Jan 04

How to Have a Close Encounter of the Divine Kind

 

 

 

 

I don’t know if this cancer diagnosis is the first one your family or friend has faced or simply the latest in a string of such bad health news. Lucky me…I was the first in our large extended family to find out my DNA had “slipped up” and allowed cancer to “slip in.” At the time, we had plenty of relatives with diabetes and heart problems, but always thought cancer wasn’t something lurking in our genes.

So, while some folks might suspect they may get a cancer diagnosis some day, I never did. Instead it seemed as if my cancer just came out of nowhere and struck when I least expected it. I hear many cancer patients say the same thing—some of them are even in their seventies and eighties, but have enjoyed such good health, they felt rather immune to cancer.

And then there are those whom I meet who already have had cancer knocking at their family’s door too many times—they’ve watched parents, spouses, grandparents or even their children wage cancer battles and now are discouraged that it’s their “turn.”

I think it’s hard to be the first in your family with cancer and it’s hard to be the latest one diagnosed. Either way this disease is a very unwelcome intruder.

I know that’s how my friend Guy felt when he was diagnosed in December 1993 with what his surgeon later would describe as “Stage D” prostate cancer (and yes, this story has a happy ending!). In 1991, Peg, Guy’s wife of thirty-four years, died from a rare, inoperable cancer, and his middle son, Mike, endured chemo and radiation for testicular cancer in 1992.

Now it was Guy’s turn.

“I ­didn’t get angry,” he recalls, “but I felt very empty and I said, ‘Why, Lord, why?’”

Even though Guy had a strong faith in God before his diagnosis, it ­wasn’t easy for him to face cancer without Peg at his side. But he was about to find out that this unwelcome intruder was no match for the Creator of the Universe.

A radical prostatectomy was scheduled for late January 1994 and Guy remembers the anxious moments before he went ­under­ the surgeon’s knife.

“Before I went into the O.R., they prepped me, and Mike’s minister was up to see me and he asked me if he could pray with me,” Guy says. “Then they took me out of the room and down the hall. Before we got to the [operating room] door, I said, ‘Stop!’” Guy recalls. “The guy pushing me said, ‘What’s wrong?’ but I just told him again to stop.

“I looked up and pointed up and I said, ‘Lord, You know me and I know You—do with me what You will,’” he remembers. “Once I said those words, I was so at peace and I said to the guy that was pushing me, ‘Let’s go!’

“I left [my cancer prognosis] up to God and I ­wasn’t afraid of anything. I had a peace that I can’t really describe.”

I would describe what happened that moment as a close encounter of the divine kind.

As Guy reached out to God, he said a simple prayer of surrender, giving the Master of the Universe permission to have His way in Guy’s life. He did what I believe we all need to do: agree to let God simply be God.

Let Him be the unfaltering, faithful God, willing to strengthen us for any and ­every­ circumstance.

Let Him be the incredibly sovereign God, wise enough to know how and when to answer any and ­every­ prayer.

Let Him be the mighty awesome God that He is, powerful enough to heal us at any and every­ level—powerful enough to heal my friend Guy, body, mind, and spirit.

Have you ever had a divine encounter with the Lord before? If you have, you’re probably already praying for another such special moment. But if you haven’t, you may be a little wary (maybe even a LOT wary!) Personally, I don’t think you have anything to lose—and a great deal to gain—by reaching out to God and saying a simple prayer surrendering your situation to Him. You could pray something like this: Dear God, You know me and I want to know You more. I surrender this situation to You and ask You to have Your way in my/my loved one’s life. I pray this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

P.S. If you want more of the happy ending to Guy’s story, you should know the surgery (which did not remove all the cancer) was followed by radiation and hormone treatments after which he was cancer-free until his death more than twenty years later. Up until that time, he sually could be found spreading cheer as he volunteered helping the “old folks” at a local nursing home!

(If the music video doesn’t appear below, please copy and paste this link to enjoy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgsqfjRslzA

Dec 28

When You’re Not Really FEELING Thankful…

 

 

 

 

When I was getting chemotherapy, my friends at church usually were excited that I was being treated by a physician who had strong spiritual faith and they often asked me, “How did this little town manage to get a ­Jewish oncologist who believes in Jesus and is so well-trained and respected in his field?” I used to reply jokingly that God sent him here just for me.

Now I know there was much more truth to that statement than I could have fathomed at the time.

A diagnosis of cancer, or any difficult trial normally brings with it many emotions. Thankfulness is not usually on the list. When I found out my cells had gone awry and allowed cancer to grow inside me, gratefulness was the last thing I felt.

But I kept thinking about the admonition in the Bible to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV). I knew enough to ­understand that did not mean I had to be some sort of masochist and praise God for ­every­ awful thing that happened to me. Instead, I believed it meant I could have a thankful heart no matter how depressing my circumstances were.

So a few weeks after my diagnosis in 1990, I began to look for something for which to be thankful. It was one of those conversations between my head and my heart.

