Looking For A Rainbow

A Faith-Walk with Salty Through the Stormy Clouds of Cancer

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1: STORM CLOUDS GATHER

1. No, This is Impossible

2. Seeking Some Perspective

3. Why I’m Writing to You

4. Coming to Terms with Mortality

5. My Birthday, Come and Gone

CHAPTER 2: BRACING FOR THE STORM

6. Givers and Takers

7. Why Me, Lord?

8. His Plan—Bigger than Me

9. Living in the Moment

10. God’s Forever Family

11. A Philosophy to Live or Die By

CHAPTER 3: THE THROES OF THE STORM

12. Eve Before Surgery

13. Is This What It’s Like to Die?

14. Wait, wait, wait… What?

15. Okay, So Let’s Fight this Thing!

16. A Trip to the FARMacy

CHAPTER 4: THE STORM INTENSIFIES

17. Pomp and Circumstance

18. Hospital Antics

19. The “Good Cancer” Bus?

20. Preparations for RAI

21. Feels Like Roulette

CHAPTER 5: IN THE EYE OF THE STORM

22. Going Froggy

23. I’m Radioactive, Radioactive

24. Sitting Here in Limbo

25. Team HOPE

26. Sharing the Love

CHAPTER 6: CALMER WATERS

27. I Think I’m a Survivor

28. The Comeback Trail

29. How Did You Know I’m Alone?

30. Have You Found Your Peace?

EPILOGUE:

31. The One Year Review

References

Copyright © 2018 Salty Sails – All Rights Reserved

All Rights Reserved

 

31.) The One Year Review

This morning, I woke up with Willie Nelson’s voice streaming through my mind, only he was singing:

musical notes“On the LID again, just can’t wait to get on the LID again; the life I love is complaining to my friends, and I can’t wait to get on the LID again!”

Okay, a lil goofy, I know.  But, hey, might as well have a lil fun with it! Do you remember me telling you about the “LID”—the most RADICAL DIET ever invented by man?  LID stands for “Low Iodine Diet” — and it’s a killer, what I’m talkin bout!!!  What makes it so radical is the fact that virtually everything we eat has iodine in it and, therefore, in order to starve your body of iodine, one must eat practically NOTHING—well, nothing that tastes good to humans, anyway.  People have to go on the LID before being administered radioactive iodine-131 for internal radiation therapy in their fight against certain kinds of cancers, such as thyroid cancer.  I had to endure the LID last year, when I went through the therapy, but I wasn’t expecting to have to go back on the LID again just for the WBS—whole body scan—my second, so far.

I don’t know what I was expecting, really.  Perhaps I thought the annual scans would be more like a regular MRI, or other internal scans, where they say, “Here, drink this and lay down!”—and then they immediately send you down the tube.  It just hadn’t registered that a follow-up WBS with I-131 would be pretty much the same as when I went through the initial radiation therapy and following scans a year ago.

It’s all a bit disconcerting because, in the back of my mind, I’ve already told myself, “Okay, been there, done that!  That’s all behind me now; I’ve beaten this cancer; moving on to greener pastures!”  I had pretty much pushed last year’s horror show—all the tests, the surgeries, the creepy diet, the radiation, the isolation—to the back of my mind.  Now, I’ve come up on the one year mark and, like a reoccurring nightmare, it all jumps back up to slap me in the face, like:  “What?  Oh, you thought you were through with all this, boy? Well, here’s a little REMINDER!!!  Muaahahahahaha…”

And it’s not that I didn’t know that these labs, tests, and scans were coming.  I knew they would have to check to see what has worked and what didn’t, and to what extent the initial radiation therapy did its job.  They need to continually monitor me, as they do most cancer patients, to make sure there is no reoccurrence or distant metastasis going on.  It’s like, “once a cancer patient, always a cancer patient!”  I just didn’t realize that it would all be so extensive and exhausting.  I was thinking, “Okay, I’ll get a couple of thyrogen injections, they’ll give me a lil ole tracer dose of I-131, after which I’ll do the ‘tube thing’ and be done with it — a three day affair, at most!”

Well, much to my surprise, not to mention my chagrin, the testing commenced this past week with an extensive ultrasound, followed by 10 days on the LID, three days of every kind of lab work imaginable, two days of thyrogen injections, three flights to Honolulu, and four days of radioactive isolation—yup, I gotta get all “glowy” again.  It’s turning out to be a three-week ordeal and a face-slapping reminder that life never unfolds quite the way I tend to imagine that it will!

But I think there is really only one way to successfully deal with cancer, or with any potentially life-threatening situation, and that is to approach it in just the way that our Lord Jesus said we should always be living our lives.  Remember, He said:

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  (Matthew 6:25-34, NASB)

Wow!  Jesus, how is it that You just keep getting all over my heart???  And so, I made up my mind early in this struggle, that I will do my best to surrender, to give it all up to Him, to put the whole matter in His hands, and just seek to live in the moment, be in the present, and take it one day at a time.  I decided from the get-go—well, after about three days of anger, fear, and worry, anyway—that, no matter how all this played out, I wasn’t going to play the victim and lollygag around while life passed me by.  Kinda like old Gus (Robert Duvall) said to Woodrow (Tommy Lee Jones) in McMurtry’s (1989) Lonesome Dove:  “It ain’t dying I’m talkin bout, it’s livin!”  Jesus wants us to LIVE!  He said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, NASB).

So, I choose not to worry about the next round of injections until I see the nurse coming at me with a needle.  I choose not to worry about the next series of tests or scans, and what they may reveal, unless and until I sit down with my endocrinologist and she gives me something to worry about.  I choose not to worry about how much longer I have to be on this creepy diet which consists pretty much of just drinking water and eating air—and even the water I drink and the air I’m allowed to breath is strictly controlled.  I’m just going to enjoy eating my raw oats today and let tomorrow take care of itself.  After all, how many hungry children around the world wished that they had a handful of raw oats to eat today?  And, who knows, I might even lose a pound or two—or “FIFTY”—before this round of testing is all over!

Anyway, I guess the point is we can always point to someone else who has it a lot worse than we do. My dad also happens to be fighting cancer now—diagnosed just a couple of months ago—and has a surgery coming up this next week; he’ll be going under the knife at the same time I’m getting “nuked!”  We can also always point to someone else who, we think, has it a lot better or worse than we do, but comparing our lot in life with that of others is a futile.  We really don’t know what’s going on with people on the inside.  Best that we just play the hand we’ve been dealt:

musical notes“You’ve got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, know when to run; You never count your money while you’re sittin at the table, there’ll be time enough for countin, when the dealin’s done!”  (Schlitz, 1978)

 And WE’RE ALL still “sittin at the table.” Dude! I am so into all this old country music today—must be the diet, you know, all this horse feed I’m eating!  Thank you, Lord, I’ve so much for which to be grateful.

 ______________________________

There are no words, really, to describe my gratitude to the people in my life—family and friends, old and new—who have encouraged me, strengthened me, prayed for me, and just helped brighten my day here and there over this past year or so, as I have been having to deal with cancer.  I feel like there have been times when, seemingly out of nowhere, another angel pops up to remind me of God’s love and providence.  I could list the names of all of you who are near and dear to my heart, but it would take all evening and my cloudy mind would surely leave someone out who is vital to my survival; so I won’t risk it!

I really don’t like sharing, too much, about my own struggles and hardships.  I was brought up to “cowboy up” and to not draw too much attention to my own injuries because, ultimately, it’s not about how badly you’re hurt, but about how quickly you can get up and get back in the saddle.  Still, I’ve come to deeply appreciate those compassionate people in my life who, without a lot of fanfare, have found simple, yet meaningful, ways to help me do just that—to get back in the saddle and to get on with pursuing the mission.

