Archive for the ‘reflections’ Category

Reblog: You Were Meant For This (a reflection for parents)

Originally posted 7 years ago and written sometime before that…still a good reminder, to myself.  Although my children are much older now, I still need to be reminded of this greater reality…

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File under:  Things you were not told about parenting.  Children and privacy.  I never thought and was never told that children would completely change notions of privacy.  Essentially it becomes non-existent, especially during waking hours.  It is not an unusual occurrence to have our whole family, including the cat, in our tiny bathroom.  I suppose I should be encouraged that my children want to be in my presence, but everywhere, all the time?  No one told me…there actually are quite a few things that I was not prepared for when it comes to being a parent  (e.g. infants and toddlers do not observe daylight savings time; they wake up regardless of what the clock says).   Of course nothing prepares you for being a parent like being a parent.  Experience is a strong and unrelenting teacher.

All of this can be overwhelming, but I think it leads to a larger question.  Are our difficulties with our children rooted in a misunderstanding of who is for whom?  That is, are we meant for our children, or are our children meant for us.  Often times our behavior and our attitude would point to us thinking that children are really meant for us.  This may take several forms of course:  children may exist to fill an emotional need, to entertain us, to allow us a second chance at life or sports or school or whatever we lacked or failed at, or even just to stay quiet and out of the way.  Even in Hollywood, babies seem to be the new celebrity status symbol.  It is not wrong to want children, it is wrong to want them for the wrong reasons.  And it is wrong to treat them as objects or possessions when they are present.

Read the words of Walter Wangerin, Jr. in the introduction of his book Little Lamb who made thee? : A book about Children and Parents on this point:

Children do not exist to please us.  They are not for us at all.  Rather, we exist for them – to protect them now and to prepare them for the future.  Who is given unto whom?  Are we a gift to their elders?  No – not till children are grown and their elders are older indeed.  Then they are a gift of the fourth commandment, honoring hoary head which have begun to feel past honor.  But until then, it is we who are given, by God’s parental mercy, to the children!  And it is we who must give to the children – by lovely laughter, by laughter utterly free, and by the sheer joy from which such laughter springs – the lasting memory:  You are, you are, you are, my child, a marvelous work of God!

I am both surprised at times at the depth of my love for my children, but at other times I am surprised at the depth of desire for my own comfort.  I really shouldn’t be surprised at either I suppose, as one reflects the Father’s work in my life and the other that remaining sin and idolatry within my own heart.  At times I have my priorities straight, at others I have them reversed.  The prayer then has to be, that the Lord would help us to understand those times when we act as if our children should be doing something for us or even when may resent their presence and that He would change our hearts to reflect Wangerin’s statement above.

It seems to me that the blessing of being a grandparent is the ability to know without reservation, who is for who?  Most grandparents know, intrinsically, that they exist for their grandchildren and therefore delight in the opportunities to observe, include, be barged in on, etc…by their grandchildren.  The negative of this may lie in the tendency of grandparents to spoil their children – this goes to far to another other extreme.  That said, you have to love the unabashed love that most grandparents are willing show towards their grandchildren.

Another thing that changes when you become a parent is the way that you react to the sufferings of children, especially those who are of the same age as our children.  Our heartstrings can really be pulled when we see an infant or toddler suffering from ill health or from sins perpetrated upon them.  A newspaper article from the Raleigh based News & Observer does this to me with an article on May 9th, 2004 (“Mom grows with Grant”, written by Vicki Cheng).  Jamie Howard was living the life she always wanted to live, but that changed with the birth of her second child.  A few months into Grant’s life, it became clear that something wasn’t right.  It was later discovered that Grant suffered a stroke in utero, which has had a profound affect on his mental and physical development.  What struck me the most in the article, more than hardship of little Grant, were the words of his parents, maybe because I relate to their position as parents.  Matt Howard said:  “The purpose of his life could be to change us.  God chose us to be his parents.”  And Jamie wrote in a letter to Grant:  “You remind me to live for the day, and stop worrying about the future.  I wish that my love could heal you…There has never been a moment in your short life when I doubted your were meant to be my son.  Thank you for being patient with me, as I learn to be your mother.”   Those words bring tears to my eyes every time I read them.  I pray for you and for me that it would not take a tragedy or health difficulty for us to get our priorities straight – for us to recognize that we were meant for our children.

The Gospel Well

I, along with others, was asked this question by a good friend teaching a seminar at General Assembly this year:

What characteristics (in anyway you want to explain them) would you list that describe a man being animated and enjoying the Gospel in contrast to a man who is living out of a religiously-moralistic understanding of Christianity?”

