This one’s a seat-warmer for sure. You may have to get up and stretch once or twice, or break for lunch, and dinner…
If you don’t mind me playing the bad news/good news game for a moment (the dangling carrot that keeps you reading through one more paragraph) then let me assure you, I’ve got some very good news to divulge with this update. But you may have to slosh through some chemo muck-muck first to get there.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Quite likely one of the hardest weeks of my life. My heart took a hit with the trip out to FLY falling flat. It started with that, but it hasn’t been mere disappointment that’s made my heart so sick these days.
We managed to make it home without incident. And I spent my 29th birthday and the weekend following in a hospital bed – a new bed, mind you – but a bed in a hospital, nonetheless. I was there for a spinal headache, and one of the tried and true methods of dealing with a headache of such proportions is to infuse the patient with high doses of caffeine via an IV.
I’m not kidding. I realize it’s the kind of thing college dorm-buddies only joke about, but…
I was pretty jacked up for a few hours Saturday afternoon (imagine that after 18 hours of morphine), and the headache slowly began to clear. Let me emphasize slowly. I did go home Sunday night the 10th, but remained on my back for a good portion of the next three days – with the exception of a few hours Tuesday, while at the Cancer Care Center for blood tests and such (Eli gives a great foot massage).
The combination of the chemo, the pain-meds, and the inactivity shut down the lower half of my GI tract for seven days. That’s pretty bad news for anybody. But for a Crohn’s patient with a flare-up at the top end of things it’s particularly painful. I ended up back in the hospital Thursday afternoon for what might be called an overnight evacuation. Enough said.
Brief and as jocund as I now may be, this last week was a trial for my heart I would hope to have never to take again. In addition to the discomfort and pain, my mind began to entertain the notion that I was to be sick like this for the rest of my life. I began to sorely miss my playtime with Aedan and my ability to help Jenny with various tasks around the house. I began to miss the routines of being a dad and a husband. Wednesday night, there was a moment Aedan stood in the hall outside our bathroom while I was throwing-up. He watched me. My heart broke that he should see his daddy so sick.
I began to think myself alone. I began to believe my friends had abandoned me – and if they hadn’t, that there was really no way they could meet me in my pain. I began to think the church had forgotten about my plight – or worse, remembered, but didn’t care.
I couldn’t remember the “good times.” I tried, but couldn’t conjure up good feelings from the memories of yesteryear, as it seemed I had no memory to recall. All that I knew was the restlessness and the pain of the moment. My sickness (chemotherapy) WAS my reality. None other could exist. No pleasant place to escape to. No sleep to whisk it all away.
“We despaired even of life itself.” The Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 1:8
In my mind and in my heart, life itself became drudgery for all humanity, as the thought of many masses of people suffering as I was became very real to me – and how in the midst of the masses, how each of us feels so alone. In the deepest places of torment, camaraderie is a mist. Even those so very necessary acts of compassion come like drops of water to a warmed skillet, evaporating just as they begin to bring relief.
Worst of all, I seemed so terribly far from my God. The distance was crippling. My faith has never undergone such trial. My heart broke. It just broke. Withered up and cracked. I sobbed this last week like I’ve never sobbed before. I know I’m a poet and prone to speaking in extremes and all, but I’m saying even physically, I can’t remember ever making the sounds I made while crying these last few days.
But I wouldn’t be writing all this from that place. In fact, I wouldn’t be writing at all. There’s little that can be said while under such a cloud. And if there was something to say, I wonder whether I would’ve had the strength to say it. Like a journalist with a human heart still beating in his breast trying to report the casualties of war from the trenches, as mortars take his family or his limbs, it is impossible to create in the deepest pits of suffering. All light goes out. All life dies.
Then there’s Jesus. He’s different. He does things differently.
Jen and I cried real hard together Friday night. And we prayed. We prayed with sobs and tears, and with words any three year old could mutter. The disappointments of the previous week had caused me to wander from my Father’s presence. I had passively embraced the damned assumption that whatever’s going to happen will happen, as God’s already determined, and we’re fools to approach Him with our requests in one direction or another.
Indeed I believe in the full sovereignty of God, and in the pre-determined course of history and even our lives (Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup), but the Bible makes equally clear the desire God has for us to come to Him as children to our Father, bearing the desires of our hearts unashamedly. It’s not at all that He needs our counsel, or needs us to tell Him what we desire so that He might know for certain. Rather, the emphasis in scripture is on the relationship He desires with His people – a people whose hearts are captivated by the heart of God – a relationship that grows and changes us as we encounter the Living God in our times of prayer and worship; in the Word and with the Body; in service; and even in our times of silence.
The turn around began with the compassionate acts of a good and newfound friend. Jerome is a friend of mine. He’s also a doctor. More specifically, he’s a doctor on 8 East at Regions Hospital in Saint Paul. I needed to be at the hospital right now. Forget Urgent Care. Forget ER. Call Jerome. Before Jen, Ade, and I were out the door, there was a bed waiting for me at 8 East, compliments of my good friend Jerome.
To understand the depth of his care, I must mention both that this was his day off and that he met me at the hospital. It was midday and the doctor on duty (another very good man) was particularly busy. Jerome ordered the necessary procedures, then sat at my side as I told him how completely my heart was breaking with this pain.