You know, even Jesus, as the cross drew nearer, needed a little consoling, a little strengthening, a little shoring up in order to see His mission through to its completion.  I was reading, earlier today, about that event in Jesus’ life that we refer to as the “transfiguration.”  Do you remember that?  The Bible says:

He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:28-31)

I’ve noted through the years that, when people remember or refer to this event in Jesus’ life, they always tend to focus on that fuzzy line between this material dimension and the spiritual realm beyond—and, I’ve got to admit, that’s pretty cool.  I mean, the fact that Jesus could step across that boundary, or that Moses and Elijah could step across that boundary, and meet together in that border zone between here and there and have conversation, well, that’s pretty remarkable.  It says a lot, to me, about life in the hereafter and how that, at least for Jesus, moving between dimensions was really no big deal.

But what people often seem to fail to recognize in this passage is the purpose for this little inter-dimensional pow-wow; and that’s what I like to zoom-in on.  Why did Jesus have this experience?  What was the purpose for it?  Had it been prearranged ahead of time?  Did He know beforehand that it was coming, that He had a date with Moses and Elijah?  Is that why He climbed to the top of Mount Hermon—9,232 feet—and took three faithful witnesses along with Him?  Was the experience more for Jesus, or for the apostles who were with Him, or for us who would one day read about it?  And what really WAS this little conference all about?  I’m so glad the Bible text tells us—we don’t have to guess—they “were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”  I love that!  I love that because it speaks to me of the need that we all have for a little encouragement along the way—even Jesus!  God didn’t leave His only begotten Son to face the trials and tribulations of this life, or the doubts, fears, and misgivings of facing a fast approaching cross that was drawing nearer every day, all by Himself.  Even Jesus, as He faced His destiny, didn’t have to go it alone!

A little later, at the very end of His ministry, with the cross now looming huge before Him, on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane; and do you remember who visited with Him?  It was another trans-dimensional experience.  The Bible says:

And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. (Luke 22:39-43, NASB)

When it came right down to it, Jesus did, indeed, have to bear the cross alone; and taste the bitter hell that we all deserve as He cried out to the Heavenly Father, “’Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matthew 27:46, NASB).  No angel could help bear that agony.  Even Moses and Elijah could but watch from a distance, as did all of Jesus’ earthly disciples.  But Jesus had been well prepared for the mission.  His elite training—if you will—had been of the highest caliber.  He had been groomed by love and shorn up by immortal faith.  He understood completely the price that had to be paid and the consequences if it was not.  And it was for this reason that, “for the joy set before Him” He “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2, NASB).

Sometimes, when we think we’re having to “go it alone,” really, we’re not.  Yes, there are moments that only we, all by ourselves, must endure.  Tomorrow, I will fly back to Honolulu and they will stick an IV in my arm, flood my heart with a radioactive tracer, put me on a treadmill and make me jog till I drop—they say, “no worry, we won’t let you die!” — yikes!  They’re doing this because it appears that all this cancer treatment has, perhaps, messed with my heart a little bit and they need to find out what’s going on.  I’m not looking forward to it, and none of you can get up there and ride that treadmill with me, I have to do it by myself, just like I did the surgeries, and the internal radiation therapy, and all the other junk that goes with fighting a major illness.

But, while I have to do it by myself, I know I’m never really alone.  I’ve been shorn up.  I’ve been encouraged.  I’ve been prayed for.  My peeps and, more importantly, my Lord have strengthened my weaknesses.  Their prayers and His love enfolds me.  And, I know, that regardless of the outcome, God’s got this!

 ______________________________

On a happier note, the conference with my endocrinologist this past Friday was exceptionally positive—best conference I’ve ever had with her to date.  Oh, have I ever mentioned that I have the most beautiful endocrinologist in the whole, wide world?  I didn’t know they even made doctors as beautiful as her—almost makes these inter-island flights to Honolulu worth the time and trouble.  Anyway, she just got a whole lot prettier in my eyes when she came right out and told me, with the biggest, brightest smile, that as far as she is concerned:  “You’re cured, for now!”

Wait!  Did she just use the word, “cured”?  I had to pause and catch my breath.  Of course, I kinda wish she had left off the “for now” part; but, hey, I’ll take it!  She said there is, currently, no sign or indication of the cancer anywhere in my body and that she doesn’t want to see me again for an entire year.  While I did feel the tiniest twinge of heartbreak that a creature so lovely had just told me that she didn’t “want” to see me again—did she have to put it in those exact words?—still, pretty as she is, that’s TOTALLY GOOD with me!

In closing this little chapter of my life, I want to go back to something Jeff Tomczek (2012) mentioned after battling leukemia for a year and hearing his doctors pronounce him cured. He said:

When you get to the other side you won’t believe it. They will tell you the disease is gone. Everyone you know will rejoice and return back to their lives. You’ll constantly wonder if it is coming back. Slowly this feeling will fade, but cancer will always be a part of you. It will define how you see the world moving forward.

I, too, am having a hard time actually believing my endocrinologist. Something deep inside tells me not to trust that word, “cured!” I’m afraid of letting down my guard, as if keeping up my guard could make any difference at all in what might happen in the future. But I know I’m being called to “walk by faith” (I Corinthians 5:7). And, ultimately, to walk by faith means heeding Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon on the Mount concerning how God provides for His children in this world. He said:  “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:32-34, NASB).

How do I find the words to thank all of you enough for praying to this end—that I might be healed.  I know God has heard and has answered your prayers on my behalf. I love HIM for it; and I love you.

Cowboy Goodbye 2

23.) I’m Radioactive, Radioactive!

It’s a strange world in which we’re living today.  When once humanity seemed bound by the common, everyday processes we see going on all around us, now it seems we are limited only by our imagination.  Traditional healing with herbs, and plants, and available local remedies has given way to a plethora of complicated chemical compositions and high-tech solutions to what ails us.  We’ve even mastered, or have begun to the master, we think, the atom and to manipulate the gene.  I think of young Miranda when, upon the thought of, perchance, leaving her desert island home and returning to civilization, cried, Oh, brave new world that has such people in’t (Shakespeare, Tempest, 5.1.181-184).  I also can’t help but think about the Tower of Babel, “and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6, NASB)—Yikes!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often wondered to myself “how far is too far?”  How far are we willing to go in the name of, and in behalf of, humanity’s health and healing—if it really is “healing?”  Are we actually heading for something like Huxley’s (1932) Brave New World, or will things begin to deteriorate into something more akin to Well’s (1896) Island of Doctor Moreau? Maybe both?

It seems as if, ever since man discovered the atom, he’s been imagining how to manipulate it—you know our propensity for trying to “control” absolutely everything—and all the cool stuff and he can do with it.  The first idea that popped into his head, of course, was how to make it go “boom” or, rather, “BOOM!”—shall we say, “BOOOOOOOOOM!!!”   But, as blowing stuff up with atoms gradually began to predict the potential for a rather bleak future for humanity, he soon began to wonder what else he could do with it.

“Darn, we have to stop destroying things with this stuff!  Soooooo what else can we do with it?”  “Anybody? Anybody?”

“Hummmmmmm… well, we could, I guess, see if, perhaps, we can use it for some good?”  “Perhaps it would be useful for some kind of healing?”

“Dooouuuggghhhhh!  Anybody else?”

But, eventually, nuclear medicine was born.  The good news—technically, we still get to destroy things; just on a much tinier scale.

So, early tomorrow morning, I’ll jump yet another plane bound for Honolulu, this time with only a “one-way ticket” – yikes! I’m being sent up to, what I’ve affectionately come to call, “The Big House”—Moanalua Medical Center—Kaiser Permanente’s central hospital facility for the State of Hawai’i; the same place I recently did a five-day stint.

