Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Participant Observation

As a college student and student of anthropology, I was trained in the methodology of participant observation: informal interviews, direct observation, collective discussions, analyses of personal documents produced within the group, self-analysis, life-histories, and participation in the life of the group.

For four years, my participation in a Greek fraternity served as my training ground for developing these skills.

Though I have never been employed as an anthropologist, these skills have helped me in my work as a teacher, pastor, and – for a few years – as a salesman. Most often, these skills have been employed informally rather than formally.

At times, I have been more of a participant that an observer. I have been so immersed in the tasks at hand that I have failed to really observe how everything fits into the “big picture.” These days, I am more of an observer than a participant. Having fewer opportunities to participate in “the life of the group,” I have had to be content with being an observer of what is going on around me.

And, I must say that, for the most part, I am encouraged.

I am certainly encouraged as I see the evidence of God working in the people around me. Repentance. Reconciliation. Restoration. Restitution. God continues to bring people to Himself and to use them for His glory.

I am encouraged as God’s people grasp the depth of His love and strive to love others. Brokenness. Humility. Forgiveness. Not only have I observed people loving people, but I have been a recipient of that love.

Participation, for me, consists of intercessory prayer and providing encouragement where I can. As I observe the functioning of the body of Christ, I appreciate the time that God had given me to watch and to learn, but long to be a more active participant. To put into practice what I have learned.

One of the basic tenets of participant observation is that one cannot be a participant-observer without somehow affecting the group. [A social application of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, for those who remember high school physics.] In anthropology, this is often seen as a problem, because social scientists seek objectivity, however elusive that may be. In real life, in body life, my participation is meant to influence the group. This is God’s design. Paul Tripp describes body life in this way:

When God calls you to Himself, He also calls you to be a servant, an instrument in His redeeming hands. God uses people, who are themselves in need of change, as instruments of the same kind of change in others.

Tripp adds,

Our goal is to help one another live with a “God’s story” mentality. Our mission is to teach, admonish, and encourage one another to rest in His sovereignty, rather than establishing our own; to rely on His grace rather than performing on our own; and to submit to His glory rather than seeking our own. This is the work of the kingdom of God: people in the hands of the Redeemer, daily functioning as His tools of lasting change.

We are all participant observers. As followers of Jesus Christ, we all participate in the life of the group. Body life. We each have a responsibility to help one another to see our place in God’s sovereign plan and to help one another to be more like Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

To Bring God Glory

I read this is a book called How People Change by Paul Tripp:

Each morning that greets me is full of hope
Not because I am successful at what I am doing,
Or because the people near me appreciate me,
Or because my circumstances are easy,
But because God is, and He is my Father.
To look at the morning any other way is to believe a lie.
To live in hope is to live in truth;
To live in truth is to bring Him glory;
To bring God glory in my daily living is the highest form of worship.

It helps me put my day in perspective. Of course, that it what God's Word does for me each day. It points me to my Heavenly Father and reminds me that my day is in His hands and is to be lived for His glory, not my own comfort or benefit. But in living for Him, being enabled to do so by His Spirit, there is unspeakable joy and satisfaction.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday Morning Thoughts on Suffering

Though I feel better this morning than I have in the four and a half weeks since my surgery, I am reminded of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16,

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Despite our physical condition, we are strengthened by new mercies every morning. We are encouraged by God’s love. We are empowered by His Spirit. Though we may lack physical strength, we can focus on our identity in Christ and the resources He gives.

This morning I read Psalms 3 and 4. This pair of psalms has been referred to as a morning psalm and an evening psalm.

In these psalms, we find David lamenting his circumstances – he is fleeing from his own son Absalom. But while he runs away from danger, David does not run away from God. He runs to God. When troubles arise, where do we go? To friends? To assorted diversions? Do we hide inside ourselves? We should run to God.

Charles Spurgeon wrote,

There is no place to which you can be banished where God is not near, and there is no time of day or night when His throne is inaccessible. The caves have heard the best prayers. Some of God’s people shine best in the darkness.

In the midst of his difficult circumstances David reminds himself who God is. God is his Shield. God is the One who sustains Him. God is His salvation. Focusing on God magnifies Him and diminishes the weight of our circumstances.

David reminds himself who God is and that he belongs to God. He has been set apart to God and for God. When we belong to God, we have nothing to fear.

He examines his own heart. He worships God. And He ministers to others! In the midst of His own troubles, we find David (in Psalm 4) encouraging others to put their trust in the Lord. God can use our circumstances, and particularly our responses, to bring glory to Himself. Here we see God’s grace at work, enabling David to do what would be impossible on His own. God continues to use ordinary men and women to do extraordinary things in the lives of others.

And David rests. Even though his soul is troubled, he finds rest in the Lord. In the midst of suffering, we can find peace, comfort, and rest in God. No matter what circumstances may arise during the day, we can sleep well each night, knowing that God is in control and that He is at work.

I found this quote from Alan Redpath a few years ago, and think that it is appropriate in any consideration of our suffering:

There is nothing—no circumstance, no trouble, no testing—that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment, but as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift up my eyes to him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart, no sorrow will ever disturb me, … for I shall rest in the joy of what my Lord is.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Personal Faith

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

My faith is not in my circumstances or my experience of how God is working in my circumstances. Such a faith is easily eroded, as my circumstances change constantly, and my ability to perceive God’s working in my circumstances is limited. My faith is in the person of Jesus Christ.

