Sep 07

Finding Treasures Hidden in Darkness

 

 

And I would love for you to meet my friend, Nancy, a 10-year survivor of incurable liver cancer. My Cancer Prayer Support Group meetings always were better when she was there—partly because she’s a wonderful baker (she brought four fresh strawberry pies to one summer meeting!), but mostly because she’s just an awesome person.

Nancy originally was told in January 2005 that she had a “very aggressive” liver cancer and there wasn’t anything anyone could do for her.

“If you have anything you want to do, you should do it,” the doctor told her, adding that she would probably die within a month.

But about two weeks later, she got a call from another physician who said she had been misdiagnosed. It indeed was a rare, untreatable liver cancer, but a slow-growing one, which probably would not take her life.

With that good news, Nancy figured the hard part of her cancer journey was over, but she was very wrong. One of her doctors suggested a new, oral chemotherapy, which just might slow the cancer’s growth and Nancy agreed to give it a try. Unfortunately, one of the drug’s side effects was severe depression.

“When I would wake up in the morning, I thought I couldn’t get out of bed,” Nancy recalls. “Any desire to do anything at all was gone. I would just sit and cry.”

Nancy, of course, stopped the drug, but the depression lasted for eighteen months.

“I felt terribly alone even in a roomful of people,” she recalls. “It was the most horrible feeling I ever had.”

I’ve never experienced that kind of depression, but I believe Nancy when she says it was “worse than being told I had cancer or that I was going to die.”

So why am I telling you this story in a blog about encouragement for the weary? Because Nancy got through her depression and is back to her bubbly self and I want you to know that you and your loved one can survive depression if it should rear its ugly head in your lives.

Whenever a newcomer joined our support group and was struggling with depression, I wanted that person to meet Nancy because she’s “been there, done that.” And most of all I wanted them to hear what Nancy discovered during her ordeal.

“I learned that God is faithful,” she says. “I always believed that, but not to the extent I do now.

“Even though I couldn’t feel close to God then, I always sensed He was there,” she says. “When I prayed to die in my sleep, the Holy Spirit was there with me whispering ‘it’s going to be OK—it’s not over yet.’ God was always there.”

I will give you treasures hidden in darkness—secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. Isaiah 45:3

Nancy’s path is not one she ever would have chosen for herself, but she wholeheartedly agrees that the Lord gave her treasures that were hidden in the darkness of depression. Now she eagerly shares those “secret riches” with those she meets who are struggling with their own despondent times.

“When I was down, just a teeny bit of hope helped me,” Nancy remembers. “If I can give that to anyone, I’d be happy.”

I always feel more hopeful when I talk to Nancy as the love and light of God shine through her. She and her incredibly supportive husband Tom recently celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary by taking a trip to Belize—not as relaxing tourists, but to work at the orphanage they helped build.

“I just want to give back,” Nancy explains. “I think that’s why God left me here.”

Father, I pray for anyone reading this today who is struggling with depression or any other dark cloud of discouragement. I pray that they will trust that You are faithful and will see them through. And I pray that one day they can look back and see the treasures You have brought to light through this time. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Aug 31

Don’t Waste Your Cancer

 

 

Those are the words penned by author-pastor John Piper on the eve of his surgery for prostate cancer in 2006. Our cancer support group often spent a meeting discussing one of Piper’s ten ways we can “waste” cancer by allowing it—instead of God—to be foremost in our lives. (You can read his wonderful essay at www.desiringgod.org) Many in our group have embraced Piper’s admonition and often remarked: “I don’t want to waste this cancer.”

Probably the cancer survivor who most often expressed that sentiment is my friend Bert, diagnosed in December 2003 with stage 4 prostate cancer at the age of sixty-eight.

Bert’s cancer was not operable, so he underwent eight weeks of radiation and eighteen months of hormone shots to try and slow its course. The radiation went fairly well, but the shots, which “turned off” his male hormones gave him severe hot flashes.

“That gave me a greater appreciation of what women go through in menopause and I sure don’t want to go through childbirth!” Bert admits with a smile.

Because Bert’s father and grandfather both had faced cancer, he wasn’t particularly stunned to get his diagnosis.

