Monday, August 26, 2013

A personal update

I haven’t written to the outside world much but you folks deserve an update. Thank you all for your prayers. They are working.

Well, it’s been an exciting and very different 10 days since I first was handed a piece of paper with two words on it that changed our lives. 

Metastatic Melanoma. 

Let me digress a bit into my history for those who might not know. Around 20 years ago I discovered a vision problem with my left eye. On seeing an eye doctor and then others, I found that I had an ocular melanoma growing under the retina of that eye. The treatments were simple enough, Proton Therapy (nuking your eye socket and surrounding area with X-rays) followed by a day surgery called an Enucleation which is the removal of the eye. So, today I walk around, fooling most folks with a nice plastic prosthetic eye. The doctors were very optimistic were fairly certain they had “…caught it in time.” Their comment meaning that all their testing showed no metastatic cells in evidence after the process.

The statistics for ocular melanoma is pretty grim but there are those who beat the odds. I am one of those folks. 1 in around 650,000 people will develop an ocular melanoma. Of those, once treated, the five year average rate is pretty good with three of four surviving five years. The 10 year number is much lower. It’s been 20 years for me. Pretty good I thought. And honestly, I had pushed that whole concept out of my daily thought processes.

As I went through that original treatment process, I was a victim in my mind. I cried often and was deeply depressed. I knew in my heart that God was punishing me for being such a bad person. I only did as the doctors said out of obedience to the experts as I had no clue about all these sorts of things. I was a God-less and lost child even though I was in my early 20s. 

When I got saved back in ’99, I spent a lot of time with a couple of folks who taught me much. There were things I just never got my brain wrapped around though. Grace and real love from God. These were simply beyond me. These same folks walked in the Book of Acts. I saw the Gifts of the Spirit manifested on a regular basis and became convinced of their reality and more importantly, I was convinced that Jesus is alive.

But back then I prayed some prayers that should have come with a disclaimer. The end result was a rather rough time where I was broken of many things but it was quite painful and when the dust settled, I was mad. Hurt and mad. At Him. For simply answering a prayer in a manner I never expected. And I turned my back on Him and shut out His voice. I knew He was still there but I was afraid of what He would say next so I shut Him out with noise. Needless to say, these have been some dry years. Here I am living in the desert, both figuratively and living in Kennewick.

I would pray with my kids. I would mumble at Him once in a while. But these were what I call prayers of no consequence. Empty one sided talks. Or rants even.

So, back to Dr. Al and his diagnoses. It was not a complete surprise as I knew something was in there; I had seen the CT scan myself. There were two options as to what it could be: a Nodule or a Tumor. Nodules are where your lung seals up an irritant or scars from an infection in cartilage and skin cells. A tumor, well, is a tumor. I had tried to build myself up for possible bad news for several days so I was sort of ready for that news. 

Here’s the simple facts on metastatic melanoma. It’s fatal. It’s a Stage 4 cancer and the doctors have no real answers. They have treatments and processes but there is no cure. I’m currently asymptomatic, which means that I have no ill effects currently from the tumors. There’s one on my left lung and one in the lower lobe of my liver. They are growing slowly but they are growing. And their existence means there are cells freely flowing through my blood looking for other nice places to roost. Lymph nodes, brain, etc..

Regardless of my preparations, as I walked from his office, I was walking in darkness, fear and death. My mind was conjuring up all the melodramatic images it could and all the things I had just lost. Walking into old age with Kimberly. Seeing my children grow up. Watching my son become a man. Giving my girls away to be married. Holding grandchildren. The freedom work I was busy with would fall to people who still didn’t get it and would falter and probably fail. It was crushing. 

Somewhere, someone was praying for me.

In a moment of clarity, I saw that this was not from God. I had been ignoring Him for several years, praying and hoping that he would answer my prayers without asking me to do anything dangerous or painful again. He was there, in that hot parking lot. And this cancer wasn’t Him. Not Him striking me with sickness. Not God crushing me under darkness. No loving Father would abuse and kill His children. I knew that truth deep in my heart and for the first time in years, I wanted to see what He had to say about things.

I was able to stand against that onslaught of darkness in my mind and go home. I sat with Kim and we talked. I said things that I knew people would expect me to say. Fight the good fight. Follow every one of the doctor’s suggestions. Eat right and get fit to hold on to life as long as possible. Oh, and pray. In short I was speaking the words I knew to be acceptable in our society.

That’s what we do: Get sick, see a doctor and do what they say. Right? They’re the experts and after all, we Americans are great at putting people up as experts. Heck, what’s school about other than establishing in our hearts and minds that we should sit down, be quiet and listen to the expert at the front of the room? It works there, in church, in a courtroom, at political rallies and even in the doctor’s office. Mindless compliance.

As many of you know, I’m not into mindless compliance much. I try to apply logic and conscious thought to the events of the day. Let me tell you, it’s hard with news like this.