When my circumstances do not work out, when I do not understand what God is doing in my circumstances, I do not lose faith.

The bottom line is that my faith is in the person of Jesus Christ, the One who lived a perfect life, took my sins upon Himself and died on the cross a Calvary, conquered sin and death, rose three days later, and now sits at the right hand of God the Father as my Advocate in Heaven.

If my faith were in my circumstances, cancer might destroy my faith. If my faith were in my ability to understand how God is working in my circumstances, my faith might be eroded as I wait to be healed. My faith is not a circumstantial faith.

But my faith is not eroded or destroyed, because it is a personal faith: I have faith in the person of Jesus Christ and what He promised He will do. He has not promised to take away my cancer. He has not promised me physical healing. He has not guaranteed me a certain number of years on this earth. But He has promised me life in Him, here and now, and eternal life with Him forever.

My faith is not based on how I feel. My hope is not based on how quickly I recover from surgery or the effects of chemotherapy. I trust in Jesus Christ. My hope is in Him.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

An Interesting Psalm

It is Saturday morning. Yet another beautiful spring day. The meteorologists report that the days will be turning cooler for a while. I am amused by the unpredictability of spring weather. It is a strong reminder that we to help, but have a limited understanding of God's ways. But despite our limited understanding of His ways, we can trust Him in all things because of His character. Because of who He is.

This morning, I was reading and meditating on Psalm 88. It is an interesting psalm. Not one that I would ordinarily turn to for comfort or guidance in difficult moments.

The psalmist has apparently been afflicted with some serious illness or injury from his youth. He has asked God for help, but feels that his prayers have been unanswered. It is evident that he does not understand God's ways.

He confesses despair. He feels that God has forsaken him. He has lost his friends. He feels trapped and helpless. He cries out for help, but feels like none ever comes. He feels like God is angry with him and has turned His back on him. He feels like bad things always happen to him and that nothing ever changes. He feels like he is stuck in a dark, forsaken world.

This psalm is interesting because it does not end on a positive note. There does not seem to be any resolution.

But this psalm teaches us about being open and honest with God. We can express our deepest thoughts, fears, and anxieties to God. He understands our struggles. He understands what we are going through. We live an imperfect world. Because of sin, our lives are messy. It is into this world that Jesus Christ came as our Savior and Redeemer.

As I struggle each day with cancer, and all the other trials of daily existence, I am imperfect in my responses. I do not always choose to do the right thing. To respond in the right way. My thoughts, words, and deeds do not always glorify God. But because of God's grace, because of Jesus Christ and His work on the cross, I can receive forgiveness. And daily, by His grace, I learn how to put my focus on God and respond to circumstances in a way that glorifies Him.

As we face difficulties each day, we are not alone. Our heavenly Father is with us and understands us.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Of Seedlings and Young Men

My four-year-old son and I have a project today. We will be transplanting seedlings from the mini-plastic greenhouse we used to start the seeds to individual Styrofoam cups. This is a great project to do with my son, as he learns about the tender care and discipline needed to help a seed make the transition to seedling to mature, fruit-bearing plant. The process requires the right amount of nutrients, sunlight, and moisture. And it requires the loving hands of a gardener to oversee the process.

At the beginning, the seeds are cared for in a very controlled environment. This ensures that they get everything they need. As the seeds germinate and grow into young seedlings, they need extra room to grow. This is why we transplant them into individual cups. Eventually, they will be planted outside in the garden, where they will face the harsh reality of temperature changes, lack of moisture, insects, and dozens of others things that threaten their existence. In many cases, the quality of care received by the young seedlings determines their ability to survive in the garden.

It’s really not so different from raising children. We bring them up in a loving, caring environment. We provide everything they need in the early years. Food. Shelter. Clothing. Love. Instruction. Discipline. The older they get, the greater their ability to do things for themselves. To make decisions for themselves. We give them more space to grow.

At some point, they are ready to be on their own. We trust that the care and instruction they receive when they are young will help them thrive in the harsh reality of a fallen world. To be mature, fruitful adults.

This morning, our older son left to go on his senior trip. This is one of those events that signals the beginning of the end. This morning he left for a week. In a few months, he will be leaving for West Point. Although he will come home for breaks, things will not be the same. He is leaving our home. Our care. Our discipline.

We will soon discover if our parenting was successful. Will our son become a mature, fruit-bearing adult? How will he handle adversity? How we he handle success? Did we provide a good example for him to follow?

This summer, we will watch in anticipation as our seedlings struggle to become mature plants. And we will watch in anticipation as our son becomes a man.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Potato Salad

Potato salad. It has been almost six months since my wife has made potato salad, a staple of our summer menu. No, it's not summer yet, but I welcome the first batch of potato salad. Perfectly cooked potatoes, not too firm, not too soft. Salad dressing. Mustard. Finely chopped celery and onion. Chopped cooked eggs. Pickle relish. A little bit of celery salt. And when it is all mixed and transferred to the serving bowl, a dash of paprika for color.

I view my wife's potato salad as a simple gift. It also symbolizes everything that is good about summer. Family dinners on the deck. Picnics at the lake. Extended family get-togethers. Time spent with friends. Potato salad is a comfort food. There is something safe about it. Something wholesome.

Why such praise of potato salad? I am not sure! I guess it is the simplicity of it all.

