Sep 28

Flying by the Seat of Your Pants?

 

 

I’ve read that an eagle, like many other animals, can sense a storm before it arrives. So the eagle flies to a high spot and waits for the inevitable winds. When the storm hits, the eagle sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm. While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it. The eagle does not escape the storm but simply uses the storm to lift it higher. It rises on the winds that bring the storm.

God has allowed a storm in your life, and He will give you His strength to rise above it until He ultimately calms it.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. Isaiah 40:31

If you feel that soaring above the storm is hard work, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright scary, you are right! That’s why I use the analogy of a storm—we might not mind one from a distance, but it’s not exactly pleasurable when we’re smack-dab in the middle of a big one.

In fact, flying in a storm is extremely dangerous. My cousin Jim knows this from his half-dozen years of soaring into hurricanes and typhoons as part of a U.S. Air Force weather reconnaissance team. It was his team’s job to gather weather data so forecasters could better predict a storm’s strength.

As they work, it’s critical that team members trust the “artificial horizon”— a line on the plane’s instrument panel that always corresponds to the earth’s horizon, no matter in which direction the plane is flying.

“When you’re in the clouds and in storms and you can’t see the horizon—the earth the ground, good old terra firma—you have to rely on the artificial horizon,” Jim explains. “You have to trust that it is representing the horizon. You have to trust that it represents something you can’t see.”

Because of the extreme variability of the weather, there are two government ratings for pilots: one group is cleared to fly only when there’s good visibility—following Visual Flight Rules—and the other is cleared to fly even in poor visibility because they can keep a plane controlled solely on the data from their instruments—by Instrument Flight Rules. If you recall after John Kennedy Jr.’s fatal plane crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said the young pilot—who only was rated to fly with Visual Flight Rules—had become disoriented in the night sky and lost control of the plane.[1] Experienced pilots are taught to rely on their instrument panel—no matter how they feel—because they can become so disoriented in clouds or during a storm they may actually think they are flying up when they really are heading down.

In the early days of aviation when aircraft had few navigational aids, a successful flight was accomplished mainly by the pilot’s judgment and instincts; that is “flying by the seat of your pants.”

“All you could do was fly by your sensations,” Jim explains. “If you were coming out of your seat, you must be upside down. If you were pressed down into your seat, you must be flying higher.

“The problem is that [our perceptions are] not always accurate. You can feel like you’re flying normal and perfectly fine, but it’s just that the airplane is falling at just the right speed that feels normal. You have to look at your instruments and believe them.”

Flying by the seat of your pants through your storm isn’t a good idea either. Feelings can be overpowering and paralyzing. You may become so disoriented you don’t know whether you’re headed up or down.

That’s why you need to decide every day to trust the magnetic poles of the earth—in other words, to recognize that God’s Word is the compass on your instrument panel in the storms of life. It is truth, which, just like the pilot’s artificial horizon line, always will point you in the right direction.

When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation. Proverbs 10:25

Put your hope in the Lord. Travel steadily along his path. Psalm 37:34

I love author Max Lucado’s perspective[1]: “Faith is trusting what the eye can’t see…Eyes see storms. Faith sees Noah’s rainbow.”

Dear Lord, It’s hard not to focus on the storm around me. Please help me to trust that the promises in Your Word are more reliable than my feelings. Give me the strength to rise above this storm and even the faith to see a rainbow. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

[1] “NTSB: Pilot Disorientation Led to Fatal JFK Jr. Crash,” CNN.com, July 6, 2000, http://archives.cnn.com/2000/US/07/06/jfk.crash.report.02/index.html.

[2] When God Whispers Your Name, pg. 214, Max Lucado, Thomas Nelson, 2009.

Sep 21

What’s Feeding Your Mind?

 

 

So tell me the truth, when you read the obituaries, do you scan down to the bottom to see if memorial contributions are to be made to the American Cancer Society?

I know I did after my diagnosis. Every night I’d look in the paper to see if someone I had treatment with had died or how many people listed that day had died from cancer. It was a depressing ritual, but one I found hard to break. I guess it was part of those early days when I let cancer consume my thoughts.

It also seemed to me as if the word “cancer” came up daily in conversations or in the celebrity news headlines. If there was all that cancer out there before, I had never noticed it! I guess it’s like what happens when you get a new car and all of a sudden you notice lots of people with the same make and color vehicle.

And thank goodness I had cancer “in the olden days” as I like to call them when I didn’t have Internet access in my home or at my fingertips on a mobile device. I’m pretty sure that vast amount of Web information would have made me feel even more overwhelmed. (I just Googled the term “colon cancer” and up came 28 MILLION sites!) Often when a newly diagnosed patient came into my office for the first time, the patient’s spouse practically begged me to tell the patient to “stop reading everything on the Internet.”

