Hope beyond failure

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion for ever.  (Psalm 73:26)

So true.

My body is breaking down. It’s the chemo today, but it fits with the trend. I’m not getting any stronger, faster, or fitter. I keep wearing out.

My spirit waxes and wanes. Today I ache and groan. Misery clouds the sunshine. Who knows about tomorrow?

I cannot depend on my flesh or my heart. They’re unreliable. They’re weak. They’re fickle. They’re false.

God is the one I can trust. He will not let me down. It’s not that I keep hold of him, but that he doesn’t let go of me.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
(Psalm 73:23)

Thank you God.

(first published in macarisms.com on 24/5/13)

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Eternal hope

‘Cancer free to no hope in less than two weeks.’

This was the headline to the post I read on a cancer forum yesterday. How could things change so quickly? The truth is, they hadn’t. There’d been a bad case of miscommunication.

I browse these forums from time to time. I can’t do it daily. I find it too sad, too overwhelming. People are sick, confused, powerless, dying, and so often lacking in hope. Every day there are desperate cries of anguish. There are pleas for prayer. There’s the outpouring of grief. Sometimes there’s an explosion of anger at the merciless killer, cancer.

As I read the headline above, it clarified in my mind what it is that I so want to communicate. It’s what I’m praying my book will achieve. My goal is to offer hope beyond cure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% pro-cure. I want my cancer to completely disappear. I pray that it will and I pray the same for others. I’m excited by medical advances and new discoveries. I absolutely love hearing that someone with cancer has no evidence of disease anymore. I love the hope that comes with this pronouncement. In a sense, life can begin again. A new chapter with a new outlook.

Yet when the prognosis is bad, when all attempts at medical intervention have been exhausted, when prayers have not been answered as we might wish… what then? Is there hope still? Or has all hope been exhausted?

Is cure the ultimate hope for those of us with cancer? Is this what we hope for beyond all else? I don’t know really. I haven’t asked enough people. My guess, is that we have a range of hopes. But I’m concerned if the hope of a cure for cancer is where we stop.

What happens if we are cured? We go back to life. Not as normal. More likely as radically changed people. But then we’re likely to get sick again. It could be the recurrence of cancer. It may be something else altogether. We may recover and we might keep recovering, but there will come a day when we won’t. Death will catch up with each of us eventually.

What then of hope? Is it a meaningless platitude? Was Nietzsche right when he wrote…

In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man.

Or is there hope yet for those facing death? This is such an important question and yet so often it doesn’t get asked. We become so consumed with life here and now, that we don’t pause to consider the inevitability of our death. I may not have cancer when I die, but I will still die. Is there hope for me? Is there hope for any of us?

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
(1 Corinthians 15:18-19)

God’s Word tells me that the answer is YES! There is hope beyond death and it’s found in Jesus Christ. I long for people to know the certainty of this hope. This is a hope that stands on the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If Jesus is alive today, then there is hope beyond cure. There is hope beyond death.

(first published in macarisms.com on 2/5/13)

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Pain

pain
in my chest
an invader
yet part of me
sharp
dull
squeezing
grabbing
piercing
pulsing
throughout the day
as I wake at night
an ever present reminder
of my mortality

(first published in macarisms.com on 18/4/13)

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Our time is in God’s hands

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  (Psalm 90:12)

My days are numbered. So are yours. There’s no point in denying it or ignoring it. It’s a fact we can’t overcome. What matters is how we choose to spend the days we have. Will we waste them away in meaningless trivia? Or will we make them count? My prayer is that I will number my days. Not literally count them down, because I don’t have sufficient information to do this. But understand deeply that they are limited, so that I use the time I have wisely.

I want my life to count for eternity, not by making a name for myself. It would soon be forgotten anyway. But by bringing honour and glory to God. By declaring his praises. By drawing people to his love and kindness. By showing people to the gateway of heaven, Jesus Christ. He alone is the way, the truth and the life.

