In regards to possessions, I am a minimalist. In regards to memories, I am a hoarder. I have dozens of binders of mementos I have collected over the years. If you have written me a letter since I was 15, I probably have it. Today I went through memories from the last 15 years including a journal I wrote when I visited Kenya, letters sent to me while I was in Guyana, random encouraging messages from friends in College, letters from Elizabeth sent to me when I was in India, the programs of both of my paternal grandparent's funerals, and various other odds and ends. As I went through these notes, I could not help but feel overwhelming blessed for all the people God has sent to pour love into my life. And I found this note I wrote I believe shortly after I was in remission.
"When will cancer kill me?
At times, such as this, it's all I can think about. When will it come back? When will it kill me? Will I have kids? Will I get married? Will I graduate from college? High School? Will I live another year? I can't answer these questions, but I have to remember that I probably won't live to be an old man. I have to leave my impact on the world now, because I may not be alive to do it later. This is a reminder."
I've come a long way.
I'm 29 now and cancer has not come back. I have a beautiful wife. I will soon have a kid. I'm a doctor. And I have reason to believe that I might some day become an old man (if you ask some of my patients, I already am). Moreover, I have certainty that I will live eternally with Christ.
These boxes of momentos are a reminder of all the blessing God has bestowed on me. God has enabled me to do so much since cancer, and He has blessed me in ways I don't understand. Most of all, He has helped me to know Him better, to know the power of His resurrection, and the blessing of sharing in His suffering.
This week I got stabbed in the neck 5 times. A few weeks ago, I had an ultrasound to look at my thyroid. I have a couple of nodules, and we needed to get a biopsy. So on Monday, we got the biopsy. Praise the Lord, they are benign lesions. I'll follow up in a year. To be honest, I was not worried about this at all. Compared to the report about our baby, this is nothing, and even if it was malignant, God has given me 14 years since I was diagnosed. I am very blessed to be alive. I will live as long as the Lord has for me to live, and I am not too concerned about my health. Every day is a blessing I do not deserve.
Our repeat ultrasound for the baby was a week ago yesterday. It essentially showed the same thing. The OB/GYN was much more positive, but nonetheless, his conclusion is that we won't know until after the baby is born. So we wait and pray.
This week Elizabeth had to go to the hospital 3 times because of contractions. They ended up giving her an injection of terbutamine to stop them. They have mostly subsided. We will be 34 weeks tomorrow, and are hoping that our baby stays in for a few more weeks. So it goes.
I miss writing. My mind, most days, is so preoccupied with work that I'm not even thinking of anything worth writing about, let alone do I have time to write. I love writing. And I miss it. It is good for me.
I also miss playing soccer...or really any game. I don't love exercising, but I do love sports and could play virtually any sport until I collapse (especially soccer).
So many people are praying for our baby. So many people wished me happy birthday this week. We are very blessed to have many people who love us. As I went through all the comments of encouragement and well wishes people have made, it often brought me to tears. We are so so so blessed to have so many people we love, people from all over the world. As I went through the names, I often thought to myself, "I love [person's name], I miss [him/her]." There are so many people I love, and I have been blessed to meet so many amazing people. I am so blessed.
"And all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28
I'm a year from 30 now. When I was diagnosed, I didn't know if I'd graduate high school. I'm almost 30 now, and according to the long term survivorship doctor I'm seeing here, I should live to be a great-grandfather. I am so blessed. Romans 8:28 has been my anthem for a long time, and it shall continue to be. God used cancer as a blessing in my life. I must not forget how blessed I am to be here. I must not stop worshiping. (Lord, let my every hour be worshiping you).
Of course, this verse applies to all the things I've written above. All my worries, all my stress, it is all going to work together for the good. Baby miracle is no exception. The surprise of Elizabeth becoming pregnant is one of the most amazing and wonderful things that I've experienced in my life. I did not expect it, nor think it was possible. And at the same time, the news we received about our baby's brain has been one of the most crushing. When I think of my child, I am likely to start crying for two separate reasons: the miraculous nature of his/her conception and the terror I feel about his/her health. Yet, God will work this out for His good. And I do not have to worry, for with God, I have already overcome the world. God is good, and He has given me a child, whom I will desperately try to love as my Father loves me. Thank you Lord. Yet knowing these things does not always help...I still worry. My faith is weak. Lord help my unbelief.
Elizabeth and I have stumbled into a new church home. And it is amazing. Pastor Kevin and Pastor Michael are both great men of God. It is unlike any church I've ever been at in that it is exploding. It is only 3 years old, and has 500-600 people coming to it already. The sermons are completely Gospel centered. They are challenging and wonderful. Even more, the community at the Church has welcomed us with open arms. They have already made meals for us, invited us to their houses, and prayed for us and with us. We are truly blessed to be a part of Grace Road. God is doing a great work there, and I'm so excited to be a part of it. God is good. We needed a church for the storms we have been facing, and God helped us find it just in time. He is good.
