Posts Tagged With: Death

Life, the Likely

the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. so said mark twain upon learning his obituary had been erroneously printed in the new york journal (he hadn’t died, if it must be said), and so say i, upon hearing of distant acquaintances who’ve spoken as though my death is imminent and inevitable.


it is not.


i can readily understand how one could come to such a dire conclusion by a casual perusal of my recent posts. “death, the possible” two times over, if taken as the whole of all there is to my story, could certainly lead one to believe that i am indeed walking into my grave.


but it is not the whole of my story.


i have very deliberately sat with the possibility of death longer than what most deem comfortable and perhaps longer than what some deem right. there seem to be a few following my story for whom the only way to approach this thing is to banish all thought of death and bank on me making it through it all unharmed.


for some this issues from a genuine hope for me, a severe hatred of all things evil, and a deep faith in the goodwill of God.


thank you.


but i wonder if it’s not for a few something like the proverbial whistling in the dark – a denial of the death that comes to each of us eventually; a radical discomfort with the thought of God allowing something as unfair and as tragic as the death of a young dad leaving three boys (whose grandpa just died) and a bride (whose dad just died) in a space made emptier and much sadder by his leaving.


i don’t know. i do know that it is one thing to read of women who by faith receive back their dead; it is another to read of those who for faith were sawed in two.


and i know that to reckon with the possibility of death, the inevitability of it, not just any death, but your own, is something like seeing smoke drifting out from behind the curtain between you and the holy of holies. it is something like knowing the shekinah glory of God is just around the corner.


a terrifying, sacred space.


a moment altogether outside of time.


hold the hallelujahs and cue holy, holy, holy. the writer of that letter to the hebrews, after jesus had revealed the heart of the father, still says we come to a mountain that smokes; that our God is a consuming fire.


he is good, but he is not tame.


i mention the possibility of death again and again not to be morbid. i’m as eager as anyone to hope for and uphold a more optimistic outcome. i merely aim to pull back the reins on an unnecessary rush through a somber and sacred process, one that can conclude with a glimpse of God so satisfying and strengthening as to make it possible to pass through the valley of the shadow with faith intact.


i would not want to rush others through their laments who in lamenting may see God in a way that strengthens faith and endows the ability to suffer well. i pray you would want the same for me.


jen and i have cried and grieved and come out the other end with fresh resolve and a sober but hopeful anticipation of the days to come. i have cried twenty minutes with my eight-year-old crying on my lap. together we’ve experienced God in the midst of our grief in ways so intimate and weighty, that we have renewed confidence in the presence and plan and purpose of God in our pain.


if there is an open meadow anywhere in this forest through which we travail; an opening in the trees through which we can see the stars in the sky; a space in which our souls can breathe and resolve to walk in, through, and out of the darkness that surrounds us, it will lie along the “dimly lit path” of lament (m card), and nothing calls forth lament like facing down your own death in the light (light?) of leaving the ones you love.


so, i think, my point being plain, i will conclude my rant.


and i can end here with this: while my work preparing for the possible is not finished, and while i feel the weight of this approaching season now more than ever, i am nonetheless ready to round the corner into a more hopeful tack.


for not only is it quite possible i’ll live through this, it’s also most likely that i will.



Categories: MDS | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Workup Week

i begin my workup week monday. prior to every bone marrow transplant it is necessary that each patient gets the equivalent of a medical pat down. it involves bloodwork, xrays, ct scans, and a bone marrow biopsy. transplant doctors at the U of M will examine my heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs; they’ll run a whole cascade of blood tests; and they’ll bank their own results from a biopsy of my marrow, to be sure i both need, and am fit for the remodel of my life.


they won’t tear the house down ‘til they know it’s condemned.


important, too, to be sure the foundation can bear the remodel. the demolition is not a delicate process. my organs must be fit to bear a beating. there is an ever-so-slight possibility we could reach the end of next week and hear: we are very sorry, but we cannot in good conscience give you a transplant at this time.


tick, tock.


two years.


that is, however, not very likely.


what’s more likely is that on thursday, at the final of my many consultations, i’ll be given a date (or possible dates) for an admission sometime in the next few weeks.


then i’ll pack my bags, and pray that i don’t get sick.


speaking of which, i have a cold.


after four months of near perfect health (i suppose a weekend trip to the ER for a flu does mar the record), i have come down with a cold. and that, at the eleventh hour.


