Tag Archives: Cancer

Tis the Season of Hope

Here’s the transcript of my thoughts I shared at “The Service of Hope” held on December 16th, 2018.

img_0851I’m here this afternoon because like many of you I have experienced the loss of someone significant in my life. My father passed away in 2005 and my mother in 2016. The pain of loss is real and no one is immune to its effects—even those who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus don’t need to apologize to anyone for their pain and sorrow in that regard. One of my favorite passages of scripture is the 11th chapter of John, which gives the account of the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus. In that story Jesus is moved by the sorrow of Mary and Martha as they mourned the loss of their brother. The words, “Jesus wept,” serve to remind me Jesus knows and understands the pain and sadness we feel when we lose someone we love.

Dad was 69 when he died of prostate cancer. Growing up I idolized my father. By the time I graduated from college he didn’t seem that important to me. I had a life of my own. Yes, we gathered together at family functions but I wasn’t that connected to him anymore. When I reached my 40s, having established my family and a career, an unexplained desire emerged to get to know dad better. Looking back I see it was God who gave me that desire and I’m glad I acted on it. I recall praying God would show me something we could do together to connect with him.

Family genealogy turned out to be the vehicle that joined us together. Dad and I quickly became hooked on it. My wife Patty and I made a number of trips together with my parents to Pennsylvania as we researched our family tree. Not long after we connected dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It turned out to be the aggressive sort and 9 months later he died. I believe God wanted dad and me to be together as he struggled to find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. When he could no longer pray, I prayed for him.

God prompted me to do something else when I learned dad wouldn’t be with us much longer. He inspired me to write down my thoughts as dad and I walked through this ordeal together. Perhaps some of you have read these thoughts in the book, Junior’s Hope. It was a book that almost wasn’t published. I figured it was my therapy, you know, something to help me cope with losing a father, my namesake and friend. I wanted to chronicle my life with him and create something to remember him by. But as time passed after his death I believed my writing had served its purpose and it didn’t need to be printed. Then one night, which happened to be exactly one year to the day after his death, I saw my father in a dream. In that dream I saw dad as a healthy man in the prime of life. We exchanged a few words and then he was gone. The dream was so real it filled me with hope and inspired me to get the book published. I remember thinking, okay Lord you made your point.

My life changed after dad passed away. I now had one more person to care for, mom. While I deferred to Patty to take care of mom’s physical needs, I focused on helping mom with whatever else she needed. As it turns out the book I almost never published became a source of hope for her. She was so proud of me that she had to tell everyone she knew about it. We can never fully understand the purposes of God. He accomplishes them on so many different levels.

Mom lived 11 more years without dad. Family, friends and Christmas were the joys of her life.  During her life, mom dabbled in writing poetry. I usually don’t dabble in poetry but the time I spent with her inspired me to write a handful of poems on her behalf. When I showed them to her she’d say, “Bill that’s exactly how I feel.” One of the shorter ones is printed on the back page of your bulletin.

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During the closing months of her life we liked to exchange a couple of phrases. I wanted to reassure her she was truly loved so I would say to her, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” To this she’d reply, “I love you, I love you, I love you more!” The second exchange came about out of her concern as to how tired I looked attending to her various personal effects and financial affairs. She’d say, “Bill you don’t have to come see me tomorrow if you’re tired. Stay home and rest.” To this I would say, “I’ll rest when you rest.” We both knew what I meant by her resting. Mom passed away in the summer of 2016.

The pain I felt when dad and mom passed away was so overwhelming it’s hard to put into words. I miss them very much, especially at Christmastime. I have so many Christmas memories.

The reason we gather for a service such as this one is to hear how others have found hope in dark places. I’d like to spend the rest of my time with you talking about how I found hope in a dark place.

I have learned a few things as I struggled to cope with the loss of dad and mom. The first thing that became apparent to me is there is a strong relationship between hope and faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I hope you don’t mind me repeating that verse. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I wear a pendant I found in mom’s jewelry chest to remind me true hope can only be found in Jesus. Inscribed on it are the words, “In Christ alone my hope is found…he is my light, my strength, my song.”

Following the death of my father, I vowed not to be mad at God; I did not want to blame him for my loss. If there was one person who could help me, it was God. I found a scripture verse to remind me that God is always working on my behalf. Romans 8:28 declares, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Instead of being mad at God I chose to embrace him.

