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in loving memory of

David Powlison


About David Powlison

David Powlison served as CCEF’s executive director (2014-2019), a faculty member, and senior editor of the Journal of Biblical Counseling. He held a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and an MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary. David wrote extensively on biblical counseling and on the relationship between faith and psychology. His books Seeing with New Eyes and Speaking Truth in Love probe the implications of Scripture for how to understand people and how to counsel. The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context explores the background and development of CCEF’s mission. David is survived by his wife Nan, their three children and spouses, and seven grandchildren.

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In the hands of a loving God, sorrow and suffering become the doorways into the greatest and most indestructible joys.

David Powlison

The Powlison Path

There are so many ways that David Powlison's legacy continues to live on and bless God's people around the world. One small way was David's love of beauty at CCEF's office. One of David's desires was to see a particular section of CCEF's property landscaped and transformed into a space that employees and counselees could use to enjoy God's creation.

After David died, many people gave to see that project come to fruition. In 2023, we completed construction for the Powlison Path and held a small service with close friends and family to officially dedicate the path and honor David's legacy. View a video of the path below.

Resources from David Powlison

David Powlison's Conversion Story

Not long before he died, David had a conversation with Bob Kramer, his college roommate and long-time friend, who was instrumental in bringing him to Christ. A portion of that conversation follows.

Memorial Service

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to CCEF in David’s memory. Checks can be sent to 1803 East Willow Grove Avenue, Glenside, PA 19038 or you can give electronically at

David Means Beloved by Nan Powlison

February 12, 2020

And so he was! David was beloved by God. Beloved by his Hawaiian Ohana, beloved by me and our children and grandchildren. He was loved by his colleagues and friends at CCEF and friends all over the world. We all miss David.

Personally, I miss our Cogito coffee and Scripture chats those early mornings when God met us, opening hearts and minds to light-filled Truth. I miss our morning kiss as he headed out the door to meetings, trips, conferences, or writing and editing efforts. I miss his homecomings when he would call out, “Nannygoat” coming in the door! And then our afternoon walks together in every season (he loved the seasons, especially snow!) observing frost patterns, blossoms, colored leaves, dogs, hawks, and butterflies while talking about our day. I miss his quick wit and brilliant mind as we ate dinner together watching Jeopardy—he beating the competition between bites of chicken. I miss reading aloud How Green was My Valley and Daily Light before turning off the light on another day. I miss our trips together—paddling turquoise waves in Hawaii, jumping off rocks on the Croatian coast, visiting UK, Prague, Geneva, and beyond when he spoke at conferences. I miss hearing about all the places I didn’t get to visit with him—Korea, Brazil, Israel, India, Uganda, and places in the States. I miss cuddling together the newborn babes God gave us together—Peter, Gwenyth, and Hannah. And I think with pride about them now, all married cuddling and raising their own children. He loved them all so much! Cameron David (Peter and Keri’s boy) in Hawaii. Michaela, Sophie, Caroline and Charlotte (Gwen and Andrew’s girls) in Florida. Ezra and Olivia (Hannah and Matija’s two) in Croatia.

God has been ministering to all of us through your prayers. Please don’t stop! One of the most beautiful manifestations of His grace to me has been in the appearance of yellow butterflies. On one of our walks a few weeks before he went to heaven, a yellow Tiger Swallowtail flew around us in a figure eight pattern three times. It was like being swallowed up in the Trinity. After that—every few weeks in different places—Vermont, Cape Cod, Philly and Martha’s Vineyard, yellow butterflies flew across my path or lingered around me for long moments. The grand finale happened on the Vineyard in early September. I had been working hard for a week helping friends, so I decided to take a morning off to go to the beach on that crystal blue day. I drove out to the end of the island and walked down the path to Gayhead beach. The tide was coming in. I planted myself in a deserted spot close enough to the incoming waves to be in them, but not so close that I was overwhelmed by them. I sat for a long sit. Allowing blueness, and surf, sound and sun to wash around me, counsel and console me. I sang to myself the hymn we sang at David’s memorial service:

O the deep deep love of Jesus
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free
Rolling like a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me
Underneath me, all around me
Is the current of Your love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To that glorious rest above

I stared out to sea - the perfect blue sky meeting the perfect blue ocean in a perfect horizontal line. And then, what should fly right along that horizon line in a delicate flutter? A yellow butterfly!! Out at sea no less!! I laughed a good laugh. “You didn’t have to do that Lord!” I said out loud.