A prison, I, I mean, hospital bus will pick me up at the airport for transport to the facility.  Once there, they’ll take me to a little white room called MOA NUC MED INJ ROOM 3 where I will be forced to drink a lethal dose of poison—well, not lethal to me, prayerfully, but to a lot of things inside me.

The radioactive isotope—iodine-131—is supposed to track down and obliterate any remaining thyroid cells or miscreant cancer cells within my body.  I’m imagining tiny, microscopic, atomic explosions going on all throughout my system as, cell-by-cell, the radioactive iodine is carelessly absorbed by the renegade troublemakers and then “BAMMM—got you!”  It’s kind of the medical community’s idea of a high-tech video game—“Grand Theft Auto”—at the cellular level.

I’m not sure just what all other kinds of unsuspecting cells will also end up being obliterated but, supposedly, we only use 3% of our brain cells to navigate through life anyway so, perhaps, I’ll be alright in that department.

After they strip me of all my clothing and belongings, and make me drink the deadly poison, I imagine men in HazMat suits escorting me, by way of a hidden passage with lead laden walls, down to the Big House dungeon, where they have really super-thick concrete walls; and, there, they will lock me away in solitary confinement—an old, dusty supply closet that the janitor cleaned out a few years back, I presume—for a period of three to five days.

They will do this for at least two reasons.  The main reason is because, ever since they took away my T3 hormone replacement and forced me into this goofy state of hypothyroidism, I’ve been getting grouchier every day and, I suppose, people are getting pretty fed up with me.  Furthermore, after ingesting the nuclear explosives, I’m REALLY not going to feel very well, and nobody wants to have to deal with that.  So, upon my wife’s request, no doubt,  “best to just lock him away and forget about him for a while!”

Oh, and the other reason is because, at the dosage they’re giving me, I’ll be considered a radioactive contaminate for several days; and people just seem to have this “thing” about being around others who are constantly bombarding them with waves of beta particles.  I know, hunh? Still so much prejudice in the world; go figure!

While in lock-up, not even the nurses will be allowed in my room.  I’ll have to take my own vitals every four hours and clean up my own vomit; as well as any other messes that I make.  I think the janitor will come by once or twice a day, if he happens to remember, with some kind of mashed up low-iodine organic compound baked into a kind of bread, along with a little water, and shove it through a slot in the lead-lined door.  If I want anything more than that, I suppose I can always scout for cockroaches, as they can apparently survive anything, even radioactivity.

I’ve been told that “everything” that goes into that room will become radioactive waste and will have to be bagged for HazMat and permanently disposed of. However the room will be nicely furnished in the new and stylish “Stark” motif. Everything, even the floor, will be lined with disposable plastic; the sheets, pillow cases, and bedding, as well as my hospital gowns, will all be made of disposable paper. Well, we can’t get more “contemporary” than that, now can we?!?

I have already been ordered to shower and scrub at least four times a day while in lockdown; and there will, no doubt, be some kind of hidden, Owellian (1949) camera to make sure that I follow those orders sufficiently. And, if I don’t properly follow all instructions to a “t”, I fear there will be some kind of a dystopian, Bradbury (1953), spider-looking, robot thing sent in to do the job for me. I’m pretty sure that a CIA Predator Drone probably circles high above the “Big House” should I, at any point, renege on any of this and try to make a break for it—for all I know, they’ve already got one watching me now!

After several days, if the nursing staff hasn’t forgotten where they stored me, I will be scanned with a magic wand for discernible levels of any remnant danger that I may pose to the general public.  If I pass the radioactivity test and, it has been emphasized, “if” I’ve cleaned up my act and display a fairly reasonable attitude toward others, they say they “might” let me out.

Only then will Kaiser Permanente secure a returning one-way ticket, put me back on the prison bus to the airport, and have me transported back home; probably inside a leaden case in the underbelly of a cargo transport.  That is, if my family is quite ready to have me back and gives their consent.  I’m under no illusions, though—I remember the little poem by Kessinger (1959):

“Indispensable Man”

Sometime when you’re feeling important;

Sometime when your ego’s in bloom

Sometime when you take it for granted

You’re the best qualified in the room,

Sometime when you feel that your going

Would leave an unfillable hole,

Just follow these simple instructions

And see how they humble your soul;

Take a bucket and fill it with water,

Put your hand in it up to the wrist,

Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining

Is a measure of how you will be missed.

You can splash all you wish when you enter,

You may stir up the water galore,

But stop and you’ll find that in no time

It looks quite the same as before.

The moral of this quaint example

Is do just the best that you can,

Be proud of yourself but remember,

There’s no indispensable man.

I don’t know why I’m so “freaked” about all of this.  It’s a very simple procedure, really.  Just drink the poison, get really sick, and then get a whole lot better.  Most people survive it just fine.  But, for some reason, I’m more nervous about this than I was either one of the two thyroid surgeries—both of which came at me pretty quickly.

It’s probably just the hypothyroidism, yeah?  Or, maybe I’m just in the same boat as Wyatt Earp when he said to Doc Holiday in the Cosmatos (1993) film, Tombstone, as he nervously contemplated his final showdown with the outlaw killer, Johnny Ringo, “It all happened so fast with Curly Bill… I didn’t really have time to think about it.  But I’ve had plenty of time to think about this.”

They’re not even going to put me under, or anything like that.  Still, I don’t know, something about it just feels creepy!  It’s kind of like taking the “red pill” in the Wachowski (1999) movie, The Matrix, remember these classic lines:

Morpheus: Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.

The truth, and nothing more? Eh, eh, eh—yeah, but what Neo doesn’t seem to remember is that “truth,” like virtually everything else in life, ALWAYS comes with a whole lot more than one initially contemplates. Later in the movie, after Neo’s entire existence has been absolutely, completely, and utterly altered beyond all imagination, we find another classic line:

Cypher: You know, I know what you’re thinking, because right now I’m thinking the same thing… Actually, I’ve been thinking about it ever since I got here… (he raises his glass and drinks) Why, oh why, didn’t I take the blue pill !?!?!

Am I going to regret all this?  Probably!  But, I mean, I’m already fighting cancer, right?  It’s not like this is some kind of rosy picture to begin with.  And this is just another weapon in my arsenal—it just happens to be a weapon of mass destruction at the cellular scale; and a nuclear weapon at that.

One thing every cancer patient learns early on is that, despite all the rhetoric about “taking charge” of our your own healing, for the most part, you just do what your told; you just try to keep moving along from day-to-day, trying to take it all in, trying to make sense of it all, trying to find the little rainbows wherever you can; but also realizing that it’s all pretty much out of your hands.  And that often leaves one feeling uncomfortably vulnerable.

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get you!

__O.O__

I’m trying to remain completely rational about all this.  You all know how much I despise hyperbole and would never participate in such literary indulgence.  But I can’t seem to shake this feeling that, in today’s world, we’re messing with some really dangerous stuff that, perhaps, we were never intended to mess with. Or, I don’t know, maybe we were.  But one thing I do know for sure is that God knows and, either way, He’s got this!

Best video of this song:

17.) Pomp and Circumstance

I don’t particularly relish accolades—well, at least, not overt ones—and much prefer remaining in the background most of the time; working behind the scenes, doing what I can to help others, particularly my students, to shine. That’s neither bragging nor pretending to be humble, that’s sincerely me. But, today, daggonit, I’m gonna brag, at least, a little bit—I’m no “Texan,” so my bragging can only go so far, I suppose.