Let’s see . . . I have cancer at the age of 36 after taking good care of myself physically. No, ­can’t think of anything worthy of thanks there.

My three little girls may have to grow up without a mother. Nope, that ­doesn’t work either.

My husband already has buried one wife and now has a 60-percent chance he’ll outlive another. Naw, that isn’t inspiring any words of praise.

­I’m going to have to take toxic chemotherapy, when I ­don’t even like to take an aspirin. Not much there to feel grateful about.

Finally, it came to me.

Dr.  Marc Hirsh! I have a Messianic ­Jewish oncologist—who knows, maybe the world’s ­only Messianic ­Jewish oncologist—practicing medicine just seven miles from my home. I humbly bowed my head and heart and for the first time since hearing the dreaded news “you have cancer” and I thanked God in the midst of my circumstance.

“Father, you know I ­don’t feel any thankfulness about my situation, but I want to thank You for leading Dr. Marc Hirsh here to be my doctor.”

I can ­only imagine God smiling and saying, “Now you’re getting it. Just wait to see how ­really thankful you’re going to be for him when you see how I am going to use this doctor to change your life.”

After that prayer, the rest is history, as they say. (If you want to read the incredible story of Marc’s spiritual journey to faith in Jesus as his Messiah, you’ll have to read my first book, When God & Cancer Meet.) But the short story of our “doctor-patient relationship” is that my family became close friends with Marc’s family and in 1996 he and his wife Elizabeth offered me a position in his office as a patient advocate providing emotional and spiritual care to cancer patients and their caregivers.

“Having a patient advocate makes so much sense that I wonder why we ­didn’t do it sooner,” he told me shortly after I started working with him, adding that he “­can’t imagine” practicing medicine without having someone in a position like mine.

I ­can’t imagine what my life would have been like without being a patient advocate for nearly 20 years. It’s incredible to me what one small prayer of thankfulness produced.

If you or your loved one have a cancer diagnosis or are facing some other unwanted difficulty, I’m wondering if you have found anything for which to be thankful in the midst of your circumstances. You probably ­don’t have a Messianic ­Jewish oncologist (if you do, I’d love to know!), but I believe there is something or someone for which you can say a prayer of thanks today. It may be just the prayer God wants to use to begin to bless your life.

I think the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk penned a wonderful example of thankfulness even when everything around him was going wrong:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
And though there are no grapes on the vines;
Even though the olive crop fails,
And the fields lie empty and barren;
Even though the flocks die in the fields,
And the cattle barns are empty,

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD!

I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! Habakkuk 3:17,18

Go ahead, be thankful in all things—even when the hair follicles have no “blossoms,” even though your strength “fails”” and even though your dreams “lie empty and barren.” Go ahead and rejoice in the Lord because a prayer of thanksgiving can unleash the power of God in our lives in truly amazing ways.

Lord, give me the strength to do as it says in Romans 12:12 “Rejoice in hope, be patient in affliction, be faithful in prayer.” Amen.

If the music video doesn’t appear below, copy and paste this link to play it : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lw9CcLGjouM

Dec 21

Be Sure to Celebrate Easter this Christmas!

 

 

 

 

Shortly after we moved last year we heard a guest preacher at our new church say that he and his wife had recently retired and moved to Pottstown to be near their grandchildren. I ran up to him after the service, introduced myself and asked if they wanted to join my husband and my new club: “Retired People Who Moved to Pottstown to be Near Their Grandchildren.”  He said yes and our fantastic club has been meeting regularly ever since! (Haven’t found any more eligible members, but will keep looking.)

At one of our December club meetings (the one after visiting Longwood Gardens for the Christmas lights), Lee gave us a Christmas present of a frameable copy of his original poem which wonderfully ties Christmas and Easter together. (Kind of trumped the homemade oatmeal I gave them.) I’m sharing it here with all of you as my Christmas gift to you. (If you were hoping for oatmeal, you’ll have to pick it up at my house.)

The birth of Jesus is really nothing special unless we fast-forward to the death of Jesus and see how He redeemed–saved–us from death when we become Christ-followers. 

“So the Word became human and made His home (encamped, tabernacled, pitched a human tent) among us.” John 1:14 (Italics mine)

ENCAMPMENT
                           by Dr. J. Lee Magness

So God stopped time for thirty-three years
And He pitched a tent of flesh
Which He unfolded one night
And enfolded the next

And that moment in which God tread time
Lasting from the darkness to the darkness
From the sunrise to the sunrise
Was called Jesus Christ

In great pain Mary labored over God
And suddenly in merciful agony
A man burst forth from the courtroom
Into the yard filled with a vicious mob

The mother knelt down
To wrap the baby in swaddling clothes
And they ripped them from his body
And kneeling down gambled them away

And because there was no room in the inn
She gently laid him
On the wooden beams of the cross
Where they nailed his reaching hands

And the animals heard the baby
And drew near hoping to be fed
And they bleated and bawled
Crucify him, crucify him

And the shepherds on the hillside
Came to see this thing
Which they thought would soon be past
And asked, Are you the King of the Jews?

