Friday, February 29, 2008

Three Random Pieces

First Piece.

It is Friday. It is my last day of chemotherapy for this week, Round 4. Thankfully, I am feeling well – actually the best I have felt during any of my treatments. As I write, my chemotherapy is dripping into my veins.

While there is a tendency to feel nauseous from the chemotherapy, I am sitting here in bed thinking about food. I have been having all kinds of food cravings this week.

We have run into a bit of a snag with my injections to bring up my white blood cell count. I have to have the injections daily for ten days. The insurance company will cover the injections if I have them here at the hospital, but not if I self-inject at home. So, it looks like we’ll be making the hour and 45-minute drive (each way) every day for ten days.

We could complain about the drive, the time involved, the cost of gasoline, the inconvenience, and on and on, but we have no reason to complain. Because of God’s provision and the kindness of so many people, we have the means to make this daily trip. What a blessing to know that our needs have already been met!

Jehovah Jireh, My Provider,
His grace is sufficient for me.
My God shall supply all my needs, according to His riches in glory.
He will give His angels charge over me.
Jehovah Jireh cares for me.

Second Piece.

Relax! My wife hates it when I tell her to relax. She says that the last thing she can do when I tell her to relax is to actually relax.

I have a new phrase now. Stop picking up rocks. It comes from a book we recently read, where the author describes a walk down a jungle path. As we walk down the path, we tend to look for hidden dangers. We look under rocks to see what is hiding. All unnecessarily. Every day, we tend to worry about things that will never materialize. We see problems that don’t exist. We go looking for trouble. Our minds race with the “What ifs?” Paul tells us in Philippians 4 to be anxious for nothing. We need to stop worrying. We need to stop picking up rocks and looking underneath them.

Third Piece.

I received a call from my friend Jamie this morning. Jamie is one of those rare friends with which you can pick up in the middle of a conversation that was started three months ago. Our conversations go deep quickly. We can share our deepest thoughts readily without spending ten minutes beating around the bush. After a brief conversation with Jamie, he knows how to pray for me and I know how to pray for him.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Beautiful Savior

It is a beautiful February day. A Sunday. A blanket of new snow sits on the ground while the sun shines brightly in a cloudless blue sky.

This morning in our morning church service, we sang the old familiar hymn, Fairest Lord Jesus.

Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
thou, my soul's glory, joy, and crown.

Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,
robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
who makes the woeful heart to sing.

Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight,
and all the twinkling starry host:
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
than all the angels heaven can boast.

Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration,
now and forevermore be thine.

As we sang, I was reminded that our Savior is even more beautiful than the snapshot of God’s creation that I was viewing through the auditorium window. While we sometimes tend to worship creation itself (and some choose to do so as a lifestyle), Jesus Christ alone is worthy of our “glory, praise, and adoration.” It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who reveals to us the glory of God the Father.

Everything that God has ever done, and everything He will forever do, He does with one intent: to reveal Himself and to receive honor and glory. Nowhere is that more clearly seen than through the Word: Jesus, the Word made flesh, and the Bible, God’s written Word. All throughout the scriptures, we see the different attributes of a holy God revealed to His people. David Nasser

So as I marvel at God’s handiwork in creating this beautiful day, I must see past this immediate beauty and see the eternal beauty of my Lord and Savior and the indescribable gift that God has given to us.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sharing a Good laugh with Friends

Solomon, one of the wisest men who ever lived, once said: A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance. (Proverbs 15:13).

It is often said today that laughter makes good medicine. If that is the case, my cancer should be cured after last night. I do not remember a time that I laughed as hard. We were with a group of friends watching a video about the differences between men and women. As the speaker described the differences between husbands in wives with great accuracy and humor we were, essentially, laughing at ourselves.

I was thinking that it is one thing to laugh alone. That is therapeutic in itself. But to laugh with others, that has to be even more beneficial to one’s health. The fact that the experience is shared with others makes it so much more meaningful.