But, you see, I should be on an airplane to Texas right now because this coming weekend is the semiannual graduation ceremony at Abilene Christian University. I have been steadily working toward this academic goal for more than 30 years.  Now, finally, after 26 months of rigorous, grueling, academic pursuit, I have successfully completed the ACU College of Education and Human Services Graduate School program for the Master of Education degree—and have earned my M.Ed. in Leadership of Learning.

Many esteem this ACU graduate program as one of the finest in the nation. From my perspective, it is certainly expensive enough. Because our government graciously cancels the balance due on anyone’s student loan debt should they die—which is the “only” reason they cancel it—I’ll probably be paying for this till the day of my death. But, at least, my kids won’t inherit the debt – ha!

I have, somehow, by the Lord’s grace, managed to keep a 4.0 GPA throughout the program—98.84 average for all 39 hours of graduate course work—and will graduate with highest honors. During my coursework, I was inducted into the Texas Psi Chapter of the Alpha Chi National Honor Society.   Just this past week I received an email saying:

Your name has been passed along from the graduate faculty as someone who we should spotlight because of your upcoming graduation and academic accomplishments during the course of the program. With your permission, we would like to shoot a few photos while you are on campus this Friday. Please let me know if you would be willing to have a few spotlight photos taken this Friday between 4 and 6 p.m.

I share these things with you only because these few, brief paragraphs are pretty much all the celebration—“pomp and circumstance”—that I’m going to get. You see, rather than flying to Abilene, Texas to meet up with dear friends that I’ve made over the past couple of years, and walking across the stage to receive my degree, and being properly “hooded” by my professors in the presence of many astute witnesses, and then being whisked away to be honored at two receptions to which I’ve been invited, I’ll be hopping another plane to Honolulu to undergo more surgery—round two in this fight against cancer. That’s just real exciting, now isn’t it?

Am I whining? Me, the guy who invented the bumper sticker, “STOP GLOBAL WHINING,” or at least wish that he had, whining??? No, I tell you!!!! Well… okay, maybe, a little! So, how can one brag and whine all at the same time? I’m rolling my eyes at myself here.

Oh well, I’m a big boy, now. I don’t suppose I need a graduation ceremony, or the applause of family and friends, to acknowledge my achievements any more. I’ll leave all that “pomp and circumstance” to those teenyboppers who need it. What I’ve got to somehow manage to deal with is all this nitty-gritty stuff we call “real life.” Ah, “life”—yes, that great contradiction: so full of failure, so full of victory, so full of heartache, so full of joy!

The Apostle Paul encourages us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, NASB). For those of us dealing with cancer, and other potentially life-threatening circumstances, that’s often a simultaneous sort of thing; rejoicing and weeping—the little rainbows in the midst of the storm.

This experience reminds me that cancer sometimes takes its toll in many more ways than the casual observer might imagine—in ways both seen and unseen. It’s a huge “DISRUPTOR,” and tends to interfere with virtually everything in one’s life.  It’s a spoiled brat of a child constantly demanding more time and attention than should ever be due.  It’s a deal breaker, a plan shaker, a spoiler of so many dreams.  I’m just so frustrated by all of this!

Well, anyway, I just want to say thank you for giving me these few moments of your time and letting me “celebrate” with you this occasion in my life; which, in the face of this dark storm, is just another little rainbow in which to rejoice!

Hey, I know, why don’t I just throw my own little graduation party?  Here’s just the music for the occasion:

You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down
And you can’t keep draggin’ that dead weight around.
If there ain’t all that much to lug around,
Better run like hell when you hit the ground.

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

You can’t stop these kids from dancin’.
Why would you want to?
Especially when yor already gettin’ yours.
‘Cause if your mind don’t move and your knees don’t bend,
well don’t go blamin’ the kids again.

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

Let it go, this too shall pass.
Let it go, this too shall pass.

Let it go, this too shall pass.
(You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

Let it go, this too shall pass.
(You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

Hey!

Let it go, this too shall pass.
(You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

When the morning comes.
(You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

When the morning comes.
(You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

When the morning comes.
(You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

When the morning comes.
(You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

When the morning comes!

15.) Okay, So Let’s Fight this Thing!

Okay, so I thought I was pretty much done with all of this already. After all, I’ve had the surgery to remove the tumor, I’ve had a few weeks of to recover; so, end of story, right? But battling cancer is seldom that easy.

I’m not feeling particularly “tough” right now. I rebounded from the first surgery, last week, pretty well. But the thought of having to do it all over again next week kind of knocks the wind out of me—like I’ve been “sucker punched” or something. It also makes me kind of mad. I mean, I already look like somebody cut my throat—four-inch scar across the bottom of my neck—now I’m supposed to let them do it all over again? That’s enough to saddle anybody with a few “anger issues.” But, at this point, I don’t see that I have any options; so I guess I’ve just gotta toughen up and climb back in the ring for “round two.”

I don’t think it helps anybody who is facing cancer, or any other potentially life-threatening situation, to just roll over and play the victim. I know that feeling sorry for myself, and throwing a huge pity-party, is a pretty quick way to diminish my overall health; and lose friends – ha! If it’s true, and I think it is, that “the best defense is a strong offense,” then the best strategy I can take is to stand up and fight this thing.

However, just exactly how to go about fighting it is a bit of a conundrum because this kind of battle—combination physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—presents a wide assortment of challenges on many different fronts. One thing I need, for sure, is to keep a strong, positive spirit and a fighter’s attitude. I love the Bible passage wherein the Apostle Paul tells the Christians of the first century—who, by the way, were suffering terrible, life-threatening persecutions—“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (I Corinthians 16:13, NASB). Paul knew that whining and feeling sorry for themselves wasn’t going to get them too far down the road toward heaven’s glory; nor would that kind of attitude do much to promote the Christian faith.

There are times when God needs warriors—people who have surveyed the battlefield with all its risks and hazards and step up to the challenge with faith and gusto. So a big part of the fight, for me I know, will be constant attitude checks; along with occasional swift kicks in the butt—hey, don’t be so quick to get in line!

Another important element in waging a successful campaign is cultivating an effective intelligence network. Every battlefield commander knows you don’t just throw your troops at the enemy without some kind of plan based on strategic information. At the very least, one should know something of his enemy’s profile—tendencies, strengths, potential, vulnerabilities. While medical tests and doctors’ advice may take precedence, I can’t rely solely on what they choose to tell me. I need to do my own research—good, quality research. I need to read up and get familiar with the enemy that confronts me so that I can, at least, ask halfway intelligent questions of my medical team, so that I can help improve the effectiveness of whatever medical treatment I receive, and so that I can maintain the highest quality of lifestyle and health possible; thereby beating back any advances my enemy threatens.

One of the best sources of information, I’m finding, comes from people who have walked this trail ahead of me. Of course, not everything they have to share relates directly to my scenario; every person is different, every disease is different, every situation is different. I tend to shy away from people who come on too strong and try to tell me that I should do this, or I should do that. But I love people sharing their experiences, even if they’re significantly different than mine, and telling me how this worked for them, or how that worked for them.

Actually saddling up to the ole bronc and doing what I know I need to do is, yet, another aspect of the fight; and it’s tougher than one might think. I know that having all the good information in the world at my fingertips is of no benefit if I don’t use it. I know I need to stay active, even when I don’t particularly feel like it. I need to maintain a good work ethic and exercise regimen. But, sometimes, implementing important lifestyle changes that I know I need to make seems overwhelming. For example, going “organic.” Worse, going “vegetarian.” And, worse still, going “vegan” – OMGoodness!!! I don’t want to do it—nope, nope, nope! I just want to keep on reveling in my toxic, chemical laden, hormone-stuffed, highly acidic, artificial, sugar-filled, overly-processed way of existing. After all, do I really expect my wife to have to actually learn to cook, I mean, like, “real” food—like grandma used to make—after 35 years of marriage? Come on! You know how much time real cooking takes? And worse, what if I have to take some responsibility for preparing some of my own dietary needs, or actually learn to cook for myself – yikes! Must that “warrior mentality” extend all the way into the kitchen?

