Saturday, December 17, 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas

If you have been reading my blog for very long, you know that I believe you can't have Christmas without Easter. With that in mind, here is my version of the Twelve Days of Christmas based on the life of Christ.

Twelve Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas,
A Savior laid in a manger for you and me.

On the second day of Christmas,
Shepherds went to tell of a Savior laid in a manger for you and me.

On the third day of Christmas,
Wise men came to worship a Savior come to earth for you and me.

On the fourth day of Christmas,
A child Savior in the temple taught all who would see.

On the fifth day of Christmas,
A Savior healed the sick and the blind to see.

On the sixth day of Christmas,
A Savior walked on water and calmed the stormy sea.

On the seventh day of Christmas,
A Savior prayed in the garden for you and me.

On the eighth day of Christmas,
A Savior a kiss betrayed in Gethsemane.

On the ninth day of Christmas,
A savior sentenced to die for you and me.

On the tenth day of Christmas,
A Savior nailed to a tree for you and me.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
A Savior laid in a tomb for you and me.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
A Savior arose from the dead and waits in heaven for you and me.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Immanuel

I can remember as a kid wishing that Christmas came more than once a year. Now that I have grown up a little and seeing what Christmas has come to mean to the world, I really don't want the birth of Jesus celebrated by more Black Fridays and people fighting over the latest toys. Every year we seem to get more evidence that people do not know what Christmas really means.

The past two weeks, I have been reminded of the true meaning of Christmas while at church. The minister has started his series of Christmas messages and preached on the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and then to Joseph. As we read the passage in Matthew, all of this took place to fulfill what the prophet foretold. "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel"-- which means, "God with us." Christmas is the day we celebrate not just the birth of Jesus but the day that God came to be with us. We have made it easy to forget that after the presents have been opened, God is still with us.

As I think about the meaning of Immanuel, I realize that my childhood wish of more than one Christmas a year has now come true in my adult life. Over the past year, I have experienced Immanuel. Through everything that we have had to go through, God has been with us every day. To me, that makes every day Christmas day.

Merry Immanuel, everyone.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

B-52

Well, here I am -- fifty-two. I have made it to my fifty-second birthday. A birthday that, except for the grace of God, the odds were against me seeing. One year ago I had taken to sleeping on the couch. After completing fifteen radiation treatments, my right side and back hurt so bad that I had to prop myself up on my left side to get any sleep.

One year ago, I received a phone call that the latest pathology report came back showing that my cancer was ALK+. Everything we did from then on was targeted to get me into a clinical trial for a new medicine to treat ALK+ lung cancer. I would be given a month to recover from radiation and then start my first round of required chemo treatments. Two months later, I was accepted into the clinical trial and six weeks after that we received the first report of "no evidence of disease."

Over the past year, I have lost count of the number of people I know who have lost their battles to beat cancer. But here I am muddling along and still kicking. There is no road map for this journey to beat cancer; it is a day-by-day, step-by-step journey. Along the way, I have learned to trust God to place my feet on solid ground.

The past year has been as much of an emotional struggle as a physical struggle. I have seen parts of my life erode away much like giant waves hitting a beach and sweeping the sand out to sea. At one time, I prayed that God would show me the unimportant parts of my life and remove them. Is He answering that prayer?

The past year, I have developed a real appreciation for what Jesus did for me on the cross. There have been moments when every breath seemed to be a struggle, and after fracturing two vertebrae in my back, it seemed like every bone in my body ached, and I was not nailed to a cross. The discomfort that I have experienced just does not compare to the pain and suffering that Jesus experienced on my behalf. The prophet Isaiah said, "by His stripes you are healed." The day that Jesus was beaten and hung on a cross, He provided a way for my sins to be forgiven and for me to be healed.

Thank you, Jesus!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What a View

While we were on our vacation in Hawaii, we visited the island of Kauai. One of the must-sees on the island is Waimea Canyon. This canyon has been called the Grand Canyon of Hawaii.

There are two routes to drive up Waimea Canyon. One way is more scenic than the other. Of course, the reason it is more scenic is because it starts at sea level and climbs to over 5000 feet and skirts the canyon rim. DeLayne has never done well on these kinds of roads, but she wanted to take the scenic route anyway. The road is a narrow, two-lane road that twists and turns its way up the mountain. There are steep climbs followed by rapid descents, blind corners followed by hairpin turns. She white knuckled her way all the way up, and I am sure that she left finger impressions in the armrest and dash board. She held my water bottle some of the time, and when we got out of the car, I discovered that it was crushed from her squeezing it too hard. We are still unsure if the drive is really all that scenic; DeLayne would not look, and I was not allowed to look after being admonished multiple times to just watch the road.

After enduring all of the ups and down, twists and turns, we reached the end of the canyon road. We had to climb a few stairs but were finally treated to this view of God's handiwork.


All of this makes me realize that someday we will come to the end of the road on this journey. We will look back down the road we have been on and see all of the steep climbs, rapid descents, blind corners and hairpin turns, and see all that God has done and His handiwork in our lives. And we will say, "What a view!"

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Purpose

I seriously want a do-over for the month of September. It has just been one thing after another. I do not ever remember continually hurting myself so much in one month.

The month started with me accidentally kicking a chair in the kitchen. My little toe, that I rarely pay much attention to, made a ninety-degree right turn and a really nasty sound. I was amazed at the pain such a little digit can generate. Two days later, all of my toes on my right foot had turned black and blue from the injury, and it hurt to put any kind of shoe on.

Two weeks later, I was still slightly hobbled, when we went to Hawaii. While out doing some site seeing at a waterfall, I was enjoying the scenery as we were walking along the sidewalk. The sidewalk made a slight turn to the left and my right foot landed half on and half off the sidewalk. In the blink of an eye, my ankle rolled and I was on the ground. Thankfully, only my pride was injured and only DeLayne saw this demonstration of gracefulness.

Two nights later after getting up and doing what old guys have to do in the middle of the night, I was headed back to bed. In the dark I managed to catch my little toe on the nightstand and was instantly reminded of its presence. The next day, I was thankful for the wonderful invention known as flip-flops.

