Thursday, May 31, 2007

My Son's Cancer is Gone!!!

Today we found out that Bobby's cancer is gone. Praise the Lord! I cannot describe the feeling of relief that swept over me when I heard Dr. Frankel say that the PET scan showed no signs of cancer at all. We are so grateful to God for His healing of Bobby, and thankful to the doctors and nurses and technicians who treated him so carefully. Now we enter the "follow-up" stage, where we kind of wait-and-see if the cancer relapses. We trust the Lord completely, however, so whatever happens we will give Him the glory.

Monday, May 28, 2007

An Excellent Resource for Anyone Who is Suffering

Good theology is esential if we are going to suffer well. It will help us persevere during our trials, and it will give us hope. We believe that "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Ps. 30:5). It is faith in our good and sovereign God that enables us to wait until the morning. But we must never forget that often the night is long and the weeping uncontrollable.(175)

So begins Dustin Shramek's essay "Waiting for the Morning during the Long Night of Weeping" in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God,an excellent book edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. The book is actually a collection of chapters written by several different authors: John Piper, Mark R. Talbot, Stephen F. Saint, Carl F. Ellis, Jr., David Powlison, Dustin Shramek, and Joni Eareckson Tada. These writings are organized under three main headings: The Sovereignty of God in Suffering, The Purposes of God in Suffering, and The Grace of God in Suffering.

The chapters cover the spectrum of Christian writing styles, from the deep and complex theological treatment "All the Good That is Ours in Christ":Seeing God's Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us (by Mark Talbot)to the more conversational yet Biblically-rooted easier-to-read Sovereignty, Suffering, and the Work of Missions (by Stephen Saint.) The former has enough footnotes to make even the most stalwart scholar go pale, but in all fairness to Talbot, he does warn us that we should read it through first without the footnotes, and then re-read it with them. Once I did that, his meaning was clear and I truly enjoyed his writing style. I liked the fact that there were several different authors with varied styles and different perspectives on suffering. It also helped to know what intense suffering some of them have gone through in their own lives, which gives them credibility and lends weight to their statements.

What did I learn from this book? There are too many things to list them all here, so I'll just hit the highlights:

John Piper gives an excellent explanation for God's sovereignty over suffering, and how God's ordaining of something we consider "evil" happening does not mean that He is the cause of the evil Himself. Piper gives us ten areas in which God is sovereign over Satan, explaining each one thoroughly. In later chapters, Piper deals with the sufferings of Christ and the question of WHY? that so many of us ask ourselves about our own sufferings. (The short answer to the WHY? question is "Because it brings God glory." The long answer is given by Piper in describing six different things that suffering does or produces in our lives, which in turn bring God glory.)
The ultimate purpose of the universe is to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. The highest, clearest, surest display of that glory is in the suffering of the best Person in the universe for millions of undeserving sinners. Therefore, the ultimate reason that suffering exists in the universe is so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by suffering in himself to overcome our suffering and bring about the praise of the glory of the grace of God. (89)

Mark Talbot explains the theology of the sovereignty of God over evil VERY thoroughly, working into his chapter an explanation of Open Theism and then refuting it.

Stephen Saint offers a very well-thought-out argument for the idea that God not only "allowed" his father's death, but actually "planned" it and then says:
You know what my conclusion is? I don't think God merely tolerated my dad's death. I don't think he turned away when it was happening. I think he planned it. Otherwise I don't think it would have happened. This was a hard realization for me to come to. I once said that while speaking at a church, and a man came up afterwards and said, "Don't you ever say that again about my God." Afterward I found these verses in Acts 2: "Men of Israel, listen to these words. Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know, you know he was God. You nailed him to a cross, you godless people. But he was delivered up to you by the predetermined plan of God." vv. 22-23. Then I thought: Don't anybody tell me that this can't be. If God could plan the death of his own righteous Son, why couldn't he plan the death of my dad? (117)

Joni Eareckson Tada gives invaluable insight from her many years of suffering as a quadriplegic, and the other authors' chapters are good, also.