But, all kidding aside, perhaps the most important thing for me, and every child of God, to remember when we’re in the throes of the storm, is that these tribulations—be they cancer, or whatever other potentially life-threatening challenges we may face—are not, actually, the true enemy. They are only weapons in our real enemy’s arsenal. I’m thinking of Job:

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12, NASB)

If you know the whole story, then you know what Job was in for—unimaginable heartache, loss, grief, and pain. And this was only the first meeting between Satan and God regarding Job. Satan would soon be back to ask for even more latitude. After losing all his wealth and possessions, and even seeing all his children die—yes, other people died because of this raging spiritual battle over Job—God finally agreed to let Satan “touch” Job himself with a terribly painful, debilitating disease.

The death, destruction, and disease that Job endured did not come from the hand of God, but from Satan. However, God did permit it and, later in the Biblical text, even took responsibility for it. Furthermore, it was never explained to Job, in this life anyway, why he had to endure all the trials and tribulations that he was put through. But, while he may not have realized the scope of the incredible physical-spiritual battle raging all around him, Job did understand what was truly at stake—his own spiritual integrity, his personal walk with the Lord, and his testimony to the world. His, so-called “friends” offered their own lame explanations for what was happening to him and even accused him of sinning against God. His own wife begged him saying, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9, NASB). But Job, faithful warrior that he was, simply answered, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (v. 10) and the Bible says, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (v. 10).

Our true enemy, Satan, that old adversary, didn’t care in the least how long Job—or for that matter, any of us—was ordained to live upon the earth. He doesn’t care about lifespans, or quality of life, or what measures he may or may not be allowed to bring against us during our time of stay on the earth. He’s just in it for the end-game. All he cares about is getting us to give up on our faith. He wants us to blame God, to curse God, to give up hope and faith in God, to forsake our relationship with God; rather than to be a positive influence for righteousness and an example of what a faith-filled life of hope and love looks like. He wants us to simply “curse God and die!” That’s the true enemy. That’s where the real battle is raging.

I’m just so glad for God’s divine promise that, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13, NASB).

boxing glovesSo, yeah, let’s fight this thing! But let’s not get sidetracked and end up fighting Satan’s “straw-man.” What we’re fighting, ultimately, isn’t cancer, or any other potentially life-threatening situation. There’s an eternal “end-game” to keep in view. As warriors of the cross, we’re all in this fight together and we need to be there for one another, in so far as possible, because it’s the same fight we’re all fighting every day. We’re fighting to live quality lives of integrity and truth. We’re fighting to help one another live strong, be bold, and, like Job, never, ever throw in the towel; regardless of the challenges assailing us. We’re fighting to maintain and manifest the “faith, hope, and love” (I Corinthians 13:13, NASB) that Christ lived and died to give us. And, we’re fighting to dispel fear and hopelessness by helping others experience “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Philippians 4:7, NASB) through their own life-giving relationship with Him. The Apostle Peter exhorts:

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 5:6-11, NASB)

13.) Is This What It’s Like to Die?

I’m afraid that “rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated!” (Twain, 1897). I feel like I have to clarify that fact because, earlier this evening, I was on a certain social media outlet and saw a posting in which my sister, Judy, was being consoled upon the death of her brother – yikes! Talk about disconcerting; that was kind of weird to read right after going through surgery. It made me want to pinch myself, you know, just to make sure that I’m still really here.

Actually, I’m up late on the evening following surgery, sipping some nice green tea sweetened with the nectar of blue agave—no, not the good stuff, the heath food stuff—and waiting for it to get late enough to take a little more pain medication so I can, hopefully, get some sleep. I’m also reflecting on the events of the past couple of days, which almost seem like weeks already.

The surgery went very well, I’m told. As I understand it, there were two surgeons present so that they could both evaluate the situation and provide instant “second opinion” analysis as to how far they should go with the initial surgery. Both determined that it appeared as if the tumor was contained; and that only removal of the nodule, along with the left hemisphere of the thyroid, was necessary—a really encouraging sign. However, both the nodule and the thyroid have been sent off to the lab for a comprehensive biopsy to determine, officially, whether or not more surgery or any follow-up protocol may be necessary. I should get the results by the end of the week. So, I guess a little more waiting—something a cancer patient gets really good at—is in order.

I want to, again, take a moment to brag on the marvels of modern medicine—only God provides miracles, but modern medicine is chocked full of marvels—and, in particular, my personal, local health care system. I hear people complaining about their insurance providers, their doctors, and the level of treatment they receive all the time and maybe I’m just ignorant and don’t know what I should expect, but my team at Kaiser Permanente has been absolutely marvelous. From my hometown doctor here in Kona, who has been on top of this whole thing from the get-go, to the surgical team in Honolulu, who call regularly to check on me, keep me informed, and monitor my progress—they’ve all been just top-notch.

I especially enjoyed the rather “blue-collar” working man’s, nitty-gritty, down to business kind of environment that I encountered at Moanalua Medical Center in Honolulu. The fact that they were remodeling half the building, so I was always walking through construction zones, just added to that whole effect. The sound of clanking tools, nail guns, drills, and skill saws, and the sight of passing workers in hardhats, right alongside medical personnel in their scrubs, sort of calmed my nerves; I liked it! It made me feel sort of like an old 1957 jalopy just going in for little more body work – ha!

But the main thing I’m pondering this evening—and I hope you don’t imagine me in some kind of a morbid stupor for sharing this—is how incredibly close to the whole death experience it must be to undergo anesthesia. I mean, think about it: one moment you’re lying on the bed, feeling kind of woozy, the next moment you’re out like a light, and the next you’re waking up already—like no time at all has gone by. Is this what it’s like to die? There was nothing particularly painful about the experience itself, nothing particularly frightening; even though we are all well aware of the fact that, sometimes, people don’t wake up. But, like getting on an airplane, we don’t worry about that, much; we just expect it to get us where we need to be—to go to sleep and then wake up all fixed. And we do, usually.

How far different can the death experience be, I mean, really? Think about it: one moment you’re lying there, feeling kind of woozy, the next moment you’re out like a light, and the next you’re waking up already—only in a whole new realm! For the child of God, there is absolutely nothing to fear. We just expect to wake up right where we need to be—in the arms of Jesus. And we do, by His grace. And, I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to fall into the arms of my Lord and then turn to see the menagerie of wonderful people who are waiting to greet me in that new realm.

11.) A Philosophy to Live, or Die, By!

“And in Your book were all written

The days that were ordained for me,

When as yet there was not one of them.”

(Psalm 139:16, NASB)

As I observe the gathering storm clouds, dark on the horizon, my thoughts are scattered; but I know I’ve got to get a handle on all of this. This cancer could very well take my life. We’re not sure just what variety of thyroid cancer I have, nor what the staging may be. Has it already metastasized? Are my days numbered?

I believe the day and hour of my departure from this old world is already known to God. I believe, from this passage of scripture—Psalm 139:16—that He has known it long before I ever came into this world. The days of my life are “ordained” for me.

