Good Wig Hunting and More Testing (Sep 17th)

Hello from Houston and Dallas.

From Houston
Ann had a good week this week and is regularly encouraged by emails, cards, and phone calls. She is well cared for by her new friends, but misses being home with us. She is completing her first of two weeks of “rest” between chemo treatments. She has felt well physically and only had slight nausea on a few days. Ann handled her MRI courageously and without incident.

The highlight of the week was the visit by two friends from the neighborhood who brought Hannah. They spent the weekend with Ann and visited the beach in Galveston for a bit. Most importantly, they accompanied Ann on her successful hunt for a wig—a task for which I am not well suited.

I will return to Houston Thursday evening and we meet with the doc¬tor on Friday to learn the results of the MRI and bone scans. The kids will join us on Friday evening or Saturday morning. Everyone is genuinely looking forward to the family reunion.

From Dallas
Hannah had a MRI on her knee on Wednesday. Drew had a blood test for his liver on Thursday (It’s okay!); he visits the cardiologist on Monday. Paul had a bone marrow biopsy on Friday. Please pray for Matt.

I stayed home from Houston this weekend to rest my heart.

Plays of the Week

  •  Joan, Laurie, and Hannah visiting Ann and helping her bag an awe-some wig.
  • Meals, groceries, gift cards, and airline tickets from family, friends, neighbors, and soccer moms.
  • Going to breakfast with each of the kids prior to their doctor’s appoint¬ments.

Prayer Requests

  • That the results of Ann’s MRI and bone scans would confirm that the cancer has not spread to her bones.
  • That the results of the kids’ tests would be negative and no follow up would be required.
  • That Howard’s heart (figuratively and physically) would stay strong.
  • That God would heal Ann so that she would live to know her grandchildren.

1 Corinthians 10:13
“No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others.
And God is faithful:
He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear,
but with the trial will also provide a way out
so that you may be able to endure it” (NET, emphasis mine).

Somehow believing that his Word is true.


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Separation Anxiety, Part 2 (Sep 10th)

We are back at M.D. Anderson this evening as Ann is receiving her fourth and final chemo infusion for this first cycle. She returns tomorrow evening to receive a high-priced neulasta shot, which will help rebuild her immune system. Thankfully, Ann will also get to leave her “back pack” behind tomorrow night. (She has been carrying one of her “medicines” with her in order for it to drip continuously for seventy-two hours.) She will then have two weeks off before another cycle starts.

Ann continues to do remarkably well. For the most part she has not had any nausea. She is just kind of tired. We are so thankful for your passionate and persistent prayers.

I will make the four-hour trip back to Dallas in the morning and head straight to work. I hope to eat dinner with the kids tomorrow evening. I will return Friday afternoon with at least one of the kids.

Ann is in great hands here in Houston. We are staying with old friends that we just met. A neighbor will run Ann to M.D. Anderson for her blood work every other day.

Plays of the Day

  •  A third grader in our host’s Sunday school class spontaneously sug-gested that her classmates bring their spare change next week to help us with parking expenses at M.D. Anderson.
  • Our home Bible study group in Dallas prayed with us over the phone at the start of their meeting. We could not travel this road without their love and support.

Prayer Requests

  •  That Ann will be emotionally strong while separated from the kids and me.
  • That Howard will be patient with the kids this week, even though tired.
  • That Ann will be emotionally prepared for the MRI on Wednesday and that there will be no sign of cancer in her bones.
  • That God will heal Ann so that she can know her grandchildren.

Psalm 103:2-5
“Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits―
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (emphasis mine).

Thanks for all of the cards and emails. We may not have a chance to answer them, but know that they are a great encouragement to us. Thanks especially for your prayers.


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Praise You in This Storm

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Our family traveled to Colorado again that July for our annual hiking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. We always enjoyed fleeing the concrete and congestion of Dallas to enjoy the majesty of the mountains, while hiking our legs off.

