The Loneliest Journey – Part 4

Long Hallway

 

I could tell right away that something was wrong.

I enjoy animation and I am especially a fan of Claymation. My favorite is the British series, “Wallace and Gromit”. Wallace is an eccentric inventor with an excessive love for cheese and Gromit is his silent, but much more intelligent, side kick and pet dog. One of the first episodes I ever saw involved a master jewel thief, (who happened to be a penguin), depositing Wallace in a pair of remote controlled mechanical pants and using him to carry out his thefts. Thus the name of the episode, The Wrong Trousers.

Wallace and Gromit

I recently experienced something a bit similar. We were going up to Saskatoon for a family event and I quickly packed, grabbing a pair of dress slacks from my closet. Everything seemed fine until the morning of the event. I started to get dressed and begin to pull on the pants when I immediately realized things weren’t quite right. The slacks were a couple inches too tight and a good four to six inches too short. They were the wrong trousers.

Fortunately I had another pair. Later we realized that somehow an old pair of my son’s slacks had gotten hung in my closet. He had actually outgrown them a few years before and they somehow disappeared into the back of his wardrobe until they reappeared in a pile of his dirty laundry. When they were clean the pants moved on to hang with the rest of my clothes until I packed them by mistake.

Maybe I didn’t just get the wrong trousers. Maybe I got the wrong body. Maybe when God was forming me in my mother’s womb He grabbed the wrong body off the rack. Maybe the whole thing was a mistake. The appendicitis, the hernia, the detached retina, the cancer. Maybe none of them were meant for me. It was all just some terrible cosmic error.

But God doesn’t make mistakes. He knew me before I was born, before I was even conceived. He knew all the days of my life and His plans for me were, and still are, for good. So why the disease? Why non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma? Was that His plan? How could that be “good”? I have realized that God is all good, all powerful, all sovereign, and all loving. He created us to have relationship with Him and that could only happen if He gave us the gift of free will. That allows us to freely and completely love and worship Him but also to reject Him and His ways.

That’s what happened. Humankind made a choice and moved away from God’s love and grace. The relationship was broken and sin, disease and death came into the world. All of us continue to bear the consequences. We are all going to die. We are all going to face illness and pain. We are all going to sin. None of this is God’s will. He made us for something better, but our choice, our sin, has lead us to where we are.

But it doesn’t end there. The good news is that God has made a way for His relationship with us to be restored, a way for us to be healed, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. It is a gift He offers to us today and for all time. Have you accepted it?

“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelations 21: 3-4

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17

This truth can become real for you today. You just need to decide.

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The Loneliest Journey – Part 3

Long Hallway

Attitude means a lot. This is a truth that really should be clear to us all. How we react to things and circumstances not only says a lot about who we are but also goes a long way to determining how those circumstances affect us, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

This is nothing new. Long before Norman Vincent Peale started espousing “positive thinking” the truth of the importance of a good attitude was known. Sometime around three thousand years ago, Solomon wrote “A merry heart does good, like medicine” and “Pleasant words are like flowing honey, sweet to the taste and healing to the bones.”

The implication, at least to me, is that a joyful attitude, regardless of the circumstances, is vitally important to every part of your being and especially to your physical health.

The opposite is also true. Through my years in family practice I have encountered a number of patients whose anger and bitterness was literally eating them up inside. Some were discontent and disappointed with life in general. Some had suffered loss and tragedy and had become stuck in a decades long trap of unforgiveness and grief. Others simply could not believe that everything was all right and remained convinced some awful disease was stalking them. All of them were so focused on the past with its loss and failure or on a threatening and dismal future that they could not enjoy the present.

Attitude does not just affect yourself, it affects those around you. The Bible says it would be better to live on the corner of the roof than it would be to live with a bitter person. It is not only more enjoyable and pleasant to be around people who are upbeat and happy, it is also healthier.

In my time, I have known and worked with many nurses. The vast majority of been professional, capable and caring. There have been those who were always cheerful and others who were always grumpy. I have never encountered a group of nurses with such a consistently positive attitude as I have met at the cancer clinic.

