Recent photo of my parents in my office

Recent photo of my parents in my office

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.



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:

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,


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.


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,


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,