As a nurse arrived to draw my blood, Jerome left the room without a word. He returned five minutes later carrying a red Gideon’s Bible. Then he sat again at my bedside and began to read to me from Second Corinthians chapter four. Most every physician knows how to tend the body – here was one who knew how to tend the soul.
In that moment, I was reminded again that we of faith are to set our eyes (these are the eyes of our hearts) not on what is seen (i.e. our present circumstances), but on what is unseen (the sure provision and promises of God). I was reminded later that this does not mean we don’t see the trial – the thing we can’t see past – we just don’t set our eyes on it. We set our eyes – we gaze – on God (thank you Dave Johnson, Dave Busby…).
Coming home from the hospital wasn’t altogether the end of it. In fact, it was later that day that Jen and I cried like we did. But this compassionate act was the first hint at the clearing about to come.
I am very fortunate to have more than a handful of some very good friends. And on numerous occasions each of them has served as a godsend in someway or another. But this particular incident, as an essential piece of the story God is telling with my life, I felt must be told.
I began to pray again for healing, for protection from malicious attacks on my spirit by the darker powers of this world, and for the restoration of my faith – so deeply wounded by my obstinate refusal to “approach the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find help in our time of need.”
Early Saturday morning, as the day began to warm, I sat with my family in our backyard. While browsing the Internet (thank you Scott Westlake), I stumbled across something worship artist Matt Patrick said during a Good Friday service at Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove.
“Perhaps the hardest part of this life is feeling disconnected with God”.
In the context of a Good Friday service, this disconnectedness is identified with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before suffering greatly in his death. The Bible tells us the Son of God cried and sweat drops of blood as he confronted the will of His Father taking Him someplace He did not want to go. And within the day, He’s crying out to this same Father, “Why have you abandoned me?”
The reality of Christ’s sufferings and most specifically, the distance He felt between Himself and His Father, reminded me that I belong to a God who understands the depth of my sorrow when I no longer feel His nearness. The awareness of that understanding began to restore my heart to peace.
Throughout the weekend, my heart slowly recovered, as did my insides from the physical trauma of the previous week. It seemed even hour-by-hour that I was able to enjoy more, and to feel more beyond the devastation of the wreck that had become of my heart.
Yet how fragile I’ve found my heart to be in the wake of last week. Just today I began what I assumed to be the second half of Round 2, only to learn that Round 2 is twice as long as I expected it to be. Once I complete what I thought to be the end of this round, I’m to immediately do the whole thing over again – including the spinal tap and the injections that made me so sick these last few weeks.
And we were making plans to go see my family.
In addition, my blood counts showed me to be neutropenic again – susceptible to infections with little to no defenses to hold them off.
And I was so tired.
Good grief. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I called Jen and cried on the phone. I couldn’t pray. Who prays without hope? Hope, however small, is what moves us to pray. Without hope, my lips are stilled, and my heart begins to die.
But things changed. Already. People pray, and my heart is lifted. There is reason to hope. A friend reminded me this afternoon (the kind of reminder you know is necessary and right, but still makes you want to kick a wall) this is a temporary affliction.
So I would ask you reading this now, regardless how long it’s been since I wrote it, please pray for me. Pray that my body would be spared the nasty effects of these drugs (the chemo regimen for my particular cancer is classified “intense,” and will last for me through the new year). Pray that my digestive system would do what it’s supposed to. Pray that I wouldn’t be deceived into thinking my identity is rooted somehow in this sickness. Pray that my heart would find its hiding place in God.
And pray for my family. For Aedan, Jen, and the little one growing inside her.
So there’s the good news. We’re having another baby. For those of you who see us from week to week, I realize this isn’t news at all. But there are just as many of you watching (or reading) from a distance. The story is one to tell, and I’ve been meaning to tell it for a long while now, as Jen is already 20 weeks along.
That obviously means we found out we were having a baby before we found out I had cancer. It was a bit of a surprise, I’ll say that much. I was on a mild chemo-drug for Crohn’s Disease at the time. We weren’t supposed to conceive.
Well, we did. And a good thing – I mean, a God-thing, too. When we first found out, we were a bit scared. Three weeks later, we found out I had cancer, and a tumor demanding I start a two-year chemotherapy regime right away. For those of us less familiar with the consequences of chemotherapy, I’ll point out that chemo most often leaves its patients sterile, with no chance of conception during treatment and very little thereafter.
So, our miracle baby is coming along quite nicely. And we’re happier about it now than we thought we could be.
That’s it, for now. I started writing this five days ago with the intention of actually saying much more, believe it or not. Like more about the albums recently released from my studio (RESCUE: Worship from FLY 2005 is really good!), the new music available to sample on the website, and how deeply I appreciate the short notes and emails from each of you letting us know you’re out there and tuned in – with your eyes to these updates and your prayers to our God. But this short note will just have to do for this time.
And we may soon be changing the way we go about writing and posting these updates – less of an article format and more of a blog. We’re hoping such a setup might encourage shorter and more frequent postings. No more of these 10-day 5-pagers.
Thank you so much for the time you’ve given to read this. I’d ask once again that you go just one minute further and say a prayer for my family and me. Many of you have referred to the stoutness of our faith and our spirits during this time. May this update remind you how deeply dependant we are upon our God and your prayers.
May Jesus be near and have mercy on us all. He alone knows how badly we need it.