Unshakable Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Archive for the tag “Cancer”

Opportunities In Trials

In the midst of a trial, the greatest temptation we face is to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. I don’t believe this is ever God’s will.

We tend to view trials as a kind of imprisonment, thinking our life is on hold until the day we’re released from the grip of the life challenge. ALS has made me a virtual prisoner of my own body for the last 18 years. It has been a very cruel warden. But I look around me and see other people fighting illness or trying to overcome addictions, depression, abuse, debt and so many other cruel masters.

We must continue to hope and pray for freedom from whatever is trying to “hold us,” and we should do everything in our power to move toward that goal. But, in the meantime, we should look for opportunities for God to use us right where we are. This is what the Apostle Paul did, and I’m convinced it’s what God wants us to do.

It was from prison that Paul wrote the following: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel…” (Philippians 1:12)

We don’t usually associate the word “progress” with imprisonment or any kind of trial, but I believe that we should. If we wait until we “have it all together” before we try to help and give hope to others, many will go without help and die without hope.

Would I be a hypocrite telling people that God still heals when I’ve been held in the grip of a terminal disease for 18 years?

Let me answer that with another question: Was Paul a hypocrite for writing about freedom in Christ from the depths of what was likely a rat infested dungeon?

Paul was almost stoned to death by an angry mob and severely beaten other times. He also suffered from what he called “a thorn in his flesh” (many Bible scholars say this “thorn” was poor eye sight). Regardless, it’s unlikely that Paul was the handsome and strong man depicted in the Bible movies. After spending much of his time in prison and enduring countless beatings, he was likely pale and scarred, and probably in pain 24/7. Yet, God used this suffering servant to heal and give hope to others.

The Apostles faced the same trials, temptations and human frailties that we face. Yet, in the midst of trying to overcome their own trials and temptations and battling their own demons, they were feeding the poor, healing the sick and giving hope to others by spreading the good news.

People don’t care about how much we know until they know how much we care. Maybe we wouldn’t have truly learned to care apart from our suffering.

I hope you’re successful in keeping all of your New Year’s Resolutions, and 2015 is the best year you’ve had so far. But we cannot wait for all of our hopes to be fulfilled before we offer help and hope to others.

helping_others1
We overcome as we help others to overcome.

Advertisements

Learning To Empathize

As I begin typing this post, Ann, one of Mary’s oldest and closest friends, is having surgery to remove cancer from her body. Later she’ll have to go through radiation and chemotherapy treatments. In faith we are praying and believing that, like my friend Dabney in my last post, this friend will fully recover—she “will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the LORD.” (Psalm 118:17)

Ann is a great example of a Christian that demonstrates true empathy. She doesn’t merely feel sympathy for those going through difficult times; she walks through the difficult time with them. One of the many ways that she demonstrates empathy is by cooking and delivering meals to fellow church members, friends and family that are ill or otherwise going through difficult times.

What’s the difference between empathy and sympathy?

To feel for the person going through a trial is sympathy. To feel with a person going through a trial is empathy. Sympathy is merely a feeling that may or may not result in productive action. And, as in the case of giving money to an addict for instance, sympathy can result in actions that are counter-productive.

I think most people are born with a capacity to feel sympathy, but I believe that empathy, in the Christian sense of the word, is something we learn through the humbling effects that come through life’s many challenges and difficult trials.

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels; I myself become the wounded person.”
Walt Whitman

Before being diagnosed with ALS almost seventeen years ago, I was one of those that thought empathy and sympathy were basically synonymous, just like the thesaurus tells us they are. But, through the humbling of this trial and through people showing us genuine Christ-like empathy, I now know the difference between sympathy and empathy. (It’s been a tough grammar lesson).

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

empathy pic

As I said, from a Christian viewpoint, I no longer believe that empathy and sympathy are synonymous. But I found another word that I believe should be a synonym for empathy—Grace. When I began thinking about writing a post on empathy, I was trying to think of Biblical examples (of empathy) that I could use. Before even opening my Bible program to start searching, example after example began flooding my mind; so many examples that I had to quickly open a Word document to type them out before I forgot.

I guess I never saw it this way before, but the New Testament is a book about empathy; Jesus came to demonstrate God’s empathy for man and to teach us how to empathize with one another. His mission of empathy can be summed-up by two of the most well-known verses; John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”), which demonstrates God’s love and empathy for man, and the so-called “Golden Rule” (“…treat people the same way you want them to treat you…” Matthew 7:12), which tells us to empathize with one another.

But Jesus knew that the best way to teach, especially to children and to a simpleton like me, is through telling stories; no story teaches empathy better than the Parable of The Good Samaritan:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.”

Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands? And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37)

Obviously we don’t know what was in the minds of the two men who saw this “half dead” man and purposely avoided him. I have to assume that even these self-righteous religious leaders felt some sympathy for the poor guy, but only the Samaritan felt and acted on empathy.

Compassion is empathy in action; sympathy is merely a feeling.

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”
Theodore Roosevelt

When God Intervenes

Before having ALS, I would have thought that it would be the big effects of this disease that cause the most frustration—things like not being able to walk and talk. But it’s losing your ability to do simple things, things you once did with little or no effort, that cause the most frustration. Imagine having an itch you can’t scratch or having a mosquito biting the back of your hand and all you can do is sit and watch as it becomes fat with your blood, leaving another itch you can’t scratch.