And the wise men came to see Jesus
One brought spices, another perfumes
And a third removed his golden crown
And jammed its thorns into his brow

And in that dark Judean night
The new-born baby cried out
Wanting protection from the cold wind
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

And as the star stopped over the manger
There was darkness over the whole land
And just before the baby fell asleep
He softly cried, It is finished

And in that moment of ghastly glory
When Mary lay exhausted with an empty tomb
He said, I am the resurrection and the life
And in the next moment he redeemed the time

If the music video doesn’t appear in your email, please copy and paste this link to play it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_U2G8wsbXBo

Dec 14

Are You Good Enough to be Healed?

 

 

 

 

 

Illness helps you sort out who your real friends are. Often people you never realized cared for you step up and provide incredible support. And then there are those on whom you counted but they fail to come through for you.

My friend Kristie expected to get some words of healing and blessing when she went to talk to her priest shortly after a diagnosis of breast cancer sent her reeling just before her 40th birthday.

She didn’t get either.

“There was no comfort from him,” Kristie recalls more than 20 years later. “He told me ‘You deserved this. You’ve done something wrong, something bad and this is God’s way of showing you that.’ He was adamant about it. ”

Obviously, Kristie went looking for encouragement in other places after that conversation!

Sadly, I have talked to many people over the years who thought—or at least wondered if—their diagnosis was indeed a punishment from God. Usually there was something they did—or failed to do—and the thought the diagnosis might be God’s response to that wrongdoing.

While I have no doubt that illness can get our attention and even spur folks on to change their wayward ways, I don’t believe God is in the business of zapping people with serious illness to get them to shape up. If doing something wrong or “bad” led to cancer, everyone in the world would be needing to make an appointment with an oncologist!

Even in Jesus’ time people were tempted to equate sickness with sin. Jesus disciples once asked him: “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents?”

Jesus’ reply was clear: “It was not because of his sins or his parents sins…This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” (John 9:2,3)

I never thought my cancer was a “punishment” for any of my sins, but I must confess I often wondered if I was “good enough” to be physically healed by God. Oh, I never doubted He could heal me, I just ­wasn’t sure He would want to.

My doubts stemmed from an evil voice whispering in my ear: “Everyone prayed for Ralph’s first wife, and she still died. You ­don’t think you’re better than she was, do you? If she ­wasn’t good enough to be healed, you certainly ­aren’t.”

Thankfully, my dear friend Sheila Latta stopped by during this time and explained to me that my fight was a spiritual battle as well as a physical battle, and I needed to be reminded of Ephesians 6:16: “In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan.” Those “fiery arrows” often include depression, loneliness, fear, anxiety, and despair—all common emotions for people facing a life-threatening illness.

Sheila prayed with me (after she cleaned my toilets and changed my bedding!) and reminded me what I knew in my head but could not feel in my heart: God’s love is not based on whether we’re “good enough”—it is a gift, unconditional and with no strings attached.

Slowly but surely, I began to feel God’s love again and to ­under­stand that my prayer for healing would not be answered as a reward for good behavior.

So I remind you today, neither you or your loved one is facing a serious illness because you ­weren’t good enough. And you don’t need to do something ­special to earn or deserve healing from God. Don’t try to ­bargain with Him by being an especially good person, ­hoping He will reach down and heal. There’s nothing you can do to make God love you any more—or any less—than He already does. He proved that a long time ago:

This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 1 John 4:10

Author Max Lucado puts it this way:

“You wonder how long my love will last?
Find your answer on a splintered cross, on a craggy hill.
That’s me you see up there, your maker, your God, nail-stabbed and bleeding.
Covered in spit and sin-soaked.
That’s your sin I’m feeling.
That’s your death I’m dying.
That’s your resurrection I’m living.
That’s how much I love you.” [1]

So if you’re still searching for an answer to the “why” question regarding your or your loved one’s illness…it’s not about you. Maybe, just maybe, it has happened so that the power of God might be seen.

[1] In the Grip of Grace, Max Lucado, Thomas Nelson, 2009, pg. 180.

Don’t miss the song below by Shannon Wexelberg! I’ve pasted the words at the bottom.)

Right Where I Am
Words & music by Shannon J. Wexelberg
c. 2012 Shanny Banny Music / BMI / International Copyright Secured

I could tune my ear to a bitter song
Or choose hope’s melody
I could curse the ground that I’m standing on
Or pray for dancing feet
I could shout at Heaven when rain pours down
Pounding hard on me
Or I could cup my hands and drink of You
Whatever this life brings
You are good, You are good
Though I may not understand (I have come to trust Your hand)
You are good, You are good
I give thanks right where I am
I could count the cracks in my wounded soul
Or splash in healing oil
I could break down on this broken road
Or run through fields of joy
I could count the ways I wish my life
Had turned out differently
Or awaken to each gift of grace
This pain has helped me see (repeat chorus)
Today will never come again
These moments passing by
Packaged in my deepest ache
Are treasures in disguise
The sweetest gifts I’ve ever known
From Your tender hand
I could not have guessed they would have come
Come the way You planned

 

Dec 07

Missing Someone at Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

I thought it wouldn’t.