God created us as human beings to share our times of joy and our times of sorrow with others. We are meant to share our burdens with one another in difficult times and to rejoice with one another when things are going well. [In describing basic Christian behavior, Paul wrote that believers are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).] Of course, we are called as Christians to rejoice even with things are not going well. To count it all joy, as James tells us in the first chapter of his epistle. And friends can be a great encouragement to help us do that very thing.

I am thankful that God has blessed me with so many good friends. Friends that comfort and encourage me in difficult times. Friends that love me through thick and thin. Friends that aren’t afraid to tell me when I’ve strayed from the proper course and aren’t too busy to help me get back on the right path. Friends that pray for me. Friends that remain friends no matter how many miles separate us. It is good to have friends.

And there is nothing like sharing a good laugh with friends.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Not All Things in Life Are Good

My wife and I are continually amazed by God’s provision for us. He knows our need and often provides for it long before we are even aware of our need.

Yesterday afternoon, we were discussing today’s basketball tournament with some friends. They asked if they could pick up our older son and daughter on the way and drive them to the tournament. Little did we know that later on that evening several events would occur that would leave us without a vehicle today.

Our son called at 7:30 telling us that he was on his way home from work, but that the car was making a funny noise. My wife told him to take a particular route in case we needed to come find him. A few minutes later, he called to tell us that he blew a tire and was along the side of the road.

My wife instructed him to call our insurance company and ask for a tow truck, and she set out in our van to wait with him. On her way, her brakes started to give out. She made it safely to the other side of the mountain she was on, pulled off the road, and called me.

I, at this point, am feeling totally helpless and unable to protect my wife and son. All I could do from home was pray. And that is what I did.

My wife called our friend Jim who has a tow truck to come rescue her. [His wife had given us his cell number about a month ago in case we ever needed it.] In the meantime, my son called and told me that the insurance company could not locate anyone to help us. I called Jim on his cell phone and asked if he could take care of James and his car before taking care of my wife and her van.

At 10:00, my wife walked in the door, while Jim and my son went back for the van.

For a moment, we looked at each other and, with smiles on our faces, asked, “Isn’t the cancer enough?” Then I added, “I guess not.”

That was the extent of our questioning of God’s working in our lives. We both know that He is faithful and He will provide what we need, no matter what circumstances may come our way. These days, we do not dwell much on the circumstances, but look for the lesson, the provision, or the blessing that accompanies the circumstances. We look for the evidence of God’s grace.

By 10:45, both our car and our van were delivered to the service station, and my wife and son were safely at home.

We were without vehicles, but God had already provided a way for our son and daughter to get to the basketball tournament!

A few minutes ago, another friend called and asked if she could pick up anything for us at the store. Again, God knows our needs and makes provision!

The temporary loss of use of two vehicles is not a great trial, but more of a nuisance. Nonetheless, such a nuisance can often cause us to lose our joy and to respond with grumbling and complaining. [I am speaking personally, but you may have had the same experience.] This time, though, we were able to handle it with the proper perspective.

By God’s grace, we will have the proper perspective more times than not in the days to come. We will continue to remember that God uses all things for our good and His glory.

I read recently that the Bible does not say that all things are good. The experience of vehicles breaking down is not good. Cancer is not good. Losing a job is not good. Losing a loved one is not good. Marital problems are not good. Not all things in life are good.

But, in the life of a believer, for those who love Him (see Romans 8:28) God causes all things to work together for good – that His purposes might be fulfilled.

Friday, February 15, 2008

All the Gory Details

My wife and I drove to Lancaster yesterday to meet with the orthopedic oncologist. It was a nice drive, as the skies were clear and the sun was shining. Particularly beautiful were the ice-covered trees in the higher elevations. We like the way that the sunlight makes the branches glisten against the blue backdrop of the sky.

