Good news

firstI’ve been overwhelmed by the encouragement I’ve received over the past couple of days. Since posting about my wonderful scan results I’ve received so many Facebook, email, phone, and face to face greetings. So many have expressed their gratitude to God for his kindness.

On Thursday I was able to speak to the Brumbies after they were presented with their jerseys at the Captain’s run. They encouraged me with their enthusiasm for my news. Some shared my thanks to God and others simply expressed what @#%! great news it was. Each in their own way!

I also had the privilege of sharing my news at church yesterday morning. One person tearfully hugged me, saying their family had prayed for me every day of the past eighteen months. This is very humbling. I didn’t deserve it, but so many have pleaded with God for my healing. One little boy was so excited to hear my news that he’d told his school principal! Some hugged me so strongly I was worried my weak lung might cave in!

Last night I spoke of my excellent medical outcomes again. I was introduced with the words: ‘Macca has some great news to tell us.’ It hit me that I should share the best news I have. So I did. I spoke of the news that around 2000 years ago, Jesus died by crucifixion and then rose from the dead, so that all who trust him could have hope of new life for eternity. This is by far the greatest news. And then I spoke of my scan results, and people clapped.

Let me remind you that my hope is not ultimately in NED or remission or cure. My hope is beyond cure. It’s in the news that matters most:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 NIV)

Hope beyond cure

‘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?

19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 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.

What cancer cannot do

cancercannotdoPeople with cancer desperately need hope. They need a hope that’s real, that they can hold on to. They need reason to keep on going. They need inspiration to focus on what really matters. They need encouragement not to be overwhelmed by their circumstances. They need the cancer to get smaller and God to get bigger. If not physically, then at least in their hearts and minds.

Why do I say these things? Because I know them to be true in my own experience. Hope is the power to live and to live well. Lack of hope leads to despair and destruction. If we have genuine hope to offer people, then we have a life-enhancing medicine to share. This little book is such medicine.

What Cancer Cannot Do is designed to be given as a gift to someone who needs it. The inside cover has a page where you can write your and your friend’s names, much like a gift card. It’s an attractive book, full of colour. But the true beauty is found in the words. The book is divided into sections with the following perspectives on cancer:

It cannot cripple God’s love
It cannot shatter hope
It cannot corrode faith
It cannot destroy peace
It cannot kill friendship
It cannot shut out memories
It cannot silence courage
It cannot invade the soul
It cannot steal eternal life
It cannot conquer the spirit

These are words from the hearts of people who have journeyed with cancer. They offer encouragement and hope. They highlight the limitations of cancer. They share people’s stories. Stories of faith and hope and love making a real difference to people’s experience. Every one of the stories concludes with three or four poignant verses from the Bible. Each one is short and engaging. It’s ideal for people who are weak and weary and struggling to concentrate for any length of time. It includes wonderful testimonies like this:

Even if doctors were unable to control the spread of my bone cancer, even if I died, I would still have God’s love and I would spend eternity with him. (p113)

If you know someone who is doing it tough, who is struggling with cancer, who needs some encouragement, and won’t mind you offering the perspective of Christians, then why not get a copy of this little book to give to them? And just so you know, I’ve got a copy already!

Fatigue

fatigueI’ve gone from sleeping 6-7 hours a night for years and years, to needing more than 9 hours a night. Some nights I need 11 or 12 and still wake up feeling tired. This on top of occasional nanna naps in the afternoons. It takes a huge effort in the mornings to open the eyelids and if I don’t get a shower and a coffee then I probably spend the first hour of every day sleep-walking.

No doubt it’s another effect of the chemo and, maybe, the high blood pressure caused by the chemo. It comes with its aches and pains, inability to concentrate, and the frustrations that go with both. I think it’s given me some small insight into how chronic fatigue sufferers might feel. Friends of mine have been struggling with fatigue for years and years. Some have given up any hope of life ever being different. Some are barely able to lift themselves from the bed, and time with family and friends leaves them exhausted. It’s difficult to know how to offer support sometimes, because a visit or phone call can deplete their already limited energy. One friend told me it takes days to recover from half an hour with a well-meaning visitor.

