It’s Complicated

“Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved.” ― Martin Luther

These days people are asking me how I’m doing. More than usual. My wife is fighting cancer. This has become a long term struggle with many soldiers helping us in each and every skirmish.

I’m not sure what to say when asked how I’m doing. Sometimes people really want to get an update. Sometimes this question is just an expression of compassion and support as we pass along the way. Still, other times I’m asked by folks who aren’t getting a clear picture from me and are trying to imagine themselves in my shoes. What’s it really like?

Sometimes people just don’t ask. Maybe it’s just too overwhelming for others. Maybe there just aren’t any words.

Typically I’m responding without thinking too much. My response depends upon my mood, my schedule, my need at the moment to let it all out.

How AM I doing? Well, it’s complicated…

I’m feeling scared

The world I live in is mostly filled with a lot of certainty. Watching my wife manage an ever changing daily battle with stage four cancer (that’s now in her brain) and all the medication side-effects brings a daily dose of uncertainty into my (our) life. Mostly we have routines and rituals that make life so comfortable. When the journey heads into the unknown, fear begins to howl in the background.

“Adulthood brings with it the pernicious illusion of control, and perhaps even depends on it. I mean that mirage of dominion over our own life that allows us to feel like adults, for we associate maturity with autonomy, the sovereign right to determine what is going to happen to us next. Disillusion comes sooner or later, but it always comes, it doesn’t miss an appointment, it never has.” ― Juan Gabriel Vásquez

I’m feeling full of hope

Not a single day passes that I don’t experience encouragement of some sort. It is all around me (us). It comes in all the expected places, the emails, notes, hugs. But is also appears out of nowhere. Strangers who lift so much of the burden and never even realize it. All sorts of little “coincidences” seem to appear right and left. I don’t go very far without sensing and knowing the presence of God. My faith has found a resting place. Despite what has happened so far, the core of my belief is not moved. These beliefs are ever more resolved as I am pulled into the deep end.

“It’s amazing how many coincidences occur when one begins to pray.”  – Bill Hybels

I’m too busy to think about it

Life has gotten very fast for a number of reasons. Fighting cancer is a whole other career to add to what’s already on our plates. It’s easy to get behind with one important part of life while trying to manage a whole new chapter.

It’s too easy to slip into the fast lane and wake up three counties later, unconscious of so much that always matters.

“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” ― T. S. Eliot

I’m uncertain about what the future holds

Our mode of thought has been to just think about today. Even though there are always future plans of some sort that are a normal part of life, we are trying to readjust and live more in the moment – hang on to this day. When I do think about the future; retirement, grandchildren, remaking the house, who am I going to give all my junk to? Sometimes it can be frightening – going from theory to practice. It’s sweet to quote the proverb about numbering your days, but actually doing it is a whole other matter. Living like there’s no tomorrow makes one take today that much more seriously.

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.”  – Psalm 90:12

I’m often around other people who don’t want to talk about our “situation.” I imagine that most people are uncomfortable talking about serious illness – what do you say? These days, so many have a lack of personal experience. Great health care and growing distance within families means that suffering and death are not experiences we learn to manage in the same ways our parents and grandparents did.

I’m angry

Let’s be honest. Who wouldn’t be mad every single day. If there was any sort of justice, I’d be the one hit by the dump truck of life, not her. Who knew that the uncertainties of life were going to come and trample in our yard? Living in a society that promotes and promises justice doesn’t  mean the experience is always assured. It’s a hope, not a certainty. Instead of trying to find justice in all of this, the best way to work through the weeds is to be truthful and admit these feelings, find people to talk it out with and pray without ceasing (in all honesty).

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” ― Mark Twain

I’m counting my blessings

Perspective helps with all sorts of situations. But how do you put cancer into perspective? There is always something to be thankful about. In each and every situation there is a way to find thanks. There is always another person near who needs to feel a little mercy and grace. Instead of anguish, there is thankfulness for so much more of life never taken for granted anymore.

“To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.” ― George Bernard Shaw

I’m buckled in for the roller coaster ride

When a life threatening illness strikes there is always a loss of control.  A feeling of “what’s next?” Living a life that’s not really mine, it belongs to a disease that’s taking control of more and more. Of course there is always this illusion that I was ever really in control of anything in the first place. The economy shifts, someone new comes into power or a hurricane appears on the horizon. Instead of looking for control or being heartbroken because of the loss, I’m learning how to just survive today. I used to have all sorts of big plans for the future. Maybe that was a mistake.

