Recent photo of my parents in my office

Recent photo of my parents in my office

January 19, 2008

Fighting Depression

During the last couple of weeks, I've become aware of a slip in my energy and focus, so this Tuesday, January 14, when we went for the blood check and visit to the Dr., I had a lurking sense that I'd need a blood transfusion again, and some injections or IV medications. And, indeed, that was the case. The hemoglobin had dropped down to 8.8 (from the previous high of 10.0), and there was a slight increase in the calcium in my blood. So we were clearly not on a straight upward move.

At the end of our appointment with Dr. Hantel, we had one of those average conversations that articulate contemporary medicine, but apart from including divine intervention or miracles. He praised the medical approach "we" had taken to getting me back to work, and predicted that "we" would have to see how long this would continue to work. He made some prognosis estimates that were very sobering, but that were really grounded in the methods "we" are using, but about which we are honestly uncertain. There are many other things contributing to my health that he is not aware of, nor did he same to respect them.

Nonetheless, the length of his prognoses weren't such that would encourage me or acknowledge that only through the miracle of God's work could I get further healing -- and that really, it's most likely that only through the miracle of healing that I've gotten as far as I have! Frankly, I felt stabbed in the back. It has taken me several days to get more perspective on what goes on after a trip to the hospital, the help I need to focus on God's voice rather than on the medical one, and at the same time, how to respect the treatments I'm receiving, since God has used many of them, no doubt. Some of allopathic medicine is actually beneficial, just as traditional science discerns much truth, whether or not the scientists acknowledge the ultimate source of life and reality as rooted in God. So I will continue to see Dr. Hentel, but I need a great strengthening of perspective to avoid being subordinated to his ultimate authority without listening first to the power of God. Forgive me, Lord, for the ways that I can become quickly faithless and embittered about the ongoing pains and battles I face.

In that regard, here are some matters for prayer: my bones continue to be shaky, shriveled, eaten up and made progressively convoluted. For example, my right rib cage has several tumors growing there, whether breaking down the bone, penetrating it, or using it as a basis to penetrate the lungs. I've noticed in the last few days that it takes more fast, short breathing even to walk slowly, or to speak full sentences or to vocalize loudly.

And yet, after Margie and I prayed a couple nights ago for one of the most prominent and largest tumors, my pain reduced there today, and the size seemed to shrink. What a marvel! Now, to pray again in other ways. I realized in retrospect that I had taken on some energetic efforts with my right arm, and might be paying for it with a bruise, a stretched muscle, or even a fractured rib. In the last few days, I had held Josiah and rocked him to sleep, then lifted him into bed, at some great effort, and pain as well. I lifted some stacks of books while sorting them at work. I sneezed and coughed a bit which tightened up my rib cage. All of these minor behaviors (by a normal standard) may have caused the inflammation and pain to break out. But I have had these sorts of things before, and I believe that just as doctors can't do anything for fractured ribs except wait for them to heal, in the same way, I've felt better after a few days. Pray for that for me, if you can.

In the largest sense, God continues to call me back to listen to the impossible as he speaks it to me. He hasn't called me to die yet, and my body belongs to him. He is my Lord, and Satan doesn't determine the end of the game. Until Jesus tells me to give up the battle and go home, I simply can't do it.

How blessed are the daily Psalm readings. Could I ask prayer of those of you who can? Hear this text from Psalm 16:

Psalm 16
A miktam of David.
1 Keep me safe, O God,
for in you I take refuge.

2 I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing."

3 As for the saints who are in the land,
they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.

4 The sorrows of those will increase
who run after other gods.
I will not pour out their libations of blood
or take up their names on my lips.

5 LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.

6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.

7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.

8 I have set the LORD always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,

10 because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

11 You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

So much of this text is about the Messiah, but as I am united to Him through His baptism and crucifixion, I can also claim that "nor will you let your Holy One see decay" -- except until the time to go arrives, and until then, "my body also will rest secure" and the Lord will "fill me with joy" in His presence.