Several things in this book convicted me about my own attitudes and actions. I felt struck in the face by Ellis' idea that "In essence, we reenact the fall every time we give in to temptation." (123) OUCH!!! What a concept! I realized that I need to stop and take stock of my own life, my sins, my giving in to temptation, before I complain about any suffering I may be enduring. I need to place God's glory above my pain. I need to stop asking "WHY?" and start looking for how God is being glorified through this experience.

To put it all in perspective, here is my favorite paragraph from the book, in Ellis' chapter:
In many ways suffering is a mystery. I take comfort in what Francis Schaeffer told me many times: "We only see the debit side of the ledger now. We don't see the credit side yet. When we see the whole ledger we will say, 'Oh, why didn't I see it that way before?'" This is why the Bible tells us to see now by faith. Though suffering is a mystery to us, it is not a mystery to God. Mysteries may be painful, but they should not perplex us. To God, there is no mystery. He is satisfied because He sees the whole ledger. We will also be satisfied when we see things from God's perspective. Till then, we must learn to be satisfied with God's satisfaction. If we do, we will have peace.(125-126)

If you are currently suffering in some way, or if you work with or are just friends with someone who is, I urge you to read this book.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Can You Hold, Please? Part II

Since Thursday I've been thinking a lot about this idea of life being on hold, and I realized that there are two major areas in my life where being on hold is difficult.

First is the fact that because of Bobby's immunity (or lack thereof) we have not been able to attend church regularly. We are having regular family Bible study, but haven't been able to gather with other believers and sing, praise, pray, study God's Word, and otherwise edify and be edified. This is really hard for me, as I think it would be for anyone. Even when we were overseas we met regularly with other believers--on Sunday mornings with a larger group for what would be considered a more traditional "worship service," and on Wednesday evenings with a small group for a meal and Bible study. For four short months we shared our lives with this small group, and our fellowship was suddenly interrupted. In fact, we had just begun to discuss organizing/creating more structure in order to form a house church which could then be a model for new believers. Now, we aren't a part of any local body, and this makes me feel very disconnected.

The other area of difficulty is this: because we are in a very stressful time of life, we are being ministered to BY others, but have not been able to minister TO others. Although I deeply appreciate all of the support and encouragement, and in fact believe that it is what has gotten us through this time so far, I miss being in a position to reach out and minister to others. Sure, I've prayed for and with many people since the start of this, listened to problems that some of the nurses and staff are having, and continued to pray for all of our friends and family here in the U.S. and overseas. But I miss being able to minister in more concrete ways. Then again, this lack of opportunity comes from not being connected to a church body.

Perhaps once we find out the results of Bobby's upcoming scan we will be able to plan our future a little more, and be able to join up with some sort of local church body, which will then give us people with which to share life and to whom we can minister.

In the meantime I'll just keep listening to the music while I'm on hold...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Can You Hold, Please?

Yesterday I spent almost half an hour on "hold" with our medical insurance company. I was checking on the injectable drug we need for Bobby (and still do not have a definitive answer as to when it's coming.) Now, you have to understand: I usually hate being on hold. It seems like such a waste of time. Usually my blood pressure rises and I can feel my annoyance level soar. But yesterday, as the woman I was dealing with kept coming back on the line and saying "Can you continue to hold?" I made up my mind not to be impatient. I popped myself some kettle corn, wrote some thank you notes, and made a to-do list. I figured it was better to use the time wisely than to just sit there fuming. The insurance lady seemed pretty surprised that I was still cheerful after twenty-five minutes. I apologized for crunching popcorn in her ear, and she reassured me that it was okay. Hmmmm...