“I was surprised and concerned, but I had a peace about it,” he recalls. “I remember thinking that I could go home and feel sorry for myself—but I would still have cancer—or I could use it to show people that I’m not afraid to die. I’ve decided I will use cancer to share and encourage other people.”

Don’t waste your cancer.

That’s the decision Bert made many years ago. Since then his yearly PSA readings are in the normal range as he continues to be in complete remission from the cancer. But he has been told by doctors to expect it to come back at some point.

“Can it come back? Yeah,” he says. “Am I afraid of that? No.”

Bert says his peace about his uncertain future comes from the fact he is a “Christ-follower.”

“I love to explain to people what that means,” he adds. “I like to ask people ‘where is your hope?’ and I like to share with them that my hope is in following Christ.”

I am so glad that Bert decided not to waste his cancer. I can’t begin to tell you all the folks in our support group he has encouraged in their cancer fight, as well as many others in his church and community.

I’d like to think I haven’t wasted my cancer either. I’ll admit I initially was rather reluctant (OK, very reluctant) to minister to cancer patients and their caregivers. But the more I reached out to hurting people, the more I got blessed, too. I realized I couldn’t go back and change my diagnosis, my treatment or even my prognosis, but I could make sure that all the pain I endured was not wasted. I had suffered on my cancer journey, but I also had been comforted by God and I could share that truth with others. As the Apostle Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 

Whatever you and your family have suffered—whatever hardship still lies ahead for you—will you ask God today to help you not waste it?

Piper wrote that “Christians are never anywhere by divine accident. There are reasons for why we wind up where we do. Consider what Jesus said about painful, unplanned circumstances: ‘They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness.’ (Luke 21:12 -13). So it is with cancer. This will be an opportunity to bear witness. Christ is infinitely worthy. Here is a golden opportunity to show that he is worth more than life. Don’t waste it.”

Heavenly Father, I wish I didn’t have to face cancer, but because I do, I’m asking You to help me not to waste it. Please take these painful, unplanned circumstances and turn them into an opportunity for me to show others that You are worth more than life itself. In Jesus’ Name, I pray. Amen.

 

Aug 24

When Your World Falls Apart

 

So where were you when the events of 9/11 unfurled? I bet you know exactly. I vividly remember I was standing in the chemo room at our oncology office chatting with patients when the first plane hit.

And if you’re OLD like I am, you recall where you were when President Kennedy was shot in 1963. I know I was at Debbie Walls’ house playing the Barbie game (and poised to secure the good-looking bachelor, Ken, for my “date”) when Debbie’s stepmom rushed in with the terrible news. (Debbie found me on Facebook a few months ago after being out of touch for 50 YEARS and she told me she never forgot me either because of the incredibly sad memory we shared.)

It’s amazing how quickly your world can fall apart. One minute life seems pretty good, and the next minute you’re wondering how you ever will survive.

A health crisis has the ability to shake our worlds in ways difficult to comprehend. A while back, I surveyed a bunch of my cancer survivor friends for remembrances of the day their worlds fell apart.

“Surreal” is the term Wayne uses to describe how it felt to be told he had Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of forty-seven.

“My family, like myself was in shock—pure disbelief,” he recalls thirteen years later. “I recently had gone twenty years without missing a full day of work to illness and now I had cancer? I couldn’t believe it.”

Ken was equally surprised nine years ago when his tongue cancer finally was diagnosed after two years of reassurances that the enlarged lymph node was “nothing to worry about.”

“When the doctor finally did say the word ‘cancer,’ I was in total shock,” Ken recalls. “I had no symptoms and I was in great shape for a forty-six-year-old man! I told someone I felt as if I had entered the Twilight Zone and nothing was recognizable.”

Cathy says “denial and total shock” were the first two emotions she experienced after being told in November 2009 that she had breast cancer at age fifty-four.

“My husband’s and my emotions were very different,” she adds. “He was a lot calmer and stronger than I was.”

My nurse/reporter friend Cubby says disbelief also was her first reaction to a breast cancer diagnosis at age fifty-one.

“I froze and my husband’s face turned white,” she still vividly recalls six years later. “The worst part was the fear of the unknown.”

Fear of the unknown.

 I think that’s pretty much a universal response to a cancer diagnosis. The story of the day your world fell apart may be similar to these folks or it might be quite different, but I’m willing to bet that after those initial strong emotions wore off, you were left with the same question for yourself or your loved one: What’s going to happen next?

