Monthly Archives: December 2012

Meet Estela

With her permission , let us tell you of a relationship God is growing with Estela. image

As with most other relationships here, everything begins simply with a smile or “Hi, how is your shift going?” All the staff are busy so relationships have to be built slowly over time. Estela is a housekeeper on the other unit where we walk each day. On learning that she speaks Spanish we asked her if we could practice our Spanish in brief conversations on our walks. She agreed and we shared about our families and learned she is from El Salvador. After exchanging email and mail addresses, Estela emailed us a Youtube link to one of her favorite alabanzas (worship songs). The next day she came to the room just to chat with Marcia and me. Through Estela, we have met Adriana who also speaks Spanish and both are interested in improving their English.  God is writing more to this story that is too tender to put in a public blog. But suffice it say that what the apostle Paul wrote about his experience is true for us today: “What has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.”

For the time being, we are in the right place.

Update: Still weak today but my counts continue to rise, some quicker than others. We expect the results From today’s bone marrow test will tell us whether the new cell growth is all good…more news to follow.

Don’t Waste Your Cancer

Years ago my life was impacted by John Piper’s little book, Don’t Waste Your Life.The book left me with a simple phrase I have kept as a banner over my office for years: Passion and Purpose. Life with God is an adventure that is meant to be lived to the fullest and not to be wasted on meaningless and trivial pursuits.

On the eve of his own cancer surgery, Piper wrote an article, Don’t Waste Your Cancer, that poses ten lessons that are both challenging and encouraging. Depending on your life perspective, some of these may be hard teachings, but nonetheless they offer hope for a full life even in the midst of cancer. Here are reflections on two of these lessons:

1. You will waste your cancer if you seek your comfort from your odds rather than from God.
I am not naive as to what statistics say about my Leukemia. “Some count their chariots (survival percentages) and some count their horses (treatment side effects), but we trust in the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 20:7) The God who redeemed me is not bound by statistics. And regardless of the outcome of this circumstance, He is still my great powerful and merciful God.

2. You will waste your cancer if you do not use it as a means to witness to the truth and glory of Christ.
On my desk is a saying from my youth that reads: “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” We have a choice when faced with trouble: focus on the problem/circumstance OR focus on God. What matters most is that the story is told of His truths and His glory. As my friend Dan Kingery reminds me, “All stories are echoes of God’s grand story.”

Don’t waste your pain, whether it is physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual. Go to God and enjoy the rest of your life to His fullest.

Christmas Angel

Today was my weakest of this journey. Very little activity with lots of time resting in bed. And it seems strange because today was the first day that two of my blood counts actually rose a little on their own. The other remains stubbornly at critical level. Marcia and I watched the movie, Christmas Angel. This brief dialog from the movie illustrates the vision of Go Light Your World:

Nick: it’s time we stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking of others.
Ashley: You’re asking me to go against human nature.
Nick: It’s a requirement of the job. Everybody needs to know that somebody cares.

Everybody needs to know how much our loving God cares for them.

A Hairy Confession

I have a confession to make. I’ve always had sort of a vain obsession with my hair. There, I said it. Since I was a young teen I have been a little too focused on my hair, especially the part that never laid down quite right. If you added a lifetime of minutes fussing over such a trivial thing, it would certainly amount to way too much wasted time. I wonder what other parts of my life have been completely wasted and the time I would like to redeem when the end of life draws near!

When I found myself responding so well to chemo, I thought to myself, maybe I will be the rare one who doesn’t lose his hair. Then, when it started thinning, I thought, maybe I won’t lose ALL of it. Then came today. With fistfuls of hair coming out with each comb stroke, I realized today was THE day. One of the ironic things here is that when you lose your hair, they give you a coupon for a free haircut downstairs. So my technician Lita escorts me downstairs on the first off unit “field trip” of my three week stay here. After the barber shaved my head, I thought this would be a good picture, Lita with her full head of thick curly locks and me with my bald head.

‘Not sure if I should start working on my Bruce Willis accent (“Hair loss is God’s way of telling me I’m human”) or Elmer Fudd (“Kill da wabbit.”)

Meet Nada

We continue the waiting game for my body to start producing good blood. I am getting cold symptoms despite all the meds I am taking. I DID get unhooked from my IV pole today and now only need it twice daily for IV antibiotics! Whenever I am free from this dancing partner I hear this voice inside that says, “Run Forrest, run!”

