Saturday, February 9, 2013

The News Got Worse

"Life Insurance." What a peculiar term. It's supposed to convey the security of provision for loved ones when you die. But wouldn't that really be called "Death Insurance?" If it were called "Death Insurance", though, who would buy it?

I grew up believing in another kind of life insurance. It was based on the genetic makeup and lifestyle choices of each individual. That kind of life insurance had smiled upon our family; at least I thought it did. My paternal grandparents each lived to be 81 years old. My grandpa stopped smoking just a few years before he died, having accumulated decades of unfiltered Camel smoke in his lungs; still he lived over fourscore years. My maternal grandpa died young, but with an ailment that would have been treated and cured quickly given today's medical advancements. My maternal grandmother lived to age 90. On top of that, my parents' siblings all enjoyed good health and seemed destined to equal or surpass their parents' longevity.

Add to those long-life genes, my parents were both quite healthy. They worked hard, ate food they raised on their farm and were free of the vices that often negatively impact health. Now that's "Life Insurance!" I grew up believing that we were almost invulnerable to the problems that cut many lives short.

Until the day it all came crashing down.

It was 1986. Dad got tired of fighting off the discomfort caused by an obvious gall bladder problem and went to the doctor. Sure enough, that gall bladder needed to come out. The doctor, though, recommended that dad get a full physical examination. His last physical was when he got out of the Army Air Corps right after WWII. "I guess everyone should have a physical every 40 years," my dad joked. He and my mom had no way of knowing what was about to be revealed. This would lead to series of phone calls, each with information that would rock our world.

It's hard to believe, but no one had cell phones in 1986. We hadn't heard of texting. Long distance calls, though frequent in the business world, were sparse for most families: the cost was just too high. Calls in the daytime were even more expensive, and usually were made because something significant needed to be said. "The doctor found lumps on my prostate when he examined me," my dad said that spring day. "What does that mean?" I asked, anxiety creeping into my voice. "It could be cancer," came the reply, "but they need to do a biopsy to find out. Please pray!"

Full of hope for God's intervention, we started praying. At the time, I couldn't quite believe that my healthy dad could possibly have cancer. Not him. We had no cancer in the family that I could recall. Surely this would be some benign "thing" that was growing, but not the "C word." Then the news got worse...

A few days later, mom and dad called again. My heart was pumping and I was again full of hope that this would be the good news to erase the earlier tidings. "Son, I have prostate cancer." My world felt like it was crashing down. Emotionally, I was grabbing for hope like Frodo grabbing for Sam as he dangled over the flowing lava of Mt. Doom. "What does that mean, dad?" "I need to have a bone scan," he replied. "If the cancer hasn't spread, we can talk about removing it or treating it. Please pray." Now we had a new prayer target; again I pressed into hope as I sought the help of God. "Surely," I thought, "this will be the point where we discover that this isn't really so bad. Then they can treat it and the news would be optimistic again." It wasn't.

The last daytime, long-distance call permanently changed our lives. "The cancer has spread to my bones. The treatment will slow it down, but they can't stop it." Fear and doubt hung in the air as I asked, "What does that mean, dad?" I wanted to know what I didn't want to know: how long could we expect my dad to live? The doctor told him that some men lived for ten more years at this stage; some lived far less. What would happen to my dad?

We walked through that season when the news got worse every call. Dad underwent the gall bladder surgery that started the whole thing; he recovered at a rate that amazed even the medical community. As he struggled with the emotional trauma of his cancer, he had a long talk with God one night and settled it. He would trust God with his health, even as he spoke to others about what Christ had done to heal his soul and change his life when he was a young man. That prayerful time changed something deep within my dad From then on, he lived with such joy that a rumor started in their town; some thought he had been healed. He was healed! Four years later he left the pain of this world and entered heaven.



Thursday, February 7, 2013

Kisses of Hope

"Your tests came back positive for cancer. Your Gleason Score is..." Those two sentences change a man's life. I know. I heard them last September.

The moderately aggressive prostate cancer which we discovered was growing in my body caused us to end 2012 in a way we couldn't have imagined as the year started. (I will write more in the coming days about our journey through diagnosis, surgery and recovery.) I was just back to full strength at Christmas when, surrounded by our children and grandchildren, I unwrapped a special gift -- a book -- from Cathy. The book, Kisses From A Good God, by Paul Manwaring, was one of those rare finds that she couldn't pass up. Manwaring, I discovered, is a fellow pastor. Books by pastors are everyday events in my life, but this one fit like an old glove. "Kisses" is the story of a pastor whose aggressive prostate cancer took him on an unexpected journey. What he found on that trail is something that would help anyone struggling with serious illness: God is GOOD! No matter what the circumstances nor how severe the prognosis, God is good!

Page by page, I felt a kinship with Paul (I shall use his first name the rest of this post since, I believe, that is how we would address each other if we were acquainted) as he described his initial shock and accompanying fear. I welled up with joy as he found his first great reason to stay alive: he would see a grandson born! No grandson was on the way, and this would be the first time in Paul's awareness to have three generations of Manwarings alive at the same time. It was that early step of faith and hope that launched Paul through the surgery, including serious post-op complications. Today he is back into a full life of growing intimacy with God, enjoyment of his family (including the new grandson!) and active ministry at Bethel Church in Redding, California.

Paul Manwaring dealt with the frontal attack that is prostate cancer. Though the physical attack is serious and sometimes deadly, the attack on the soul and the spirit can be even more devastating. In the book, Paul describes those enemies one by one, then tells how God helped him face them. Fear had to be conquered early on. Then he had to face the criticism that comes from people who may mean well, but who add condemnation to the mix. Paul walked through his doubts and, finally, discusses a shame he felt over this type of cancer. He concludes the book with a joyful awareness that he needed to re-sign; to sign up again for life yet to be lived. I identified with the questions about my mortality and loved his victory chapter.

For those who enjoy stretching your mind through Biblical exegesis, Paul has some profound teaching from the life of Job. Near the end he opens a treasure regarding the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son that is worth the price of the book. One warning, though: Paul is from "Full Gospel" perspective and some of his experiences may make an evangelical brain go "Tilt!" I spend significant time with friends who are pentecostal/charismatic and one of his stories was over the edge even for me.

Countless books address the subject of cancer. I'm so glad my wife found this one! I hope it might help you, too.

*I wasn't compensated for this review.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Won't you be my neighbor?


They were my neighbors for a day. The four men from Crossroads Mission came highly recommended to help me move many tons of river rock and decomposed granite from my carport and spread it in my back yard. They lived up to their recommendation. The work was hard and the hours wore on.

We stopped for breaks, but they wanted to quickly get back to work. We stopped for lunch which gave me a chance to get acquainted with the men. Each of them had a story of life on the road; life without a home. Somewhere out there they all had lived another life prior to their homelessness. None of them wallowed in self pity; all of them worked...hard!

At the end of the job I paid each of them, trying to be as generous as my heart was grateful for their work. On the way back to the mission, they asked if we could stop at a store. They all had something they wanted to stock up on. I remember that one of them wanted milk. When I dropped them off, I knew I would probably not see them again in this life. I'm convinced, however, based on their stories, that I will see some (if not all) of them in heaven.

For those men, that day with me was just one in a long string of day labor jobs. For me, it was life-changing. While they spent a day in my neighborhood, my heart spent a day in theirs.

Who is your neighbor? What can you learn by spending time with him or her?