As I lay in bed later, I felt a real struggle for my mind. There was the part of me that wanted the simple approach of doctors and eventual death. Really, logically, I faced the same choice I had 20 years ago: 
1. Do nothing and die. Maintain my quality of life until the body breaks down and die quickly.
2. Do everything the doctors want me to. Die slower. Perhaps with a diminished quality of life in exchange for additional weeks, months or perhaps even, if I beat the odds, years. Much of what they do has significant side effects and none of it is a cure. I’ll spend the rest of my days looking over my shoulder, waiting for the next bout, the next test, the fear of death.

Neither of these looked particularly appealing. 

Another digression… Sorry. When I got saved, as I said earlier, I walked with a very interesting crowd. These were the people who believed that Jesus was actually willing and able to heal. Not in some distant or metaphorical sense, but He was actually alive here, on this rock, healing and delivering folks from sickness and death.

I studied that subject in depth but it was mostly a mental affair. I came to realize that it was real. That normal Christian man, living today and submitted to Him, could walk in the very ways He did. He could pray that simple prayer of faith and the sick man would be made well. 

So, over the last few days I have submitted to testing and they found nothing surprising. The PET scan found another tumor in my liver that they hadn’t seen before and nothing else. I talked to a very nice oncologist yesterday and he offered nothing unexpected. More tests and the hope that with proper treatment, since I am fairly young, motivated and in decent health, I had a reasonable chance of living several more years and then something would happen and the cells would begin to kill me. We would then begin another fight, more treatments and more hoping. But, eventually, the cells would win. He had no hope for me to grow old with my wife, watch the man my son had become, to marry off my lovely daughters, to see my grandchildren, or to see through to the finish the things I do today.

And without those treatments it would be a simple waiting game for the cells to take root somewhere important and begin to kill me. Sometime.

As I sit here writing I have a picture frame on the wall filled with pictures of my sweet kids. There’s a family picture there too. Is this all I can do? Die or die slower? Is this “…Life and life more abundant?” No, this is death and robbery. Did Jesus climb up on the Cross for nothing if I can be killed by a simple sickness today?

Today I am no child. And while I remain no expert on matters of cancer, I know things I didn’t know back then. Today I am in Christ. I have seen things that no doctor can explain. I trust that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever which I hold to mean that what He did then, He will do today.

There is a third choice. A real and valid choice. Perhaps the most valid one. Not one that ends with me dead before 50, but instead offers real hope and a complete cure, free of fear and that hunted feeling every cancer “survivor” feels. I can go to Him who made me and He will fix what He made. Now this is a difficult choice for a multitude of reasons.

It fails to meet with societal expectations. It looks like the person seeking the touch of Jesus is doing nothing constructive. There’s no fear or crisis. No panic. No focus on time or loss. In short, it repudiates the wisdom of man and many struggle with that in our world.

So, personally, given what I know and seeing what I have seen, offered only three choices of which two end in early death and one offers true healing, I choose Christ.

The night after I met with Dr. Al I was at the local healing rooms. For those who don’t know what that’s about, there was a man in the 1920s in Spokane, John Lake, who rented the Rookery building and began to offer healing for all comers. They were not big events, huge concerts, long sermons or offering drives. It was several small rooms where the sick were prayed for by Christians praying the “prayer of faith.” It worked and you can check the records. The government tried to debunk the results and they went away shaken. The paper reported on their effect on Spokane. Jesus used that simple operation to heal 100,000 people in 5 years. So, as I knew the history and knew folks were still walking that path, I found the local room. Four blocks from my front door and right across the street from my office…

I sat with strangers who were expecting me. One of them had the Gift of the Word of Knowledge and earlier God had given him these words: Mark, tumor and feet. He writes these things down and waits for God to deliver. So here I sat. Tumor and aching feet.

On that chair, with these strangers praying over me, I turned back to Jesus. I expected an ordeal of repentance, a browbeating over the time I had wasted, guilt and shame. Instead here’s what I heard, spoken as by a loving Father to a son tired and sitting on the path, “Are you done? Let’s go. We’ve got work to do.” With the image of Him holding out a hand to life me up.

“There is now no condemnation for them in Christ Jesus.” It was Mercy and Grace. I never expected it. But as a father, I finally understood. And I sit here, weeping at that knowledge.

I am listening. He is speaking. I am not lost. I walk the path He has for me. I will stand and fight this fight in my Lord’s strength, not my own. He will heal this body. I have promises from words in the past. He will use me as a strong tool and serve him for many years. I am holding to that. Tightly.

So, will I be seeing more doctors? I may send the test results to another doctor in Seattle to confirm what I have heard, but treatments? No. The Jesus of the Bible is the same Jesus of today. He is alive, powerful and still battling. I will seek Him.

"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” This is the Lord I serve. “..Healing all who were oppressed by the devil,..” Unless you’re Bill Clinton, all means all.

To end my rambles here, as I wrote initially, I covet your prayers. I need them as I walk in faith towards the Lord. I am the leper, the woman with the issue of blood, the paralytic and the demonized child. I need what only He can give. Life, and life more abundant. 

My heart is awake and I am walking in miracles daily here. Jesus is active and working in my life. I have seen so much and He is teaching me truth daily. Oh, He is faithful.