Two days later, our vacation over, we loaded up and headed back to the airport. After dropping our bags at TSA, I felt a slight twinge in my back. After we made sure we had everything and were ready to go through security, I picked up my camera backpack and slung it over my shoulder. I would swear that someone shoved a knife in my back. By the time we got home, it hurt to lie down, stand up, sit down, or just breathe.

The next week we repacked and headed to Houston for my checkup at MDA. The CT scan found a slight inflammation in my left lung. On Thursday, the doctor asked if I had been sick lately or coughing more. I told him, "No, not really," and he said that he did not think that it was any more than an infection and prescribed a round of antibiotics for me. I am willing to bet that he does not know he can tell the future. By Friday afternoon I was beginning to get a scratchy throat and starting to cough.

The weekend found me coughing and sneezing with a head and chest cold. Each time I sneezed, I felt my back hurt a little more. By the time Sunday morning arrived, I was absolutely miserable and about all I could do was sit in the recliner.

During times like these, I begin to reflect and start asking God questions. "What is the purpose of all of this?" "What is the purpose for me having cancer?" These questions come out of frustration, and I honestly do not expect to get an answer. But suddenly, there it was. I was surprised at how simple of an answer it was. I really thought that if I was going to get an answer, it would be something really deep and astounding, but it wasn't. Six simple words flashed through my head and that was it.

So that God will be glorified.

I'll pass on the do-over.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Standing on the Pedals

I have not written much lately. The truth is that I have not felt like writing because I have been frustrated with the seemingly slow progress I have been making. It came to a head last Saturday when I drove up to the north side of McKinney. On the way, I saw people riding on the hills that I use to ride on. With each passing rider, I began to get more frustrated that I was unable to do what they were doing. Sitting at a stop light, I heard cancer throw down the challenge, "You can't do that anymore." I knew then that it was time to do battle once again.

This morning I got up early and did my quiet time reading and said my prayers. I asked that God give me a good ride today. I filled my bottles with water and Gatorade, readied my bike, and was out the door by 6:30. Riding out of the neighborhood, for the first time in over a year--I turned right. Today I was going to ride cancer into the pavement.

Heading north, the morning air felt cool on my arms. Before long I had reached the first down hill section and I could hear the air rushing by my ears. It has been too long since I had heard that sound. I was able to make it up the next hill with minimal effort and started another descent. Before I knew it, I had made it up and over the three hills and was on my way to north McKinney. However, I knew that to get home, I would have to ride back over these same hills. And the way home is the hard side.

At mile ten, there they were: The three hills I had fun riding out on would now have to be ridden over with tired legs. This was why I had come this way. I had to take on this challenge, if for no other reason than to prove I could. Slowly I made my way up the first hill. At the top of the hill, I was passed by another rider who rode away from me like I was going backwards. As I made my way down the first hill, I sucked in as much air as I could and prepared to ascend the second hill. I had made it about half way up the second hill when I had to get out of the saddle and stand on the pedals. I had to take a few pedal strokes and coast. Then repeat. I made it to the top and begin sucking in the air again. I was hoping for a long descent, but it was over too soon and I was headed up the final hill, and it is the worst. Again, half way up, I was out of the saddle and standing on the pedals. After a few seconds, I had to sit back down to try and catch what breath I could. As I got closer to the top, I again was standing on the pedals. This time the frustration I have been feeling and shear determination provided the fuel I needed to get to the top.

As I reached the top, I knew I had once again managed to meet the challenge. Thankful to see a flat section of road, I sang the Doxology. Each day may bring a new challenge, but each day is a blessing.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Rain

Today marks one year since I received the call from the doctor informing me that the pathology report confirmed non-small cell lung cancer and our journey began. I really wish that I could sit here today and tell you that I understand God's purpose in all of this, but I can't. I can, however, tell you that over the past year, I have seen God's glory on display multiple times. I still do not know how long the journey will be and where it will take me. I only hope that through it all, God will be glorified.

The following is a song by Mercy Me off of the Coming up to Breathe CD. Yeah, I know that is ironic. This song says it better than I ever could.

Bring The Rain

I can count a million times
People asking me how I
Can praise you with all that I've gone through
The question just amazes me
Can circumstances possibly
Change who I forever am in you
Maybe since my life was changed
Long before these rainy days
It's never really crossed my mind
To turn my back on you oh Lord
My only shelter from the storm
But instead I draw closer through these times
So I pray

Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory
And I know there'll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that's what it takes to praise you
Jesus bring the rain

I am yours regardless of
The dark clouds that may loom above
Because you are greater than my pain
You who made a way for me
By suffering your destiny
So tell me what's a little rain
So I pray

Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory
And I know there'll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that's what it takes to praise you
Jesus bring the rain

Holy, Holy Holy
Is the Lord God Almighty

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Doubts

"You may get cancer out of your body, but you will never get cancer out of your mind."

Those words were said to me by a friend at one of the very first cancer encouragement groups that we attended. Truer words have never been spoken.

Remembering this past year, I can scarcely remember doubting that I would beat cancer. However, the past week has been a constant battle, and I have been reminded that I am not just in a physical battle but also a spiritual and mental battle as well. We have received word of another person's diagnosis, two friends who are not doing well with their treatments and complications, and one friend losing his battle with cancer. Although I currently have no evidence of disease, cancer has seemingly been on an all-out attack every day, creating doubts and causing me to lose my focus.

In the middle of the beat down, my morning Bible reading took me to the story of Peter walking on the water with Jesus. Peter was doing fine until he noticed the wind, and then he began to sink. All of the news this past week caused me to notice the wind, and I took my focus off Jesus--the very One who has gotten me through the past year.

Jesus will never leave me nor forsake me. I am thankful that when I begin to sink, He is there to grab my hand, too.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

One More Hill

There are times when I ride that I try to see how fast I can go. There are other times that I decide to make it a test of endurance. I was getting tired of riding ten miles and so, this Saturday morning, I decided to test how far I had come by seeing how far I could go.

