Recent photo of my parents in my office

Recent photo of my parents in my office

December 29, 2007

The Joy of Boredom

In the past week, I have seen a progressive improvement in my strength and health. At the same time, the recovery is certainly not complete, so I have to measure my activity carefully. But I've been able to work from the College office and from my home computer each day for 1-2 hours. It feels so good to get out, to be mobile, and to see some progress being made on major tasks. What hope, what joy! Life is still grabbing hold of me (and I of it!) I weep each day as I recognize how dependent I am on God as a source, literally of the power to be, and how gracious he is to be present and faithful to me while in pain.

I mentioned this in the last blog, I think, but just as a reminder (even to myself), my pain comes mostly in sitting in the 1/2 hour before I'm due for pain medication; and in ways my lower back can make it hard for me to find a place to lie in bed. But, another reason for praise, that is progressively easier. I've learned some creative ways to use pillows (never thought I could use so many!) that have helped me truly sleep.

I also have great limits on walking, due to the blood clot in my right leg. Each day, it shrinks as the clot dissolves and the circulation system is restored. But I have to wear a very tight pair of hose to support my legs from pooling fluid. That makes me walk more slowly. Honestly, together with the pain of sitting (say, at a restaurant), walking remains the most restrictive limit on my activity.

Hence, my title, "The Joy of Boredom." I have some wonderful classical music to listen to, some great periodicals and books to read, DVDs and videos to view, and some TV shows. I've especially enjoyed mostly Wheaton College TV rebroadcasts, since other materials are quite trivial and meaningless, unless they're documentaries. At the same time, while I'm reaching out for new things to keep me stimulated, I long for the freedom to see people, to gather with friends, to be open in conversation and mutual sharing.

In this regard, I think I already mentioned how much I've come to love the way that my father and I can pray Morning Prayer and then Compline together. It is time more fulfilling than I've yet had with him in my life. We actually never connected -- he the sports fan, I the reader and classical music lover. But in this season of suffering, his love and tenderness has come shining through. Thank the Lord for my parents being here. I wouldn't have made it without them.

And I can't stop without mentioning my mother: great conversations, daily shots and medications, freshly squeezed vegetable and fruit juices with the right add-ons from alternative medicines, three meals a day that are almost all vegetarian or at least balanced with the appropriate amount of meat like chicken or fish, help with showering and dressing, washing and ironing my clothes -- the list goes on and on.

I'm am incredibly blessed. I can barely imagine the riches at the end of each day. That awakens within me the hope of God's ongoing intention for me. I heard him say a couple days ago, "Do not fail to believe in the promises I have given you, for I will be faithful. I am healing you day by day, and though it may seem slow at times, you are not in control. You cannot do this. Trust in me, and I will lead you day by day."

So that's what I'm trying to do. It isn't easy, even when the hospital news may seem good. The greater reality is that the hospital and the doctor are not ultimately in charge, though their human wisdom is great.

And through that, my heart is most thrilled with the possibility of once again being a blessing to others, whether through writing, speaking, teaching, or leading in music. For there is nothing more beautiful than the house of the Lord, and abiding in his presence.

May we all find that by beholding the beauty of the Lord, we will be transformed day by day into creatures who are both more human and more reflective of the divine image.

Blessings to you all,

John

December 22, 2007

A Chance to Return!

Dear Friends,

I can only count it a great blessing for all your intercessions and care. Margie faithfully took over the reports on our family and on my health, but I owe it to you to thank God for the ways that I have day by day chances to see him carry me through cycles of pain and relief, unexpected downfalls, and reaffirmations of hope. As Margie reports, I have had definite improvement in my capacity to be active, present, articulate, and even able to go to work for 1-2 hours per day. For this I am so grateful.

As far as pain goes, I'm reminded of passages in C.S. Lewis in which he speaks of the mystery of pain, and of the way in which we as human beings are all cowards in the face of it. I can only say, "True." Who wants it? Yet it is not our choice, it arrives unwanted and departs unexplained at times.

The pain I am enduring has a definite cycle of 6 hours or so, when I take a pain-relief med. Building up to that time can be obviously more challenging, but an outward focus and a personal connection or sleeping are always helps in alleviating that. When I do have pain, it comes to my lower back, and then down the right leg (for the most part). I can't breathe too deeply nor exert/extend my arms with force or energy, so those are areas for caution.

At any rate, I thank God that I've learned more about handling these episodes. For one thing, if I can learn to breathe deeply, lie flat, and pray the Jesus prayer instead of fighting pain ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner"), it is not at all uncommon to reach a point of peace. What a surprise. My pain flows into the cross.

I think I may also have mentioned the meditation on the seven-last words of Christ on the cross as helpful as well, but I've failed to be as consistent in that meditation. At any rate, it is deeply comforting to receive the love of God in the midst of discomfort. This is most often mediated by my family. How would I survive this without them?

Margie is a rock of defense and security. What a blessing I received in her! My mother is a nurse, a caregiver, a nutritional expert in cooking, and she knows just what I need to do, even at times when it takes some more effort (!) My father and I have become closer than ever in our lives, and I count that a great privilege. We have started the practice of reading the daily office of Scripture together each morning after my breakfast.

Well, friends, that's a bit of news. What I want you also to know is that I seek to find ways to remember to intercede for you as well, when my mind is focused. Otherwise, I trust the Holy Spirit to take all of the words, spoken and unspoken, to fulfill his purposes for his glory.

Love and a Merry Christmas to you all!

John

December 1, 2007

Keeping You Posted



Dear Friends,
I am writing on John's behalf this evening. He is not able to blog right now. I am hopeful that he will regain strength and be able to include you in his process very soon. Because John is not able to get to the computer, I asked him if he would like me to write a quick post for him. I cannot keep up two blogs about our lives, but I would like to refer you to mine if you would like an update. I am updating my blog at least once a week, more if there are urgent needs.

As I am witnessing John's body wasting away and simultaneously being renewed by the indewelling Holy Spirit, I am grieved and fortified.

Your prayers are sustaining us.
Much love,
Margie Fawcett
margiefawcett.blogspot.com

October 11, 2007

Walking in Faith

Margie is out tonight, my children are asleep, my parents are travelling to visit my sister in Ohio, and I have time on the computer! So here is an update.

The process of radiation is over, and after that, I continued to experience some fatigue resulting from calcium levels in the blood, along with low hemoglobin (I got down to 8.4 -- the doctor would accept 10, but 12-13 are also healthily normal.) So I had two blood transfusions and went on the drug coumadin which helps to thin blood clots (I have a lot of swelling on my left leg that indicates a clot near my ankle). That said, after those treatments, I have had a great relief from the pain I had in my right leg. That pain was of the sort that made it nearly impossible to walk, sit, stand, even get in and out of bed without shooting pain. It appears to have been caused by a pinched nerve that was relieved by the radiation. Thanks be to God.

I have also experienced a resurgence of energy and vision for my job and family life. I am surprised that Margie and I were able to use the gift tickets we received to the Chicago Lyric Opera last Saturday for La Traviata -- 7:30 to 10:30 pm, getting home at 12:00, and still surviving with Sunday morning peace and focus. What an encouragement that is, and how it inspires more hopes for continued possibilities!

Another of those great delights is ministering with Redeemed Lives, teaching weekly of the matters of the soul that I have learned over the years, biblically and theologically grounded truth that I believe in so confidently because I've been through them personally, solid grounds for hope and healing of those who come. It is such a delight to pray and minister to others.

In that context, I was struck by how little I had understood the Prayer of St. Francis, especially in the midst of my suffering. Here's the text, the one that I learned through John Michael Talbot's musical setting:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

It was especially in the matters of giving rather than receiving, seeking not so much to be consoled, understood, and loved, etc., that I realized how easily I could lose my focus on giving. Ironically, I now see that having opportunities to meet for prayer with others on their behalf, engaging outwardly in hopeful visionary planning, accomplishing in the ways that I am gifted -- these are great sources of healing and hope.

Consequently, I have been led to listen more closely to what the Lord is telling me, rather than turning inward to try to figure out what is happening in my body. Thank God for words such as "I am healing you today, even if you are not aware of it. You have only to be still and yield your burdens to me. Cast your cares on me. Breathe deeply, as I empower you to rest." Other instances would be occasions when I'm called to take authority over the predominance of pain and cancerous cells in my body. "In Jesus' name, I rebuke any invasive cells that may be destroying my healthy ones. My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; I belong to God. I will go only in his time."

I know that language like that can be misused, but I have seen amazing changes from one day to another in pains that I thought would abide.

In conclusion, I would ask for your prayers for some particular physical needs:

1) For my right rib cage. Something does create pressure there on my lifting, breathing, and even on my skin. It will become heated inside at times. This could be very dramatic, but I do not believe that it will have the victory over me.

2) For the ongoing clot in my left leg. My leg shrinks back to near normal during the night, but even with the tight hose I wear during the day (was that ever a piece of beauty when I was out in shorts running the Chicago Marathon -- (joke!), it's clear that a clot is still there. I would love to have the freedom to walk and move about more. At the same time, just as I was writing this, my son Josiah woke up crying, and I was able to move upstairs, no, DASH upstairs in a way I couldn't have imagined even a few weeks ago. This could have consequences tomorrow (!), but I know that your intercessions will be of great help.