I share this with you because I talked yesterday in the sermon about the need to regularly focus on the Gospel – the good news of our salvation.  A great treasure we have in jars of clay.

Here was my answer, which applies to men and women equally:

            I got this as I was going into or just starting chemotherapy.  So, take that into account, but here is the mental image that came to mind.  And I don’t exactly claim originality, but other than Scripture, I don’t have a source for this imagination of mine.   Here goes:
           Imagine, if you will, a well in the center of an area, surrounded by a hundred other wells.  That center well is the Gospel Well and it is fed by “living waters” that Christ provide.  That means, when we dip and drink from the Gospel Well we find life.  We also find that the water is always fresh to our need and there is never a moment when we dip into that well and find it empty.  Never is there a gate-keeper saying that we have had too much or that the Owner of the well has given enough, but no more.  Always, and each day, we have a need to run to that well.  We find life, animation, hope, mercy, redemption, forgiveness, love, and on and on.  There we have a precious foretaste of the full satisfaction that we find in Christ.  As Peter said,  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6:68-69).   And so we must turn to Christ and come to know again Who He is.  Isn’t this what the Woman at the Well learned? (John 4)  She’d been drinking from the wrong wells.  
            But what of those other wells?  You and I know them too well, unfortunately.  They are the well of performance, the well of pleasure, the well of reputation, the well of self-righteousness, the well of judgment of others, the well of despair, the well of guilt, the well of addiction, the well of lies, the well of greed…and a hundred others by similar names.  This is our problem:  we run to those wells days after day, looking for what only the Gospel well can provide us.  And yet, we continue to dip our buckets into these wells looking for life. What do we find?  Stagnant pools that don’t bring us life, but instead lead us away from Christ.  They effectively empty.  And we pay the price – emotionally, spiritually, financially, relationally, physically – for such empty drink.  We drink and still parched.  We drink and are still empty inside.  And why do we do this?  Because we continue to drink from the Well of Lies – crafted by the father of Lies himself.  We’ve drunk too deeply of the kook-aid and been pointed from one well to another.  
            But the Gospel Well is rich and free – all the time, anytime.  There is no lie or false advertising in the Gospel, only our ever growing realization of what we need to drink.  And drink deeply.  
Isaiah 55 (all of it, because there is no good place to stop!)
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
 
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
 
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
 
“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Fighting for the Greater Reality

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The longer I live, the more and more I am convinced that a large part of the Christian life is a fighting for the greater reality of God at work in our lives.  A fighting for perspective that see beyond the moment we live in at the present, for the reality that is both our present and our future.  We are a myopic bunch – we can only see what is right in front of us.  Meanwhile, God is ordering our days and nights, is present with us in real ways – especially through His Spirit, and is keeping His promises.

This fighting has been much of what my last week has been about – at least in my mind and in the quiet moments when I consider “what in the world are you doing, God?!”  As you may have read in my last blog post, I didn’t fair well during, but especially after the last chemotherapy cycle.  I was emotionally, physically, and spiritually spent – and not in a good way.

One of the reasons this was true, I have come to believe, is that I lost the mental/emotional/spiritual fight for perspective before I ever started.  This time, two weeks ago, I began to feel a sense of dread and foreboding.  I knew what was coming and I hated it.  I was defeated going in and I came out defeated coming out.  I did not fight for the greater reality of God’s goodness and His faithfulness.  It wasn’t that I was actively doubting those, but I wasn’t fighting to see them either.  If your honest, you do the same thing in your life and in the struggles you face.  And don’t diminish those struggles, just because you are not struggling like I am.  This is a common Christian experience – I think.  We forget that “God has not given us a spirit of timidity (or fear), but of power and love and discipline.” (1 Timothy 1:7).

Another verse that has been much on my mind, is 2 Corinthians 5:7:  “we walk by faith, not by sight.”  I am learning in new ways what that means.  For me, right now, it means that I have to trust that God will be faithful to the promises He has made in His Word (to comfort the afflicted, to come near to those who are low, to hear & even answer prayers, etc).  And to trust especially when I cannot see where His answer are coming from.  That is the faith that sees, despite not seeing.  That is the way the Christian fights for perspective and for the greater reality, even when what is seen out of my two eyeballs seems to scream that God has left me, doesn’t care, or isn’t there.  Those of the lies of the evil one, who does not give me a pass on his evil attack on me or God’s reputation, just because I’m going through chemotherapy.  No, that’s actually makes me ripe.  All the more reason to engage in this battle.