But it did.

It happened again this year.

Kenny G was belting out jazzy, holiday cheer. A burning candle wafted a delicious candy cane scent. I was home by myself happily decorating our house for Christmas. I  pulled a yellowed and torn rectangular box out of the large Rubbermaid storage bin and chuckled to myself. This box has to be nearly 60 years old.

Carefully wrapped inside was a slender, shiny tree topper that graced my parents’ Christmas trees for decades. It wasn’t the original which came in the now-yellowed box, but a replacement topper that my folks must have decided to store in there after the original one broke. ( I can just hear my Mom saying: Why throw away a perfectly good box?)

My Dad passed away in 2010 and my Mom in  2013, so afterward my only brother, my three girls and I divvied up their ornaments. I gave my brother the raggedy little cloth Santa figurine we both used to fight about hanging on the tree every year.  My poor Mother used to keep track of whose turn it was. I have no idea why we thought that was the best decoration–I stopped believing in Santa as a 2-year-old when I easily recognized one of my Mom’s brothers dressed up in the red and white suit handing me my gifts. After that my parents apparently didn’t even bother trying to fool my little brother.photo

But he and I  both remembered the tree topper–Dad always put it on because he was the only one who could reach the top of our freshly cut tree. My brother said I could have it–after all, I’d sacrificed the Santa.

So this year, for the second time since my last parent has been gone, I pulled out that shiny green ornament. I  didn’t put it on our tree, but instead lovingly placed it in an antique glass pitcher filled with a bunch of my parents’ old, brightly colored ornaments. I added a strand of beads which used to encircle their tree, stepped back and surveyed my decorating work.

Perfect. Classy. Very antique-looking and out of the reach of our six grandchildren under age six. And then it started. A lump in my throat. I swallowed hard, but it grew. I felt my eyes misting and then quickly hot, tears began to sting as I tried to hold them back. Within seconds I went from happily satisfied to sadly sobbing.

I miss my Mom and my Dad. I don’t want their ornaments…I want them! 

I sat down on the couch and wept. Big tears and loud sobs followed by necessary nose-blowing.

And that’s what grief does to us. It sneaks up on us when we’re not expecting it and it won’t let go until we’ve allowed it to have its say.

**********************************

Have you experienced grief sneaking up on you this season? A sound, a smell, a word, a photo–something– triggers a memory and you come undone.

There’s someone special you are missing this Christmas. 

Maybe it’s the first Dec. 25 that a certain smiling face won’t be in your home or maybe it’s the second or third year you can’t buy them a special gift. Or maybe it’s been 20  or 30 years, but you still yearn for just one more holiday with that loved one around your table.

I get it. I had my parents until they were in the 80s and I was in my  late 50s and somehow I thought it would be less painful to say good-bye. But my love for them wasn’t lessened because of their ages–it just kept growing. And actually now that they’re gone, it keeps growing even more as I realize anew all the things they did for me and I come to truly appreciate the gift of their love. I expect to keep grieving them for the rest of my life.

And if I am feeling such intense grief over my parents, I can only imagine the sorrow some of you face while missing a spouse this Christmas or the deepest, most unnatural pain of all experienced by those of you who have buried a son or daughter.

Or maybe the person or persons you’re missing haven’t passed away, but miles or circumstances are separating you this year. As hard as you try,  it just doesn’t seem right with them not here for the holidays. That’s grief you are feeling, too.

Maybe you can’t even get out the Christmas decorations this year. It’s just too painful. That’s OK.  My friend Connie whose husband Brad literally dropped dead of a heart attack at age 47 recalls that she didn’t feel like celebrating Christmas just three months after his passing.

“I felt horrible because I did not want to celebrate Jesus’ birth because of Brad’s death,” admitted Connie.

But a good friend gave her some insight which really helped her ease that holiday pain.

“Do you know what Jesus is doing this Christmas season?” the friend asked Connie.

Connie shook her head “no.”

“He’s weeping. He’s weeping with you.”

Connie said that mental image of Jesus shedding tears with her helped her to stop worrying about all the holiday celebrations. Instead, she prayed: “Just for today, I need to see Jesus. Just for today, I need to seek Jesus. Just for today, I need to serve Jesus.”

Are you missing someone this Christmas? Jesus–yes, the whole Reason for the season–is weeping with you. Go ahead: acknowledge and feel your grief. Remember that Jesus understands your sorrow (Isaiah 53:3) even if no one else on earth really does. And then join Connie in her prayer that today you will see Jesus, that today you will seek Jesus, and that today you will serve Jesus. It’s a prayer He longs to answer for you.