3) Finally, thank you for your prayers for Margie. She has truly been a woman of integrity and honesty during this process. She has just given a talk at her Muffins & Mugs ministry, addressing the challenges of marriage to a difficult spouse. Not that we don't love each other and continue to grow in unity and joy, but that a trial like this elicits tremendous areas of struggle for her. The fact that she could be so transparent about it makes me respect her even more. I see her blessing others, and also teaching me about my own potential ongoing narcissistic expectations or criticisms of her. What a great spouse. We celebrate our 7th anniversary this Sunday. Her talk will stream on the web sometime soon -- possibly from her blogsite. I'll let you know.

Must go to bed. The blessings of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit remain with you all.

Amen.

John

September 24, 2007

A Chance to Blog this Evening!

Thanks, dear friends, for your ongoing outpouring of support and prayer. It is worthy of more frequent responses, but that is simply not always available, but thanks for the opportunity I have tonight.

Recently, thanks to our church, we have been able to receive daily elements of the body of Christ, which means that we can pray a lay sacramental administration of the eucharist at home. As we do this each day, I am struck with the way that it sets our hearts in order, causes us to rely on the Lord as the source of our lives, and to confess our sins. We exchange the Lord's prayer, the Lord's peace, and then receive the body of Christ, the bread of heaven. It enables me to become centered and to breathe more deeply, to relax from the anxieties of what could burden me for the day, and then cast all of those onto the Lord.

It has been especially cute to see my son Josiah (just turned 2 on September 16th!) become gentle and celebrate having received "Jasu bred" (the closest I can get to describing his early pronunciation!) It seems to bring a love and a peace to him and Charlotte also.

As far as my own health goes, I began taking a 10 day cycle of radiation for the pain in my legs, most likely generated by some pinching of the sacroiliac joint due to a small tumor or a growth of some kind of invasive erosion from the cancer. At any rate, I have completed 6 fractions as of today, and they have definitely reduced the pain while substantially extending my freedom to move. Thanks be to God! I would appreciate any ongoing prayers for the stability of these procedures. I was warned about two things: difficult bowel movements due to taking more higher pain medication; and an increased likelihood of diarrhea later in the process itself. Hmm. Which you opt for?? :-) I can vouch for the possibility of each. Hilarious. My mother's a nurse, and I grew up in Brazil where we were never ashamed as a family to speak of illnesses, conditions of the body in processing ingestions -- you can begin to catch the idea here! Plus, it was a very educational event! But to avoid offending anyone here, I'll hold back on any reports that may seem crass. Just write me if you'd like a private report! :-)

Tomorrow night, Margie and I begin once again leading the Redeemed Lives program -- a program for people in need of spiritual discipleship, healing, and group accountability. It has seemed inevitable to us, to the point that we haven't even had a discussion about it, but stepping back, we are a bit in awe of how God has continued to sustain our strength to be able to do it. Pray that it will be a blessing for those who come.

My parents have been here since early September, and we continue to benefit from their boundless love. I have grown so much through receiving their love, and particularly the love of my father. He spends hours with me at work, moving boxes of books for me, helping me sort things worthy of recycling versus items we ought to add to our library collection. And when I'm caught up in my own work, he simply reads a book, or helps my mother and Margie here at home. What a blessing, and how am I to get by without it?

But those matters are in the hands of God. Meantime, the reading in Psalm 71 last week brought me to tears:

14 But as for me, I will always have hope;
I will praise you more and more.

15 My mouth will tell of your righteousness,
of your salvation all day long,
though I know not its measure.

16 I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign LORD;
I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone.

17 Since my youth, O God, you have taught me,
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.

18 Even when I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, O God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your might to all who are to come.

19 Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God,
you who have done great things.
Who, O God, is like you?

20 Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter,
you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
you will again bring me up.

21 You will increase my honor
and comfort me once again.

22 I will praise you with the harp
for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praise to you with the lyre,
O Holy One of Israel.

23 My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to you—
I, whom you have redeemed.

24 My tongue will tell of your righteous acts
all day long,
for those who wanted to harm me
have been put to shame and confusion.

May all of us be centered on the work that God wants to do through us in advance of the end of our time here in his service, but not with any despair or lack of hope. "My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you -- I, whom you have redeemed."

Amen and amen.

September 10, 2007

Another Two Weeks!

Thanks be to God! I am surviving this battle with continued persistence, and assurance that I am not programmed to fall over and capitulate. I am learning to view even the rise of more difficulties and pain to reflect the ways that I am in that refinement stage rather than in a work of discouragement from God. If anything, it is the enemy who wants me to give up the call God has given me -- the call to pray for the healing of others, the call to minister in power the authority of the Holy Spirit, and to see many of the lost in our culture uplifted to the glories of heaven through worship.

Now -- is that easy?? I'm sure many of you out there have tried, and you know how ridiculous this can sound at times. There are days of pain, now more intense than I was experiencing during the last blog, in which I have problems sitting in any position without being distracted by pain. I have to wiggle in some way to focus. Getting into bed at times is a challenge, since my right leg can feel as though it's been caught in a charlie-horse.

But after times of deep prayer and quiet, I am transformed into a new period of trust and quiet. My parents are here from Brazil now for just over a month, and what a BLESSING! My mother cooks, cleans, does laundry, handles times with the children, freeing Margie to rest, take some recovery time, and to think about her own calling in ministry. My father runs errands, helps out with household tasks (long needed repairs and such), and in addition to that, takes me to medical appointments, stays in my office for long periods, simply abiding with me as a person of support. How are we going to survive without them? (With God's grace, I know, but it's also a serious question!)

As far as treatment goes, here is a quick update: we nixed the idea of chemotherapy, partly because we had such reservations about it personally, but also with the support of Dr. Hantel. In the next cycle of events, we had to determine whether to procede with Dr. Raizer's experimental treatment run from Northwestern that was also designed for this kind of cancer. Dr. Raizer at first was fairly insistent on using monthly CT Scans with dye for my case, and I had already reached the conclusion that this would not work, especially since my last treatment had led to another bout of hives/skin peeling. It took nearly two weeks to hear back from his office that he had agreed to accept MRIs in lieu of the CT dye. This leaves us yet in uncertainty about whether to follow this treatment or not. I am not at all sure that this is the means God would use for my restoration. Margie would just love to have a clear decision so we could make solid schedules!

In the middle of all this uncertainty, some friends from church offered us free appointments to see a Chinese acupuncturist who has a high reputation for treating cancers. I've been to see him twice, and will go again tomorrow. His office is very restful and full of peace, but he makes no claim to "cure" or solve the cancer problem. Rather, he wants to help strengthen the immune system in the midst of the battle.

In the meantime, applications for Redeemed Lives are coming in regularly, and I am bolstered by the fact that despite my potential for daily exhaustion, "The Lord is my Rock and my Salvation; in Him I trust. The Lord is the stronghold of my life; whom shall I fear?"

Finally, we are once again greatly blessed by the many of you who have been praying for us. Some of you, we know, have never even met us. What a glorious thing the communion of saints is! And furthermore, how can we know who it is that drops by anonymous gifts, puts cash into the offering plate in envelopes for us? It is a humbling situation in which to learn better how we ourselves ought to love others. We can't even write a thank-you note for those expressions of grace, except to render them to God himself, and pass on what we can. You are all evidence of the love of Christ to us, for which we give you thanks. You are carrying us through on this journey.

Bless you,

John

August 26, 2007

Another Overdue Report

Thank you for your prayers, your gifts, your faithful willingness to give to me when I've lost so much of my capacity to give as I used to. For all of those e-mails that I wish I could respond to more individually, I also give thanks.

Increase in pain. That's the primary description of my recent health. This is graduate, though, and alternates between days of freedom and days of near crippling sensations. I've begun to take a very mild dose of the anti-pain drug that the doctor has prescribed for me. It combines acetaminophen with a small bit of norco -- the one I'd been avoiding when I last wrote. This helps, but, of course, I don't want to become dependent on it, if possible. Nonetheless, it does enable me to focus on activities other than pain, so that's better (such as WRITING about pain :-)). It means that I can work, that I can help out at home some, and that I can drive, type, read, and so forth.

When I compare the energy that I used to have with the current energy I now have, I am a bit stunned, however. I used to be able to process activities and ideas more speedily, and LOVED doing that! Now, I have to be more cautious, and move more slowly, especially in walking or bending over. Sleeping can be a challenge -- not once I've fallen asleep, but to get into a comfortable position IN bed.

On the personal and more inward side, I have been challenged to trust in God's love and goodness. I have seen that I am must take more authority over this situation than I ever have. It reflects the authority that I have long needed to take in other aspects of my personal development.

This shows up in certain well-intended models of Christian prayer. Someone can pray for another who is ill by saying something like this: "Lord, we know you can heal, and we ask for that, but whatever your will is, we know that you will always be present." This is not entirely theologically amiss, but I am beginning to sense the means whereby such prayer can open a door to despair for someone like me. In other words, if I begin to believe that God wants me to begin planning my death ceremony based on a prognosis given me by a doctor, I wonder as to the justice and meaningfulness of my life. If my life is to end, I think I must at least go through the battle that Jesus had in the garden, in which he bled in "fighting it out", so to speak, with his Father. He still ended saying, "Not my will, but thy will be done," but he never accepted that conclusion passively.

