Monthly Archives: October 2015

Disappointment or His appointment?


Disappointment? Or HIS appointment?


Today we learned that the second round of chemo did NOT get rid of the cancer blasts. I came in with 80+% blasts, got down to 7.8% blasts after round one, but still have 5% after round two.


It is a certain disappointment as we were sure we would get it all with this treatment. But as with all Disappointments, you change one letter and look at His appointments: the appointment that our sovereign and loving God has for us. If we aren’t to believe this we would have to take scissors to our bible and cut out all the promises of God that sometimes “seem” empty if we only look at the present circumstance.


God’s banner over us has been one of mercy and love throughout this difficult journey that has softened us, and made us more moldable to his will. It has brought my dear bride and I ever so much closer and given us such a greater appreciation of the attributes God has given each of us. I would never ever want to go through this without her. She has been my main medicine and a tremendous source of peace to me. She is strong but needs your prayers for this is a tough battle for her too.


What’s next: (as far we know)
My doctor is closely coordinating with my transplant doctor in Iowa City. I have been preapproved for a stem cell transplant evaluation and also the transplant itself. That is a huge relief because both would be unbearable if it were out of network. ($1/4 million) I have a wonderful dedicated Humana insurance nurse, Reagan, who is a believer and helps me negotiate all my insurance needs, and with prayer. (Thank you, dear God.)


I may or may not need more chemo which is a prayer concern because the cumulative effect of all this chemo on my body is very hard. To facilitate a quicker trip to the U of I, I might be released from Mercy before my immune system recovers. I will need to learn to give myself IV antibiotics at home for a number of weeks to make sure we triumph over this rare and dangerous blood infection. It’s possible I might return to Mercy for more treatment between my U of I consultation and the actual transplant.


Specific prayer concerns:
That the tremendous loss of liquid in my stools (5-6 liters per day) would stop, especially the loss of blood.
That the antibiotics succeed in vanquishing the blood infection because I have zero immune system.
That I continue to gain strength and fighter cells. I have none currently. I am so very weak and sick. For healing as we long to see more of the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. But we trust God for whatever he chooses.
That Marcia and I bring honor to God in this fight.
That Marcia will find continued peace and restorative strength throughout the ordeal.


Thank you for the much needed prayers. They release God’s power to cover our disappointment and look toward His appointment for our lives.


No more bad hair days


No more bad hair days!

No more bad hair days!

One side effect of chemo is that it takes care of the bad hair and bed head days! Even in the toughest of battles we try to find something to enjoy, some cause to laugh together, and many things for which to give thanks. Whether it’s cancer or some other serious malady:


You can’t focus on what you’ve lost.
You have to focus on what goodness remains.


There’s no sense playing the “what if” game. There’s only, “what now?” Having had strong veins all my life, I learned today that the chemo has likely permanently scarred my veins, leaving them much weaker than before, with similar affect on all the major organs. (We’ve yet to see what God says about this!) But what remains is life and love and improving health. Faith remains too and the strong desire to press forward in the fight of fights. Some think it is my constitution, my strong New England independent spirit that says never give up. Perhaps so, but it is so much more.


Trials visit everyone. Likely you’ve had your share of yours. Maybe you’ve felt  like throwing in the towel at times. But you don’t because there is always hope. Christian or not, we all cling to hope. As Christians we have this certain hope we should cling to…a hope that is firmly anchored in heaven and keeps us from drifting too far from our bearings on earth. It is the real hope that is certain of things that we might otherwise not see clearly in our miserable circumstances. Dear friend, do you know that hope that frees you from being a slave to your circumstantial pain and sorrow? God offers it as a free gift from his Son Jesus.


Sometimes, even Christians do not cling to the hope that is theirs. Preferring to keep clinging to fear, anxiety, despair, bitterness, and anger keeps them from embracing the freedom that living with real hope offers. It’s a daily battle and a daily choice: do I want despair or hope?


In my own battle, the coming weeks will continue to be tough ones though for now, I’m past the most threatening part. The attack continues on my GI tract, depleting necessary vitamins and minerals that have to be replenished in massive IV doses, and requiring my continued stay at the hospital for a number of weeks more.
We believe God for a future of healing. We don’t believe him to take us this far only to abandon us. He never will. So we continue to persevere and endure in his strength and with your prayers. It’s just something we have to get through, trying to grasp every lesson we can learn along the way. We are joyed to have you join us in the journey. May you be blessed also.


Broken but not bitter


Funny man, Stephen Colbert, makes his living making jokes. But as is true with most of us, there’s more than meets the eye. Colbert suffered the tragic loss of his father and two brothers in a plane crash when he was ten years old. He could have become bitter. But Colbert credits his mother and his faith for not letting bitterness take root in his life. In his own words, “I am here to know God, love God, serve God, that we might be happy with each other in this world and with Him in the next. That makes a lot of sense to me.” He says that by his mom’s example he’s not bitter; broken, yes, but not bitter.  If Colbert says that faith kept him from becoming bitter, I’m taking him at his word.


