Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Good Ride

Saturday morning was always my favorite time to go for a bike ride. I would be up, dressed, and out the door before the first rays of sunshine began to peek over the horizon. There was just something about feeling the cool morning breeze on my face and pushing the pedals as the sun rose. Those mornings contain some of my favorite memories. I can remember where I was the first time I rode over thirty miles. The same for when I broke through the fifty-mile-ride limit. The first forty-five miles of that ride were a lot of fun. There was just something about pushing my body a little bit further than I thought it would go. On those mornings, as I rode home, I knew I had had a good ride.

In many ways, this journey to beat lung cancer has been much the same. There were times that I just had to push my body a little bit further than I thought it could go. And the times that I thought I could not make it any further, friends and family would lift us up. Sometime they would come in person, and sometimes it was in their prayers. I have lost count of the times that DeLayne, the boys, and, I have been blessed by the giving of others. Perhaps, the most surprising thing has been the many times we have been blessed by opportunities to give to others. It has been a long journey that would not have been possible without the grace of others and the grace of God.

Yes, this journey has been a long one. There were twist and turns, never knowing what lay beyond the next bend in the road but learning to trust that Jesus would be there waiting on us. It has taken us places we never thought we would have to go, both physically and spiritually. Now my earthly journey has come to an end; I now know what lay beyond the last bend in the road. I am finally home resting in the loving arms of my Savior, Jesus Christ. I have had a good ride.




Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Salt

I have been on a low-sodium diet for several months now. It was hard to adapt to at first, but now that we have gotten the hang of it, things come much easier.

How did we accomplish this? Well, we started with the obvious. The salt shaker got put away. I was so accustomed to adding salt, I did it without noticing. After that, things got tougher. Salt is in everything. Don't believe me, check the sodium contents of about everything you buy at the grocery store. Who would of thought that finding "No Salt Added Ketchup" would be seen as a small victory?

I have gotten to the point now that the other day I took a bite of something that had salt in it, and it was a shock to my system. All I could taste was the salt. A big key to getting to this point is finding other spices to substitute for the salt, and I don't mean just pepper of some kind. Who would have ever thought I would reach this point?

I sat and thought about this the other day and realized that my journey to become salt free mirrored the efforts of society to become Christian free. We are taught in the Bible to be salt, but back in the 1960s and 1970s there were some people that thought society would be better off if Christians were silenced. They went after the salt shaker first and before we knew it, there was no prayer in schools. The Christians were okay with that because you could find Christian teachings everywhere, but before long, the Ten Commandments were gone, and it just continued.

We have reached the point now that whenever a tragedy occurs, we Christians try to rush in and show Jesus to those involved. We are met with skepticism and often pushed away. It is a shock to the system of society. They just can't handle the whole salt shaker being thrown at them at once.

I am beginning to believe that things would go better if we Christians would start being a little salt daily in our neighborhoods.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Have I Been A Fool?

I am going to go some place that I think a lot of Christians do not like to go. I believe that most Christians do not like having their faith challenged, and I will admit to being one of them. I have always been more of "let my walking do my talking" kind of guy. As I have said many times before, God and I have had many one-sided discussions about the purpose of the journey I am now on. The only time God has chosen to give me any type of an answer it was, "They are watching." God has yet to disclose to me who they are. I have my suspicions, but God will not confirm them. I personally believe that "they" are just people who know I am a Christian and are just watching to see how I respond to my journey and if my faith still holds.

The reason this has come up in my mind is that I am now having to fight active lung cancer for the fourth time. We have been praying for complete healing for five years now, and instead of healing, we receive another diagnosis of recurring cancer. I can't help but believe that some of the people who are watching have to think that I am foolish to continue to believe that there is a God who can or will heal me. After all, the Psalms are full of passages where David's faith is ridiculed. Even Jesus was mocked while on the cross. Why should I be surprised if there are people questioning my faith in God?

To keep it real, I will confess to having asked myself multiple times this past month if I was being foolish to believe God would heal me. There have been several nights that I have stayed awake asking God where He is and imploring Him to show up. Yes, I freely admit to having fallen. One thing that I have noticed in those times is that God is not the one who has moved. It is always me who is not where he is supposed to be, and it is the times that I have fallen that I find it easiest to worship God. I am already down on my face before him. So, don't judge the absence of God by the times I have fallen, but judge the presence of God by the times, that thanks to His unfathomable grace, I have been able to stand.