As we await our children to return home from school for dinner (which will include the aforementioned potato salad), I am taking time to reflect on the simple pleasures of the day.
To thank God for His goodness.

Hugs and kisses from all three of my children. A car ride (in the back seat) to accompany my wife on her errands. Seeing some friends at school when stopping to pick up our younger son.
Sunshine. Cool breezes.

And even more, the love of God. The encouragement of friends. The hope of a new day. A better day.

Cancer may weaken or even destroy my body, but it cannot touch my spirit - unless I choose to let it do so. Admittedly, I sometimes give in to sinful patterns of thinking and let it have such a negative influence. But today, in this moment, I rejoice because of the simple pleasures of life. I rejoice because of life itself. I rejoice because of the abundant life I have in Christ.

A life which is to be enjoyed. A life which includes potato salad!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Part of God's Plan

I am determined to get outside today. To enjoy the sunshine and the fresh air from our back deck. The world seems to pass me by as I sit here on the recliner or lie here on the sofa bed. There is so much I would like to do. So many people I would like to see. But I have to be content, learn to be patient, to wait upon the Lord. He knows my circumstances. He knows what I can handle. He will give me opportunities, as he sees fit.

I have come to realize that my suffering is no greater than that of anyone else. We all suffer. We all receive comfort and hope so that we can, in turn, provide comfort and hope for others. Hope in Jesus Christ. Today, we will all go through trials that test our faith and cause us to make a choice - a choice to trust our Heavenly Father, or to recoil under the pressure. We all share a common experience. The details may vary, but the purpose is the same.

I read yesterday that there are only about 150 new cases of Ewing's sarcoma a year in the United States. Out of these new cases, only a handful are over the age of 20. I guess I am an anomaly. But most of my friends and family already knew that!

Folks from the online Ewing's sarcoma group are abuzz with a new report that researchers have discovered a molecular mechanism by which Ewing's cells mutate and multiply [Ewings is caused by a transmutation, or shuffling, of two chromosomes]. There is hope, yet there is the realization that there are years in between such a discovery and a practical treatment for patients. This gap produces discouragement. Many will continue to watch there loved ones suffer and die from this disease.

I am reminded that while God has given man the ability to discover and create, our ultimate hope is not in the ability of man but in God Himself. He is sovereign. He alone is in control. While statistics favor cancer, God is able to heal and to save as He wills. I do not completely understand His ways, but I put it under the category of grace. He chooses who He will heal and who He will save. Not because of anything we have done, but because of His mercy and grace.

Increasingly, I see my need not only for God Himself, but for other people. For the past few days, I have been trying to read Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul David Tripp. In this book, he describes us as people in need of change helping people in need of change. God created us and redeemed us so that we can be engaged in personal biblical ministry - encouraging each other to see our lives as part os God's sovereign plan of redemption. It is a refreshing view of the "It's not about me" theme.

I need the encouragement of others. I need others to help keep me focused on the things of God. I am thankful for those who take time to visit, to write, to call, and to e-mail. And I need to be encouraging others. Although that is sometimes difficult from the confines of my living room, I can pick up the phone or write a letter, or, most conveniently, send off an e-mail. All of this reminds me of the importance of prayer and the importance of words.

We must use our opportunities to point others to God's truth, found in His Word. To point others to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, who gives life. Otherwise, our words are spoken in vain. All meaningless. Nothing but vapor.

I have rambled. My writing accurately reflects my thinking patterns these days. These patterns need to be redeemed for God's glory. My mind needs to be continually renewed. So I pray. I immerse myself in the Word of God. I read good books. And I listen to those that God has placed in my life as instruments of change. For being included in God's process, part of His sovereign plan of redemption, I am truly thankful.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Lifter of My Head

It is another beautiful day outside, but inside life is not so beautiful. I thought that I was out of the "chemo slump." The nausea. The fatigue. The puny feeling. I don't know how to accurately describe it to someone who has not experienced it. But I thought that I was over it. I was feeling better on the weekend. My energy level was up. I was eating well. But now I'm lethargic and slightly nauseous again. No appetite. But I need to eat to get stronger. [There's the rub, says William Shakespeare.] I slept most of the afternoon yesterday and most of the morning today.

My wife tells me not to beat myself up. It's all part of the process. I have to take the good days and the bad days. These days we are truly thankful for each day we have together. [A few months ago, I remember asking God to be able to see my son graduate from high school.] It's not that we think that cancer will take my life any day now, but we are trying to live with the perspective that each day is a precious gift from God and tomorrow is never a guarantee - for any of us.

She encouraged me with a verse of Scripture from Psalm 145:14, The LORD upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down.

God raises up all who are bent down under a burden. Bent beneath their loads. God lifts us up under our burdens. He helps us bear up under the pressure. To endure for His glory.

The weight may be a chronic illness. Financial stress. A college student's workload of papers, projects, and exams. A difficult marriage. A struggle with sin. We all have burdens. We all have weights to bear.

When we feel like we about to fall, to collapse under the weight of the pressures of living in a fallen world, we can cry our to God as the psalmist did. We will find that God is great and worthy of praise, that He is powerful, that He is righteous, that He is gracious and compassionate, that He is faithful, that He is near, and that He watches over all that love Him.

We make a huge mistake when we think it's all about us. It's all about Him and what He can do. We bear up under the pressure, with His help, because that is His will for us. It is for His glory. It is part of His plan.

But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift my head. Psalm 3:3

Sunday, April 20, 2008

This Is the Day!