How does faith keep us from letting bitterness erode our life? There probably isn’t any one size fits all answer. Bitterness tries to maintain control over a situation and over others. Sometimes bitterness refuses to forgive. Other times, bitterness says, “I’ll forgive (with clenched teeth and fists), but by golly I’m not ever gonna forget!” (Which doesn’t seem much like forgiveness, does it?) In contrast to bitterness, faith learns to “let go and let God;” Faith makes us better.


Bitterness holds onto a grudge against past wrongs and angst. Faith holds onto the promise of future justice and peace. Bitterness poisons our soul, continually scratching at the open wound. Faith is a healing balm; restoring and building us up. Bitterness denies. Faith believes. Bitterness focuses on the pain, sorrow, and despair. Faith lives in the midst of pain and sorrow but focuses on hope.


Dr. Adrian Rogers said, “Bitterness blows out the candle of joy and leaves the soul in darkness.” Faith reminds us that God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light to guide our path (Psalm 119:105). Billy Graham said “Every destructive emotion bears it own fruit, but the anger fruit is the bitterest of them all. Uncontrolled resentment and anger is a devastating sin and no one is exempt from its havoc. It shatters relationships and destroys marriages.” Faith bears its own fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness… and more. Which fruit do you want to eat every day?  We’re repeatedly warned to get rid of bitterness, slander, wrath, and malice. It only destroys. But how do we give it up?


Giving up bitterness starts by deciding you want to be better, not bitter.


Being better moves us to forgiveness, knowing that we ourselves are forgiven only to the extent we forgive others. Forgiveness is as much for you as it is the other person. Getting rid of bitterness requires a conscious decision to live in harmony with others, in so far as it’s possible. A heart that is free of bitterness learns to listen more. It seeks more to understand than to be understood. It finds pleasure in building others up, not tearing them down. Bitterness makes us harsh; giving it up makes us more gentle and peaceful. Finally, bitterness is smothered by thankfulness. The more we find reason to give thanks, day by day and moment by moment, the less bitterness has room to grow.


I really don’t know if you can give up bitterness on your own. I couldn’t. I had to give it up to God and ask him to forgive my bitter heart. I needed him to give me a heart transplant; to give me a new heart that is so filled with his love, there just isn’t room for bitterness too.


You may feel broken. But you don’t have to be bitter. Be better instead. Let God change your heart.



Wednesday update

Bryan returned to 8S oncology (room 847) today. Dangerous BP and temps have stabilized. Contaminated pic line was removed, broad course of antibodies, continues to fight sepsis blood infection and pneumonia (and a couple other maladies). He is so glad to be back up on 8S. They have a very caring staff.


No blogs this week.
Due to a series of deteriorating conditions Bryan has been moved to the ICU to gain control of his sepsis blood infection, fevers and other maladies.
It’s a difficult battle that has to be fought one breath at a time. In fact it is beyond fighting. All he can do is let the Lord fight his battle.
Sometimes when facing difficult situations we have to take our eyes off the big picture and focus on one day, one moment, and one breath at a time.
Please no visitors for the next few days while Bryan’s immune system is so weak.

The battle within


Someone wisely advised: “Be kind. Everyone is facing a tough battle.”


My doctor explained “what a colossal war is going on inside” my body: the battle of the body against the cancer and now the effects of chemo against the cancer AND against my body. He says the body is expending an enormous amount of energy at a cellular level, beyond what the anemia accounts for, in what is for the moment, a losing battle for the body. It will not have victory until it first falls. But THEN the victory will come!


It reminds me of the other battles we all face daily, sometimes unaware of the nature of our fight.


I suppose none of us seeks out the suffering that comes to our door. And when it does come, we are so eager to wish it away. But whether troubles are caused by a medical cancer or the “cancer” of broken relationships, physical pain, intense grief, or destructive attitudes, there are valuable life lessons to be found in suffering – if we listen.


God’s Word describes suffering as a refiner’s fire that has to get hot enough for the impurities to flow to the top, leaving only the highest quality purity remaining in your life. Suffering does that by stripping away false pretense in our lives so we can focus on what matters. CS Lewis says our pain demands attention. It draws us away from a wasted idle life of ease and comfort. We know God shows us compassion in our suffering so we can share with others in the lives of others in our path.  Sometimes suffering puts us in situations that actually advance the gospel.