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” Psalm 34:18

I’ve included two music videos of the same song below because I really loved both very different renditions. The first is a beautiful harmony by Vocal Point, an all-male a capella ensemble and the second is an angelic sounding a capella boys’ choir called Libera.

(If the music videos don’t show below, please  copy and paste to listen at:


 

Nov 30

How Anyone Can Beat Cancer (or any other disease!)

 

 

 

 

 

My friends Sandy and Ron Good are a fabulous example of “beating” cancer. Sandy was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in June 2008 and Ron has been her biggest cheerleader (and laughter “therapist”) along the journey.

“Losing my hair was extremely difficult,” Sandy recalls. “I knew it would come out and I thought I was prepared, but nothing prepares a lady to stare at her bald head. But I decided to look at the positive: showering was soooo easy. I didn’t have to shampoo hair or shave my legs or under my arms.

“My husband said I was so fast in the shower that one day I would meet myself coming and going!”

Ron likes to explain that he was “Good” before he met Sandy, but she wasn’t “Good” until she married him.

I love Ron’s quirky sense of humor and I especially love the fact Sandy bakes wonderful goodies for our support group. (One day she emailed me to say she had a whole Bundt cake, four dozen cookies and a pan of brownies for the next day’s meeting!)

And what I love most of all about this really Good couple is how they have refused to give in to cancer and instead are beating it with supernatural strength from God.

Would you be surprised if I told you Sandy’s cancer is not considered medically curable and doctors have told her to expect it will take her life?

Perhaps you’re wondering how she could “beat” cancer if she still has it in her body. Beating cancer is definitely about fighting this unseen enemy in an attempt to be cured, and I would urge you to do that with ­every­ breath in your body. But I also would urge you to enlarge your view of what it means to beat cancer–or any other disease.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, many well-meaning friends told me, “You can beat this!” I know those words were supposed to encourage me, but they ­didn’t. Instead, I thought, Great! Now if I ­don’t live, it’s my fault I ­didn’t beat this because you said I could!

I felt such pressure to “do ­every­thing right” to make sure I beat cancer. I researched vitamins and herbs and natural healing techniques. I listened to tapes by alternative-medicine doctors promising cures for all. I read stories of miraculous physical recoveries. But nobody said beating cancer could be about more than just a physical cure.

For quite a while, I was “beating” cancer—there was no sign of it in my body—but it was beating me. It was controlling my mind, my attitude, and my relationship with God. It was the first thing I thought about each day and the last thing each night. It was hard to enjoy holidays and special moments because I wondered if they would be my last. My prayer time consisted of nothing other than self-centered pleas for my ­personal healing.

But God gradually began to enlarge my picture of beating cancer as He spoke to my heart: “Whether you live or die from this is up to Me, but how you live is up to you.”

The pressure was off. I would do my part to physically combat this disease, but I would not judge whether I beat it by whether or not I was cured.

I would beat it no matter what because I would refuse to let it conquer me and control my life.

And by the grace of God I did, and I continue to do so more than two decades later.

I believe the real victory Sandy has over cancer is that she has triumphed over it in her mind and her spirit. She lives as a person who has cancer, but cancer does not have her. She is held in the palm of God’s hand, not in the grip of a disease.

But beating cancer is not a one-moment or a one-day, once-and-for-all accomplishment.

Certainly, we beat cancer when we are declared in remission or cured. However, we also beat it moment by moment as we allow God, not cancer, to control our thoughts. We beat it hour by hour as we remember that God’s power within us is greater than the cancer. And we beat it day by day as we trust in God’s strength and not in cancer’s weakness.

The apostle Paul knew how to live in spite of his circumstances. He even wrote from chains in his jail cell, .Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and ­every­ circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. ­Philippians 4:11-13

Paul beat his circumstances.

Sandy beat cancer.

I beat cancer.

You can beat cancer.

Anyone can beat cancer–or any other disease–because being victorious is much more than just being physically cured.

(Don’t miss the song below by one of my favorite artists. I’ve copied the lyrics at the bottom.)

Different Kind of Miracle
words & music by Shannon J. Wexelberg
c2012 Shanny Banny Music / BMI / International copyright secured
These prayers I’ve prayed
Beating down the walls of Heaven
So full of faith
And full of hope believing
That in a matter of time
God would send an answer
But it’s not gone
The way I had in mind
When He hasn’t come through
The way I want Him to
! Could it be God is doing
! A different kind of miracle
! Could it be He is using
! All this in my life
! Could it be this prayer I’ve prayed
! Is not quite what He’s after
! And I will find He’s done a different kind
! Of miracle in my life
It’s hard to wait
Peering through a glass so dimly
Anticipating
What’s just around the bend
If I had my way
Every time I called to Heaven
Would I know Him
Like I know Him today
While I’ve waited so long
He’s been working all along
He hears each prayer I pray
I’m always on His mind
And though it seems like only wasted time

 

Nov 23

Unexpected Blessings from God

 

 

 

 

I was always amazed when the discussion at my support group meetings turned to the blessings that had come through the survivors’ cancer experiences. Somehow the words blessing and cancer in the same sentence just don’t make sense.