How difficult will the treatment be?

            Will I/they get sick?

            Can I/they keep working?

And the $64,000-question: Will I/they be cured?

I, of course, will answer all those questions for you in this blog…yeah, right. I have no magic tea leaves for your or your loved one’s future. I believe there’s a good chance that the treatments will be easier than you think because that’s what most of our patients say—the worry before the first chemo or radiation was worse than the actual treatment itself. I think you or your loved one probably will not get sick because there are wonderful anti-nausea drugs available today—at least three or four new ones since I was treated in 1990. (If you knew people treated a long time ago for cancer, please don’t imagine your experience is likely to be like theirs.)

I also think there’s a good possibility you or your loved one will be able to keep up a fairly normal life. I see cancer patients everyday in our office getting chemo and then heading out to their place of employment or home to do yard work. Most folks say they adjust to a “new normal” and enjoy the days with good energy, while resting more on the days when fatigue sets in.

And if you want to know the overall survival odds, 64% of adult cancer patients still are alive five years after their diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Of course, I can’t promise my observations all will come true for you. I don’t know your future health any more than I am certain of my own. But I do know the One who does know it all.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

What an incredibly comforting verse for us when our world falls apart. Just don’t miss that itty-bitty word “I” in the first sentence. “For I know the plans I have for you.”

Only God knows the plans for us and they are His plans and not necessarily ours. But whether His plans match ours or not, we can be confident they are good ones and designed to give us hope. Jeremiah 29:12-14 continues with God’s assurances:

In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly,
you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord.

Thank You, Lord, that You are not watching me from a distance, but You are close by and hear me when I pray. Please help me to trust that Your plans for my life are truly good ones. Amen.

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Aug 17

How do you find peace in the face of cancer?

 

 

For years I’ve been wishing there was a book offering hope to those facing cancer which is not expected to be cured—not one on how to get ready to die, but one on how to keep living with cancer for the long haul. I wanted it to be a book for both patients and caregivers because when anyone in the family has cancer, it can feel like everyone does. And I really wanted it to encourage believers to trust in God despite life’s trials and to point seekers to a relationship with Jesus.  But I couldn’t find such a book.

So I wrote one.

Eib wrapPeace in the Face of Cancer is slated to be released by Tyndale House in March 2017 and I’m so excited for the lives it will touch. And I’m especially excited that my editors pushed me to write it not just for those with incurable cancer, but for anyone, anywhere on a cancer journey. That made my writing task more difficult, but because of this broader scope, it’s a far better book with a far bigger audience—an estimated 14.5 million of us living with a history of cancer in the U.S. alone!

I heard a speaker at a recent Christian writers’ conference advise authors not to share a book cover until a month before its release because people will forget. But I am so happy about the cover I just couldn’t wait! (Besides I’ll “remind” you later.)  The cover is soft imitation leather like 50 Days of Hope and is just a little bigger (5×7 instead of 4×6). I love the shiny, gold foil stars and believe that looking up through the trees at a starry nighttime sky is a very peaceful feeling.

I’ll be sharing excerpts as the release date draws closer and more about how this is going to be the first in a new series by Tyndale. The second “Peace in the Face of…” book already has been contracted to a famous NY Times bestselling author! Stay tuned for details.

Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace. –Luke 1:78-79 NLT

 

 

Aug 10

Don’t Run Ahead of Him

 

 

My friend Polly has been on a personal journey with cancer for more than 13 years, although her family’s trek with this dreaded disease stretches back decades. Her mother, several maternal aunts and her sister all had breast cancer and the nagging thought of it always was there in Polly’s mind, too.

So when she got the same diagnosis at age 48, she was anxious and upset, but not really surprised. The shock came four years later in 2007 when the cancer returned and spread to her lungs and bones . (And yes, this story is going to have a “happy” ending–keep reading!)

“I thought I was a goner,” she recalls. “I kept thinking ‘I hope I have another birthday’.”

Polly had the lung tumors removed and started more chemo. We talked and prayed often and Polly kept drawing closer to God as she sat on her front porch each day watching hummingbirds, reading the Bible and talking with her heavenly Father in prayer.

