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Cancer: Surviving Year One

Preparing for Retirement Full Time Ministry:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” – Lou Gehrig

 

What a difference a year makes.

A year ago I was in the hospital, recovering from surgery to remove cancerous tumors from my abdomen and liver. I had just gotten up to start walking, I was still on no food, and I still had IVs connected to me. I had a tube from my stomach coming out my nose to pump my stomach, but it was removed later that day. (That tube, while not actually painful, is extremely uncomfortable because it traveled down my throat, and I felt the phlegm and other things kept getting caught on it, even though I was not eating anything.)

The surgery was unsuccessful in removing the tumors, because they were attached to too many organs, making removal too risky. So they glued me back together without removing anything but scar tissue. But it was extremely successful in three areas. First, it showed the limits of what even superbly skilled medicine can accomplish. Second, it freed me to trust God for caring for me while I pursued alternate treatment options. Third, it allowed me to fully recover from surgery and live my life without being compromised due to so many body parts being removed.

Here is a summary of things I did in 2017:

  • Continued refereeing in our church youth basketball program
  • Visited our children and grandchildren in California twice, including a trip to the San Diego Zoo
  • Resumed bicycling, including a two-day trip in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon
  • Took a cruise to Alaska
  • Taught on a mission trip to Liberia

This is all in addition to working full time, doing necessary yard work, hanging out with family and friends, and teaching Sunday School. In short, I lived a normal but active life, the exact life I wanted to live before my surgery.

While I will take the necessary steps and make necessary adjustments to manage my cancer, I do not want it to be my defining characteristic. I want to live my life fully, serving God as I am able. Some people when facing a terminal disease will stop all things, basically waiting to die. Others will move at a frantic pace, trying to outrace the illness, hoping that the frenetic activity will slow the progression. My preference is to take the middle path where I live life in all its richness, making allowances where I must.

Lou Gehrig, already suffering the effects of the disease that would both claim him and take his name, did not shake his fist at heaven over a bad break. Instead he was thankful for what he was able to experience. You can read more about his attitude and impact here.

But I do not consider myself lucky, as if breaks are a random die roll. I consider myself blessed in so many ways, and will continue to live my life for God, and live it to my fullest capacity.

Ministering to Those Silently Hurting

Preparing for Retirement Full Time Ministry

 

“Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrow which the world knows not; and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

I love this song, but it brings both joy and sadness.

Joy because of the beautiful music, singing about how making time for loved ones is integral to enjoying Christmas. Sad because of the painful and tragic life hidden behind the wonderful music.

Karen Carpenter was part of a team producing top notch and popular music as she wasted away, first in her soul and eventually her entire body, succumbing to complications from anorexia. While she presented a smiling image for the world, she was dying inside. Reports I’ve read relate how even those closest to her saw at most fleeting symptoms, unaware of the deeper root issues which overpowered her.

For me she is the poster child for people silently hurting, often leading to death. Their pain and struggles can be easy to overlook. Sometimes they overcompensate and become the life of the party, a mechanism mastered by Robin Williams. Sometimes we see outward symptoms that are dismissed as temporary issues. Sometimes we become cynical due to those who milk feigned problems to grasp attention. We cannot let those fakers blind us to the real problems of others.

People working in the mental health field report how problems increase during the holidays. People on the edge slip over into crisis, or one more dysfunctional gathering descends into an emergency. Others retreat, hoping to ignore the busyness and survive, but not doing so well.

The Christmas season is very busy. I’ve enjoyed getting some things done, but look at my remaining list and wonder if I will accomplish everything before Christmas. Everyone is busier in general, both at social gatherings and preparing for other gatherings, including large meals on Christmas Day. During all this whirlwind those of us working in various ministries must stay involved in those areas, as certain tasks do not take a holiday.

Our increased activities and tightened schedules can cause us to move faster, accomplishing our lists without taking the time to slow down and see the people around us. We will slow down at an event, and enjoy and appreciate the people there. But many people will fall through the cracks, unnoticed and suffering in silence.

Our ministry efforts include paying attention to the people around us, from family and close friends to the cashier at the store. We need to notice, really notice, what is going on in lives as best we can. We cannot let our busy Christmas tasks overshadow our ability to see the pain other are experiencing.

Do your best to know that the smiling faces around you are enjoying the season and not masking deep hurts.

Do You Love What You Do?

Preparing for Retirement Full Time Ministry:

Yes, this is not a new picture. But they look pretty much the same every year.

Yes, this is not a new picture. But they look pretty much the same every year.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:29-30, ESV

 

It’s that time of year again.

Thanksgiving has passed. Christmas decoration are being put up, partied planned, and special events shoehorn their way into the schedule. Christmas presents are purchased, and we are getting ready to flip the calendar from November to December.