Our wedding verse came to mind, the reference inscribed in our wedding rings—Psalm 36:7-10—an anointing touch as I found refuge in Him that day:

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of Your house,
You give them to drink from the river of Your delights.
For with You is the fountain of life
in Your light do we see light.
O Continue Your steadfast love to those who know You
and your righteousness to the upright in heart.

As I reflect on my beloved, gem of a man, David. I am so thankful that God gave me the opportunity to serve beside him for 43 years. I am thankful for all of you who loved him too—thankful for your gifts of love, care, visits, meals, flowers, service, and prayers for our family! I am especially thankful to all of his team at CCEF who bent over backward to help us through this hard time.

Love, Nan and family

June 7, 2019

David died peacefully at home on Friday June 7, 2019 surrounded by his family.

He fought the good fight, he finished the race, he kept the faith.
(2 Timothy 4:7)

June 4, 2019

Dear friends and family,

Thank you for all of your love, care and prayers for us over the last nine months. We have had some lovely times walking in the beautiful green flowering spring in our neighborhood, riding in our Model A Ford, and entertaining faithful friends. David has been able to join in some meetings at CCEF and edit some writing projects, and he and I have had many rich times of conversation and prayer together.

In the last two weeks we have seen a significant downturn in David's health, with fever spikes, nausea and progressive weakness. Our children have come around us, as well as hospice nurses and friends.

Thank you so much to the many people who have reached out with their kindness. At this point, our family is surrounding David with love and care and we are not able to have any other visitors. In lieu of flowers, we would appreciate contributions to CCEF, and we covet your prayers for our family at this time.

We will be posting further information about David's memorial service when the time comes.

Blessings and Love,

Nan Powlison

June 3, 2019

David Powlison was invited to give the closing comments at the Westminster Graduation Ceremony on May 23, 2019. He was unable to attend personally but CCEF's Dean of Faculty, Mike Emlet read the following on David's behalf:

I grieve not to be with you this afternoon. I very much looked forward to walking with you, worshiping with you, listening to our God with you, and cheering you on as you set forth into the next season of your life. After being diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in November, I returned to work half-time at CCEF, serving a future that I am not likely to be part of. Part of why I have so looked forward to this graduation day is because it is something fully in the present tense of my experience. And I grieve. I truly grieve not to be present with you. But my health has become fragile and I recently entered hospice care. 

I want to share words of encouragement with you. I first graduated from Westminster thirty-nine years ago! I still remember the specific details of one sermon that I heard in seminary chapel. Dick Gaffin was speaking from Romans 8:26 about how the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. He made a point I’ve never forgotten — that “weakness” is singular. It does not say “weaknesses” as if there were a finite list of sins A-B-C, and sufferings X-Y-Z in your life. “Weakness” singular is a comprehensive description of our human condition. We are perishable. We are mortal. We face a multitude of afflictions in our lives. And we are sinful, bent from the heart towards pride, self-righteousness, fear of man, and a multitude of desires and fears that beset us. The mercies of God meet us in this comprehensive condition of weakness. 

Something I long admired about Pope John Paul II is that he was unafraid to be publicly weak. He was willing to be in front of people when it was evident that he was failing. I deeply respected that. It’s so countercultural to people who want to say, “We are STRONG!” and “You can do it!” On the contrary, we are fundamentally weak. That weakness is a most unusual door into all the ways God enables us to be strong. 

One of my favorite novels is Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. I’ve always admired one of the characters. Msimangu is an Anglican pastor living in South Africa under apartheid. He is very generous to a grieving older pastor, Steven Kumalo. When Kumalo expresses deep, tearful gratitude for how generous Msimangu has been, he responds: “I am a selfish, sinful and weak man, but God has put his hand on me. That is all.” 

Being unafraid to be publicly weak was true of King David. The end of Psalm 40 has always resonated deeply with me. This psalm contains a great deal of fruitful ministry and joyful worship, yet David summarizes himself this way: “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.” David’s strength grew out of his comprehensive sense of weakness, and his confidence in God’s strength. 

We see something very similar in the life of the apostle Paul. He pleads with God to take away a very distressing affliction, but the Lord says, “No, my grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul goes on to say, “I will gladly boast of my weakness as the doorway through which the strength of God enters my life.”