This is the day that the LORD has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:24

Our Creator has given us another beautiful day. He is the Author of this day. Whatever happens today, this day is still under the control of our loving Heavenly father. We can rejoice and be glad, because God has given us this day to live and to know Him better.

You are my God, and I will praise You;
You are my God, I will exalt You.
Oh, give thanks to the LORD for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
Psalm 118:28-29

The psalmist had a personal relationship with God. He praised God, honored Him, and glorified Him. He thanked God for His goodness and for His enduring mercy. In order to genuinely praise and thank God in this way, it is necessary to know God. To know His character. To know that He is good.

A childhood prayer begins, God is great, God is good . . . I know that God is good because He always meets my needs. He always forgives me when I sin. He always loves me. He always gives me grace. In know that God is great beacuse He is always in control. He is always present with me. He never changes. He is always trustworthy. He is always wise in what He does.

The psalmist realized that God was more than enough for him. He is more than enough for me. As Paul noted in Colossians 2:10, I am complete in Christ. In Him, I have everything I need.

I take great comfort in the fact that in the psalms, we frequently find David starting out with a focus on his own circumstances. As he cries out to God for help, his focus is removed from his own troubles and placed on the sufficiency of God to meet His needs.

This is our daily challenge. To get our focus on God and His ability to carry us through the trials of each day in a way that glorifies Him and causes us to grow in Christlikeness.

So this is my challenge for today. To rejoice because God has given me this day. To recognize that He is in control. To glorify Him for who He is. To thank Him for what He is doing in my life.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hope Springs Eternal (or Until the Shout)

What a beautiful morning!

My wife woke me up at 8:00 this morning and helped me out to our back deck. It is such a nice day for mid-April in Pennsylvania. The warmth of the sun. A cool breeze. Birds singing. A woodpecker pecking. Tall pine trees. Trees with spring buds. An occasional dog barking. The greenery of spring flowers poking up through the soil.

She even served me breakfast outside. Eggs and sausage. Toast with local honey. Coffee. Mmm.

Hope springs eternal. These words are from a line in an Alexander Pope poem, An Essay on Man, written in 1733.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

I read that the poet attempted to use rationalistic philosophy to explain the ways of God to man, much like John Donne attempted to do in his works. Not knowing enough about the context of this poem, I hesitate to make any kind of attempt to interpret Pope's meaning ( I guess I should have paid more attention in my high school literature classes.), but I like his use of these three words together: hope, springs, eternal.

Springtime is a time of hope. A time in which the dead of winter gives way to new life. A time in which we celebrate the newness of life available to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection. New life. Eternal life.

Days like today remind us that there is hope. Hope for this day. Hope for tomorrow. Hope for an eternity with God in heaven.

Days like today remind me that I am truly blessed to have life. And not just life, biologically speaking. But life, spiritually. To be conscious of God's character and ways. To have a life connected to Him through His Son.

A few days ago, my spirit was not as upbeat as it is today. That is part of the character of spring. A little bit of rain is necessary for growth to occur. Without the rain, we cannot truly enjoy the beauty that springtime offers.

Pope speaks of the uneasiness of the soul as it anticipates the life to come. There is an uneasiness associated with spring. For some, there is a longing for the process of change to wind down and for summer to arrive. [I actually enjoy the change of seasons. And the rain.] There is an uneasiness in this life as we await the Shout (a reference to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and the return of Christ for His own; I received a card today that was signed, "Until the Shout" - it was such a great reminder that I had to borrow it!):

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Hope springs eternal. I am not sure what Pope meant, but, for me, spring is a reminder of the eternal hope we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. A hope that can be found in no religion or philosophy, only in a relationship with the One who created us and gave His life to redeem us.

Until the Shout!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Adding to the Soundtrack of My Life (or Living Out Loud for Jesus)

Have you ever listened to a song on the radio or on a compact disc that really resonated with your present life circumstances? You know, one of those songs that you would choose to be on the soundtrack of your life if your life was made into a movie.

When I first heard Praise You in the Storm by Casting Crowns I knew it was one of those songs. I was not going through any fierce storms in my life at the time, nothing like I am going through now, but there is always weather that needs to be, for lack of a better word, weathered.

In my present circumstance, this song has taken on even greater significance.

Mark Hall, the lyricist, wrote:

For You are who You are, no matter where I am.

That line says a lot. My circumstances change. Sometimes things go well. Sometimes they do not. But God remains the same.

He also borrows from Psalm 121:1-2, a favorite passage for weathering storms:

I lift my eyes unto the hills; where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

What assurance we can find in these verses! We need only to lift our eyes above our present difficulties and see God. The Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe. He is our help. He is our strength. He is our comfort.

Last night I had to meditate on these verses. I lost my focus temporarily. I got caught up in a sinful pattern of thinking. I told my wife that it was just too hard and I did not want to do this anymore. To add the accumulating side effects of chemotherapy to the pain and discomfort of recovering from major bone surgery is a lot to bear. (Well, only when I want to throw myself a little pity party. It is quite a light load when I think of the weight of my sin that Jesus Christ bore on the tree at Calvary.) In those moments, just before going to sleep, I began doubting God and His sufficiency. I began doubting that He is good. So I did the only thing we can do in those moments, I cried out to God and confessed my unbelief. I confessed my weakness. And I asked Him for strength and the ability to keep my focus on Him. Then I rehearsed Psalm 121:1-2 over and over in my head until I fell asleep.

