Monthly Archives: November 2006

Christmas & Cancer

He looked like a rabbi right out of a textbook on orthodox Jewish culture, but he taught at an Evangelical Christian Bible School – Old Testament Major and Minor Prophets – and does so still today. I remember wrapping up a semester with him teaching Isaiah and thinking when it was all done, “That man has a big God.”

The rabbi also had these quirky little one-liners that left one wondering how much he listened to Bob Dylan. One I remember quite specifically was, “Life’s a blast… and sometimes, it blows you to pieces.” How true… how true.

iPod.jpgThese past few months have indeed been a blast. I’ve been allowed the opportunity to do much of something I so love to do. It feels in some ways as though I’ve busted out into the open – like a hobbit scrambling out of the tangled mess of Fanghorn Forest and into the wide-open spaces of the Shire. And perhaps because of that, I’ve run too far too fast. For now I find myself short of breath, my legs cramping up – figuratively and literally – and it seems I may be coming down with a case of Shingles. But boy, was it a good run.

rainier1.jpgMy trip out to Washington went exceptionally well – all things considered. I had to cancel two of seven scheduled speaking engagements because I was either too sick or too tired, but only two. The week I was there ended up being the only stretch of days this side of October to see so much sunshine, or at least so little rain. I saw Mount Rainier from the freeway three days in a row – and this in the middle of the wettest November in the books.

gonzo.jpgSunday night I did my first concert in more than two years. It was only six songs long, but I did plenty of talking to fill the gaps. And it went well. I learned a song that Gonzo sings in the original Muppet Movie to close the evening, and I think it’s a new crowd-pleaser. Or maybe it’s just me. I really like singing like Gonzo. And I like wearing blue beaks. (Please know when not to take me seriously).

I spent the weekend there speaking for a camp full of youth groups from the Pacific Northwest. We were at “The Dunes” near Ocean Park, right on the Pacific. Our topic was what I have been speaking on all fall: keeping faith through hardship – the lynchpins of enduring faith being the belief that God is God (big, strong, powerful, sovereign) AND that God is good (wise, generous, just, loving). The general consensus everywhere I’ve been is that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to get some of my stories and teaching materials into a packet or a book of some sort, which could be used as a follow-up or a stand-alone resource.

ferns.jpgSounds fun. It also sounds fairly time consuming. I think I’m ready to give it a shot, however. Since resigning from my job in August, I’ve been busy speaking partly to help pay bills while waiting to hear from Social Security regarding my disability claim. Well, now we have heard from them. I’ll be receiving just over half my previous salary, with a cap on additional income that limits me to a total just under what I earned as a youth director. This is okay. It’s great, really. It means I can speak when I can (without running myself ragged), while taking the time necessary to complete my treatment and heal. It also means I can spend my downtime writing. And I’m hoping that means more than just regular blogs on this site.

We are still dependent, to a certain extent, on the benefit fund Emmaus has set up for our medical bills and the like. So we continue to appreciate those of you who feel led to fatten it up from time to time. With the exception of a few months of unnecessary worry last summer, it has been an incredible experience to be so free of anxiety regarding finances through this whole ordeal. We thank God and you for being source and means in that regard.

I’ve been reading an entertaining little book by Bill Bryson lately, with this remarkably audacious title: “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” In the first three chapters, I’ve learned more than I thought I could know about our solar system, the Universe, and stellar fireworks displays called supernovas. It just BLOWS MY MIND how infinitely huge space is. Bryson helps unfathomable numbers of distance and size take tangible shape in artistic heads like my own, and the resulting (in)comprehension is akin to a contextual supernova of the brain (hear MWS singing “my place in this world… my place in this world…”).

galaxy.jpgFor instance, did you know that to travel merely to the edge of our solar system (Remember: there are billions of solar systems in a galaxy, and billions of galaxies in the Universe, and a whole lot of “nothing” or “dark matter” in between) in a spaceship like the Voyager, at roughly 35,000 miles per hour, we would have to cruise for 10,000 YEARS BEYOND Pluto (from which our Sun appears as a tiny dot in the sky) to be at the place where our solar system ends and another one begins (bet you could watch every season of “Lost” and “24” a couple times over on that trip – assuming you found a really good battery for your iPod).