Our custom was to spend at least an evening mulling around the fun shops in the picturesque town of Estes Park. I wasn’t into shopping that night and was worn out from hiking, so I opted to head back to the minivan ahead of everyone else. I turned on the stereo while waiting for the gang and listened to “Praise You in This Storm,” a song that Paul had just introduced to Ann earlier on the trip.

I’ll praise You in this storm.
And I will lift my hands,
For You are who You are,
No matter where I am.

Every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand.
You never left my side.

And though my heart is torn,
I will praise You in this storm.

I wept as I heard these words for the first time. It’s funny what goes through your head in certain moments. I remember thinking something like,

“Wow! What an awesome song.
It totally describes what we have already been through.
More than eight years of seminary.
Next my heart attack.
Then Ann’s mysterious illness.

Wow! It’s been tough.
I’m so glad it’s all behind us.”


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The Finish Line

We knew that seminary would be a strenuous marathon and we willingly accepted the challenge because of the significance of the prize. The intense study of the Bible would better equip us to teach his Word, hope¬fully to pastors in Asia who had less access to biblical tools and re-sources.

We were able to survive the grind and exhaustion of the last years of school precisely because we could see the finish line. Each class, each book and each paper completed took us a step closer to the finish.

The occasion finally came when I only had one assignment left. I had gotten up early to study, as I usually did on Saturday mornings, and this time had biscuits and gravy at Braum’s. As Ann often did, she “stalked” me that morning and joined me for a bit where I was studying. Of course she recorded that special occasion with a couple of pictures, as she often did.

How Long?
What would you do if you signed up to run a marathon, and then when you finally reached the finish line, discovered that you would be required to complete a biathlon, and quite possibly a triathlon? And that the dis-tance to the second finish line was indeterminable? And that second finish line might literally be death? And if death, then a third, painful race with grief would follow?

How would you prepare for such a race? How could you?


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Does Prayer Make a Difference?

God had a plan and that plan was set in motion by Hannah’s impassioned prayer for a son. Hannah didn’t submissively pray, “Help me be content with my barrenness.” She didn’t simply ask for a child, whether boy or girl. She specifically asked God to give her a baby boy.

When Eli sobered up to what was happening, he encouraged Hannah with these words (1:17):

“Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the request [i.e. “the thing asked for”] that you have asked of him” (NET, emphasis and explanation mine).

Eli didn’t chide her for making an unreasonable request. He didn’t say, “If it is God’s will…” He confirmed Hannah’s brokenhearted prayer by saying, “May God say ‘Yes!’ to your request for a son.”

When Hannah conceived and gave birth to a baby boy, she confirmed the reason for her newfound fertility with these words (1:20):

“Because I have asked him of the LORD” (NASB, emphasis mine).

When Hannah weaned Samuel and gave him to Eli, she reminded the priest of her vow (1:27):

“I prayed for this boy, and the LORD has given me the request [i.e. “the thing asked for”] that I asked of him” (NET, emphasis and explanation mine).

In typical Hebrew fashion, the storyteller repeats specific words to make his point clear. And what was his point in this story? Samuel was given to Hannah, who then gave him to Eli, because Hannah had asked God for a son.

What Difference?
prayer made all the difference in the world to Hannah, and it made all the difference in her world. Even more significantly, her prayer made all the difference in Israel’s national history.

As heretical as it may sound, I believe that if Hannah had not prayed, Samuel would not have been born.

Now, I do believe that God is sovereign and that he has a specific purpose for giving us life. Of course I agree with Jeremiah that God’s plan for us is formed before we are even conceived. But I also believe that God responds to prayer and that certain things do happen because we pray and that certain things do not happen because we do not pray.

This position makes us uncomfortable because we assume—in the Western world—that two conflicting beliefs cannot both be true at the same time. It must be either one or the other. As a former anal retentive accountant I prefer everything to be neatly lined up as either a debit or a credit. However, if we are honest with the scriptural evidence we must leave this unreconciled. God is sovereign and yet prayer impacts history. It is a mystery.