I have intentionally planned my routes so that there are places I can turn around and head back home, in case I am not feeling up to a long ride. This morning I found myself bypassing the turn offs and riding on roads that I have not ridden in a year. By the time I hit the nine-mile mark, I was committed. I was also out of gas. I stopped on a side street to drink some water and catch my breath. I was trying to decide whether I should call DeLayne to come get me. But I felt that if I gave up now, cancer would win one. I decided that if it took me all day to finish the ride, that's what I would do. Determined, I clipped my feet back on the pedals and continued my ride.

At mile fifteen, I had reached the next to last intersection on the home stretch. I had stopped for the red light and there staring at me, barely a half mile away, was one more hill to climb. I hate this hill! I have to climb this hill on every ride and it is always a struggle. I could hear it taunting me this morning - "You don't have the legs left today." The light turned green, and the first few pedal strokes felt like I was riding in wet concrete. Once I reached the start of the hill, I had to grit my teeth, and it took every bit of what I had left to get up and over, but before I knew it, I was coasting toward home.

As I rode up to our front walk, the odometer clicked to seventeen miles. Half of what I use to do on Saturdays but seven more than usual; I was happy with the effort and did a very sad, weak happy dance. I had once again proven to myself that I may have cancer, but cancer does not have me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Wind At My Back


The weather has turned hot here in North Texas. We, once again, seemed to have jumped from winter directly into summer. With winds gusting out of the south, the temperatures are already hitting 100 degrees. These hot days have caused me to ride in the evening after dinner and early on Saturday morning to avoid riding in a convection oven.

This last Saturday morning, I could hear the wind blowing and see the tree tops swaying in the gust, as I got ready for my ride. Once I was out the door, I could feel the wind blowing against me as I headed out of the neighborhood. I was greeted with a strong gust of wind as I turned south and thought to myself, "This will not be a fun ride." The first half of the ride it seemed like I struggled up every little hill and fought the wind with each turn. I knew I had been struggling when I looked at my speedometer and it only read 12 mph; then I saw the arrow pointing up indicating that my average speed was increasing.

I finally made the turn to head back north, and I could feel the wind beginning to push me along. Picking up some speed, I reached for the shifter with my left hand and moved it to the right; the chain moved to the big ring and I began to pedal harder. Then suddenly, it was back. My legs and my breathing were in my pre-cancer rhythm. I started pushing the pedals harder as I shifted through the gears with my right hand. Picking up speed, I glanced at the speedometer, 20 mph, 22 mph.... How long and how hard could I push it?

Then I realized that this morning's ride was a perfect symbol for my last year. I had been riding against the wind and, at times, struggling to get over the hills. Now I am riding with the wind, pushing hard, and getting back into rhythm.

I looked back down just in time to see 25 mph. When I looked up, I realized that I was close to the intersection where I would make a right turn to head back home. I took a quick look to the left and saw no cars; as I pedaled through the turn, I looked down to see 23 mph displayed. With a smile on my face, I yelled at the cancer, "You will not win!"

After a drink of cool water, I began pushing the pedals toward home, and I laughed. It's good to feel the wind at my back.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Things Cancer Has Taught Me

I remember thinking when I was first diagnosed that I should not have lung cancer. Even one of the doctors said, "You should not have this, but you do." I have the memory of praying that God would use this as an opportunity for us to teach others about lung cancer and present us with those openings. If I could have lung cancer, then anyone could develop lung cancer. Little did I know at the time what cancer would teach me.

One thing that I have learned is to laugh every day, and when you think you are tired of laughing, laugh some more. There have been times that if I had not of laughed, I would have cried. The thing that has surprised me is how many openings the medical staffs give me for a joke. They just get use to saying things and just are not prepared for someone like me. For instance, at one of my blood specimen collections the tech said, "Today we need to get urine on you." To which I replied, "How about I put it in a cup?" Then there was the day I was being prepped for a CT scan. I lost count of the number of times I was asked if there was any metal in my body. One tech was being very serious in asking me questions and then asked, "Is there any metal in your body?" I replied, "Only if the aliens left something." She really tried to not laugh but finally gave up.

I have learned to cherish every moment of every day. Life has a different pace now. Gone is the rushing. I find myself taking time to look about and really see what is going on. Why do we race from place to place? Take time to enjoy where you are and who you are with. You will never have that moment in time again.

I have always believed in the Bible, but this experience has taught me that the Bible is more than just words on paper. The Bible is the very living, breathing word of God. I have seen the scriptures come alive daily.

One thing that has surprised me is the realization that everyone has a "cancer" in their life. Mine was physical, but others may be dealing with porn, gambling, alcohol, eating disorders, issues at work, financial issues, problems with a child or spouse. Everybody has something that, given time, will grow, and if left untreated, like cancer, will take your life. The great thing is that we have One who sits at the right hand of God ready to help us. I am thankful that He is there.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Limits

On Wednesday, May 18th, I came home from work, changed clothes and went out for my usual bike ride. I had done a couple of laps around the neighborhood when I realized that I was breathing easier that night. As I continued on, seemingly out of nowhere, I heard the same voice that had told me that I was in for a long hard battle say, "The tumor is gone." A week later, with those words echoing in my head, I once again slid into the machine for my CT scan.

The next morning we were again in the examining room waiting for my entourage to enter. Now that I am in the clinical trial, I have been seeing four people at each appointment: two research assistants, the physician's assistant, and the doctor. I have jokingly begun calling them my entourage. Finally, one of the research assistants came in to pick up my empty medicine bottles and research survey. He then handed us the reports from radiology for the x-ray and CT scan and left. They were waiting on the report for the MRI that I had done earlier that morning. He left, leaving DeLayne and me to read through the reports. As we read the reports, we noticed that they mentioned the fluid and scar tissue in my lung, but nowhere was there a mention of the lung tumor. These were the first reports that have not specifically mentioned the presence or the size of the mass in my lung. Could it really be gone?