Yes, it is buckeyes time again.

Each year I allocate several days to making two batches of buckeyes, most of which are given away. They are a labor intensive process. First the butter and peanut butter are blended together. Then confectioner’s sugar is added until the mixture reaches the right consistency. Then it is rolled into little balls, about 220 per batch. These are stuck with toothpicks and placed on trays to cool. After several hours (usually the next day) I melt semi-sweet chocolate and dip the balls into it so the result physically resembles a buckeye. (But not literally, since buckeyes are poisonous.) Finally after cooling again, I remove the toothpicks and pack them into boxes to store and give away. Then I do it again for the next batch.

Every year I wonder how I will fit this task into our busy pre-Christmas schedule, and every year I find a way to make it work. Two years were the hardest: last year when I hurried to get them done before my surgery, and in 2008, when I traveled for business from December 17-21, and had to get everything done before I left. But every year so far I make the time.

I honestly love doing it. I enjoy cooking in general, and I especially love playing with food. I guess I’m just a grown-up kid that way. But this is playing with food with a purpose. I especially love seeing people enjoy the fruits of my labor.

My buckeye experience provides a couple good ministry lessons. First, although we appreciate when others notice and laud our ministry efforts, that cannot be our motive. All our ministry should be for an audience of One, that is, God. He is the one we should seek to please.

The other lesson is, do you love what you are doing in ministry? While every ministry will have frustrating moments or tasks, for the most part we should be fulfilled as a result of our ministry. God will not call us to something to burn us out. We may have seasons of humbling, but our long term ministry efforts should bring us joy.

If your ministry seems like a dreary slog or even a death march, you need to reevaluate your calling. Either you are in the wrong ministry or you are fighting God regarding your current position. God desires to give your soul rest even while you labor in your ministry.

A Thanksgiving Proclamation

Preparing for Retirement Full Time Ministry

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” – James 1:17, ESV

 

This is the Proclamation Abraham Lincoln made to establish Thanksgiving. As we enjoy the day, let us remember to thank God, the Giver of every good gift.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Cancer Update: One Year Later

Preparing for Retirement Full Time Ministry:

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” – Proverbs 19:21, ESV

 

It was about one year ago that I found out my cancerous tumors had returned, grown, and spread. It was not the news I wanted, but the news I had.

But here I sit, one year later, feeling quite good. Everything isn’t perfect, some numbers are higher than desired. But I no longer have symptoms of liver problems (the tumors had spread to my liver) nor any other symptoms for that matter. I can improve my diet and other healthy habits, but I feel fine.

I am able to engage in various ministries as called, including a trip with Training Leaders International to Liberia in August. I continue to feel well, so I plan future trips as God enables. I work, travel, and live my life.

I am thankful for what God has done and will continue to do in my life. I know I am in His hands, and look forward to many years of ministry. This poem, which a friend had posted just over a year ago, gives a good sense of my attitude going forward:

 

A Gift by Linda Nielsen.

I was given a gift, wrapped shabbily,
It was non-returnable, non-refundable!

Reluctantly I accepted it.
In it I found courage I never knew existed
And a patience far beyond anything ever experienced.

I was given the ability to trust a stranger with that most dear to me,
and an endurance for the unknown.

I was given unconditional love of family and friends,
Always there, never stopping, never faltering.
I was given many prayers from far and wide,

And the warmth of knowing I am truly cared about.
I was given a fond farewell of my modesty and vanity,
and the acceptance and love of an imperfect body.

I was given a strong shoulder to lean on when that
Shoulder had once grown distant,

And laughter and good times, more special than ever before.
I was given many new friends,
wonderful, courageous people I am so very proud to know.

I was given warm sunshine and beautiful green grass,
blue skies, and sparkling city lights.
I was given things to see,
That once before were ignored.

I was given the chance to wake up,
instead of sleepwalking through life.

I was given every glorious day to enjoy,
every month to savor, every year to rejoice.

I was given the gift of life,
I was given cancer.

Ministry and Sensitivity

Preparing for Retirement Full Time Ministry

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. – John Donne

I probably keep writing about this need because of my own struggles with being sensitive.

I can tend to be task-oriented, having checklists and goals and trying to accomplish things. That tendency, coupled with my limited ability to pick up on social cues and hints, and cause me to be insensitive. It’s not because I don’t care, although it can appear that way to the unknowing third party. It’s that my focus and radar are not very acute.

Just as when driving we need to be aware of the car cutting us off, or people suddenly coming into the road, we must be careful to not wear blinders when doing ministry. What we are doing is good, even great, if we are following God’s calling in our lives.