This has called me to a deeper level of prayer that takes much more energy. I would say that in my early childhood, and consequently through the rest of my adolescence and adult life, I never learned well how to cry out in anger, in opposition, or in conflict that was appropriate, holy, and ultimately resolved in a restorative way. So now, here's the opportunity, indeed the NECESSITY to do so. And sometimes there are people present here to help me do that, and sometimes not. I think I understand a bit more why Jesus went back to the slumbering Peter, James, and John a couple times, asking for their presence in the battle. Of course -- they didn't understand at all what he was fighting, and neither have I in the past, especially in the case of so many others who have deserved my help and intercessions in time of need.

And yet -- it is only by those times alone that I think my faith is able to grow. If I had people with me all the time, comforting me and "solving" the spiritual complexity of pain, where would the questions be that I have to fight out with the Lord?

If it occurs to you, pray for me as I seek willingly to look in the face of whatever pain comes, and then to break through the passivity I would be tempted to accept -- that God didn't care, that I wasn't wanted anyway, that my life was over with and I might as well accept that injustice now and become embittered. (Believe me, these are easy temptations some days).

Rather, pray that I could step into the the authority I have to resist the battle, crying out with whatever needs to emerge from my soul, but in a holy and worthy fight -- perhaps like the anger toward death that Jesus himself displayed at the tomb of Lazarus. In those few times where I've been able to reach this point of freedom, I have sensed new energy and healing also flowing into my bodily illness. I'm able to hear the voice of the Lord, and know that Jesus really does love me.

And only THEN if no healing comes -- only then will I know that I have fought the good fight without becoming a whiner or a complainer.

God, forgive me for the numbers of times I have pitied myself, and whined against your provision. Help me to accept the discipline that you bring to refine my character, as a loving Father does to his son. I choose to live and to grow more into the image of your own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

August 9, 2007

Overdue Report

My apologies to those of you who have been checking for some time about my health situation. Here are some of the matters to report.

After seeing Dr. Raizer back in July, he had a blood test run on the status of calcium, etc. in the blood (forgive my unprofessional descriptions of these processes!) After reading the amount of calcium, they sent me to the ER for Saline solution and the IV of a medication that is intended to seal the calcium into the bones, and slow down their decay. After that test, I tried to find someone who would do a blood test to see if the medication had been effective, but to no avail. My internist referred me to practitioners who had served from 4 to 6 years; his nurse referred me to a neurologist who doesn't take insurance; and Dr. Raizer's office was impossible to track down.

So I went back to the doctor at Edward in Naperville, where my radiation had been done, and asked for a referral to a general oncologist. This idea came to me by a comment that Dr. Raizer himself had made. Since this is such a rare cancer, and a brain origin is apparently its most rare place of origin, it was simply for that reason that Raizer was the neuro-oncologist put in charge. But if it had occurred where it more often does, such as in the bones, liver, or lungs, then I would have seen a general oncologist from the get-go.

Dr. Raizer's nurse e-mailed us on Monday, July 30th, saying that he wanted to see us on Tuesday morning at 9:00 am. I wrote a civil response in return, pointing out that we simply could not go to Chicago that day (Margie had planned a splash party for many women-friends and their children, and I had work to do), but that we'd come on Thursday or hear any serious news on an e-mail if necessary.

In the meantime, I had made an appointment with the new oncologist, Dr. Alexander Hantel, for Tuesday. As I walked in the Cancer Unit (where I had had radiation as well), there was a live harpist playing. Tender, even worshipful music -- "Be Thou My Vision", an Irish tune, but also a hymn, for example -- made me think, "If I have to die, I'd rather do so here!

By contrast with Northwestern, I actually got to see the doc within ten minutes of my scheduled time (try 45 minutes at best to 2.5 hours at worst in Chicago). He listened carefully to my symptoms and medical history, and then proposed some ideas for moving forward. He knows Dr. Raizer, and felt that it would not be a problem at all for him to take my case. In the midst of our exam, he listened to my heart and lungs. I took off my cross, but he told me I didn't need to. Then he said, "What religion are you?", knowing that I work at Wheaton College. I responded, "It shouldn't be hard to guess, should it?" To which he threw out "Evangelical Christian". I agreed, and said that I attended an Anglican church, and he responded with interest and said, "I am Russian Orthodox." It turned out that he attends a church just down the road from us in Winfield, and he also sings in the choir. In another curious event, I had an encounter with an Orthodox Priest who had attended PCM and had received great healing. He inquired of my health, and when he found that I was being seen by Dr. Alex Hantel, was truly delighted, affirming the spiritual solidity of the whole family, the faith and virtue of their priest, and so on. Needless to say, this provided a sense for further connections, and a serious awareness on his part that life does not consist of human power alone.

He ordered the blood test I'd wanted, and brought me back to the hospital the next day for an IV of a new drug that should help to manage my hypercalcemia (the term for elevated calcium in the blood). I see him again on August 15th. Pray for that day. I will also cease those long voyages to Chicago for treatments or depressing news.

As far as that goes, I did (finally) receive from Northwestern the paper reports of my last CT scans and bone scan. It was not positive, as I would have expected. Fractions in my ribs have increased, along with erosion of bones throughout the body. No organs are penetrated (praise God!), but I find it increasing difficult to sit (much less walk). There is so little flesh to sit upon between the surface and my buttocks! Margie told me the other day that from behind heading to the car I look like a 90-year old. I was deeply charmed by the compliment :-), but it's true. I have to breathe deeply to remain centered and to allow pain to wash over me without becoming tense or using other parts of the body to compensate. Blessedly, I only take about three tablets of acetaminophen per day for pain. So I'm avoiding all of the addictive pain meds as long as possible (hopefully forever!)

One of the greatest things that ministers to me is the simple touch of close friends and believers. Each morning, Margie and I have begun receiving the reserve sacrament from the church. It comes with a simple liturgy, and a few options for the opening text are listed, all from the Gospel of John. My favorite is this:

Jesus said, "Abide in me, as I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love." John 15:4-5a, 8-9

Meditating on this passage has been another of those deeply moving moments. "Abide in me" makes me think of having my legs deeply planted in soil. Then this amazing statement: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you." The love between the Father and the Son is undivided and eternal, unseparated, perfect, filled with purity, glory, and light. The unfathomable part that I had not noticed before is the line, "so have I loved you; abide in my love." I am being, as are all of those who believe, being invited into a perfection of unity with eternal love, even though we ourselves are incapable of maintaining the unity. I sin, I mistrust, I do not abide in the love of God. But when I do, I am called first to repent -- "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" -- and then to receive and remain in the love of God, something that is a new experience for me. It is there that I sense the greater power released for healing in my body.

May all of us grow in that capacity and in that vision of light and glory.

Amen.

July 28, 2007

The Battle, the Drowsiness

This is Saturday, July 28th. Here's a summary of the week gone by. Monday, I was ready and in peace to go through the MRI. I got some office work done before leaving for Bucktown in Chicago, where Northwestern has a free-standing neurology center. These are much nicer than the hospitals, because they are much more accurate in keeping schedules (emergency patients aren't rushed ahead of one, urgent situations don't keep one behind, and so on).

Tuesday, I was energized to do a full-day's work, but still felt the gradual erosion of weight-lifting and walking abilities. Wednesday was another day of morning work, followed by afternoon CT and Bone Scans. The CT dye is something that I'm highly allergic to, and it appears that they barely got the steroid dosage correct to save me from a serious complication in reaction to the test. In fact, I think there may still be some residual effects, since I have hives on my abdomen and that should not have been in the case.

Dr. Raizer will see us with his report sometime next week or early the week afterwards. I don't know the day yet, but I'm assuming that no news was good news when it comes to an immediate crisis.

Though I worked on Thursday, Friday was simply exhausting. I came home to go to bed. I felt disappointed in my inability to achieve some more goals for the new fiscal year. I thought I might feel better today, but no. I slept almost all day today, as Margie is away with some college friends, and the children are with her parents. Eventually, I just submitted to the idea of long-term napping, waking up and reading a bit, and all through, just praying and practicing the presence of the Lord.

This form of prayer is not very emotive. I don't feel an influx of tenderness, a hug of reassurance, or a promise of security. Rather, it is more a continual surrender to accepting what the Lord wants. I also made a list of things I felt the Lord wanted me to do today, which then I was able to do! The only significant one out of the house was to go get a hair cut -- and I assure those of you who read this that the word of the Lord was completely accurate in regard to the need for that snip-snip!

My primary pain is walking. My right leg feels at risk in the knee and in the femur between the knee and the upper thigh. I am also aware of a likely growth near the fractured rib-cage on my right side. Once I lie down, though, I can find a comfortable place. So far, I'm not on any regular pain medications, which I intend to continue not to do as long as possible.

Tomorrow should be a gorgeous day. In the midst of the beautiful weather, two friends of ours from church have set up a garden walk for the whole afternoon at their homes. People are invited to pray for us, and to offer us donations. We are amazed at the generosity and love we are being dowsed with. Such love is another cause for more lessons in trust.

Finally, I was reading a portion of Psalm 119:49-72 earlier this week, and the psalmist speaks throughout that entire Psalm about the law, the statutes, the commandments, the ordinances, and so forth -- every word carrying with it an implied reference to the law of God. The passages that ministered to me were these:

Remember your word to your servant,
for you have given me hope.
My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise renews my life... (49-50)

Do good to your servant
according to your word, O LORD.
Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
for I believe in your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word... (65-67)

It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.
The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. (71-72)

As I thought about the way in which the discipline of the Lord brings new hope and a better life, my mind also went to the prologue to the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." As I think on the beauty of God's teaching and verbal instruction, I am also drawn to the reality of the ultimate self-revelation that we see of the Word in Jesus. Truly, the "law", who is the Lord himself, is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

Blessings,

John

July 23, 2007

Medical Report

Many of you are interested in a simple report rather than a long historical narrative (my profound apologies for the verbosity of some of my autobiography!), so here is a recent update.