Finally, three of the four people entered the examining room. We were still waiting on the doctor, but the physician's assistant told us that all of the reports looked great and that there was "No Evidence of Disease" (NED). She then asked if we had any questions. I asked if the absence of any mention of the tumor in the reports meant that it was gone. We were told that sometimes radiology does not mention the tumor, and that it all depends on which radiologist is reading the test results. She further explained that NED does not necessarily mean the dead tumor is gone; it just means there is no evidence of "active" cancer and that this is as good as it gets for lung cancer patients. The medical profession will never say a lung cancer patient is "cured." The three of them left, and, once again, we were alone to wait for the doctor.

After a few minutes, my doctor entered the exam room. He told us that the test results and the way I said I am feeling were all very encouraging. He asked what questions we had, and we repeated the question about the tumor. He then told us that due to the damage done to my lung from the radiation treatments and the cancer, it was very difficult to tell. This led us to ask if my lung would ever recover. He told us, "No," and that, "Performing radiation on any portion of the lung is essentially like removing that portion of the lung."

I will admit that those are not words that I expected to hear from the doctor. I still believe that I will be completely healed, and that includes my lung returning to a fully-functioning lung. After a few days to think about it, my interpretation of what the doctor said is that we have now determined the limits of what medicine can do for me. That means from here on, any improvements to my lung will be 100% God-given miracles.

The story of the man with the withered hand that Jesus healed in the synagogue has been on my mind (Mark 3:1-5). I am very thankful and blessed by what God has done for me this past year, but if He can heal a withered hand, He can do the same for my lung. We may have found the limits of medicine, but there is no limit to what God can do.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wet Feet

Thursday, May 26, will be my twelve-week check-up for the trial medicine. It is hard to believe that twelve weeks have passed already. I am somewhat excited about this visit because in the reports that I have read on the medicine, twelve weeks is when they have seen significant changes in tumors. Some patients have even seen their tumors completely disappear at this point. As is my habit, I have begun to prepare myself mentally and spiritually for my check-up next week.

The story of the Exodus has been on my mind the past few days. God had parted the Red Sea for them to escape Egypt and Pharaoh's army. God provided for their every need on their journey through the desert for forty years. However, they still had doubts and questioned God. I am sure they had to be asking, "How much longer could this go on? When will we be allowed to enter the Promised Land?"

Although it has not quite been a year since I was diagnosed, I have found myself comparing my journey to that of the Exodus. God has parted the waters countless times to give me safe passage through troubled waters. He has met my every need in ways that I have never imagined. However, I have been asking, "Will next week be the week that I enter into the promised land of complete healing?"

To finally enter the Promise Land, the Israelites had to cross the Jordan river. Only this time God required some action from the people. The priests were to carry the ark of the covenant into the Jordan. Once all of the priests had entered the river, the water would stop and the people would cross on dry land.

God has used the story of the Exodus and entering the Promised Land to teach me that He will lead you through the wilderness, but to get from where you are to where God desires you to be, you have to be willing to get your feet wet.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Chasing Dreams

We parents have dreams for our children. We start building those dreams from the day they are born. They typically include doing well in school, going on to college, graduating, and starting a career. Somewhere along the way they will meet the right person and get married. Then one day, we realize that the dreams we have for our children are essentially the lives we have lived. There comes a day when our dreams and our children's dreams no longer travel the same road. Although we have worked to get them out of the nest, suddenly they have climbed out on the branch by themselves and are ready to spread their wings and take the leap on their own.

That is how it has been with Chad. He was doing pretty good living my dream and was within months of graduating from college with his Mechanical Engineering degree. A job was pretty much lined up, but he had other dreams to chase. One afternoon last October he called to tell me that there were a couple of bike teams that had shown an interest in him. They had been discussing things, and he had consulted with one of his teammates, and both teams looked like good opportunities. During the call, I sensed there was something he wanted to ask, but he never did.

As I laid in bed that night, I thought of what Chad had not asked. He wanted to know how I felt about him pursuing cycling after graduation. Honestly, I had mixed emotions about it all. I hated to see him walk away from a good job, but I also wanted to see him pursue something he has a passion for. When I woke up the next morning, I had the answer. I did not want Chad to ever have to wonder, "What if?"

Later that day I called him and told him that now was the time for him to go for it. I did not want him to grow up and find himself in the situation I found myself in: That being fifty years old with cancer and wondering, "Would I ever get to do the things I had put off for so long?" Cancer has taught me to chase the dreams while they are fresh.

Chad now lives in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and is living his dream. He is criss-crossing the country racing his bike while chasing his other dream of becoming a pro cyclist. I have no doubt that he will make it.

If you want to know more about the life of a cyclist, Chad has a blog at:
http://chadhaga.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Right People, Right Place, Right Time

About one year ago my symptoms began to appear. We had no idea the journey that we were about to begin, and it would take another three months before we would have the diagnosis. Looking back over the past year, it is obvious that God has placed each stepping stone in our pathway and securely placed our feet on each stone along the way. Early on I prayed that God would place the right people in the right place at the right time to help us deal with cancer. This has been an amazing journey, and God has been faithful to answer this prayer.

One of the first people that God sent my way was a dog. No, I mean a REAL dog. At our house, dogs are people too. Pepper came along the morning after I was told that I had Stage IV lung cancer. I just needed something to laugh about, and there came Pepper bouncing into the water fountain. I never thought watching a dog try to catch water as it spurted from a fountain could supply such joy. Even today, I still smile when I think about Pepper going from spout to spout trying to catch that water.

Another person that God used was my Gamma Knife nurse. We were introduced the day before at my pre-operation appointment. On my way out of the clinic, she said that she would see me bright and early the next morning. I replied with, "You be sure to get a good night's sleep." She thought that was pretty funny, but early the next morning, there we both were. She escorted me all morning and pushed me all over the hospital. She was Johnny on the spot all morning with information about what was happening and what the next step would be. She seemed to sense that I needed information to deal with the situation and that silence was not good for me. During our talks, I learned that she is not a Christian and no longer practices the faith she grew up in. She now is on my prayer list.

