In the Midst of A Diagnosis, Dig Deep to Your Inner Core

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

When you hear the words, "inner core" what do you think of? The hot lava of a volcano? The toxic core of a nuclear reactor? To me, my "inner core" is that deep strength that gets me through all that life can bring. And when you hear the words, "you have cancer" you need all the strength you can get. My doctor's words, "you have melanoma and we'll be removing part of your ear," rocked my world, made me forever marked as a cancer survivor, and then made me determined to practice what I preach.

I think it's easy to feel abandoned by God in the midst of a diagnosis of cancer.   How could this possibly be God's will?  I teach the Bible and I know that it says we live in a broken world where the rain falls on the just and unjust alike, but that doesn't mean I can't feel abandoned.   For me, that Core is my inner most being.  The place that God invaded with life when I trusted in Jesus' forgiving love (John 7:37-39). Jesus is the Giver of the unfailing strength to get us through a diagnosis and beyond. I kept thinking, God knows how many hairs are on my head, he knows what's happening to me now.  Our inner core is our soul and when we place our belief in Jesus Christ and make him our Lord and Savior an amazing thing happens. Strength seeps into our core and we see that we are not the sum of the circumstances happening around us; instead, we are strong in His hands.

I have a friend who's taught me a great deal in her survivorship. One of her favorite sayings is, "be gentle on your feelings and hard on your mind." Feelings can take us over when we are frightened of a disease, feeling sick and tired of being sick and tired, and worried about our future. I am an emotional guy.   I often tell myself, "Don't let your emotions drive".  My friend would set a timer for a "pity party" - she would experience the doubt, the pain, the entire experience; then acknowledge the feelings, and finally own them. Then when the timer went off she would place the fear-filled feelings aside and move forward in her journey. Fortunately our soul isn't mere feelings. Instead, our soul is a belief in a God who can pull us up and out of ourselves and teach us that cancer can destroy our body but it can't have us - it can't become our inner core.

Recently I presented this topic at HOPE Cancer Connection's survivorship program, A Time To Heal. The curriculum discusses many "shovels" to dig your way to your Inner Core and discover what feeds your soul. It may be the beauty of nature, the sound of a favorite hymn, a poem, or if you're like me, a favorite verse from the Bible. My favorite verse reminds me that my God will sustain me in adversity: A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish, (Isaiah 42:3) We need to dig to the greatest strength of all and remember that our Inner Core is capitalized - when we believe in Him, He will see us through.

Pastor Dave Barber, River Valley Church, Oshkosh

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In the Midst of Waiting in the Tubes

Monday, March 07, 2016

I've recently come to realize that my body produces tumor-like objects - so far all benign but this last one will require frequent MRIs. Family history led me to help others on the cancer journey - partly to come to terms with the word and prepare for it to hit me. What I've come to realize is that in the world of cancer, one of the toughest moments is the waiting…for the biopsy results, the next scan, the next doctor's appointment, the next specialist, the next treatment, the next "all clear." My new determination is in the midst of waiting…I'll call on a reserve of The Word.

When you're lying in an MRI tube, with the noise blasting through your ear plugs, there's just you, your brain, and whatever you've stored there. While having four MRIs in two weeks, I struggled to recall scripture and realized I'd never truly memorized more than Psalm 23. Yes, a great one, but one that is often associated with death for me…not a good recall. So then I went to old hymns, because, really, who can memorize contemporary Christian lyrics in their entirety unless you are a musician.

Preparing for life's trials and tribulations means filling your heart, soul, and MIND with God's word. Then, in the tubes of life you are free to call upon their comfort, their wisdom, and their strength. This past year my husband and I have truly been living my life verse, I Peter 2:6-9. The verse states that in order to appreciate the blessings of life, we have to walk through the trials. In the midst of the mess of waiting this year, I know I've not been alone. My Lord has been by my side. I know this because he tells me in His Word: Yeah though I walk through the valley…I will fear no evil for Thou art with me, Psalm 23:4; I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, Genesis 28:15; I command you - be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go, Joshua 1:9; and a family favorite, In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, Romans 8:28.

