April 23, 2019
A friend described the process Nan and I are going through as “white water rafting.” Around every bend is a fresh situation with some new factor to account for. Constant decisions and adjustments to make. The unpredictability of the river: a boulder, an eddy of calm, a sudden drop, a stretch of smooth water, a whirlpool. Good days and bad days.
That rafting metaphor captures the experience very well! We find that expectations need to be adjusted—often. And the provisional nature of all our plans is immediately obvious, not just a background thought that occasionally kicks in.
Health-wise, we are both very grateful to have had those two energetic, “I feel like myself” weeks in Hawaii. It was a grace to feel good and unhindered with family and friends, to be able to engage in so many ocean activities. But during our last two or three days in Hawaii I began to experience abdominal discomfort—the cancer manifesting.
Back in Philadelphia, in consultation with the medical team, I decided to experiment a bit more with chemotherapy. Is there a way we can adjust things to achieve good ends and minimize negative side effects? Doctors inserted a port (April 9); we planned an every other week schedule; we lowered the dose. We also added a low dose of a second drug. The infusion was on April 11, and that day was an eddy of calm. There was even a humorous note. The nurse commented to Nan, “This steroid might make your husband chatty.” Now I’ve never been described as “chatty,” and, as you can imagine, witticisms ensued. Indeed, that evening I was chatting away! But in the days that followed, the aftereffects were not humorous: extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, peripheral neuropathy causing pain in my hands and unsettling my balance.
Accounting for these new negative factors means we have decisions to make. We need wisdom. Thank you for caring for us. I’ll keep you posted.
Moving on to some other notes from life lived.
Regarding the season, April clearly stands out as my favorite time of year here in Pennsylvania. The sun is bright and the breeze is cool. Tulips and daffodils bob on that breeze. On the upper story trees (including our new elm tree), pale green buds are emerging—even bursting forth. The flowering trees are in full blossom: redbud and lilac, dogwood and forsythia, magnolia and cherry. And the azaleas are about to pop. After 5 months of brown ground and bare branches (briefly transformed by snowstorms!), suddenly our neighborhood has become a wonderland of living color.
I’ve had books on my mind. Lately I’ve read some fascinating biographies: Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, Wallace Stegner. I love good historical writing. It reveals so much of human experience and human nature. When the portrayal of a person succeeds, one always witnesses the Big Issues in action: good and evil, insights and blind spots, opportunities and constraints, friendships and betrayals, joy and despair, love and loss, hardship and felicity, honesty and falsity, hope and disillusionment, achievement and failure, weakness and strength, life and death. (In comparison, counseling and self-help literature is typically myopic, missing the real person and the real story.)
I’m also again rereading one of my favorite novels, A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin. (Reading fat books does seem to comport with times of not feeling well!) As with history, so with great fiction. It lives.
And while I’m thinking about books, those virtues of history and literature comport extremely well with (for example) some core virtues of Psalms and Gospels. The Big Issues are in play. And Scripture’s candor about human experience and our relationships comes with even greater depth than those other genres: an unequaled ability to probe the motives of the human heart, and a vivid awareness of God as the person to know. I think it unfortunate when abstruse vocabulary and obsolete syntax characterize a Bible translation. Unclarity significantly impedes making the relevant personal and interpersonal connections.
Nan and I have often been reading and pondering Psalms lately. No surprise, given my health troubles. And we’ve been reading a great deal in Gospels, given the approach of Easter, and Jesus’ journey toward death, then his resurrection from death to indestructible physical life. Psalms and Gospels have been real friends. They’re about people, troubles, action, interaction, events, vividly captured in metaphors from daily experience. They capture honest need and tangible love. No theories and abstractions, no ritualized religious activity, no histrionic emotion, no moralistic guilt trip, no sentimentality. It’s earthed. It’s alive. It elicits, illumines, and reorients our honesty.
In my work at CCEF, I continue to be involved half-time. My chief roles involve mentoring, writing, editing, and working with the succession committee of our board. Something I said in an earlier post continues to be true. One of my greatest joys and satisfactions is watching and hearing how well my fellow employees are doing. The work is flourishing. Pray for God to grant wisdom, strength, and love to serve people around the world who are our students, counselees, readers, conference attenders, and donors. May the men and women we serve flourish.
The pastor of our church, Mark Ainsworth, is leaving at the end of the month to return to his native England. We will miss both him and his wife Claudia. He has been a most faithful pastoral visitor. During these difficult and uncertain months, he has visited regularly to inquire after how we are doing, to offer counsel, to bring communion if I’ve had to miss worship, to pray for us. Hands-on pastoral care is a rare but extremely nourishing gift.
Let me close with words of sheer grace that framed our Easter weekend:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?.... [Nothing] in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
—Romans 8:31–35, 39