Even though I still got no answers, I have been thinking about this experience a lot since then. I think that I was able to handle it better than I have in the past because of everything we have been going through lately. In a sense, our lives are on hold right now. We are constantly waiting--for blood counts to come back, to see how Bobby reacts to a particular drug, for an IV infusion to end, and now for the PET scan which isn't until May 30th. Living life on hold is very stressful. We are waiting to see what God is going to do next in our lives, and because Eric and I are both planners, this is difficult. I prefer to know things ahead of time, make a list, and get things done. Right now it's easy to get anxious, living on hold. Sometimes I feel my pressure start to rise, my stress increase; it is at these times that I have to purpose in my heart and mind to be patient. The Psalms help a lot: check out Ps. 27:12; 33:20; 37:7; and 40:1. I have to remind myself each day to be still and know that He is God. I also have been looking for worthwhile things to do to occupy the time as we live "on hold." I realize that I do have lots of time to spend with my husband and children, caring for them. I have been able to read some good books. I don't have to put everything on hold just because some of our major life decisions are in limbo. The other thing I remind myself of is that God is the one in control here, and He knows what's going to happen when life clicks back on the line. I don't need to worry about it! And unlike our insurance people, He has all the answers, and will give us what we need to know when we need it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Extreme Makeover?

Most of us have seen a magazine article or a television show in which women or men receive a "makeover," usually with dramatic results. "Wow!" we think, they really did a lot for that person; they look so much better. Often these makeovers are used as advertising for a particular cosmetic line or to showcase the skills of a makeup artist or hairdresser. We are led to believe that these changes can only be effected by professionals. (Don't try this at home, kids!) My cynical brain has noticed a few things about these makeovers, specifically about the "before and after" photos. In the "before" shots, the person usually: is not smiling, is dressed in drab or blah colors, has uncombed hair, is generally looking depressed and not doing ANYTHING to look decent. Then in the "after" picture, lo and behold! They are wearing a bright color, their hair is beautifully coiffed, and suddenly they are smiling--all is right with the world. Couldn't we achieve this same effect without professional help? This morning Bobby's nurses helped me do my own before and after pics, with results every bit as dramatic (I THINK):

What a difference a shower, some makeup, a bright colored shirt, a flat-iron for my hair, and a happy smile can make! Okay, I know I'm still not winning any beauty contests, but come on! Those pictures in the magazines are just not that incredible. Anyone can improve their appearance with just a little effort and discipline, a good brush, and a cheerful attitude.

Now, lest you think I'm staying shallow with this one, let me say that just doing this fun little experiment has me thinking about another transformation in my life: my salvation. According to the Bible I am a new creature and should be transformed by the renewing of my mind, into a reflection of God. Proverbs 31:30 says that "charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised." So although physical makeovers are pleasant, a much more important transformation in our lives is our spiritual makeover. Sometimes this spiritual makeover can be painful, and not as simple as a physical transformation. As God peels away my layers it can really hurt, but I try to keep in mind that the end result will be wonderful. This train of thought also carries me to these questions: Do I display a radical transformation, an extreme makover, in my life as a result of being saved? Am I vastly different than I was before I was saved? What effort and discipline do I put into my spiritual appearance? What tools should I be using daily to renew my mind and refresh my spirit? I am deeply convicted by these questions. They make me think of an old gospel song:
Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me;
All His wonderful passion and purity.
Oh, Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine,
'Til the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.

That is the prayer of my heart.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Just for fun this morning...

I'd like to direct you to an interesting story I came across by way of a comment left on "Tom in the Box," and a follow-up article that is more recent. I'm astounded. Let's just look at two statements from the first article, and deal with one in a serious manner, and the other...well, you'll see...
Sommer, an evolutionary anthropologist, said: 'It's untenable to talk of dividing humans and humanoid apes because there are no clear-cut criteria - neither biological, nor mental, nor social.'