I am an absurdly sinful human being. Ray Lewis has been both praised and maligned in the last few weeks (decades). Sadly, I found myself judging this man, and pointing my finger at him just like the wife of Wes Welker, who questioned his faith based on his involvement in two murders and the fact that he has children with multiple women. God forgive me (and her), because the entire essence of the Gospel is that if Ray Lewis accepted Christ as His Lord than all of His sins are forgiven. He is no more clean than I am, and neither of us are righteous because we are good. We are both guilty before the Lord, and His grace (and blood) covered that guilt and He became our righteousness. If Ray Lewis is sincere, and he seems to be, then He is my brother. It is just like the story in the Bible of the boss who hired people at different times, including a group 1 hour before the work would end, and then paid them all the same. (Matthew 20, beginning in verse 1). It is also like the story of the prodigal son. I am the elder brother, and I pray God kills the self-righteousness in me. I need grace as much as anyone.
As I've gotten older, I've become more judgmental. Pastor Kevin rightly pointed out that when Christ called out the Pharisees for cleaning the outside of the plates, it was not so much the cleaning he was upset about, but instead their hearts. In essence, they had made up a bunch of standards that were not biblical and treated them as if they were biblical. They had placed things before God and then presented them as if they were from God. I do the same thing. Again, I need (and have) grace.
In all of this meandering rant, the point is this...I need to love more. I want to love God more (who is perfect). I want to love my wife more (who is amazing). I want to love my child more (who is miraculous). I want to love everyone more. The key to loving more is to focus more on God and to rest in Him. For I am so sinful that I am not capable of loving purely, but when I am focused on Him, His love radiates. I want His love to radiate from me. I need to stop trying to be good, and instead be content in being His. The only way to be good is to be His. Lord help me. I know He is.
Residency is hard. I have spoken to a few of my dear friends from medical school, and it seems fairly consistent that at some point or another, most of us in residency want to quit. Often multiple times. We work so many hours. We miss our families. Our job is emotionally taxing, and we don't have time to reflect. Many days it seems I wake up, go to work, eat, sleep, and repeat. There have been several occasions in which I wanted to quit. Not that quitting ever seriously crossed my mind, but instead, I've had low points where the thought crossed my mind. I understand my wife's struggles while she was completing her residency so much better now. My passion is not medicine. It is not even pediatrics. My passion is the Gospel. My entire adult life I've been able to juggle many things at once. I never just did school. I always had a number of other projects going on, whether working with the Invisible Children, with my church, Christian Medical and Dental Association, or other random things. Now work consumes my life. I find it hard to find time to read the scripture, and most of the time when I read it I'm exhausted. My prayer life has suffered. And often, I feel far away from God, and what He has called me too. Yet in all of this, I am where God wants me to be. I am blessed to have a job. This is only for a season. Nonetheless, this does not make it any easier, and I pray become better at seeking God where I am, even when I am busy.
Throughout most of my life, I have been able to keep in touch with many dear people I love. My time is so limited now, that I am struggling to keep in touch with the most dear people in my life. This too is a struggle, and one I must just turn over to God.
"Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God," 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
It feels as if I have been here before...shocked, overwhelmed, and afraid. And while cancer was scary, this is altogether worse. God knows that over the last two days I have prayed irrational, desperate prayers, that God would allow my cancer to return and let my child be healthy, that He would take my life and cure my child. Yet, I am more ready for this now than when I was fifteen. For I have seen the hands of my Redeemer. I have seen Him turn my affliction to a blessing. I have seen the God of all comfort use my disease to help others, and God has enabled me to share the story on 4 continents. I have seen His healing hands, working in my body and my soul. I know God. I trust Him. He is loving and good. He is my best friend. He is the Holy Creator of all creation. As Job said, "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the Earth." Job 19:25
And so we wait. We wait for the MRI. Then we wait to see how our child will be affected. We wait. And we trust God. We pray not just for healing, but for His will to be done, and that He give us the strength to accept it. Ultimately, I know that Romans 8:28 is true. God works all things out for the good. That does not mean that this is good. It does not mean that it is His will, but it means that if we love God, He will make even the fires of life into blessings. As God used cancer as a blessing, He will use this. And perhaps, just maybe He is using it now. For the Gospel we preach is a Gospel of love, that God sent His own Son to live and to die for our sins, and also one of hope, that that Son did not stay dead. He is alive. The hope of Christianity is that we have hope. No amount of suffering could exceed the blessing we have waiting for us. Heaven is real. Some day we will go there. I cannot wait.