I tend to live life with sticky notes. My newest addition is located at the kitchen window so while I'm cleaning up the dinner dishes, I can fill up my mind. I'll consider it a deposit for future MRI/CT Scan tubes, or whatever unpleasant experience comes my way. Here's where I'm starting: There is a place near me where you may stand…I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand, Exodus 33:21. My take-away here is that it's not about lying in the tube, it's about standing in faith next to my God. Let us know what you bring to your tubes of waiting and how you manage those moments. Send us your thoughts in the comment link below.

Brenda Bonn
Executive Director, HOPE Cancer Connection

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In the Midst of the Mist, Turn on the Fog Lights of God

Friday, February 06, 2015

"This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it" Psalm 118:24

Today is a day. Yesterday was a day. Tomorrow will (or most likely will) be a day. We cannot escape the reality that we always find ourselves in the midst of something that a particular day will bring. Sometimes a day brings the status quo, nothing much of a change from the day before with no unexpected events. Other times the day brings a swift change of circumstances, whether it comes from new information presented to us or some new experience or event in our lives. Whatever we may experience, God calls us to rejoice in the midst of this day.

What makes rejoicing difficult is when the "midst" we are experiencing today becomes more like a "mist" we must navigate through. Like driving through a heavy fog at night, the mist obscures the road ahead. We miss the road signs telling us where we are, where we should go, and what lies ahead.  The mist makes us anxious, nervous, and frightened. The normal headlights can't cut through the fog and putting on the high beams just accentuates the mist. To navigate our way in the midst of these conditions requires fog lights.

Today, I am in the midst of experiencing the joy of holding my 2nd grandchild for the first time. Born just two days ago, she is a beautiful baby girl. As I gaze into her sweet little face and let her tiny hand wrap around my index finger, it is easy to rejoice and be glad in the midst of today. The sun is out and the sky is clear.  No need for fog lights this day.

But even when I experience a day like today, a fog can still begin to form in my mind. The mist rolls and grows in many ways. For instance, as I hold her, I wonder what her future will be like. I begin to worry if she will be able to cope with the illnesses, pain, disappointments, and/or trials she may experience in her life ahead. I think about a failing economy and growing up in a society and culture that is on a downhill trend. I think about whether my own diagnosis of cancer and other health issues will keep me from experiencing the joys of watching her grow and mature. That kind of mind mist also makes me anxious, nervous, and frightened - even on a day when everything is as it should be.

If our perspectives can be blurred even on a wonderful day, imagine what can happen when the realities of the day bring horrendous news or tragic events. So, whatever the reason for the "mist" in our particular "midst", God wants us to turn on His fog lights. They give us the ability to see and enable us to navigate when the road ahead seems obscured. So here are some simple instructions on how to turn on God's fog lights.

God's Fog Lights:

1. Turn on the lights by TRUSTING in God for today. Believing that since God made this day, He knows about the day, He controls the day, and is faithful throughout the day.  Since we have no control over yesterday or tomorrow, trust Him today.

2.  The lights shine only so far ahead of you, but enough to see the turns    and way ahead (Psalm 119:105). If you are trying to see tomorrow and beyond, those lights don't reach that far. Focus on today.

3.  The lights will tend to be reflected on those things that God has provided.  So look for His blessings. By trusting God, focusing on today, and looking for blessings - We can rejoice and be glad even in the midst of the mist we experience.

Rob Strauss, Man of Many Hats and Recipient of God's Grace

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Perspective is a Gift That Keeps on Giving

Friday, May 30, 2014

A note from Brenda: I recently attended a Contemporary Christian concert featuring several musicians. One gentleman humbly approached the stage and stated, "12 years ago I was given 5 years to live; I have an incurable cancer." Post-diagnosis, Tim Timmons married and now has four children. He gave me permission to share thoughts from his blog posts with you.

Cancer is a gift.

Yup, I said it. Cancer is a gift. Now as I start this blog, please know this: cancer sucks. I'm not happy about it: treatments, dr. visits, meds, symptoms as constant reminders, managing everyone else's emotional state in regards to it, the financial drain, lifestyle limitations, the fears of not being there with my wife and for my kids as they graduate or get married…stupid. I repeat, cancer is stupid.