my counts rebounded splendidly from the chemo. actually, it was these three months of chemo that facilitated the rebound. my white blood counts never went down, they actually went up. this was what was hoped for, but hardly expected. in any case, i now have the strongest immune system i’ve had at anytime in the past four years.


at least my numbers are up.


a lingering bug can turn into a monster once the house comes down. the seven days of chemotherapy and radiation prior to the transplant will wipe out my immune system entirely, and after the transplant, daily high dose steroids will continue to suppress it until the incoming stem cells firmly take hold.


i don’t want to go into this with a bug in the walls.


it is thus far a mild cold, but it is a cold nonetheless, and it’s got to go.


i wish i were in better shape. i’ve felt a moral obligation going into this to be as fit as possible, for the sake of a better outcome, for the sake of my family. but i’d rather write than work my body, and it takes a move of the spirit for my mind to relinquish its privileged place for the sake of a trip to the gym, and there has been a great deal to write about.


i know it hasn’t necessarily appeared here, but there are other things. other very hard, but important things.


those of you who’ve been following me on facebook know i’ve been attempting to write my boys a letter to be read in the case of my death. this is not easy.


this is not to say that such is where this whole thing is going. we do not know that. i’ve said it before, but the odds are in favor of me coming through this thing alive (though the odds are barely not in favor of it curing the disease).


really? then why all this talk about death? why does it so often sound like i’m giving myself to the grave?


because it’s possible. and it is the hardest thing to truly keep in focus. i can feel it on a sentimental level, and it is very sad. but when i feel it truly, it is unbearable and i look away. i can talk about it, but can i dwell on it? can i be as “one acquainted with grief?” can i sit with the sorrow long enough to see what i need to see?


and what do i need to see?


among other things, what i mostly need to see is hope. i need to see hope in the shadow of death. i need to see the shadow, to dwell in the shadow, long enough to see the hope of the gospel for what it is: really good news.


i want to stare into this darkness long enough to see the light breaking through from the other side. and, what’s more, and no doubt more difficult, i need to see the light shining on this side. light for my boys. and for my bride.


i want to go into this with the kind of hope that truly trusts God with my family, and sitting with this sorrow, in the shadow, reading the word as i wrestle with words with which to comfort my boys if i die; this is how i am trying to find it. this is how i am hoping to forge such a hope; in the furnace of affliction; in the fire of what is real.


a word of hope that comes too soon is not hope, it is sentimentality. this is why to truly comfort someone is to sit with them in their sorrows first. if they are at the bottom of a well and you don’t climb in there with them, your words will feel like rocks dropped on their heads. but if you climb down there to where they are, you just might bring them the ladder upon which you both may ascend.


a little flame with me in the pit will do so much more than the bright sky far above me, up there, where you are. so, please, bring the fire down.


(oh, and know that it cannot be your pit, your pain, it must be mine. i am down here.)


not that i have an opinion in the matter, but if i do, it is truly not first for me. i am fine. but there are many who do not have the care i do. i pray my words help you help them. go to them where they are, sit with them in their sorrow, as uncomfortable as it is; then will the little flame that survived your descent shine most brightly.


the light is brightest in the darkest dark. i want to carry that light in my heart for the dark days before me.


this is why i have been a graveyard dweller, if not a bit of a downer these past months. but i am ready to round the corner. i am ready to lift my eyes. i am ready to set my face towards jerusalem as my master did so many years ago – for the joy set before him, out in front of him, on the other side of his cross.


i say i am ready, but no, i am not ready. i am eager.


there is a difference.


can i be ready?


i am not finished writing my boys. i have not given much thought to my funeral.


and i wonder, have i sat in that shadow long enough, and stared even longer into that light from which darkness, however dark, must always flee? have i the hope inside me for which i seek?


i do not know.


i have a hope. it does not feel as stout as i’d like it to.


late at night when the kids are in bed, my wife is sleeping and the lights are out, i falter and feel the dread of the days ahead, and my heart fails. on account of my imagination, my breath shortens, my pulse quickens, and i want to cry.


but, i remind myself, this only makes sense: God gives grace enough for today, and if the day I am imagining is not the day in which I am, the grace I have will not be enough for it, for it is not today.


so i pray, take my sleep meds, and try to think of something else.


grateful to know i’m not the only one praying, i am


his with you,




Categories: Cancer, MDS | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Death, the Possible (Part II)

so there is a 20% chance that this treatment will kill me. and an 80% chance it will not. this is what it’s like abiding with the 20%, and this is why i do it:


i am often urged to focus on the 8o. it is implied that my consideration of the 20 is morbid and unnecessary. why i don’t agree:


20% is 20%. it is not what’s most likely, but it is not nothing. talk of it as much as i may, considering its probability, i do not give it the time it is due; i do not dwell on it 20% of the time. in fact, most of the time, much more than 80% of it, i am living in the expectation that i’ll be around for much longer than the months between now and the most difficult stages of the transplant. i live with the expectation that i’ll live.


however, the weight of the moments i give to considering the 20 is considerable, and so when i talk of it, it may seem as though that is all i do. it is not. but the impression it leaves on me when i do is no small thing, and so it must be talked about.


but we do not like to talk about it. we do not like the specter of death. we do not like its presence. we squirm and look away, talk about the weather and the game, insist that there is no possible outcome but the one we want, the one in which i don’t die. the one in which i live. to think of it any other way is intolerable.


that is not fair. it is not fair to the ones who live most viscerally with the numbers at hand. we need the opportunity to grieve, to prepare, to ready ourselves for one part of what could be ours to bear.


i have seen a man about to die denied the opportunity to prepare for his death by the surrounding community that insisted his death was not a possibility. he died. two weeks before he did he told me he had started planning his funeral, and had talked with a friend about building him a box, when the praying community around him insisted that to think of such things was a lack of faith, and that he should put these thoughts as far from his mind as possible.


he died two weeks later, and, though he passed quite peaceably himself, he left a confused community in his wake. his funeral could have made so much more sense had he been allowed the opportunity to interpret his death for us; if he would’ve been allowed to form his funeral in the image of his understanding of what was at hand.


as it was, his funeral was (to me at least), though beautiful in many ways, confused: he died. we prayed for his healing, we were sure it would happen, and it did not. what happened? perhaps he could’ve helped us make sense of it all. what a kindness that would’ve been. what a comfort!


therefore, what man, when offered an opportunity to prepare for his own death, to ready his heart for his passing; a chance to put things in order before it happens; the possibility to provide for his friends and loved ones his own understanding of his own death; what man would pass up on the opportunity to do that?


perhaps there are some who would; some who wouldn’t care to give time to such things, regardless of the outcome.


i am not one of those.


for me and my family, we must give our attention to the 20%.


for the first month after my diagnosis, we all felt as though i’d received a death sentence. we did not feel good about it at all. call it morbidity or negativity or a lack of faith, it was what it was: a fact. the numbers were a fact. our feelings about them were a fact. though the outcome with which we were weighed down was by itself not yet a fact, our feeling about it was, and it was something to be dealt with. how?


some would say the best way to deal with such things is to deny them, to not give them the time of day. i think you know how i feel about that. if not, i’ll say it again:


20% is 20%. while it is not most likely, it is not nothing, and should be given the weight it is due. i must finalize my will. i must have a health care directive. and while some may think it going too far, i feel i must also think through my own funeral, and write or record parting messages to my boys. difficult things. too far?


think about it: if it truly is a possibility (which it is – consider a six-shot revolver and a game of russian roulette – it is that), and this possibility was yours, and you had the opportunity to do these things, wouldn’t you do them? or would you leave them undone in the name of positivity? in the name of faith?


perhaps it is my melancholic bent and its effect on those near to me, i don’t know, but i will do these things. and i will not consider them an unnecessary downer or an indication of a lack of faith. nor will i consider the grief of those near me something to be quickly quenched for the sake of hope and wellbeing.


we, myself and my family, have needed to prepare for the 20%. we have needed to grieve. we have needed to put things in order. we have needed to nurture our faith in the shadow of what’s real (people do die, that’s a fact), and then steel our resolve and set our faces towards the cross that may be ours to bear. and then? and then what?


and then, we can set it all aside and set about the business of living. we can rise up and lean hard into the solid presence of the possibility most likely ours to abide, the possibility that i’ll come out of this alive; the possibility in which death will be something to which i can say, no. not now. not yet. i am going to live.


see, hope that denies death – that is something. it is hope. but when death comes, what then? what is it then? hope that looks death squarely in the eye and says, yet i will hope that even still i will live – that is a stout hope, one that will live on unchanged regardless of the outcome; one that will look into the age to come if it is deferred here and now.


for such a hope is bound to the real, to the present that is, as some call it, the eternal now. this is that kind of hope that has accounted for what may happen and has said nonetheless, i will hope. i will hope and will not be dismayed if that for which i hope is not realized now, for there may be yet another means by which my longing is to be fulfilled, and therefore i will wait for it with patience.