Supremely we see fearlessness of public weakness in the life and words of Jesus himself. The Beatitudes sound the keynote of Jesus’ keynote talk, the Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus says to us captures what he himself embodies. When we think about how the image of Christ is expressed in our lives, the Beatitudes show us how the right kind of weakness, a fundamental sense of neediness, then leads directly to the right kind of strength, a strength grounded and founded in need. 

Think about the qualities of strength that the last four beatitudes portray. 

  • “Blessed are the merciful” — to have your life characterized by a deep concern for the welfare of others, to be generous, open-hearted and open-handed. 
  • Jesus says, “The pure in heart are blessed,” describing the ability to approach all people free from duplicitous motives, free of self-serving. 
  • Jesus says, “Peacemakers are blessed — they’re nothing less than the children of God.” Peacemaking is the ability to be candid, constructive, and caring; to pursue peace in a world that is full of war, dissension, conflicts, arguments, and avoiders. 
  • Jesus says, “Those who are persecuted are blessed.” He calls us to joyful purposefulness, finding courage in affliction, finding perseverance in opposition. These are wonderful traits. These are the traits of leadership and loving fruitfulness in Jesus’ life — and ours as well. 

The right kind of strength comes from the right kind of weakness. The right kind of weakness is expressed in the first four beatitudes:

  • “The poor in spirit are blessed” — those who know they need help outside of themselves. Jesus is described as one who, though he was rich, became poor. He became poor for you. He became utterly dependent, utterly needy. He died in the ultimate weakness and perishability of the human condition. 
  • Jesus is portrayed throughout his life as one who mourns: “He is a man of sorrows, acquainted, well-acquainted, deeply-acquainted, with grief.” “Blessed are those who mourn.” He mourns for your sake, he mourns his own suffering that he must face, he mourns all the things that are wrong in this world, and he comes on a mission of mercy to make wrongs right.
  • “The meek are blessed.” Jesus describes himself as meek and lowly in heart. Meekness is not weakness in the negative sense. It’s weakness in the positive sense, being under the hand and voice and will of Another, heeding the voice of his Father. He was meek for you and for me, fully trusting God’s promises, fully obeying God’s will. He is the one in whose image we are to become.
  • Jesus is blessed because he hungers and thirsts for righteousness. He makes right what is wrong. He makes true what is false. And he remakes what is evil for the good of His people. He who is all-righteous hungers and thirsts for righteousness for our sake.

So we see in the very life of our Lord that he is all these things. He is fruitful, he is strong, but he is fruitful and strong on the foundation of this abiding sense of weakness and need. And it’s that weakness and need that we see supremely exhibited at the end of his life when he goes to death in our place, casting Himself on his Father’s mercy and power. He was raised in strength, while retaining compassion and sympathy for our weakness and our need. He warmly welcomes us to the throne of his grace, that we might receive the mercy we need and the grace specific to whatever difficult situation we are in. 

My deepest hope for you is that in both your personal life and your ministry to others, you would be unafraid to be publicly weak as the doorway to the strength of God Himself.

May 15, 2019

Dear friend of CCEF,

Thank you for your commitment to CCEF’s mission of connecting the dots between people’s troubles and our Savior. I want to provide you with an update and ask for your prayers.

You are likely aware that I was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer last fall. I’ve actually felt reasonably well: good appetite, no pain meds, a good evening walk with Nan every day, a clear mind and working half-time at CCEF. But a recent CT scan shows that the lesions metastasized into the liver have grown both in number and size. When I asked my doctor for the prognosis, he was candid: “A few months.”

How are we doing in light of such hard news? Grief and tears are close to the surface. But scripture has been living and active, and full of love. The dots are connecting, and the intimate voice and presence of God in Psalm 121 has been a particularly significant companion. Our Shepherd watches over us, protects us, cares for us, and never dozes off. It’s so. And friends and family have been so tender toward us.

During these past months, I’ve been grateful to be involved with our faculty, with the Journal of Biblical Counseling, and with our board’s search committee working to determine my successor. I’m particularly grateful for how work is going on a book project on the topic of spiritual warfare in the counseling context. And I am profoundly grateful for Jayne Clark who has stepped up to serve as our acting executive director. It is gratifying to see CCEF continuing to flourish and take significant steps forward under her leadership. In future correspondence you'll be hearing more from Jayne directly.