Four months later the PET scan showed significant improvement and two months after that, all signs of the cancer were gone. Five years later, she remains in an unexplained complete remission despite stopping all treatments years ago.

“”It’s a blessing beyond my wildest dreams,” she says. “It’s been a wonderful journey of whole new closeness with the Lord.  He just knows what I need right now—this minute, this hour.

“I have learned to seize each day,” she adds.
“Every day I get up and say ‘you can have a good day or a bad day’
and I always choose good.”

I believe Polly has been experiencing what it’s like to walk with God as He goes before you and lights your way during the dark times. Don’t expect that He will light up your whole journey—He might reveal just the next few steps. And don’t imagine that His provision will arrive way ahead of time so you can stockpile it until you’re ready to use it.

If you know the Old Testament story of the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years, you’ll remember God sent just enough manna—a grain-like food—for each day. (See Exodus 16.) If they tried to gather extra to save for the next day, the leftovers turned moldy—except for the day before the Sabbath, when they were permitted to collect a double portion that still would be fresh the next day. It’s been my experience that God continues to provide His people, like my friend Polly, just what we need in the nick of time—not way ahead as most of us would like!

My favorite illustration of God’s perfect timing is a story shared by Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch Christian concentration camp survivor whose family helped hide Jews from the Nazis during World War II. The conversation she relates took place when she was a little girl and her father tried to console her fears that she would be unprepared when she had to die someday:

Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam—when do I give you your ticket?”

I sniffed a few times considering this.

“Why just before we get on the train.”

“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows exactly when we are going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us have to die, you will look in your heart and find just the strength you need—just in time.”[1]

“Don’t run out ahead of Him.”

What marvelous advice. God needs to go before us into each day. We don’t yet have what we need to face all of our tomorrows, because we are not yet there. But every day as we come to our heavenly Father in prayer, He promises to guide us and provide for us in that minute, that hour, that day.

As author Max Lucado writes, “Jesus gives us hope because He keeps us company, has a vision and knows the way we should go.”

I pray you’ll have faith in Him, and I’d like to pray Deuteronomy 31:6 for you today: Do not be afraid and do not panic before them.  For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. Amen.

[1] Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1984), 44.

Aug 03

If God is so good…

 

 

When you believe in God, it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that He has allowed adversity to touch your life. Think about it.

If God knows everything, this diagnosis did not surprise Him.

            If God sees everything, He saw the bad news coming.

            If God has power over everything, He could have stopped it.

            But He didn’t.

He didn’t stop you or your loved one from getting cancer.

Would you like to know why?………….Join the club!

My journalist-friend Mike Dellosso was awaiting the release of his first novel[1] when his colorectal cancer was diagnosed. At only thirty-five, with a wife and three young children, he wondered what God was doing (or not doing) in his life.

“Lord, in my head, I know You’re in control, but my heart is wondering what’s going on here,” he said.
“You sure You know what You’re doing?”

My author-friend David Biebel talks about this dilemma in his book If God Is So Good, Why Do I Hurt So Bad? He says there are two truths suffering people have to reconcile: sometimes life is agony, and our loving God is in control.

In the beginning, it was hard for me to reconcile these truths. I honestly found that at first my faith made things harder rather than easier as I had to struggle with the fact that I loved and faithfully served God for many years and yet He let something really bad happen to me when I knew He had the power to stop it. I’ve heard some people without faith respond to cancer very nonchalantly because they have kind of a “que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be” approach to life.

But for me, it’s different. I don’t believe that life is merely a series of random events that happen to us. I believe I have a Heavenly Father who loves me, watches over me and has good plans for my life. So, why did a nice girl like me get a not-nice thing like cancer?

The reality is that God’s Word never promises that He will stop all bad things from happening to us. On the contrary, it promises us that He is prepared for each battle and will equip us, too.

The Message Bible paraphrases 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 this way:
We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized;
we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized.
But God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken.

God is in control.

            Errant cells aren’t.

            Toxic medicine isn’t.

            White-coated doctors aren’t.

            Herbs and vitamins aren’t.

            We aren’t.

Many of us would have to admit that we are “control freaks.” We like to make plans, carry them out and then smile at how well they went. We like to call the shots. We’d rather tell God what we think we need than have Him tell us. If we’re truly honest, we even may admit that it’s hard to pray for God’s will because we know it may not be the same as ours.