One of the main events of my days in the hospital is visiting with the many staff. Sometimes the interactions are brief and others have already developed into friendships. Today’s story is about Nada, who gave me permission to write about her in this blog. image

Nada takes care of the housekeeping needs in my room. On day one I noticed two things about Nada: she has a beautiful big smile and she is a hard worker. I think it was on day three that Marcia and I learned her name, which she tells us means “hope” in her native Croatian. Day by day we build a little more relationship with this dear lady. We learned the story of how she came to the USA via Serbia during the wars in her homeland and how her father is still MIA. She enjoyed seeing a satellite picture on my iPad of Gospić, a town near where she grew up.

She admired the photos of our children and grand children and said how she misses her sisters who are still in her homeland and the mountains and sea. When we asked if she had pictures she ran to get her purse to show us beautiful photos of her family. At Christmas time we asked about her holiday traditions and learned she is Greek Orthodox. Nada speaks pretty good basic English but is self conscious about talking. We struggled over a Croatian word she used until Marcia looked it up using an online Croatian-English dictionary. It means “straw.” They put straw under the table at Christmas and hide candies and other goodies in it for the children. We looked online to find a Croatian-English workbook to help her with her English (Englez) but struck out. (Any ideas out there?)

We have exchanged addresses and phone numbers so we can get together after I am released from the hospital. Yesterday, while walking the halls and talking with Marcia on the cellphone, I saw Nada and asked Marcia if she wanted to talk with her. I handed the phone to Nada who asked Marcia if she is coming today. Learning that she isn’t coming, Nada tells Marcia, “I see you Friday; I miss you, Marcia.”

From little conversation to “I miss you” in three weeks. Isn’t it interesting the way God weaves the fabric of our lives together, sometimes for a season, and sometimes for all eternity.

Why This Leukemia Is A Win-Win Situation

I am reading a book about one man’s experience with Leukemia. His words (distraught, fearful, nerve-wracking, dreadful, tragic, horrible) seem so strange to us in our journey. I fully understand how each person’s journey is unique to them, and also how extremely blessed I am in my situation. I have to remind myself that my body is battling a deadly disease because apart from being tired most the time I have no real suffering.

Even though we don’t yet have any solid prognostic information, we are not naive to the “statistics.” But we have no fear because our great God is not ruled by statistics. And besides, circumstances don’t have any hold on faith. Honestly, we have had only two things bring on tears:
1. The news that our move to pursue full time mission work in Bolivia is off the table for the foreseeable future until I am fully well.
2. When the body is so physically exhausted the emotional storm walls are easily and unexplainably breached, resulting in “tears without sadness.”

So why do I consider Leukemia to be a win-win situation? Let me paraphrase some basic ‘livable’ truths we hold to be ‘self-evident’:
1. Live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:8 (A life verse)
2. To live is Christ, to die is gain. Philippians 1:20-21
3. This present ‘suffering’ is not worth comparing to what the future holds. Romans 8:18
4. I believe God will save me from this fire. But even if He doesn’t, He will always be my One True God. Daniel 3:16-18
5. This light and momentary struggle is producing good things. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
6. God’s power is strongest in my weakness. 2 Corinthians 13:9-10
7. When something dies (part of my nature or myself) it bears fruit. John 12:24-26
8. What I am striving for, Jesus has already accomplished. Philippians 3:12
9. All things work for good for those who love God. Romans 8:28
10. Through Jesus we are more than conquerors. Romans 8:37-39.

I get it that some folks will think this sounds “churchy” or unrealistic. I also am aware of how imperfectly I live out these truths on a day to day basis. When something is true it isn’t changed by what we believe. But we  are changed by the truth we believe.

Sometimes Jesus calms the storm. Sometimes He calms the sailor in the midst of the storm. Either way, He is the only one with power to bring about true peace.

About the blog and comments

To answer some blog questions:

1. By selecting Leave a Reply you can post a comment (or questions) and add to the discussion. It requires an email address, but the email address is NEVER displayed.
2. Your first comment will post to the blog after approval, usually within the day. After that, your comments are added right away, no approval needed.
3. I don’t know of a way to add private comments, but this is a safe place to share thoughts. Of course, email is fine for private conversations… I just don’t have as much energy these days to handle email.
4. If you click FOLLOW THIS BLOG in the upper right corner, you will receive blog updates via email and don’t have to remember to check back for updates.
5. You can still get to the original 2011 Bolivia blog and pictures by clicking the link at the right.

We are still learning about this new blog format and so welcome feedback! Thanks for sharing in our story…and for sharing YOURS.

A Very Special Christmas

As my bride sleeps, I find myself reflecting on what a special Christmas this is going to be! We have a scheduled Skype call to Michael in South Korea and we will try to visit with Jenny’s and Daniel’s families and all the grands via Skype later. Son Peter, who like his mother is an excellent chef, is bringing us a home cooked Christmas dinner.

