Monday, December 31, 2007

A Steadfast Heart

It has been a week since my first round of chemotherapy, and we are amazed by how much the tumor on my right tibia has decreased in size. The pain has lessened to the degree that I have discontinued pain medication, and I am starting to put some weight on my right leg. The side effects have been minimal – fatigue (nothing that naps can’t cure!), a little bit of nausea (I’ve got drugs for that!), and a few headaches. Overall, I have been feeling quite well. I am scheduled to have blood work done on Wednesday to check my immune system. In the meantime, I will remain somewhat secluded and require visitors to bathe in germicidal soap!

In the past week, we have been overwhelmed by the love of God as expressed by the body of Christ. To think that several thousand saints – many of whom we do not know - are praying for us! We have been overwhelmed with notes of encouragement, special gifts, and offers to help us with everything from taking care of our children to cleaning our home. As Merrily read a few weeks ago, we cannot repay love, but we can pass it on. The love of God and the love of others compels us to share that love with others and to love God more.

There have been countless stories in the past week of how God has used these circumstances to bring people back to Himself and to bring people together to rally behind our family. It has been a blessing to see how God uses difficult circumstances to honor and glorify Himself. Just two of many examples . . .

A few days after dropping off our pet dog at the local animal shelter – we simply were not going to be able to care for her in the next year – a friend of a friend adopted her with the intent of returning her to us at the end of the year. What a blessing for our youngest son, who had a difficult time understanding why we had to give her away. He will even be able to visit her at times. God cares about the little things as well as the big things.

For Christmas, James received a West Point sweatshirt (He received His appointment the day before my diagnosis.) and money order with a note that read: From your friends at West Point. We look forward to having you here. We learned that the niece of a close friend is a junior at the military academy, and having heard about James and our family, took it upon herself to collect a dollar from 130 different cadets – during finals week – so that she could send the sweatshirt and money order to James.

Part of my daily routine has included reading four books: 31 Days Toward Overcoming Adversity by Joni Eareckson Tada, A Steadfast Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick, When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box by John Ortberg, and As Silver Refined by Kay Arthur.

Here are a few notes on what I have gleaned from the reading to date . . .

Joni Eareckson Tada reminds her readers, in the first few chapters, that suffering is to be expected in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. The results of suffering depend on us – how we respond. Do we use our suffering or do we allow it to use us? When we suffer, it is okay to ask God “Why?” God can handle our questions, but we must be prepared to handle His answers. Suffering is designed to produce in us Christlike character.

Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book is a personal commentary on Psalm 57, verse 7 has become one of my favorite verses: “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody.” By God’s grace, we can have a steadfast heart in any circumstance. And in any circumstance, we can sing praises to God, because He is always good and always worthy of our praise. She reminds us that God is at work in our circumstances, bringing us to a greater recognition of our brokenness and dependence on Him. It is in difficult circumstances that we realize our own weakness and see His Great strength. In times of adversity, we are to focus on Him, because He has promised to be with us and to give us all the resources we need to glorify Him in the circumstances. Like Tada, she reminds us that we are called to a life of suffering as followers of Jesus Christ, and God uses this suffering to perfect our character.

The title of John Ortberg’s book is also his thesis. When the game is over, it all goes back in the box. We need to distinguish between what is temporal and what is eternal. What really matters is being rich toward God – this begins by giving ourselves to Him. Being rich toward God consists of loving God and loving others. Ortberg writes that serving in self-giving love is the most Godlike thing a human being an do. Commenting on the life of Paul, the author distinguishes between the outer man and the inner man – I’m dying on the outside, but inside I’m coming to life. We need to live our lives in such a way that we are preparing for eternity.

Kay Arthur’s book focuses on helping the believer to embrace life’s disappointments, knowing that God is using difficult circumstances to refine us – to make us into the image of Jesus Christ. His goal is to see Jesus Christ in us. Disappointments are God’s training in disguise. The ultimate question in each trial is: Am I going to believe God or not? Am I going to live according to the truth of His Word? She spends a great deal of time talking about meekness as demonstrated in the life of our Savior. Meekness is the key to acting rather than reacting when disappointments come.

I am thankful that I have a heavenly Father that loves me, and can be counted on to always do what is right and good and just. I am thankful for the body of Christ, which demonstrates its love for God and love for others. I am thankful for the prayers of many saints – God answers prayer! I am thankful for good friends who are making great sacrifices to care for my family. I am thankful for my wife and best friend, who is a great example of “loving in sickness and in health.” I am thankful for three beautiful children who bring me great joy every single day.

For those of you reading this blog, thank you for taking the time. May our testimony of what God is doing in the midst of our circumstances be an encouragement to you. May you seek to give all of yourselves to Him, to determine each day to please Him. May you know the peace and assurance that is only found in a relationship with the God who gave Himself to us that we might live with Him for ever. May God bless you beyond measure in the new year!

1 comment:

Justin Edwards Covenant Marriage Seminars said...

Nice blog! I remember a blog about Covenant Marriage Seminars with a similar discussion. What a coincidence.