The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. Psalm 19:1

The doctor is encouraged by the latest MRI results, but wants me to have another MRI and a CT scan to rule out the spread of cancer to the ankle or my chest.

Surgery is scheduled for March 19 at Lancaster Regional Hospital. He said that I should plan on a three-night stay.

Here are all the gory details of the surgery. The doctor will be removing approximately four inches of the shaft of my right tibia and replacing it with a piece of cadaver bone. The cadaver bone will be held in place by a metal rod that runs through the cadaver bone and the two ends of my tibia. He said that there is a high risk of infection with this procedure and that the tibia does not heal well. He also said that in some cases, the procedure needs to be repeated. I appreciated his honesty and have much confidence in his ability. I have even greater confidence in our Father in Heaven who is above all men, all things, and all procedures.

The doctor said that I should be on my feet by the third day, but that I would not be allowed to put any weight on my right leg for several months.

After the surgery, the cancerous piece of bone will be sectioned and examined by a pathologist to determine how effective the chemotherapy was in killing the cancer cells. If necessary, radiation will be used to kill remaining cells. Chemotherapy will resume about a month later. From what I have read, the continued chemotherapy helps reduce the risk of recurrence. Ewings has a reputation for coming back with a vengeance.

When we walk out of each doctor visit, my wife likes to say, “I get to take you home today!” The best part of each doctor visit for me is going out to lunch with my wife. We arrived home in time to pick up our younger son from school. Our two older children were away for basketball games. So the three of us enjoyed a candlelight dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day!

Today, I am feeling much stronger – hopefully an indication that my red blood cell count is increasing. In fact, I am feeling well enough to tackle a few items on my long-neglected honey-do list!

I am learning to appreciate the simple things in life. I am learning the value of short conversations. I am learning the value of listening to others. I am learning the value of playing with my younger son. I am learning to appreciate the pleasures of living each day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Ralph Visit

Nothing deep today. Just a narrative. A day in the life.

My older son and I drove down to Lehigh Valley Hospital this morning for my nadir visit.

The dictionary defines nadir as "the lowest point; point of greatest adversity or despair."

When I hear the term, I think Nader. Ralph Nader, consumer advocate who was always in the news in the 1970's. Didn't he run for President once? I like to think of my nadir visit as my Ralph visit. [It does not have to make sense to you!].

Apparently, today is the point in my chemotherapy cycle at which my body is at its lowest point. It is the day in which my body is most vulnerable. Physically, there is adversity because my red blood cell count has dropped even lower; my white blood cell count is up, but not to the normal level. Thankfully, neither my body nor my soul are in a state of despair!

The nurse talked to me about having a transfusion, but I told her that I would only consent to a blood transfusion if it were absolutely necessary - if my low red blood cell count would interfere with the progress of my treatment.

The good news is that my white blood cell count, even though it is low, does not prohibit me from getting out of the house a bit in the next week and a half. But I need to be careful. No handshakes, hugs or kisses!

There have been times in my life when I would look forward to a day of not leaving the house. As a teacher, snow days were great! These days, I look forward to putting down the laptop, the books, and the crossword puzzles, trading my pajamas for khakis and a sweater, and going out to visit friends.

The drive down this morning was a good lesson for my son in highway driving and driving in inclement weather (freezing rain). The roads were slick, but passable. We did encounter about a dozen wrecks, both cars and tractor trailers. My son did a fine job, but found out how exhausting winter driving can be! He was rewarded with lunch at Chick-Fil-A, one of our favorite fast food restaurants, and a visit to the Guitar Center. With my bald head, I seemed to fit right in with all the young rockers trying out electric guitars that they could never afford to buy!

I am back at home now, laptop on lap, sitting in my recliner, thinking about all the things I would like to do and all the people I would like to see before my next round of chemotherapy. There are choices to be made and precautions to be taken.

But to have choices, that is the thing!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Anchor Holds

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast . . . Hebrews (6:19).