“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.”  –  Epictetus

Well, how AM I doing? It’s still complicated…but I made it another day, and I tried to make it count.

 

O LOVE THAT WILT NOT LET ME GO – George Matheson

O love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.

 

 

Advertisements

A Greater Work

I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father.  – John 14:12 (The Voice)

I read a wonderful devotional in My Utmost for His Highest this week. What did Jesus mean when He told His disciples that they would do greater works than those they had eyewitnessed?  Does this mean His followers will be doing greater signs and wonders than raising the dead or calming the storming sea?

What if this promise is about prayer? My devotional reading taught that prayer does not prepare us for a greater work, it is the greater work.

He lives His resurrected life forever. From such a vantage, He is able to save those who approach God through Him for all time because He will forever live to be their advocate in the presence of God.  – Hebrews 7:24-25 (The Voice)

Jesus has returned to His Father and is now interceding for all of us as we approach God’s throne of grace. When we pray, we now have complete access to our Heavenly Father. This is a new condition that occurred only after Christ ascended. There are no more sacrifices to make in order to gain access to the holy presence of God. That has been done once and for all by Christ.

Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.  – Romans 8:34

But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.  – 1 John 2:1

Our prayers are empowered because they have the Son of God personally taking them before God on our behalf. Our prayers have the potential for even more earth shaking consequences. The work of prayer is a greater work because we have Jesus Christ joining forces with us.

But that’s not all. When Jesus left the earth He promised His followers that he would not leave them alone.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. – John 14:16-17

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.  – John 14:26

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  – Romans 8:26-27

When we pray, we do not pray alone. We pray in a spiritual partnership with the very Spirit of God. In every place of weakness, ignorance, frailty and fear, the Spirit of God intervenes and fills in all of the gaps. He makes our prayers perfect. He empowers our prayer life by guaranteeing its effectiveness. With this kind of promise, why aren’t you praying all of the time? Why are you worrying? Why are your friends and family burdened with so many cares?

So own up to your sins to one another and pray for one another. – James 5:16 (The Voice)

Did you ever consider that failing to pray for others might be a terrible sin? Who wouldn’t fall on their knees knowing that what we can accomplish in prayer would be even more powerful than the great miracles performed by Jesus himself?

“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” ― Oswald Chambers

Why Are You Praying Like That?

  1. The first question we must ask ourselves, WHY are we praying?
  2. Next, why are we praying the way we do?
  3. When we pray, what shapes our expectations?
  4. Is your prayer life a religious custom or the most powerful activity on earth…one in which you have been invited to participate?

What is it that shapes your prayers?

Your prayer life is a direct reflection of your dependent relationship with God. How dependent are you? What kind of an independent existence have you carved out for yourself?

“Every time we pray our horizon is altered, our attitude to things is altered, not sometimes but every time, and the amazing thing is that we don’t pray more.”    – Oswald Chambers

How does prayer work?

By prayer, I mean intentionally conveying a message to God. It’s frustrating—isn’t it?—how unclear language can be if we are not careful. Why do I say “intentionally conveying a message to God? Why don’t I just say that prayer is talking to God? Well, because Romans 8:26 says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” I take this to mean that there are groans of our hearts that the Spirit inspires that are sometimes wordless. So prayer is usually talking to God, but there are times when you can’t talk and can still pray, that is, convey a message to God. – John Piper

More ways to pray…

Piper gives even more counsel about how we should pray. Take a look at some of the Biblically based directions about how to pray:

Pray for the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:13; cf. Ephesians 3:19)

Pray for the healing of wounded comrades.

Let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. (James 5:14-15)

Pray to know God better.

[We have not ceased to pray for you to be] increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:10; cf. Ephesians 1:17)

Pray for power to comprehend the love of Christ.

I bow my knees before the Father . . . [that you] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. (Ephesians 3:14, 18-19)

Pray for a deeper sense of assured hope.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . . that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:16, 18)

Pray for signs and wonders.