And how do we engage in this fight?  It’s both simple and profound.  Pray, read Scripture, seek encouragement from the Body, worship & rejoice in the goodness and faithfulness that can be seen (if we open our eyes there is much), reflect on how God has come near in past circumstances, journal/write/blog your thoughts, have coffee with a friend who will speak truth into your life.  To name a few.  Thank you for joining me in this fight where you can ad for learning to fight your own battles.   This moment is real, but it is not the only reality.  Fight for the greater reality.

This Moment is Real, but it is not the Only Reality

Like my dinner that ended up on the living room floor – a side effect of the constipation, which is a side effect of the nausea meds, that are used to control the nausea, which is a side effect of the chemotherapy, of course – I feel the need to work through some of my emotions and thoughts.  You have been warned.  It has not been pretty the past few days.

Days that end in Y are hard, much of the time.  The Monday after a chemotherapy are the hardest.   Here’s why:  I’m ready to feel better and return to some activity at home and in the office.  And Lydia is ready to be done with being a single parent (for all practical purposes).  And yet, the transition is stilted and fraught with landmines – physical and emotional.  In that way, that Monday can be very hard for all involved.

Tonight through tears, I cried out to God.  I told Him I was mad, but that I needed Him to meet me there.  It’s the first time that I have been able to express that emotion in prayer.  I don’t tend towards outward anger, in general.  I am much more prone to depression, which I remember somebody calling “anger toward inward.”  I suppose this is progress through the emotional side of this suffering.  I think I have a long ways to go.

I hate that my children have to come to me with their small, sweet voices to ask if I am okay, if they see me writhing in pain, or after I have lost the contents of my stomach.

I hate what this is doing to my wife, who has been a rock, but can only withstand so much.  Our marriage is as strong as ever, but this tests our endurance and patience, as we suffer together

Speaking of patience, I hate that I have so little when my children are just being children.  Never a strong suit before this, but a real test.

I hate that I can’t be the pastor I want to be, though my congregation and fellow elders make no demands on me, other than to focus on my health as needed.

I wonder what they will remember about this time in their childhood.  I hope and pray that it is moments of joy, punctuated with moments of pain.  But not pain without a purpose.  May it increase their faith and understanding of need for the Lord.  I’m not sure I could stand otherwise.

I wrenched my knee, which remains painful, but I think is getting better (I hope).  I hate that it’s an added physical impediment, but I have never regretted being a dad to my son, chasing and playing tag on a scooter.  I’d do it again for the moment of joy with him, in the midst of so many joyless days.

This last cycle I lost the mental battle.  I am learning how much of this is mental, even when the physical side is the most visible.  I went into the last chemo cycle already defeated.  I can’t be sure, but I am fairly certain that that had an impact on my experience this past weekend.  I am trying to figure out how I can keep a positive spirit and attitude, but not make it about my will and ego.  I need to be strengthened by God, not self.  And yet, I am entirely sure what that looks like.  I’ve lost my way a bit in this regard.

I don’t want your sympathy (and yet, I am thankful for it) and I wish I didn’t need your prayers.  Though I do want and need them.   I’m also bad at taking advice and being cared for.  I’m just not good at it.  Typical man, I suppose.

One of my biggest laments is that I cannot go (or should not, for fear of infection with a diminished immune system) to the hospital.  Last week, during chemo, someone connected to our church was in the hospital, and I couldn’t go.

I’m tired of vomiting.  I think my esophagus may agree.

Last night, one of our children had a meltdown.  The end of the school year is always hard.  The end of  the school year when you dad has been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing chemo – well, that’s a different kind of hard.  One of the thing that I told this child, I realized I needed to hear too.  We talked about how our emotions (whether good or bad) in a moment  are real – very real.  But they are not the only true reality.  This moment is real, but it is not the only reality.  This – this is what I need to fight for emotionally and mentally.  There will be an end to this.  There will be a return to health, Lord willing.  And we are still a family that is clinging to God and Who, more importantly, will not let us go.  This moment is real, but it is not the only reality.

