Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Edge of Adventure: Living by Faith

It was over thirty years ago. A coworker gave me a book that would transform my life: The Edge of Adventure by Keith Miller and Bruce Larson. Even though I had professed to be a Christian, I had faith in heaven but not much faith, or discipline, in living the day to day life. Finances were hard and work was challenging and unrewarding. Then I read the story of desert Pete:

“There’s a story told of a weary traveler who had hiked for miles across the desert with the hot sun beating down on him. His water supply was gone – and he knew that if he didn’t find water soon to quench his thirst, he would certainly die. In the distance, he spotted a deserted cabin, which brought hope that maybe water could be found there. He made his way to the cabin and discovered an old well. He frantically pumped the handle of the well to draw up the water – but all that came from the pump was dust. Then he noticed a tin can tied to the pump, with a note inside. The note read:
Dear Stranger –
This pump is all right as of June 1932. I put a new sucker washer in it, and it should last for quite a few years. But the washer dies out and the pump needs to be primed. Under the white rock, I buried a jar of water, out of the sun and corked up. There’s enough water in it to prime the pump, — but not if you drink some first. Pour about 1⁄4 of the water into the pump and let her soak for a minute to wet the leather washer. Then pour the rest medium fast and pump like crazy — You’ll get water. Have faith. This well has never run dry.”

What would you do? Have you been to the point where there is no more patience, no more money, no energy and it seems no hope? You are thirsty in every way possible. And then, you discover this small gift, one that would quench your thirst at least for a moment. And the note promises even more blessing than you need. But what if it is a hoax, or what if the pump is beyond priming, and the little jar of water would be wasted away into the sand?

The faith of Job has to be poured out every day. You may have already given up your house, lost your job, your income, your belongings, your hobbies and toys, your friends and family, even your life ambitions, health and personal identity. There is still more in your heart that needs to be poured out…in faith. And then, the adventure begins.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Does God Sleep?

“I think God was sleeping at the wheel.”

The remark came from an older man who identified himself as “Whitey,” a nickname reflecting his full head of stark white hair. A group of us were helping clean out a house across the street from him, following the Cedar Rapids flood of 2008. Seeing Whitey working alone in his yard we walked over to help him and share our lunch with him. It was when we asked to pray with him that he made the comment about God “sleeping” when the flood waters devastated his neighborhood.

It seems Whitey is in good company. Pope Benedict XVI used the same phrase in his retirement speech today. He reflected that there have been “many days of sunshine” but also “times when the water was rough…and the Lord seemed to sleep.” I love the honesty of his sharing personal experience. And he is not alone in feeling this way. This must have been how the followers of Jesus felt when the Lord was literally sleeping in the boat they were sailing and a storm suddenly came up. Mark records the critical moment saying, “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”” (Mark 4:38)

This journey with Leukemia has included times when “the waters were rough,” and we know it will get rougher still. Like the disciples, it is clear to us that The Lord is still in the boat with us; He has not abandoned us. And also like them, we too have had moments of wondering how much He cares about the details of our situation. But just as He arose and calmed their storm, we know He calms us in the midst of our storm. This ‘knowing’ comes from faith and from seeing how God’s Word and His love guides us daily in very practical ways.

Have you felt that God was sleeping while you or a loved one were struggling? Has His presence brought you peace?

“I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20

Test Me!

My first symptoms of Leukemia were extreme back pain and anemia. I thought I had simply thrown my back out and was worn down from that. But a blood test revealed that my blood counts were dangerously low. So more tests were ordered: another blood test, a CAT scan, EKG, X-Rays, and finally a bone marrow test. From this the diagnosis was made: “You have Leukemia.” And then more testing continues on a daily or weekly basis throughout the treatment phase. (The only test they have neglected to make is of my wallet! :-))

There are some tests we can prepare for: high school quizzes, college entrance exams, work competency tests, even the test of marriage, or applying for a new job assignment. Each of these require preparation and examination of material that is somewhat unfamiliar and challenging to us. Some of these tests have to be repeated throughout life.

This journey with Leukemia has tested me in ways I had not imagined and was not fully prepared. It has been amongst the hardest of any I have faced before. It has required examining my heart and the depths of my understanding. And the test is ongoing.

But throughout each day’s test I have been strengthened by God’s grace and His immense mercy toward me. The comfort and truth of His Word have stood up to every daily test and have kept me from failing. Through this He has shown me once again that I really can believe His truths because they are most practical for daily living. Yes, I still struggle and wander throughout the day; I still get distracted. But God is always faithful to bring me back to center. He has given me an amazing wife to walk with me and support me through the tests. And He has shown me that my tests are minor compared to others, which makes it easy to give thanks and to pray for those whose tests are very hard indeed.

I hope that you find God’s presence and promise sufficient to sustain you through the tests you face.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 139:23-24

Who IS that (un)Masked Man?

image Notice anything different?