And yet, the gift of this cancer experience has been that of perspective. You know when you have a near death experience and barely squeak by…your perspective becomes glaringly sober. The awareness of your mortality and all that is and is not important stares you down to your most basic existence. Things like "I've been taking things and people for granted" or "I've been wasting time on things of no consequence" seem to echo through your heart, mind and soul.

For me, cancer gives me a daily dose of this reality that keeps me grateful. Now I can tell you that I lose sight of this gifted perspective every day and think/act/react in ways that are not so healthy, but the gift is in the daily reminder (usually after I've forgotten) to cherish every breath I take, resting in Who's I am and nothing else.

I know it sounds crazy, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Yes, I'm ready to be healed, and I ask Jesus for that daily…I actually live as though I will be healed at some point, but in all the craziness of cancer there is a gift. The gift through an incurable cancer, or any other sorrow we face, is perspective. And perspective is the gift that keeps on giving.

I write songs that are simply prayers I need to hear! "In our weakness, in our fight, in the midst of every trial, be lifted high, be lifted high. In the waiting, in the fire, every moment of our lives, be lifted high, be lifted high." (For Your Glory, Cast My Cares 2013)

I live for the presence of God in my life now, today. I'm learning to not obsess about the future. This posture starts for me at the beginning of each day, on my knees, asking Jesus to reveal what he has for me. All I have to do is follow Him. Cancer is not my story. The perspective through cancer is my story.

Tim Timmons, Singer/Songwriter

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This Day

Monday, February 24, 2014

Let's face it; most of us don't like change. As creatures of habit we prefer our safe routines. The unknown is fearful…and cancer is full of the unknown.

A doctor friend of mine removed a mole on the back of my leg in September of 2012. A week later as I waited in his office to remove the stitches, he walked in with an ashen face and told me "Rob, it's a good thing we removed the mole, you have malignant melanoma." It caught him completely by surprise, and it took awhile for me to understand the seriousness of the diagnosis.

Having lost a brother to pancreatic cancer 12 years ago, I had a general understanding of the damage that cancer could do. Even with a stage 4 terminal cancer, my brother had a terrific attitude throughout his fight with the disease. I remember him telling me that "We are all terminal, some of us just have a better idea of when." Receiving a cancer diagnosis of my own sparked something in me and helped me recall his words and apply them to my life; "I am terminal."

Consequent doctor visits and further testing revealed that the cancer had not spread. I keep getting full body check-ups from the dermatologist and make sure that I sun screen-up when I go outdoors. I was fortunate that my cancer was caught in an early stage. But the report that the cancer had not spread has not changed my perspective, whether cancer is rampant in my body or not, I am terminal. It is one thing to have an intellectual knowledge that one day we will all die. It is quite another to understand the reality of that truth.

Whether we are full of cancer, fighting the battles with cancer, or cancer-free, the fact remains that we will all die. The writer of Ecclesiastes states it this way, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting, because death is the destiny of every man and the living should take this to heart." My diagnosis of cancer has shaped my "someday I will die" perspective and has helped me take some of these things to heart.

I now take more pleasure in this day. When my mind starts to fret about the future, I take an active approach in seeking out what God has provided for me today, and to take pleasure and gratitude for those things. I remind myself that I have no control over the future, and can do nothing about the past, so I strive to live my life in light of "this day" that God has provided. I am reminded of and sometimes mimic the old Tammy Wynette song, "One day at a time Sweet Jesus". There is something about a country style twang that helps me keep that one-day perspective.

In the midst of change we lose our perspective of God. God's path requires us to take one day at a time, one treatment at a time, one stage at a time, one moment at a time.  What do the following scripture passages tell us?

  • "This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad therein" Psalm 118:24
  • "Give us this day our daily bread." Matthew 6:11

God asks us to not worry about tomorrow but to trust Him in this day. In the midst of transition we need to focus on what He is doing today. The only thing we have any control of is right now, neither a "precancerous" past nor a "cancer-free" future, we only have this day. We are asked to obey and do what He has empowered us to do. Daily manna falls upon us if we focus on the grace He provides. In the world of cancer, it's not just another day in your life, it's a gift. Open your eyes and look at this day. Be grateful for all those who have come around you to be God's blessing to you this day. And remember, Joshua 1:9, God's presence will be with you wherever you go, this day.