In December last year, I celebrated a year since my cancer diagnosis in a rather strange and almost eerie way. I was invited to speak at the same conference I’d spoken at the year before. This was the conference I was attending when I was admitted to hospital. To tell the truth, I didn’t expect to be at another conference, let alone give the opening talk again. God had other plans! It seemed fitting to speak on Psalm 90. This is a psalm that highlights our weakness and mortality.  It calls us to fess up to who we are, to get real about our limitations, and to make the most of the time given to us. There is a rawness to this psalm and it spoke powerfully to my circumstances.

I believe it speaks to us all and the wise course is to consider it very carefully. I recommend you take the time to read over Psalm 90 and ask God for wisdom to help you number your days.

(extract from macarisms.com on 17/4/13)

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Try a little kindness

Little acts of kindness may not seem like much, but they can go a long way and have a lasting impact. They bless the recipient and that’s good enough. But sometimes they can become contagious. What you receive, you pass on to others. If others get caught in the acts as well, and they become infected, and the kindness continues … WOW! You could even start an epidemic of kindness. How good would that be?!

I don’t watch much so called ‘reality’ television, but there’s something about the acts of kindness shows that tugs at the heartstrings. Sure, they’re more BIG acts of kindness, like doing up the back yard, or changing rooms, or winning the holiday of a lifetime. But how good is it to see people who are down on their luck, getting a treat. To see the tears of joy. To share in the experience.

We can create our own experiences. We don’t need lots of time, money, skills, expertise, or television crews. We can start with little things. And the place to start is with our eyes wide open. It begins with seeing beyond what’s going on in our own lives and noticing the needs of others. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

Who do you know who could do with a little act of kindness? Someone doing things a bit tough? A single mum struggling on her own… or dad? Someone recently separated from their spouse? An unemployed friend? A neighbour whose yard has got beyond them? Is there someone you haven’t seen for a while? Perhaps they could do with a call or a visit? Who might appreciate a meal dropped around? Or the kids minded for the afternoon? Or some movie tickets? Maybe your mum has been overwhelmed by all that’s going on and you could pay for a massage for her? Do you know individuals or families who might never get invited out? Why not have them over to your place?

Sometimes people’s problems don’t go away. Bereavement and loss. Chronic pain or fatigue. Depression or anxiety. The serious illness, such as cancer. It may seem like there isn’t much we can do. But, let me encourage you to think again. Maybe there’s something you could offer that would just make things a little easier. In fact, it might make all the difference in the world. It could be as simple as popping over for a cup of tea. Maybe you could offer to read the Bible with them or pray for them. If you offer anything, please make sure you follow up on it. Little things show that you are still thinking of them. They indicate that you care. They demonstrate commitment. They’re not hard to do. Little acts of kindness can make a very big impact.

I thank God for the little things that people have done for us. For the gifts, the visits, the calls, the practical help, the messages. And the prayers. A little prayer to our awesome God is a kindness of huge proportions. Thank you.

(first published on macarisms.com on 7/4/13)

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New life on Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday. Resurrection Sunday. The day Jesus Christ rose from the grave and first appeared to his disciples. The first day of the week. The first day of a new life, a glorious future, for all eternity, with the God of all grace. What a day! Then and now.

chins2For you, Bronwyn, a day of glorious change. Like a butterfly, transformed from a caterpillar, only far more beautiful. All that was damaged and dying has been resurrected in wonder and joy. Weakness has been raised in power. The perishable has clothed itself with the imperishable. The earthly has been replaced with the heavenly. The mortal with immortality. Death has been swallowed up in victory. The sting of death has been taken away.

You now dwell with your God and Father. You are his precious child. Your tears have been wiped away. Your cancer has gone. You are suffering no longer.

Nothing could separate you from the love of Christ. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, could separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You are now with Christ, which is better by far.

You are loved. You are missed. Your husband, your children, your family, your friends, your brothers and sisters in Christ.