For the first time in three months my doctor says I can go without a mask. Which means that healthy visitors don’t have to wear a mask either. AND I can go out in public again as long as I’m careful about shaking hands, touching things, being around sick people, etc.

While not a huge deal unto itself, it is what we say at work, “Take what you can get closest to what you want.” Complete change seldom happens overnight. You often have to go through a very long process to get what you are working toward. In the meantime, you celebrate smaller successive approximations of what you want.

While my blood counts are still all below normal, we are celebrating and enjoying this small step…for another week or two when they will give me more chemo to knock the counts down again.

What “little” things in life are YOU thankful for today?
I hope your list is long!

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Those Three Special Words

I remember Don Knight’s Valentine’s message to a mens’ breakfast years ago. He wanted to make sure that we understood how to be godly husbands. He explained, “There are three special words that every wife longs to hear from her husband. Three words that are so easy to remember and simple to say, but that are hard for most of us to share.” I imagine most of us in the audience were anticipating what Don was going to say next, thinking yes I should say, “I love you” more often. Pushing forward, Don concluded, those three special words every wife longs to hear from her husband are…

“I was wrong!” 🙂

Well, for the first time since I started treatment for this Leukemia, my body sent false signals. I have been so tired I was sure my blood counts had dropped to the point I needed more blood. But a trip to the ER verified the counts were still slowly increasing. The nurse asked if I’d over exerted myself. And being sure that shoveling a little snow the day before had not been too much, I said “No.” Of course, Marcia had advised me not to shovel even the little walkway. But we had visitors coming and it didn’t seem to be that much work to shovel a couple inches of snow, even in my condition. After all, I was feeling pretty good and have been very careful not to do any work around the house.

I was wrong about my limitations. (And finally, I admitted this to Marcia.) But I am fully convinced of one thing; one truth that has transcended the weakness that comes with Leukemia. In fact, it is precisely this weakness that allows me perspective to more fully grasp this truth that Jesus speaks to His children:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Do your days wear you down? Do your circumstances seem to overwhelm you? Are you daily reminded of your limitations? If so, be thankful. For you are now in a unique place where you can see beyond yourself and grasp that grace which is sufficient, that power which is available even in weakness.

Embrace it… You won’t be wrong.

Be still. Find thanks.

I can tell I need a blood transfusion. The last two days have been increasingly tiring. I found out I can’t shovel even a little snow. A 90 minute midday nap didn’t restore my strength but it did do something. Let me see if I can show you. It would help to find a quiet place.

Stop and be still.

Do you notice that in your quietness you can hear your heart beating? You don’t have to think about it or make it pump; it just keeps on beating exactly as it was designed to do, giving you life even when you are too busy to notice it.

Be still. Do you notice that your body wills itself to breathe? Again, without any intervention or planning on your part, every breath brings you life. Breathe deeply and relax in the gift you are freely given.

It’s harder to imagine this, but as you go about your normal routine, your bone marrow is making specific types of blood cells that function by created design. Some stand guard to fight infection. As you work, play, or sleep, red blood cells are being made by the millions to bring oxygen to your whole body. You wouldn’t be able to read this without them. Likewise, platelets also stand guard to repair any injury to your body. All this happens, seemingly without any effort on your part.

In my quietness, I am thankful for the way God designed our bodies to function. All the years I donated blood, I never thought about being on the receiving end. I’m thankful for those who gave up twenty minutes of their day so I could receive blood and platelet transfusions, and live.

In your stillness, what thanks come to your heart?
People who care. The power of prayer.
The promise of spring flowers.
Safe drinkable water; a land free from war.
A roof over your head, protection from the cold.
Being loved; people TO love.
A great and merciful God who loves you.

Be still; find thanks.

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

What Defines Your Life?

It was a good birthday: time for celebration with my amazing wife and time for reflection. A friend brought me a classic devotional, “Streams in the Desert.” This thought spoke directly to my heart:

“Perhaps your desire to receive what you want is stronger than your desire for the will of God to be fulfilled.”

For the past 77 days, every day, the realities of cancer have hijacked my life more than I have wanted. Yes, faith has guided us and sustained us daily. But medical appointments, blood counts, research, transplant plans, chemo, and the tiredness that keeps me from accomplishing simple chores… all these details that need attending to have taken residence in my life. Cancer has usurped our goals and replaced them with a goal of “getting through this” and being a two year “survivor.”

The sense of isolation and inability to work has weighed as heavily on me as the cancer itself. I thrive on interaction. I’ve committed my life work and future ministry to this. It just doesn’t ‘make sense’ to go through another ‘desert’ at this point in my life. I have been through others and thought I’d learned what I needed from those experiences. And then it hit me:

Cancer limits me but it doesn’t have to define my life.

My desire to get through this is strong. But my desire for God’s will to be fulfilled in the midst of this and through this is stronger. I don’t want to miss what He wants to reveal.

I wonder, what is defining your life?