This position also causes us discomfort because of the significant responsibility it places squarely on our shoulders. If prayer really plays a part in bringing God’s plan to fruition, then perhaps we ought to pray more passionately for his kingdom to come and his will to be done in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

What a Difference!
Likewise, I believe that prayer absolutely made a difference in our Hannah’s life. If Ann had not prayed from her desperate, broken heart, then we would not have a girl named Hannah (and a boy named Matt).

Sometime after God said, “Yes!” to Ann’s asking, she framed one of Hannah’s baby pictures with these words written underneath:

“I prayed for this child,
and the LORD has granted me
what I asked of him” (1 Samuel 1:27).


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Why Do We Pray?

The narrator continues Hannah’s story by describing a specific pilgrimage to Shiloh one year. Hannah, shattered by the pain and sick of the taunting, poured out her broken heart before the Lord. In typical Hebrew fashion the storyteller paints a vivid picture with this simple sentence (1:10):

“In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD.”
Let’s chew on those words a bit:

  • Bitterness of soul. Not a mild desire, but a gut-wrenching, throbbing pain in the depths of her soul.
  • Wept much. Not an occasional tear, but a sobbing, wailing flood.
  • Prayed to the LORD. Not passive resignation, but urgent pleading and begging.

The narrator continues his portrait (1:12-13):

“As she kept on praying to the LORD…
Hannah was praying in her heart,
and her lips were moving
but her voice was not heard.”

It wasn’t a quick, half-hearted prayer. She didn’t worry about finding the proper words. She didn’t seek a formula to guarantee her answer. She didn’t lazily parrot a memorized prayer.

She prayed from her heart and in her heart. She simply and honestly bared her soul to the Lord.

Where’d It Come From?
Where did this type of heart-felt prayer come from?

Eli, the priest at Shiloh, studied Hannah from his rocking chair on the porch of the Lord’s house. As a pastor with great sensitivity, he was keenly aware of the Spirit’s stirrings and was deeply empathetic for those in his flock. So, he compassionately encouraged Hannah with these words (1:14):

“How long will you keep on getting drunk?
Get rid of your wine!”

Can you feel what those words did to Hannah’s broken heart?

Imagine that you are so broken by your circumstances that you’re incapable of even verbalizing your prayer. Perhaps there’s been an accident and your child is in the ICU. You’re out of options and without any hope, so you decide to go downstairs to the chapel to beg for God’s intervention. After a bit the hospital’s chaplain comes in. He quickly sizes up the situation and blurts, “Get out of my chapel, you drunken slut!”

The irony of Eli’s insensitive accusation is that Hannah had just vowed that, if God would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord as a Nazirite. In ancient Israel a Nazirite was a person who made a voluntary vow to abstain from these three things for a specified period of time:

  • No haircuts.
  • No contact with a dead body. Not even if your father or mother dies.
  • No wine or strong drink. Nothing from the grape vine, including grapes, raisins, skin or seeds. Not even grape juice.

Hannah had just vowed in prayer—on behalf of her yet-to-be-given son—that he would never even take a sip of Welch’s grape juice, let alone enjoy a glass of wine or a cold beer. Not just for a specified period of time, but for his entire life. And Eli accused her of being drunk.

Where It Came From
Where did Hannah’s heart-felt prayer come from?
She shouldn’t have had to, but Hannah graciously explained her behavior to that priest. She replied to his taunt with this further description of her pain (1:15-16):

“Not so, my lord…I am a woman who is deeply troubled.
I have not been drinking wine or beer;
I was pouring out my soul to the LORD.
Do not take your servant for a wicked woman;
I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

Unlike Eli, Ann understood Hannah’s pain and found validation and comfort in her story.

Joann also would understand Hannah’s pain. Her husband, Kyle, and I graduated from seminary together, after which they returned to Indiana to help pastor a church. They had been trying to have children for a number of years but couldn’t get pregnant. They then chose to adopt a baby from inner city Chicago. We met them at Cheddar’s about a year after graduation when they returned to Dallas for a visit. I still can see Joann’s tears as she recounted how they lost their baby after the birth-mother opted out of the agreement. Unable to have children and now unsuccessful at adopting. Through her tears she lamented, “I just want to be a mom.”