You inspired so many with your kindness and love. Your joy in the midst of sorrow. Your fighting spirit. Your love for your family. Your patient endurance in the face of suffering. Your concern for others. Your testimony to Jesus. Your passion for God’s glory. Your strong hope of life in God.

Bronwyn, you have shown us faith and hope and love in the face of death. We thank you. We miss you.

(first published on macarisms.com on 2/4/13)

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My own personal breakdown

I’m 50 years of age. I feel 70. My doctor tells me that my body is behaving like a 70 year old. It’s a little scary. Stage IV lung cancer and 15 months of non-stop chemo can do that to you.

The lightest of exercise elevates my heart rate. I get breathless quickly. It’s hard to suck in enough air. It takes nothing to raise a sweat. A crushing feeling in the chest. Shooting pains from the lungs.

I get pins and needles in my feet and hands. Aches in my ankles. Heaviness in the soles of my feet. The signs of peripheral neuropathy. So I only wear shoes when I have to – nothing new there! We reduce the chemo and add some antidepressants. Folic acid and daily cymbalta seems to do the trick.

Headaches are common. A band round the head. Pulsing pain in the temples. Light-headed, dizzy, a cloudy feeling. Couple of panadols, it is.

Blood pressure out of control. Topping the charts one day. Normal the next. Too high overall. Fears of heart failure, strokes, heart attacks. Not to mess around with. We’ll see if daily ramipil antihypertensives bring things down.

Fatigue is growing. I can’t seem to wake up. Some days I spend more time in bed than out of it.

Rashes and redness. Blemishes and acne. Sometimes I feel like a 70 year old going through puberty. The dexamethasone steroids help for a while (don’t tell ASADA), and then we can try some claratine antihistamines, or we can just wait for it to go away.

The weight coming on, then going off, then going on more. Metabolism out of control. Unable to eat. Unable not to eat. The cravings. Self control, diet, careful eating, not too much. Sometimes I think, who cares.

The blood sugar. Getting way too high. Diabetic levels. What next? No lollies, no soft drinks, no chocolate, no jams. That’s all the food groups. What’s left? Exercise more. Get the heart rate up. Burn more sugar. Use up the fuel. I’ll probably have to take a drug for this problem too!

Add an allergic reaction to the contrasts used in the CT scan. Because I came out in hives, they won’t allow me to take it any more, lest I have a more serious anaphylactic reaction.

And then there’s just the overall feeling of being heavily poisoned. Argh!

Where will it stop? When will it stop? I don’t know. But I have a choice.

I can dwell on my problems, be filled with self-pity. I can hide from others, ignore the good, forget God, complain and grumble. I can become a completely selfish pain in the bum. I’ve got a ticket that gives me permission to become a totally self-obsessed whinging prat. It’s called cancer. It lets you get away with all kind of stuff.

Or…

photoI can take responsibility. Get enough sleep and rest. Exercise even when I don’t feel like it. Show restraint with my diet. Be patient when the side effects are worst. Push on with what hurts knowing that it’s an absolute privilege to receive the medical care I have available.

I can rejoice. I can give thanks for my beautiful wife, my fantastic children, my supportive friends, my praying church. I can thank my doctors and nurses. I can praise God for life and hope. I can look outward and love. I can share and give. I can serve and support. I can wonder at the many doors God has opened, for every one that’s closed. I can stop wishing for change and change my wishes. Better still, I can fall on my knees and thank God for his amazing grace to me in the Lord Jesus Christ.

My life is not my own. It was given me by God and I was bought at a price. I’ve already died to myself so that I should live to God. And I can still do this, whatever bits of me don’t work! If God gives me days and months and years, then they are for him. To show perseverance in the face of suffering. To exercise faith in the midst of doubts. To offer kindness when I feel mistreated. To be a friend when I’m lonely. When I am weakest, God can shine through in strength.

I can learn from the Word of God…

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

(first published in macarisms.com on 22/3/13)

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