Please give thanks to our Savior God for his presence. Thank him for our team at CCEF, and particularly for Jayne. I ask for your continued prayers for Nan and me personally, and for all of us working at CCEF. Please pray for:

  • particular wisdom as Nan and I process so many things, make so many decisions and seek to love each other and our family well
  • bandwidth in current writing projects — and ongoing fruitfulness within my current limitations
  • wisdom and grace for Jayne as she continues to provide leadership as acting executive director
  • discernment as our board proceeds with the search for my successor

Nan and I have been deeply encouraged by your kindness, encouragement, and prayers over these months. CCEF is indebted to your generosity. We continue to go forward with your support and care.


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

March 21, 2019

It is a pleasure to catch up with all that has been happening.

First a medical update. We got the results of my CT scan on March 6, and it is good news: the January and March scans side by side look identical. The tumors are "stable" (my doctor's word) both in number and size, so the chemotherapy is accomplishing what we hope it will do. Given the unpleasantness of the chemotherapy experience, however, this raises the conundrum of what to do going forward. My medical team is attuned to that dilemma, and I much appreciate their commitment to do what works for the patient. Three possible adjustments: [1] insert a port, to eliminate the discomfort from using veins in the forearm; [2] do chemotherapy every other week, rather than three weeks on, one off; [3] lessen the dose.

We will be making those decisions when we return from... Hawaii! After getting the CT results, we flew back to my family and family homes here on windward Oahu. We are in the middle of a much-anticipated two weeks visit. It has been a rich ten days. We spent the first week with my cousin Cosette, whose home overlooks the ocean, and is next door both to my brother Dan's and to my sister Diane's homes. Lots of visiting back and forth; many shared meals; beach walks daily; rainbows over the ocean; humpback whales spouting and breaching offshore; body surfing; the delight of spotting tropical fish while snorkeling; reminiscing over dinner with a group of high school friends from the class of 1967.

In other words, we've been much more active socially and physically than we imagined we'd be. I made a significant observation while Nan and I were traveling here on March 8. During our layover in Los Angeles, we were walking around the airport. At one point I suddenly realized, "I feel like myself. I feel better than I've felt in 6 months!" After the unpleasantness of jaundice in September, a whirl of diagnostic medical events in October, major surgery and slow recovery through November and December, and then chemotherapy in January and February, I now feel almost normal. We had been hoping that this time out from chemo would give us a sense for my current baseline level of energy, mental acuity, and overall subjective sense of health. It has done that, and the baseline is very encouraging—though of course what is happening objectively remains serious. Such days are a gift of God for this season, and I say, "O my Father, thank you!"

Nan and I recently read a finely worded comment about gratitude: "Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice evokes an echo. Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning." It's a wonderful gift to not only feel grateful, but to be able to express it in words to the Giver of every good gift.

March 3, 2019

How did a month pass so quickly—with no updates? It has been eventful on many fronts.

Medically, it was a relief to have that week off from chemotherapy in early February. But the next two infusions (February 14 and 21) were increasingly unpleasant. The infusion process caused increasing “discomfort.” (My nurse commented, “This particular chemo is rough on veins.”). And though the steroid worked well to short-circuit any fever spike like what happened in January, the after-effects were increasingly unsettling. I’d have a two day steroidal buzz, followed by a hard crash into fatigue for a couple of days. Not how we want this to go. I canceled the third infusion last week after very good conversations with the treatment team. My nurse practitioner, Karon, is a gem—knowledgeable, a straight-shooter, very committed to understanding the patient’s experience and to working with this patient. 

I will be having the follow-up CT scan tomorrow (March 4). This is what we’ve been aiming for in our two month experiment with chemotherapy. It will give a point of comparison with the early January CT scan, so we’ll get a bead on what is going on inside. We can assess what the therapy is doing (or not doing). I should be receiving a more specific prognosis. Having these facts will help us in deciding what to do (or not do) going forward.

Personally, this month brought grief in a way I did not expect—though it makes perfect sense on reflection. For three or four days in early February I felt as if I were behind a veil, standing at a distance from where life was unfolding just beyond arm’s reach. When I stopped and thought about it, I realized, “I’m grieving.” Future events and plans are the topic of so many conversations with family, friends and colleagues. I find myself in discussions that involve futures I may not be part of. The most poignant moment came when our daughter Hannah announced that she is expecting a child in October. Will I see this new baby? Will I go to CCEF’s national conference in October? Will I celebrate my 70th birthday in December. Will I sing “O come, all ye faithful” and “Joy to the world.” I don’t know, but I do hope so.