And now, Lord, . . . grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness . . . while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:29-30)

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:17-18)

Pray deeper sense of his power within them.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . . that you may know . . . what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:16, 18-19)

Pray for greater faith.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24; cf. Ephesians 3:17)

Prayer means waiting

I tell the Lord my troubles and difficulties, and wait for Him to give me the answers to them”, said one man of God.  “And it is wonderful how a matter that looked very dark will in prayer become clear as crystal by the help of God’s Spirit.  I think Christians fail so often to get answers to their prayers because they do not wait long enough on God.  They just drop down and say a few words, and then jump up and forget it and expect God to answer them.  Such praying always reminds me of the small boy ringing his neighbor’s doorbell, and then running away as fast as he can go.  – E.M. Bounds

Build Yourself a Levee

“You gotta build yourself a levee deep inside, gotta build yourself a levee deep inside.
Build yourself a levee girl, when the waters run high.”

Now, when I was just a little girl my mamma said to me, “Beware of the devil my child.
But if by chance you should meet, beware of his cold dark eyes full of bold and unholy deceit.
He’ll tempt you with a whirling pool of lies and promises he’ll deny or that he will never keep.”

“You gotta build yourself a levee deep inside, gotta build yourself a levee deep inside.
Build yourself a levee girl, when the waters run high.”

Natalie Merchant / Build a Levee

Fighting cancer is a full time job.

  • There are medical appointments all through each and every week.
  • There are sacks full of medications to organize and take throughout each day.
  • The insurance companies and doctors offices all have to be spoken to and need to have the most simple of things explained over and over again.
  • There are invoices in the mail each day – almost all will not need to be paid but will need to be addressed in some way.
  • Who really knows what new symptom will appear in the morning.
  • Every new symptom is an adjustment to living that must be made, from transportation to meals to sleeping and making plans for the future.

Of course, there’s the full time job that needs to be managed as well. The career that keeps one going and living every single day. It’s like an inner tube to which we cling while shooting down the whitewater river of circumstances.

The floods come and wreak so much disaster in everyone’s world. Living seemed to be working just fine, until that unexpected storm arrived.

In order to keep the flood of fear, disease, and despair from filling our dwelling with the inevitable mold and ruination we must build ourselves a levee of some sort – a barrier of faith that will not be breached.

Faith is the assurance of things you have hoped for, the absolute conviction that there are realities you’ve never seen. – Hebrews 11:1 (The Voice)

Fighting cancer, just like living a full-time life, never stops. There’s always a flood raging just down the road. We’ve all got to build ourselves a levee to keep the evil at bay.

What matters most is to build your levee out of what will last for eternity.

God’s unfailing love for us is an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.  ~ Jerry Bridges

Bind My Heart

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.  Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.  (Luke 10:38-42)

After all the tribulation in our lives, the petty concerns of each day, the cares that keep us up at night and the lingering fear that creeps around in the dark – Jesus tells Martha, there is only one thing to fill our concerned hearts with. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened. He scolded Martha and said that Mary had found the one thing that could never be taken away.

One thing in my life that can never be taken away.

What is it that you have filled your life with that can so easily be taken away? What did you think was so permanent? On what did you lay your hopes and dreams? Upon what does your future gaze rest?

Our time each day at the feet of Jesus is building something eternal in our lives that will never be taken away – not even by an 800 year flood.

Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise

Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home

Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
Here to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

Oh, that day when freed from sinning
I shall see Thy lovely face
Clothe it then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace

Come my Lord, no longer tarry
Take my ransom soul away
Send Thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless daysOh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to TheeProne to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts aboveHere’s my heart
Oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above
– Chris Rice version

The Rains Keeps Coming and the Bird Still Sings

Here we sit on day three after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. While the hurricane itself passed west of us here in Houston, we have been experiencing record setting rainfall and flooding. Today, on day three, as I walked to the end of the street to take a look at the flood swollen creek, I heard the song of a bird through the rain and dread. I couldn’t see it, but as I peered up from under my umbrella it made me think about the days before and those that would surely come after.

Storms come and rock the boat, but they don’t last forever. 

I’m sitting here in the house and I can hear the rain hitting on our skylight in the kitchen. It always makes tremendous noise and acts as our very own weather channel whenever there is something falling from the heavens. During Harvey, it doesn’t seem to have gone quiet for very long. Yet as I sit here listening to this constant sound, I can hear a bird singing outside. Where has it been during these days of storm? What has it to sing about?