this is the hope to which i ascribe, the hope for which i strive to work through the 20, living eventually into the 80 that may be the gift we will so gladly (ever gladder for having considered the 20) and gratefully (ever more gratefully) receive.


soon to lean on the 80, i am


his with you,




btw ~ i delivered a sermon at citylife on sunday. it felt to me the most important sermon i’ve ever prepared. it has been posted both on the citylife website (, and on mine, at click on “i speak” and look specifically for “in uz with abba: is it worth it?” it’s nearly an hour long, and communicates a lot of emotion (i had to push through tears for much of it). it conveys what we believe about suffering and God’s relationship to it. so get comfortable with a cup of joe, have a box of tissue nearby, and join me on my journey into what lies ahead. as a fair warning, you may not agree with everything i have to say. these are hard words, yet there is a haven of hope in them, and i hope you’ll meet me there.


~ oh, and i promise my next post will not be quite so “morbid.” (-:


Categories: Cancer, MDS | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Death, the Possible

so my most recent biopsy results revealed a disease holding steady. no progression, but still there, evidenced by deformities in the cells my marrow produced. the chromosomal study is still pending, but isn’t expected to show anything different from my october biopsy, as the cell dysplasia (funny-looking-ness) is the tell-tale sign of that rogue chromosome still at work.


my blasts (immature cells) have decreased, not significantly, but enough that the extra induction round of chemo (prior to the transplant chemo) will not be required. this is good news, as it means my body going into the transplant will be in much better shape than it would’ve been after the induction.


the surprise in all this, was that the transplant team at the U, instead of taking me for the transplant work-up this week, said they wanted me to do another cycle of the mild chemo i’ve been doing these past two months first. that includes this week of injections, and three weeks lag time for maximum efficacy. and that means that i get another month at home before it’s go-time at the U.


breathing easier now. we needed this extra time. one would think we’d be ready, given the time we’ve been granted already, but no, we weren’t.


these past few months have felt more like a vacation, me being so healthy, life feeling so normal. and with much to celebrate: birthdays, christmas, new years, our ten-year anniversary. jen turned thirty on saturday, a somber celebration in some respects. nonetheless, the possibility of it all coming to a close this week was a little jarring. believe it or not, we weren’t prepared.


on some levels we were, but not across the board. these extra weeks don’t have the aura of vacation anymore. it’s all preparation. the final descent.


so on we go, grateful for the extra time, the breathing room.


everything has a certain intentionality to it. i’m recording myself reading my favorite scripture passages for my boys, telling my stories, too, with a digital recorder and its little red light; we’re painting the room in which i’ll spend most of my home-time post-transplant, complete with a writing desk, a comfy reading chair, and a bed; i’m in the studio, tracking rough cuts of songs i’ve written but never recorded; we’re writing wills; we’re writing updates.


perhaps you sense in those preparations a long-term vision that looks in two directions at once. it does, because we must. perhaps i can unpack that here.


we’re given statistics to account for the possibilities inherent in a transplant such as this. i’ve mentioned these numbers before, stacked against me, but just barely. here’s what i mean:


there are two stats in particular that have caught our attention. one is in regards to the effectuality of the transplant as a cure for my MDS: 40 percent; there is a 40 percent chance that this will work. the other is in regards to the potential lethality of the transplant itself: the odds are 1 in 5 that complications will arise that will do me in.


imagine you were told one morning that if you walked out your door there would be a 1 in 5 chance you wouldn’t return. would you leave?


of course, in my case there is a killer in the kitchen that’ll get around to me eventually if i stay. and he may leave the house while i’m gone.


there are a variety of transplants, each with their own risks; each with their own set of numbers. mine happens to come with numbers like these.


there are those who would be quick to point out the 80% chance that i’ll make it. i, too, want to go there, but not so fast. here’s why:


because death is very real. it is especially so for us right now. with jen’s dad’s sudden passing this past fall, and not just his passing but the brutality of it; with the slow and painful death of the mother of one of our closest friends fresh in our minds, our boys especially deserve the chance to be prepared for every possibility, including this one.


another good friend, one who lost his mom to cancer when he was seven, wisely asked me what the one thing would be that i’d want my boys to know going into this. i answered, in retrospect, i would want them to know that my death did not take me by surprise. he said, yes, with tears, that’s it. that’s what made the difference for him.