God's hands are already on this. While we tried to change my schedule to move this easy rotation to closer to the due date, it did not work out. And I imagine, it did not work out because God knew I needed to be with Elizabeth this weekend. Sean Frey, my chief resident, called me on Thursday night to tell me I had the day off on Friday, and God enabled Elizabeth and I to cry together. Moreover, God gave me time to read the book of Deuteronomy and to think about the love of God throughout all history.
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates." Deuteronomy 6:4-9
There is much I do not know about my child. I do not know if it is a he or a she. I do not know the color of it's hair or eyes. I don't know if he/she will be able to read. I do not know if he/she will be wheelchair bound. But I know this, I will love my child, and I will talk to my child about the Lord every day. God will be glorified through this. To God be the glory, great things He hath done!
My dad wrote this after finding out that our child is believed to be missing part of his/her brain- the corpus callosum. My wife writes more about it here: http://unshakeablekingdom.xanga.com/771028816/giving-and-taking-away/
By Tim Helm:
The widow of Zarepeth
Living with miracles can be a wearing proposition. If God does a good thing, then the doctors warn that there is something wrong with this good thing, this miracle God has done, then why was the miracle in the first place, and what do we believe concerning the work of God? Is it fallible? Did He mess up? What’s going on?
The lesson in Scripture is the death of the widow of Zarepheth’s son. In that story, God does a notable miracle with the oil and the meal that did not run out during the famine the Lord created by allowing Elijah to stop the rain from falling on Israel. Then, in the midst of receiving the continuing blessing of food, the boy died. When Elijah came, sent by the Lord, the widow had only enough oil and meal to make one last cake for herself and her son, then she was prepared to wait for the two of them to starve to death. During the miracle, in which death had been averted, death arrived.
That’s an interesting idea, during the miracle. It didn’t just happen one day, but for many, many days. Then the boy whose life had been saved by the miracle died. The widow accused Elijah of coming to remind her of her sin by killing her son. During the miracle, she was reminded of her sin by the death of one who benefitted from the continuing miracle.
Why save his life to kill him, if sin was the reason for his death? Why create a child when it wasn’t possible to conceive a child, then strike the blessing with a curse? Or was it a curse? What sin did the woman remember that could offset an ongoing miracle with death? It must have been a bad one.
But when Jesus was asked who had sinned, the man born blind or his parents, Jesus replied that it was neither of their sins, but so the Power of God could be revealed.
Elijah asked the Lord if He had brought this tragedy on the widow by causing her son to die, then he lay full length upon the child three times, finally crying out for the Lord to return the boy’s life to him, and the boy revived, or was resurrected. Some people argue there is a difference in those terms, implying that maybe the dead was only nearly dead, like in the Princess Bride. Nope, dead is dead. This wasn’t a healing, it was a resurrection.
Elijah gave the boy back to his mother, and she declared that now she knew Elijah really was a man of God, and that God’s Word from his mouth was true.
Wow. The ongoing miracle had not convinced her. She was only convinced when she received her son alive, back from the dead. That is a hard sell.
Three times Elijah laid on the boy before he cried out for the Lord to return his life. Maybe Elijah didn’t really believe it, either. He did what he knew, or thought he knew, and it didn’t work at first. How did he know to do that? Why didn’t it work at first? Was it the laying on or the crying out that resulted in the resurrection?
We aren’t told why it happened, except that the Lord was providing for Elijah with a miracle. It was God’s will that Elijah survive the drought and the famine, and defeat the priests of Ba’al with another extreme miracle of God, but then because of a threat from a defeated woman, Elijah ran away.
What a curious story. What should have been accomplished was not accomplished, and out of fear or discouragement or something, Elijah ran away after seeing fire fall the sky and killing all the priests of Ba’al, because the King’s wife threatened his life.
He had seen the boy’s life returned to him. Life is in the Lord’s hands, not the enemies. He had been fed by ravens, and then seen the same meal and oil baked over and over for years, and he ran away. He had won the victory, but he despaired.
And that’s it. He had won the victory, but didn’t believe it.
He had experienced God’s miracle, and seen life returned beyond death, and despaired.
And that is us. In the midst of blessing and peace, we feel inadequate and unable to do what we want to do in God’s kingdom, and our own sin looms out of the past, or out of the moment before, or even in the moment we’re in, and suddenly the miracle folds up and flops into the trash, and everything we know is defeated because we do the same thing Elijah did, and the same thing Peter did when he got out of the boat and walked on the water. He took his eye off Jesus. Elijah looked at what hadn’t happened, and let it overwhelm him. Peter looked at the thing he was doing, and forgot he could do it. But he couldn’t do it, but he was doing it. Did he ever try to do it again? Oh, no he didn’t. He knew he couldn’t do it, he just knew he had done it.