Soon after I became a follower of Jesus Christ, I began listening to the music of Ray Boltz. One of my favorite songs is “The Anchor Holds.” As I had opportunities to sing in various churches and at Christian events, I often chose to sing this song. [One time, as I was singing, I happened to notice a large anchor in one of the church building’s stained glass windows. That anchor became a focal point as I sang the song.] I found, and I still find, assurance in the fact that Jesus Christ is my Anchor in the storms of life. He is the One I can cling to. In Him I have hope, no matter what storms may come.

For early Christians as well, the anchor was a symbol for hope, safety, and security. The symbol would often be seen in caves, where Christians hid during times of Roman persecution. Imagine the fear that they experienced as they thought about the dangers that lurked outside the protection of the cave. Though they faced much uncertainty in their temporal circumstances, they had a confidence in their future. They had confidence in the One who held their future.

As I sit here for many hours in my chair, day after day, there is much uncertainty. What will the next blood test show? Will I be able to get out of the house? What about the latest MRI? Is the tumor in the bone decreasing in size? Will the cancer metastasize into my lungs or lymphatic system? In this uncertainty, there is potential for much worry. But in the midst of all this uncertainty, there is also hope. I have an anchor for my soul.

According to verse 19, the “anchor of our soul” is our hope. Jesus Christ is our hope. The hope He offers is a promised future – a future that is both sure and steadfast; and it is the finished and purchased work of Jesus, our great High Priest. The hope of our future salvation is certain. The hope of our future salvation is an anchor to steady our souls in the present storms of life.
God has not promised me an easy life. He never promised me that I would go through this life without pain, suffering, or cancer. In fact, His Word promises me that there will be much pain, suffering, and uncertainty in this life. And His Word promises me that this is all temporary, and it all has a purpose.

As our High Priest, Jesus serves as the anchor of our souls, the One who will forever keep us from drifting away from God. John MacArthur

In the storms of life, we must cling to Jesus. The Anchor holds.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Poem, A Prayer, and a Promise

A poem. My seventeen-year-old son wrote this a few weeks ago . . .

Before we were saved, we were enemies of the One
Who loves us so much that He sent His only Son.
The Son that came as a man to die on a tree,
And as He took His final breath, He cried to God a final plea.
“God, forgive them, for they know not what they do,”
He then gave up His soul, but His work was not yet through.
Three days later, God’s Son rose from the grave
That through His life and death, men’s souls He could save.
Because of three nails and the blood that was shed,
We can now have communion with the Triune God-head.
We are no longer enemies of the incredible God above,
But we now have peace with God, by His Son, the ultimate gift of love.
This peace with God shows that He is on our side.
If God be for us, no one is against, we need not run and hide.
When trials come and stand in our way,
The peace of God is there, come whatever may.
This peace God gives us the day we are reborn,
A sense of calm in the midst of any storm,
Tranquility when our life is thrown in disarray,
Knowledge that God be glorified through our suffering and our pain.
This gift of God surpasses all understanding.
This peace is unwavering, never changing.
We know that God is with us through the thick and thin,
And there’s no need to worry when we are trusting in Him.
God shows us His power in the peace that He gives,
As well as in His grace, and mercy, or the way He forgives.
Let us never forget the peace with God we have through Christ,
That God loves us so much, that His son’s life paid the price.
And let us remember through trials and sufferings, too,
That we have the peace of God, knowing He is there to get us through.

A prayer. My prayer is that you understand that you are, by nature, a sinful person, and your sin has separated you from God; and that, because of sin, you will suffer the wrath appointed for all enemies of God. But there is good news: God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for your sin and to receive the wrath that you deserve. He died in your place so that you might be reconciled with God. By placing your trust in Jesus Christ, you can be saved from the wrath to come, become a child of God, and become an heir to eternal life in heaven. By honestly repenting of (turning away from) your sins and asking God to forgive you, you can find peace with God - for eternity.