Thursday, July 19th, Margie and I saw Dr. Jeff Raizer at Northwestern in Chicago for his proposal for the next step to be considered. As I assumed, he saw chemotherapy as the option, and he had very little to say about prognosis. The reality is, hemangiopericytoma of the brain is so rare that he and others simply don't know what TO say. He offered the option of a combination of IV meds, to be delivered 3 days per month, with the normal side-effects -- loss of energy, hair, diarrhea, liver problems, and on and on. Sounds like just what one would choose for a relaxing vacation (NOT). The other option was a to participate in a study using an oral tablet, but so far, this program has little results to report. Either way, he recommended the more aggressive approach, and it seemed to me that his prediction was an under 10% level of recovery (Margie may have heard it differently, but he threw out the number of 5%, so I think my estimate is fair).

We went to the meeting knowing we would hear this kind of report, but it is still hard to listen. What is the benefit of listening at all? The next step was to schedule another MRI, and then a CT and Bone Scan to observe the effectiveness of the lst round of radiation. Before we left the hospital, they took a blood test focused on the kidneys.

Friday morning, Margie and I both received calls and e-mails from Dr. Raizer's nurse saying I needed to go to the ER, due to the elevated calcium and creatinine in my blood. These could put me at risk of seizures, kidney malfunction, and various other problems. In many ways, this helped to explain my condition over the last few weeks, resulting from a combination of the cleansing of the bone material that was destroyed by radiation, as well as by the continued assault on the bone by the cancer itself. They put me on an IV with a drug called Aredia that has already helped to reduce some of my fatigue and to (hopefully) readjust the calcium in my blood, though I haven't seen a test on that yet.

The ER ended up disrupting the plans Margie and I had to attend a wedding of a couple for whom we had done pre-marital counseling, and following that, an evening retreat in which we planned to pray and rest together in discernment concerning future treatment! Given that that was not what happened, it was easy to feel depressed, but we had some more opportunities to learn to yield our weakness and complaining to the Lord, and to focus on His continuous presence with us. It may sound saintly, but I can assure you how much it is not. At bottom, I am more often brought to realize what an immature sinner I am. The thing that moves me so greatly, though, is the mercy and simple reminders of God's love.

Saturday, Margie and I went to breakfast together, and then invited a couple from church over to pray for us. What a blessing to remain in stillness and peace after having read the scriptures and then sharing in the reserved communion together. By the end, Margie and I had decided to go ahead with the MRI today and the CT/Bone Scan on Wednesday.

I'm finishing the day at my office a little late, just to get out this news. I was able to lie more peacefully than before during this MRI (takes nearly 3 hours, and is very loud), during which I dozed some, and prayed as much as I could focus! But I know the Lord was with me through the entire event. Thanks to all those who helped with the children so that Margie could come with me. She is so humble and real -- read her blog, those of you who haven't: http://margiefawcett.blogspot.com.

I continue to pursue getting a few links to music on this blog. Some of the songs I've heard from the past (or present) have remained mainstays, and I'd love to share them.

Finally, I can't post it all here, but look at one of the readings in the Psalms for the day: Psalm 31 for an amazing encouragement.

God bless you,

John

July 15, 2007

The 70-Year Promise: 2004 Cancer

I have considered posting this blog for quite awhile, and now feel that it is right to do so. It has long been close to my heart, and I believe it the call of God to speak it out. So here goes.

One of my earlier blogs (A Foundation in Faith) recounted the story of how God spoke to me regarding my marriage to Margie, and how improbable it seemed at the time we broke up that we would ever get together again. Nevertheless, we reconnected EXACTLY at the date that God had told me we would. Upon discovering that the date matched up, that was a hilarious experience of God's power to fulfill his promises. Our marriage was full of joy and celebration. I learned what a sacramental union marriage is, as God became the center of what bound us together.

The reason I wrote the earlier marriage story is related to another word from the Lord that came to me in 2004 when I was recovering from cancer surgery and radiation. In August 2004, when we first found that I had brain cancer, we experienced a daily visitation of encouragement from God. It was like manna in the wilderness, water in the desert -- all of those biblical images of journeying through the valley of death. I'm experiencing many of those again, and finding how rich they are. I know I need to keep record of them, since they tend to fade with time. But this story is about one in particular.

First, however, the background: we discovered that I had a brain tumor because I had a grand mal seizure in the middle of the night, during which Margie thought I was dying -- convulsing in bed, moaning, incoherent. Such a thing had never happened to me before. My worst health problems had been headaches and colds. Margie called 911 in desperation, then family members, then our friends Dan & Sandy Kruse. Dan is an M.D., and he came over immediately. Apparently I put up quite a battle with the paramedics because I didn't want to be strapped down and taken to the hospital. Upon arrival, I came to consciousness gradually, and heard that a CT scan had revealed a tumor in the left temporal lobe of my brain. The doctor was reasonably sure that it was a meningioma -- one of the most common brain tumors, and nearly always benign. He suggested we might get a second opinion.

Through a connection in Chicago, we went to see a highly regarded neurosurgeon at Northwestern University Hospital, Dr. Hunt Batjer. He agreed to perform the surgery, and also thought it would be benign. I'll never forget entering the surgery with a high-hearted sense of humor. My sister Katherine, who home-schools my nephews and nieces, asked if they could have some of the tumor to examine. "No," the surgeon insisted. "Epidemiology will want the tumor -- but you can have the brain."

I thought that was hilarious (and still do!) But little did we know that the surgery would be much more serious, since the tumor was in fact a malignant hemangiopericytoma -- a very rare variant of the meningioma, one that often metastasizes within 5 years, and for which extended treatment methods are uncertain. Thanks be to God, the surgery went well, but I was required to go for 39 daily session of radiation to the brain. These were exhausting.

I was fixed to a slab with a plastic head mask so that I could not move in any direction where they were aiming the radiation. The door to the dungeon-like radiation room would slam, and the symbol of the experience felt like crucifixion. I had on a crown of thorns. I was alone. I was dying. I was told that I could lose my memory, my verbal skills, my learning abilities, all of my mental capacities. This, I must say, was not pleasant news. I came to rely more closely on the Lord at the time, and meditated much on the events at his own crucifixion, and how, in some ways, it was a privilege to share in his crucifixion. In other words, God was not punishing me by bringing me through this time of trial, but refining my faith and hope. [Incidentally, I had a couple songs that ministered to me at the time. I'm still figuring out how to load them onto the blog. Suggestions? I'll do it when I can or learn how.]

I chose during that time to trust in the goodness and hope of God, and to pray for recovery and healing. I kept working at 1/2 time, and then went back to work full time in January of 2005. I am grateful that I lost as few of my mental functions as I did (I notice some limitations in name/noun retrieval, and I fail to pick up new concepts as rapidly as before, but I'm also more tired by having two children!) In general, I'm blessed greatly with a functional recovery.

During that time of radiation and 1/2 day employment I sensed God's presence on a daily basis. I would go to my office, and there always seemed to be an e-mail message, a phone call, a Scripture reading, a piece of music, a gift -- some encouragement that was directly sent by the Lord to support me. This happened at home also. One time in the middle of the night I recall journaling and praying in our living room, and being aware of an angelic protection surrounding me. I was amazed that I would be the object of such a ministry, and asked "Why me?", meaning "Why would you descend to care or honor someone like myself, sinful and imperfect?" The answer was "Because my Lord took on your flesh." I was awed by the sense that the angels themselves do not share in the divine nature the way that we, fallen and broken though we are, are honored and called to do.

But on one occasion (and this is the central event of this entry), I received a word from the Lord that I will never forget. It came through a Wheaton graduate student from Ethiopia who had worked for me as a part-time employee. His name was Terefe, and he hadn't heard of my diagnosis and surgery until that very day. As soon as he did, he came to my office with a passage of Scripture he wanted to read, and then he wanted to pray for me. He began reading from Jeremiah 29, which many Christians will recognize as a frequent passage invoked for the future blessing of God. Beginning at verse 11, the text reads:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

But Terefe began reading at verse 10, which says,

This is what the Lord says, "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you..."

As Terefe read this text, I heard the very same voice that I had heard before, particularly with regard to Margie: "Give it two years" and "Do not fear, for I have given her to you." These words were not self-invented, and as a result I wasn't able fully to trust them, in the sense that they seemed to be coming as a fully external promise -- a gift that I would receive whether I had the means of obtaining it or not. Because as Terefe read verse 10, I heard the Lord say, "You are going to live to age 70, and possibly longer." Tears ran down my face, as it seemed God was confirming his promise, "For I know the plans I have for you..." with a specific encouragement to view life for the long term. It was also the nature of some of my soul's brokenness or longing that I had never had a vision for life beyond 40, and at the time I was 42. I didn't wish to die, but I simply didn't know what life could be like beyond 40. It was a powerfully healing moment. God was speaking to me of the length of my life, his promise, and my future hope.

Now, from an exegetical or historical/critical perspective, these words have nothing whatsoever to do with me personally. They were written to the exiles of Israel who had been sent to Babylon, and Jeremiah was telling them that after 70 years, they would return to Judea. But for some reason, these words came to me as though they were spoken by God for my situation. I certainly didn't seek for them or consciously elicit them. They simply came. It was an Abrahamic moment for me. I could only say, "Lord, be it done unto me according to your will. I may or may not live that long, but it seems to me that I have heard you say that. I believe -- help my unbelief."