I’m a very logical, rational person and having colon cancer at the age of 36 made absolutely no sense to me. But as the years have gone by, I must admit that God has used this “senseless” experience to bring blessing in my life. If you are facing a trial today that makes no sense, I pray you will believe that somehow, some way God can use it to bring an unexpected blessing.

When I returned for my first checkup in May 1991 after six months of weekly chemo, I was the ­only person who ­wasn’t there for a treatment that day. I knew I should feel happy that I had finished treatment, but I ­didn’t. As I looked around that room of people in recliners hooked up to poles with saline-solution bags, I was overcome with sadness. Some of them looked so thin and ill, and others looked so tired and afraid. I began to weep. I wanted to take away their pain, but I couldn’t. I wanted to give them peace, but I ­couldn’t.

Then God spoke to my heart: “But you know the One who can, and you can tell them about Me.”

“But I just want to put all this behind me and go on with my life,” I argued. “Besides, I ­don’t want to hang around people with cancer. It will be depressing.”

Finally a few weeks later, like a pouting child, I gave in: “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it,” I told Him.

I started the Cancer Prayer Support Group in October 1991 with four people. My intent was to have a one-hour, once-a-month meeting. That ­shouldn’t be too depressing, I figured.

But almost immediately I could see that the people coming to the group needed more support than that. Not ­only that, but I found that I actually felt better after the meetings rather than worse. So we started meeting twice a month and have been doing so ­ever since. And guess what soon became a great source of joy in my life—the support group! As the months rolled by, I secretly began to pray that I would be able to quit my public relations job and volunteer with cancer patients.

In July 1995, on the fifth anniversary of my cancer surgery, I told our congregation how God had blessed me through my cancer experience—through my friends in the support group and through my oncologist, Dr. Marc Hirsh and his wife Elizabeth, who by then had become very close friends and prayer partners with my husband and me.

I concluded with this sentence: “Someday I hope I can quit my job and minister full-time, sharing God’s peace and love with cancer patients.”

I knew it was an unrealistic wish—there was no way financially that we could afford for me to quit my job and volunteer. But less than a year later, my prayer became a reality when Marc offered me a job in his office ministering to his patients’ emotional and spiritual needs.

Since May 1996 until my retirement last year, I was a patient advocate listening to patients’ hopes and fears and praying that God would heal them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I asked Him to bless each one, and I believed that He would. My position as a patient advocate led to the writing and publishing of several books (#6 comes out in the spring!) and a worldwide ministry to cancer patients and their caregivers.

In the year before that job offer, I had been meditating on Ephesians 3:20 which speaks of our God “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” There is no doubt in my mind that God has done far more in my life than I could ask or imagine, and I know that He can do that in your life too.

Do I think He’s going to give you a job as a patient advocate for your oncologist? Probably not. (Except for you, Karen Wineholt!)

Do I think He is able to do something equally amazing in your life? You bet I do.

I ­can’t tell you how, when, or where God will bring a blessing through your trial of suffering. But I can tell you why—because His Word promises He will.

Romans 8:28 says: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose..

God will bring blessing through your trial because you matter greatly to Him and He longs to show you that. He may bless you with physical healing, or He may bless you by healing you emotionally of some deep-seated hurts. He may bless you spiritually with the joy of knowing Him in a way you never have before. Or He may bless others through you in unimaginable ways.

My blessing from cancer is certainly not the one I sought, but because God knows me and loves me, He knew how to bless me.

He knows you. He loves you. He can bless you through your trial. . . if you let Him decide the blessing.

(Don’t miss the song below–it’s a beautiful one and I’ve included the words at the end of this blog.)

 

“Blessings”
Written by Liz Story • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

 

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things’Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

 

 

Nov 16

Are You Slamming the Door in God’s Face?

 

 

 

“Don’t deny the diagnosis; try to defy the verdict.” 

Over the years that phrase from author Norman Cousins became a sort of rallying cry for my cancer support group members who were facing especially difficult circumstances. These are the kind of folks who realize shock and disbelief—although understandable reactions to a diagnosis—can’t really do anything to change the situation. So they decide to take the bull by the horns and refuse to give in to any statistics on a piece of paper or doomsday predictions from a doctor’s lips.

So just in case you or your loved one has been given some not-so-great cure odds or perhaps even no odds for a cure, I encourage you to quit fighting against the diagnosis and instead try and fight the verdict. Even if you or your loved one has great survival odds or your trial is something other than cancer, I think you’ll be blessed by today’s story of a patient defying the odds.

My German-born friend Jutta (pronounced YOU-tuh) was diagnosed with Stage 3 pancreatic cancer at the age of 38. It’s an understatement to say that cancer of the pancreas is not a “good” kind of cancer and it’s especially scary when your children are only 6 and 10. But that was the situation in which Jutta found herself in July 2003.