There’s also the difficulty of an illness that people can’t see and very few understand. Just go to bed earlier. Start exercising more. Change your diet. Snap out of it. It’s all in your head. I reckon you’re making it all up. This is some of the helpful advice that people get given. And then there’s often the person with the success story. My friend visited this specialist, started on that diet, discovered acupuncture, went to such and such healing service, moved to the beach… and now everything’s ok.

The reality of this life is that sickness, sadness, and suffering are all part of our experience. We ache and groan as we long for things to be better. But the truth is that things don’t always improve. More often than not they get worse. Old age sees our breakdown and decline. We don’t heal as quickly, illnesses become more complicated, some things become permanent. Our body struggles to recover, our mind isn’t what it used to be, and our spirit eventually loses the will to live. Sometimes it seems like life is one long tragedy. It might start well for some, but it always seems to end badly.

What a pessimistic post! Is this what fatigue does to me?! Let me presume to share a few thoughts with those of you who are struggling with fatigue.

Don’t give up hope. Maybe there will be a change for the better just over the horizon. Perhaps someone will understand what’s causing it. Maybe there is something that will help, even a cure. Keep looking, keep on trying. Pray. Talk to God. Ask God to take away your pain and suffering. Ask friends to pray for you or with you.

When everything feels dark and hopeless, cry out. Let your family and friends know how much it hurts. Ask for help, comfort, love, kindness. And call out to God. Your Father in heaven knows what you need. Maybe God wants you to depend more on him. If it’s not his intention to take away your suffering at this time, then ask him to help you trust in his grace. Ask him to strengthen your trust in his goodness. Ask him to help you draw near to him for comfort, even if he seems so remote.

Are there things you can do in your fatigue? Do your energy levels let you get up from time to time? How can you best fill that time? Is it your family who needs you most? Are you able to encourage others in your weakness? Can you spend time praying for other people? Can you make a list of things that you can do when you’re down and others when you’re up? Have you asked how God can use you in your frailty? Maybe you could brainstorm some ideas or chat to others about this.

But don’t compare yourself with others. “At least there are people who are suffering more than me!” How does that help, really? “Why do I suffer so much when those around me do whatever they please?” Self-pity, jealousy, anger, bitterness will only make things worse. There is one who is well acquainted with suffering, who understands what you are going through, who can help. His name is Jesus. He was betrayed, rejected, beaten, ridiculed, and crucified. He took the punishment we deserve in his body and paid the price. He endured all this in confident hope that God would raise him from the grave, as the first fruits for all who would follow after him.

Focus your hope on the future. Not just for this life, but for eternity. Keep your eyes on Jesus and remember the promise of a day with no more pain, suffering, fatigue or death. As your earthly body decays remember that God has in store a new, complete, and perfect body for all who trust in him. There is hope. God guarantees it!

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
(2 Corinthians 5:1-4)

Journey with Cancer 2 Dec 2012 – What a year!

tilleysTwelve 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.

Suffering well

I’ve got vague memories of reading this book back in January/February this year. This isn’t a slight on the book, because I’ve only got vague memories of doing anything in that period! The early cancer months are something of a blur. Last week I read Suffering Well: the predictable surprise of Christian suffering by Paul Grimmond (again?). It’s a topic I felt I understood pretty well. The suffering bit anyway. Not so sure about the well. It was natural that I’d gravitate towards a book like this, as I’ve felt the last couple of years have been shaped by suffering of many kinds. A life-threatening car accident, cancer, serious illness in hospital, having our dreams of ministry in Darwin dashed. So what is God doing? What am I to learn?

The title sounds like an oxymoron – predictable surprise. And I think it is. It comes as a surprise only if we don’t grasp God’s word on this topic. If we soak ourselves in the Scriptures then there is something very predictable about suffering. God tells us to expect suffering. We live in a world subjected to futility and frustration. It’s been that way ever since the first man and woman decided to try and live without God.