Cancer can be a real wake-up call for us. We are forced to realize we are not in control of everything. But no matter how many (or how few) tomorrows doctors may have told you to expect, those tomorrow are safe because God is in control.

The sooner we learn this truth, the easier our fight will be. It’s actually quite freeing once you get it right. You can relax knowing Someone else is in charge—Someone much more intelligent, powerful and vigilant than we are or could ever hope to be.

Be encouraged that this health crisis–or any other adversity–has not taken God by surprise. He is in control and knows how to equip you for the fight. Will you pray from Psalm 31 with me?

O LORD, I have come to you for protection…be my rock of protection. A fortress where I will be safe…I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles and care about the anguish of my soul…I am trusting you, O LORD, saying, “You are my God!” My future is in your hands. Amen.

[1]   The Hunted, Realms, 2008. www.mikedellosso.com

Jul 27

Amazing Cancer Patients

 

I knew her as “The Horse Lady” long before I ­ever knew her name was Nicola.

And if I was writing a brochure about amazing things cancer patients have done while ­under­going treatment, the Horse Lady would be my cover photo.

She got her nickname from Dr. Marc Hirsh, who initially had trouble remembering her name, but had no trouble bragging about her exploits to me even before I worked in his office. His favorite story was about how she loaded up one of her prized thoroughbred horses in her horse trailer, hitched it to her pickup, and drove all the way from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma. After delivering the horse to its new owner, she continued to drive herself to Mexico for a vacation.

“Drove the truck herself with her oxygen tank right beside her on the front seat!” Marc said with a satisfied smile. “She’s amazing!”

I’ve met a lot of amazing cancer patients.

 I know a man who earned his green belt for karate while being treated for lung cancer. I know a woman who went to dance class wearing a belt pump that released a continuous infusion of chemotherapy into her while she danced. I know another man who won a racquetball tournament a couple days after his treatment for widespread colon cancer.

My friend Leanna started running 5K races after her diagnosis of Stage 4 melanoma. She’s not super-fast, but at age sixty-eight, she’s usually quick enough to win her age category!

“I thought I’d give it a try to see if it would help me get better,” says Leanna, a grandmother of eleven who still works part-time babysitting neighborhood children and is in complete remission from the cancer. She’s even convinced her husband Larry, seventy, to compete in an upcoming race with her.

“He was going to enter in the ‘Clydesdale’ category for men who weigh over 200 pounds,” she says, “but I told him he might have a better chance of winning the ‘70+’ category in case there’s a young guy who weighs over 200 and is really fast!”

Our oncology office even had our own version of Lance Armstrong with a patient named Eric, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1987 at the age of thirty-one. Like Lance, Eric had Stage 4 disease, which had spread to his liver, lung, and groin in 1988. Now twenty-nine years after his diagnosis, Eric remains cancer-free and is enjoying life with his wife and three grown children.

You’ve probably seen the little plastic yellow “Live Strong” bracelets from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. They’re a neat way to remind cancer patients and their caregivers that a little ol’ thing like cancer couldn’t stop Lance from winning seven consecutive Tour de France cycling races. (No matter what controversy surrounds him, there’s no doubt he’s an incredible athlete and an amazing cancer survivor.)

I was sad, though, when I read in his first book, It’s Not about the Bike, that he doesn’t believe in God, but rather only in himself and in his ability to be “essentially a good person.” He gives God absolutely zero credit for his recovery from cancer or his athletic accomplishments.

Personally, I think God supplies supernatural strength to us many times when we don’t even realize it and that the reason our bodies have an amazing ability to heal is because He created us that way!

So while I agree with Lance that cancer patients and their caregivers need to live strong, I like even better the admonition adopted by my friends Barry and Barbara when she was facing pancreatic cancer: “By His Strength.

Barb’s younger brother Tommy even bought silver bracelets for all the family members with the letters “BHS” engraved on the front. The bracelets were partly a Christian response to the “Live Strong” bracelets. But mostly they were a reminder that this family intended to live strong by God’s strength—even if they always didn’t have the fortitude within themselves. The initials BHS always reminded Barb’s family of their heavenly Father and of their earthly family: Barbara Hall Streeter and Barry Howard Streeter.