The story of Christmas says the Maker of all this space (who is Himself outside of it all, holding it all together) stepped into our world as an embryo in the womb of a teenage Jewish girl, from a tiny village in the Middle East, during the reign of a relatively insignificant empire called Rome, several thousand years into what we now know as recorded history.

So not only at a specific place in the Universe, but at a specific time in it, God, who exists quite comfortably outside of time (a restrictive dimension of this Universe), subjected Himself to time, and the Maker of it all stepped into it all as a part of it all. This is what we call Advent – the coming near of God. And this is Christmas: God, who is very big, shows Himself, and in showing Himself the way He does, shows us that He is good. Very good.

jen&ade.jpgMy bride made the point recently, in an article for our church’s newsletter (she writes in a few paragraphs what I take four pages to say), that God could have devised a system by which people were born into this world as fully developed, fully matured, adult human beings. Now we’re not going to work out the details of how that might have happened (or what it might have looked like) we’re just saying that He could have done so. But He didn’t. We are born, and we grow, and we mature (and we die) in a process. A process that is life. A process that this world itself is involved in and is undergoing.

And in Christmas, God vindicates the process of our lives and our world by stepping into it Himself. And He rewrites it. He now not only ordains, orchestrates and observes our world – He becomes part of it. In doing so, He is bringing His life into our lives (or better said, our lives into His life) in more ways than we can fathom.

elichuckle.jpgAnd He does this still. He brings His life into our lives through things like love, marriage, parenting, play, vocation, friendship, betrayal, tragedy, charity, sickness, and death. And that is why, though cancer is a part of this process that is much less than fun, I trust that even in this, my life can be (and is) infused with God’s life, whereby I see God (and perhaps others might, too) in a way I hadn’t before, and His glory is manifested here just a little more because of it.

cake.jpgSo when I overwork myself and suffer the consequences, or somewhat mysteriously come down with a case of Shingles that suspends my chemotherapy (when life blows me to pieces), or I look back at a year full of weeks worse than these and see that I’m on this side of it all, celebrating my boys’ birthdays and curling with my family up north (life is a blast), I thank God that He stepped into this world two millennia ago. And I thank Him that He does so still today. He is God. And He is Good. And I trust Him to redeem the process, as we seek and stumble into knowing Him.

Praying we might know Him better this Christmas…

Belonging to a Big God,

PS. My CT Scan was clear. Another 6 months of remission!

waboys.jpgPPS. Great folks out West! Many thanks to Ivar, Lars Coleman, Mark Johannesen, Jesse Lee, Dave Pierce, Pastor Brad Hoganson, Mike, Paul, and Tyler from Word of Life, the crew that came over from Elim for the concert, Lyle, Lois, and Noelle Forde, and the staff at Sunset View Lodge in Ocean Park! Can I come again?

Categories: Cancer | 1 Comment

Weather in WA

jetwindow.jpgMy plane touched down in Seattle yesterday – two weeks deep into what may become the wettest November here in meteorological history. When the hardy folks of the Pacific Northwest start complaining about the rain, you know it’s wet. Really wet.

I’m here for a week of speaking engagements, and an attempt at my first concert since well before my diagnosis. We’ll see how that goes. I’ve done most of my song-writing with guitar over the past eight years, and due to the treatment-related atrophy in my body, I’m unable to play guitar right now. So I’m trying to recall my piano stuff – and enough of it to entertain a room full of folks for an evening. Trouble is, most of my piano songs are ballads, or snappy and fun, but too much work for my wrists at the moment. So, one could expect I’ll do much yapping. I suppose that’s nothing new.

I read in the Minneapolis Star Tribune this past weekend that the whitetail deer population in Minnesota is approaching maximum sustainability – breaching it actually -at the same time that hunter participation is going down. What this means is: if nothing changes, there’ll eventually be fewer natural obstacles to deer over-population, thereby increasing the odds and occurrences of adverse or damaging “car meets deer” moments.

littlebuck.jpgI am, however, one natural obstacle to deer-overpopulation in the state of Minnesota. While the actual act of hunting more or less kicked my bottom (hiking through forests and tall grasses in cold rain for several hours straight), I did do my part in decreasing the deer herd. Here’s a picture of my quarry. If you look really close you can see antlers.