As I said, this song really got my attention the first time I heard it. And I've always wondered what influenced the writer to pen these lyrics. What was his motivation?

A few days ago, I began reading a book called Lifestories by Mark Hall. In this book, he describes the background of many of his songs, including Praise You in the Storm. As it turns out, this song was inspired by a ten-year old girl's battle with Ewing's Sarcoma, a battle which she lost (on this side of Glory, anyway).

Mark writes of this Erin's faith, her love of Scripture, her sense of humor, and her ability to encourage others.

And he writes of her mother Laurie's faith and worship. He said she had the worship of Job. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. Job 1:21. She told Mark: A lot of times I do not like God's plan, but I accept it.

Mark writes that this experience reminded him that God is faithful, regardless of the circumstances. I was reminded that God is sovereign and I am not. We cannot control how long our lifesongs last [I love that imagery of our life as a song, no doubt inspired by Paul's use of the word poiema, meaning work of art or workmanship, in Ephesians 2:10. Michael Card uses this same imagery in a song called The Poem of Your Life.]. We can only control how loud we sing them. Little Erin lived out loud for Jesus.

May God grant us the courage to live out loud for Jesus.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dorothy Was Right

We never stop praising God for being all-sufficient, all-powerful, and ever-loving. His lovingkindness is beyond measure! His provision is limitless. He alone deserves praise, honor, and glory.

We thank God for each of our friends and family members who continue to support and encourage us through these months of 'inconvenience.' We are so blessed by e-mails and cards, meals, care for our children, and numerous other ways that folks care for us. The prayers, support, and encouragement have had a huge impact on our ability to keep our focus on God during this time.

On Tuesday, we met with the surgeon's assistant in the morning. He removed all 63 staples from my incision. Whoever told me that it would feel like tiny pin pricks was right - 63 tiny pin pricks! He said that everything looked good and scheduled us for another visit in three weeks. At that time, we should have the pathology report, and an x-ray will be taken to assess the progress of the bone graft. At that visit, we will also discuss putting some weight on the leg. Within two months, we should know if the graft was successful. But he said that everything looks positive at this point.

In the afternoon, we met with the oncologist. It was a routine visit.

We spent the night at a motel across from Dorney Park. My wife went out and got us Mexican take-out from a place that our oncologist recommended. I have to get out out of this paragraph quickly because, today, the thought of a burrito is making me nauseous.

On Wednesday morning, I had Round 5 of chemotherapy.

We are now at home. I am resting comfortably. It is interesting to have the pain of recovery from surgery and the nausea/lethargy from chemotherapy at the same time. A double whammy.

As always, it is good to be home. Dorothy was right. There's no place like home.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Anticipation. The visualization of a future event. Perhaps with pleasurable expectation. Or with a certain degree of anxiety or dread.

I am anticipating my doctors' visits tomorrow. In the morning, we meet with the surgeon's assistant for a follow-up. In the afternoon, we meet with the oncologist to set things in motion for the continuation of chemotherapy.

There is uncertainty as I think about the follow-up with the surgeon. We have not discussed in much detail what happens after the surgery. I have been told that I will have to refrain from putting any weight on my right leg for several months. At some point I think I will require some physical therapy, but I am not sure if and when that will happen.

Several people have asked me if I will be having my staples removed tomorrow. I do not know. I have grown accustomed to the staples. All 63 of them. They are holding my leg together. They have become part of me. And I am not sure that I want to part with them at this point. I have been told that the pain of having them removed is minimal. Not much more than a small pin prick. That's 63 small pin pricks on a leg that is already tender. Here's another instance of where I will need to put of my big boy boxers and deal with it. Just like the needles and the tubes.

I hope to see an x-ray of my leg. I am curious to see what this new construction looks like. The graft. The rod. The screws.

It will be a few more weeks until the pathology report is back. I am looking forward to seeing how effective the chemotherapy has been to this point.

As for the visit with the oncologist, I have few concerns. There is always the possibility that the cancer could spread into other areas, but it does absolutely no good to dwell on those possibilities. As long as the surgeon is pleased with the progress of my recovery, and the oncologist is pleased, chemotherapy should resume on Wednesday.

It has been nice to have a break from chemotherapy, even though I have been in pain from the surgery. My hair is starting to grow again. My appetite has been closer to normal, although pain does tend to suppress the desire to eat. It will not be long before we get back into our three-week routine of treatments, injections to stimulate blood cell production, blood draws to monitor blood counts and Coumadin (blood thinner) levels, and follow-up visits.

Perhaps the toughest part of this battle is over. Maybe not. Only God knows for certain. Do I want the battle to be over? Yes! But I will stay in as long as long as God (the real Commander-in-Chief) requires. The battle belongs to the Lord. I have pledged to serve Him, no matter what. To trust Him, come what may.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

As "Self" Loses Its Grip

It has been three and a half months since I have spent a day in the classroom where I teach. It is so tempting to refer to it as "my classroom," but I am reminded almost every day that it really doesn't belong to me. But what a privilege it is when God allows me to use that space to do that which brings me great joy: teach young people.

In the classroom, I have posted many of my favorite quotations. Quotations that remind me who God is, who I am, and what He has called me to be and to do for Him.

I enjoy quotations from John MacArthur, John Piper, Andrew Murray, John Ortberg, A.W. Tozer, and, of course, Charles Spurgeon.