But sometimes God orchestrates interruptions. Some people refer to them as “divine appointments.” These are the events, or people, or problems, that can suddenly spring up while we are working on something else. IT may be something small, or it may be a full blown, five-alarm fire crisis. Either way, it demands center stage of our lives for the time it takes to be resolved, or at least taken below crisis level.

How do we respond? Do we soldier on with our task at hand, unflinching eye focused on the destination? Or do we pause and address this urgent matter? I’ve written before about how the urgent can overcome the important, so you can peruse that blog for more details on making that decision.

I believe it is crucial to our long term ministry efforts to develop a real sensitivity and discernment to know these interruptions and their true urgency. Whether we continue on our task or help resolve them, the urgent matter needs to be addressed. It could be nothing more than “I can help you at XXX time.” What is important is that we have acknowledged the person with the urgent matter and shown that we care, even if we cannot help them at that time.

Caring. Sometimes that is all the person needs. Sometimes the time lag will open up alternate possibilities to resolve the issue. Sometimes we are the ones called to help the person in need. This is where sensitivity is needed. Some people are blessed with a bountiful portion. My portion is limited, so I must lean on God to guide me through sensitive situations and alert me to matters undetected by my primitive radar.

Ministry is ultimately about people, so even if we are not people-focused, or even people-oriented, we need to be people-sensitive.

Managing the Seasons

Preparing for Retirement Full Time Ministry

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 3:1

This could almost be called “Managing the Blur, Part 2”, but felt it better to focus on the aspect of seasons.

Some years back, we were zealots in the pro-life ministry. I was President of the board of our pregnancy care center. We housed pregnant girls to encourage them to carry their babies to term. This was the one issue that determined my vote. We attended every peaceful pro-life rally, including the annual March for Life in Washington.

Now, while we still support or local pregnancy care center financially, we don’t invest as much time. Most of my ministry time is invested in teaching or small group ministries. Do I care less about the abortion issue? No. But God has moved me on to other ministries.

One of the best teachings I heard on the Proverbs 31 woman was by a woman (Gayleah Conrad) who claimed it was impossible to achieve all at once. To expect women to complete every activity at the same time was unreasonable. Instead, the husband is looking back at a life well lived. He sees how in different seasons his wife focused on different tasks. Sometimes child-rearing took center stage. Other times, investing in businesses was a primary effort. His praise is a sort of Lifetime Achievement Award as he looks as all his wife has done.

We need to approach our ministries in the same manner. Some callings will be for life. Others will be for a season. God will often move you out of a ministry, give you a time of rest, and prepare you for the next ministry. In other cases He will use your current ministry as preparation for the next stage, and propel you directly into that activity.

We may not know our next stage in ministry. Or we might receive clear signals to get ready. In all cases, we need to understand the ebb and flow of ministry as it pertains to our seasons of life. Just the moving into new times of life often create their own ministry opportunities. We need to learn when to back off of one task when God is calling us to another one.

Like the Proverbs 31 woman we can learn to put our emphasis in differing directions through the different times of life. As mentioned last week, knowing our limits and pacing ourselves can help us thrive as we focus on various ministries, each in its own season.

Managing the Blur

Preparing for Retirement Full Time Ministry

That’s why, to experience that, you know for a fact that a human being is capable of so much more, because to go to that place and to step outside yourself and observe yourself do these things, while the rest of the world is moving in slow motion, is really incredible. – Marcus Allen

Ah, those were the days, when the world was moving in slow motion.

I look back at what I could accomplish when I was younger and I simply cannot figure out how I got it done. And raised a family. And kept investing in my marriage. Even 10-15 years ago, when I went back to school to get my Master’s Degree, I also worked most semesters as a graduate assistant to help defray tuition.

Now just the thought of going back to school, or adding anything major to my schedule, makes me tired. I have these plans to write more, or organize things better, or other projects languishing for years, but I never seem to muster up the time to get to them.

I have the opposite situation encountered by Marcus Allen: the world is no longer moving in slow motion for me. In fact, it is moving faster and faster, until some days and weeks it seems like a blur. And I’m just standing there watching the world race by.

What happened? Part of it is a genuine feeling that life is moving faster, and there are two theories as to why. First, our brains process new events much more slowly than events we have already experienced. As we get older, we encounter fewer new events and more events, so life seems faster. Second, each year resents a diminishing percentage of what we have left. Assuming a life expectancy of 80, when you are 10 only 1/70 of your remaining life has gone by in a year. Next year, when I turn 60, 1/20 of my remaining life will have gone by in the past year, making it seem quicker.

I do not know if either theory is true, but I do know energy levels and general speed decrease as we get older. While I am ostensibly in better shape than I was 20 years ago, I cannot ride my bicycle as fast. I can still settle in for marathon lengths of working, but I have to pace myself differently.