But one of the supreme benefits of suffering – if we embrace it – is to draw us closer to God and develop qualities we could never learn or apply without such a hard teacher. Charles Spurgeon compares this to the soldier in the battlefield:


“God knows that soldiers can only be made in times of battle and are not developed in times of peace. We may be able to grow the raw materials of which soldiers are made, but turning them into true warriors requires the education brought about by the smell of gun powder and by fighting in the midst of flying bullets and exploding bombs, not by living in pleasant and peaceful times. So dear Christian, could this account for your situation? Is the Lord uncovering your gifts and causing them to grow? Is he developing in you the qualities of a soldier by shoving you into the heat of the battle? Should you not then use every gift and weapon he has given you to be a conqueror? Do you understand that God may take away your comforts and privileges in order to make you a stronger Christian? Do you see why The Lord always trains his soldiers, not by allowing them to lie on beds of ease but by calling them to difficult marches and service?”


My sister shared this quote. You know the truth, but I really appreciate the simple statement:

Trials don’t make us or break us.
They simply reveal what’s in our heart.


“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit in me!”
Psalm 51:10


Whatever battle you are facing, know that you are not alone. Our good God desires you to prosper from it, not succumb to its pressure. Good and faithful friend, ask God to reveal what’s in your heart as you face your battle so you can use this time to draw closer to him and find his rest, his peace, and his strength to be “more than a conqueror” even in the middle of your storm.


Encore performance – Special update


Taylor Swift came to town with 22 custom painted semis so she could thrill her fans. I imagine she might have been asked to perform an encore at the end of her show.


I’m no TS, but I’ve been “asked” to do an encore performance with the chemo regime, starting tonight, since the first round didn’t quite get rid of all the cancer. That will extend my tome at The Mercy Chemo Health Spa.


But we’re okay with that. Here’s why:


Our sovereign God could have intervened to shorten my stay if it was in his or my best interest. If we’re going to get upset every time our prayers are answered differently than we asked, then we’d have to take out our scissors and remove Romans 8:28 from the rest of the text (plus a LOT of other verses). If we really believe God’s way is best and we really do want to follow him, then we just have to believe he will work ALL things for good for ALL those who love him and follow him. The thing we are too often apt to forget is that ALL things often includes circumstances we don’t like. And to put that into perspective, consider this:

Another Christian, Pastor Edward Awabdeh was abducted by ISIS in April and was executed for his faith September 23. He intentionally took the risk by staying in his village to care for and encourage the people in his village. He is now in heaven but only after giving the “performance” of his life.


So as you pray for Marcia and me in our unexpected journey through cancer, I encourage you to set aside time each day to pray for all those who are suffering – even unto death.


As much as we are entertained by singers and sports heroes, let’s ask God for even more passion about things that really matter. It will change your life – for the better!

Sharing your best joy – While you have time


I was visiting with one of my overnight aides at the hospital recently when she came to take my vitals. She always has such a cheerful disposition. So I asked her what makes her so happy. (Not an extremely complicated theological question, right?) She replied with a beaming smile and one word: “God!” When I asked her why does God make her so happy she told me the story of how God intervened in her tough family situation and how knowing Jesus completely transformed her life…and still does. It was as much a joy for me to hear her story as for her to tell the story of God’s great joy and power in her life.


The author of 3 John 1 concurs:

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (V 4)


He goes on to affirm them for prioritizing hospitality toward others, working together to seek the truth. He applauds them for dealing with conflict in a godly manner, constantly seeking to imitate God’s goodness in their life, rather than running after the things of this world that so easily distract us. It should be the mark of every Christian, or every decent human being for that matter. Put others first by honoring God in our relationships.


The final letter in this series follows so much of the practical instruction and encouragement found throughout the New Testament on how to build purposeful and mutually valued relationships that honor God. If you experience the pain of relationship conflict or sadness in the lack of deep and meaningful relationships, God’s Word is an instruction manual ready to guide you well.


So why aren’t we quick to seek God’s counsel instead of the advice magazines and the likes of Facebook? I suspect one of the reasons is time. Mutually valued relationships take time to build and nurture. Maybe we think we’re too busy or we just don’t think it’s worth the effort. Maybe we forget that Jesus gave us two commands: Love God and Love others. Maybe we know that we should be closer to God and feel embarrassed to ask him for help with our relationships with others. Oh, but he is always ready and willing to help us live the way that brings about his best plan for us!


There’s a true story of two good friends who were next door neighbors. They visited often over a cup of coffee in each other’s kitchens. They shared about nearly everything in their life: work, children, interests. There were no secrets between these best friends. This went on for years! One day, one woman came over to her friend’s house with a huge beaming smile. She could hardly contain herself. Her friend asked what had happened. Her neighbor friend said she had been visiting with another friend who told her about the love of Jesus that transformed her life from one of mundane routine to a life of power and victory. She said the reason she was so happy was because she had just asked Jesus to be her Lord and Savior, to transform her life. And then her best friend said how wonderful that was and that she too was a Christian.