So, have I been a fool? I don't think so. In the Bible, we are instructed to work out our faith. In these last five years, I have come to believe that God allows trials to assists us in working out that faith. God does not mind the hard questions we ask; He expects them. I was reading Psalm 37 and was reminded that my steps have been established by the Lord and that even when I fall, I will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who is holding my hand. I am thankful that through this journey, what I believe has been transformed into faith.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Made it to Five Years

On July 30th at 3:30 in the afternoon, it became official. Five years ago on that date and time is when I heard the words, "The pathology report confirms lung cancer." That evening I thought, "Well, okay, I'll take this on as hard as I can and beat it. Then I will go on and enjoy the rest of my life." I was terribly naive. A few weeks later, I sat in an exam room to get the results of all the tests done the previous week. The cancer had already spread throughout my chest and there was a brain tumor. Stage IV--with those words, thirty-five years of life expectancy were swept away. I had a 50% chance of living possibly one more year and a 1% to 4% chance of living another five years. However long I live, barring a miracle, I will be in some kind of treatment. Having now made it five years, I have made it into that top 1% to 4%--the highest ranking I have ever achieved in anything.

The night that I was diagnosed, I knelt in prayer and asked for three things. Now after five years, I thought it might be a useful exercise, mostly for myself, to revisit those three prayer requests and see how God has chosen to answer them.

The first thing that I prayed for was for healing. We have now beaten back lung cancer three times. Only by God answering many, many prayers is that possible, and some people would consider that this request has been answered. However, in my own way, I do not consider myself healed. I believe that when I am healed, I will no longer need to take drugs and that my collapsed lung will be restored. I have really been drawn to the story of the man with the withered hand told in Matthew 12. In that story, Jesus tells the man with the withered hand to stretch out his hand, and in an instant, the man's hand is completely healed. Even after five years, I still believe that it will be the same with me. In an instant, when Jesus says the words, my lung will be healed. But after five years, I have to admit that I now have to consider that it may not be part of God's will to completely heal me. Even though that may be the case, I still go to bed each evening persistent in my prayer for complete healing. The longer the wait, the bigger the miracle will be.

The next thing that I prayed for was that God would place the right people in the right place at the right time to help us fight lung cancer. Looking back through the years, I can plainly see how God has answered this prayer and still does. From people at the Cancer Encouragement Group we attend, to the doctors and medical staff who have treated me, God has placed each of these people there to help us. We have even had people at the hotel breakfast buffet pray for us, once they knew our story. I can't leave out the friends and family who have stepped in when we needed them. There have been many times that these people have just sat and listened to me whine about how I feel. I try not to add my problems to other people's problems, but I always feel better after I have had a chance to unload a little. There have been too many right people to list them all, but they are all very special to DeLayne and me.

The last thing that I prayed for was that this cancer would not go to waste. This is why I still consent to clinical trials and extra tests. Some of them have been painful and unpleasant experiences. Being first to find out the side effects is not fun, but I want the doctors and pharmaceutical companies to learn as much as they can from me. Meeting someone who is experiencing good results from a drug or treatment you were one of the first to test makes it worth it.

Along with the doctors, I also wanted to learn. I have learned a lot in five years, but there are still some things I am trying to figure out. I have heard several ministers say that we should never ask God, "Why the trial?" He will not answer that question, but He will answer the questions about the purpose of trials. I will admit that this is something that I wrestle with almost daily. If God has answered the question of what the purpose of this trial is in our lives, either I have not heard or I am as dumb as a box of old rusty hammers. I still just am not getting it, and it is quite possible that I never will. There is a song on the radio now by Casting Crowns that I hear at least once a week, and the chorus is, "One day I will stand before You and look back on the life I've lived. I can't wait to enjoy the view and see how all the pieces fit." It is quite possible that I will not understand all of this until I open my eyes and see Jesus.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Vacation!

After having been in non-stop treatment for almost five years and developing an anxiety to my current treatment, my oncologist strongly suggested that I take a break from treatment. We decided that after my last treatment that we would take the regularly scheduled week off and then the following week take a vacation to celebrate our 31st anniversary and 5 years of surviving lung cancer. I had my regularly scheduled scans, and then the next day we were off. It was nice to get a break from cancer and treatments, if only for a week. We decided to fly up to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and visit Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.

We had a great time, and it gave me a chance to play with my camera again. Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip.

We saw a lot of bison. Why someone would want to get up close to one of these guys is anyone's guess, but that's what they were doing. Fun fact, the number one cause of injury in Yellowstone is bison attacks. Don't worry, I was using my zoom lens.


We decided that we had seen enough of the west side of Yellowstone and decided to travel down the east side of the park to view the Upper and Lower Falls. Along the way, we came upon this black bear cub and momma having breakfast.


Of course, there were lots of geysers to see. I have to admit that Old Faithful was neat to see, but after hearing it talked up for years, I was a bit underwhelmed. I thought this little geyser was much prettier. This is at Black Sands Basin.


Some of the most impressive things for me to see were the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, the Lower Falls, and the Upper Falls. Here they are in that order.


For good measure, here are Fire Hole Falls, Gibbon Falls, and a mountain stream.