It is that for which I have to cry out. This is not an easy journey. Please pray as well for Margie and the children as we seek to manage after my parents return to Brazil on February 11. We believe both in miraculous improvements between now and then, as well as in the provision of God to sustain us in our needs from many places after they're gone.

Thank you for your patience in hearing me. All is not misery. I can still work at home and at work for several hours each day. I am well fed and clothed, kept very nicely warm in this stab of Arctic cold. (Canada, I drive thy brutal wind far from our Great Plains! -- though my mother told me that I ought to be thanking God day by day for the privilege of living in this climate. Ugh. OK...) I seek to praise the Lord each day, and our family has been deeply refined in our spiritual learning. If anyone else also gains a deeper love and trust in Jesus Christ as a result of this, then my heart is filled with meaning.

I wish I had an old record by Bette Stalnecker that I could share with you in which she sings with her husband a simple, moving song. I'll pencil out the text (though it may be imperfect) and then try to get a copy available to link to:

All on the altar, dear Jesus,
Master, I give you my all.
Somewhere I know thou canst use me,
Master, I render my all.

My all for Thee, My all for Thee,
Who gave Thyself, Dear Lord, for me.
Thy will divine henceforth be mine,
To live for Thee, Dear Savior, Divine.

This is my prayer -- may I be used in some way, and may we all.


January 5, 2008

Saturday Afternoon Office Visit

Since I have some time this afternoon, I feel a desire to add some updates to the blog -- mostly matters for thanksgiving. First, I have been progressively aware of how my entire day can be shaped by my response to its opening moments. A few days ago I got up and the first words that came to mind were "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. I sought the Lord and he heard me and delivered me from my fears." Simply having something like that to say out loud, to choose to believe, has helped me to be less cranky (and believe me, it is very easy to be cranky when in discomfort.) Those around me have been patient and forgiving, but after a uniquely nasty spat that I provoked with my mother a few nights ago, I realized that God was showing me how self-centeredly I was failing to grasp the sacrifice that others have been making for me. My parents have now passed their initial ticket date for returning to Brazil, and have extended it to February 11. This generosity has been amazing, but it also means that they have to be away from their ministry and their home, living in a place with young children and daily potential stress. As I've contemplated this time, I think of how if things were ordered "normally," I'd be doing this service for them. So how much more then, do I need to think about ministering love and thanks to my family. I also feel aware of how God would use this time to bring healing to all of us, each in our own places of need.

For example, though not fully conscious of the perils I've been through, my daughter Charlotte can become very clingy to Margie and resentful of her grandmothers. What a great opportunity this has been to teach her how to give space to others (like her brother Josiah), to accept instruction from adults other than Margie and me, and to share in the project of learning to show love. I'm amazed to see Margie working with her on this, and, as always, somewhat regretful of the amount of time that I'm not around to provide distraction, modeling, education, physical exercise, discipline, and on and on, for my children. May God restore my body to the point of being able to do that once again.

In reporting one of my chief blessings from recent prayer, Margie already "outed" me! But I told her I'd give my blog the "true" version. Actually it's just a few simple additions and details. I've been recently re-reading Agnes Sanford's book The Healing Light, and was struck by her method of prayer. She begins by encouraging us to grow in faith. If we turned on a light bulb, for example, and it didn't produce light, we wouldn't assume that electricity no longer existed, or that our lamp was incapable of being repaired. On the contrary, we would expect that our lamp was not working for some reason -- a burned-out light bulb, a broken switch, whatever. Similarly, she analogizes, when we pray for something, and we believe that God wants it, and it doesn't happen, we should not first despair of asking, and assume that God does not want it to be. Rather, we must seek to discover how our own hearts are blocked from receiving an answer.

Now, to put you at ease, I think this teaching can be presented in the extreme, to the point of blaming people for their own illnesses. But I already believe that God wants me to live a much longer life, and that there are some particular problems blocking the road. Some of those blocks are past emotional wounds and resulting grief that has to be released. Others are poor habits of resting and eating. Others are failures of hearing what God wants me to do as a matter of priority. And, indeed, for each one of these, I can tell you of current events that have illustrated this clearly to me. I'll mention one at the end of this story.