One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Spurgeon.

I have now concentrated all my prayers into one, and that one prayer is this, that I may die to self, and live wholly to Him.

This quote captures the essence of who Spurgeon was desiring to become in Christ. If you are at all familiar with Paul's letters in the New Testament, you will recognize that this could easily been said by him.

Each day, it is a little less about me, and a little more about Him. Of course, it is always about Him, but "self" resists the truth and insists on hanging on. As "self" slowly loosens its grip, I experience greater peace and joy, knowing that Jesus Christ is my all in all.

Friday, April 11, 2008

What Can We Expect?

What can we expect as follower of Christ when we face cancer and other challenging life circumstances?

Joy. Joy? Yes, joy. Before His death, Jesus promised His disciples that when He returned, after His resurrection, that they would have joy and that no one would be able to take that joy away from them. See John 16:22-24. Similarly, as followers of Jesus Christ, we can have joy in all circumstances. Difficult circumstances or people may threaten to steal our joy, but our joy can only be taken away if we allow it to happen. If we keep our focus on Jesus Christ, we can have joy in the midst of any circumstance.

Several years ago, I read this defintion of joy from John MacArthur. You have to read it several times and meditate on it to really unpack its meaning.

Joy is a gift from God to those who believe the gospel being produced in them by the Holy Spirit as they receive and obey the Scripture being mixed with trials and set their hope and their heart on future glory.

Courage. In Psalm 34:4, David wrote: I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. In any circumstance, we can call on the Lord to be delivered from our fears. This does not mean that He will take away the circumstances that cause us to be fearful, but that He will give us courage to face our fears.

Confidence. Jesus promised His followers, in John 10:28-29, that those who received eternal life from Him would never be snatched out of His hands. Because of God’s great strength, we can have confidence in all circumstances. Nothing can happen to us that God does not allow. Nothing can take away our eternal life with God.

Hope. Paul wrote in Romans 15:13, Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. God is both the source and object of our hope. In all circumstances, we can have joy and peace; these are by-products of our faith. And we can overflow with hope because our God is the God of hope.

Strength. The prophet Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of the strength available to those who wait upon the Lord (Isaiah 40:28-31). Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. In our times of greatest weakness, we can call upon God for strength.

In any difficult circumstance, the challenge is keeping our focus in the right place. We must look beyond our trial and focus on Jesus Christ. When we do, we will find joy, courage, confidence, hope, and strength.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Valley of Vision

A friend sent me a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. This is the first prayer in the collection. These verses provide comfort (as they point me to my Comforter) as I deal with the pain of recovery and the uncertainty of the course of this trial with cancer.

The Valley of Vision (a Puritan Prayer)

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine.

Let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty,
Thy glory in my valley.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Don't Waste Your Cancer

I recently read an article that John Piper wrote on the eve before his surgery for prostate cancer. The article is entitled “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” If you are interested in reading Piper's article, you can search for it using the title. It is posted on a variety of websites.

In this article, Piper gives ten ways that we can miss important lessons and opportunities if we focus on the cancer itself and miss the bigger picture.

I would like to add another item to his list.

You will waste your cancer if you do not allow God to use it to confront you with the truth of the Gospel.

Often, God uses difficult life circumstances, such as cancer, to get our attention and to get us to think about His plan of redemption. If you are dealing with cancer or another challenging trial of life, take some time to ask yourself some difficult, yet important, questions.

Do you have a personal relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ?

Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?

If not, ask yourself: Is God extending an invitation to me right now to become His child through faith?

Is He calling me to Himself? If so, what I am waiting for?

We all look for the purpose of our suffering. Why me, O God? Why now? Why this? Perhaps the answers to your questions are right in front of you. Maybe God is using this cancer to get you to see your need for Him.

Don't waste this opportunity.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Remembering Muscat

One day while we were sitting in the hospital, during one my five-day treatments, I started to notice that by brain functioning is becoming impaired.

I did not realize it until a few weeks later, but I was (am) suffering from what is called “chemo brain.” There really is such a condition. The term refers to changes in memory, attention, and concentration, and abilities to perform various mental tasks. In other words, the chemotherapy drugs heighten my male-ness; they magnify what has already been happening for years.

I catch myself sitting and think about absolutely nothing for very long periods of time. I have difficulty reading for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time. I get very distracted when in a conversation with more than one other person (I still manage quite well when talking to myself!). I find myself telling my wife something and not realizing, until I have almost finished the sentence, that what I am saying makes absolutely no sense.

Remedies for “chemo brain” include avoiding distractions (turning off the television when my wife wants to have a conversation with me), asking people to repeat information (Huh?), writing down information (I have had to do this for years, but now struggle to keep all my notes organized), keeping a journal (more therapeutic for me than practical), getting plenty of sleep (not an option these days!), doing crossword puzzles (enjoyable and addictive, yet very helpful in keeping the mind sharp; also very frustrating at times – when the recall is not so good!), and asking for help (which violates all kinds of rules of male-ness).

From what I have read, these side-effects of chemotherapy do subside as treatment ends, and the benefits of treatment (such as living longer) far outweigh the potential problems (forgetting the capital of Oman).

Muscat. Muscat is both the capital of Oman and its largest city.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A High Maintenance Husband and a Godly Wife

I am a high-maintenance husband these days.

In addition to everything else my wife does around the house, she helps me bathe and change my clothes, she changes the dressings on my surgical incision, she keeps up with my medication, and she helps me get from the sofa bed to the chair, to the bathroom, and back to the bed.