Rob Strauss, Man of Many Hats and Recipient of God's Grace

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Thanks and Giving

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's the beginning of November and it seems that we have jumped from Halloween to Christmas in one fell swoop. I've dubbed it the "Hallowmas" effect. What in the world ever happened to Thanksgiving?  When did it loose its prominence on the holiday meter? One holiday blurs into another and this year Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are celebrated simultaneously. In the midst of the holiday chaos, we can do well to approach the season with thanks and giving.

 When cancer touches your world you tend to look at thanks and giving in a different way. Some days it's hard to be thankful for anything. And who has to energy to get out and get a gift or give of your self when you or your loved one have just had treatment and can't even get off the couch? The holy days of the holidays become simplified and centered on relationships.

 I remember the year my dad was in treatment in Florida and couldn't come home to Michigan for Christmas. We used an early version of Skype to join together on Christmas Day and see/talk to each other. My father had recently finished his second chemotherapy treatment and was sporting his new bald look. It was a reality point for our family that our dad was really sick. But then we heard his big, deep voice; saw his fascination with the ability to see and hear us; and witnessed his gratefulness that we were "all together" for a moment.

 My father was receiving the latest and greatest treatment and his prognosis was good. We had gathered as siblings and faced the fear of the two empty chairs at the Christmas dinner table. But now our hearts were full of thankfulness and that smiling, bald guy was our greatest gift that year.

 1Chronicles 16:8 says, " Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done." Coming into the holiday season with thanks and giving means first giving thanks to our Lord for each new day. Be thankful, give what you can and where you can, and remember to treasure each moment.

 We at HOPE Cancer Connection wish you a very blessed holiday season!

 Brenda Bonn, Executive Director

 

 

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Discovering God's Purposes in our Pain

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Guest Contributor: Harry Shields

In the fall of 2011 my wife and I entered a most unexpected chapter in the story of our lives. I had just completed a two-month sabbatical. We were returning to ministry, rested and enthusiastic about the years ahead. But on a sunny afternoon in September, Carol called to inform me that she had just fainted and was confused as to what was going on. I rushed home and called our family physician. He instructed me to take her to the ER as soon as possible. I did, and less than 24 hours later, my wife was the recipient of a pacemaker. Her recovery was quick, but the whole experience was unsettling - for BOTH of us. Three weeks later I received a call that my father had passed away. And another three weeks after that our friend and family doctor asked us to stop by his office. He had something he wanted to talk to us about regarding a recent mammogram Carol had undergone. The hours preceding that visit were agonizing. When he walked into the waiting room, he said, "Well, I don't like having to tell either one of you this, but Carol, you have breast cancer." He shed tears with us. He prayed with us. He went above and beyond the call of duty in helping us enter into the journey that was ahead.

Like so many people given "the cancer diagnosis," we asked tons of questions. We asked about therapy options, about lifestyle changes, the impact of radiation and chemo…and we asked about the prognosis. And then in the privacy of our own thoughts we asked, "God, what are you doing? Don't you realize we have a church to care for and a ministry to run?" Silence! Yes, silence from the Almighty that went on for weeks.

But an answer did come. It came from a biblical text that I had preached from numerous times in the past. It is found in the New Testament Book of James, chapter 1, verses 2 through 4. In these three verses God invites us to do something that seems virtually impossible - maybe even a little sadistic. He says, "Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials."

Why would anyone rejoice over a cancer diagnosis, a job loss, or a devastating accident? The biblical writer says, "For you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and endurance empowers you to be mature and complete." I understand those last three words to be saying, "You would never choose to do this on your own, but I am using your trials to make you dependent on Me! And when you are dependent on Me, I'll make you more and more like Jesus."

It has taken me weeks to process the new life that God has called us to. Yes, Carol has been given a clean bill of health. And yes, our life is and will be different. But I am also aware that God works in all of our challenges to accomplish His ultimate mission - He wants to make us strong through our challenges. He wants to make us resemble Jesus in all we do.

Harry Shields is a retired pastor and adjunct professor at Moody Bible Institute. You can read his blog at: caringforsouls.com.

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