Those words have sustained me for the last 2 and 1/2 years, and as cancer has recurred, I have had multiple opportunities to rethink that word. Do I believe it? Should I believe it? Lord, what should I think of this?

Here is what I have come to. First, I do not believe it is time for me to die. I believe that God still has a call on my life, and I desire to serve him as I can while I live. Next, changing and healing myself is not a possibility. This is a matter of God's work, and I can receive it from him, without at the same time considering it a matter of debt that I am owed. Obviously, continuing to live may not mean a life without pain!

But perhaps the most profound lesson I have been learning is my own need to submit to God's timing and calling for me. At one early time in my existence, perhaps in physical memories, perhaps in emotional wounds, in wrong or accurate perceptions, I came to the conclusion that life might simply be too painful or difficult to undertake, and I became willing to give up. I would become a victim, I would treat challenging circumstances as though life was unfair. Underlying this view was a hidden presumption that God himself was unfair to me. I have gradually repented of this sin (long hidden from my own eyes), not because God shamed me for needing his transforming grace, but because of his tenderness towards me. His loving plans for my life, refined even through discipline, had begun to show me how much my pride had led me to mistrust him.

In the evening prayer of Compline that Margie and I pray before bed, there is a quote from I Peter 5:8-9a: "Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith."

A few weeks ago, as I was praying, I felt the need to speak out a clear word of choice to the enemy. I basically said this: "You can amputate portions of my body, you can destroy my bones; you can rob me of memory and distort my brain; you can shorten my days and rend me with pain. But one thing I stand on: I will never turn from my love for the Lord or my faith in him. I choose life, I choose to live. I renounce my tendency to give in to the discouragement of death. In the name of Jesus Christ, be gone, and know that you have already lost the battle. My life is united with Christ, and I am secure in the promise of his resurrection. Death is swallowed up in victory!"

Then I had to say to the Lord, "Now, Lord, you must do this in me, since I am weak and can fail! I need you to sustain my faith and daily forgive my sin, since I carry this weakness within me. Continue to heal my soul, and strengthen me to accept challenges and pain as discipline for your glory."

So, at this point in my days, I ask all of you for these intercessions:

- that the Lord may sustain me for the length of days he has for me;
- that we may have great wisdom as we consult with Dr. Raizer (neurooncologist) on this Thursday, July 19th. He is likely to propose chemotherapy as my next treatment, and Margie and I have some questions about the wisdom of this;
- that the Lord give me the wisdom of how properly to spend the energy I have, that our children and Margie would be loved and nurtured, that I would do the ministry I should, and that I would know the most important things to do at my job.

If any of you are led to intercede for a clear release of energy for my life, or who believe that the promise I have received is from the Lord, I would thank you. I know that it may seem unbelievable or strange to many, yet for me it is a simply inescapable word that has focused my hope, even though it is not at all evident in my daily life or health or feelings. In fact, I think that living longer is not at all necessarily associated with less pain. I also don't think that it is necessarily a matter of detailed "truth" (e.g., 70 years or not). But the key point is that I know I am called to put my faith in God like Abraham did. This is not humanly possible. May God bring it to fulfillment in his own way, to his own glory.

In the meantime, God's blessings remain upon us all. All will become clear in his time!

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

July 8, 2007

An Exhausting Week...

Wow, what a drain this last week afforded me. As I had expected, I would be dealing with post-conference lows along with the conclusion of radiation. As I look back at the many years that I led worship at PCM (Pastoral Care Ministries) in my twenties and thirties, I can still remember reaching the end of a week like that with a desire to sleep for a couple days. Add to that my age (45), my battle with cancer, my two children (4 and 1), and my ongoing job, and I definitely feel the growth of that challenge! At the same time, I am thankful for the joy I have in thinking and reading while at work. Several projects on Thursday and Friday were encouraging to me. Summer this year seems to have become a time to catch up on lots of clutter -- a great goal, partially informed by my awareness of what I can more freely release for others to do.

My throat is healing, but I am still unable to sing in my normal range, and my speech sounds raspy. Thanks for your prayers for that. I do believe that the doctors have a general sense of recovery, but I doubt them at times. Such as the responses I got during post-surgical radiation in 2004: "Oh, yes, we may have caused you to lose some nerve function in the left side of your face. Yeah, we may have done that to you. Sorry." Or: "Seizures? Ach, they're nothing. Just let those doctors get them under control and you'll be fine!" From the perspective of a medical professional used to seeing people die daily, I'm sure I must have appeared like a heroic achievement, but living through those bodily decays proved to require lots more grief and impact than I was willing to accept at first.

And that is also true now. Having been in a deep place of battle for my health, I'm more keenly aware now of how much more vulnerable I may end up, and how I definitely should not pretend to have no changes to deal with. At the same time, I don't want to pull back too timidly from maintaining general functionality. I don't think I'm there, though. Bending over to pick up something can be quite sharp on either side of my thigh (such as a child, or an item at the grocery store, or recyling bin. Margie reminds me with good humor that my mental attitude needs to keep me from presenting like a grandfather (or great-grandfather, she even suggests!) to my children. But when they run up close and want to spring into my arms -- oh, how risky it is to set up a defensive turn against that rather than finding a safe and welcoming means of greeting them. And how sorrowful I am also, that I can't flip my one-year old Josiah up into the air, or take them all out on a bicycle ride, or go boating on a nearby lake. Instead, I'm even taking them on a walk around the block.

These are the challenges of the pains these days. I find myself limping more, and I consequently move much more slowly. I've also gotten some great counsel from a massage therapist who specializes in cancer treatment, and she has encouraged me to focus in rest and stillness. What a wonderful thing to do -- and that God gives me time to do, especially if I go to bed early enough to arise prior to the children. However, if I wait too late -- ah, the day can quickly become burdened with the cares of this life.

In that setting, the promises I received prior to and during the PCM have grown much more significant to me. The Lord has reminded me that if I open my ears, he will give me the way. My responsibility is to walk in it without fear or anxiety. I must admit how much of my life has been based on the sense that I had to accomplish more than was humanly possible. And that is merely pride. Once again, the humility of trusting in God has been revealed.

In conclusion, Margie and I had a powerful time together a couple nights ago, simply listening to her read the last several chapters of the book of Hebrews. As we listened to the description of the kind of suffering that our predecessors endured who did not receive the promises, but nonetheless were the kind of people of whom the world was not worthy, I was moved to tears by the way that God uses discipline to shape us. Discipline never (nor pain ever) makes us comfortable, but if we receive it, it will cause us to grow in holiness and yield a rich harvest of righteousness to those who are exercised by it. At that point, I feel like I'm literally eating up the truth of the Scripture that God is answering my prayers in disciplining me as a son. It would only be a father who didn't care who would not discipline me, and goodness knows I need discipline.

I'm not sure how I can describe this, but instead of feeling more bitter or irritable, this attitude causes me to feel more grateful, and I weep -- mostly because I'm not worthy of such refinement, and also because I've wasted years in justifying myself much more than I realized. But, amazingly, even that is in his hands, and all shall be well in his time.

Final notes: I haven't figured out if there's a way for you to register on a list that lets you know when there's been a new posting on this blog, but if you need something like that, drop me an email. Also, Margie has set up a beautiful blog at The Fruitful Vine. Take a look if you'd like. And last, I have some songs that have been a great blessing to me as moving encouragements. I'll try to figure out how to post them as .mp3 files in the coming days.

The love and peace of God,

John

July 2, 2007

An Amazing Week!

As you can tell, I have not been able to blog for over a week. Beginning on Sunday night, June 24, I took on the responsibility of worship leadership at the Pastoral Care Ministry Conference here at Wheaton. It has been many years since I've done that, but this one was clearly a call of the Holy Spirit. It was one of the passions of my heart to lead all of the people there into the presence of God, insofar as He enabled me. What an irony of sorts that I was rediagnosed with cancer within a week or so after committing to this call. I knew then that it would be a miracle if I were able to accomplish it. The radiation would drain my energy, and the doctor told me that since they would be hitting my larynx, esophagus, and trachea, I would lose my voice, not be able to sing, sound grovelly, and so on.

I heard that word, and shared it with the team members, who shared the petition for a miracle all over the world. And, indeed, I must say, that is what happened.

From the first Sunday night throughout the whole week, I was told that my voice had never been stronger, and that the worship was healing people even before teaching lectures had begun. At times, the musicians I played with had the same experience. We had to step into the hallway after leading, and continue to glory in the sense that we were caught up into heaven and that heaven had descended to us. The awesome holiness of God, and the eternal communion of saints, and the angels, archangels, cherubim, seraphim -- all of those who even now are standing in the presence of God -- were with us. And, part of the most humbling feature was simply to have been called to participate in that. I couldn't have done it myself.

The week also took a toll on me physically (as such conferences always do!) I was "exuberant and exhausted", as I shared with some friends, and am now getting back some energy. I continued to carry some additional responsibilities at work during the week, but the big feature was continuing to go for radiation. I got a break on Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday, the machine was non-functonal, so my appointment was cancelled. Friday, Margie called and asked if I could cancel, to which the doctor was very amenable. So I have to go in today and tomorrow for the last two burns (that's how I'm beginning to feel them to be!)