A promise. Having trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior and accepting Him as the Lord of your life, your problems will not all go away. In fact, you will probably suffer more than you ever have. But your suffering will be temporary (compare to the thought of eternally suffering the wrath of God in Hell) and it is for a purpose – God uses suffering to make you more like Jesus Christ and to bring glory to Himself. You now belong to Him. You are a child of the King. He loves you. And He will never leave you or forsake you. You have that promise.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Saturday Morning Post

It is Saturday morning, five days after my third round of chemotherapy. All in all, this round has not been too bad – except for three days of hiccups and two more days of heartburn. The hiccups are apparently a side effect of the nausea medication. The only effective way that I have discovered to get rid of hiccups – and I have experimented greatly – is to throw myself face-down on the bed or sofa and hold my breath. My wife worries about me when I do that – especially when I have to do it every half hour or so. As for the heartburn, it is probably the result of poor eating choices! I am fatigued, but having a good week.

It is not easy getting used to having a bald head. My daughter is still having difficulty looking at me! My scalp has been covered with thick brown hair for 45 years! My friend Frank has shaved his head in an act of solidarity (or perhaps an act of middle-age rebellion!). My friend Matt is thinking about it, but has not taken any action yet – as far as I know!

Last Friday, I had an MRI of the lower right leg to check the progress of the tumor. Next Thursday, we are driving to Lancaster to meet with the orthopedic oncologist who will be doing the surgery to remove the cancerous tissue and reconstruct the tibia. This surgery will probably be scheduled for mid-March.

My only outing this week, other than chemotherapy, was a trip down to Lehigh Valley for injections (to increase my blood counts) and blood work (to monitor Coumadin level – used to treat a blood clot in my lower right leg). I have spent most of my week reading the Bible, praying, doing crossword puzzles to keep my mind sharp, playing with my youngest son, helping my wife with craft projects, writing and answering e-mails, and napping. The importance of napping should never be underestimated!

Life continues to move on around me. Activities in which I was actively involved are going on without me. I am thankful that God has provided the means to see that all these things are being cared for completely. Students are learning and growing. Meetings are being conducted and decisions are being made. But I have to admit that it is humbling. And I miss being involved. God used me in those arenas when I was able to be used, but His sovereign plan continues to unfold now that I am not able to participate in those things.

As I think about the things that I cannot do right now, I remember that God has not put me on a shelf – He has simply given me a change of venue. He is using new circumstances, new surroundings, and new people to carry out his plan for my life – my growth in Christlikeness. And He has given me a new sphere of influence for His glory. I am still learning to operate in these new venues, to take advantage of the opportunities for growth, and to bring honor and glory to my God and Savior.

The clear message of Scripture is that we are called to speak out of a thankful heart of submission to God, in every circumstance and situation. Paul David Tripp, in War of Words

God continues to uphold me and my family by His Word and by the prayers and encouragement of His people. Each day I am reminded that He is in control and that I am His. For this, I rejoice and give thanks.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Jars of Clay

I have been reading 2 Corinthians. Today, I read one of my favorite chapters, Chapter 4.

In verses 1-4, Paul calls on believers to be ministers of the truth. In verses 5-6, he calls us to preach the simple truth that Jesus Christ is Lord, even though the world may be blinded to this truth. In verses 7-12, he calls us to minister out of earthen vessels.

In referring to us as earthen vessels or clay pots, Paul emphasizes our weakness and frailty as human beings. But in these earthen vessels, we carry a treasure – the truth of the gospel, the Good News that Jesus Christ has died to pay the penalty for our sins, that He has been resurrected to new life (thereby guaranteeing our own eternal life), and has ascended into heaven where He now serves as our Advocate. Our weakness demonstrates that the power and the glory are not from us, but from God. The power of God is revealed in our affliction. We are inadequate, but God is sufficient.