I have found the nurses at the Allan Blair Cancer Center to be unfailingly friendly, caring and happy. Joyful even. One might think that working with cancer patients day after day might drag you down but it seems to have done the opposite. Maybe only those nurses who are by nature joyful can work in such an environment. Or maybe they have learned the value for themselves and their patients of maintaining a positive attitude. Regardless, I am grateful.

Getting chemotherapy is not fun. I have been very blessed to have had a minimum of side effects thus far, (other than the hair loss), but the whole experience is definitely made more bearable by the superb care rendered by the nursing staff at the center.

Thank you all.

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Vote today!

Here’s my new look, (thanks to the chemo). Vote on who you think I most resemble.

Mr Clean    MR. CLEAN

Dr Evil  DR. EVIL  (from the Austin Power movies)

Question markSOMEONE ELSE (Captain Picard? Yul Brenner? Elmer Fudd?)

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The Loneliest Journey – Part 2

Long Hallway

Do you know who you are?

Identity is not always clear and concise. Who we are and who we think we are can change over time. It may take years but can also occur over a few minutes, especially if we allow circumstances to dictate things. How we respond to things is often due to who we are but can also determine who we become.

Last Sunday morning, Steve Atkins started a series on Ephesians. He began the series by demonstrating how Paul began by defining clearly who he was and who he was writing to. Paul is an apostle of Jesus chosen by God. The individuals he is writing to are called saints, holy people, and faithful followers. Paul identifies himself and the Ephesians as blessed, loved, and chosen by God. There can be no doubt who anyone is, and as a result what they can expect or what is expected of them.

I started chemo today. It’s the next step on a journey that I would like to have avoided. But I’m here nonetheless.

It is a bit clearer what is happening. I have a Stage 2 Grade 3a/3b follicular cell Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. There is no organ involvement and my bone marrow is clear. Because of the mixed grade it’s not totally clear what form of chemotherapy is best but consensus is to go with a combination of chemo and immunological agents called R-CHOP. I’ll be getting a day of treatment every three weeks for just over four months. There’s the potential for a bunch of different side effects but only time will tell. Right now I feel fine.

I also feel assured as to who I am and who I am not. I am not a cancer victim. This is not denial. This is not positive thinking. This is just knowing the truth. I know that God has plans for me, that He is in control, and that because of Him and His righteousness I am counted along with the Ephesians. Not through anything I have done but because of Christ.

That means I am a child of God. I have been adopted into His Kingdom. I am His. And that means even though I am afflicted by cancer, I am not defeated. I am not crushed, not in despair and not abandoned. I can have complete peace knowing without any doubt that Jesus is with me and will never leave me or forsake me.

And that makes this whole journey a lot less lonely.

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The Lonliest Journey

Long Hallway

I am such a liar.

Each day, friends, colleagues and patients casually ask the question we all routinely ask, “How are you?” “Fine,” I reply, “I’m good.”

But I’m not.

A couple months ago my wife noticed some swollen lymph nodes in my neck. I talked to my family doctor and a surgeon. An ultrasound was inconclusive and when the nodes did not go away with a course of antibiotics, we elected to proceed with a biopsy. The odd thing is I felt and still feel absolutely fine. The surgeon removed both enlarged lymph nodes and in the first week of June I received the pathology report. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Cancer.

I’m not used to this. I’m the doctor, not the patient.  I’m supposed to be the healer, the comforter, the encourager. Except that’s never been the case. Oh, I can diagnose things, recommend some medication, even bind up a wound. But I’ve never healed anything in my life. Any comfort or encouragement I can give is limited by my own human failings and frailties. I know all this. It’s really no surprise but it’s still easier standing beside the examination table instead of laying down on it.

Cancer is a scary word. We’ve all been affected by it and we can’t help but fear it. The diagnosis is tough to receive. And I’m not sure if having a lot of medical knowledge is good or bad. You can wind up reading reports, summaries and statistics until your brain spins and your heart aches. It’s easy to turn inward. To withdraw. To isolate.

I’ve felt that. Sometimes it feels like I’ve never been less alone and yet felt so lonely.

My family and friends have surrounded me with their love and their prayers. My children stand beside me, sometimes confused, sometimes angry, sometimes at peace. But always loving. My wife and I have cried in each other’s arms. We have taken turns reassuring and encouraging each other. And we have recommitted ourselves to each other and to our God.