Being confined to a wheelchair and not being able to speak would be more bearable if I was able to read books, but even that once-simple pleasure is now impossible. I was especially frustrated with my inability to hold a book and turn its pages when I received a copy of a book titled “When God Intervenes” in the mail two weeks ago. This book was written by a friend named Dabney Hedegard, and I had been looking forward to reading it since she told me about it several months ago. Fortunately, Mary had also been looking forward to reading it so she volunteered to read it to me.

The reason I used the example of not being able to scratch an itch is because the book begins with Dabney visiting doctor after doctor and having test after test to determine what was causing the constant itching all over her body. (I began to itch just thinking about it). Every doctor said or inferred that Dabney was a Hypochondriac. She would soon prove all of those doctors wrong, the hard way!

hedegards

Dabney endured the constant itching and the sleeplessness that came along with it for five tortuous months. Then, as Dabney retells it in the book, something happened that, by comparison, made her constant itching and the exhaustion seem like a minor annoyance: “I propped my feet on the couch and scratched across my belly, trying to chase away the tickles. In the silence of my apartment, I tried to nap. But my midmorning indigestion had progressed into a heavy weight against my lungs. The roll of fruit-flavored TUMS refused to calm the pressure. Then it happened. One gasp followed by strained constriction— as if someone had popped my lung. I banged my fist to my chest to pound out some relief. Nothing. Sitting up straighter, straighter, I struggled to suck in air. “I c-can’t breathe…”

Dabney’s husband, Jason, rushed her to the ER where doctors discovered a football-sized tumor in her chest; it was Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In some cases, for some unknown reason, this type of cancer can cause the itching that she was experiencing. To complicate matters and add to the drama of this miraculous story, Dabney was six weeks pregnant with their first child.

This was the start of what would become a ten year trial; a decade of Jason and Dabney having their faith repeatedly tested and God intervening time after time with miracle after miracle. A ten year trial that included four near-death experiences and twice doctors telling Jason, “She’ll never make it through the night.”

“…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint…” (Romans 5:3-5)

The above passage came to my mind when I read what Dabney said this book was about: “This story is about an ordinary girl in search of hope.”  Mary and I saw that passage unfold in Dabney and Jason while reading “When God Intervenes.” This “ordinary girl” finds the hope that she was in search of and is now giving that hope to others through her public speaking engagements, her blog and now through this inspiring new book.

And no, I’m not recommending When God Intervenes just because Dabney flattered me by including a quote from one of my blog posts in the book. I’m recommending this book because reading it encouraged us and increased our faith and hope and I know it will do so for you also.

To order When God Intervenes, click here.

Having the Right Perspective

I’ve discovered how essential it is to keep things in perspective in order to maintain hope when you’re in the midst of a trial. The first and most important lesson I learned was focusing on what I have and not on what I’ve lost.

blog family pic

Our family before I was diagnosed with ALS. (Mary still had BIG hair).

Perspective: the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance. (Webster’s Dictionary)

I know of many people close to my age, even some close friends, who have died of ALS, Cancer and other diseases or were killed in tragic accidents. These moms and dads have missed being able see their children growing up. They weren’t there to take pictures before prom, to watch with pride as their child graduated from high school and/or college or to witness their son or daughter’s wedding.

I force myself to think about these friends and acquaintances when I begin feeling depressed about my inability to fully participate in this thing we call life. At times like last year when my daughter got married, and I was unable to walk her down the aisle or dance with her at the reception. During difficult times like this, I make a conscious effort to think about some of these people that are no longer with us; people like my friend Rick, who died of Cancer, leaving a wife and two teenage sons. I think about another blogger named Patrick, who died of ALS in December leaving a wife and a teenage son and daughter. Sadly, Rick and Patrick won’t get the opportunity to watch with pride as their children go through graduations, weddings and other landmark events in their lives.

I think about these people every time I’m tempted to complain or get depressed about my situation. I ask myself what they’d say to me if I was to complain about things like not being able to walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Would they tell me that I should be grateful for just getting to be there to watch as she walked down the aisle? Of course, Rick, Patrick and the others have gone on to heaven so I don’t know what they might say to me. But I know they would be right if they were able to tell me to be grateful that I was able to be there for all the events that they’ve missed and will miss. In a sense, I feel that I owe them; that, if for no other reason, I must be grateful for their sake.

james and girls

Our son-in-law and daughters (January, 2012).

I know it’s strange for me to imagine what deceased people might say to me (to give me the proper perspective), but it works for me and, regardless of the trial that you find yourself in, we all must find ways of coping; ways of changing our perspective and attitude – ways of convincing ourselves that our life isn’t so bad after all.

“…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” (Philippians 4:11)

The aim of every Christian should be learning to be content in the good times and in the bad times. But, for those that hope in God, contentment does not mean we stop believing for better days ahead; it just means we’re grateful for today and that we’re going to live it to the full – even if we have to live today in a wheelchair!

Wedding

“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Romans 8:24-25)

Post Navigation