From the first day that we knew that we might be facing cancer, we (my wife and I) made a decision to glorify God. Today, my first thoughts are not, God please heal me! (although I do want to be healed), but God, be glorified through my affliction. If there is any way that you can use me, please do so. Demonstrate your power in my weakness.

Ray Stedman, in Authentic Christianity, wrote this about our weakness and God’s glory:

By design God entrusts this secret to failing, faulty, weak, and sinful people so it will be clear the power does not originate from us. It isn’t the result of a strong personality, or of a keen and finely honed mind or of good breeding and training. No, it arises solely from the presence of God in the heart. Our earthiness must be as apparent to others as the power is, so that they may see that the secret is not us but God. That is why we must be transparent people, not hiding our weaknesses and failures, but honestly admitting them when they occur.

When people perceive any strength in me during this time of affliction, I want them to know that it is the strength of the Lord. I am weak. He is strong. Any vitality that I have arises from the life of Christ in me. He is my hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Ron Ritchie wrote:

All humanity is formed out of the dust. We are all jars of clay, and as such we face afflictions, perplexities, persecutions, and trauma physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When we become Christians we are not suddenly lifted above the normal (and abnormal) circumstances of life. We are the same jars of clay, only now we contain the treasure of the life and power of the resurrected Christ within us! Therefore we have strength to cope with all the realities that God brings into our lives. If we choose to allow the Lord to live through us, we are no longer crushed, despairing, abandoned, or destroyed. Instead we are now able to see how God uses all these circumstances to his honor and glory, to bring us to spiritual reliance on him and into spiritual maturity.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am not spared any pain or sorrow – except that of eternal separation from God. Instead, I have the promise that God will never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5) and that He will use all these afflictions for His glory and my growth in righteousness.

It seems that God best displays the brilliance of His grace against the backdrop of our dark and even blackest moments. Somehow, His grace is made all the more glorious when people see it at work in the lives of those who suffer. Joni Tada

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Anticipation, Strength, Walls, and the Refining Fire

On Sunday evening, I was anticipating Monday morning. Sunday was the end of five days of feeling great! I had the opportunity to be in church and to see many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. But on Sunday evening, I thought about how everything would change on Monday morning.

The chemotherapy would change everything, I thought. The chemotherapy drugs would bring nausea, fatigue, and a compromised immune system. And ten more days of confinement to the house, except for doctor’s appointments.

I was wrong (My wife loves it when I say that!) – the chemotherapy did not change everything. It did not change the fact that God loves me and is caring for me through this ordeal. It did not change my wife’s love for me. It did not change the fact that there are many people who love us and encourage us and are praying for us. It did not change the fact that we are trusting in God and looking to Him for our comfort and provision.

The following is an excerpt from an e-mail that I sent to a friend this morning in response to some of her questions:

From some of the other cancer patients I have encountered at Lehigh Valley Hospital, and others that I have read about on the Ewing’s Listserve - especially the children - I have it easy. God has spared me greater suffering, at least for now, for some reason. We are both strong, but not in ourselves. It is the strength of the Lord. As Nehemiah wrote, the joy of the LORD is my strength. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

We are trying to be transparent, to be as genuine as we know how. I pray that we are not putting up any kind of front. I worked on putting up a good front for thirty years until I was saved. The first thing I remember telling my friend Bill before telling him I needed Jesus Christ, was that I was tired of putting up walls. I was good at putting up walls. I wanted to start tearing them down. I think I still have a tendency to put up walls, but they crumble much more easily these days!

Yes, I think it would be great if God could put us through the refining fire once, remove all the impurities, and have us come out as pure, shiny reflections of Christ. But that does not work for gold and silver, and it does not work for us. We are too stubborn, I guess! But thank God, He does not give up on us. He tenderly stokes the fire and keeps on working on our impurities.

Be encouraged, friends. God is in control. Surrender your life to Him and know the freedom that is found only in Him through Jesus Christ.