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.

 

Oct 26

Does God Ever Give Us More than We Can Handle?

 

 

 

 

 

God ­doesn’t give you more than you can handle.

Does that ring a bell? I hear it a lot, especially from cancer patients or their family members who feeling overwhelmed. They usually say something like this: “Now, I know God ­doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but . . .”

Many people are ­under­ the misconception there is a Bible verse that states this fact.

There ­isn’t.

The closest thing I can find is 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says, No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under­ it.  (NIV)

I do believe that there is never a time we are tempted to sin when we simply have no choice but to give in. God always provides a way of escape so we can withstand temptation. The Bible also tells us that temptations do not ­ever come from God.

I also believe, however, that sometimes trials come into our life that are more than we can bear on our own, and cancer (or another serious illness) often is one of them. I consider myself a strong person, but at 36 facing cancer and the fact that my possibility of dying was greater than my possibility of surviving was more than I could face. Worrying about whether my daughters would have to grow up without a mother was way more than I could bear. And fearing that my husband would bury another wife was absolutely more than I could endure.

This is more than I can handle,” I remember telling God, trying not to sound too whiny.

“I know,” He answered. “But it’s not too much for Me.”

That was one of the most freeing things I learned through my cancer journey. It was all right that I sometimes had more than I could handle. That’s when I would see the Bible verse in Philippians 4:13 come true in my life: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (NKJV)

I ­didn’t have to reach down inside myself and muster up some super strength. God supernaturally supplied it to me as I trusted in Him.

What a relief!

Even if my own resources were exhausted, God’s would never be.

My strength might be sapped, but He could still move mountains.

Everything could be changing around me, but He was always my Rock.

During those first early dark-days-after-cancer, I often thought of the shepherd boy David as he went into battle against the giant Goliath. Do you know what his battle cry was? He ­wasn’t like The Little Engine That Could, chugging along and repeating, “I think I can, I think I can.”

No, I believe he was thinking, “I know I ­can’t, I know I ­can’t.” He was the youngest and smallest boy in his family. Goliath was more than nine feet tall. But David’s battle cry was, “I know God can, I know God can.” If you read 1 Samuel 17:47 you’ll hear his exact words: The battle is the Lord’s. That phrase appears many times throughout the Old Testament, and it was what I said to myself as I awoke on most post-diagnosis mornings.

“I feel like a little shepherd with a slingshot facing a giant named Cancer, and it is more than I can handle,” I told the Lord. “But I am so glad it is not more than You can handle. The battle belongs to You, Lord. Fight for me and through me. Do what I cannot do on my own.

And He did.

I love how the Apostle Paul describes a time in his life when he was faced with more than he could handle: We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely on God, who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9.

Sometimes you may get more than you can handle in your own strength. That’s okay. Whatever has happened to you has not taken God by surprise or caught Him off guard. He’s prepared for the battle and will equip you with whatever you need not to become a victim of whatever giant you face, but instead, to become a victor over it! Stop relying on yourself and learn to rely on God.

Thank you, Lord, than even when life gives me more than I can handle, it’s never too much for You. When I am weary or worried or overwhelmed, remind me that You have what I require to face each moment and You will supply all my needs as I trust in You. In the strong name of Jesus. Amen.

Oct 19

Transforming the Valley of Trouble into a Gateway of Hope

 

 

 

A while back I was reading in the book of Hosea about how God promised to “transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope” and I thought of my friend Lauren.

His cancer journey has been an incredible roller coaster with hopes dashed one minute and unexpected new hopes found the next.

I hope your journey or your loved one’s is a lot smoother, easier ride than Lauren’s, but just in case you hit a bunch of bends in the road, I thought you should know his hope-filled story.

It all started in December of 2006 when Lauren, then 54, was diagnosed with a rare mantle cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He began a course of chemo at nearby Hershey Medical Center, but never really got a good remission and restarted more treatment in July of 2008 when more tumors developed.

In November of that year, he walked his only daughter down the aisle (and unlike his wife, didn’t have to worry about how his hair looked that day!) A couple weeks later he headed back to Hershey for a stem cell transplant, because the chemo had not worked as well as hoped and he still had a lot of active disease.

Lauren received his stem cells from an anonymous donor because none of his family was a match for him. The transplant involved Lauren receiving an intravenous lethal dose of chemo and then being “rescued” from death with a transfusion of the donor’s healthy stem cells.

Lauren survived the transplant, but some of the cancer also survived and started growing. The doctors tried a couple of new chemos, which didn’t work and then some radiation, which also failed to stop the tumors growing on his arm.

Finally in October 2009, the Hershey doctor said there was one more hope: a donor lymphocyte infusion. (Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it—Lauren hadn’t either.) Basically, it involved putting some of the donor’s white blood cells (lymphocytes) into him to see if they could recognize and destroy the cancer cells.