If there something that I need that is beyond my reach, she brings it to me.

I do not like being in this position of helplessness. I do not like adding to my wife’s burden. [She does not see me as a burden in the least.] I would rather be waiting on her. I would rather be taking care of her needs. But that is not the way it is right now. For now, I have to be content with my wife serving me.

By the way, I can still meet some of her greatest needs. I can listen to her when she needs to talk. I can pray with her and for her. I can hold her close and reassure her of my love for her.

But as far as manual tasks, I am not much help at all.

My wife is my best friend and my greatest encourager. I’ve said it before and I will probably repeat it again! Her love for me seems to increase as the trials with this cancer get more difficult. She has an inner strength and beauty that can only come from the Lord.

It has been a joy to see how my wife has remained close to God during this whole ordeal. Although her schedule is taxing, she has made time to read the Bible and several devotional books, and to pray. Because she has sought to remain close to God, He has blessed her with strength and patience.

Yes, there have been difficult times. There have been tears. There have been times when she has wanted all this to go away. But her overriding desire has been to please God and to serve me, her husband.

I love my wife. She is truly a gift from God.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

More Thoughts about Pain

It is Saturday morning. Eight days have passed since my surgery. I am laying on our sofa bed in the living room. Leg elevated and iced. Body drugged to the edge of oblivion.

The doctor doubled the dosage of the medication. It has greatly helped to alleviate the pain.

As I think about pain, I consider its purpose. The pain certainly reminds me of the trauma that my body has experienced and warns me that I need to rest and recuperate. No dancing or softball games for me in the near future. Pain gets my attention. It tells me that I need to be careful.

God has a purpose in the pain that He allows us to endure. He uses our pain to get our attention, to warn us, to teach us, and to guide us.

As long as we live in this sin-marred world, we will experience pain, suffering, and disease. But if we submit to Him, God will use these things to help us to mature and become more like Jesus Christ. For those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, this pain and suffering are temporary. A day will come when there will be no more pain. This gives me hope!

My daughter is watching over me today as my wife and younger son are grocery shopping. She is doing a good job changing my ice packs and keeping me company. For the most part, she is reading in my recliner while I doze off and on. In or out.

At the moment, she is emptying the dishwasher while talking on the phone. This is a multi-tasking skill that she learned from her mother.

As we share this experience with cancer as a family, it is my prayer that my children learn from me and my wife the importance of trusting in God. The joy in seeking to please Him in every circumstance. It is my prayer that they learn to have a greater passion for and a desire to help those in need. I pray that they are encouraged and strengthened in this journey.

Friday, April 4, 2008

First Aid for Pain

I am laying here on the bed this afternoon, dealing with some of the worse pain I have had since the surgery on Friday. My leg is propped up on three pillows and is covered with an ice blanket.

A few minutes ago, my wife took a small box out of the basket beside my reclining chair. The box is labeled First Aid Strips. Below the label is a message that reads: Contains inspirations, messages, and quotes. Apply directly to the mind.

This box contains small laminated “band aids,” each having a handwritten Bible verse or encouraging message. It was assembled by a member of our school/church staff and contains entries from both staff members and students.

After my wife read through the messages, she handed the box to me (I’ve read them each several times since receiving the box several days ago.) and agreed that I should share some of these messages on this blog.

Here is a sampling.

You are a living testimony of strength, faith and love of someone who has Christ indwelling in his heart. I am truly blessed to have you as a brother in Christ. (Please note that it is not about me, but Christ who lives in me.)

You have been in my daily prayers. I hope and pray that you get enough strength to get through everything. God will take care of you.

Matthew 10:30-31. Jesus said, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” Yeah, He loves you that much!

Hope you get better real soon and I am praying for you every night.

I hope and pray that your relationship with Christ is still growing and those that see you see a difference. I know I do.

You have encouraged me more than you will ever know. Hang tough this week. God is always good.

I can’t begin to comprehend what you have been through. God is so great and mighty. He will be with you this week as He has been with you through this whole ordeal.

It is great to receive encouragement from others. And it is important to take time to encourage others.

The message on these “first aid strips” may not take away my pain, but they certainly help me to endure the pain with the right focus and right heart attitude.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Blog Entry That May Be Too Long to Read

The setting is Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Visualize Amish farms, horse and buggy rides, antique stores, quilt shops, bed and breakfast inns, and smorgasbords. Now erase that image. Picture a hospital in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Somewhere downtown. It could just as easily be a hospital in downtown Scranton. What I observed is that the rich culture of the surrounding area does not seem to penetrate the hospital walls. The bottom line is that I thought that the food would have been better! Actually, I doubt that the likes of Emeril Lagasse and Rachel Ray could have come up with a meal that would have tasted good to me after the surgery.

This week’s main event was surgery: removal of a cancerous section of the right tibia, replacement with an allograft from a non-objecting donor cadaver, and reinforcement with a steel rod. Take two. We tried this the week before, but the wrong cadaver bone was sent. This week, the correct bone was sent, with an apology and two conciliatory gift certificates. This may be the reason why we waited an extra week!

The morning of the surgery (March 28th) was like déjà vu all over again. Same procedures, but new personnel - except for the surgeon and his assistant. I fell asleep in the pre-op staging area while the anesthesiologist was drawing on my buttocks to determine placement of a catheter for a femoral nerve block. When I woke up, about six or seven hours later, I was being wheeled into my private room on the fifth floor.