When I had to be admitted to the hospital after my third chemo treatment, God sent another nurse to minister to me in a special way. After seeing me reading my Bible, she shared with me a message she had seen on television that day about healing. She looked at me and asked if I had faith that I would be healed. When I replied, "Yes," she walked over to my bedside and placed her hands on my chest and then prayed for my complete healing. I doubt they teach that in nursing school.

To prepare me for the clinical trial, I was treated to a day of tests and scans. One of the scans was a bone scan. I had not had a bone scan before and was concerned because it seemed like each time a new test was done, cancer was found somewhere else in my body. After completing the bone scan, I went for blood work and an EKG. When I entered the room for the EKG, I noticed a Bible on the technician's desk. As I was beginning to lie down on the table, she asked if I believed in God. When I replied yes, she asked if I would like to hear some music. When I said that I thought that would be okay, she started a song on her computer. I don't recall the title of the song, but it was about how great God is, and I was reminded that no matter the outcome of the bone scan, God would not be surprised and had the situation under His control.

There have been friends and family members who just seemed to know when I needed a phone call, text, or an e-mail for encouragement. Others have brought us food and nourished us both physically and spiritually. We will never be able to thank them enough for standing with us during this time.

God has taught me over the past year that He will answer prayers at a time, place, and way of His choosing. I look at people differently now knowing that God has placed each one of them in my path for His purposes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sin and Love Held Him There

He had led them back to the garden. Whenever He wanted to be alone and pray, this is where He would go. They had just finished the Passover meal, and He had washed their feet. There had been an exchange between Him and Judas; Judas had run from the room and had not returned.

Now Jesus and the remaining eleven had returned to the garden. Eight of the disciples had stopped to rest. Peter, James, and John went on ahead with Jesus. Jesus told them to watch and pray and then went on to pray by Himself. A short while later Jesus returned to find them sleeping, and He encouraged them again to watch and pray. They could tell by the way Jesus looked and acted that He was in anguish. But they still couldn’t stay awake, and he returned again to find them sleeping. He woke them and told them that His time was at hand.

They could see the mob coming up the hill. Judas was leading the mob, and Jesus went out to meet them. Judas stepped forward and kissed Jesus on the cheek, and the mob moved to arrest Jesus. Peter leaped forward to defend Jesus and pulled his knife, slicing off the ear of a servant. Jesus admonished Peter to put away his knife. He didn’t need Peter to defend Him. If He wanted to, He could call down the angles in heaven and they would lay waste to the mob, but that was not His plan. Jesus was led away by the mob to be tried.

Jesus didn’t defend Himself at the trial. He was led from place to place, beaten multiple times, mocked and spat upon. And still no retaliation would come from Him. He was made to carry His own cross until His strength was gone. The Roman solders nailed His hands and feet to the cross, and the taunting continued as they gambled for His clothes. Look at Him there, hanging on that cross. Blood pouring down His face from the crown of thorns pressed into His head. His body bloodied and bruised from the beatings. His shoulders have been dislocated and His legs strain to keep his body upright, gasping for air. Jesus Christ was experiencing complete and total humiliation.

Would He call the angels now? The angles had to be ready, incensed by the treatment of God Almighty by a world that didn’t deserve Him; they could have come and taken Him back to heaven where He belonged. No, He would not call on the angels in heaven. He stayed there on that cross, but why? What held Him on the cross? The soldiers? The nails? None of these kept Him hanging on the cross. It was the sin of the world, your sin, my sin, and His love for us that kept Him there. Isn’t it amazing that while hanging there on that cross Jesus Christ could see my face and know that the only way I could enter heaven was for Him to die on that cross, and He chose to do it any way?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More Than I Can Handle

"Remember, God never gives you more than you can handle." You have probably heard someone say that or possibly even said it yourself. I know that I have had people say it to me these past several months. I would say the majority of them have been Christians offering me words of encouragement. If you have said this or thought it, then I am probably about to offend you, because I don't think this is true.

If God doesn't give me more than I can handle, then why do I have cancer? Just ask DeLayne; I am an absolute wimp when it comes to just having a cold. I don't like going to the doctor, much less having needles inserted in my hand and arms for blood draws and IVs. If DeLayne were not along to keep the ever-changing schedule straight and take care of all the insurance paperwork, I would be in one big mess. I cannot handle cancer by myself.

If God doesn't give me more than I can handle, then what is the role of the friends and family that have hoisted us on their shoulders while on their knees in prayer? If I could handle this on my own, there would not be any need for the people who have rallied around us to offer us support and food at home and in Houston. No, I can't handle cancer by myself.

If God doesn't give me more than I can handle, then what role is there for Jesus? If I were able to fix this on my own, exactly when would I learn to depend on Jesus? Jesus Himself said, "Come unto Me all of you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) I am so thankful for that invitation. There are days that cancer and all that goes with it just overwhelms me. No, I can't handle cancer by myself.

There is another saying that I have heard. "If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it." I have changed that to, "If God brings you to it, He can carry you through it."

No, I can't handle cancer by myself, but I don't have to.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Life Sentence

This is a blog post that I have been putting off for several days. I am afraid that people will take what I am about to write about as bragging or that I think I have it all figured out. I hope that you believe me that I have prayed about what to write and that it be read and accepted in the spirit that it is intended. Only God can make you see things the way I see them now.

I have heard multiple times from friends, co-workers, family, doctors and nurses about what a great positive attitude that I have. I think that it is the same attitude I have had my whole life. One co-worker told me that she is glad to see that cancer has not changed my attitude like she had seen it change other people she knew with cancer. I told her that I thought there was enough negative in the world without me adding to it.

The one thing that has helped me the most is that I do not see cancer as being a death sentence. I see cancer as being a life sentence. I firmly believe that God's will is for me to be completely healed from cancer and that it will never return. When that happens, I will live each day thankful for that day, loving my family and enjoying the days with them, and I will worship Jesus.

Because He lives
I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives
All fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future.
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives.


