Wednesday, August 12, 2009

From the Pit to the Palace

This past Sunday, I wasn't able to make it to church because I was just hurting too much from surgery and chemo. So, I stayed in bed and spent my morning watching TV preachers as my pain medication had me drifting in and out of sleep. Interestingly, two of the preachers spoke on the same passage back to back... Was God trying to tell me something?

Genesis 37 and the chapters following recount the story of Joseph. Here's a guy who was betrayed by his brothers... thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused and tossed in prison, and after years of unfair circumstances finally ended up second in command ruling the country. Some story, huh? If you're not familiar with it, you should go read it sometime. There were several lessons from Joseph's life that really spoke to me while I listened to those two pastors last Sunday.

First, God had promised Joseph that he would be lifted up, but before that could happen, his brothers became jealous of him and threw him into a dried up cistern. Can you imagine the questions that ran through Joseph's head while he was sitting at the bottom of that pit... what happened to the promises you made me, God? This isn't what I expected! How does this fit into the big picture? God, where are you in all of this? What's going on? ...Some of the same questions, I must admit, have crossed my mind through treatment.

Well, I was reminded that God definitely knew what he was doing when he allowed Joseph to sit there in that pit. He hadn't left him alone in the midst of his bad circumstances. In fact, God was using all of those circumstances to shape Joseph. Remember, Joseph went all the way from that pit to the palace... but God's way of getting him there was through the prison. No matter how long and difficult his circumstances were, God was hard at work through it all!

I was reminded that I don't have to dread those times of breakdown in my life. I can even thank God for the breakdown because he uses times like that so I can breakout of old shells and breakthrough to better things. The lesson is - it doesn't matter how deep your pit is because God is using it to prepare you for what he has prepared for you! God doesn't cause the bad circumstances in our lives, but he does use them to accomplish his purposes for us. What an encouragement at a very low point in my life!

It was a reminder I needed to hear. You see, when I'm feeling terrible physically, it's really difficult for me to be positive emotionally. It's like I'm lost in a forest of trees and I just can't rise up enough to see the big picture all around me. So, I was encouraged to remember that God is at work in my difficult circumstances... even though I often don't see it from my vantage point.

Second, there's a phrase that comes up several times throughout Joseph's story: "and the Lord was with Joseph...." No matter what the circumstances, good or bad, we're reminded that the Lord was with Joseph through it all. If you read Joseph's story, you'll see that God was with him, he was walking beside him, he was working for him, and he was witnessing through him every step of the way. Whatever our circumstances are, we are promised that God is always with his children and always working through their circumstances. The question is: are you under your circumstances or under the God who is over your circumstances? Are we going to respond to the circumstances that look like they're in control or to the promises of God who is in control?

Again, it was a reminder I desperately needed to hear. At this point in my life, it certainly seems like my circumstances are out of control and it's easy to come to the conclusion that nothing good is going to come from it all. Yet, God's promises remain true. Every day, I must decide what I will focus on and believe: my circumstances or God's promises.

There was one final thing that impacted me this past Sunday while I listened to those TV preachers: While everything on the outside may be all bad, everything on the inside is alright because God is with me. Going through treatment is a very difficult thing. The circumstances in which I find myself definitely aren't what I would ever ask for... but because God is with me through it, truly, I can say it is well with my soul...

Seems like God was trying to tell me something after all!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Well and the Trenches

When I was a kid, I spent almost every summer day swimming at the Towamencin township pool. It was always a flurry of activity and noise with kids running around, jumping, and laughing... splashing, diving, and playing their summer days away. Going to the pool was the highlight of my summer.

There was one place amidst all the noise that was different, though. It was in the well. The well was the deepest part of the pool - twelve whole feet. It was where the diving boards were... and where we were not allowed to swim unless it was closed off for the ever illusive fifteen minutes of "well swim." During well swim, my friends and I would play one game and one game only - "Who can get down to the bottom and stay down at the bottom the longest?"