So how do we manage this reality while seeking to finish well by being active in ministry?

  • Pace yourself. We do not have to do everything right now, or even today.
  • Prioritize. Determine what is more important and do the critical things first.
  • Know your limits. Our throughput simply may not have the same capacity as when we were younger. There is no shame in this.

Most of all, know your calling. As Rick Warren said, knowing what God has called you to makes it easy to say ‘no’ to all the things you are not called to. Discarding the unnecessary things leaves the time and energy for the necessary ones.

Ministry Includes Family

Preparing for Retirement Full Time Ministry

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and s worse than an unbeliever. – 1 Timothy 5:8

 

We were so busy watching our grandchildren last week that I missed putting out my blog!

We always cherish times to spend with our grandchildren, and we don’t get to see the ones in California enough. But we are watching them so our son and his wife can have a vacation together. We also watch our granddaughter in Pennsylvania on a regular basis so our daughter and her husband can spend time together.

We see it as helping them invest in their marriages, keeping them fresh and healthy as they raise their children. So, part of our ongoing ministry effort is ministering to our adult children.

I know, spending time with grandchildren is hardly a burden to any grandparent. And it is a joy to spend time with these delightful children. So it is hardly in the “carrying my cross” category of ministry. But it does involve setting aside the time, and in the case of the California clan, traveling out there so the children can maintain their school schedule and other activities. We are blessed at this stage in our lives to be able to pour ourselves into our grandchildren, so it is a joyful ministry.

As much as I enjoy traveling around the world to teach pastors and church leaders, I must keep in mind that ministry starts at my front door with those closest to me. It would not be good to be ministering to pastors in Liberia while neglecting my family and close friends.

Watching children is easy and fun to do. But those are not the only ministry needs with my inner circle. My daughter owns a dance studio, and we help in various ways, including prayer support. There may come a time when our parents need more support, although as healthy as they are, it could be a long way off.

I encourage you to take a look, starting with your family, at those closest to you. How can you minister to them? Are there any special or ongoing needs? Are there ways you can serve each other? Is God speaking to you about stepping up in some new way with your loved ones?

The blessings of family can easily outweigh any pains. Look at them through the eyes of Christ and determine how you can minister to those closest to you.

Let’s Try This! A Cancer Treatment Update

Preparing for Retirement Full Time Ministry

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. – Winston Churchill

 

I have an inoperable cancerous tumor.

One year ago I kept having weird episodes where I would get cold and then very tired, or stomach pain that could not be explained. It ended up being a return and growth of my carcinoid tumors, which I thought had been surgically removed 22 years earlier and /or were dormant. Oh, and it had jumped to my liver, so I have stage 4 cancer, but a verrrrrry slow growing version.

So we tried surgery, but after spending hours opening me up and getting to the tumor, the oncological surgeon saw that the tumor was attached to too many organs to risk removing them. I likely would not have survived that surgery, so she wisely closed me up and glued me back together. So now I live with these tumors in me.

Growing extremely slowly.

Chemotherapy is not an option, due to the slow tumor growth rate.

And neither is radiation therapy, for the same reason.

The one option given was a hormone shot, that would cost over $5,000 per month, that would probably slow down the growth further. Of very slow growing tumors. This did not seem like a realistic option.

I did some research into alternative treatments and found these trends:

  • My kind of cancer is pretty rare, with only a couple thousand cases each year
  • Certain herbs like Turmeric and green tea extract had a good track record of attacking the blood supply of tumors
  • Other alternative treatments had shrunk or even removed cancerous tumors
  • Pharmaceutical companies tried to pretend these alternative treatments either did not exist or did not work

I found a good naturopathic doctor and began seeing her in late spring, taking these supplements to counter the tumor. In July I had extensive blood tests and my numbers were up, meaning the tumor was likely more active than desired. I should be feeling symptoms, but I’m not. God has kept me symptom-free except for a couple twinges every now and then. I live an active life. But my doctor wanted to try something else.

So today I visit a doctor who is trying mistletoe therapy to combat tumors. This website: http://believebig.org/what-is-mistletoe/ gives more details but I’ll provide a summary. I get subcutaneous (into my flesh) shots three times a week. The mistletoe stimulates my immune system to protect the healthy cells in my body. It then attacks the cancer cells, accelerating cell death. There are no side effects except for a small rash at the injection site which indicates that the immune system is stimulated.

This therapy, coupled with the herbal supplements that attack the tumors’ blood supply, should start making an impact on the tumors. Because they are slow growing and stubborn, progress will likely be slow. But trying it is worth a shot (har!)

I have felt God’s presence throughout this journey and the support of many friends and family. I am confident that God is with me as I embark on this next step.

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