I know that there are some people that will ask, "What if God's will is for you not to be healed?" If the time should come that cancer takes my earthly body, then I know that because of my belief in Jesus Christ, when I take my last breath on earth, I will take my first breath in heaven. I will have two good lungs and there will be no more pain. I will see family and friends that have gone before me, and I will worship Jesus.

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun.


Either way, I still live!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Prayers

I have never been very good at praying. I start, then lose my focus, and my mind begins to wander. Soon I forget what I am praying about, get frustrated, and give up. During radiation treatment, I remembered hearing a minister say that if you don't know what to pray for, pray the Bible. I thought that I could surely handle that and decided that I would start reading the Psalms, underline verses that ministered to me, and start using them as my morning prayers. I read ten Psalms a day for fifteen days, underlining and praying scripture back to God. After fifteen days, I felt that these had to have been some of the most heartfelt effective prayers of my life and decided that I would start over and each day pray back the underlined portions, ten Psalms a day. I have continued doing this and I am still amazed how the right verses come up on the days I need them most.

On day fifteen, when physically I was probably at my lowest point, I read Psalm 150. The last verse says:

"Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!"


That is a tough pill to swallow for a lung cancer patient, but I still had breath, and so I praised the Lord.

The days leading up to the tests and treatments are the most anxious. There seemed to always be a lot of "what ifs" running through my mind. Every time I would get worried, Psalms would come up about God calming a situation. One of my favorites that came up during one of these times was Psalms 107. I have always had the vision that this cancer battle was like being in a boat tossed by the waves, so verses 25 to 29 touched me the most.

"For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind,
Which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths;
Their soul melted away in their misery.
They reeled and staggered like a drunken man,
And were at their wits' end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
And he brought them out of their distresses.
He caused the storm to be still,
So that the waves of the sea were hushed."


Finally, after seven months, we heard the report we had been waiting to hear: The cancer had not spread to any new sites. The active sites seen in previous scans were now either inactive or decreased in activity. The primary lung tumor has shrunk by half and is possibly dead.

The next morning Psalm 81 was the first for my daily prayer. Here is what I had underlined some three months ago:

"Sing for joy to God our strength;
Shout joyfully to the God of Jacob.
You called in trouble and I rescued you;
I answered you in the hiding place of thunder."


I just can't add anything to that but "Amen!"

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Dad, A Son and His Bikes

I may have mentioned once or twice that Chad and Shane are into bicycles. Well, not "into" bicycles—they practically live to ride bikes. Chad got into cycling because of a friend; Shane got into cycling because of Chad. Both of them possess a natural talent for racing bikes, but they are different types of riders. Chad is a long-distance racer, and Shane is a sprinter. Chad started his serious racing after he went to college; Shane started racing his junior year in high school. With Shane racing in high school, I got to drive him to races. We built considerable memories at those races that I still enjoy thinking about.

In November of his junior year, there was a mountain bike endurance race held at Erwin Park in McKinney. Shane thought it was a good idea for him to enter the six-hour division and asked if I would be his race support. I agreed, not knowing that it would be a six-hour endurance test for me, too. My job was to make sure that he had water, Gatorade, and snacks during the race. The morning of the race was clear and bitter cold, and Shane and I settled on the plan for me to carry a backpack full of water and Gatorade bottles and snacks. I was to be in one of two clearings at the park. The plan was that, as he passed in one clearing, he would tell me what he wanted. I would then run to the other clearing and have it ready for him when he got there. For six hours we did this, and we made a good team. When he crossed the finish line for the last time, we were both proud of what he accomplished. Oh, yeah, he won.

Early in the spring of 2008, Shane was in desperate need of a new road bike. One Saturday I asked him if he wanted to go look at bikes to see what they cost. Off we went to the first bike shop, but he did not find anything there that he liked. We headed for the really big bike shop where we knew the selection would be better. He looked around for a bit before finding a red and white Specialized bike that he liked. We talked to the sales guy for a bit about the bike, and then I looked at Shane and asked him, “Is that the one that you want?” He had a great "you-are-kidding" look on his face, and 30 minutes later we were loading up his new bike.

Shane did not get to race much in 2008 because it conflicted with high school baseball, but he decided that during his senior year he wanted to race bikes. Shane and I spent the spring of his senior year loading up his bike and anything else he needed and driving across Texas so that he could race. His main goal that spring was to race in and win the Texas High School Racing League. I had a lot of fun watching him race that spring. Each race he got stronger, and when he decided it was time to go, he would just ride off from the other racers. That red and white bike carried him to a lot of wins that spring, and he brought home the overall first-place trophy from the state championship in Amarillo.

Two weeks ago Shane called. He had crashed in a race and the impact was so hard it had broken the frame on his bike. Thankfully, Shane only suffered sprained wrists, but the bike was history. Later that night as I thought about that bike, I began to tear up a little. I thought of all of the places we had taken that bike and all of the races in which Shane had ridden it. It was like an old friend was gone, leaving only memories behind. That bike had carried Shane from a CAT 4 racer to a CAT 1 and into his second year of collegiate racing. I know that it may be silly to think that way about a bike, but that bike took Shane a long way and carried a lot of memories for both of us.

Thinking about buying the bike and the time spent with Shane going to races, I have to say that, undoubtedly, that red and white bike was the best investment I ever made.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In the Cloud

Looking back over these past few months, there have been times that I am certain the life I am living is not mine. There have been days that as soon as I wake up, a cloud descends on me and I go through the day going through the motions. I go to bed at night just praying that when I awake the next morning that the cloud will lift, and I will find God's plan in all of this and the nightmare will cease. As of yet, that has not happened.

Sometimes the cloud is of my own making. I can retreat into the cloud away from the doctors, nurses and loud machines. I can find myself remembering times before cancer when breathing was easier and there was no coughing to remind me. I am finding that if I stay in my cloud too long, that is when the self-pity begins, and my cloud can become dark and depressing.

Other times I think that the cloud is from God. These are the days that I have to depend on Him to get me through the day. I believe that most of all that is what He is trying to teach me: to increase my dependence on Him. That does not make this any easier, but it helps to know that when the fatigue sets in, He is there to carry me.