Is it the desire to be accepted by others? Or maybe the need to always have your way. Is it the desire to ‘get ahead’ in life? The pursuit of health and fitness or some new fad? Or maybe a sense of belonging to a worthwhile cause, to do ‘enough’ good things. Is it an uncomfortable position you find yourself in? Or maybe hopelessness has filled you with despair? Or Facebook?

God has a marvelous plan for you. May your life be continually shaped and defined by His love and the hope He offers you.

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you a hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Uniquely Made – Transplant Update

How uniquely made are we? Word from the University of Iowa transplant center today is that they have found four young guys in the world who might potentially be a close match for my bone marrow (stem cell) transplant. The next step is to confirm that they are still viable and available. If so, the transplant process could begin in four to six weeks.

You are uniquely made and so am I. Someone else might look like you but no one else in history matches you exactly in how you are made up physically, emotionally and relationally. No one else has the exact same influence on others as you. You are not a mistake. Like a critical piece of a jigsaw puzzle, your life is intended for a purpose. And most likely that purpose involves others.

No doubt you are already making a difference in others’ lives! Because of the way you love, the way you reach out to those who are struggling, the way you encourage others, the way you simply live life together with those who are alone…you are bringing light to the darkness.

A boy and girl were walking along a beach. There were countless starfish that had washed ashore, drying in the sun. The girl bent down to pick one up and threw it back into the ocean. The boy scoffed at her and said, “Why do you bother? There are countless starfish on this beach that are drying up. You can’t possibly make a difference!” The young girl, thought a moment and then picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean saying, “I made a difference to THAT one!”

You can’t do everything. But you can do something.

Donate blood to someone you don’t even know.
Visit someone who is alone.
Write an encouraging note to someone.
Share a smile with someone who seems unlovable.
Bring a meal to someone who can’t pay you back.

Beyond random acts of kindness, you can intentionally build relationship bridges with those around you. And you can also make a positive difference by NOT doing some things:

Don’t insist that you have your own way with others.
Stop getting upset at small things.
Stop worrying.
Stop trying to be general manager of the universe.
Don’t focus on your own problems.

You are uniquely made. Live well today.

“Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
Romans 12:13

I See The Mailbox

I recall the story of the husband and wife who were backing out of their driveway to go somewhere. The husband was driving with his loving wife in the passenger seat. Seeing the car get closer and closer to their mailbox at the end of the drive, the dialog went something like this:
Wife: Honey, watch out for the mailbox.
Husband: Yes, I see it.
Wife (as the car gets closer still to the mailbox): Watch out for the mailbox!
Husband: I SEE the mailbox!
Wife (as they get closer yet): you’re going to hit the mailbox!
Husband: Don’t worry, I see the ….
(Agonizing scraping sound of metal against metal, and mailbox falling to the ground)

We can imagine and laugh at the conversation that might have followed. But we’ve all been there, right? We are certain that we have the perspective on something while the other person maintains THEY are the ones to ‘see clearly.’ How embarrassing it is when the ‘mailbox’ goes down because of US.

Marcia and I have used this story when counseling young couples, reminding them that sometimes it is helpful to have a code phrase to bring clarity to a discussion. Whether in the home or at work, “I see the mailbox,” may be a good phrase to use to remind us that our vision, however clear it seems to us, may not be the only perspective on the situation.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Ephesians 5:21

Resting On The Promises

imageWe said goodbye to our big cat, Ulysses, today. He had a history of health problems and passed away in his sleep last night. Here he is pictured a little younger (and smaller) as he cozied up to an open bible.

How is it these critters work their way into our hearts? I was always a dog lover, but when Marcia’s cats used the litter box the first day, I remember thinking, “This is one smart animal.”

Ulysses came to us by way of a tiny stray mama cat who adopted us before letting us know she was expecting. Marcia was midwife for the litter of three on Father’s Day 2005, and we kept Ulysses and his brother Felix. (Our son Michael named the cats after military leaders.)

I’ve come to appreciate the lessons that God teaches me through our pets. One lesson is quite obvious for a cat: don’t stress over the small stuff, maybe even the seemingly big stuff. If it isn’t chasing you it might not be that important.

Another observation is how Ulysses, along with our other pets, didn’t appear to dwell on pain or discomfort. This, contrasted with us humans, who have quite an affinity for dwelling on every littlest suffering and telling everyone else about it. (“Can you believe I had to wait in line for twenty minutes, and then they closed the register, before I checked out?!”) I suppose we all have embarrassing ‘pity’ stories we wish we didn’t have!

I’ve found that God often uses His creation to reveal something of His character to us: The gentleness of a pet, the majesty of a sunset, the hope of a new day, the marvel of crocus blooming through the snow, the power of a river, the serenity and peace of a pond, the refreshment of a meadow, the joy of a bird’s song…

Everywhere we look, there is a reflection of His image. Even in us.
What characteristics of God do others see in you?

“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…””
Genesis 1:26a