WHAT?!?!?! Even if our DNA is 96-98.4 per cent similar, as scientists claim, can anyone truly say there are no mental or social differences between humans and chimps? Are you kidding me? The biggest difference is this: human beings are created in God's image, and given dominion over other living creatures. Of course, I believe this because I believe the Bible to be God's inspired, inerrant Word. Once people throw out the Bible, they throw out any sense that we as humans are any different from animals. This is a big push in evolutionary education. It reminds me of the Disney song "You (Are a Human Animal)." I can't remember all the lyrics, but they say something like: "You are a human animal, you are a very special breed, for you are the only animal, who can think, who can reason, who can read." Interesting, eh? Even though the song equates humans with animals, it also (and perhaps unintentionally) points out the HUGE differences between us. Can animals think well enough to form an argument or philosophize? Can they reason (and here I'm referring to higher reasoning, not "see--banana--eat")? Can they read? NO. In the second article, one of the chimp's friends says that "Being with him is like playing with someone who can't talk." Okay--is it really? Can he understand every word you say? Is he thinking coherent thoughts, wishing he could reply? C'mon, people! This is not a human being who is merely unable to communicate freely. He is a chimp. And because I believe the Bible, I believe that human beings are made in the image of God, and chimps are not.
The other quote:
If Hiasl is granted human status, Martin Balluch, of the Association against Animal Factories, who has worked to bring the case, wants him to sue the vivisection laboratory. He said: 'We argue that he's a person and he's capable of owning something himself, as opposed to being owned, and that he can manage his money. This means he can start a court case against Baxter, which at the very least should mean his old age pension is secure.'
Wait a second--did I read that correctly? He (the chimp, not Balluch) "can manage his money"? and needs pension security? Have these people truly lost touch with reality? How can a chimp manage its money? Will he line his bed with it, eat it, or poop on it? Does this man really think that a chimp has a concept of the value of currency? Then Balluch stretches the absurdity even further by saying that the chimp should be able to initiate his own lawsuit. How? Does Balluch somehow have telepathy with the chimp? Will the chimp be able to type his request up? (That could go WAY off into how long it would take a room full of monkeys....ok, I'll stop.) Is Balluch serious about this? Why doesn't he truthfully say that he and his organization want to be able to control the money that has been donated to the chimp? Balluch's "Association Against Animal Factories" has such notable acheivements under its belt as rescuing hens and liberating lab rats. So now we come to another, related issue: These people are elevating animals to human status while ignoring the plight of humans in this world. Since 1973 there have been over 46 million abortions worldwide (40 million in the U.S. alone.) Millions of children worldwide die from starvation or easily curable diseases like malaria each year, or lead lives of illness, with scarce food and no safe water. And yet these people are pouring their time, energy, and money into saving the life of one chimp.

I have no more words.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Why Can't I Think Straight?

Yesterday I called the way I feel inside my head lately "mind-fog." I can't think of a better way to describe this. I feel as though my brain has dropped down to about a two-thirds capacity working level--thinking, writing, concentrating, and being productive mentally are all much harder than they should be. So the big question is WHY?

Obviously, what we are going through does play a major part in this. I have been living at an elevated level of stress for almost a year now, and the last three months that stress level was kicked up a few notches. It's hard to get good sleep in the hospital when Bobby is in-patient, and even when he's out I tend to wake up a lot at night and have trouble going back to sleep. I wouldn't say that I'm am worried a lot, but stressed is definitely a good descriptor. But I think there is more going on here than the stress over Bobby. I have two other ideas for how I feel: first, it may be that my hormones are out of whack, and my thyroid is not doing so well. I'm already on thyroid medication, but perhaps it would benefit me to go to an endocrinologist and have a full check-up. Of course, the hormone thing could be triggered by the stress....Second, it may be that I'm dealing with an allergic reaction to the fairly new paint in this house. I have had trouble with these same symptoms before, and the only thing we could relate them to was new paint. The solution to this would be to make sure I spend a decent amount of time outdoors each day breathing fresh air. And perhaps I should see an allergy specialist.