One thing that I have continued to struggle with is worshiping God in all of this. I know that if these clouds would lift, then I will be able to worship God for what He has done. But I have been reminded that that is not always how it works. When God gave Moses the instructions concerning the temple in the final chapter of Exodus, then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting. This was to be a sign that God was there and the people were to stay and worship God in that place.

On occasion I have wondered where God has gone. Now I know that He has always been right here in the cloud with me.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Greatest Man I Have Ever Known


I still remember the assignments in grade school where we were instructed to write about the person who had had the biggest influence on our young lives. My first inclination was to write about my sports heroes from the world of professional sports. However, I really didn’t know them, and as time has elapsed, I have realized, that in most instances, their character has not stood the test of time. I always suspected that these assignments were a veiled attempt to get us to talk to our parents and learn about them; but most of us kids would have nothing to do with that and would either learn just enough about our heroes or make something up. Looking back, I can find only one man who has passed the test of time.

I am now 46 years old and have known the man I write about for all of those years. In this time he has certainly grown wiser, braver, more intelligent, and bigger than life itself. I can’t say that I know everything there is to know about him, but I have learned enough through the years to say that, without a doubt, he is the greatest man I have ever known.

I honestly do not know much about his younger years. He grew up on the family farm in West Virginia with his three brothers and sister. He was the oldest of the five children, and I am sure he had to bear all of the duties and responsibilities of being the big brother. The family worked this farm throughout the depression, and I am confident that this period in his life shaped his attitudes concerning financial dealings and hard work.

After graduating from high school, he joined the Army Air Corp. In 1941, he was stationed at a base in Kansas. On December 7, 1942, he had gone with a buddy to Texas for a weekend. That’s where they were when they heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and that all enlisted men were to return to their bases. He spent most of World War II in the states learning to maintain B-29 bombers. Although I am still not quite sure what his function on the bomber was, I know that he held the rank of Technical Sergeant. The flight crew he was in was sent to Okinawa the day the Japanese surrendered, saving them from making any bombing runs. Even though he didn’t see any “active duty,” the more I have learned about this period in our country’s history, the more amazed I have become at the willingness of this man to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

He married a local West Virginia girl during the war, and they moved to Oklahoma after he was released from the Air Corp. The Corp had asked him to re-enlist, but he told them that he had promised his wife that he would be coming home and that’s the way it was going to be. They settled in Stillwater where he took a job at a gas station. They started a family, and he was able to get a better job working at the Post Office. The family grew to six kids (three girls and three boys), and he took a second job on the weekends working in the body shop of a local car dealership.

I remember him always taking great pride in the way he looked in his uniform. His trousers and shirts were always pressed, with his shoes and bill of his cap shined. He was a representative of the U.S. Government, and he was in no way going to be the one to demean it. That’s the way he went to work until he retired from the Post Office in 1976.

I can remember at his retirement party the people coming up and reminiscing about him carrying their mail. He always walked his route and knew all of the people by name. He would take time to say “Hi” to the kids playing out front and would check on the older folks to see if they were doing all right. He had no tolerance for dogs that were not penned up, especially if they were unfriendly and thought he was lunch; friendly dogs he might stop and pet. I never knew that he was known by any other name than his given name until that party; seems as though people on his route used to call him “Red”--must of had something to do with his red hair.

After retiring from the Post Office, he went to work full time at the body shop. He possessed the talent to take a wrecked car and with hammers, sanders, a little body filler, and paint make it look like it just rolled off the lot. I can remember him rebuilding the car he drove to work. He did most of the work in his garage, only taking it to the shop for the final paint job. I was so disappointed the day he sold that car that I cried.

The owner of the car dealership once referred to him as a “craftsman.” This is a fairly accurate description, but probably more accurate would be a “Jack of all trades.” There was never any project that was too big for him to tackle. From putting air conditioning in their house to fixing toys, there was nothing he couldn’t do. When the family outgrew their two-bedroom house, he added a two-story garage, converted the old garage into a bedroom for the two oldest daughters, and added a bathroom and utility room. That was their home until 1978.

He and his wife had been married 60 years when she passed away. From what I have related here, this may seem like an ordinary life to most. He never achieved great financial success, and he had to work hard for every penny he ever made. He never possessed any political clout, nor did he ever seek any. “So what,” you may ask, “makes this man so great?” Let me try to tell you.

Together he and his wife raised six kids to be productive members of society. None of those kids ever became involved in drugs or spent any time in jail. All of those children were taught to respect their elders and that to achieve something through hard work was nothing to be ashamed of. Although this family was never wealthy by worldly terms, they certainly never thought they were poor. The children were taught to be thankful for what they had and to always take care of the “needs” before worrying about the “wants.” Many fathers have either taught or strived to teach their children these same lessons, and, in the minds of most, this does not qualify as greatness. I’ll try and explain better.

What makes this man different is that he is my dad and, more importantly, he is where I got my vision of what my Heavenly Father is like. I know just like my Father above, my earthly dad has been disappointed in my actions, but he has never stopped loving me. I know at times I wandered from the path that my dad wished that I would take, but he waited patiently for me to find my way back. Oh sure, there were times when I was spanked or otherwise corrected, but it was done because he loved me too much to let me stray too far.

My dad taught me what it means to be a father and husband. I will probably never know the number of times he went without so that the family could have something it needed. He taught me that being a father and husband was sacrificing yourself to make the family whole and that family is everything.

The most important thing he taught me was to keep your faith and God first. I remember him studying his Bible every night. We were in church every Sunday, where he led the singing, taught Sunday School, and was a Deacon and Elder. Every other week my dad would sit at the kitchen table and make out the checks to support the church or various missionaries around the world. He always made sure to give the tithe or more. Not only did he support the missionaries financially but also, when they would stop in town for a conference, they would get one of our beds for a while. I am confident that when my dad gets to heaven, he will meet people from all over the world who are there because he cared enough to support all of those missionaries.

On April 17, 2005, my mom passed away. During her final days with us, my dad continued to teach me, not by his word, but by his actions. He taught me during those days about love--what it means to love another so deeply that, although in your heart you long to keep them with you, sometimes it is better to let them go.