Perhaps you feel 100-percent confident in your own abilities to face and conquer cancer, but there must be a little room for concern or you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog.

Isn’t it good to know that you don’t always have to have it completely together, you don’t always have to just tough it out and you don’t always have to conjure up your own courage? Instead, at those times when you feel inadequate—or even hopeless—you can live By His Strength.

I love how The Message paraphrase Bible describes Abraham’s response when God told him He was going to make him the “father of many nations” even though Abraham and his wife Sarah were way past childbearing ages:

\When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do,
but on what God said he would do. Romans 4:17

Don’t be discouraged by whatever you—or doctors or medicine—can’t do, but live on the basis of what God says He will do.

But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God. Psalm 146:5

http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=FFFFEMNU

Lord, I do want to live strong and I want to do it by Your strength. I’m so grateful that You have what I need to get through each day. In Jesus Name, I pray, Amen.

Jul 20

Really Ticked Off

 

If you had asked me after my diagnosis whether I was angry about my situation–stage 3 cancer at age 36 with three young daughters and a husband who already had buried his first wife--I would have responded that I was not. After all, it’s not really proper for a Baptist minister’s wife to get angry, is it?

Well, let me share a couple of the things I thought and felt those first few days after my diagnosis and you tell me what you think my state of mind might have been.

When I was in the hospital after my cancer surgery, a friend came into my room and told me God was going to teach me great things through this trial. I wanted to take the IV out of my arm, stab it in hers, and tell her, “You get in the bed and learn great things from God, because I ­don’t want to learn this way.”

Of course, I didn’t actually say that to her. Instead I just smiled and hoped she would leave very soon.

A couple of days later I was waiting for the pathology report to see if my cancer had been caught early and cured, or whether it was advanced and I would need chemotherapy and perhaps radiation. Lying in that bed, I had lots of time to talk with God.

“You are making a ­really big mistake here,” I fumed. “There’s absolutely nothing You can ever do to make up for this because it is too awful. And ­don’t think You are going to pull me through this somehow and ­I’m going to go and minister to cancer patients, because I won’t do it!”

Perhaps a wee bit of anger there?

When I look back on those early days after my diagnosis, I am incredulous at some of the things I thought and felt. But I was in such a state of shock and disbelief myself that I really was struggling to cope. At one point I was so distraught, that I told my husband “I guess God really doesn’t love me.”

I don’t remember saying it and find it hard to believe I was actually that despondent, but I know my husband isn’t making things up.

So as I look back on those dark days after diagnosis, I realize I experienced a bevy of emotions: shock, disbelief, denial, disappointment, frustration, sadness, worry and yes, anger.

I didn’t have anyone at the time who I felt comfortable “burdening” with my anger, so I just kept taking it to God. The Bible says He can read our minds (Psalm 139:1-4) so I figured I might as well just say all the awful things I was thinking and feeling because He knew them anyway.

Maybe you’re not as angry as I was; perhaps you’re only just a little ticked. Then again, maybe “rage” better describes what you’re feeling today.

Where can you go to dump it?

I suggest you run where all of us with great suffering need to run: to the only One whose shoulders are broad enough, whose arms are strong enough and whose love is deep enough.

“It’s all right—questions, pain, and stabbing anger can be poured out to the Infinite One and He will not be damaged…
For we beat on His chest from within the circle of His arms,” writes Anne Cetas, an author for the daily devotional, Our Daily Bread.

Can you visualize that for yourself? You crying out to God, beating your clenched fists upon His chest and Him holding you in His loving arms.

            I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me. Psalm 69:3

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God,
but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief. Psalm 22:1-2

And then after you’ve hurled your questions heavenward, don’t forget to go to God’s Word to find His response. A good place to start might be the promise He gave to Jeremiah, who was filled with so much grief he has been called “the weeping prophet:”

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt…”
God speaking in Jeremiah 31:3, 4 NIV

 

I believe God is the best place to turn to with your suffering. He’ll either give you the answers you seek or the peace you need to live with the questions.

My reporter-friend Cubby fought against a range of emotions accompanied by many tears when she battled breast cancer. But she says she always found hope “when I could visualize Jesus sitting next to me or holding me safely nestled in His lap.”

It was in those moments that the peace came to live with the unanswered questions.