I think it was my widowed neighbor that first shared with me the significance of frog. Do you know what F. R. O. G. stands for? I didn’t. It means Fully Rely On God. Someone who fully relies on God is better able to stand on the promises of God with both feet firmly planted. So when a wave of despair wakes me up in the middle of the night, my soul can sing with all its might, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”

The last thing I’ll share with you is something I found in the book of Joshua as I was preparing to lead a study on the book Sunday mornings this past fall. Joshua was in the same boat I was in. The beloved leader of the Israelites, Moses, had just died. It was up to Joshua to pick up the pieces and journey on without him. God tells Joshua in chapter 1:8, “Be strong and very courageous!”

Brushing aside my first thoughts that this had something to do with physical strength and metal toughness, I believe God was telling Joshua that hope could be found in strong and courageous faith. God goes on to tell Joshua, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and later, “Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” With my whole being I believe these words to be true. God will not leave me and he will not forsake me in my hour of need. He will be with me wherever I go. He will do the same for you. Faith in God is a true source of hope.

In closing, I would add these words penned by the Apostle Peter:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  1 Peter 1:3-6

“Tis the season of hope!

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Fish, part 5 (revised)

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I found myself in a proverbial small boat on a large, familiar body of water. Off in the distance threatening clouds approached. From experience, I knew I needed to break from my everyday routine and head for the safety of shore. Just as I arrived there the storm hit.

The unexpected storm in the fifth decade of my life could not be avoided. Bill Sr., my friend and father, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It proved to be the aggressive sort. After a two-year battle, doctors conceded his cancer was not responding to treatment. As a result my courageous father opted for palliative treatment and hospice care. Prayer, originally our first option, was now our only option.

How do you stand and fight when bad news rains down on you with the force a hurricane, trapping you in the wind and rain and denying you shelter from its fury? Raw human emotion like the tidal wave of a storm surge washed over our family, ravaging our souls and leaving us utterly defenseless. The force of these elements drove downward with such intensity that strongholds, including the place where the essence of hope itself dwells, was in danger of being lost.

An overwhelming and relentless attack bore down on our world. It was beyond our human strength to resist it. The teaming and pooling of water created rivers of destruction; flooding the very paths we once trod in safety and comfort. It changed our familiar landscapes forever. Was there a rock mighty enough to withstand such an onslaught, a refuge impervious to anything and everything in its path? Where does hope exist at such a time?

Our family knows first hand of such a rock because Dad guided us to it.   He helped us navigate through the maze of life’s distractions that might keep us from clinging to this rock of hope. Eventually we all found it and embraced it. We saw the value and the necessity of doing so because of Dad’s living example. I am of course speaking of Jesus Christ being our Hope, our Savior and a Rock without equal.  From the book, Junior’s Hope.

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Dad’s cancer affected his mind as his final days unfolded. The salmon hanging on the wall across from his bed became a single point of clarity for him. No matter how bad the confusion, if he could train his eyes on the fish, he could figure out who and where he was.

We all mourned when Dad went to be with his Savior in 2005. Following his death, I came to realize two things. First, I was deeply committed to the existence of the unseen and my ability to interact with it. God alone is able to receive into his presence those who have a genuine relationship with Him.  Because I have such a relationship with God I know I will see my father again. Second, the relationships I still have need to be cherished.

I saw you fishing the other day as I was cleaning up the yard and stopped to sit beside you. You shared your fishing pole with me and we took turns baiting a hook with worms and dropping the line in the water. You caught a sunfish, I caught one too.

As we sat together near the water’s edge watching a school of minnows congregate on the surface of the water, my mind drifted back to my senior year in college.  I had almost given up hope of finding that one person who could bring me joy, not just for a season, but perpetually. This person needed to be special, a girl who could captivate my heart so completely that I would be compelled to love her…always…forever. That person needed to believe in God and love Him like I do.

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It was your beauty that first caught my eye but I resisted its appeal. Beauty, they say, is only skin deep. Then, your eyes connected with mine and opened a window of kindness that my heart wanted to gaze into. A quiet smile complemented your eyes. I caught glimpse of the love you possessed in the well of your soul and I stood before you breathless, trying to hide my feeling of awe. I was not prepared to encounter real beauty, which existed previously only in my dreams.

We strode together into the movie theatre on our first date. I beamed with pride because I had the privilege of sitting alone with you for the next several hours. I wanted desperately to say something that would make a meaningful connection. A pang of fear pierced my thoughts, what if I was not the type of guy you are looking for.