On February 5, 2006, just ten months later, the ails of this world have taken their toll on his fragile body. Even as his body was beginning to fail him, he still taught me. This time he is taught me to suffer with dignity.

I know that when Daddy closed his eyes on this earth, he opened them in heaven, and there to greet him was Mom. Now the two of them, together for 60 years here, will spend eternity together.

This is the man that I have come to see as great. Granted, as I was growing up, that was not always my opinion. Now that I am married and have two boys of my own, I hope that I can be the father to them that he was and still is to me.

Thanks, Daddy, for showing me the way. I’ll see you in heaven.

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Old Stories - Noah

I started a new 365-day Bible reading plan at the first of the year. As you would expect, it starts at the beginning and ends at the end of the Bible. So, there I was starting in Genesis reading the old Bible stories that I have heard since I was knee high to a grasshopper. I have heard or read these stories so many times that I was wondering if I could really learn anything new. It did not take long for God to reach down and cuff me one with a resounding, "Yes!"

I was reading the story of Noah and the ark and how God had told Noah that He was going to destroy all living things on the face of the earth. God gave Noah instructions on how to build the ark and how many of each type of animal was to be brought on the ark. Then tucked in the story was this short verse:

“And Noah did all as God had commanded.”

It would take Noah 120 years to build the ark, but he did everything just as God had commanded. That is a long-term commitment to God’s plan. I know that I have a hard time doing what God commands for just a day or two. I have only been at this cancer-fighting thing for six months, and there are days that I get frustrated with the pace things are moving. Those are the days that I have to remind myself that God has a plan, and I have to stick with it.

Once the waters began to recede, Noah began sending out birds to see if the land was dry. Finally, a dove returned with an olive branch and gave Noah the assurance that the land was dry. However, Noah did not leave the ark. He waited for God to tell him it was time to leave the ark. I am pretty sure that after spending 120 years building, living with all of those animals, and enduring rain for forty days and nights, I couldn't have waited to get out of there. That is another failing of mine: I do not enjoy waiting but, slowly, God is teaching me.

These past few weeks there has been a consistent theme running through my life. From Noah to messages I have heard on television and radio, all of them have been about God’s will in your life and waiting. Sometimes it feels like God is only working when I see things happening, but I am beginning to learn that God is in the waiting, too.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Process

During the diagnosis phase, I started asking my pulmonologist some questions concerning what may lay ahead. He answered me with, “You have to understand that you have started a process. There are many steps that will have to be taken in order, and each will take time.” Of course, he was speaking from the medical perspective, but over the last few months, I have started to learn that this is also true from a spiritual perspective as well.

While I was recovering from the radiation treatments and preparing to begin chemo treatments, I completed my study of the Psalms. During this time, I became even more convinced that I will be healed from this cancer. This conviction lead to me ask the following question of God: "If you are going to heal me, why put me through radiation, chemo, and all of these tests and treatments? Why not just heal me now?” Then one morning when I woke up, the first thing to come to mind was Lazarus. That thought seemed out of place with what I had been reading, so I ignored it and pushed it out of my mind. I admit that I am not the sharpest tack in the box sometimes, but when it happened two more mornings, I finally took the hint and opened my Bible to the story of Lazarus in John 11 and 12.

The first thing that I noticed is that Jesus knew that the sickness would not end in death but for the glory of God and so that the Son of God would be glorified. Also, even though Jesus loved Lazarus, He waited to go to him. I, too, will wait so that the Son of God will be glorified in my healing. I will admit that I do not like waiting. I want this process to move faster than it is, but at each phase of my treatment, we learn something new that we would not have learned if we were moving faster.

The second thing I noticed is that Lazarus’ sisters asked a variation of my question to Jesus. “If you had come sooner, you could have healed him.” Jesus tries to explain to them about the resurrection and life, but when they and the crowds with them continue to weep, He sees their doubt and is deeply troubled. It strikes me that my question shows that I also have some doubt about God’s plan and the process He is putting me through. Sometimes doubt enters my thoughts, but I still maintain the faith in my heart. The one thing I do not want to do is grieve Jesus with my doubt.

The final thing that I noticed is that the chief priest started making plans to kill Lazarus. Why? Because he had become a witness for Jesus. Large crowds were gathering to see him. This part makes me smile a little. I like to imagine Lazarus being at dinner or out on the street and a large crowd gathers to look at him. Finally someone musters the courage to ask him, “Hey, aren’t you the Lazarus that died?” And he answers, “Yes, I am, and let me tell you what Jesus did for me.” This makes me look forward to the day that someone comes up to me and says, “Hey, aren’t you the Chris Haga who had lung cancer?” And I can answer, “Yes, I am, and let me tell you what Jesus did for me.”

Most of all, through all of this I am learning that God has a plan for the rest of my life, and He only reveals to me what I need to know for each day. It has become evident to me that part of the plan includes a process of refinement for me. The process is not pleasant and can be real uncomfortable at times, and I want it to move faster than it is, but I know when it is completed I will be a better witness for Jesus.

I awoke one morning with these words in my head: "To rush the process would be to ruin the process." So, I will wait, watch, listen, and pray to be ready when the process is complete in His timing.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Like Gold in a Pig's Nose

For part of my Christmas, the boys dressed up my bike. They took my bike and put a set of Chad's Zipp racing wheels on it and thereby tripled the value of my bike. I have to admit that it looks pretty cool. I wish I could make it go as fast as it looks like it should go.


I had to take the photo because I know that the wheels will not stay on it. The bottom line is that putting these wheels on this bike is an insult to the wheels. This is the twenty-first century equivalent of putting a gold ring in a pig's nose. Anyone who knows anything about bicycles could tell you that these wheels do not belong on this bike. The combination of the wheels and bike are all show and no go.

After seeing my bike like this, I began to wonder what other parts of my life are being dressed up by things that don't belong there. I have long since given up making New Year's resolutions, but this year I have begun praying that God would show me the gold rings in this old pig's nose. It is time for them to go.