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Archive for January, 2012

Peace that guards …

Five days ago, I sat in a hospital waiting room (with dear friends and family) while my bride endured a brutal five hour procedure to remove cancer from her body. The surgeons were phenomenal, and the whole thing went beautifully. Lymph nodes were confirmed to be clear of cancer; the tissue surrounding the mass was confirmed to be clear of cancer; and the mass was successfully and completely removed. We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome (besides the surgeons discovering that the mass had just disappeared!).

The road to recovery began immediately … first with managing pain, physical trauma, reaction to anesthesia, etc. The morning after, we moved into simply sitting up and eventually standing. It is amazing how we can be so fragile and resilient at the same time.

In the five days since surgery, Kimberly has progressed at a staggering rate! She is still plagued by waves of pain, limited mobility in her left arm, fatigue, and a “pet” drain tube we hope will run away soon; but there are moments throughout the day when someone who didn’t know her would never guess she’d been through what she’s been through. I’m truly inspired by her courage and grace.

In hindsight, I’ve come to appreciate the truth of a very familiar, yet profound couple of verses in the book of Philippians (4:6-7) like never before … “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

From what I understand, the word anxious has the idea of being “torn apart” in its origins. It is to be undone by fear of what might be (usually of the worst-case-scenario variety). Paul tells us to resist anxiety and to voice our requests to the One who can intervene in our circumstances. What strikes me is that Paul doesn’t tell us that God will simply do what we ask. Instead, Paul assures us that the peace of God will “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” To be honest, it is tempting to think that having what I want is better than a refuge for my heart … how shortsighted I can be.

I’ve typically thought of peace as this tranquil experience I have when all is well. It is quiet, relaxed, gentle. But Paul speaks of peace as a guard, a sentinel intently watching over my heart and mind; ready at a moment’s notice to repel distress and despair.

I hear most people speak of a peace that “surpasses understanding”, as if that is the remarkable thing about peace. But Paul’s emphasis (and what I’ve discovered in recent days) is the radical assurance this peace has tenaciously secured in my heart and mind. Kimberly and I have thanked God for who He is and what He has already done on our behalf. We’ve asked Him to bring healing through any means He wishes. And we’ve relinquished our future to His loving care. As a result, our hearts have been steadfast (often surprising us in terms of the extent of our assurance).

Kimberly and I have believed all along that the outcome of this leg of our journey is uncertain. In other words, we couldn’t assume that we would get all of the circumstances we might choose for ourselves. But we’ve felt profound assurance of God’s presence and power, enabling us to endure with thanksgiving all that we encounter.

We do attribute much of this to the persistent prayers offered by our community of faith on our behalf. We will never be able to adequately express our gratitude for the loving support we have received. But we remain overwhelmed by God’s lovingkindness toward us through the care of his people.

Grace upon grace

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“Why me?”

Why me?

It’s pretty rare that some form of those words doesn’t cross my mind when life kicks me in the face. There is something about adversity that provokes reflection, as if there must be some reason for why I would ever experience any kind of difficulty. There is something in me (depravity?) that gravitates to a cause/effect explanation for my pain.

With lesser trials, I can chalk them up to me being a sinful guy living in a sinful world that can’t help but produce problems. But when life gets real gritty, real painful, real confusing, I naturally grope around for something to justify my hardship. “Surely I’ve done something to deserve this!”

The biggest problem comes when I can’t put my finger on some horrific, rebellious sin that would warrant (in my finite brain) such severe circumstances. I’m left with little more than self-pity … “Why me?” And somehow the answer to that question ends up having something to do with God … He’s distant, silent, harsh, insensitive, demanding, unfair, etc.

The great mystery is this: Why am I not equally inclined to reflect this way (cause/effect) when things go my way, when I get what I want … even more than I want? Why am I not as surprised that God would lavish goodness and grace on me, a sinner?

In my best moments of clarity, I am truly overwhelmed by the thought that God would even be mindful of me. I resonate with the words of Psalm 8, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” I am deeply encouraged by the idea (James 1:17) that “every good gift [big or small] and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Believe it or not, throughout this season of trial, Kimberly and I have been amazed, comforted and reassured by the tidal wave of “good and perfect gifts” we have received through God’s word, God’s Spirit and God’s people. It sounds ridiculous to me even as I write it, but Kimberly and I have truly asked “Why us?” with regard to the goodness and grace we have experienced as a direct result of walking this shadowy path … as if it were a privilege, not a drudgery.