Once we had seen what we wanted to see in Yellowstone, we headed for Jackson, WY, and spent a few days visiting Grand Teton National Park. Here are some views of the Grand Tetons. As hard as I tried, the pictures just do not do them justice.



The Chapel of the Transfiguration is located in the park, and we stopped there for a bit. We could not stay long because they were preparing for a wedding. I found this little chapel a peaceful place to visit. I feel sorry for any minister trying to deliver a sermon here; the congregation might be distracted by the view.


The Moulton Barn is the most photographed barn in the United States and is now over 100 years old. Here is the barn and a view of the Tetons from there.


Vacation came to an end way too soon, but it was good to get out and see some of God's handiwork. While there, I could not help but think that the God who created all of this also created me. He knows the number of hairs on my head and the number of my days. Most of all, He loves me.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Living Psalm 13

Is there a passage of scripture that you find yourself continually being drawn back to? I have been on this journey to beat lung cancer for almost five years now. There have been more ups and downs than I can count. I have been in another clinical trial since November and currently have "No Evidence of Disease" for the third time. But the longer this battle has gone on, the more wary and frayed I have become. During this time, there has emerged a passage of scripture that I find myself relating to more and more frequently, and I find myself reading it more often. The passage of scripture that is becoming more dear to me is Psalm 13.

Psalm 13 was written by David, and each time I read it, I find myself thinking, "Wow, this is my life right now." At the time David wrote this Psalm, he was the anointed future king of Israel. Yet, there he was running for his life from King Saul, who sought to take his life. David, a man after God's own heart, was seeking refuge wherever he could find it. He was spending days and nights in dark and damp caves, never knowing when King Saul and his men would come. David was tired, exhausted, and he was seeking some answers. I can imagine David sitting at the top of a hill, alone, and feeling isolated from God when he just began to poor out his heart to God with the questions he had been wrestling with.

Most of David's questions can be summed up with, "How long, O Lord, will this continue?" David already knew his future. He would one day be the King of Israel, but he was so tired of running, he just had to ask. David asks the questions that had been weighing heavy on his heart of God. The one thing that sticks out in this Psalm is what is missing. Nowhere do I find where God answered any of David's questions. He did not have to. And there, in the final verse, David realizes what God has already done for him. I can see David in a moment recalling the memory of his battle with Goliath and how with a single stone the giant was slain. He remembers how many times God has blessed him and rejoices.

The reason I can relate to this Psalm is that cancer has become my King Saul. It seeks to take my life. Even though I have now beaten cancer three times, I never know when it will show up again. At nights when I can't sleep, I find myself asking God, "How long will this go on?" "Why haven't you just healed me?" Sometimes I feel like I should not question God's plan or will, but I don't think He is surprised by these questions. After all, if a man after God's own heart can ask these questions, why can't I? I don't get any answers either, because He does not need to answer.

Each time that cancer has shown its hideous face, God has provided a stone to slay the giant. I have to remind myself that God has continually laid the rocks that have made the path I travel. I don't know how long this journey will last or where it will take me next; all I can do is pray that with each step I take, God has already placed the rock for me to step on.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Unbelief

A few months ago, as I began to feel that lung cancer was beginning to return again, I started to sense that this time it would be a real fight. Now after having failed my third ALK inhibitor in just eight weeks, I can see that that feeling was well founded. Not only have I been experiencing more of a physical battle this time, but I have been experiencing a real challenge spiritually.

These past three weeks, I have had family and friends encouraging me to keep my faith and hope in Jesus. The thing is, that as I reflect on what I believe now versus four years ago, I still believe the same things. I still believe that God, at a time of His choosing, can heal me. I still believe that by the stripes on Jesus' back I have been healed. Rich Mullins recorded a song with this chorus: "I believe what I believe / It's what makes me who I am / I did not make it / no it is making me / it's the very truth of God / not the invention of any man." I still stand strong on those rocks, but, still, I have noticed that there is a struggle within me.

I have learned at times like these it is best to just be quiet and listen. As I sat and listened, I heard but one word: Unbelief. As I thought about that word, I remembered a story in the Bible of a father who also needed help with his unbelief. The story is found in Mark 9:14-29. A father has brought his son to the disciples to be healed of a demon spirit. The disciples were unable to heal the boy, and then Jesus showed up. Jesus questioned the father about how long the boy had been like this, and the father responded, "Since childhood. It has often thrown him into the fire or the water to kill him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" Jesus then says in the next verse, "'If You can'? Everything is possible for him who believes." The boy's father then responds to Jesus, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

What I believe has long since been settled. What I struggle with now are areas of my unbelief. The question is not, "Can God heal me?" or even "Will God heal me?" The question is, "Where will God heal me?" Up until the past few weeks, I have believed that God would heal me here on earth, but with the repeated diagnoses, there is now some doubt in that belief. My prayer is that Jesus shows up and takes pity on me and helps me overcome my unbelief.