he who passes over the opportunity to prepare for his own death, for himself and for his family, wastes a remarkable opportunity to connect the dotted lines between this life and the next. i will not waste this opportunity.


death is always a possibility. always and for each of us. and it must be looked squarely in the face as our own if it is to be rightly seen at all. the christian philosopher peter kreeft writes an excellent book on this, “Love Is Stronger Than Death.” i am only half way through with it, as it is one to be digested slowly, over time, and i’ve not had the time to read it in order to do that well. but i am certain he is leading me in a good direction, the progression from death as enemy to death as lover, through the faces of stranger, friend, and mother… too much to go into in the moment, but worthy of anyone’s time who is seeking better to understand the end to every life (including your own) short of Christ’s return. i highly recommend it.


in any case, how do we go about preparing our boys for that?


we’ve received good counsel, i believe, and it is at its simplest, this: fan into flame the kind of faith that believes God is God, God is good, He is in control, and He can be trusted to be with us everyday and always, even to the end of the age.


there is more, of course: crystallizing an understanding of the afterlife that is more alive than this life, directing their gaze to the resurrection of the dead and the age to come; of lions lying down with lambs, trees that forever bear fruit along streams that never cease to flow, brand new bodies that eat, hug, laugh, play, and possibly walk through walls.


but even all this is contingent upon the first, upon God’s goodness and upon God’s God-ness. His promises are moot if these attributes be not his.


so this is where we seek to guide their little minds: to nestle in the exhortation of isaiah 41, simply, do not be afraid.


my mind to, needs this kind of guidance. to fan into flame in my own heart the kind of faith we seek to instill in theirs. to be able to entrust my family and their care to the provision and the presence of God, with or without me. this is no small thing.


i’ve been there before. i remember. i couldn’t do it then.


one can be mindful of the fact that we’re no strangers to this kind of suffering. it was the same in another season that gave rise to the cause of this one. the cause of this cancer being the cure of another. say what you will about the ill-effects of such a cure, i’ll point out it still saved my life, gave me another seven years in which to live.


in any case, we remember, though not with the clarity that present suffering affords, the depths to which our human hearts can descend. we remember just how evil the evils that befall us can be. we are, none of us, guaranteed to be spared the full effects of the fall. we deceive ourselves if we think otherwise, and render our hearts floppy and unprepared should such evils be ours to bear.


should we refuse it our attention because it is not fair? because i’m young? because i am dad to three young boys?


a young father from my hometown, a divorcee, died of cancer leaving five children behind. death is not fair.


hebrews eleven, the often referenced christian “hall of faith” itself allows that “some were sawed in two.” a faith that doesn’t reckon with such a possibility will be a faith unprepared in the face of such an eventuality. it is, after all, the faith that survives such a fate that is being paraded in this hall of faith. that is a sober faith, indeed.


so we have sought in recent weeks to think on these things. and there is more thinking to be done. but we are ready, too, to move into a more hopeful disposition.


we think ourselves hopeful realists, not given to denial or despair, but rather committed to what paul miller calls the desert way: hoping for the best while living in light of what is. we interact with what’s real. we hope for what is not yet.


some might think our dwelling on the possibility of death a capitulation of faith, a downer to the aims of positive thinking. we think it right and proper. and difficult as all hell. it’s not much fun, either.


but it is there as a number on a page, a possibility that must be considered if it is not to be an opportunity wasted.


so do we say to our boys that daddy could die? we do not. but do we guarantee them that i’ll be okay? we don’t do that either.


we simply remind them that God is God, He is good, and He is with us always.


they know death is possible. they know what death is. no need to nurture an anxiety they don’t already have. rather, we speak plainly to the anxiety that is, and we say:


do not be afraid.


be sad. be prayerful. but do not be afraid.


then we bless them and put them to bed, and go to sleep ourselves saying the same thing over and over again.


do not be afraid.


there is, of course, an 80 percent chance that i’ll be okay; that i’ll be around for their next birthdays, an eleven-year anniversary.


good. we will hope for that, and better things too.


but we will not pass up the opportunity to see life in a whole new way. and if our faith be shaken, let what can be shaken be shaken. we can only start with what is. i’d rather know the little faith i really have is solid, than merely hope the great faith i hope i have is real.


God has been good to me in that regard, and i can honestly claim no great faith.


but i know the little faith that is there is really there.


and for that i can only say, thank God.


entrusting you with an unedited rant,


please be kind,


i am


his with you,











Categories: Cancer, MDS | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

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