Any woman who has ached for a child would understand Hannah. Like Marilyn, who miscarried her first baby when Ann was pregnant with Paul, our first baby. Like my friend and co-worker Diane who miscar¬ried more than a dozen babies and is still childless. Or Mary Sue, whose son was killed by cancer, leav¬ing his young wife a widow and his young children fatherless. Or Frank and Jeannine, whose son was killed in Iraq the day before he was scheduled to come home.

Why did Hannah, Ann, Joann and these other women passionately pray? Because they wanted to become a mom to a new baby or because they wanted to continue being a mom to the child they already had.

Our Heart’s Cry
Why did they pray? Because each woman listened to the cry of her heart and then cried out to her Father.
Ignatius, who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1540, wrote various guidelines to teach the Jesuit missionaries how to pray. One remarkable guideline was, “Ask God our Lord for what [you] want and desire.”

Jesus confirms the guideline with these words,

“If you remain in me
And my words remain in you,
Ask whatever you wish,
And it will be given to you” (John 15:7, emphasis mine).

If you read the rest of my story, you’ll know that I am not saying—and cannot say—that God answers all legitimate prayers.

But what I am saying is this: don’t ever discount the cry of your heart. God may be working in your heart, through your circumstances, to bring about his sovereign plan.


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Why Pray if the Odds are Against Us?

In one of her journal entries, Ann honestly asked this reasonable question, “Why pray?”

In other words:

  • If the odds are against us, why should we pray? What good does it really do?
  • Why should we keep praying if we have continually prayed but have never received an answer?
  • Why should we ever pray again if we asked a legitimate request, but God said, “No!”?
  • If God is sovereign and has our life planned, why should we pray? What difference does it really make?

On the other hand, if our prayer was “answered,” what does this really indicate?

  • Was the answer in fact just a mere coincidence?
  • Would it have happened anyway, since it was a part of God’s sovereign plan?
  • Or did the prayer really change the outcome of a situation?

In other words, does prayer make any difference at all?

Hannah
There was a desperate, broken-hearted woman in ancient Israel who believed that it did. Her name was Hannah and her story, found in the beginning chapters of 1 Samuel, instructs us in these next several vi-gnettes.

Hannah was married to a godly man named Elkanah, but she was unable to bear him children (1:2). The narrator twice indicates, “The LORD had closed her womb” (1:5, 6).

Now, Hannah knew that Elkanah loved her, even though she was infertile. He regularly and tangibly expressed his love through generous gifts (1:5).

However, Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, had no issues with fertility. She provided her husband with children, while her rival wife could not (1:2). And to make matters worse, Peninnah continually and callously reminded Hannah that she was childless (1:6). She taunted Hannah year after year after year (1:7).

The tension and pain eventually became so great that Hannah would refuse to eat or drink when the family made their annual pilgrimages to the house of God in Shiloh (1:7). She would just weep in her pain.

Elkanah, being a husband of great sensitivity, asked his broken-hearted wife, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons (1:8)?” In other words, “Accept your circumstances so we can get on with our life.”

Reliving the Past
I’ve thought a lot about Elkanah’s response to Hannah’s pain and my reaction to Ann’s during the more than seventeen months that she strug¬gled with our three miscarriages. I was impa¬tient with her emotions and in-sensitive to her grief. I was tired of her crying all the time and frus¬trated that she took her pain out on the two boys and one husband that God had already given to her.

I’ve thought a lot about Ann’s pain, as I’ve re-read her journals with eyes sensitized by my own grief. I’ve concluded that if I could relive one period of my life, I’d probably choose that deep valley of our miscarriages. Not because I would relish the pain, but because I’d like to walk differ¬ently with Ann. I’d be more forgiving of her emotions and less insensitive to her pain. I’d passionately team with her in her request for another baby and I’d cheer her relentless tenacity in prayer. We’d honestly wrestle together with the tough questions of life and I wouldn’t offer standard Christian answers. Most of all I’d encourage her to cling to God’s charac¬ter in spite of what her circumstances screamed.


