Friday, February 27, 2015

this is no tragedy

Someone mentioned on the phone to me recently the death from cancer of a prominent Christian leader in his fifties. She described it as a tragedy. But his death wasn't a tragedy. It was certainly a loss to his family, his friends and to the wider church. But it wasn't a tragedy. It was gain.

Let me tell you what is a tragedy: Someone who gets a good education, secures a well-paid job, buys a house in a nice area, marries and has children, and ensures his children gets a good education, so the cycle can begin again. Someone who treats Christ as a hobby or an insurance against hell. Someone who leaves behind a rusting car and children who've been trained to be self-indulgent. Someone with no gospel legacy. That's the tragedy.

Tim Chester, The Ordinary Hero, 197-198.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

on the path to the cancer ward

There's a chemical smell that hits you on the way to the cancer centre. Some bright spark of an architect put the building's main vents just near the entrance doors. Every time you walk up the path, the smell of chemo hits you. Once you've been to an oncology ward, you don't forget that smell.

Every two weeks, we drive to Steve's appointment in heavy silence. We drag our feet up that path while I try not to breathe in. We sit in the chairs in the hallway; he stares into space while I fight back tears and fight down panic. A nurse calls his name, shows him to a chair: a green vinyl recliner, more suited to watching TV than to having poison pumped into your veins. We wait for the slow drip-drip! drip-drip! of the drugs.

The aim of Steve's chemo is curative. Or so they keep reminding us. I think it's to help us "stay positive". It doesn't help much. Doctors are relatively confident about colorectal tumours, and that's how they're treating Steve's small bowel cancer; but no one knows much about this rare disease.

Except God, of course. He knows every cell in Steve's body, and he is not at the mercy of statistics or uncertain prognoses or rare cancers. And so we fight to trust him.

And it has been a fight. Steve grieves the half-life he's forced to live. From days full of active ministry, to days lying on a couch, watching the cricket, and occasionally playing a game with the kids or getting some shopping or going for a slow walk down the street: it might sound like a holiday, but if so, this is no Hawaii.

The side-effects of chemo - nausea (controlled by steroids that give you sleepnessness instead of vomiting), numbing fatigue, brain-fog, peripheral neuropathy (tingling and numbness in fingers and toes), and a throat spasm that turned out to be a rare reaction to one of the chemicals - are hard to endure and hard to watch.

The last month has been easier for Steve. Two cycles ago they took him off one of the two main chemo drugs (he's still on the most important one) and the symptoms have reduced. He's past the worst of the chemo. Two more treatments, and that's the end for now. He is already easing his way back into work, and is coping well.

There will be further tests over the next few years to check if the cancer has returned. Waiting becomes our new normal, and we try to live as if we're not waiting. The kids go back to school, and I enjoy the space and silence. I begin to do more chores and start work on a talk. We plan a family holiday.

I've discovered that grief travels in three directions: past, present, and future. The trauma of what we've gone through; the struggle to accept our changed lives; fearful anticipation of what is to come. Sadness is like a backpack of rocks you carry around: you forget it for a while, stop and enjoy the view, but always it's there, and there are days when it feels too heavy to bear.

In the dark times, when I can't feel my way, I am often surprised by the strong light of God's word. Here's the passage that has lit my way recently:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:7-1)
Humble yourself under God's hand. Cast your fears on him. Resist Satan's attempts to undermine your faith. Remember you're not alone. Remember this is just for a little while. Remember God will lift you up and restore you and make you strong

To God be the glory. Amen.


If you'd like regular updates on how we're going, you can "like" this page on Facebook: Pray for Steve.

Monday, October 27, 2014

All your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7)

They are HIS waves, whether they break over us,
    Hiding His face in smothering spray and foam;
Or smooth and sparkling, spread a path before us,
    And to our haven bear us safely home.

They are HIS waves, whether for our sure comfort
    He walks across them, stilling all our fear;
Or to our cry there comes no aid nor answer,
    And in the lonely silence none is near.

They are HIS waves, whether we are hard-striving
    Through tempest-driven waves that never cease,
While deep to deep with turmoil loud is calling;
    Or at His word they hush themselves in peace.

They are HIS waves, whether He separates them,
    Making us walk dry ground where seas had flowed;
Or lets tumultuous breakers surge about us,
    Rushing unchecked across our only road.

They are HIS waves, and He directs us through them;
    So He has promised, so His love will do.
Keeping and leading, guiding and upholding,
    To His sure harbor, He will bring us through.

- Annie Johnson Flint

Sunday, October 19, 2014

my times are in your hands

"My times are in your hands" (Psalm 31:5) - two days in a row we received this verse in a card in the mail.

A wonderful reminder that it is God who ordains and numbers our days (Psalm 139:6; Job 14:5) - not, ultimately, illness or health professionals.