The surgeon told me that everything and, from what he could tell, all of the cancer had been removed. [We now have to wait for the pathology report, which will take at least three weeks. This will show us what percent of the cancer cells were actually killed by the chemotherapy. Depending on that percentage, radiation treatments may be necessary. In any case, chemotherapy will resume in two or three weeks.] There was only one snag in the surgery – a screw snapped in half and the surgery was halted for fifteen minutes while someone went out (presumably to the hardware store) to get a device to reverse the screw.

On Monday morning, the surgeon removed the dressings and was pleased with the way that the incision looked. It is always good when the surgeon smiles and is pleased with his work.

This is the first major surgery I have had as an adult. I had my wisdom teeth removed when I was 18 and my appendix removed when I was 21. This is the only time I know of that I have been hooked up to IV fluids (via my vascular port), had a femoral block (via a catheter inserted into my lower back), had a drain coming out near my surgical incision, had a breathing tube inserted into my trachea, and had a urinary catheter. The IV was no problem. I am getting accustomed to that. The breathing tube was inserted and removed while I was under general anesthesia. The others were all inserted while I was sedated. But the doctors and nurses found no problems with removing them while I am awake!

Before the anesthesiologist removed the catheter for the femoral block, I asked him if it was going to hurt. He said, “Not a bit. I’ve done it hundreds of times and I’ve never felt any pain.” It was only a bit painful.

The surgeon removed the drain tube when he changed the dressing on my incision. It did not really hurt, but felt like a worm crawling out from under my skin.

The one I feared the most was the removal of the urinary catheter. If I had known that the surgery was going to require such a thing, I may have elected to not have the surgery. That is why some things are better left unknown. But once the thing is in there, (The words are vague, but you know exactly what I am talking about. Some of you may be reliving this traumatic experience from your past. I am sorry.) it has to be removed. I asked the nurse if I could be put out for this. She laughed, as if to say, “Men are such wimps.” We are. I am. I am so grateful that my wife bore our children. The nurse removed the air from the balloon. Apparently, once this thing is inserted into the bladder, a small balloon is inflated so that it does not pull out. While the nurse was describing this fact to me, she told me about a patient who insisted on doing it himself. I cannot even begin to imagine that kind of bravery. She said that she got the OK from her nursing supervisor to allow the man to remove his own catheter, but that she would be required to deflate the balloon. This is a detail that should not, must not, be overlooked. We are finally ready to remove this thing and she tells me to remember to breathe. She began to pull and I forgot to breathe. The nurse and my wife are both telling me, “Breathe, breathe.” Without any additional details, I will say that it was the strangest feeling I have ever felt. I hope never to feel it again.

A necessary part of my post-surgery care was physical therapy. It was not extensive, since my right leg cannot bear weight for several months. On Sunday, the therapist got me out of bed, and had me use a walker to move to the door and back to a chair, where I sat for an hour. That took a lot of energy. It was such a simple task that I have taken for granted my whole life. On Monday, I did the same thing with using a pair of crutches, plus a few leg lifts –with the help of the therapist. It was a little easier and less painful than the day before. On Tuesday, I walked part way down the hall and tried to climb a single step. It did not happen. But I learned my limitations. I think that is a vital part of the maturing process - learning our limitations.

One of the most interesting aspects of my hospital stay was the presence of student nurses. On Monday afternoon and evening, I had a student nurse assigned to care for me. She was young, confident, calm, and kind. The kind of attribute mix you want in a nurse, but do not always find. My wife enjoyed conversing with her – hearing about her training and her aspirations. On Tuesday, a young male student with the same mix of attributes was assigned to me. He meticulously changed my dressing on my incision and helped with the details of my discharge from the hospital. When the duty nurse came in to de-access my port (remove the IV needle), a group of eight or ten nurses came into the room to observe. It was great to be a part of the students’ training. It was nice to see the interaction between the students and their instructors. Of course, it reminded me of what I am missing by being away from my students. And, if these students are representative, the future of the nursing profession is in good hands.

I enjoyed observing the communications dynamics this weekend. Between hospitals. Between doctors. Between nurses. Between nurses and doctors. As an undergraduate anthropology major I took several courses in medical anthropology, and I have always been interested in the roles and interactions involved in the medical field. I was reminded, as I observed both good and bad examples of communication, of the importance of good communication in any relationship or organization. We need to learn our limitations when it comes to remembering things. And how it is OK to write things down right away, so that details are not overlooked. When communication is good, everything else in an organization or relationship is better.

It is good to be home again. I always say that. I always mean that. There is always special about coming home.

My life for the next two weeks consists of elevating and icing my leg to keep the swelling down, and trying to avoid infection.

Our younger son kept me company today. He gave me a lot of hugs, talked to me, and played some games with me. He observed as the home health nurse changed my dressings and drew blood from my arm. He asked a lot of questions, and we assured him that God is using all of this in the process of taking care of Daddy’s cancer.

My wife is still my best friend and my greatest encourager. She has a strength that can only be explained by the presence of God’s Spirit within her. She is an amazing woman and I am blessed.

Our God is an awesome God. I know that this phrase is overused and could be labeled as cliché, but it is always true. As His child, I can say that when things are going well and when they are not. He is in control. And our decision is as firm as ever: We choose to please Him in all things. May God be glorified.