Time passed too quickly as we watched the double feature.  Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase found love in the first film; Warren Beatty and Julie Christie found it in the second. I wondered if Patty would remember me tomorrow, and the day after that?  Bravely, I reached out and touched your hand and you cradled it in yours.  My heart beat faster. I did not want our time together to end. When it came time to say goodnight, I brushed my lips across yours. In that moment, with my eyes squeezed tightly shut, I tried to convey my willingness to be a part of your life, your dreams and your future…

The song “Downstream” was popular when we dated.  I still think of Patty every time I hear it.

“Downstream” by Supertramp © 1977

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Took a boat Sunday, down by the sea

It just felt so nice, you and me
We didn’t have a problem or a care on us
And all around was silence, everywhere

You are the reason I was born
Be with you through all seasons
I’ll always hear you
When you call

We’ll keep the love light shining
Through each night and day
A lonely life behind me
Oh, what a change you’ve made

So down here on the ocean
We will stay, we will stay, we will stay
Went through a lot of changes
Turned a lot of pages
When I took a boat on Sunday

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I count each day I spend with Patty a blessing. Sometimes when we sit together in our Adirondack chairs overlooking the pond behind our house, fishing of all things, enters my mind.  What began as a childhood experience (interacting with the unseen) has turned into a lifelong commitment.

Today I see fish as a symbol of hope.  One day all things will be revealed and on that day things we cannot see will become visible.  My prayer is that I will be remembered as someone who fished with patience and faithfulness.

“And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 NLT

 

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Better

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I got a little down yesterday when I considered that no matter how much time, energy or resources I was investing in mom, she was not going to get better. The human side of me said, “why keep trying.” The Spirit inside of me thought otherwise…

Better

Health, worsening
Cancer, growing
Strength, waning
Mobility, lost

Resources, dwindling
Debt, climbing
Options, fading
Life, short

Gratitude, swelling
Anger, dissipating
Relationships, healing
Love, felt

Faith, soaring
Heavenly longing
Prayers, multiplying
Savior, come

It’s You Again

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I thought I was through with you because so many years have passed peacefully.

These recent years are a gift, the best years of my life.

I suppose I have you to thank for that.

The loss and pain you caused has forced me to appreciate what I still have.

 

Why did you contact me again?

I thought I made it clear that I wanted nothing more to do with you.

You haven’t changed one bit; you’re the same self-absorbed, ruthless marauder.

I loathe the thought of you invading my life and violating my privacy again.

 

When you first forced yourself on me, fear prevented me from fighting back.

To me, your actions were a declaration of war and I vowed to retaliate.

Those I now call saints helped me wage my own little shock and awe response.

I’ll never forget having to sacrifice part of myself to be completely rid of you.

 

While you were gone I found others engaged in a similar fight.

Together we’ve found a measure of peace and comfort in our shared experiences.

As I pick up the pieces, I’ve discovered God-given strength I never knew existed.

It’s His Spirit that has given me hope, courage and an eternal song.

 

So, here we are, two adversaries facing off again.

I don’t know how you’ve managed to slip back into my life and catch me unaware.

Not one bone in my loving Christian body welcomes you back.

Your acts are vile and despicable, spreading tumors and malignancies.

 

Though you’ve come to take my body, you can’t have my spirit.

You may rob me of my breath, but you will not take my song.

I have found strength in weakness; I have found peace in the midst of sorrow.

Certainly, dreadful days lie ahead, but soon I’ll be smiling as I settle into my heavenly home.

For Mom

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Get me out of here!

Get me out of here!
Never mind that this is the place you’ve chosen for me at this moment.
The life I had before wasn’t much but it was sure better than this.
Can’t you get me out of here?

Why have you put me here alone?
Never mind that you have repeatedly sent angelic people to comfort me.
I picked the friends I had before and we were doing pretty well together.
I feel trapped in this place.

Why has this happened to me?
Never mind that this calamity is part of your plan for my life.
I was living independently before, and now can no longer do the things I love.
I want to go back to the way things were.

Why has everything been taken from me?
Never mind that you’ve been providing for my needs long before this trouble began.
I was comfortable living with my things I spent a lifetime accumulating.
You know my things are precious to me.

Lord, why aren’t you listening?
Never mind that you’ve walked beside me even when I haven’t trusted you completely.
My strongholds are ruined and my situation is hopeless.
Please, Lord, hear my cry.

Forgive me, Lord, I really do love you.
Never mind that my mind and body are failing, and I lack the strength to fight.
Teach me to be thankful in all things, and in all circumstances.
Show me what you would have me do.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways submit to him, and he will direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

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For Mom (Willie’s girl)