I felt big and mighty for about two days – until the exertion caught up to me (plus prednisone withdrawal) and ran me over, leaving me half-dead (having never hit a deer with a vehicle, I have yet to determine whether I prefer a rifle and a good hike over a “bullet” on four wheels and a highway). Then a few days later my dad got the biggest buck he’s ever bagged. Aedan’s seen pictures of both deer. Now when he sees mine he says, “Not a big deer. A little deer.” This is as humbling as the degree to which the hunt paddled my fanny.

boypjs1.jpgNow I’m four states west for the longest stretch of time I’ve been away from my family since Jen and I married. I miss them. Good news is that I’m flying home on Aedan’s birthday. Eli turns one just a few weeks later. December comes like a much anticipated month-long Sabbath. I’ve been so weary lately. So incredibly tired… and achy… and whiny.

So why in the world would I get on an airplane and fly out west for a week of fairly strenuous activity (I’m scheduled to speak eight times in six days)? Well, partly because the trip was planned at a time when I was feeling better than I am now, and partly because I expected to be feeling better still by this time. But mostly, it’s because I’ve been invited here to do something I very much love to do: to tell my story; to share my life in such a way as to bring whatever benefit God’s brought to me in experience and scripture to others.

JEspeaks21.jpgWhen I can, I’ll do this with music. Here on this website, I do it with keystrokes and a high-speed server. Elsewhere, I do so in the context of relationships – by far the best medium for sharing the booty of Christ’s conquering of our hearts and winning of our affections. But with those of you with whom I’m not privileged to interact everyday, it is a treat for me to know (in some cases) and hope (in others) that my words, however they come to you, grow your imaginations, anoint your wounds, and season your lives with God’s goodness and his invitation into this big life he calls us to. I am blessed and motivated by your “presence.”

gotglasses.jpgAnd so again, I apologize that I’m not as able (or as driven) as I’d like to be in responding to your emails and blog comments. It’s ridiculous, really. In my head, I actually formulate the content of responses everyday, and I go to bed at night feeling like we’ve had a conversation. But we haven’t. You (whoever you might be that day) haven’t heard or read what I had to say in response to your encouraging words, valid concerns, or probing questions. I think of birth announcements, faith crises, big decisions, relational conflicts, etc… and in cases where a congratulation is due or counsel is to be given, while I might be impersonally silent, I am nonetheless moved by the stories God is telling in our lives as his people – his creatures – and often respond to those stories, not with email – as might be temporally beneficial – but with very personal prayers to the God who’s more intimately involved with our stories than any of us could imagine.

huntfamily.jpgAnd again, I beg of you your continued prayers on my and my family’s behalf. This is still a critical season (as all seasons are), and we seek the Lord for the formation of our insides, and for clarity regarding the story we find ourselves in. While I’m here in Washington, I’m asking God to sustain me (standard prayer fare), to keep me healthy, to give me words and heart; a sensitivity to the lives I get to be a part of these six days.

Long term, I’d really like to be able to do music again. And to write and speak as a vocation. And to heal. My heart is on my sleeve as far as these things are concerned. Thank you for your prayers with us and for us. We really do know we are cared for by a “cloud of witnesses.”

So, from this Starbucks to yours, I hope this serves as an adequate update, and I thank you again for your time and persistent attention to this site.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Still His,

An extra: I had my routine 6-month CT scan last Monday. I threw up all over the CT machine. It was really neat. Don’t expect them to find anything. Unless they see something they’re concerned about, I won’t even be told the results until December. Again, this is standard operating procedure – like blaze orange in Minnesota forests and fields the first weekend in November.

mockingbird.jpgAnd again, if you haven’t downloaded Derek Webb’s Mockingbird album yet, why? It’s so very good. And it’s free. Click on the image to the left to go there. One more month. Hurry! (My faves: King and a Kingdom, A New Law, Please Before I Go, and about 9 others.)

Categories: Cancer | 3 Comments

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