I have found it quite painful to swallow (even water), and I have been very thirsty. I know I will heal quickly with good sleep, less vocal exertion, and with a quick end to the treatment. I've also felt pain in the left sacro-iliac area, and in bending down to the floor to pick things up. Thanks for any prayers on this matter. I think these will also be brought into more peace and healing when I'm not as energy-stressed.

In conclusion, I simply want to praise God for the opportunity to serve in a time of limitations, and for all of the prayer support that has come from you. It is humbling and unbelievable to hear of the intercessions going on.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who cares for the grass of the field is much more able to clothe us, we of little faith.

To His praise,

John

June 21, 2007

Health Care Update 6/21/07

Life has been so busy I haven't had time to update this blog for a couple days. Here's a brief report on the state of my health at this point. I have a list of other items in mind to write about from a more personal and spiritual level, but at least this effort will keep you up to date on how I'm doing these days.

First of all, thank you for the incredible support and prayers we are receiving. So many of you have given us time, meals, child care, transportation, gifts towards medications, special massage treatments and groceries -- we are quite overwhelmed. We are also amazed at how God has raised up prayer for us through people around the world that we don't know. I told Margie yesterday that discovering how loved one actually is can be quite flattering. I must be guarded against the narcissistic danger of generating a health crisis in order to confirm it! (Lord, have mercy!) On the contrary, thank the Lord that we are receiving just what we need for each day.

More seriously, we are indeed aware of the fact that we are being carried through by prayers and intercessions that we do not deserve but by grace, and that this period of life is another in which we are refined by how we deal with suffering day by day. So in that regard, it is remarkable how functional and energetic I have been able to remain. Radiation is never fun, but this round is also considerably less stressful than the 39 days I went through post-brain surgery in 2004. (I'll write about that sometime soon.) One of the ways we have been led to face each day is to begin with thanksgiving and praise. Charlotte and Josiah will rarely let me leave for work without asking for "Luia" -- Josiah's word for my playing a song with "Alleluia" in it on the piano, at which point he dances around the room with glee. What a gift of hope and life that is!

These days, I have been driving to Naperville in the midst of my workday, and lying down on the table for a quick (15-20 minute) procedure of radiation. The radiation itself targets three areas -- one in my upper spine, from C2 or so down to about T3 (a major target). The next one is a bit further down, aimed mostly at T7, and the final one penetrates my ribcage on the left to hit a lesion that was pressing through the pleura of my lung, making breathing more difficult (I'm not sure which rib this aims for). Each treatment session, or "fraction" (the correct term -- I mistakenly said "fracture" the other day, and am so glad to know that's NOT what I'm getting!!), takes only a matter of seconds, but the positioning of my body on the table takes more time. Then I go back to work to finish a full day.

Early on, one of the painful features of treatment was the requirement that I hold my hands above my head so that they'd be out of range of radiation. My right arm has lost some muscular function since I broke my shoulder in 2005, so keeping it still was difficult. But I've adjusted to that now. At this point it hardly hurts.

Insofar as my daily activities go, I'm aware of how overstress or expending undue energy can result in pain later on. For example, I can pick up a heavy item without immediate consequence, but a day or so later, I'm aware that I stepped out of my limits. At the same time, I've learned that I can also manage more weight than I could before beginning treatment. This seems to fulfill the expectation of the doctors, who told me that radiation should eliminate pressure from some parts of the spinal nerve.

Here, then are matters for praise and thanksgiving:

1) My breathing is much better on the left side. I can say that I don't notice the degree of limitation that I did prior to starting radiation.
2) My left arm and fingertips are less tingly than when I began, though they aren't as fully responsive and sensitive as they were. This is a matter for ongoing prayer.
3) The side-effects of the treatment are far less than predicted. I have not needed to take pepsid to protect my esophagus, nor anything for pain beyond acetaminophen. I have been guzzling liquid Aloe Vera juice, and it (along with other natural products) seems to have eliminated the predicted grovelliness of my larynx and loss of my voice (at least so far!) This is a great matter of praise and intercession, as I am scheduled next week to be leading worship at a Pastoral Care Ministries conference. Pray that my voice will continue to function during the last week of radiation.
4) I have much more freedom in getting up and out of bed without feeling shafts of pain. I can rest well, and move about without as many surprise moments of stabbing pain.
5) Finally, my ongoing ability to be active and engaged in meeting goals and special projects is undiminished at this point. Thanks be to God for all of these things.

As I mentioned, next week culminates in the conclusion of several important matters: the end of our fiscal year at work; the end of a week of ministry; and the end of the radiation cycle. After that, many uncertain challenges open up.. We will need to have a scan that evaluates the effectiveness of the radiation. Then we will need to consider prayerfully the doctors' proposal for further treatment, which we expect will be for chemotherapy. I am ambivalent about chemotherapy, especially since the medications we would be given would almost certainly be experimental, and would introduce an enormous amount of uncertainty into my body. There are many ways to approach the challenge of dealing with cancer, and we are crying out to the Lord for wisdom in discerning what to do.

As a closing example of how prayers like this have been answered, I want to share one that occurred just at the end of May. Through my parent's church connections in Brazil, a woman in Hong Kong knew of a special Chinese natural anti-cancer medication, derived from herbal products, approved by the Chinese counterpart of our FDA, studied over an 8-year clinical trial, and completely compatible with both radiation and chemotherapy without side effects. This product isn't available in the US, and we wouldn't have had any way of even exploring it as an option apart from the generosity of this family. The treatment was shown to have extended the life span of patients with terminal cancer, reduced their pain substantially, strengthened healthy body cells to fight invasive cancerous ones, and numerous other benefits.

On Memorial Day, I was standing in the yard, getting Charlotte into the car to go on some errands, when the US Postal Service pulled up with a box for me from Hong Kong. I was surprised to see a delivery arrive on a holiday, but the driver told me that there were always special delivery items that got out even on holidays, and that she had to work for a couple hours even then. So, by virtue of my simply being present at the right time on the lawn, I was able to sign for a delivery of an unsolicited gift for the benefit of my health. What could I say but "Thank you, Lord!" Margie and I had cried out for wisdom about what to take in advance of beginning the radiation, and what message could have been clearer than, "Here is a box of completely safe (and highly expensive, it appears) herbal anti-cancer tablets from China, delivered to you on the day when we remember the death of our national heroes. Start taking it now."

How could I do otherwise, and then simply marvel at the grace and plan of God? And how could I ever distrust such a loving provider as the future unfolds?

May this bless all of you, as all of your prayers have blessed us.

With love,

John (& Margie, who is falling asleep right now, I'm sure!)

June 19, 2007

Energy, Relaxation, and Forgiveness

Today's weather was beautiful, and I somehow felt full of energy for work and activity. I felt far less pain today, and was able to accomplish many goals at work. And there are indeed many projects to accomplish there. I often refer to my desk as an archaeological dig -- if I simply lift up a few pages of paper, I'm reminded of some pending activity from last fall that could easily eat up half an afternoon! The context of a library itself is a vulnerable place for someone who has problems prioritizing the most important things. How easy it is to see the potential historic, or unique, or interconnected value of some bit of publication that some future scholar might find intriguing, and therefore worthy of preservation. And despite the occasional truth of that instinct, it must be balanced with the Ecclesiastical reminder that "of the making of many books there is no end, and much study is weariness of the flesh."

I was thinking about that this week when blogging. One of the reasons that a discipline of writing based on one's experience and reflection appears worthy to me is that it helps to pull me just a bit out of the introspection of academia. In a context where research is divorced from the concept of wisdom, one of the highest values associated with publication is comprehensiveness. While reading the great works of others is invaluable and expressive of humility, it can also become an indiscriminate search for completion that I think reveals a lack of understanding of the transcendent. In reality, we as believers must recognize how little we know, how fleeting is our time on earth, and how true wisdom, especially in the interpretation of research, only comes from above. It is in listening to the Word of God, the voice of the Holy Spirit, and in lifting up our hearts in worship that we gain a true sense of what is important or meaningful. Think of it this way: how many great books did the Desert Fathers read? How much research did John the Apostle do before writing his Gospel?

Of course, I'm not promoting ignorance, nor associationg some form of grandiosity with isolation. But I'm troubled by the fact that one's life can become easily entrapped in details, while missing the things of greatest worth. I can remember growing up with many more hymns that dealt with the theme of death, for instance, than are popular nowadays. And these were not morbid themes. On the contrary, they served as reminders that this world is transient, that our lives will end.

As our society has grown more prosperous, it is all the more obsessed with materialism and consumerism, and, it seems to me, less joyous. I live in an area where houses are regularly upgraded by remodeling projects into virtual mansions, and some of them are indeed beautiful. I realize I'll never own one of those ;-), but I'm consoled by the presumptuousness of many of them -- I wouldn't want one anyway, I think (or at least, pretend to think!)

Other developments are tearing up the plains of Illinois and designing blocks of housing strips that militate against community and enforce mandatory vehicular travel to another strip of nationally-syndicated businesses in order simply to bite into the food chain or find a clothing supply center -- UGH! All is the same, there are no churches, no centers of social gathering, and I grieve for the isolation and deprivation of the children and families that live there.

But I am vulnerable in other ways. I can become enamored with my agenda and my control, and fail to take the time to re-focus upwards. And that's what I had to confess yesterday as I sped down the road from Wheaton to Naperville, and arrived just in time for another radiation session. On Sunday, I had received a wonderful massage that enabled me to relax and breathe more deeply down my spine. As I laid down again on the radiation table, the though occured to me that if I relaxed as I felt newly enabled to do, I just might displace the target of the planned rays. What if the wrong cells were attacked?