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Prayer for Hannah

Ann’s last entry in this journal was written about thirteen months after her first one. She surrendered her will to her Father’s, but she never quit pray¬ing for another baby. Honestly, passionately and persistently she prayed.

May 19, 1993
I may be pregnant and I’m scared to death.
I’m angry because I had decided to go to another doctor and now I’m not sure what to do.

My feelings are so overwhelming.
I know God is bigger than this.
I know he’s in control.
But I don’t want any more pain and hurt.

The odds are against me.
It is so overwhelming.
Why should this time be any different?
My heart is so heavy.

I guess, Lord, I wanted to be able to go to a doctor and find some answers.
Am I getting mad with myself for not moving faster?

Lord, I trust you.
I know you can do the impossible, but why should you?
The fear is overwhelming me. I’m taking it out on everyone.
With the boys.
With Howard.
Lord, I need your strength. I need your help.

If I’m pregnant, I pray the doctor would be concerned and he would take action and do something.

Hannah
This time there was no miscarriage. A healthy Hannah was born eight months later on a cold January day in Des Moines, with temperatures that had plummeted to 17 degrees below zero.
God answered Ann’s broken-hearted prayer.


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Surrendering but Not Giving Up

Ann honestly wrestled the tension between her intense desire to have another baby and her unwavering commitment to accept God’s plan and sovereignty. Knowing and trusting in God’s character allowed Ann to yield her life into his hands.

July 1, 1992
The other day I prayed and acknowledged that I could accept not having another baby.
My heart truly meant that.
At that point my emotions followed.

Yesterday and today my emotions don’t follow.
My heart still says that it’s ok.
My emotions cry out and say I want another baby.

Thank you, Father, that you understand.
Today you gave me the grace to live and accept what you are doing in my life.
You are near to the broken-hearted.

September 16, 1992
Thank you, God, for your goodness.
For all you have done. For who you are.
You are loving, forgiving, kind, merciful, wise, giving.
You did not spare your own son.

I want another baby.
Then I have these thoughts:
that I’m not a good enough mother…
that I yell at the boys too much…
So I won’t get another one.

That is wrong thinking about you.

Give me strength in my emotions.
Thank you for who you are.


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Is God Our Adversary?

Less than a year after the unemployment adversity, I had the opportunity to teach a series of lessons from the book of Ruth to our Sunday school class. As is often the case, God instructed me as I prepared to teach his Word.

I discovered from chapter one that:

  • Tragedy robbed Naomi of her future, leaving her vulnerable as a widow and alien (1:1-5).
  • Naomi correctly recognized God’s unfailing love in his provision for Israel (1:6-7).
  • Naomi correctly prayed for God’s unfailing love and provision for Ruth and Orpah, her daughters-in-law (1:9).
  • Naomi incorrectly believed that God’s love had failed her because she was judging God’s character by her circumstances (1:13).
  • Naomi incorrectly believed that her calamity was the result of God’s judgment (1:19-21).
  • Naomi was so blinded by the pain of her circumstances that she failed to see God’s unfailing love and provision in Ruth (1:19-21).

I uncovered from chapter four that:

  • The women of the city corrected Naomi’s perspective on the bitterness and emptiness of her circumstances (4:14-15).
  • The women correctly recognized the blessing of God in Naomi’s life through the gift of Ruth (4:14-15).

Thus, the death, emptiness, and hopelessness of chapter one were replaced by new life, fullness, and hopefulness of chapter four.
The challenge from Naomi’s life for the class (and for me) was:

Trust God in the midst of suffering,
Because he is our ally in a chaotic world.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but these lessons would provide a much needed anchor several years later. I would need to know God was our ally—not our adversary—in times of adversity.


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