A Friend’s Sister in Idaho (Oct 19)

What do the following have in common?

  •  A friend’s sister in Idaho
  • A Baptist temple in Oklahoma City
  • Iowa State friends from Singapore
  • A college principal in Australia

Early in this storm we received an email from a friend here in Dallas who encouraged us with the news that her sister in Idaho was praying for us. It wasn’t the first or the last of such emails, but it was the one that made me take notice. Certainly, God was at work if someone in Idaho, who didn’t even know us, cared enough to pray.

Since I am a former anal retentive accountant, I decided we would begin to keep track of all the states and countries where there were people praying. The current count is thirteen countries and thirty states.

Countries: United States, Thailand, Peru, Columbia, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Ukraine, Hungary, Ecuador, Albania, China, Canada and Texas.

States: Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Idaho, California, Ohio, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oregon, North Carolina, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Washington, Tennessee, Michigan, New Jersey, Colorado, and Alabama.

In his book God in the Storm Marc Maillefer writes,

“Remember this the next time you come alongside someone who’s going through a storm.
Don’t ever think prayer is the least you can do.
I believe it may be the best we can do for those in a storm.”[i]

Thank you for giving your best to us and others who are caught in a storm.

Dread and Fear
Ann and I are leaving for Houston momentarily and will spend the after­noon and evening undergoing a number of tests. We meet with Dr. Lockhart[ii] at 1:00 p.m. on Friday to review the results and then start Round Three around 3:00 p.m. I will drive back on Monday morning and Ann will fly home on Wednesday.

Dread and fear are two words that capture our emotions.

2 Corinthians 1:10b-11a
“On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,
as you help us by your prayers” (emphasis mine).

Prayer Requests

  • That Ann would have emotional strength to return to Houston on Thursday, to meet with the doctor, and to begin Round Three.
  • That the tests on Thursday and Friday would show that the cancer has at least stabilized.
  • That God would show his love and power to the kids while we are gone.
  • That God would completely heal Ann in his time and in his way so that she might know our grandchildren.


ebook
Paperback


[i] Mark Maillefer, God in the Storm (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 73.
[ii] “Dr. Lockhart” was not our oncologist’s real name.

The Second Round (Oct 1)

I stole a few minutes to watch part of Cinderella Man a couple of weeks ago. The story revolves around James Braddock, a washed up boxer fighting for survival during the Great Depression. Towards the end of the movie Braddock drove off to Madison Square Garden to fight the bigger, stronger, younger world champion. His wife fearfully avoided a ringside seat, but walked to her church to pray for his safety. She found a packed house when she arrived—dozens of family and friends had already filled the pews to pray for his safety and victory. Their prayers impacted the fight.

Even though I had seen the movie before, I was especially gripped by that scene given our present circumstances. Thank you for the calls, cards, and emails. There are times that we feel like throwing in the towel. Your encouragement keeps us fighting. Thank you for praying for our safety and victory. Your prayers are impacting the outcome of this fight.

Round 2
Laurie drove Ann back to Houston this afternoon so that Ann can begin her second round of chemo on Thursday morning. I fly down on Satur¬day and hope to bring Ann back Monday afternoon. She will then be at home for a little over two weeks before the next cycle begins.

Prayer Requests
That God would strengthen and heal Ethan and Darla; Chris, Ray, and Linda; Lisa, Nancy, and Judy… each is in his or her own ring with an overwhelming foe.
That Ann would respond to this round as well as she did the first one.

Exodus 17:11-13
“As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.
When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it.
Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.
So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (emphasis mine).

Thanks for holding us up in this battle.


ebook
Paperback

Why Even Bother to Pray? (Sep 8th)

A few months ago I had some rare deep thoughts:

Since God is sovereign, knows the future, and has everything planned, then prayer is an exercise for relating to him.
When we pray for others, we fellowship with God and will be blessed for serving others.
However, prayer doesn’t make any ultimate difference in the outcome.

Fortunately, my deep thoughts are rare. Perhaps I was punch-drunk from suffering a heart attack the day after graduation from seminary and dealing with Ann’s on-again, off-again, on-again threat of cancer. Perhaps it’s just the logical conclusion of one who focuses on God’s sovereignty without appreciating his intimacy.

I still steadfastly hold to the first and second sentence. However, thanks to all of you I have had to eat the words of the third sentence and confess my lack of faith.

Wednesday evening Ann was very apprehensive about the procedure for inserting the CVC lines (semi-permanent IV) and for starting the infusion of chemo into her system. It’s no longer a bad dream from which we hope to awaken, but our reality. Yesterday, you prayed for Ann to courageously face the first chemo treatment. She was calm all day. The insertion of the CVC line went well and she wasn’t fearful. Then the infusion almost seemed like a non-event. Ann didn’t wig out or even cry. Her peace was truly beyond understanding. Yesterday’s outcome was im¬pacted by your prayers.