At the end of the day, we want to be equally willing (Job 2:10) to receive good and adversity from the Lord knowing that regardless of our circumstances, we are His beloved, cherished so completely that He would lay down His life to comfort us in our present pain, and one day deliver us into the glory of His presence. With that in mind, we can say with the psalmist (Ps 4:6–7), “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!’ You have put more joy in my heart than [those people] have when their grain and wine abound.”

Grace upon grace

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Waiting

“Waiting is the worst!”
I’ve said it … I’ve heard … I’ve lived it.
Waiting for small things (checkout lines, traffic jams, customer service) is mostly just an irritant. In our instant, microwave, “fast-food” culture we’ve grown accustomed to getting what we want right away. I’m smiling thinking about the recent AT&T 4G ads, “That’s so 30 seconds ago!”
When it comes to waiting for HUGE things (employment, diagnosis), circumstances go from being an irritant to an all-out assault, mostly on my heart. Waiting can be maddening … what if’s, possibilities, scenarios, each of which provoke different emotions and reactions. Waiting leaves me hanging, I’m left with equal but opposite possible outcomes of good and bad.
Amid the battle of waiting, the anticipation of what will become reality, there is a voice of certainty … assurance. It has less to do with circumstances, and everything to do with presence … His presence. The voice intrudes on darkness and fills these moments with light. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
Kimberly and I have been bathed in the light of God’s love through the truth of His word and the care of His people. We have felt peace like never before. We are overwhelmed by the community of faith that is walking in the waiting with us, prayerfully seeking the strength of God on our behalf.
We now have a surgery date on the calendar … Wednesday, January 25. The plan at this point is a simple mastectomy, but testing will be done on surrounding tissue and the lymph nodes. If cancer is discovered beyond the mass, then a radical mastectomy will be performed. The initial biopsy has indicated that the cancer is most likely contained, but we will not know for sure until the surgery is complete.
Thank you to all who are praying with us through this. We will share more results as we receive them.

Grace upon grace

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Fragile … Immovable

There’s nothing like the “C” word to shatter one’s feelings of security.

I strive to maintain order, minimize exposure, plan ahead, create margin, etc., all of which makes me feel secure. And I guess to some degree, those actions lend themselves to greater security than if they were absent. Nevertheless, it should be obvious to me and everyone else that security in a fallen world is never a guarantee … there’s just too much fallenness goin on. Isn’t that why we have insurance policies? For the rainy day, or the drought … the accident, the natural disaster, the disease.

So I’ve felt pretty fragile lately, like there’s a lot beyond my control, regardless of how badly I want that not to be the case. There is plenty I and Kimberly can do … read, meet with physicians, undergo treatment, and rehabilitate. But all of those are reactions to a mass that intruded, no warning, without permission, impervious to our wishes. We’re being reminded that life is less about controlling our circumstances, and more about responding to them with faith that is rooted, grounded … secure.

It seems that’s something of what Paul had in mind when he wrote in 2 Cor 4:7-10, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

Our focus in recent days has been redirected to the surpassing power that belongs to God, not us. We are faithfully following medical procedures, but we are doing so mindful of our constant dependence upon God’s sufficient grace to keep us … not crushed, not despairing, not forsaken, not destroyed.

We met with Kimberly’s Oncologist Monday, and she was wonderful! We’re so grateful for the physicians we’ve encountered through this process. They’ve been so patient, kind, thorough, competent and reassuring. They are each answers to prayer for capable guides as we walk this path. As you pray for our situation, would you pray for them by name … Dr. Lisa White (General Surgeon), Dr. Nicholas Tarola (Plastic Surgeon) and Dr. Yanjun Ma (Oncologist). Thanks.

Though we haven’t gotten much more detail than we’ve already shared, it looks like we’re all clear for surgery in 7-10 days. We’ll let everyone know the actual date as soon as we’re able to confirm it with our doctors. The best case scenario for surgery is for the mass to be completely isolated with clear (non-cancer) margins (tissue surrounding mass), a singular form of the cancer (versus a “mixed” mass), and clear lymph nodes. We’re also praying that Kimberly will not react adversely to any of the medications used during surgery (she’s pretty sensitive to meds).