A profound silence filled the room.


Finally the neighbor asked, “You mean after all these years being best friends, you knew the joy of Jesus, but didn’t tell me?” Tears came to both of them. “I’m so sorry. I should have told you. I was afraid of offending you” was the response. “But what if I had died without knowing Jesus?” the neighbor asked. Another silence with more tears and apologies followed.


There will come a time when no time remains to build relationships that bear the truth and joy of sharing Jesus. Let’s ask God to open our eyes to the opportunities we have today to share the best joy in our lives with the people we most love. They might accept the invitation, but let it be their decision. ..while there is still time!


Holding onto the truth


Continuing in our discussion of truth, we turn to 2 John 1. The author is writing to “the lady chosen by God and to her children.” Evidently, she was a woman of means who frequently supported Christians who came to her house. The focus is on keeping hold of the truth which will live with us forever and to guard against supporting those who pervert the truth. What a relevant topic for us in our culture!


Keeping hold of the truth and not being taken by a lie is a constant theme throughout scriptures. In the Old Testament, God often reminded his people, “Remember!” Remember the Lord your God. Remember the reason we’re on this earth and prioritize our activities accordingly so we don’t get sidetracked and led astray. Remember the truth.


Where do we find the truth? Some seek education or science or philosophy. Some look to their heart to reveal truth. The Bible consistently warns against these purveyors of “truth,” and reminds us “the heart is deceitful above all things. Who can trust it?” We’re also warned against those who call themselves Christian but choose to twist God’s Word to their advantage. In all things, look to who gets the glory. I find this an especially helpful consideration when evaluating what ministries to support.


When Marcia and I mentored at the prison, we told the men: “If what we say ever disagrees with God’s Word, always go with God’s Word.” Straying from the truth isn’t always intentional. Sometimes we stray off the path of truth by not paying attention to the road. It’s like falling asleep at the wheel on a cross country trip and driving ourselves into a ditch. It’s not enough to know the truth. We have to stay awake and guard against believing lies.

We’re reminded in this letter that holding onto truth means loving and caring for one another should be amongst our top priorities. Obeying his commands becomes a joy rather than a duty when we hold onto the truth because we know it honors God and guards our own lives. Holding to the truth means keeping our lives pure from corruptive influence. Our choices about seemingly little things like movies, magazines, curious internet searches, gossip, a critical or judging spirit all affect how we hold onto truth. How do you hold on to the truth? Is reading and meditating on scripture your daily focus or more of an afterthought? Is the consideration of other’s needs a primary focus of your life or something regarded as “when there’s time?”


And what active strategies do you use to guard against lies? Whether it Madison Avenue marketing schemes, political themes, or establishing our daily and lifetime goals, it’s always in our best interest to seek the truth and guard against lies. Like detecting a counterfeit bill, holding the alleged truth up against the original truth is a good way to guard against believing the counterfeit to be true.

I hope holding onto the truth and guarding against lies that steal your joy and take you captive are top priorities in your life. Choose the freedom found in holding onto the truth today.



Can you be sure?


Am I really a child of God? Does God really love me? Do I really love God?  Can I know for sure I’m going to heaven, when it seems like I’m such a disappointment to him? Does my life really matter?


When we take time away from our self pursuits and the busyness of life; when we turn off all the gadgets and try to really be still, we find there are lots of questions that our heart has been waiting to ask us. There are lingering doubts we’ve never addressed that long for a word of assurance. I love the answers found in 1 John 5 to these and other important questions.


First, it’s all about faith. Faith in Jesus as God’s Son. Faith that expresses itself through his love. This is the true mark of a child of God, one who believes, trusts, and obeys. For sure, our faith and love are imperfect. We waiver and stray. But just as your child has the assurance they belong to you and are always loved by you so you, dear child, have the same assurance from God. He knows you and you belong to him.


An old song said, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” God says the same thing. In fact, our love and obedience to his love is the evidence of our faith. We can say we believe something but if we don’t act on it, do we really believe it?


If our faith is real, if we really believe, we will learn to increasingly act on it. We’ll choose love over hate, compassion over apathy, peace over fear, worth over shame, trust and assurance over doubt and worry. Faith is God’s design for us to make better trades in life so we can live victoriously, not as slaves to our feelings and circumstances. Who can have this assurance? Anyone who really believes Jesus at his Word who listens to and obeys his Spirit who testifies to his truth.


“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe inthe name of the Son of God so you may KNOW you have eternal life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. ( 1 John 5:11-13)


But the assurance is not just for eternal life. It’s for abundant life now, no matter what circumstances you face: cancer, pain, sorrow, loneliness, and troubles of all sorts. You can doubt it and try to find success in your own strength OR you can be sure, knowing God’s assurance for a victorious life is yours.


What are you going to believe?


(Thoughts on 1 John 5)