Pondering the Why/Why Me Question (Part 2)

This part 2.  Last week I introduced the topic here.  As I said there, this is not a mutually exclusive list, nor should it be considered exhaustive.  Just my thoughts on the topic…         

why-me

             Fallen World:   We live in a world that is not as God originally created, that has been marred by our sin, and that results in great tragedy.  Children are born with disabilities, we get diseases and cancers, and tornadoes ravage the countryside.  To name just a few things that happen in a fallen world.  Basically, things aren’t the way they are suppose to be!   Maybe I have a gene mutation (something that we are looking into through genetic testing – more on this some other time).  Maybe I ate too many lemonheads that I chased with Mt Dew (maybe not healthy, but probably not the cause of cancer).  Stuff, you know, happens in a fallen world.  And it is often nothing we would ever want or ask for.  And yet, God uses our pain to draw us closer to Himself.  And sometimes He brings healing on this side of heaven and sometimes we have to wait.   In either case, we have the sure promises of His world.  He is making right what we have fowled up through our sin.    Creation eagerly waits with us, for the our full redemption (Romans 8:19)

                   Discipline:  I should probably start with Scripture to gets off on the right foot:  “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6).  This verse, and the broader context, makes clear that the Lord disciplines his children.  The problem we have with this notion is that we hear the word discipline and we think punishment.  That is a very narrow view of discipline.  If we think through the analogy, we can think about all of the positive and negative reinforcements that parents provide children.  Another word that we might use positively is train.  We trained or disciplined not to run out in the street and we are working on not talking back!  So then, I see this trial as part of the Lord discipline of me.  He is disciplining me to depend more fully upon Him, to not look so closely to this world for comfort and pleasure, and to live out my testimony more fully.  To name a few things.  To be clear, I do not think the Lord is punishing me.  He is not paying me back for my transgressions.  That would violate the Cross of Christ.  When Christ said, “It is finished”, from the Cross, I believe Him.  That is, my sins were fully punished and forgiven there.  God will not punish, what He has forgiven through Christ.  That said, the Lord is fully committed to my sanctification and he may well use my cancer to as a sanctifying agent.  In that, I am blessed that God would love me that much.  (See also paragraph 10 of John Piper’s article, Don’t Waste Your Cancer, “We waste our cancer if we treat sin as casually as before”).

              God’s Sovereignty:  I told you these weren’t mutually exclusive points.  In fact, maybe I should have started with this one, as it is an overarching reality.  As a Presbyterian/Reformed-type fellow, my reading of the Bible leads me to see God’s sovereignty as one of the big themes of Scripture.   That God is sovereign (in charge, over all things, past, present, and future) is a very good thing.  I do a pretty good job of just messing things up, so I don’t think I’m fit for the job.    But, let’s be honest, God’s sovereignty also raises questions in our hearts.  The “why me” question for one.   And the “if God is_____, then _______?”  These questions are real and sometimes difficult.  However, I would rather have a good God whose ways I don’t understand (Isaiah 55:6-9) be sovereign, than an impotent god who is merely responding as best he can to the chaos of this world.   That’s not really a choice, but it’s one I don’t want all the same.  So, when I think of “why?” and “why me?”, part of my answer is to run to the arms of the one whom I know is in charge, of my little life and of this big world.  (See also paragraph 2 of John Pipers booklet:  “We waste our cancer if we do not believe it is designed by God.”)

So these are the thoughts rumbling in my head about why I am dealing with cancer at my age, at my place in life, at all, etc…  And whatever answers may be forthcoming or not (God doesn’t always satisfy our curiosity or our felt need for answers), I hang my hat on these verses:   So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  ~ 2 Cor 4:16-18

Preparing for Cancer

How does one prepare for cancer?  Specifically, how does a Christian prepare to face the battle of cancer in their life or in that of a close family member?

And I don’t mean, how do you keep from getting cancer.  I’ll leave you to your own devices with that one.  Certainly, I don’t have anything worthwhile to share in that category anyway!

I do not hold ourselves up as paragons of faith, but I do wonder in amazement at how steady we have been through this (It’ll have to be a separate post, but we must remember that faith is more about it’s object – Christ – than our “work of faith”).  Our faith has surprised me at times.  I don’t mean to paint an inaccurate picture.  To be clear this whole thing sucks (to use a technical term), I hate it many days, and the teardrops are too numerous to count at this point.  And yet, there is something more.  Really, there is Someone more.

One answer, in my mind, without a doubt is all of the prayer that we have received and continue to receive.  Friends, family, preschoolers, acquaintances, and strangers lifting us up before the Lord.  Yes, that has much to do with it.  And that’s probably another whole reflection.  Here, I want to think about preparing in the years before trials come, suffering hits, and horrific news knocks us to our knees.  In that sense, this applies more broadly to cancer.