I remained still, just as instructed, just as I knew the therapists wanted me to do. But when it came to an end, I raised the question. "What if I were to relax on the table and shift slightly? Would you be able to track the internal locations where you are radiating me in a case like that?"

Not a word from any of the three women in the room. I felt as if I had raised a forbidden question. I probed a bit more. "I mean, I just felt like I could have relaxed a bit, but it might have shifted my back."

One of the therapists bit back a bit acerbically. "That's why we tell you NOT to move while you're on the table. We are aiming for EXACTLY the right spots, and you musn't move."

Then my heart flared up. Uh-oh. A bit of human defensive anger? I shot back. "I DID NOT move while I was lying there. I simply want to raise the question. Isn't it possible that something in my body could have shifted so that the radiation targets different spots than it was designed to do?"

Another therapist chimed in: "You're going to be scanned tomorrow, but everything should be fine." I walked out, trying to explain: "I have a great respect for traditional medicine, but I also have some serious questions about it..."

As I left with some residual hostility to the whole enterprise whirling in my heart, I realized that I had to see things from the point of view of these women. What must it be like to have to administer radiation to cancer patients on a daily basis, many of whom are depressed, already expecting death, without hope of heaven or the incredible encouragement and support that I receive? How must it feel for the technicians to have a patient imply that they were doing something intentionally damaging? I felt grieved for making their day harder, and vowed to apologize and make specific efforts to reconcile with them later. And -- I thought -- they could also have responded better to my questions by simply saying, "Wow, I'm sure those are difficult things to struggle with. You should definitely ask your doctor about that."

Well, the woman who seemed most acerbic wasn't there today. Maybe tomorrow (there are only seven therapists who do this work, and I have eight more chances to bless her and win her favor). But today I got to work on a different discipline of patience while in the midst of traffic. After having successfully survived a much more peaceful radiation session, I got to wait for 15 (fifteen -- that is XV, 0:15, get it?) minutes of absolutely clogged, virtually immobile traffic in getting back to my office! What are those road reconstructions doing for us all, anyway? I, on the other hand, could have accomplished so much more good by tackling the details of the library world from my desk! Ai-ai-ai. Sounds like I have to take time for some peaceful listening to the Lord, huh? Apparently I still have to learn a bit more about letting go of control and using my strength for "the most important tasks".

OK -- I will. "Into thy hands I commend my spirit, O Lord, O God of truth."

Thank you for your forgiveness, and for all the ways you want to shape me through this experience. And thank you for the humorous ways you continue to expose my weaknesses. Praise you for the beauty and joy of each day, and for the energy to keep active and outwardly focused.

Amen.

June 17, 2007

A Blessed Weekend

Margie and I were given a great privilege this weekend to take a retreat together. I left work early (after Friday radiation), and headed northward with her to Woodstock, IL. There is a Catholic retreat center there that has quiet rooms with no TV or computer. We dropped off our overnight belongings, and went into town for a meal. Woodstock happens to be the village where the film Groundhog Day was made (thus were we informed by the welcoming attendee at the retreat center!) So we had a laugh remembering the humor of that old Bill Murray story, and located a great French Creperie on the square for dinner. Tired, releasing tension and the burdens of our ongoing challenges, we went back to the retreat center for bed.

What a great opportunity simply to sleep for nearly 10 hours. My right shoulder and side were in sharp pain, but after a night of sleep and prayerful meditation, I awakened refreshed and energized. We had breakfast, and returned to pick up Josiah at his grandparents' place (my in-laws') and Charlotte from the home of our friends the Kruses. It was Charlotte's first night-out, and she wasn't that enthusiastic about leaving, so we felt relieved at not having left either child in distress. And great thanks to those who hosted, funded, and blessed us to go.

That evening, we had another privilege, as we went to see a production of Dorothy Sayers' novel Gaudy Night, performed as the conclusion of a conference on Sayers being hosted by Wheaton College's Wade Center. The play was well-directed, and somehow the privilege of being outwardly-directed in the midst of a potentially morose time becomes highly rejuvenating. I do have to be careful, though. On the drive back from Woodstock, I find myself using the vehicle as an outlet for the energy I still wish I could exert physically. This means plunging to the front of the line whenever possible, bypassing leisurely drivers (who are driving the speed limit -- of all things! -- in the left lane), counting it a great privilege to have anticipated which lane was likely to move ahead more quickly given the probability of who was going to make a left turn, etc., etc.

As we approach Margie's parents' place, I see the bike trail along which I had last approached their home, prior to the seizures in 2005 that essentially ended by dreams of biking long distances. I dream of doing it again, I hope that perhaps I can, I fantasize that I could do it even now, simply by willing it to be. But I am more sobered by reality these days, and I know how cautious I must be, and I recognize that my "drivenness" in so many ways reflects a lack of stillness and focus on the call of God.

As I return home with Margie after the play, I am reminded of the fragility of my body. It still hurts to get up too quickly into bed, or to pick up a heavy item (including our children!) Elevating my arm to pull dishes from the dishwasher to the cabinet can be painful. But I sleep well, and we are full of thanks for what we have been given.

Sunday -- a blessed service of worship. It is Father's Day, and as I hear the music of the younger musicians who have taken over most of my responsibilities at Church of the Resurrection, I am moved by their love for the Lord, the stylistic beauty and simplicity of many of their musical choices, their willingness to bring old texts to new life -- values that I care about passionately. What a freedom to rely on the leadership of others.

I suppose that theme should bring me to the end of this entry. It became clear to me in the night recently when I felt wakeful, and went out into the living room to lie on the floor with my feet up on the couch, stretching my back, and listening for the voice of the Lord and meditating on the Scripture. During times like these, it feels as though I'm being massaged by holy, angelic presences. As I release the pain in my body, I sense the Lord bringing to my mind some areas of past sin or mistrust that I confess. After that, I experience a release of peace --

Peace, peace, wonderful peace, coming down from the Father above; sweep over my spirit forever, I pray, in fathomless billows of love.

And I hear the word of the Lord: "Do not strive to do more than you can do. Simply rely on me, obey me, and trust me to accomplish through you all that you should do."

Then I realize how poorly I have learned that lesson for most of my life. Effort and engagement is one thing; continuous drivenness and activism emerging from the sense that one's productivity is being measured by an incomparable perfectionism is deadly. It has caused me to approach the evil of the man given the one talent. In Jesus' parable, he measures himself by his own standards, believes that God is unjust in his distribution of chances, and decides in advance that nothing he ever does will measure up. "I knew you were a hard man. So, here you have your gift back."

How often my frantic escapes (even in driving or biking!) have emerged from the fear of risking investment in more important things that just might not work out. But what pride and unbelief this is. I hadn't seen it that way as clearly before. What autonomous rebellion I have shown in determining my own identity rather in submitting my human imperfection to the Lord for his use. How did I ever imagine I could accomplish anything worthy on my own anyhow? It takes sickness, disease, an encounter with mortality to be brought face to face with the delusion of one's own control. God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

But then, he is. This is part of the lesson of suffering. I come out of this weekend a bit less anxious, a bit less tense, a bit more still. I am just a little better equipped to give, to submit, to be used, to release control. I am captured by God's love -- the love that would privilege me to partake in the suffering of Christ in a quite tiny way -- thereby yielding the fruit that he thinks worthy, even if it seems laden with imperfection to me.

Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever. Amen

June 14, 2007

Another Day of Treatment

A quick update: I drove myself to the hospital today for the third treatment. On the way, I got some Aloe Vera juice to drink, since my larynx has already begun to be a bit more raspy. I'm also taking some wonderful natural herbs and medications that have been given to me.

The radiation is going fine otherwise. Lying still is less painful, I think I sense an ease in breathing, and my shoulders are not in misery. I did sense a caution in my left hip (the area where the femural neck is eroded). I go tomorrow morning to see the osteopathic surgeon. He is to assess quickly whether a rod to sustain the bone would be better than attempting radiate it. At his call, the neuro-oncologist will decide whether to radiate or not. She seems to favor the surgery option, which would probably happen quickly. She claims that recovery time is short. I'd love to believe that.

Thanks be to God, I continue to have such fun doing projects at work. I'm energetic and generally focused, and it seems as though I've been encountering just the people I need to see at the right time. Praise the Lord for the ordering of our days!

I have also had some wonderful meditations in the night. I sometimes awaken and have a two-hour period of alertness. I try to lie still and focus on the Lord, listen to him, and let him touch those places in my body and soul that need healing. It is amazing to me how connected the two are.

Take an example from something I wrote in an earlier post concerning the relation between the body and the soul. I've been reflecting on whether I should view this cancer as an enemy to be "killed" or "destroyed." In some ways, it is certainly that. It is an invasive perversion of the intended design of my human form, a corrupt evidence of fallen erosion, the curse of death, the evil that Jesus came to bear and carry in his own body. But how, in light of my union with Christ, should I think of this cancer?

I've been struck by the way that the Lord carried our sins and the curse of death. One of my night-time meditations is the seven last words of Christ on the cross. You'll remember one of the first: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Is it possible, even conceivable, that the Son of God himself could have prayed an unanswered prayer? Could the one who raised others from the dead and commanded demons to flee have been resisted by the Father when he interceded for their forgiveness? I know that Jesus had to bear the cup that his Father gave him, and he submitted to that despite his plea to have it foregone. But for those who crucified him, I am inclined to believe that they were some of the ones who later repented at the day of Pentecost for their participation in his death, and that Jesus's intentions for them were fulfilled.