If this was the first time that we had seen God answer specific prayer in the last few months, then I could write it off as coincidental. I have seen enough to know that fervent prayer impacts the outcome of our lives. I am encouraged to pray with more confidence about our situation and about the sufferings of family and friends.

Please be encouraged to pray for your and our situation with boldness.


ebook
Paperback

The Irony of God’s Leading

On that Thursday (7/27), the surgeon removed Ann’s spleen and in-formed us that it was full of cancer. The next morning (7/28), our oncolo¬gist was ninety percent certain that Ann had stage IV melanoma. The following Tuesday (8/1), a second oncologist basically told us that he had no idea what cancer had invaded Ann’s body.

Late Saturday afternoon (8/5) that second oncologist called and notified us that the pathologist was finally able to determine the actual type of cancer. Ann’s spleen had been overtaken by an extremely rare, aggressive cancer called angiosarcoma. We returned to the first oncologist, who recommended receiving a second opinion.

A month later (9/5), an oncologist from M.D. Anderson confirmed the brutal diagnosis. To make matters worse, the tests showed that the cancer had already spread from Ann’s spleen to her liver, as well as to the bones in her pelvis, ribs, and shoulder blades.

Our Reality
There are only about twenty to sixty cases of angiosarcoma diagnosed each year. There is no cure for angiosarcoma. Aggressive chemotherapy, if even effective at all, can only hope to keep the cancer in check for a period of time. The five-year survival rate for angiosar-coma is listed as twenty percent. One website bleakly concluded that “the combination of aggressive growth, few treat¬ment options, and extreme rarity makes angiosarcoma one of the deadliest cancers.”

Ann’s specific type of angiosarcoma—that which originates in the spleen—is even more deadly and rare. There are less than two hundred total cases reported in the literature worldwide and the median life expectancy after diagnosis is a brief six months. Another website grimly reported that “primary splenic angiosarcoma is an extremely aggressive neoplasm that is almost universally fatal.”

Ironic Diagnosis
We were crushed with the preliminary diagnosis of stage IV melanoma, because it was an overwhelming and unbeatable foe. That news robbed me of all hope. I had no expectation, whatsoever, that God would answer DeeDee’s impossible prayer for the cancer not to be melanoma. After all, the doctors were ninety percent certain of their diagnosis.

When God did answer DeeDee’s prayer, I was totally blown away and encouraged. Hope was restored. God was indeed the “God of the ten percent” and he proved to me that he is greater than any statistic.
Yet, angiosarcoma is a rarer and more aggressive cancer than mela-noma. As described above, the life expectancy after diagnosis is a mere six months and it is “almost universally fatal.” God dramatically slew one monstrous opponent and then threw us into the arena against a stronger and more vicious foe.

Here’s the irony: I was encouraged by this and my hope was restored. I learned that the size of my foe was irrelevant when God was fighting for me.

Daniel 3:16-18
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king,
‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.
But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up’” (emphasis mine).


ebook
Paperback

Where is God?

Nearly three months had elapsed between Ann’s first doctor’s appointment and her diagnostic surgery. We had to wait overnight in the hospital room before we received a preliminary (and incorrect) diagnosis. We had to wait four more days for the initial (and shocking) appointment with the new oncologist. We then had to wait four more days before the pathologist finally figured out the type of cancer that was attacking Ann’s body.

I was tired of waiting and ready to take action. There was a time bomb inside Ann and it was just ticking away.

The oncologist in Dallas recommended that we obtain a second opinion, especially since Ann’s cancer was so rare. So I called the world-renowned M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to make an immediate appointment.

The scheduler routinely informed me that the earliest available appointment was over thirty days away.

Fighting For Us
I went for a walk that afternoon around the neighborhood, as I often did when needing to pray. I don’t recall what I prayed, but I know I was angry, frustrated, discouraged, disappointed and hurt. Where was God?

Ann’s cancer continued to tick away inside her. But we would have to wait at least another month before we could begin any treatment. Doing nothing was unthinkable, but there was nothing we could do.

I was helpless and hopeless with nowhere to turn. Why had God abandoned us?

The next afternoon I was driving from my office to a client’s when I received a call from our friend Laurie. She had relayed our situation to her friend, Sue, a school nurse in a suburb of Houston. Sue was angered by the image of a mother of four having to wait so long for an appointment, so she began to make some calls, pleading our case. Somewhat mysteriously, she obtained the phone number for the hospital’s Office of President. Sue relayed the number to Laurie who called my cell phone and passed it on to me.

I’m normally not one to press a matter, but I was desperate and I had a strong inclination that I should call the number. I worked up the courage and called the president’s office. I explained our situation and asked if there was anything that could be done.

A few days later I received a call from the hospital informing us that our appointment would be moved up nineteen days.

Nineteen days might not seem like much to you, if you’ve not been attacked by cancer. But for us it was massive.

God with Us
It would be impossible to overvalue the significance of this act of deliverance. God had not abandoned us. He was actively working behind the scenes, prompting a friend of a friend to battle for us, when I had no means or spirit to fight.