What I’m not wise enough to know is how much the decisions that I make in life have helped determined that day and hour. On the one hand, if the Lord already knew that I was going to choose to live an unhealthy, undisciplined, and self-indulgent lifestyle, or that I would make stupid decisions that would lead to an early grave, did He, then, ordain my days accordingly? Or, on the other hand, if the Lord already knew that I was going to choose to live a healthy, wholesome, and disciplined life, and make intelligent, insightful decisions that would enable me to live long and prosper, did He, then, ordain a longer life-span for me? Some say it doesn’t matter what choices we make; that when your time is up, it’s up; and if it’s your day to go, you go—by one means or another. Others say it does matter and that the day of our departure is scheduled, at least to some extent, according to the decisions God knows we, and others, will make as we go through life.

James, the elder in Jerusalem, and physical, younger brother of Jesus, exhorts us saying: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NASB). So, I ask for wisdom in all matters pertaining to life, health, and living to the glory of God during my time on earth. Whether it extends my life-span or not, I want to make good choices and live healthy and strong. I want to be an example of the quality of life that we can have if we choose to live God’s way—with spiritual and physical discipline. Perhaps these choices have already extended the days that have been ordained for me, even before there was a one of them. Perhaps these choices have nothing to do with my lifespan, but do provide a healthier lifestyle and a higher quality of life for however long I’m here. Either way, wisdom dictates that God is far more pleased with me when I make good decisions than when I don’t; and that’s enough motivation for me these days!

So, should I go vegetarian? Vegan? Should I adopt some strange therapeutic diet that has me pulping and juicing all day long? Should I give up coffee, tea, chocolate, ice-cream, along with all other processed sugars and carbohydrates; fruit or no fruit, or only certain fruits? Can I eat fish; pelagic fish, only farm-raised fish, shellfish? Do I go with high protein, low protein, or whole foods only? I know I can always have all the “green leafy vegetables” that I can eat—(someone just shoot me in the head, already).

And why does eating a fresh, healthy, organic diet have to cost THREE TIMES MORE than eating the normal, chemical laden, toxic diet that we typical Americans have become accustomed to? Should I get into a high-powered exercise routine, running, resistance training, or cross-fit? Will more moderate exercise, walking, swimming, biking suffice?

When it comes to treatment for what ails me, do I agree to surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? I know that whole “cut, poison, and burn” therapy is highly controversial and condemned by many. So, what about alternative medicines and therapies? Should I, really, be placing raw seaweed under my tongue for a few minutes, before swallowing, everyday? Do I agree to coffee enemas five times daily—yikes! And at what point does the treatment become worse than the disease? When does having some measure of quality in one’s life outweigh any possible life-extending benefits that some treatment might provide? How many have been put through hell on earth, only to die anyway, when foregoing the “life-saving” treatment may have ensured a higher-quality existence and a far more peaceful death process?

If the day of my departure is already determined, and any decision I make while here on earth does not change that, then I’m going to go for whatever treatment or therapy I think will give me the highest quality life experience possible while I’m here, regardless of whether or not it promises to extend my days. If the day of my departure, while already ordained, is determined by decisions I will make while here on earth, then I’m going to go for whatever treatment or therapy I think will extend my days, unless those days are going to be miserable; then, I think I’d rather just go out peacefully; with grace and dignity. Either way, I think I’m saying the same thing, aren’t I? Quality of life outweighs length of life! And, being the big “chicken” that I am, I’d rather avoid as much pain as possible.

It wasn’t long after I shared the diagnosis with others—in fact, about two seconds—before people started advising me on how best to treat this illness. While I do appreciate every concern and each person’s kind word of advice, I have to tell you that it all gets pretty confusing really fast. Sometimes I feel myself buried under an avalanche of conflicting, contrary, and opposing opinions and so-called “research.” Even people in the medical profession, for whom I hold a very high esteem these days, seem to continually contradict one another.

So, what can I do? I can follow James’ advice and ask God for wisdom. Then, trust the wisdom He gives me. Right now, that wisdom points me in the direction of trusting my doctors and their medical team, almost implicitly. They’ve told me nothing, so far, that doesn’t make sense or that would appear to eventually lead to a lower quality of existence.

Forgive me, those of you who love me, if I appear to, at least temporarily, shelve some of your good advice and alternative suggestions. Right now, I don’t really feel like I have the luxury of indulging in various medical or philosophical alternatives. I only have the mental fortitude and emotional strength to focus on the course that is clearly set before me. However, as things progress and change, I do reserve the right to hold on to all conceivable options.

But know this, Ne’ and I have talked it over and neither one of us is into extending our lives on earth at all cost. I’m not afraid of death—at least that’s what I keep telling myself upfront; as the storm gradually swells all around me. While I don’t relish the thought of being separated from the people I love in this world, even if only for a little while, death itself holds only the promise of beauty, joy, and happy reunions for me. As I face the storm, those thoughts fill my heart with courage and my limbs with strength. What I’m about, first and foremost, as far as this world goes, is quality of life; living each day for the glory of my Lord with as much energy and exuberance as I can muster. It’s a philosophy, I know, by which I am choosing both to live and, perhaps, to die. I want, so much, to identify with the Apostle Paul’s take on his own mortality when he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21-24, NASB).

______________________________

Please feel free to comment below, or write to me: mybiblestudy777@gmail.com

10.) God’s Forever Family

In bracing for the coming storm, I can tell you right now that I really don’t want to have to “go it alone.” I find myself reaching out to others, seeking any level of support and camaraderie—like, “all hands on deck!” I’m reminded of King Solomon’s wise counsel, when he said:

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For, if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NASB)

I’m finding that one of the hardest things about facing cancer or, I suppose, any potentially life-threatening illness, serious hardship, trial, or tribulation in life, is finding someone, anyone, who will talk with you on something more than just a superficial level. But, for some reason, it’s hard to get beyond logistics, statistics, medical reports, or just general surface talk. It’s hard to discuss feelings and emotions; even with those who are near and dear. It’s hard to share those deeper matters of the heart—fear, loneliness, worry—or to talk about the changes going on within me and, I know, within those closest to me. I think there are several reasons for this.

First of all, I feel the need to protect those closest to me. They, like me, are standing so close to the “dragon” that I fear for them more than for myself. Why expose them to any more negative emotions than necessary? We all seem happier, at least outwardly, when we “keep it light” and don’t probe too deeply. I know that, perhaps, this is not the healthiest approach for any of us. I know that not only me, but also some of those closest to me, long to tear down those protective walls and share our feelings heart-to-heart. But I’ve also come to understand the reality of Jeff Tomczek’s (2012) observations when he says:

The people that love you will be just as scared as you are. Probably more. They will be worrying even when they are smiling. They will assume you are in more pain than you are. They will be thinking about you dying and preparing for life without you. They will go through a process that you will never understand just like they will never understand the process you are going through. (para. 4)

I know I need to have more faith in God’s ability to strengthen and protect each of our hearts; and I pray that He grants me the wisdom and grace to share what should be shared with those who love me most in this world.

Second, when it comes to people with whom I am, perhaps, not quite so intimate, it’s very difficult to “trust” because I feel so vulnerable—emotionally, spiritually, and physically. People, even with the kindest of intentions, say some of the goofiest and self-absorbed things. When they do, the trust factor, at least as far as my being able to confide in them, goes right out the window. I get the impression that, ultimately, it’s really just all about them and their agenda.

There have already been moments when I’ve felt my emotional and physical energy—and I’m finding the two becoming ever more inextricably connected—being sapped by specific, little things people have said and done. Sometimes the world seems fraught with vampires—people who just seem to suck the emotional energy right of me—yikes!

But please understand, I know it’s not just them; it’s me! Bracing for the coming storm has made me somewhat hypersensitive. So, I don’t trust myself to respond appropriately to other people’s words or behavior. I find myself having to fight down certain emotions, button my lips, or stop my fingers from typing some overly emotional reply. Again, healthy or not, it just seems easier to “internalize” it all and say little or nothing, rather than to risk hurting someone’s feelings.