Looking back, it was a surreal kind of experience. There would be all sorts of noise and activity above the water, but as soon as I began swimming down to the bottom all the noise disappeared. All the activity stopped. Suddenly, I found myself in a world all alone... and the pressure of the ever deepening water around me bore down on me more and more. At the bottom of the well, I had a very real sense that there was a whole world of activity going on above me, but I was distinctly not a part of it. I was twelve feet under fighting with ears popping and head throbbing, unable to take a breath. I was struggling alone to win.

...That is very much like what one round of chemo feels like. My head is not right, my body is not right, and I am distinctly aware that there is a whole world moving along outside my bedroom door. I am just completely disconnected from it - twelve feet under waiting for that moment I pop back up to take in another breath.

That's what one treatment feels like. Six treatments in a row - that's another story entirely.

Going through a series of chemo treatments feels much like what I imagine being on a battle field to be. Helmet on, I jump in the first trench and bury my face in the dirt just waiting for the barrage of bullets to stop skimming over my head. As soon as the fire stops, I jump up and run with all my might, legs pounding and heart racing, praying that I'll make it to the next trench alive. Next thing I know, I'm diving back into another trench, dirt and sweat pouring down my face as the bullets begin to fly again. Then back up again. Duck and run, duck and run... it feels like a never-ending fight to get through to the end. Again, it's as if the whole world exists apart from me. All I can do, all I can focus on is getting through from one treatment to the next.

It's exhausting - both physically and emotionally.

It may sound like I'm being overly dramatic. I'm sure in some ways I am. Yet, the reality is that I'm standing in a place where I should be able to rejoice over the awesome strides I've made so far in fighting this disease.... However, all I can think of is the fact that I'm scheduled for six more treatments, which will take me all the way through November. I looked at my calendar today and cried because I simply don't want to do it anymore. I can't believe I have four more months of chemotherapy to go through! I just know I don't have the strength to make it. I know I don't...

So, I find myself in a place of sorrow for the moment, knowing that I'll make it through the same way I did in phase one - by the grace and strength that God gives me one day at a time - but still not wanting to go through all that is before me. I'm weary and I'm only at the beginning of phase two.

Your continued prayers are much appreciated...

Monday, August 3, 2009

What Can't My God Do?

I'm posting to you from Room #613 at St. Luke's Hospital. I'm now three full days out of surgery and finally in a coherent enough frame of mind to post the results of Friday's surgery:

My doctor said that surgery went better than he had expected, meaning that once he got inside my belly, he found less disease than he thought he would. He was able to remove the primary mass in a radical hysterectomy, along with any cancerous lymph nodes he was able to see.

Finally (and this is the interesting part), there was one tumor, which had spread from the primary mass, that he expected would be small enough to remove as well. He ended up not removing it at all because when he got a closer look during surgery, he found that the tumor was gone from the last round of chemo. All that was left was scar tissue! Now, I ask you... what can't my God do?!?

I still have a very long road ahead of me - with three to six more chemo treatments planned and then radiation after that. I'm still far from being out of the woods, but this surgery was really a landmark event!

My doctor was thrilled that we had made it to this point and it wasn't until just recently that I began to really understand the gravity of his joy. He had made a comment to me in a past appointment that, had we not gotten to this point of being able to remove the primary mass in surgery, my cancer would have been much more difficult to deal with. In a recent conversation with him, I asked him to expand on that original comment. He shared with me that, in the beginning, my cancer was so bad that he was worried we would not even make it to the point where we could do surgery... and had that been the case, not only would the cancer be much harder to deal with in the present, but the chances of it recurring in the future would be that much greater. The bottom line is - we'd most likely be having conversations about the quality and length of my life going forward.

Truly, this surgery was a milestone event!

With my doctor repeatedly using phrases like "remarkable improvement" and "unbelievable progress," I know that I haven't made it to this point just as a result the medicines that I've been taking. I know that God's hand has been in this process in a very real way, giving wisdom to my doctor and making it possible for my body to respond so very well to treatment.

So... I ask you again, "What can't my God do?!?"

Zephaniah 3:17 ~ "The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."