True, we are still in the hospital and I am still connected to an IV pole. True, there are a number of uncertainties about what the future holds. True, it will be our first Christmas in 45 years, counting our courtship, where we do not have a Christmas tree, or any decorations, or Christmas lights. True, there are no wrapped gifts this year. In fact, the only gift we have to give each other IS each other, with a love that does not die.

Wouldn’t it be a grand time if it were just that? But there is SO much more. Far beyond all the traditional wrappings of Christmas, there is the real meaning of Christmas. The creator of the heavens and earth so loved us that He sent His own Son Jesus to rescue us.

He came to pay a debt He didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.

His free gift is simply wrapped in love, and available to all who receive it. As we anticipate a most unusual and very special Christmas in the hospital, we pray that your Christmas will be filled with the wonder of Jesus.

Life In The Hospital

I was a bit upset with myself yesterday, one of my most tiring days, having found a Casey’s gas card separated from a large stack of get well cards. I’m sorry for not being able to thank the giver. People have been generous to pray for us and send cards. After receiving fresh blood transfusion today I am much stronger but still can’t remember who sent the gas card. Hopefully they will read this blog and know we are grateful. I’ll use this burst of energy to share a little about life here in the hospital.

Is it a sign of the vampire syndrome when you look forward to fresh blood? I get transfusions of blood products (either red blood cells or platelets) about 5 days each week, because my bone marrow isn’t yet able to keep up with the supply on its own. Our witty youngest son made this observation upon seeing a picture of the bag of blood which was marked “volunteer donor.” He quipped, “Does this mean that they sometimes use blood taken from people against their will?” 🙂

I am learning that one of the benefits of chemo is when part of your hair doesn’t lie down properly, you can just tug lightly at it and it evens it right out. It has a way of making bad hair days a thing of the past. Hair today, gone tomorrow?

I had a really good night’s sleep last night; so good, I actually dreamt.
I dreamt I had Leukemia. The irony made me laugh when I awoke.

Being in the hospital is kind of like being a kid again. The nurses get all excited over my toilet outcomes.

I’m glad to be able to wear brown footy socks again. During my fever episode last week I became light-headed and fell. That automatically triggers ‘red socks’ which are given to patients at risk of falling. It was like a scarlet letter for me the next 24 hours while I felt tethered to someone there to assist me. I am normally very independent with all my personal cares but they suggested my perky 20-year-old technician should assist with my shower. Uh no. I told them I could wait until my wife arrived, thank you.

The other night I had a new nurse who encouraged me to use the call light if I needed anything. I told her that I almost never use the call button unless my IV machine is beeping. She thought for a moment and then said to Marcia and me, “You can push the button if you miss me.” She turned to leave my room and I called her back. “Yes?” she asked. I told her we missed her already. We all laughed.

Having to spend so much of my day paying close attention to keeping my body free of infection gives me a new outlook on Michael Jackson. I’m thinking about getting a white glove.

The Battle Within

In the movie, A Knight’s Tale, “Sir William” tries to prove his love for the lady Jocelyn by winning all his tournament jousting matches. Jocelyn, knowing that William thrives off such success, demands that if he wants to prove his love for her, he must deny his own nature, and LOSE each match. The scene that follows is both humorous and inspiring.

I sometimes have to remind myself that my body is fighting the battle of/for its life, because other than being extremely tired, I have no real complaints. But this tiredness does wear on me, requiring a degree of rest that completely goes against my nature. Like “Sir William,” I am wired to be a ‘fighter.’ Let’s put on the armor and bring on this battle. I am not foolish enough to think I could ever do this alone. If God is not in the midst of the battle with me, it certainly won’t go well. But if He is, “Let’s do it!”

Last weekend I went through a tough physical battle in the middle of the night. With fever and chills and uncontrollable shaking for hours, I was praying all the ‘fighter’ scripture verses I had memorized. But there would be no relief until I finally landed on Matthew 11:28 where Jesus says, “Come to me all of you who are weary and I will give you rest.” Almost immediately my body started to calm and within the hour my fever broke.

I try to balance exercise, mental activity and rest as my body becomes weaker day by day. I think I should be on the slow path to restoration by now. But my body tells me the battle is not suited to the convenience of my schedule, reminding me that any perception of control in life is an illusion.

And so I am learning by experience what my heart has always known: we are called to be warriors of God, soldiers of the cross. But we must never forget that our inner nature is also to be that of a child who simply rests in the Heavenly Father’s loving arms.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He MAKES me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me besides the still waters. HE restores my soul.”