Ready for the answer?  Here it is:  walking faithfully with the Lord day in and day out for years.  In good times and bad.  In plenty and in want.  You get the idea.  As we do that, what happens?   We will have read the Scriptures, we will have heard the Scriptures proclaimed, hymns and songs will root into our bones, and we will watch others deal with the falleness of life.    We will come along side of them when they need prayer, meals, hugs, and encouragement.  We will see the faith of the saints carried out in both the mundane and the tragic.

Trust is something that we learn over the seasons.  We learn that God is trustworthy during the harvest and even during the drought.  For He provides.  Not always what we want or expect, but still this is something that has to be learned over the course of time.  But if we don’t put ourselves in the company of others and we don’t learn those hymns and we don’t hear the Word of Life, then it will be hard for us to trust.  We will have stunted our growth.  Think about it this way.  That hymn that you are singing on Sunday (you know the one that you don’t like the tune of), may not be for today.  You might be learning it for a tomorrow that is going to come and you’ll need to be reminded that “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head” (“God Moves In a Mysterious Way”, William Cowper, 1774).  You’ll need to have treasured up already the Words of Scripture that alone give life and lead us.  You’ll need to have put in some time already listening to the pastor drone on just a little too long once again.  It may not seem like much is happening right now, but I can assure you that the cumulative effect of walking with God and His people, can sustain you when you are diagnosed with cancer.

Thus says the Lord:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man

and makes flesh his strength,

whose heart turns away from the Lord.

He is like a shrub in the desert,

and shall not see any good come.

He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,

in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,

whose trust is the Lord.

He is like a tree planted by water,

that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

for its leaves remain green,

and is not anxious in the year of drought,

for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

                                                                                (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

 

How can we bear fruit in a drought season?  Only if we have placed our trust in the Lord and have been nourished by Him before that.  That is part of how you prepare for cancer.

Chemo Eve

Tonight is Chemo Eve.  That is, I start my chemotherapy treatments tomorrow (Wednesday morning).  Chemo Eve isn’t near as cool or exciting as Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.    I don’t even get to dress up like on All Hallow’s Eve (or better known Halloween).  Maybe I should dress up – that might make things more fun.  I’m taking suggestions, but keep in mind I don’t want to be kicked out of the place.   I think.

And that illustrates my emotional state leading into this.  I have actually had a hard time discerning what I am thinking and feeling the past few days.  Other than just feeling weighted down, bearing an awful load.  That’s especially how I felt Monday morning as I was on my way to the office.  Nothing a donut couldn’t fix, but then I actually become the awful load (Full disclosure:  I did eat a donut and it was really yummy).

With some more rumination, I do think I have ferreted out my predominant thought and it follows, in some ways, my previous thoughts about being on a bullet train to an unknown destination.  I am not primarily fearful, though it can’t be said that I am serene.  I am not primarily anxious, though it can’t be said that I am at complete peace.  I am not primarily worried, though it can’t be said that I don’t spend a good bit of times thinking (worrying?) about the list of potential side effects.

Nope, here it is:  I do not like being out of control.  Out of control of my body.  Out of control of my schedule.  Out of control of my future.   Out of control of my days and nights.  Out of control of my plans.  It is this that haunts and hounds me most, especially when I am not busy with work or the kids.

Some months ago, I called my friend and mentor in ministry after hearing about his diagnosis of cancer.  His is terminal.   I recall him telling me that one of the things he was wrestling with, and that we all have to do in some regard, is reconciling himself to the reality that he is not in control and never was.  Or some words to that effect.  I assented to that truth, as I agree and agreed then, in principle.   In principle, it sounds good and right.  And it is.  In practice, well, that’s another thing altogether.  Now, we are “cancer buddies”, as he says.   And the mentoring continues!

So, I wrestle with my dislike of feeling out of control.  Though I know the One who is in control.  Of all things.  Of this.  And so, what is left for me to do?  There is trust and dependence, but I will confess that those don’t come quite as easily as I would like.  What is left for me to do?  I must plunge myself in the waters of Scripture.  Let the words of Romans 8:28-29, 1 Peter 1, Psalm 121, and Psalm 46 wash over me.  I breathe the air of a dependence that is foreign, but ultimately life-giving, as this world is not my home and the air here is a bit polluted.   And while the water flows and I breathe deeply, I am also confronted, confounded and comforted with the reality that the Lord is not just doing this in me, but also through me. 2 Corinthians 4:11-12:  “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”   And, of course, I do none of this one my own.  But with and through the countless prayers of many – known and unknown.