Archive for the ‘sovereignty’ category

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

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.

Detour Ahead, Exit Now

December 23, 2011

When one is driving on I-88 between Binghamton and Albany, New York it is very easy to get used to the long relatively straight sections of highway with exits every 5-10 miles. The highway is somewhat predictable, veering slightly to the left to follow the sides of valleys and avoid the higher hills. Even if one is unfamiliar with the route, one might be able to approximately guess what the next two to three miles will be like. There are times when the predictability of our lives parallels the predictability of the interstate. One can effortlessly imagine what the next week, month, or year of his life may entail. However, sometimes God intervenes, sets up a mudslide, or other detour, and tells us, “This is where you are to get off the predictable road. I have another plan for you now.”

God did just that to me last week. Thursday morning, December 15, Dr. Lemberg called to tell me, “I just received the results from your biopsy on Tuesday and unfortunately it is cancerous. You have colon cancer.” At that point I immediately sensed that God was telling me, “Road closed ahead, exit now.” The predictable was now a thing of the past, it was time to take a road unfamiliar to me. On the one hand I had a sense of excitement, concern, apprehension, and uncertainty. On the other hand I was encouraged by the multiple passages in Scripture which assured me, . . . “the Lord is good,” . . . . “I will never leave you or forsake you,” . . . “no good thing does God withhold from those,” . . . “all things work together for good to them, . . . .” But, together with those verses, I was also reminded of the testimony of Job.

God said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant, Job?” To which Satan answered back, “You are only esteemed by Job because of what he gets from You. You won’t get his praise, You’ll only get his curses if You stop blessing and protecting him.” And thus the stage was set for God to establish that He is worthy of praise even when He doesn’t bless and protect.

As I think about this I wonder whether my “exit” off the predictable will lead to opportunities for me, like Job, to give God the praise that He deserves irrespective of His protection from significant medical trials which He has heretofore provided for my life. And I wonder if God will take me, like Joseph, on a path one would not naturally choose, to accomplish His greater good. And I wonder if God will have me learn that His grace is sufficient, and that my strength is to be made perfect in weakness. And I wonder if God will lead me through trials so that He might have occasion to comfort me, that I might then be better prepared to comfort others.

I have absolutely no idea of what the future holds.  I don’t know where this route is taking me. I have many questions about my future, and the future of my family, my loved ones, and the wonderful people that God has privileged me to pastor.  For now, I am thankful that I will be able to see a cancer specialist next Tuesday, but more than that I am thankful that God is in control of my life.  Even though I don’t know that lies ahead, He has a purpose for this exit.  As God enables, I hope to keep you informed of my journey on this blog.