We have figured a few things out. There are some things we know beyond any doubt. God is real. God is all good. God is all powerful. God is sovereign. And most of all, God is love.

He loves us. He loved us before I had cancer, before I knew Him, before I was born, even before the world was made. He loved me, He loved us, even then.

He is the Great Physician, the Healer, the Comforter. I will trust in Him. I will trust in Jesus.

I don’t know how this journey with cancer will end. We don’t know all the details yet. The grade. The stage. The recommended treatment. But I do know that Jesus will be with me every step of the way. I feel His presence and sense His peace. I will never be alone.

If you’d like you can come along. That way it won’t be at all lonely.

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Learning and Teaching

BlankBook

One of the hats I wear is as a Clinical Professor of Medicine with the Department of Family Practice at the University of Saskatchewan. In this role I host final year medical students at my office for a two week rotation of teaching family medicine. Over the course of a year, I will usually have between five and eight students. It`s something I enjoy and it gives back to my profession.

I benefit as well. One of the things all doctors do and are required to do is carry out continued medical education. Our governing bodies recognize that when you teach you also learn, and accordingly, I receive learning credits for the time spent teaching these medical students.

The Saskatoon branch of His Imprint recently held their annual spring writer`s conference. A couple months ago one of the organizing committee contacted me in a bit of a desperate panic. The person in charge had stepped down and nothing had been arranged. Would I teach a workshop? After some thought and prayer, I agreed. Would I do two? (I said they were desperate!) In the end I did take both workshops and it was a great experience. I’m sure that I learned just as much if not more than those who attended.

I think it all goes to disprove the old saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t teach.” The path is not a divergent one. You don’t do or teach. You do both and by doing both you get better at both. Those who do learn to teach better and those who teach learn to do better.

This all came together in my mind this morning at church. Our associate pastor was speaking and he shared about how the concept of knowing was so different for the ancient Greeks and the ancient Hebrews. For the Greek, to know meant to have considered, discussed and learned about the conceptual nature of something. For the Hebrew, it meant to have experienced it. The Greek would say he knew about sailing just by having read a book, looked at pictures and discussed it. The Hebrew would only say he knew about sailing if he had actually done it.

You can learn all about something, like medicine or writing, by reading lots and studying hard. But you don’t know medicine or writing until you start to practice it. The two types of knowing come together and suddenly you are a doctor or a writer. And having obtained this knowledge you can now sharpen and enhance it even more by teaching about it.

The most important form of this knowledge in our entire lives is in our relationship with God. We can have heard about God since we were children. We can go to Sunday School every weekend. We can read books and attend classes. We can even graduate with degrees in theology and religion. But if we have not experienced God, experienced Jesus, we do not know Him. The head knowledge helps. But it is the heart knowledge that is most vital.

Why don’t you get to know Him?

You won’t be disappointed.

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Worship

musicnotes

It often seems that nothing can upset a church congregation more than how the worship service is run. Is the music too loud? Are there too many instruments? Too few? Are there too many choruses, or too many hymns? No one seems to know what the right balance is but everyone knows what they don’t like.

I recently found a couple quotes from some church leaders regarding the styles of worship. One leader “called for a return both to the traditional hymns and to the traditional forms of those hymns”, while another complained that “fleshly church music is neither pleasing to God nor does it edify the congregation, but only tickles the ears of the world, robs the time set aside for true worship, grieves the simple, and thus brings great harm.”

Of course, when Philip Jacob Spener and Johan Mucovius made these statements in the 1690’s church music was a bit different, but it seems attitudes towards it were not. It is fascinating to learn that through the ages, the positions and opinions of the conservatives and radicals toward the style of worship music has repeatedly flip-flopped. At one time or another conservatives were opposed to signing hymns, (they wanted only to use the Psalms), against the singing of written songs as opposed to free expression led by the Holy Spirit, and against including the organ in church music. It was the young and the radicals that proposed all of these things.

If I can conclude one thing, it is that it is not the style of worship that matters as much as its heart. If I am focused on God and on worshiping Him, it really doesn’t matter if my neighbour is raising their hands or even dancing in the aisle. It does not matter if the music is fast or slow, loud or soft, familiar or new. All that matters is does it point toward God, focus on Him, and bring praise and worship to Him. That should be the only question.

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