Interpersonally, Nan and I have been having rich conversations. Yesterday morning we spent two hours immersed in memories. Our reverie was prompted by Lilias Trotter’s description of a fortnight on the Cornwell coast in southern England:

Cornwall has the most wonderful attrait [French: attraction, highly desirable appeal] of any place I know on earth—except perhaps the desert. And there is a likeness, too, in all their unlikeness—the huge illimitableness of everything—ones whole being can expand…. I nearly cried for joy when I got out among the heather on the cliff. Oh such places there are—far more wonderful than I remember even. Today I sat for hours among the boulders on the slope of the cliff of a little bay….. The sea below every shade of emerald and sapphire and lapis lazuli, with deep purple shadow where the seaweed-covered rocks showed through. And above the till of moor, tawny turf and amethyst heather. (A Blossom in the Desert, p. 185)

Nan and I walked that very coast in 2006 with our daughter Hannah. We similarly delighted in every gem-like shade of green and blue in that same vast ocean below those cliffs. That memory then evoked memories of other vistas with a similar quality of “huge illimitableness”: in Wales overlooking the Irish Sea, along sea cliffs in the Orkneys, hiking in the Anza Borrego desert east of San Diego, and, repeatedly, right at home in the ocean off Lanikai where I spent so much of my childhood.

We’re expecting snow tonight here in Philadelphia. Snowstorms awaken something similar to huge illimitableness—the stillness, the complete alteration of every familiar thing we see outside our windows, a certain quiet thrill. (In fact, it’s just starting to snow right now.) I suspect that because of growing up in green, fragrant Hawaii, winter storms have never lost their magic even after 50 years on the mainland. By the way, there will be no repeat of that barefoot sprint around the house in the snow. It won’t be cold enough! Instead, Nan and I will take a walk through the neighborhood before bed.

How about my work at CCEF? I feel deep satisfaction as I witness my fellow workers thriving and fruitful during these months when I’ve had to significantly step back. I have continued to be active in meetings with our board, with fellow faculty members, and in all-staff gatherings. And I’ve also been working on editing projects and a book. But it’s not the same. We are all at least subliminally aware of what I am facing.

Psalms 141, 142 and 143 have been invigorating companions in recent weeks. The psalm writer is so fully awake to what it means to be human! He is so alert to good and evil, danger and safety, life and death, weakness and strength. And he is so honest about the immediate way God connects to these most significant aspects of our daily lives. Psalms have been a first-person tutorial in what it means to be a sentient human being.

Finally, thank you for the concern, care, and encouragement that so many people have expressed to Nan and me during a hard season.

February 1, 2019

A lot has happened in these past two weeks. Nan’s and my retreat weekend became rich with conversation—though on Saturday we were both so tired we did more napping than pondering and discussing. But that rest day set us up for an excellent Sunday, speaking candidly about how we are each doing, discussing practicalities for the short- and mid-range future (finances, house, etc.), as well as reaffirming fundamental perspectives as we approach this whole process of dealing with serious cancer. One very important part of our discussion was focusing on how Nan can thrive in the future. She has many creative gifts, ideas for children’s books, an artist’s eye.The second chemotherapy (January 22) was a disaster. I spiked a 103.4 fever, combined with nausea and fever chills. The fever and general discomfort did not fully dissipate for three days. This is a set of intolerable side effects. We are viewing this chemotherapy as our experiment—not a medical experiment being performed on me. If the cancer-subduing effect proves good and the side-effects prove minimal and tolerable, we’ll go forward. If it’s ineffective and the side effects are miserable, we’ll stop. So this was definitely one significant data point on the negative side.

We debated long about whether even to do a third chemotherapy. But two factors tipped us to continue our experiment. First, my doctor affirmed that those side effects are known, and they can be managed or eliminated. Second, one data point is not enough to decide. Ideally I can receive 6 infusions over two months, and then get another CT scan to measure effectiveness. Thankfully, with a few tweaks in the formula, the third infusion (January 29) went extremely well. Almost no side effects at all besides taking a short nap that afternoon. Nan and I enjoyed an early lunch at a Greek restaurant. Food tasted good. And Nan and I have continued to have long and fruitful—joyful—conversations. Our renewed and deepened closeness has been a true gift.Now we have a week off, and our daughter Gwenyth is visiting this weekend. We are really looking forward to having time with her.

