 appointment at Roswell Park Cancer Institute this morning.  This morning, while driving between our hotel and the Institute, the GPS display started spinning, like it didn’t know where it was or where it was going.  We kept driving straight on, and eventually the GPS found its bearings again and led us to where we needed to go.   The outcome of today’s consultation at Roswell is that the doctor wants more information, that is, another blood test, another colonoscopy, and input from another specialist.  So, this afternoon I had the blood test, and tomorrow I have an appointment in Syracuse with the specialist on my (our) way back to Buffalo for colonoscopy #2 on Thursday.

Tonight my head is spinning, like the GPS was this morning.  All the things on my “to do” list that I had planned to do in this already busy week need to be reprioritized.  The things on the list are important to me, but I don’t think I’m going to get them all done, and it really bugs me.  There are tasks I really want to get done and crossed off my list, and tasks that I really need to do.   I even wonder if I’ll have a window of time to get these and other important tasks done before the doctors “check-me-in” in a week or two to get down to business with the colon cancer.

But then I am reminded that each day is a gift from God.  I will never know how many other people had plans and lists of things to do and then something happened, an accident, a diagnosis, a sudden death of a loved one, and then so many of those planned tasks seemed trivial and unimportant.  I am reminded of this thought from a prayer of Moses.

“So teach [me] to number [my] days, that [I] may apply [my] heart unto wisdom.”

Psalm 90:12

I need this reminder today, and I need it every day.