And he was right. He couldn’t do it, but he had done it.
Paul had a thorn in the flesh. He prayed three times for the Lord to take it away, until the Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul raised a guy from the dead. I believe God raised Paul from the dead. He carried Paul to heaven and showed him things he couldn’t even talk about. But that power needed weakness to be as totally powerful as it could be, because Paul couldn’t raise himself from the dead, and it wasn’t Paul whose power raised the other from the dead, it was the Lord. Physician, heal thyself. But no, God needed Paul to know he hadn’t promised him he wouldn’t suffer, or that He would automatically do everything Paul put on the prayer list. Paul was not such a good fellow on his own that God couldn’t do without him. And none of us is. We need God, but the opposite is not true. God loves us, but He doesn’t need us.
He lets us participate. When the widow’s son died, her sin didn’t kill him, and her repentance didn’t bring him back to life. God did that for her because he needed to remind Elijah, “Hey dude, you are just the messenger. I’m doing this stuff for you and through you, not by you.”
That is the way our walk with Jesus is. He’s doing stuff, we either participate or we don’t. We need to remember that the Word of God from our mouths is true. We don’t make it true, and we don’t give it power. He told us to believe and to declare, and that His Word would not come back void. He will accomplish all that is in His will to accomplish.
So in the first place God did the miracle because He loves us. When and if things go wrong, according to our understanding, does not mean He is fallible, or that he stopped paying attention and something bad happened. He didn’t mess up.
His Word is true. His mercy is everlasting. He is able to keep that we have committed unto Him against that day, and any other day. Everything isn’t going to be perfect. There will be pain, and we will suffer, but not because He has stopped our miracle.
Elijah won the victory and ran away. Christ won our victory, and He did not run away. He is here, now, and will not run away later on.
So, remember He is faithful, He is able, and don’t run away from Him, but always run to Him, knowing His way is best. Because it is.
I don’t even know how to write this. I’ve been deleting words faster than typing them for the last hour as I tried unsuccessfully to communicate the immense thankfulness I feel. And to be honest, my words cannot communicate my gratitude appropriately. I’m not that good of a writer.
So instead of trying to phrase it perfectly (or decently), I’m just going to type what is going on in my heart. Thirteen years ago, I had an implantable IV placed under my skin so that I could be accessed more easily to administer chemotherapy. My adversary was stage IV Hodgkin’s, and cynical but realistic questions polluted my mind: Was I going to die? Would I ever graduate from high school? Would I ever fall in love? Get married? Have a child? After 8 months of chemotherapy, and one month of radiation my treatment ended. Shortly after being told I was in remission, a physician who specialized in reproductive science informed me that the chemotherapy had rendered me sterile, and I would not be able to have children by natural means. I was 16 when I found out that I could not have children.
Romans 8:28 reads, “All things work for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”
This verse has become my anthem. For whether God gave me cancer or allowed it, I have no doubt that He has used it in my life to guide me to medicine in order to help others who are suffering. Yet, even more than this God used cancer to help me to know Him. Through cancer, God became more than just a Savior. He is my Savior. He is also my Best Friend and the sovereign Lord. I know Him better because of cancer, so I am thankful, and shall remain thankful for all eternity that I endured this struggle.
Yet, through God’s great love and mercy, I not only survived cancer, I have thrived ever since. And I do not believe that God’s abundance is the same as the world’s. That is, I don’t think God cares to make Christians rich or successful as the world defines wealth or success, for truthfully, Christ is the most valuable treasure there is, and all who know Him are rich and successful in the only way that matters. Nonetheless, since my affliction, God has blessed me and blessed me and blessed me, answering prayer after prayer, and sometimes blessing me in ways I never dreamed of praying.
Consider the last six months in which I became a doctor, I convinced a beautiful, amazing, intelligent, and faithful woman to marry me (and I got her to sign the papers), I moved from Arkansas to New York, I started pediatric residency, and last but not least, I found out that I am going to be a dad.
Oh my God. Why are You so good to me? Oh my God. Why are You so good?
This morning, I sat by my wife in a clinic and watched my baby kick on a monitor screen. His/Her Uncle J.P. explained, “Sweet! It must be trying to play soccer.” Whatever my child is doing, it is doing it because my God is a God who works miracles. He is a God who is faithful and true. He is a God who is good and whose love endures forever. He is the God of all creation, the sovereign Lord of the Universe. He is my Savior. He is my friend. This child is not my child. It is His. And I am so thankful that He has entrusted me with the child. God is so good. I am so blessed.