I’m thinking about Jesus and Peter walking on the water.

  1. Jesus sent his closest followers away in their boat – about their business
  2. He left them to go about His business, praying alone on the mountain
  3. They sailed right into a storm – their special place didn’t save them from the normal problems of life
  4. The disciples became equally afraid of Jesus approach – does God’s method of deliverance (or not) cause fear because it’s not of our choosing?
  5. Peter is ready to follow Jesus, but then he doubts – the disaster in our life isn’t the raging sea and dark clouds, it’s the doubt that lurks in the shadows.
  6. The big lesson here is that there is a storm on the horizon. Your Savior will come, at times ready to deliver in ways that might seem frightening. The real danger you face isn’t the darkness all round, it’s the doubt deep within.

 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Emily Dickinson

Walking on Higher Ground

I’m pressing on the upward way
New heights I’m gaining every day
Still praying as I onward bound
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand
By faith on heaven’s table land
A higher plane than I have found
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

I’m Pressing on the Upward Way, Johnson Oatman

Do you remember this hymn? These days I hear and sing so few from my younger days. When I do the experience always seems to fill my spirit with all sorts of emotions. Today our pastor recited these lyrics that he had recently sung with his mother. It was another perfect moment for me, another immediate answer to prayer.

  1. It never goes away, people that treat you in terrible ways
  2. Circumstances out of your control come crashing down and capsize a carefully built life
  3. Somebody in charge thoughtlessly pitches whole chapters of your life right out the window
  4. A relationship you put so much trust in falls apart right before your eyes

So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (The Voice)

Sounds like a nice thought, but what does it mean? How do we put it into practice? Is it really possible to not pay attention when your hair is on fire and to instead only focus on a promised future? This is a hard path to walk. it

STOP

When you start to smell the smoke, don’t go into a panic mode and follow your natural inclinations. Remember Peter when he took his eyes off his Master and began to notice the storm and waves all around him? He did what was normal.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink.  – Matthew 14:29-30

If you plan on walking the higher ground, you’re going to have to STOP that defeated, discouraged, depressed attitude. I walked into worship on Sunday very much in this terrible state. I was praying and this time got hit right in my broken heart with several wonderful reminders that there indeed was a higher ground to walk. My spirit was challenged to focus on things that I was not seeing.

DROP

Right now, I am more frequently faced with the challenge to stop getting bogged down with so many troubles du jour. The practice continues until I learn to see what’s really happening and drop these “momentary, light afflictions.” How much effort is wasted stewing and steaming over some daily disaster that you probably won’t even remember in a few weeks?

…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  – Hebrews 12:1

The next time someone strikes you on the cheek, threatens your well-being, makes you feel worthless, or takes away another dream – don’t keep it in your belly one more minute, drop it and keep your hands empty and raised in supplication.

ROLL

One last step, this is probably why I’m still having so much trouble with all of this. The cares of this world, small and large, don’t just disappear because we practice a greater will power. Dropping our “present troubles” over the side of the boat doesn’t last. They keep coming back to haunt us. I can’t sleep anymore, I’m tossing and turning, rehearsing all sorts of scenarios to fix my current problems. They don’t ever really go away until I complete the act of surrender, the step of faith.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.  – 1 Peter 5:6-7

By acknowledging how much God loves me, how well he really knows what’s going on and admitting my complete inadequacy, I am more able to “roll” each and every disaster, disappointment and defeat onto his shoulders. Until I do this, they continue to plague my soul. Dropping isn’t enough because I’m really, really good at picking things up (just ask my wife). When I am willing and able to turn my anxieties over to my Heavenly Father – the rule of emotion is broken. That peace that is almost impossible to understand comes to rule over my life.

“The reason some of us are such poor specimens of Christianity is because we have no Almighty Christ. We have Christian attributes and experiences, but there is no abandonment to Jesus Christ.” ― Oswald Chambers

I really thought at this stage/age I’d be a better specimen. What’s so encouraging about what’s going on in my life these days is that our Heavenly Father continues to transform each one of us. He does not give up, His mercy is endless, His great plan will come true.

Plant my feet on higher ground, one step at a time…