One of Agnes Sanford's simple steps in faith is to begin asking for a simple and objectively measurable request. If it is answered, then one's faith grows because one's heart becomes open to receive more deeply. If not, there is no shame attached, but a simple call to pray again, asking God to show us other ways that we ought to receive.

So, I thought I'd try it. One of my serious deficiencies during early December was a dramatic, near fatal drop in my hemoglobin (red blood cell count). A normal male count should hover around 13, whereas I had fallen down to something like 7.8. The doctor had earlier mentioned that he would be happy with a level of 10 in my case, but had no certain hope of that. He gave me two blood transfusions, and I came up for a short time, but after two more, I fell back down again, this time to the 7.8 level. Needless to say, the fall in the level even after some transfusions was very discouraging. Several days before Christmas, I got another transfusion. This one was a cause for celebration when the blood check on the day after Christmas showed a stable level of 9.8. Unfortunately, despite the various transfusions I've had in my life, this time I had broken out in hives and had to take an antihistamine (like Benadryl -- over the counter, not a big deal, but sleep and potentially anxiety producing also). Needless to say, this did not pleasure to the Christmas season! But at this post-Christmas visit, the doctor was obviously lest disturbed than before, and asked for a personal appointment three weeks out -- a further sign of hope.

At the same time, I go in each week for a blood test. The day after New Years was the latest blood test. In cases where I don't see the doctor, he still views the test results, and determines what I should receive -- medication, IV with saline solution, or blood transfusions, for example. He sends his prescriptions to the nurses, who when they have to put something into me with a "drip" of fluid, need to poke around in the veins of my arms, looking for a nice receptive spot. Then depending on the volume of fluid prescribed, I have to remain at the Edward Hospital Cancer Center in Naperville for up to 5 hours until my body takes it all in. (You can see why this can become a dreadfully boring day, although I must say that Edwards is beautifully set up. They even have a computer I can use for off-site access and work!)

Returning to the simple prayer experiment now: beginning two days before going for the latest blood exam, I had made a simple prayer. "Lord, if possible, I ask you for an increase from 9.8 to a full 10 in my hemoglobin count. Even though I've had no blood transfusion for 3 weeks, and even though the doctor isn't expecting this, I humbly ask it of you. Amen."

I loved the simplicity of Agnes's recommended prayer, and the ecstasy I felt when the nurse brought us the full stats on my blood check, and there was the hemoglobin count at precisely 10.0. What more simple evidence of a divine intervention could there be -- for one who chooses to believe it? I've been praying other simple prayers like that since, and seeing answers. What an amazing upward gaze this has helped me to obtain in my view of life post-end of 2007!

But finally -- I want to share the surprising dual reaction I had to this experience. Upon getting into the van to leave the hospital, with a celebratory lunch with Margie and my parents ahead of me at StirCrazy, then opportunities for rest, to work as I wished (from home or office), to view a DVD or video -- despite all of those privileges, I felt an intense need to sob and grieve. Whither from? As I was able to find space to do those things, right in the car, by myself in the restroom at the restaurant, and later that night, I found it to be healing and to help release tension and pain (such as that in my back). I can only reflect on this mystery, and conclude that it is partly due to having fought such a battle; to having to grieve the very fact that I would have to fight it, and then the combination of grief and joy that comes from a race -- that stage is over -- HALLELUJAH! Rest now, and prepare for what is ahead.

It is now 2008. I can't help but feel the New Year as a symbol. The days will creep towards greater light. The healing in my body will persist because God has willed it, even if it is slow and imperfect. But, WOW. What a ride this has been.

May God bless all of us as we look ahead to his New Year for us! Bless the Lord, O my soul. He heals all my diseases. He redeems my life from destruction. He crowns me with lovingkindness and great mercies. Bless the Lord, O my soul!