You will laugh at one story. One of our longstanding family traditions has been that when there is snow on the ground and the thermometer gets down into single digits, we put on our bathing suits and run around the house barefoot. Well, last night it went down to 3°, and a beautiful snow squall in the afternoon had powdered us with an inch of fresh snow. So…, yes, even without any children or grandchildren around to participate and chortle their delight, I did run around the house in my swim suit. It’s very invigorating! You ought to try it, though I must admit that Nan sincerely declined an invitation to join me.

A word about those fundamental perspectives. One characteristic of these past months has been that the relevance of Scripture has been electrifying. The more precarious life is, the more pertinent all that Christ is, does, and says. One particular significant encouragement came from Psalm 138:3: “On the day I called you answered me, and you made me bold in my soul with strength.” That clarity, focus, purposefulness, and inner strength has been a sweet gift of God, and a reality for which I am very grateful.

Before sleep one night, Nan and I read 2 Corinthians 4–5 slowly and aloud. We are looking death in the eye, while wanting to live, and live well. This passage is utterly candid about the most profound matters of life and death, of living a purposeful life, of how to face suffering honestly and hopefully.I’m still on short-term disability from CCEF, because of post-surgery and chemotherapy. But I’ve been able to get some writing and editing done. My energies are limited—I flag after a couple of hours. I’m particularly focusing available time and energy on the Journal of Biblical Counseling, and I ask your prayers to be wise in living fruitfully within current limitations.

January 18, 2019

During the first ten days of January we said goodbyes to our children and grandchildren after a rich two weeks here in Glenside and up in Vermont. The weather was perfect for sledding and ice-skating, a rare pleasure for the Hawaii and Florida contingents. (Our Croatia contingent experiences weather similar to Philadelphia, with the Alps only a moderate drive away.)

Here’s the health update. On Monday (1/14) I had a CT scan to establish a baseline of the cancer, and then on Tuesday I received my first chemotherapy infusion. It was straightforward and went reasonably well, though I felt a bit out of sorts Tuesday and Wednesday. I’ve started to feel better and clearer the past couple of days. As you can well imagine, this process is creating many moving pieces physically, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. What’s next? I’ll have weekly chemotherapy three times, and then one week off, when we’ll assess how my body is responding and decide how to proceed.

Here’s where things stand with my participation at CCEF. It is a joy to begin taking small steps back into the work that I love. I’m starting to come into the office for morning prayer and for faculty andJournal of Biblical Counseling meetings. I’m looking forward to working with mentoring, with JBC, with donors, with our board, and with some writing projects. But with health and treatment uncertainties, I’ll be quite part time. Until further notice, Jayne Clark will continue to serve as CCEF’s Acting Executive Director. She and I will consult (as we have all along) about major decisions.

Psalm 139:10 has been very meaningful. No matter where we are and what we are facing (and verses 7-12 cover every circumstance), “Your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” Pray that Nan and I would know God’s personal touch. We are planning to take this weekend as a retreat to read, think, talk, pray, worship, and plan. As you’ve probably experienced, such plans and good intentions can shipwreck in a thousand ways. A major snow, ice, and rain storm is predicted, which is a big encouragement for us to sit by the fire, drink tea—and fulfill this plan!

December 13, 2018—A Conversation between Friends

David and Ed conversation (short)

David and Ed conversation (long)

November 21, 2018

Dear friends,

Thank you for your concern for me and for Nan as we have faced a life-changing swirl of medical events. Let me briefly summarize.

What has happened medically? In early October I was diagnosed with an early stage pancreatic cancer. Various scans showed no evidence that it had spread. My doctors were hopeful that surgery would be the cure. However, during surgery on November 5, they discovered small tumors on the liver as well. In that moment, the diagnosis shifted from “stage 1 operable” to “stage 4 inoperable.” Though that is an unexpected whiplash, the front and center issue has simply been to heal from major surgery. Recovery from an 8 inch belly incision is no small thing. But I am sleeping well. Pain and tenderness are gradually lessening. I’m able to walk more each day.

How are we doing personally? As I shared before, Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:32–34 have been living and active. Each day’s particular trouble is sufficient for this day, because your Father cares for you. He knows what you need. We have been able to live in terms of what faces us today, each day. It has been a grace to focus now on healing, and let the larger questions be tomorrow’s trouble.