20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  (Romans 8:20-22)

And there’s a specific suffering for those who are following Jesus. We’re warned to expect that we will suffer and be persecuted for our allegiance to Jesus.

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,  (Philippians 1:29)

 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,  (2 Timothy 3:12)

Suffering Well begins by highlighting the prevailing views about suffering and God in Western society. This is the cultural environment in which we experience suffering and it’s the tape that plays in our heads as we grapple with understanding our experiences. It goes something like this:

In our brave new world, suffering means that God is immoral and that Christians are immoral. Our only hope is a world freed from the Christian God, in which humanity invents its own understanding of right and wrong, guided by reason alone.  (p28)

Grimmond calls us to think from the Bible’s perspective about human suffering. He shows that the way to handle suffering well is to see through God’s eyes and to follow Jesus, whatever comes our way.

This book isn’t a theodicy, but it does show us God’s character in the face of suffering. We’re reminded that God is God and doesn’t have to give an account to us. However, God is revealed as a God of justice and a God of mercy. He can be trusted even when we have no specific explanation for our difficult circumstances. God’s character is shown most clearly in his willingness to personally embrace the suffering of our world. God became one of us and experienced the problems of injustice, sickness, death, persecution and betrayal. Jesus took on human sinfulness and paid the ultimate price on the cross, that God might offer us free forgiveness. These famous words reveal a God who can be trusted, even with suffering:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

This books focuses on showing that the New Testament has more to say about suffering for Jesus, than it does with discussing cancer, AIDs, warfare and famine. I found this confronting, as I often find myself focusing more on my sickness than on how I’m being treated as a follower of Jesus. Like many modern Christians, I’m tempted to say that I haven’t experienced much specific Christian suffering or persecution. But the big questions are, ‘What might keep me from persevering as a follower of Jesus?’ ‘Where are the threats to my faith?’ It’s worth contemplating carefully these words:

The great danger for Christians living in the West, is not physical death at the hands of persecutors, but the slow, spiritual death of a thousand tiny compromises, crouched at our door waiting to devour us.  (p97)

Sickness, suffering and death are the realities of our world. Christians will continue to be reviled because they trust in a persecuted, suffering Saviour. The key to suffering well is to keep our eyes focused upon Jesus. He’s the one who died for our sin and who was raised to life to be the ruler of God’s new creation. In Jesus, there is genuine hope for the future – hope for our futures – a future free from all suffering. For those trusting in Jesus, nothing can separate us from sharing in the fulfilment of this hope.

This book pushed me to refocus my thinking about suffering. It said it would – and it succeeded! There are a couple of issues I’d like to see explored further. The first is the link between general suffering in this world and the impact this can have on continuing to trust Jesus. My experience was that the weakness of my body, being confronted by my own mortality, and the feelings of grief and depression, all contributed to a personal crisis of faith in the early months of this year. The second issue is the question of links between specific sin and suffering. I confess to being unsatisfied with most explanations of James 5 and the links between sin, confession and healing, but these can be explored further on another occasion.

Overall, I found this a helpful book. It is full of Scripture and it models the way we should seek to live – by listening to God’s word. It calls us to look to Jesus, to follow him come what may, and to trust God in life and in death.

Whenever suffering comes along – of whatever kind – the right way to deal with it lies in staying true to Christ.  (p112)

You can find this book at Matthias Media.

The garden in the window

  photo[1]  photo

As I lie in bed
I see through my window
our garden of delight
greens and pinks
reds and purples.

Today
drops of water
beading on branches
the sound of rain
trickling through leaves.

Tomorrow
blossom will fall
leaves will wither
beauty will fade.
and death will come.

Long ago
another garden
unlike any other
harmony and perfection
the gift of God.

Generously given
so quickly lost
we knew better
than to listen to God
and now it’s gone.

Through another window
the promise of God
a garden to come
a city of joy
a reason for hope.

The Son will return
coming through clouds
restoring the earth
healing the broken
fulfilling our hope.

Turn to the Son
he gave his life
in exchange for yours
hope for the contrite
of a future redeemed.