I can honestly say that I never again doubted that God was with us in our fight. Though I had no guarantee of the battle’s outcome, I had every certainty that he would be with us through the end, whatever that end might be.

We did have all sorts of questions and doubts during the two-year fight with cancer, but God’s involvement in our battle was not one of them. Those Nineteen Days were proof enough. Irrefutable proof.

Ironically, Sue and her husband Bill became our gracious hosts and close friends as we regularly traveled to Houston for tests and chemotherapy over the next two years.


ebook
Paperback

Does God Hear?

The morning after Ann’s surgery our hematologist and his nurse DeeDee came into our hospital room to discuss the initial inferences from Ann’s diagnostic surgery. The preliminary pathology report indicated that Ann had stage IV melanoma—with a certainty of ninety percent.

We were crushed. I fought to maintain composure and tried to focus attention on what the doctor was saying. It’s funny sometimes the things that run through your mind in difficult moments. All I could hear was a recent conversation with Tom, a co-worker, whose wife had stage IV melanoma. Doctors had recently told them that Jackie only had three months.

Three months? Could Ann really be dead in a few months?

DeeDee, a Christian oncology nurse, whom we had already grown to love through the various appointments, must have sensed both our shock and the Holy Spirit. She stayed behind to comfort us after the doctor gave his report.

She asserted that “God is the God of the ten percent” and that he can override any statistic. She then confidently prayed for God to override the nearly certain diagnosis.

I was amazed by her faith. DeeDee had surely seen, as an oncology nurse, countless lives ravaged by cancer. She had to have a firm grasp on reality. Yet she also knew God. And she knew God was bigger than a pathology report, bigger than cancer itself. So she prayed.

I was encouraged by her prayer. But to be honest, I was a bit skeptical. God can do miracles, but he usually doesn’t. And miracles usu-ally happen overseas on the mission field, not here. And I certainly had no basis to expect that God would do a miracle for us.

What Are Your Symptoms?
Four days later we went to a different oncologist, since Ann most likely had melanoma, in order to receive the official diagnosis and to understand options for treatment. Several friends, Pastor Charles, and our oldest son, Paul, accompanied us to the doctor’s office, visiting with us while we waited and praying for us while we met with the oncologist. My friend, Jim, whose wife, Laurie, had just completed chemotherapy for breast cancer, was there to help ask questions and take notes.

The oncologist abruptly began the appointment with a shocking ques¬tion, asking, “What are your symptoms?”

Ann’s spleen was full of cancer and you ask, “What are your symptoms?” What the heck?

He went on to explain that the pathologist had been unable to determine the type of cancer that had overtaken Ann’s spleen. But he was certain that it was not melanoma. One hundred percent certain.

I was stunned and humbled. God had indeed answered DeeDee’s impossible prayer. God was certainly “The God of the ten percent.”

He Hears
It would be impossible to overstate the impact that this answer had on my faith and on my relationship with the Father. Though I never had a guarantee that God would deliver Ann from cancer, I can honestly say that I never again doubted that he heard our prayers.

Even after Ann’s death, when I literally wondered if God even existed, I still had every confidence that God had paid attention to our prayers. The heavens hadn’t been shut; it’s just that God’s answer was an emphatic, “No!”


ebook
Paperback

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.


ebook
Paperback

9/11

Alan Jackson begins his beautiful lament of that tragic day with these words:

Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day
Out in the yard with your wife and children
Working on some stage in LA?
Did you stand there in shock at the site of
That black smoke rising against that blue sky?
Did you shout out in anger
In fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry?[1]

I was out in the warehouse verifying inventory counts when Diane, my coworker and friend, came over and informed me that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center Towers. As one prone to focus too much on the task at hand, I made some comment and returned to my counts. After all, how much damage could a couple of small, private planes do to those towers?

I returned to the office area after a bit and saw the staff huddled around a TV. Black smoke rose against the blue sky as both towers were engulfed in flames. As we continued to watch the coverage, we witnessed the towers crumble to the ground. I went into the restroom and wept.

I was again in the warehouse a month later when the human resources manager came out and said that Shirley, the company president, wanted to see me. It’s funny, sometimes, the things that run through our minds. As I walked towards the office area, I happened to recall a sermon from college, in which the pastor challenged us not to always expect the worst in situations. As a result, I entered Shirley’s office with a degree of optimism.

It’s funny how God sometimes chooses to answer our heartfelt prayers. The challenge of balancing family, seminary and a fulltime job had worn me down, so I had been praying during each morning commute for God to work something out.

Shirley had called me into the office to inform me that I was being laid off due to the downturn in the economy. She graciously offered me a choice of severance packages to help provide for my family as I looked for other work. That morning set in motion a series of events that rocked my faith and caused me to wrestle with questions of God’s goodness. 


ebook
Paperback

________________
Footnotes:
[1] “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” was recorded by Alan Jackson on his album “Greatest Hits, Vol. 2.”