As for seeking professional counseling, as some who have walked this trail ahead of me advocate, and even my medical doctors have encouraged, maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time coming to terms with having to pay somebody to let me talk to them – ha! I know, I know, call me “old fashioned,” but I’m an old guy who comes from a long line of farmers, ranchers, tradesmen, and tough, independent types who have a hard enough time just talking with family and friends about the hardships we encounter in life; let alone some complete stranger who needs to be paid to listen. Somehow, that just doesn’t quite fit this old cowboy’s upbringing.

What does fit my global paradigm, however, is God’s wisdom manifested in that beautiful organization we call “the church”—the “body of Christ,” “the household of God,” the “kingdom of God among men.” The Apostle Paul says:

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many… (I Corinthians 12:12-14, NASB)

Then, in describing how that one spiritual body—the church—functions, he compares it to our physical bodies, saying:

But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.   And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (I Corinthians 12:24-26, NASB)

I think that’s a really beautiful concept; though, perhaps, some of you are thinking it’s a bit “Pollyannaish” in today’s world. And I do have to admit that, in more than thirty years of ministry, I’ve rarely seen a church actually function in a manner wherein all the members had “the same care for one another.” Yet, the passage still speaks to me of the importance of the “priesthood of every believer,” as we seek to mutually minister one to another. In its purest and simplest form, this is “community” taken to a whole new level—both physically and spiritually.

I long for this kind of community in my life. This is a Biblical picture of the community of Christ on earth, God’s forever family; sharing life, sharing love, praising God in unison, and being devoted to one another in brotherly love. I feel like, if I had that, I might be better able to find out who it is that God has selected to “minister to the minister” – ha!

So why, on this week when I’m about to face my first—and, prayerfully, my only—major surgery, do I feel so incredibly lonely as we gather together for our Sunday morning worship? Don’t get me wrong, I’m really grateful, and even inspired, by the small group of friends who surround me today, standing hand-in-hand to pray with me and for me. But my heart is panged by the absence of particular faces; faces of people who are dear to me and who, my heart says, should be here, but aren’t.

So yeah, it makes me kind of lonely; but only on a social-emotional level, I guess; because, on a spiritual level, I’ve never felt more complete, fulfilled, satisfied, or whole.  I know that I will face the upcoming surgery in a few days with courage and confidence. My prayer time with God is awesome, His word is ever sweeter to my taste, and I’m becoming more enraptured with my Jesus each day. How does one begin to explain what it feels like to finally “let go” of certain dreams, goals, and ambitions so closely allied with this carnal world and to choose, instead, to focus on those spiritual aspects of an abundant life with Christ?

But, still, I can’t help but feel a little sad today. I know there are a lot of precious people “out there” who love me and I’m grateful for every expression of love and support they’ve managed to send my way—I need them! But, yeah, today, as I brace myself for the approaching stormy squalls coming my way, I’m feeling kind of lonely; not for corporate church, not for some denominational organization, not for all the doctrine and dogma that some people insist on assigning to organized religion; but just for the warmth, the refuge, the safe harbor of God’s forever family.

7.) Why Me, Lord?

Sad Violin ArtisticSooner or later, somewhere along the line, when confronted with a potentially life-threatening illness, or some other tragic situation involving people we love, the thought crosses our mind: “Why? Why me? Why now? Why is God doing this, or allowing this, to happen?”

And you know, there are plenty of half-hitched people with some pretty goofy ideas out there who think they have all the answers for us. Some say that it’s God punishing people for their bad behavior. But while I’m sure that I do deserve plenty of punishment for all my bad behavior, I’m not convinced that God works like that. In fact, Jesus, Himself, discounts that kind of thinking in His teaching about the need for authentic repentance. As the story goes:

… there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:1-5, NASB)

So, there you have it. We are all sinners and we all need to repent of the selfishness in our lives. But God doesn’t punish some of us physically, here on earth, for the sin in our lives while letting others go scot-free. Rest assured, people will be held accountable for their sin; and those who choose not to repent of sin, but to embrace it during their time here on earth, will meet their fate in the final judgment. Check out Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus for more information about that (See: Luke 16:19-31). But, according to Jesus, the bad things that happen to us here on earth are not due to God’s direct punishment.

That having been said, the Bible does teach us that God “disciplines” the children He loves. Consider this incredible teaching written to the Hebrew children (Jewish Christians) who were suffering tremendous hardships and persecutions at the hands of their fellow countrymen, as well as the Romans, during the first century:

…you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:5-13, NASB)

It seems as if, having been confronted with cancer and the fact of my own mortality, and in light of eternity, my personal goals and ambitions don’t seem to matter to me so much anymore. Somehow, it’s not about my plans and what I want to do for God anymore, but about His plans and what God wants to do with me in whatever remaining time He has designated for me here upon the earth.

It’s not that I no longer have the right and the privilege to pursue my personal dreams, goals, and ambitions. These are the things that make our lives unique and wonderful. But it’s more like God wants me to give those dreams and ambitions to Him, completely and without reservation. He is calling me to surrender them to Him at the foot of the cross, along with everything and everyone else in my life; so that He can take them and do with them whatever He sees fit. Perhaps they need to evaporate before my very eyes. Or, perhaps He will work with them, mold and shape them, and make of them something more beautiful than I could ever imagine. But, I’m convinced, He won’t do that until I let go—until I give them up by giving Him utter control of my destiny—and that includes a willingness to be content with whatever He decides to do with them.

Furthermore, I don’t think God is content to leave me at my current level of discipleship. And why should He be? When I think of all the trials and tribulations our brothers and sisters in Christ have had to go through as they lived out their Christian faith—losing their homes, their families, their livelihood, even their very lives for the sake of Christ—why should He be content with my lukewarm approach to faith. The Apostle Peter reminds us of the purpose behind God’s discipline, saying:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:6-7, NASB)

God wants and deserves my unadulterated allegiance—a refined faith, purified, as necessary, through the fires of tribulation. It is written even of Jesus that, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8, NASB). So, if even my Lord Jesus needed to suffer in order to experience the true value and significance of obedience, then who am I to argue against it, or run from it? “Oh, God, my Father, give me the faith, hope, love, joy, and peace to embrace your discipline, in whatever form it comes!”

Now that’s just me and God at work in my life. We are all individuals and God is intimately working His will in different ways and in different measures within all of us who love Him. I don’t believe that the discipline God is working in my life applies equally to everybody, or anybody, else. I don’t believe God’s reasons for confronting me with thyroid cancer are the same reasons my little nephew, Gatlin, had to endure Ewing’s sarcoma at such a young age and die at age 14; or the same reasons our sweet Jessica had to deal with Fanconi anemia and succumb to it at age 11. I don’t believe God’s purpose in suddenly taking Tim’s life, at age 23, bears any resemblance to His purpose in disciplining me with cancer.

While some of the same disciplinary benefits may be inculcated upon the hearts and lives of the parents, families, and loved ones left behind, the only sure connection that I can see between any of us, and the trials we’re individually required to face, is “FAITH”—the uncompromising belief that, “…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” (Romans 8:28, NASB).

6.) Givers and Takers

Okay, I guess this is where I start offending people and losing friends! Last night I was feeling humbled and vulnerable; and, to a large extent, I still do. But, for some reason, I woke up this morning in a “fightin mood!” I guess all this pent up emotion needs to go somewhere. Fortunately, I’ve been alone all day with nobody to take it out on—no dog to kick, no cat to tromp, only four little guinea pigs; and who in their right, or wrong, mind could ever bring themselves to harm a sweet little guinea pig? (Except, I guess, those cold-blooded, laboratory scientists types; and we all know they’ve gotta be more than a little “cuckoo.”) So, with no punching bag to let loose on, I guess I’ll just write – huh!