She felt fine and hadn’t even considered that the jaundice she was experiencing might mean she was seriously ill. The day after exploratory surgery discovered a malignant pancreatic tumor already spread to the lymph nodes, Jutta’s surgeon came into her hospital room and told her: “You better get your act together. You have cancer and you’ve only got two years.

Jutta was shocked not only at the diagnosis, but at the less-than-compassionate way the news was delivered.

“It took me at least a month to get over that,” she says. Eventually she decided the doctor’s prediction was only that—a prediction—and she would not live believing it had to come true. Good thing—it is more than 13 years later and Jutta has never had a recurrence and remains cancer-free.

As she reflects on her cancer journey, she says, “You don’t stop living just because you hear the word cancer. That’s the worst thing you can do. Even if my cancer had been stage 4, I would have still set goals and gone for them. I believe that somebody who sets goals lives longer.”

Jutta says she still has a goal of being “an encouragement to other people.” (You can bet I tell every new pancreatic patient I know about her!)

When I was diagnosed I was told I had about a 40-percent chance of surviving. It seemed to me as if someone was going to flip a coin: heads I live, tails I die. It drove me crazy thinking about it.

And then an even better truth hit me: God ­wasn’t playing roulette with me

He ­didn’t have His fingers crossed.

He ­wasn’t going to wish me luck.

He ­wasn’t taking bets on my future.

He ­didn’t need good odds to heal me.

You need to know and believe that cancer–or any illness–is not an automatic death sentence. Doctors do their best at predicting cure rates and odds of survival, but these predictions are just educated guesses. I’m very glad that my oncologist does not regularly dole out predictions about how long patients have to live. He feels those predictions become self-fulfilling prophecies in many patients’ minds. I know zillions of people who have lived longer—some many times longer—than doctors or medical science predicted.

Predictions are just that. They do not have the last word. Please remember today that your and your loved one’s times are in God’s hands and He ­doesn’t need “good odds” to heal.

In the words of the late pastor/author Charles L. Allen:

 “When you say a situation or person is hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God.”[1]

Lord, Please help us all from slamming the door in Your face; from refusing to believe that you are the God of the unexpected, the improbable and even the impossible. Thank You that You don’t need good odds to do mighty works and that no statistic or white coat has the final word over our lives. Thank you that You have power over everything—over every errant cell in our bodies, over every discouraging word on our lips and over every hopeless thought in our minds. We open the door to You and the healing touch You want to bring to our lives. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

[1] All Things are Possible through Prayer, pg. 51, Charles L. Allen, Revell, 2003.

 

Nov 09

Are Your Feelings Founded on Facts?

 

 

 

 

So how are you feeling today? I’m putting this blog together two days before the election, but cognizant of the fact it will appear after the results are in—at least I hope they are in by Wednesday morning! Whatever those results show. I’m pretty sure about half of us are going to be experiencing some pretty negative feelings. (Perhaps even feeling a little nauseous—and it will have nothing to do with chemotherapy!)

Popular psychology tells us that feelings are “neither right nor wrong.” And I want to tell you that feelings do not necessarily mirror the facts.

I witnessed this firsthand a few years ago when my husband and I headed out with my boss, Dr. Marc Hirsh, and his wife, Elizabeth for our annual Labor Day weekend cruise on their thirty-two-foot Bayliner. The weather looked rather foul, but Elizabeth had checked with her brother who lives right on the Gunpowder River leading into the Chesapeake Bay, and he assured us the weather reports didn’t look that bad despite a hurricane that was heading northward up the coast. (We later learned he had accidentally listened to the wrong forecast.)

So we took off anyway, knowing that Marc and Elizabeth were seasoned boaters—although the whitecaps on the usually calm river should have been our first clue it wasn’t a good idea.

We had a short two-hour cruise ahead of us, but it wasn’t long before the white caps turned into three-foot waves. The wind whipped up, and then the thunder, lightning, and rain came. At first we all laughed and enjoyed the warm rain soaking us as the boat pounded through the waves. But then I stopped laughing and my stomach started rebelling. Elizabeth handed me a supply of Ziploc bags, which I started filling.

The waves were now five feet high and crashing clear over the top of the boat’s windshield, drenching us. It was nearly impossible for Marc to see out the rain-splattered windshield, and my husband and Elizabeth were trying to read the navigational charts and look for the numbered buoys, which would keep us in the correct channel away from large shipping vessels, shallow water, and crab pots. We were too far out to turn back toward home, yet not sure we could make it to our planned destination.

And then it got really bad.

Marc announced that according to the boat’s compass we were headed in exactly the wrong direction: south when we should have been heading north.

We all were sure we hadn’t turned around—Elizabeth was especially positive we still were pointing in the right direction. She was convinced she would have noticed if the boat had made an about-face. From past experience I knew she usually was right whenever the two of them had a boating disagreement.

The three of us looked at Marc, waiting to see what he would do. (Well, I didn’t look long because I was busy praying there were enough Ziploc bags.)