Perhaps you would like to pray today with the Psalmist: O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety for you are my safe refuge. Amen. (Psalm 61:1-3)

Jul 13

When you do everything right and it still goes all wrong…

 

 

Monday morning started out great–in fact it started out perfect. My husband was fly-fishing for the day, so I wouldn’t feel as if I was ignoring him when I spent the day concentrating on my lengthy to-do list. I had plenty to get accomplished, but I wanted to make sure I started the day right.

So I headed to our flower-laden deck for a delicious breakfast of Greek yogurt, fresh berries and sliced almonds. I lingered over my cup of English breakfast tea as I read, not one, but two devotionals! As I enjoyed the colorful songbirds convening at the feeders, I prayed for each member of my family, for friends facing cancer and for others who need to know the love of Jesus. I thought to myself: It doesn’t get much better than this.

But the morning was not over.

I readied myself for a day of running shopping errands, foregoing fashion in favor of my most-reliable sandals.  As I dressed, I smiled when my shorts were too loose instead of too tight as they had been last summer. (Whenever the right size clothes fit on a six-decade-old-body, it’s a good day, right?)

I gathered all my shopping needs: reusable bags, shopping list, coupons, insulated cooler bag with a freezer pack, light sweatshirt for cold stores, circulars with store specials, and a grocery bag full of plastic bags to be recycled at Giant because our curbside recycling company doesn’t accept them. I had a plan for the most efficient way to make my four stops, so I headed into the car. I popped in an old CD and began singing along with the familiar praise songs. At one point,  tears filled my eyes as I sang about the Savior I love so much. It felt well with my soul.

It was a good morning…but it wasn’t over yet.

I parked at the Aldi grocery store and offered a woman the customary quarter for the shopping cart she was returning (FYI–you have to “rent” an Aldi cart until you return it). But the woman insisted I take her cart for free. I quickly found everything on my list. I gathered some really good bargains. The usually crowded store had no line at the checkout.  The clerk was especially friendly. A feeling of gratefulness for so many “small” things filled my heart and I whispered a prayer of gratitude to God, the giver of all good gifts.

It was a great morning…but it wasn’t over yet.

I took my groceries to my car, carefully loading the perishables into the insulated cooler. As I was getting everything settled, the plastic bag stuffed with other plastic bags blew out of my hatchback. I quickly turned to grab the flyaway bags, but another gust of wind whipped them out of my reach. Now all five bags were loose and blowing across the parking lot. I certainly didn’t want to be a litterbug, so I hurried toward them, lunging at the billowing blobs. But they escaped again. I ran to catch up with them.

That is until one of the straps on my most-reliable sandals broke. causing my ankle to turn awkwardly and me to stumble to the pavement. I hit my knee, wrenched my shoulder (which has only recently healed from a serious injury last year) and felt my low back spasm with pain. Oh, but I caught those five errant bags.

I headed back to my car and finished loading the groceries when I realized my not-nearly-completed shopping list  was no longer where I had put it as the chase began. Did I mention that on one side was my list for the other three stores and on the back was my to-do list for the entire week?

I searched everything in the back of the car without success. I began looking around the lot, crouching to peer under neighboring cars. Not easy to do with a broken sandal and shooting pains. I checked out every piece of trash which looked like white paper–and there was plenty of it–but my list was not to be seen. I finally gave up, eased my throbbing shoulder and aching back into the driver’s seat, and tried to recall all those now-missing, wonderful plans.

I did everything right and it still turned out all wrong.

Ever have a day like this? Or a week? Or maybe even what feels like a lifetime of things going wrong? Those of us who are planners get especially frustrated when life goes awry despite our organizing skills. I’m almost 63 years old and I still have the illusion that I can control life with proper planning.

But I can’t…and neither can you. Stuff happens. The wind blows at the wrong time. Old reliable lets you down without warning. You lose things you can’t get back.

And cancer comes–at the wrong time, without warning and it takes precious things away.

My Monday morning, although frustrating, disappointing and downright painful, was nothing compared to the real trials of life. I know that.  But the “small” things, as well as the “big” ones can steal our joy and destroy our peace. When I returned home a few hours later that day, my heart did not feel as light as it did when I left, my mind was not nearly as eternally focused and I had long stopped singing along to my CD.