What is next? On December 6 I will have several appointments, first for post-op clearance, and then for discussion (and perhaps decision) regarding future treatment. We’ve met informally with the surgeon and with the oncologist for question-asking and information-gathering. We have really appreciated the attitude and ethos of all my doctors. They’ve put no pressure to opt for one treatment or another, and have presented fair-minded information, with a sense for the patient’s dignity and choice.

What is happening with my work at CCEF? Jayne Clark has stepped smoothly into the role of Acting Executive Director. It was a fine providence that Joe Novenson spoke in my place at our national conference, and that various staff members covered for me. It was another fine providence that our next issue of the Journal of Biblical Counseling was completed before I went into surgery.

Here are two prayer requests. For Nan, “It’s easy to get into a daze of practical operations, and not be in touch with the poetry of our lives together and with the Lord.” I like the way she put it. There’s no formula for facing a hard thing well and with honest feeling. For me, it’s easy to get into the haze of feeling very unpoetic queasiness and not absorbing nutrition. My innards still need to “get sorted,” as the Brits say. So amid all these medical practicalities, pray that we will never lose sight of the reality that life is not—is never—a medical drama.

May the peace of God keep you,

November 8, 2018

Dear Friends,

I am deeply thankful for your continuing prayers, expressions of support, and encouragement. I am now recuperating at home from a delicate, major surgery.

The outcome proved to be very different from what my doctors hoped and expected. We all went into this surgery thinking it was a stage 1 operable tumor; mid-way through, the surgeon discovered that it is stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Needless to say, this is hard news. We are just beginning to process it.

Nan and I have been very heartened by Jesus’ words in Matthew 6, that the day’s own trouble is sufficient for that day. So for now, we are simply focusing on managing pain and on healing from the operation. Next week’s days will bring a different focus as we meet with our oncologist to begin discussing options and scenarios going forward.

We are comforted by the liveliness of God’s words to us. He is with us, as so many wise people have reminded us. We appreciate your prayers for our entire family, and the care and concern you have expressed for the staff at CCEF, and your prayers on their behalf as they continue our work in my absence.

May God bless and keep you,

November 2, 2018

Dear friends of CCEF,

I have been deeply encouraged by the care, encouragement, and intercession that Nan and I have received from so many people.

As you may know from the video and note we sent out several weeks ago, I will be having surgery for a tumor in the pancreas, and we now have a surgery date: Monday, November 5, first thing in the morning. Because it was discovered so early, at this point the plan is for surgery to be the treatment. The anticipation is that I will be in-patient for about a week, and will be recovering at home for about a month after that. While I am out of circulation, my Chief-of-Staff, Jayne Clark, will be CCEF’s acting executive director.

As I mentioned earlier, my doctor’s words to me were: “It’s a bad diagnosis, but with a real silver lining because we found it early.” I sincerely hope that the “silver lining” is what proves true. At the same time, I desire with all my heart that Psalm 112:6-7 will be formed at the very center of who Nan and I are individually and together. The sense of weakness and need is a gift from God. It makes us realize we need Him, we need all of His mercy to us, and we need people who love us. I’m grateful for your care, for CCEF and for me.

If you would like to continue to receive updates on how I’m doing, they will be posted here with a notice sent out through our eNews.


October 17, 2018

Dear friends,

I have sobering news to share with you, our faithful friends.

After several weeks of illness in September, I went to my doctor. A series of tests led to a definitive explanation of what is going on. The diagnosis is that I have an operable tumor in the pancreas. My doctor said, “It’s a bad diagnosis, but with a real silver lining because we found it early.” This is hard news to receive. But I am encouraged that the tumor is small and contained. Again, from my doctor, “Surgery offers a real possibility of being the treatment, and of being successful.”

The surgery, of course, will be complex, and medical hopes are only possibilities, not guarantees. How fragile we are! Yet, God knows us. Psalm 121 has been a frequent voice in my heart. The Lord truly helps. He is wakeful and protective. He is watching over me and Nan and CCEF. I’ve been heartened by Psalm 112:6-7. I want to be a person who is unafraid of bad news, who responds with a firm and steady heart, who trusts in the Lord, and again, who is not afraid.

I ask for your prayers, for myself and for Nan, for all of us at CCEF. May God’s nearness be tangible to us all.

I hope that through whatever unfolds we will trust our God, and ask his help, and express our thanks, and care for each other.

Thank you for caring,