  Lauren was the first to know the procedure was working.

“Within a week I could see the shrinkage in the tumors on my arm,” he recalls.

A second dose was given and the tumors disappeared. As I write, it’s six years later and Lauren has welcomed two grandchildren. He continues to get clean bills of health from Hershey.

When I asked him how he managed to hang on through such a tough ordeal. He says: “My faith and the faith of others was what got me through.

“Many times I was about to throw in the towel, but my wife kept telling me ‘Don’t give up!’ ”

Joan even gave him a quarter-sized medallion with the word “HOPE” emblazoned on it and told him to keep it in his pocket as a reminder that there still was hope for them.

That medallion is “still in there and it’s going to stay in there,” says Lauren, who eventually learned the name of his German donor and could finally write him a heartfelt thank you letter. Lauren included one of the HOPE coins “so I can give back to him what he gave to me.”

He says there were times that he had doubts, worries and fears, but found “when my faith was weak, the faith of others helped hold me up.

“The faith of other people, their prayers with me and the outpouring of support for me gave me hope.”

A few years ago, Lauren and his wife traveled West and stopped in Death Valley.

“I kept thinking about the verse (in Psalm 23:4) ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me’,” recalls Lauren. “I knew I had come through that valley and He was with me.”

As Lauren and I talked on the phone about this day’s writing, he told me he was sitting and looking at his favorite picture in his home. It’s a poster of a craggy mountaintop with this inscription underneath: “It’s not the greatness of my faith that moves mountains, but my faith in the greatness of God.”

Don’t worry, my friend, today if your faith is not that big. Just be sure to put it all in a very big God.

I will…transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. Hosea 2:15

Lord, I need You to walk with me through this dark valley. Help me not to give up, but to give in to You. I place my small faith in Your great power. Amen.

 

Oct 12

Five Ways to Strengthen Your Funny Bone

 

 

 

About a month before my cancer diagnosis in 1990 I was a reporter for a local paper and writing a story about the new cancer support group at the local hospital. I interviewed the local oncologist, Dr. Marc Hirsh for the story and visited his office. When I walked by the chemo room, I glanced in at all the patients in recliners hooked up to IVs. It was an incredibly scary picture to me. But what was even scarier was that the patients were laughing. I remember thinking: They must not know they had cancer. I went home that day and told my husband, “If I ever had cancer, I definitely would not be sitting there laughing.”

Four weeks later when I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer at the age of 36, I definitely was not laughing. When I went for my first chemo treatment to that same oncology office, I was so frightened. And I knew I would never laugh while hooked up to an I.V. getting toxic chemicals.

But that was before I met Marc’s head chemo nurse, Ruth, who was with him since he opened his office in 1989. I can’t recall what silly thing she uttered, but before I knew what had happened, she had me laughing too.

There was still nothing funny about having cancer or getting chemo or not knowing if I would see my daughters grow up or if my husband would bury another wife, but every time I laughed it felt so good and reminded me that I was still alive.

So I decided I needed to keep my sense of humor and started to look for funny things in spite of my serious predicament.

One of the first things my family found to joke about was the new chemo pill I took—Levamisole. It was a newly approved oral medicine, and I was the first patient at Marc’s office to take it. I soon learned that in reality it was a worming medicine designed to kill intestinal parasites in sheep and dogs.

Whenever I took a pill, I started barking and chasing my squealing daughters around the house. My husband mentioned to our friends that I had been wormed and he was thinking of getting me a rabies shot too. The pills were very expensive and my husband often suggested we call the vet to see if we could get them cheaper there. (A regular comedian, huh?)

My support groups always have had a reputation for a lot of laughing and every time we laughed together, it reminded us that we’re alive . . . and that always is worth celebrating. If you don’t have a funny oncology nurse or a laughing support group nearby (or a comedian husband!), Dave Dravecky’s Outreach of Hope offers five suggestions to “strengthen your funny bone”:

  1. Start your own comedy collection of jokes and cartoons. Do an Internet search for “clean jokes” and you’ll find some good laughs. Post them at your desk or on your fridge so you can remind yourself to laugh. (Do you know how to make Michigan cookies? Put them in a bowl and beat them for three hours!–OK maybe that’s only funny if you’re a Buckeye like me!)
  2. Get your groceries and get a chuckle by reading some of the tabloid headlines while standing in line. (I just read about aliens with anorexia and manure as a miracle cure for arthritis!) Of course, when I purchase these magazines they are business expenses because I share the stories in my laughter talk 🙂
  3. Hang out at the greeting-card racks and enjoy reading funny cards (wash your hands first and don’t eat an ice cream cone while you do this!). You can even buy a funny card to brighten someone’s day! (One day at work I received a card with an odd-looking old man on the front, which said: “I bet I can still float your boat…even if I don’t have both oars in the water!” It was from my wonderful husband to cheer me up.)
  4. Become a humorous people groupie by hanging out with funny people, like my dear friend “Grandma” Doris, a 79-year-old, three-time colorectal cancer survivor, who often livened up our meeting introductions by wearing goofy glasses or showing off her silly souvenirs. (Either you’re a funny friend or you need one!)
  5. Make the most of embarrassing moments. (Did I tell you about the time a pair of my underwear dropped out of my jeans’ pant leg onto the floor of a Christian bookstore while I was shopping there?……….Never mind.)

In his book The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren writes that our first purpose in life is to please God. Or as Warren puts it, “The smile of God is the goal of your life.”[i]

Cancer or any trial in life can and often take things away from us and from our families, but they needn’t take away our goal in life—to please God—to make Him smile.

No matter what you’ve gone through or what still lies ahead—whether you have no cancer, a little cancer or a lot of cancer; whether your trial disappears, grows more intense or perhaps never leaves—will you choose joy? Will you choose to please God and bring a smile to His face? It is your choice. You can choose to keep (or get) a sense of humor even in the shadow of the darkest trial.

I have a blessing for you from the book of Numbers as you try to find joy today:

May the Lord bless you

and protect you.

May the Lord smile on you

and be gracious to you.

May the Lord show you His favor

and give you His peace. (6:24-26)

[i] Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002), 202.

 

Oct 05

Guaranteed to Survive?

 

 

 

“To what do you attribute your survival?”

That was the question posed to me by a newly diagnosed cancer patient in the office when I was working as a patient advocate. He was just a little younger than me and undergoing chemo for “my” kind of cancer so we had a kind of special bond.

I thought about his question for a moment before I answered: “The grace of God.”

I’m guessing he might have been a little disappointed with my reply as he’d been researching all kinds of complementary treatments and nutritional advice for his cancer fight. I imagine he was hoping I had a vitamin regimen or a diet modification he could adopt.

I did tell him that throughout my treatment I drank green tea, but always wondered if the honey I put in it was canceling out the tea’s benefits. I told him about the supposedly cancer-fighting vitamins I took—at least one of which researchers now say may cause cancer rather than cure it. I told him how my husband and I grew all our own vegetables without any pesticides for years. I mentioned that I cut the sugar out of most things, left the skins on lots of things and I added wheat germ to just about everything. (Some crunchies on your cereal this morning, girls?)

Actually, I was a real health-nut before I got cancer. In fact I was pretty disappointed that all those donuts my husband ate and I passed up hadn’t seemed to help me keep cancer at bay. I think subconsciously I even believed that my healthy eating and exercise routine would guarantee that I wouldn’t be sick—after all, I hadn’t had a cold for four years before I got diagnosed with cancer!

So when people ask me what I did to get cured, I refuse to give credit to anything I did or didn’t do. I did what the doctors advised (well, most of it), but I felt so nauseous I ate whatever tasted good rather than what had the best nutritional value. A short walk was all the exercise I could muster because I was too weak and had too many problems with the allergic reaction to one of my drugs.

I honestly don’t know for sure why I’m still here. I feel uncomfortable suggesting that I did something right to survive cancer because that would mean that my dear friends who did not survive must have done something wrong.

That’s why I say it was the grace of God.

After my diagnosis I remember desperately wanting some guarantees. I wanted to hear that the chemo regimen I was getting had a money-back guarantee, not a 20-percent chance of working on me. I wanted to know for certain that it was going to be all right to refuse the radiation some doctors had recommended for me. I wanted to be assured that if I went through all this difficult treatment that the cancer would not come back despite a 60-percent probability it would.

I ­didn’t get any of these guarantees. And I can tell you that I’ve stopped looking for guarantees here on this earth.

Some of you are trusting in doctors or medical science or alternative therapies for a cure, but despite what you read, they ­don’t have guarantees.

About the only earthly guarantee I can give you is that all of us will experience difficulties, including the breakdown of our physical bodies. But I promise you—more importantly, Jesus the Messiah promises you—we can face these difficulties with unshakable assurance, remaining deeply at peace. Why? Because Jesus has overcome the world by overcoming the power of death in our lives. Jesus already has beaten cancer and every other illness that strikes us on this earth.

And His kind of peace isn’t just the absence of striving; it’s the presence of something much more. The Message Bible paraphrases it this way: I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world. John 16:33

Now that’s a guarantee I can live with!

Let’s pray today with King David in Psalm 20:7 NIV: Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Amen.

 

 

 

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.