Jesus said, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?" (Luke 12:25) - an encouragement against health anxiety.

Our times are in his hands.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

what I'm reading: when all other lights go out

I remember it so clearly. I lay on my front across Steve's hospital bed, and he sat in a chair by a window with a view of a brick wall. A nurse stuck her head round the curtains and said, "You look relaxed, like you're on holiday or something!".

We weren't. We'd just found out what kind of cancer Steve has, and I was reading to him from Tim Keller's Walking with God through pain and suffering.

I haven't been able to read much the last 3 months. But I recently picked up Keller's book again. He explores three aspects of suffering - philosophy, theology, and experience - and suggests you begin with the section most relevant to your circumstances, then go back and read the others.

I started with the section on philosophy and culture (before Steve got ill), skipped to the bit on experience (after we found out Steve has cancer), and am now reading the chapters on theology. The philosophy is fascinating and intellectually satisfying; the theology (so far) sound and clear; the section on experience, deeply encouraging.

It's a rich, wise, nourishing book. I recommend it highly. And it's full of quotable quotes, some by Keller, some collected from others. Here's one that sums up our year so far:
This is a dark world. There are many ways we keep that darkness at bay, but we cannot do it forever. Eventually the lights of our lives - love, health, home, work - will begin to go out. ... The Bible says that Jesus is the light of the world. If you know you are in his love, and that nothing can snatch you out of his hand, and that he is taking you to God's house and God's future - then he can be a light for you in dark places when all other lights go out. (123-124)
 Here's one that gives me hope:
At some point, for all eternity, there will be no more unmerited suffering: this present darkness, "the age of evil", will eventually be remembered as a brief flicker at the beginning of human history. Every evil done by the wicked to the innocent will have been avenged, and every tear will have been wiped away. (Peter van Inwagen, quoted p. 117)
And, finally, here's one on the "why" of suffering and the cross:
We do not know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason is not. It cannot be that he does not love us. It cannot be that he does not care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.  He understand us, he has been there, and he assures us that he has a plan to eventually wipe away every tear. Someone might say, "But that's only half an answer to the question "Why?". Yes, but it is the half we need. (121)
I guess you can see why I love this book so much.

Monday, October 6, 2014

to be a soldier

A wonderful Charles Spurgeon quote sent to me by a friend:
Dear believer, do you understand that God may take away your comforts and privileges in order to make you a stronger Christian? Do you see why the Lord always trains His soldiers not by allowing them to lie on beds of ease but by calling them to difficult marches and service?

He makes them wade through streams, swim across rivers, climb steep mountains, and walk many long marches carrying heavy backpacks of sorrow. This is how He develops soldiers—not by dressing them up in fine uniforms to strut at the gates of the barracks or to appear as handsome gentlemen to those who are strolling through the park.

No, God knows that soldiers can only be made in battle and are not developed in times of peace. We may be able to grow the raw materials of which soldiers are made, but turning them into true warriors requires the education brought about by the smell of gunpowder and by fighting in the midst of flying bullets and exploding bombs, not by living through pleasant and peaceful times.

So, dear Christian, could this account for your situation? Is the Lord uncovering your gifts and causing them to grow? Is He developing in you the qualities of a soldier by shoving you into the heat of the battle? Should you not then use every gift and weapon He has given you to become a conqueror?
 Amen!

Friday, October 3, 2014

how we're going

I have started and abandoned this post a few times now. I want to let you know how we are going - those of you who don't already know - but such a huge amount has happened since I wrote about Steve's diagnosis and surgery that it defies fitting into a blog post!

Here it is in miniature:

- 10 weeks ago my husband Steve was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the third and fourth sections of the duodenum (at the top end of the small bowel) after half a year of strange symptoms; it caused a blockage and he became unable to keep down solid food.

The tumour was removed successfully, for which we praise God (the surgeons were surprised at the success of the surgery). It was a stage 3 tumour - it had already spread to the lymph nodes - but there were no visible secondaries or spread to local organs, and the margins were clear.

- Steve spent a very long 5 1/2 weeks in hospital, and I spent much of that time with him while Mum cared for our 4 children at home.

They were strange weeks of shuffling walks down hospital corridors, wheeling him to a sunny courtyard every day (all the doctors say, "Sit in the sun while you recover from surgery"), sitting by Steve's bed while he suffered silently, getting him wet facecloths or blankets, reading the Bible to him and praying, or writing and looking out the window.

Hard days of diagnosis and grief, fear and surgery, tears and nausea; a terrible day when he had a septic shower (due to an infected haematoma) and I thought I would lose him; days of discouragement and slow, slow recovery.

- We have been home for 4 1/2 weeks now. You look forward to escaping hospital, so it's a bit of a shock to discover you have brought all the difficulties home with you. Of course, you knew this would happen, but it's hard all the same.