Until I pulled into the driveway and heard Kim Hill’s voice:

Thank you, Lord, for that wonderful reminder that in You alone my heart has found a resting place. May I always find my security in You. Only in you Alone.

 

P.S. If you see any plastic garbage bags littering parking lots, they might be mine. I have sworn off ever chasing another one!

 

Jul 06

The Fear Factor

 

 

Sometimes things move very quickly once you get a cancer diagnosis. I guess that’s good because you don’t have much time to think about it, but it also makes life feel a little like a surreal out-of-body experience: Can that really be me everyone is talking about?

My cancer was discovered on a Tuesday and in less than a week I saw the surgeon, had blood taken, got a chest X-ray, “cleaned out” my colon (again!) and had the tumor removed.

Three days later, at 7 a.m., the surgeon and his resident delivered the pathology report as I lay alone in my room. I could tell from their body language that the news ­wasn’t good. They stood against the wall at the end of my hospital bed, as far away from me as they could get and still be in the same room.

“Cancer was found in five of twenty lymph nodes,” the surgeon explained matter-of-factly. “You will need chemotherapy and radiation.”

I cried, but no one moved to comfort me.

“Have you ­ever known anyone who ­under­went chemotherapy?” he asked, seeming to grasp for words to continue the conversation.

I nodded, recalling the two people I had known most recently—both of whom had died! I started hyperventilating.

Still, neither doctor moved toward me, but instead the surgeon called a nurse to help me breathe into a paper bag. How I wished the doctor had at least held my hand for a moment or just patted my shoulder and told me that this was not an automatic death sentence.

“Do you want me to call your husband?” the doctor asked, still at the foot of my bed. I nodded between sobbing gasps into my little brown bag.

Now I was ­really frightened. I desperately needed Ralph. But, for whatever reason, the surgeon did not call him. So for three hours I lay in the room thinking about what it was going to be like to have chemotherapy pour through my veins. I had a little conversation with myself as I tried to control my weeping.

Get a grip on yourself, my head told my heart. What are you so afraid of? Nausea and vomiting? You were sick night and day for six months with all three of your pregnancies. Mouth sores? You’ve had them before. Needles? You’re not afraid of them. Losing your hair? It’ll grow

back. Don’t be so vain, my head stated matter-of-factly. But my heart ­didn’t buy it. I just cried harder as I stroked the waist-length hair that I desperately wanted to keep.

Yes, that’s what ­I’m afraid of, I admitted. I ­don’t want to look sick for my children and my husband. I ­can’t imagine watching my hair fall out. I disliked the vanity of my feelings, but it was how I felt.

I finally called Ralph at 10 A.M. I was shaking so badly my voice was barely audible, and he kept asking me to repeat ­every­thing.

“It’s bad,” I told him. “I need you right away.”

I ­couldn’t even get my lips to form the word chemotherapy. The fear of facing that, for me, was worse than the initial shock of cancer.

Ralph arrived shortly. At about noon the surgeon strolled in and said he had just tried to call my husband but there was no answer. “By the way,” he added, “did I mention that you won’t lose your hair with the chemo?”

I ­didn’t know whether to smack him or hug him.

 

My surgeon obviously did a good job operating on me as I’m still alive and well, but his bedside manner wouldn’t have earned such a high grade. It was impersonal and not to call my husband for almost five hours was rather unprofessional. I don’t think I should have gotten that bad news all by myself or been left alone for all that time afterward.

But…God used that doctor’s “mistake” to draw me closer to Himself and help me to face my deepest fears. As I named my fears, they did not disappear, but they lost some of their power over me and I began to find the courage to face them.

 

It definitely takes courage to face cancer, but courage is not living without fear—it’s living in spite of fear.

 

I love the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s thoughts on the subject: “The absence of fear is not courage; the absence of fear is some kind of brain damage. Courage is the capacity to go on in spite of the fear, or in spite of the pain.”[1]

God will give you the courage you need to face your fears and to live with the uncertainties cancer brings.

 

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. Jesus speaking in John 16:33 NASB

 

I hope Psalm 27:1, 3 can be your prayer today: The LORD is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid?…Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident. Amen (Copyright 2012 by Lynn Eib, 50 Days of Hope)

[1] M. Scott Peck, Further Along the Road Less Traveled (New York: Touchstone, 1993), pg. 23.