Don’t misunderstand, I’m thrilled at all the information—and encouragement—that is available on the Web, but a good question to ask yourself after your on-line time is: Do I feel better or worse after what I’ve just read? If information makes you feel better equipped to fight the cancer battle, than search away. But if information makes you feel overwhelmed or depressed or fearful, please don’t keep putting such stuff into your head. (Much of it isn’t accurate anyway!)

Instead I would encourage you to fill your mind with the truth that the God who began creation by simply speaking words is a lot more powerful than any possible misguided cells within our bodies and a lot more trustworthy than any statistics in a medical journal.

So stop feeding your mind with a voice of fear and instead allow a strengthening fear to fill your being. I’m talking about the fear of the Lord.

It’s not a “fall down and shake because you’re afraid of getting zapped” kind of fear, but a Wow! kind of fear. It’s the kind where you are just in awe and amazement and wonder and reverence about God because of what He has done and still can do.

It’s this “fear” that I and so many other cancer survivors have discovered reduces all the other fears.

I love how Psalm 112 describes us “fear-filled” kind of people:

Happy are those who fear the Lord.
Yes, happy are those who delight in doing what he commands. . . .
When darkness overtakes the godly, light will come bursting in.
They are generous, compassionate, and righteous. . . .
They do not fear bad news;
they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.
They are confident and fearless
and can face foes triumphantly. Psalm 112:1,4,7-8 NLT-1

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah explained how he, too, learned to have the right kind of fear after God warned him that his country was going to be invaded.

The Lord has said to me in the strongest terms: “Do not think like everyone else does. Do not be afraid that some plan conceived behind closed doors will be the end of you. Do not fear anything except the Lord Almighty. He alone is the Holy One. If you fear him, you need fear nothing else. He will keep you safe.” Isaiah 8:11-14 NLT-1

I don’t know about you, but that’s one voice of fear I always want to hear.

Heavenly Father, Please help me not to feed my mind with fearful things, but instead to confidently trust that You will care for me and my loved ones. Strengthen me not to fear bad news and empower me with fearless confidence to triumphantly face this foe, cancer. Amen.

Sep 14

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

 

 

If you had asked my friend Carollynn what gave her hope throughout her cancer journey, she would have smiled and quickly answered: feathers.

She loved Emily Dickinson’s poem “The Thing with Feathers” which begins:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all

And when she was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1995 at the age of forty-six, Carollynn stumbled upon a verse in the Bible that became her favorite:

He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Psalm 91:4 NLT

Even though medical doctors and treatments at that time gave her no hope of surviving more than a few months, this verse gave Carollynn incredible hope. It also started a real fascination with “feathers” and the number 914.

“Whenever I see a feather it reminds me of God’s protection for me,” she told me shortly after moving to the area and joining my support group. “And I like to look for the number 914 on signs to remind me of God’s constant care for me.”

I had to chuckle when eight years after her initial diagnosis Carollynn’s first grandchild was born on her birthday weighing 9 pounds, 14 ounces! When Carollynn passed away just a few months later at 4:19 p.m., her husband, Ed, said he had to smile at what he felt was a last gift from Carollynn to remind him of her special verse.

“One final example of her fabulous humor,” he wrote in an email to friends and family. 

Some of Carollynn’s amazing life under God’s wings was told in a children’s book called Sea Feather, named after the first of many wild ponies she purchased on Chincoteague Island and donated to deserving children. More of her “feather-filled” life was shared in a video that aired on the television network Animal Planet in November 2003, just a month after her passing. (The nonprofit Feather Fund has been established to continue her work of donating wild ponies to children.)[i] When I see feathers today, they remind me of my beautiful friend Carollynn, but they also remind me of my God whose “wings” protect us even in the face of cancer.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 17:8, NIV

Let me live forever in your sanctuary,
safe beneath the shelter of your wings! Psalm 61:4 NLT

Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:7-8, NIV

Of course God the Father, who is Spirit, doesn’t have real flesh and blood wings, but He is able to protect us by His awesome power.

Can you feel those “wings” over you—protecting you, shielding you, drawing you close? Have you trusted God enough to truly let Him cover you? He longs to do that for you.

How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. Jesus speaking in Matthew 23:37

Please let God love you today. Let him draw you close.

 My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” Psalm 27:8

Heavenly Father, Thank You that You love us so much. Thank You that Your loving arms are far bigger than any diagnosis or prognosis. Wrap my friend in that love today. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

[i] Read more about why feathers and Psalm 91:4 meant so much to Carollynn at http://www.featherfund.org/the_story.htm.

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

 

 

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!