Applying that to my struggle with cancer, I think that the medical approach to "destroying cells" through radiation and chemotherapy is somewhat analogous to a just war theory of public life. There is a time when attack against evil and protection of innocent life is an essential priority, I believe, and I am thankful for those who are so trained. At the same time, there is a form of ministry that I think "modern" medicine misses. It's the recognition that the body itself is in need of redemption, healing, and recovery. It's a form of discipline and correction that would re-establish proper order within the body, rather than a matter of simply eliminating "bad" parts.

So, in that regard, I am amazed at how when I lie on the floor at night and become aware of the intercession of the saints (you all!), and the voice of the Lord, and then when the walls come down in areas of my thoughts and memories where I sinned against Him or mistrusted Him, or when I drove myself too hard out of pride and desire, or when I failed to obey -- I receive a release of tension, a washing of His forgiveness (I didn't know what I did -- I crucified Him, also!) and I'm so blessed with His gift of Himself to me, and reassured of His eternal love, that in some mysterious way, my body is strengthened. Healthy energy is released to eliminate those distorted cells, to rectify the bent over, to lift up the downtrodden. And all of this differs from the idea that I sometimes perceive from a surgeon who is more invested in a modified version of amputation. Again -- I think we need both, but the restorative recovery that I believe God wants us to find through prayer extends beyond the limits of scientific materialism.

May this somewhat intuitive ramble begin to take greater form, and somehow bless some of you. It helps me to verbalize it a bit. Come, Holy Spirit, and teach us to pray for healing.

Blessings,

John

June 13, 2007

A Foundation in Faith

I have had a few instances of words from the Lord that simply "dropped out of the sky." By that I mean, that I wasn't expecting these "communications," nor was I consciously seeking them. The two that come most to mind now occurred in my dating relationship with Margie. As many of you know, we had a dating relationship that was divided into two periods: "Act I" and "Act II," as Margie likes to say. The night when we broke up (end of Act I), I heard the Lord say, "Give it two years." I let that go as an imaginary delusion when Margie fell in love with someone else, and even more when I apologized to her for my mishandling of our first romance. At that time, she told me that she forgave me, but never imagined us getting back together (OUCH!)

I accepted that decision, and began thinking of dating others, all the while aware of my own responsibility for having failed to court Margie well. I was greatly helped by an essay in First Things by Leon and Amy Kass that applied Erasmus's Colloquy on Courtship to the situation of current youth. Leon and Amy are professors at the University of Chicago, and Leon served on the President's Task Force on Bioethics. I highly recommend the essay. It definitely made me aware of how differently I needed to approach any future commitment to dating or marriage, and particularly convicted me of how self-indulgent and protective I had been.
http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=3213&var_recherche=proposing+marriage
But in those days of 1999, I sensed that things were changing. Margie attended a talk I gave on "Hope" at a Redeemed Lives ministry. She left me a voice mail message. She invited me (through her best friend) to attend her birthday party (what was going on there???) I began to get the feeling that we could possibly have another chance, but hardly dared to try.

One Sunday morning in October, I looked across the sanctuary of our church and heard another one of those divine messages drop out of the sky saying, "Fear not, for I have given her to you." The most remarkable aspect of these words was how simple and unsolicited they were, yet how full of grace and love.

That evening, I had planned to go to a movie with Bob and Ita Fischer. Ita let me know that there were two other couples that might join us, and that Margie Clark might come along. That struck me as highly strange. What message was she trying to send? The movie was "Music of the Heart" with Meryl Streep, and as I came to sit down, there was a seat empty next to Margie. Ita invited me to the end of the group in the center of the theater, but I asked if I might simply sit in the seat next to Margie. When Margie said, "Oh, yes, I'd love it," my mouth nearly dropped. I considered it significant that she didn't opt to say "It's a free country, so sit where you want." But no. The entire movie was an experience of pleasure, not only for the quality of the story, but for the sense that a relational connection was afoot.

Margie went to a party, I went home, but I couldn't escape the need to call her. I left her a casual message, telling her that I wanted to ask her a question. What a shock when she called me back that same night at 10:30 pm. I took the jump and said, "Margie, I have noticed that you have been more open to being together in social settings recently, and I wondered what that might mean" -- (but careful not to stop at that point, I proceeded to say) -- "because I would like to date you again."

Margie paused for a moment, and replied, "The only thing I can say is, I'm open." At that point, I exploded in a ten-minute shout of joy. At home alone with her on the telephone, I screamed her name into the telephone with deafening exuberance. I couldn't believe it. I assured her that I would call back, and did so at 7:30 the next day.

All of this story is really prefatory to another one related to my current illness. I am not inclined to keeping track of dates and times. I never used a calendar in college. I operate very open-endedly, and it takes discipline for me to record events. But we have close friends who keep careful watch and have an intuitive sense of dates. What happened on that evening in October was an incredible example to me of divine providence. Margie and I had broken up on October 30, 1997. We attended that movie on October 31, 1999, and were married on October 14, 2000. I am still moved to tears when I look back on that (seemingly) casual promise from God, "Give it two years" and I see that he fulfilled that word to me to the day. I could not have orchestrated that. It laid a foundation in me for future faith. I'll write more about that later.

Blessings to all,

John

June 12, 2007

Actual Start of Radiation

Surprise -- on Monday, the hospital called to ask us to arrive early -- 11:30 instead of 12:15. Margie and I drove to Naperville to start the radiation process. We arrived at about 11:26, but within 5 minutes, were informed that the computer system had crashed. By 12:30 or so, we had been released to return today (Tuesday). I joked on the way out that perhaps they would comment today, "Now, why are we radiating this guy after all? I don't see anything that needs it, do you?" So humor sustained the entire day yesterday.

But not today -- driving for our noon appointment I confess that I was a bit irritated and pesky. I had had a productive morning at the library, and having to leave for this treatment was more disruptive than I wanted to accept, so I found myself taking my frustration out on the traffic density caused by road work on literally every street we use to get from Wheaton to Naperville. Major highway construction can be tolerated, but why does every suburb in our area seem to be replacing the curbside crossings with red rumble surfaces, requiring the traffic to shut down to one lane?

Oh, well, as you can see, this was not one of my more sanctified moments, which Margie let me know. After I confessed my weaknesses, she dropped me off to be taken directly to the radiation area. Today they marked my body with the exact permanent "tatoos" that they will use for aiming the radiation, and conducted a final scan to make sure all was in position. The doctor on call was approving of all three positions, so the radiation began. Each fraction is only a matter of seconds, but the positioning and labelling took about 45 minutes. Subsequent treatments should be much shorter (half the time, I heard).

Pain remains this evening, probably due to the challenge of keeping my right arm extended over my head in perfect calm while on the radiation table. Since I broke my right shoulder in 2005, I have never regained mobility in that area, and tremble with atrophied muscles there, and when I'm forced to elevate my arm, I feel a constant sense of pain and discomfort. But I was able to use the time to pray and to simply relax into the pain. The procedure went as planned, and I worked out the schedule with the hospital for the remaining 13 fractions (reduced from the initial 15 to 14).

In terms of how I'm feeling, I notice back pain, continued numbness in my left thumb and along the tibia of my left arm. This is likely emanating from some compressed nerves in the cervical bones of the spine, that are being pressed upon by tumors/lesions. By radiating these, they hope to stop the decay of the bone and to allow the nerve to heal. Pray toward that end. I'm also taking some steriods to help that anti-inflammatory process along.

Thanks to the many of you who are walking with us through this time of trial. I have a post coming concerning some of the promises of God, but this is definitely a day-by-day form of submission to the will and meaning that God has for our lives. May we be faithful to listen carefully to his voice.

June 9, 2007

Thanks for Life Itself (and all Your Support!)

I must head to bed on Saturday night, but I want to make note of how richly I have been aware of the prayers and support of literally thousands of people. I hear daily of people praying for our family who may not even know us. That is humbling, and also produces a celebrative awareness in me of our union with the entire worshipping church. The ministry of the Holy Spirit flows through us to lift us up to the presence of the saints in glory, and in that brightness of life and truth, we are called to meditate on the unseen realities of our Risen Lord.

The Gospel of John has been particularly encouraging to me of late, along with II Corinthians, Psalm readings, and many scriptural quotes that have come our way. I'll describe more in other postings, perhaps on more details as I have time and energy.

But today, I want to mention how important Margie and I have found it to view life entirely as a gift, rather than as something that we ever control -- even though we often operate as though we do, and perhaps, even NEED to operate as though we do (try raising a four-year old and a one-year old!) But the reality is, as the old song says, "Many things about tomorrow, I don't seem to understand; but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know he holds my hand."

I put on the old Betty Stalnecker LP today that I grew up with from age 6 (at least), and through the old pops and crackles, was moved to tears to hear her sing that old song with a passionate "Contralto" (I always admired that voice), filled with the sense that he is holding our hand. And that means that our lives are so overflowing with good gifts that we can never become embittered or angry with him. How much beauty, how many wonderful people, what a glorious life in the church, with family, wife, children -- is it truly possible that by facing suffering, one becomes more aware of one's love for this world?

I can't write anymore tonight -- Margie's calling, I need to shower. But here's an idea for a post to come: "These are a few of my favorite things."

Until then,

John