Recent photo of my parents in my office

Recent photo of my parents in my office

June 4, 2007

Spiritual report on my recurrent cancer

I wrote this back in May, and am just putting it out now. It's kind of long. Feel free to read as you wish or discard.

To begin with, I was not shocked entirely by the recurrence of this cancer, since Margie and I were warned in 2004 that it was common that 80% of the patients with hemangiopericytoma see a recurrence within 5 years. We are at just over 2.5 years since the original treatment, and here I am with a (likely) recurrence. At the same time, it comes as much more shocking news, due to the lack of a planned treatment program, the aggressive nature of this recurrence, and the greater likelihood of a shorter lifespan for me. There is (as I understand it) no known drug that can be used with certified confidence of results, so chemotherapy will almost certainly be experimental. I know also that my physical limitations seem to increase day by day, so that from an irritating cough in the early spring that took a long time to go away (and many people had that), which also caused me shooting pain in my rib cage and sternum, I went to a situation where it was increasingly difficult to find a comfortable position in which to sleep, and then to a point in which getting out of bed without hurting a shoulder or a rib was difficult. Obviously, something was amiss, and I scheduled my appointments with the doctors as soon as I could after the end of the semester. I had held off what I probably should have done sooner, due to the responsibilities of work, family, Redeemed Lives, Holy Week and church music ministries -- you all who know will recognize these challenges and know whereof I speak. Adding a medical appointment in Chicago didn't seem to be of pressing urgency, and I can't even now say that it was. I had the strength to do what I was doing day by day, and perhaps the pain simply hit me later.

On Wednesday evening before getting the MRI and the CT negative results, I went to Bob Webber's memorial service at Christ Church of Oakbrook. It was a great celebration of Christ's victory over death, and such a joyful opportunity to connect with present and retired Wheaton faculty, past and present church friends, and with a couple people who had taken the "Role of Music in Worship" course from me at Northern Seminary. Two things moved me in that service. The closing song "I am the Bread of Life" by Suzanne Tolan was full of joy and promise. As I looked up at the towering wooden ceiling at Christ Church, it formed a picture for me of the communion of saints that is presently alive and worshiping at the throne. What a glorious unity we share, and to be at rest there is our destiny.

Next, I heard the gospel reading in a new way. It was from John 11, a portion related to the resurrection of Lazarus. When Martha comes to Jesus and he tells her that her brother will rise again, she willingly affirms her belief in the resurrection at the last day. But there is in her voice (at least to me) a tone that almost implies that despite that truth, what good does it do her in the midst of grief? "Yeah, yeah, yeah -- I know he'll rise then -- but you could still have done something now, couldn't you?" Jesus then says to her, "I AM the resurrection." He follows that with more about the promise of eternal life, but I was very struck by the way that Jesus called Martha out of her grief and inward despair, and revealed himself to her. The resurrection is certainly an event in salvation history, but it is not primarily an "event." The resurrection is Jesus. The power of the life of the Son of God himself will raise us also, if we are united with him. It is an amazing statement, worthy of deep meditation. Even if we die, we will live forever.

I was also touched by an e-mail sent by a woman in our church, Barbara Gauthier. She copied a portion of the Letter to Diognetes (2nd century), and this line in particular got my attention: "The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures."

This could be misinterpreted, I think, in a gnostic direction, in which the spirit or soul is pure, and the body is evil. Obviously, both are in need of redemption and the work of Christ. But in one sense, like Paul says, our outward man is perishing, and our inward man is being renewed day by day. So we experience the two in conflict with one another. As the Letter goes on to say, "Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body's hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven."

This passage falls into the context of the relationship between Christians and culture. What came to me as an encouragement, however, was the message that just as my body could be perceived as an attacking enemy, warring against my soul, I should practice the inverse. Just as a Christian is called to endure persecution, we are also called to endure suffering. I should not fight against my body, in the sense of complaining and whining about its weaknesses. Rather, I should give it the care and patience it needs, all the time, letting the pain I may feel draw me closer to the Lord.

Sorry for the length of this message. As I mentioned earlier, I will look into the idea of making a blog (and, apparently, now I have!)

God bless you all,