There is a spiritual side to this as well. Through all of this the Lord has been teaching me that throughout my life, and especially the last several months, I have tried to rely on myself too much and not on Him. He is showing me that the only way I can get through this difficult time is to lean completely on Him, casting all my cares (stress/anxiety/worry)on Him. I confess that I often fail at this, instead believing that I can handle things on my own (after all, I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and people like me!*) I have been way too self-reliant all my life, and I think the Lord is teaching me that self-reliance is the quickest way to failure. This morning I re-read Proverbs 3:1-8.
My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away form evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

Today I plan on spending some time confessing sin, praying about how I can be more faithful and steadfast, and asking God to help me keep leaning on Him and not on my own understanding. I could sure use some "healing to my flesh and refreshment to my bones."

*this is a reference to a Saturday Night Live skit from the '90s, for those who don't know

Thursday, May 10, 2007

How I'm Doing These Days....Really...

So, I've been nagged second-hand by a certain person, who shall remain nameless here, that I need to post on my blog after my last few weeks of silence. I believe the smarty comment had something to do with wanting to know whether my advanced age (40) has anything to do with my seeming inability to blog. Now, this particular person should know that this is not the case, as he seems as prolific as ever on his blog! No, the problem is that I've been thinking so many deep thoughts that I just don't have the time to write them down.

But seriously...I haven't been writing for several reasons, which I'll try to describe cogently but succinctly here.

First, when I've had time to be on the computer I have spent it updating Bobby's Caringbridge site or reading other people's blogs and commenting on them. Second, other free time has been spent reading "Desiring God" by John Piper, and "Eragon" by Christopher Paolini. How is that for juxtaposition? Both books are pretty good...I'll give my opinions in a minute. Finally, I haven't been writing because my brain seems scrambled and scattered these days, and it's hard to put thoughts together coherently. I am very tired and stressed, and honestly not doing as well as a few weeks ago when I wrote this.
I'll post tomorrow about why I think I've been feeling this way (some of you are thinking "Duh! Her little boy has cancer.") I don't think that's all there is to it, but today I want to write about the two books I just finished.

"Desiring God" should be required reading for all Christians. In it, Piper explains his thoughts on "Christian hedonism," the idea that we are to ENJOY God, not just fear and obey Him, and how this brings Him glory. He discusses the concept of duty vs. enjoyment and how it relates to loving others, stewardship, worship, marriage, missions, suffering, and other aspects of our lives. It took me a while to read through because it seemed that nearly every page convicted me of something in my life or made me stop and ruminate. I have begun to ask myself--Do I truly enjoy and delight in the Lord? Do I do things in my life out of a mere sense of duty or obligation or do I strive to honor the Lord by serving Him GLADLY? I finished the book feeling challenged, with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment. If you haven't yet read it, I would encourage you to get your hands on a copy.

"Eragon" was a much easier read, and I actually read it because my 13-year-old, who writes book reviews of her own, had finished it and enjoyed it. I did enjoy the book, but couldn't help noticing the plot's similarities to "Star Wars." Apparently I'm not the only person who thought this. Let's see: a young man living in an Empire, being raised by his uncle, finds something unusual, sees his uncle killed and the family farm burned, meets an old man who begins to tutor him in the ways of the Force, er, I mean magic, goes on a journey with the old man and is given a sword, meets a sidekick/friend, saves a beautiful princess from get the picture. The parallels are not perfect but are strong enough to seem annoying. The descriptions seem overblown and the dialogue somewhat forced. The fact that it was written by a 15-year-old mitigates the book's problems somewhat, and I do think that Paolini will be a name in the realm of fantasy lit for a long time if he continues to churn out books at his current rate. I haven't seen the movie yet, but since my sweet daughter has it on hold at our library I'm sure that will happen soon.

As for my current reading, I have moved on to "Suffering and the Sovereignty of God" edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. I'll post a review of it in a few days.

Tomorrow I'll write about my general mind-fog...