No doubt about it, dark clouds are brewing on the horizon and the storm will soon be breaking upon me, so it’s time to batten down the hatches, get a good grip the wheel, set my jaw, grit my teeth, and brace for the coming storm—“dam the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

I think a big part of the preparedness necessary to weather potentially life-threatening situations lies in the realm of our emotions. There are a few things we can do on the physical front, but none of that it going to get us very far without the emotional stamina necessary to engage the battle with all the strength we can muster.

Some say anger, after denial, is a natural response when facing traumatic struggles; you know, that whole “fight or flight” scenario. Don’t get me wrong, I would definitely take the “flight” option if it was available. Trouble is, this cancer is one of those persistent enemies. It has put me on notice that it’s not going to just go away and leave me alone; not without a fight.

That does make me angry! But I’m not angry at God; and, oddly enough, I don’t even think I’m particularly angry at cancer. So, what am I angry about? Well, as I look toward the horizon and survey the coming storm, I find myself needing to gain some perspective on my life; to, somehow, get a handle on who I am, where I am now, and where my life seems to be heading—especially in view of the brevity of life. And, as I seek to gain that perspective, I’m finding that, number one, I’m angry at myself.

That’s right, contemplating the upcoming battles that lie before me, I’m angry at myself and how selfish I am, and always have been all my life. Looking back, it seems to me that I’ve done very little in life that was motivated simply by love and goodwill toward others. There has always been an ulterior motive lurking just beneath the surface. Most of what I’ve accomplished has been motivated by “self” in some form or fashion. My wants, my needs, my fears, my pleasures, my desires, my dreams, my goals, my feelings, my opinions, my education, my career, my ministry, my lifestyle, my religion, my image, my reputation, my relationships—my, my, my, I, I, I, me, me, me!!! And, today, I’m so sick of me that I really feel like kicking my butt!

I am amazed at all the people who have been putting up with me all these years; and who still say that they love me. Believe me, there have been moments when, due to my conduct and behavior, people could have, and maybe should have, “written me off.” They would have been fully justified in doing so; and maybe some have, but many, to my amazement, apparently haven’t—yet!

But now this! After all I’ve put my sweet wife, and other loved ones, through in life; now they have to deal with something like this; and focus on me and my needs to an even greater degree; on top of everything else on their busy plates. I’m like, “seriously?” And I know that, sometimes, sickness can make us so selfish, so needy. But what right do I have to impose like this upon any of my loved ones, or their time, or their energy, or their emotions? I feel like such a “taker.”

When will I ever get around to being the “giver” that I want to be? When will I ever really learn to love like Jesus calls me to love, the way He loves us? When will I start authentically living like Him and begin to really, from the heart out, put other people’s wants, desires, and needs ahead of my own? And when will simply serving God’s master plan, whatever that plan is, become more important to me than getting what I want?

Do I want this cancer to go away? I do! Do I want to heal and get better? Certainly! And not just for me, but for the people I love who have to put up with me, as well. But what if, in God’s divine wisdom, His plan for the redemption of humanity is better served by my being sick, or even dying long before I had intended? I mean, I would like to think that I do have more to offer by living and serving a few more years on this globe, than by dying. But, lets face it, I’m a little bias; and it’s not my call. Furthermore, whose story is this anyway, mine, or His? I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Romans when talking about God’s sovereignty as He works His will in our hearts and lives; he says, “…who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay…” (Romans 9:20-21, NASB).

I also remember how that the Apostle Paul, himself, had some kind of a debilitating disease. We’re not sure just what it was, but it was so bad that it was hard for people to be around him. He said to the church at Galatia:

…but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. (Galatians 4:13-14, NASB)

Paul must have felt a deep sense of love and gratitude toward these people who loved him and received him so warmly, even though his condition was an imposition upon them. And, you know, Paul really wanted to be rid of this sickness, illness, or disease—whatever it was—and he said to the church at Corinth:

…there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NASB)

Well, it’s about time I stop “exalting myself.” And if that requires a “thorn in the flesh”—cancer, or whatever—to help me overcome my pride, surrender my heart completely to my Lord Jesus, and learn to be a “giver” more than a “taker” before my life on earth is done, then I need to embrace that as a gift from God; and not fear it. God’s grace is sufficient!

The other thing I’m fighting mad about today, besides my own foolish pride, is the carnality—the fleshly, worldly, materialistic stranglehold—that this world seems to have on me; and virtually all of us it seems. I’m just so weary of me, and people dear to me, getting so wrapped up in this world, and the things of this world, that we lose sight of what is truly important. I remember the Apostle John telling us:

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (I John 2:15-17, NASB)

The world seems so full of injustice. People die daily. Last I heard, every single day 29,000 children lay down in the dirt and die of malnutrition, starvation, and the pestilence associated with war and famine (Unicef, 2013). Yet, we in the Western world, so blessed, are so obsessed with our carefully manicured lawns, our beautifully decorated homes, our luxury automobiles—and they’re all “luxury” compared to getting around on a donkey—our financial investments and retirement plans, and our political platforms and social issues, that we seldom cast more than a token glance in the direction of the desperate.

They call it “compassion fatigue,” or “humanitarian burnout.” We’ve grow weary of seeing all the pictures of poverty ridden children on television. It is as though we no longer share the world with them; it just doesn’t bother us anymore.

While I’m all for having nice grass and clean homes, it’s amazing how far down the priority ladder all our worldly, materialistic concerns tumble when confronted by impending disaster or a potentially life-threatening illness. Yet, as soon as things are going half-way well again, we’re right back at it—indulging ourselves while the world goes wanting. I don’t know what I can do about it. I know I can’t solve the problem of 29,000 children a day dying of starvation. But maybe I can help one. Maybe we could all decide to make one less trip to Starbucks each week, if necessary, in order to reach out and help just one; and then, somewhere down the line, maybe, another one?

But an even more pressing concern on my heart today is the apparent apathy, sometimes even embarrassment, that people seem to feel toward spiritual matters; as though being a spiritual person, one who believes in God, or who openly follows Christ, is something to be ashamed of and kept secret. Why do even Christians find it easier to talk about everything in the world other than our Lord, our mission, our spiritual struggles, and the incredible spiritual gifts, joys, and victories that are ours in Christ? It is almost as if we don’t know how to talk, even to one another, about the things that matter most—so we talk about football. Meanwhile, family, friends, neighbors, and other people God brings into our lives, end up going their separate ways and eventually die; maybe knowing that we were different, that we had something they might have wanted or needed, but having never been made to feel comfortable in asking us about the beautiful love God has for us and the abundant life to which His love calls us.

To live and die without hope of eternal life with God has got to be the greatest tragedy I can imagine. As Jesus put it, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26, NASB). I’m disappointed in myself for not letting my colors fly more boldly; for not being more open and approachable with my faith on a personal level—and I’m not talking about grandstanding on some social media platform, or going out and getting in people’s faces, or whacking them up alongside the head with my Bible. I’m just talking about living my faith.

All-in-all, I really do think that I would rather someone feel a little uncomfortable around me because I was open with my faith, than for them to feel uncomfortable in approaching and asking me about spiritual things because I was so closed. I’m just talking about sharing my values and convictions as the Lord gives me opportunity, being approachable, and making it easy for people I care about to ask questions of me, or to share their feelings about those things that really matter most to them.

So today, yeah, I feel like I just want to rip to shreds those imaginary social ramparts that seem to have been erected all around us and to find a way to breach the silly social barriers that keep us from sharing intimately, heart-to-heart, one with another.

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