After a long pause, Marc posed his now-famous question: “Should I trust my wife . . . or the magnetic poles of the earth?”

It wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d gone with Elizabeth’s feelings because she was so adamant about them, but his scientific brain won out and Marc turned the boat 180 degrees.

Within a few moments, we sighted buoys, which confirmed that we, indeed, had been going in the wrong direction despite all of us “feeling” otherwise.

The storm raging around us had distorted reality and our feelings had fallen fickle.

The same thing can happen in the storms of life. We can feel as if we’re unable to cope or we have no hope. These are the times we need a compass—something that always will steer us in the right direction. Don’t worry; I’m not suggesting that I’ll be that compass.

The God of the universe has a special affinity for brokenhearted people, and His words are the perfect compass for people facing health struggles or life disappointments. A magnetic compass always will point you to the North Pole, and God’s Word always will point you to His unchanging truths and promises.

I weep with sorrow; encourage me by your word. Psalm 119:28

I can’t change the reality of the diagnosis you’re facing or election results. But I’d like to remind you that a deeper spiritual reality transcends our earthly reality.

The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:18

I hope you already think of the Bible as your guide to life, but if you’ve not seriously given God’s Word central importance in your life, perhaps you’ll give it a try now. You really have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I cry out for help and put my hope in your words. Psalm 119:147

Like Marc as he captained our boat that stormy trip, it’s your choice whether or not to trust the magnetic poles of the earth.

The grass does wither. Flowers do fade. Presidents do come and presidents do go. Cancer and disease do disrupt lives. But the word of our God stands forever. Open up a Bible and let God speak today the words your anxious heart needs to hear.

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. Psalm 130:5

We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, LORD, even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:20-22

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life. neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. Romans 8:38

Nov 02

Do You Need to Hear from God?

 

 

I hope you have someone who is praying with you during your cancer journey or whatever trial you’re facing—not just for you, but right with you so you can hear your needs lifted to Heaven. Even though I have been privileged to pray with cancer patients and their caregivers for the past 25+ years, I never cease to be amazed when I see God answer. It’s always especially exciting when patients tell me it’s the first time they really heard from God.

Maureen was one of those patients.

It’s easy to remember when I first met Maureen and her husband—it was the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

What a rotten day to have to start chemo, I thought as I talked with the couple in my office. Maureen was forced to reschedule this first treatment because the week before she had had to go to Nebraska where her mother took ill while visiting relatives.

As I explained my job of offering emotional and spiritual support, I could see that Maureen was especially anxious regarding all that lay ahead. She said that she and her husband had gone to church early that morning to pray. I thought perhaps their visit was prompted by the day’s special significance to our country, but she said they made the same visit most mornings before work.

But Maureen admitted that she didn’t feel she heard from God the way other people seemed to hear Him. Her husband concurred that the amazing things that happened to other people never seemed to happen to them.

I didn’t have any answer to their dilemma but asked if I might pray for them before Maureen’s first treatment began. They readily agreed, so we held hands and I prayed a prayer of blessing over them.

When I finished, Maureen had a shocked look on her face.

“I can’t believe what you just prayed!” she said.

Oh dear, have I made some theological mistake? I wondered.

“Why? What did I say?” I asked her.

“You prayed that I would have ‘strength, courage, and peace’,” she said. “Those are the three things I have been praying for, in that exact order, every day since I was diagnosed with cancer.”

“So much for not hearing from God!” I responded with a smile. “I don’t think there’s any doubt now that He heard your prayers!”

I was pretty excited at God’s amazingly fast answer to this couple’s desire to hear from Him, but He wasn’t done with them yet that day.

Maureen went to get her I.V. hooked up, and I went into an exam room to talk with a patient named Dee. She told me she wanted to loan my first book to her next-door neighbor’s daughter who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Dee added some details about how her neighbor had become ill while she was in Nebraska.

“Wait a minute,” I said, stopping her story. “What’s your neighbor’s daughter’s name?”
“Maureen,” she replied.

I quickly dashed into the chemo room and asked Maureen for permission to introduce her to her mother’s neighbor. Within moments introductions were made between the two women who had heard much about each other but never had met. The veteran patient, Dee, hugged the novice patient, Maureen, and assured her she had been praying for her.

“I am so excited,” Maureen kept saying. “Things like this never happen to me!”

And that’s how Maureen learned for sure that God really did hear her prayers and that His amazing power wasn’t just something that happened to other people.

I don’t know if you hear from God everyday or if feel you’ve never really heard from Him, but I promise you that He wants you to draw close and hear His voice.

Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of the rains in early spring. Hosea 6:3

You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our savior. You are the hope of everyone on earth, even those who sail on distant seas. Psalm 65:5

If you have someone who will pray with you, ask that person to help you hear from God. If you don’t, please allow me that privilege right now: Father God, My friend needs to hear Your voice today. Will You please some how, some way speak to my friend in a way that will show You do faithfully answer our prayers. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.