Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The “ABC’s” of 2017 #1

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I have been thinking quite a bit about my usual end of year letter/post that I customarily write. 2017 has been a very unexpected experience. It has been difficult, but amazing in many ways. I wanted to reflect on what happened this past year and what I have learned. Honestly, I feel like God has taken me back to the basics on what it means to be human, to be Christian and to be a servant/minister of Jesus Christ. So the ABC’s seemed like the proper organization principle for this year’s end of year letter. I originally intended to do all 26 letters in one post, but it quickly got too long. So I am breaking this up into 4 or 5 posts with 5or 6 letters in each one over the next couple weeks. I hope this blesses you. I will also include some pictures taken throughout the year. So here is A to F. The picture above was taken March 4th in front of my oncologist’s office.

A: Apheresis and Acyclovir: Apheresis is an important part of the bone marrow transplant process in which my own stem cells are collected for transplant back into my blood. These "clean" implanted stem cells allow me to be "born again" and start my physical life all over with a brand new immune system. In fact, the hospital brought me a birthday cake on November 16th to celebrate my "new birth." My immune system is so new that I have to take the anti-viral medicine Acyclovir because all my immunizations are gone. One year from now I will need all the basic vaccinations I got as a baby to protect my new immune system. This is the most effective treatment available right now for lymphoma. The high dose of chemo eradicates the cancer and comes close to destroying the immune system and killing the patient, but the new implanted stem cells provide a new start, in most cases, on a cancer free life. I can't help but think of how this illustrates the spiritual truth of what Jesus' "stem cells," given for and to me, provided salvation from sin and death and new life in Christ! "Behold, all things have become new."

B: Bathroom Issues: There is nothing that destroys one's pride and feelings of self-importance and control like being in the hospital with edema and being designated as a "faller." For 3 weeks at Stanford Hospital when I got up to shower or use the bathroom I had to have a nurse watch me and steady me to make sure I did not get dizzy and fall. Often, I felt like a baby who couldn't do the most basic things for himself. I wanted to tell the nurse, "Hey, you know I used to be a college president and had my own office." You realize, when you are walking and need someone to take a handful of your shirt in the back to steady you the whole way, that the ways we tend to measure success, influence, and meaning aren't really valid. We are all headed for this, because physical life and health wind down to death and dust some day. A life philosophy that cannot find meaning, purpose and worth in the face of death, disease and the difficulties of life is a faulty, inadequate basis for living. 

C: Cancer, Chemo and Control. Cancer dominated my day to day life in 2017. It was something I thought about every day. I did 3 rounds of chemo in March-April, August-September and October-November. It was one of the most difficult and grueling experiences of my life. Of course, I have asked for healing many times (per day), but the main thing I asked for was for Jesus to walk with me in a very real way through this experience and He has confirmed His presence and His word for me in many ways in 2017. Just ask me and I'll tell you about it if you have a couple hours! One in particular stands out to me. I was asking "why me God," "please can you give me a word to help me understand this?" I then watched a Tim Keller sermon (it was Sunday) based on the story of Jacob wrestling with God. The point that answered my question was when he said that God could not really work with Jacob until He "gave him a limp." I don't believe that God gave me cancer, but I do believe me that He worked through it to "give me my limp." I really needed to understand deep down that I was not in control and not in charge of anything. Cancer is a great teacher of that truth. To serve God in 2017 did not look like anything I had planned for my life and yet, God worked in and through me. I am confident in God, not me, that He can do the same in 2018.    

D: Doctors: I have seen a lot of doctors during the last 12 months. I have been impressed, not just by their skill, but by their willingness to engage with Joyce and I, their care for us and their openness to the spiritual side of healing and well-being. Back in March I was struggling with the issue of whether I should rely on medicine and go through the whole chemo process or should I "just trust God for a healing." I asked God to show me the answer. That day, when I was sitting in my oncologist's office, it was like a voice was in my head saying, "Look at these people in this office (doctors, nurses and staff). They are doing My work. You need to trust the healing that I am doing through them." My experience has been that many of the doctors, nurses and staff have been believers and we have been able to encourage each other in our faith. 

Emergency Rooms: Joyce and I have each made 2 trips to the ER this year. Both of mine were because of my kidney issues in February and April. Hers involved a faint while I was getting chemo at the Marshall Cancer clinic and a fall at Stanford Hospital. There were also a couple near trips when I was monitoring my temperature for chemo induced fevers. I remember praying one night, as my temperature inched upward toward the danger zone, and then 20 minutes later the thermometer showed a 1.5 degree drop. I dread ER's, but the doctors and nurses in the ER at Marshall saved my life in February when my right kidney was failing. I thank God for them and my oncologist, who commanded me to "get to the ER" and called in to get me admitted immediately, that their quick action not only saved my life, but my kidney as well. I think I dread ER's because they remind us that our lives are tentative and we are vulnerable. Emergencies can happen when we least expect it. How wonderful to know that there are people always on stand by to help and we serve a God who always hears our prayers and is always ready for our emergencies.   

F: Friends and Family: We have an amazing family and friends all over the world that truly care about us. I was humbled and blown away by the response of people from all over to requests for prayer and financial support as we went through this trial. The "hello I'm praying for you" emails, phone calls, Facebook posts, cards and letters have been a tremendous source of encouragement. People have let us stay in their houses, brought us food, provided rides to the doctor, laughed and cried with us and served us in more ways than I can count. We have certainly seen God's people rally around us in our moment of need. I feel inadequate to respond. Right now all I can do is say "thank you" and try to encourage those around me in the same way I have been encouraged.

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