We feel fragile, but immovable as a result of God’s tangible care for us. Those who are praying for us have played an unmistakable, irreplaceable role in our journey. I’ll close with Kimberly’s recent description of how our community of faith has come alongside us in a powerful way … “My cup runneth over. There are no words. How do I say thank you to those who have locked shields with mine…who are standing guard with me? In the short time that we have been walking through this new season, there is no doubt in my mind that much of the peace, rest, hope and joy that I have enjoyed is in part due to the prayers of the saints.” Grace upon grace!

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Into the shadow

How time flies! It’s been over four years since I posted to this blog. Sheesh! I had such grand intentions … and only five posts to show for it. Oh well, gotta live in the present, and the present is rockin our world!

Just two weeks ago, right before Christmas day, Kimberly discovered a lump in her breast. It was a surprise, but neither of us were alarmed. Call it wishful thinking, call it denial, we responded pretty casually …”probably oughta get that looked at when we get back in town.” And so we did.

Kimberly visited a local OB and went through normal mammogram and ultrasound testing to get an initial idea of what we might be facing. The radiologist showed serious concern and urged us to see a breast cancer surgeon for a biopsy to confirm whether or not the mass was malignant as he suspected. As you might imagine, sobriety set in. We scheduled the appointment and began to invite friends and family to pray with us about the threat at hand.

On Wednesday, January 4, Kimberly underwent a biopsy which confirmed that she had indeed developed breast cancer. Even as I write those words, they seem unbelievable, more fiction than non-fiction. But it is as real as anything we have experienced in our lives … and so, we step into the shadow.

Before now, the shadow seemed to represent a time when life is hard and painful, and God seems distant and silent. Yet our experience so far has been just the opposite. We have felt great comfort, grace and assurance. God’s presence has been overwhelmingly tangible … as real as anything we might touch or see. We’ve experienced His preparation, recent moments of reflection, encouragement, conviction, and renewal which brought Kimberly and me to a place of peace and rest amid the ominous intrusion of a shadow.

We’ve been awestruck by the outpouring of prayer, support, love and encouragement. The community of faith that surrounds us is truly awesome. Word has spread and God’s people have come alongside us full of faith and hope. We have been strengthened by the petitions of Christ-followers on our behalf.

Since receiving news of this disease, Kimberly began recording what she calls “Grace Places” … big and small evidences of God’s grace at work in and around us as we face this trial. She has said that as much as we would like – and are praying – for God to remove this trial, she has sensed that this is very much a path God has allowed for us, and one in which He will do wondrous things, which will ultimately bring Him profound glory.

Among the grace places Kimberly has identified, our doctors are beautiful provisions. They’ve been incredibly kind, patient, thorough, reassuring, accessible, competent … and the list could go on. We feel very fortunate to have the resources we have.

Since the 4th, we’ve learned that Kimberly’s cancer is called “mucinous carcinoma” … named for the mucous like material which surrounds the affected cells. We’ve been encouraged that this type is commonly less aggressive, more isolated, slower growing, and more responsive to treatment than most other forms. There are no guarantees, but the outlook seems to be positive despite the reality of having cancer and needing serious treatment.

We will meet with an Oncologist early next week, and will likely have Kimberly in surgery within two or three weeks. I have to say, I’ve been blown away by Kimberly’s grace and courage. She’s had a resilient peace and joy (still with fears and tears) that has been inspirational. As I heard someone recently say, she has been “heroic” … that sounds about right!

Our kids are doing well. We’ve had some great conversations, and we’re learning together to trust God with an uncertain future that we must entrust to Him. All we know is that God is good all the time … He is never inattentive to our needs, He always gives us what we need to do what He has called us to do, and He will gladly direct our steps if we will let Him. We’re praying that God will meet each of our children in this season in a special and unmistakeable way that will only strengthen their faith.

As we move forward, we are praying for a phenomenal pathology report (specific characteristics of Kimberly’s cancer) and an unmistakeable path for treatment. As we walk this path, we realize there is much that we don’t know, but we can act upon what we do know about our God and the disease we face. We are trusting God for wisdom and courage as we make new decisions every day about how to proceed. We are deeply grateful for the masses of people who have come alongside us in prayer. I’ll keep everyone informed through this blog, and together, we will see God do what only God can do.

Grace upon grace …

 

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