Twelve months ago today, I was catching up with good friends in a coffee shop near home. We do it once a year, at roughly the same time, and we’ve been doing it for years. These guys come from Melbourne, Wollongong, Brisbane, Perth, and Canberra. We talk about what’s been going on, we share our plans for the future, and we spend some time praying for each other. Once a year means it’s pretty special and I look forward to our catch ups as a highlight.
As we drank our coffees and shared our news, I knew that something was wrong. I had a pain in my chest and between my shoulder blades. My left arm seemed to be going numb. My left leg didn’t feel right, either. I’d been putting up with it for a while, not wanting to break up our time together, but I couldn’t keep ignoring it. I wasn’t imagining things – something was wrong.
Half an hour later I was in hospital – query heart attack. ECG seemed normal, and nothing on the x-ray, but the CT scan showed that things weren’t right. There was a massive build up of fluid around my left lung and it was suggested that I could have a tumour. Mesothelioma produces symptoms like this and so can lung cancers. Over two litres of fluid were drained out of the pleural cavity. It was almost certainly cancer and it didn’t look good. But how? I hadn’t been a smoker. I couldn’t think that I’d been exposed to asbestos. What was happening?
That was Friday, 2nd December 2011, and a year has now passed. What a year it’s been! I consider this an anniversary of sorts. One year of ‘consciously’ living with cancer. They said that I’d probably had the cancer for more than three years previously, without being aware of it. Now it was making it’s presence felt. Now it was changing, shaping, directing, and even shortening my life. Something the size of a ping pong ball had grown, ruptured, spread, damaged and contaminated me. Stage IV inoperable non-small cell lung cancer. This foreign growth was turning my mid-life into an end-of-life crisis. Or so it seemed. The oncologist said it couldn’t be removed or cured. I’d probably see the next Christmas, but he didn’t offer anything more. My health crashed, my weight disappeared, my life seemed to be fading before my eyes. Many times we doubted that I’d live long at all.
That was a year ago and I’m still living with cancer! While I loathe the cancer, and I’d dearly love God to take it away, I thank God earnestly for the life he’s given me. How amazing to live! I no longer take living for granted. In fact, I don’t take breathing for granted any more. I can’t make assumptions about tomorrow, or next week, or next year. Each day, every breath, is a gift from God. I’ve been reminded of what the Scriptures say:
[God] himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. (Acts 17:25)
Over this past year, God has been teaching me many things. A big one – and there’s much more to learn yet – is humility. God’s humbled me deeply, to trust in him rather than in myself and my resources and abilities. I’d been such an activist in so many ways. Set me a challenge and I’d have a crack. I tended to know my capabilities and I’d trust them. I’d say that I trusted God, but I suspect that I was often simply relying on myself. I’d make plans, get busy, forget to pray, work harder, and then call out to God if I was desperate. God has shown me that I can do nothing without him, and for this I thank him.
God has taught me to treasure people more. He’s shown me how much I value my family. He’s deepened my love and appreciation for my wife. He’s given me great delight in my children. He’s enabled me to enjoy renewed relationships where they were once strained. He’s brought new people into my life. He’s encouraged me with the love, support, and generosity of many friends. He’s given me opportunity to bless others and to be blessed by them. Thank you God!
God has renewed my desire to know him better. He’s reminded me that he’s the ultimate source of wisdom, and that I must know him before I can truly know myself. He’s gifted me with time to read and reflect and write, and a thirst to do this more and more. In writing, God has caused me to think and learn and articulate. He’s opened my eyes to see the amazing truths of his Word in new ways. He’s given me new understanding. He’s strengthened my delight and confidence in him.
God has taught me to lift my horizons. It’s so easy to be consumed by the things of life. Many of our lives are so comfortable, that it’s hard to imagine wanting for anything else. Many of us enjoy heaven here on earth – or so we think. God has burst this bubble. He’s reminded me that life is short. There’s so much more to life than the trivia that fills so much of our time. God has pushed me to focus on things that’ll make an impact for eternity. He’s lifted my heart and mind, to find my hope in him for eternity, and not in the fleeting things of this life.
Most of all, God has been teaching me to keep my faith in Jesus Christ. Every promise God has made, he has answered positively in Jesus. God has shown himself to be totally trustworthy. I’ve been tempted to doubt this – looking at my circumstances, wondering why, struggling for answers – but God keeps bringing me back to Jesus. God knows my weaknesses. He’s heard my cries. He’s seen my tears. And he keeps pointing me to his Son. Jesus is the proof that God is for me. Jesus is the evidence that God loves me. Jesus’ death is the reason God accepts me. Jesus’ resurrection is my hope for eternity.
I know these things more clearly today than I did a year ago, and for this I thank God. My great desire for my friends and family is that they might know these things too – but without getting cancer or facing difficult trials. To misquote John Lennon, “All I am saying is give God a chance!”
My prayer is that God will deepen my faith in him, my hope in eternity, and my love for others. And I would love to pray the same for you.