That said, it is wonderful for Steve to be home and for us to have him home. It has been slow, but his digestive system is gradually recovering from surgery. He can eat a little more, and we are learning to manage the issues caused by whipple-style digestive re-plumbing (for those in the know, he still has his pancreas and stomach, which makes it easier).

- He started chemotherapy - to mop up the remaining cancer cells in his system - 2 weeks ago. He had his second treatment this morning and it went fine. The treatments are in a beautiful new oncology room with a wall of windows looking out into the canopy of a huge oak tree.

He will have 12 treatments, God willing, every 2 weeks for 6 months. Already there have been unpleasant side effects, and they will increase over time. And so the next 6 months are going to be challenging.

The chemo will be followed by scans to check if the cancer has gone. I guess that will be a whole new stage of waiting, praying, hoping and trusting. We are planning a family holiday for after chemo if Steve is well enough.

- Many, many things have changed. Steve lost work, ministry and health. I lost ministry and have taken on the role of a carer to Steve as well as to our chronically ill son. We are at a different church now, just down the street from our house: our old church is too far to travel at the moment.

There is a lot of trauma and grief to process. My health hasn't been good due, I guess, to the stress, but I am beginning to recover. Our kids are doing okay and processing what has happened in their own ways.

It is the most beautiful Spring here in Melbourne. I go for walks and rejoice to see the new leaves of oaks and elms opening against the sky; sit by the lake nearby and listen to music or cry and pray.

We are learning a lot about endurance and persevering in faith, about turning and looking to Jesus, about trusting the Father's plans for our lives and seeking to glorify him. I love and live in the psalms more than ever (psalms 61-63 are my new favourites).

Steve and I are reading John Piper's tiny booklet Don't Waste Your Cancer together in the evenings. At one or two paragraphs a day, it's just about the right length! It's been very helpful and challenging.

We are upheld by many people's prayers, practical support and encouragement. If you have been praying, thank you so much!

And thanks too to our great God who loved us enough to give up his only Son to die for us, who understands suffering from the inside out, and whose love never fails.

For regular updates you can "like" this page on Facebook: Pray for Steve.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

in fear, for his glory

This post is, oh, only about 3 months out of date. But hey, a lot has happened since I wrote it. Anyhow, here it is.

In a month or two I will be giving my first conference talk.

I feel a bit like Paul, if you will allow me to rip a verse out of context: "I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling" (1 Cor 2:3).

Except in my case the fear and trembling come from less godly motivations. I want to succeed. I want this event to succeed. I want to impress people. I want them to like, respect, admire me. I could go on - I'm a type A person! My ambitions are boundless! - but I'd embarrass myself (like I already haven't) and you, too.

My gut clenches; my mind hazes over. People say, "You'll be great!" - my mother, who's not at all one-sided, plus a few faithful friends who have far more respect for me than I deserve - and all I can think is, "Now there's further to fall!". I remind myself that it's a small conference among friends; but it doesn't really help.

There's just one thing that helps. It's one of my favourite Bible passages, Philippians 2:1-11. It keeps coming into my head, driven by the Spirit. When I feel the fear welling up, I repeat to myself (and yes, this is pretty much the 1984 version of the NIV, 'cos my brain is stuck there):
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit ...
Selfish ambition. Vain conceit. Sums up the worst of my motivations quite nicely.

And the alternative:
...but in humility consider others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but to the interests of others. You attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

Putting others' interests above my own. Valuing them more than myself. Doing this for their sake, not mine.

And then the model, Jesus Christ:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being found in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name ...
This isn't about me. It never was. It's about me laying down my life for the sake of others. And if, in the process, I get cold toes and a wriggly tummy, well, that's a small price to pay.

I just pray I can forget myself and serve others for the sake of Christ. Not for my own glory, but for his:
... that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)
For his glory.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

grace-shaped womanhood: my talk on Titus 2

Well, I've done it! My very first conference talk. And I had a lot of fun too. :)

My talk was on Titus 2, and it was at our inaugural T2 Women's Conference. You can listen to it here, along with Belinda Grant's talk from Titus 3:

T2 Women.

Just click on the link under "age into a sage".

Monday, September 8, 2014

this is life now

The days are long and hard. It is not easy to be pulled out of your ordinary life - your work, your ministry, your taken-for-granted health - and put in the middle of every day, all day sickness, on top of the many demands of daily life, sadness, and fear for the future. There is so much loss and so many changes to adjust to, for all of us.

Yet there are also blessings. This beautiful Spring weather. The sunshine. Our love for each other. Those who care and pray for us. God's incredibly comforting word. The knowledge that our Father is in control and he is good. And Jesus, who has walked this path before us and for us.

Thank you for your prayers, friends. Please keep praying for hope and healing.

And if you want regular updates, you can find them at Pray for Steve