I had a rather rough night sleeping last night. It took a long time and some pharmaceutical help to fall asleep. This hasn’t happened in a long time, but my mind was awash from memories from before I had cancer. They were all good memories with a strong sense of freedom and joy. I thought of many things I either don’t or simply can’t do anymore.
Now’s your chance to get out, btw. This is a Two Stories post all the way, me, Jesus, and the cancer battle.
As I lay in bed, I prayed in earnest. I reminded myself that I needed to be thankful, first and foremost, to thank God for the five plus years that I’ve been a cancer survivor, beating the odds for stage 4 colon cancer. Beyond just staying alive, though, I attest to feeling God’s help along the way, finding provision with perfect timing when I seemingly had so few options. (You can read all about this in my book, of course). So, I’m thankful. But as I consider where I’m at, with the pesky tumors persisting and perhaps beginning to grow again, I battled in the dark, once again, the question of whether I’m ready for heaven, whether I’m really looking forward to being with Jesus.
The answer’s no, I’m afraid, and I had to confess this in my prayers last night. I’m not ready to go. I want to stay here with my wife and my kids and my church and my friends, and there are so many things I want to do and see, no matter how awesome heaven is.
I’m sure God will forgive me, because Christ himself asked that “the cup pass from him” when he was despairing in the Garden of Gethsemene on the eve of his crucifixion, and I’m not Christ, not even close, too weak to handle the burden of whether or not it is time for me to go or not. But I also know that I’m not one of the many saints of history who wrote of their readiness and eagerness to be called to pass on to the next life whatever God’s timing. That’s not me.
But this sleepless night I had some help in the struggle. Sorta. As I considered the future and the past, I wrestled with whether I have been living with joy, as my outward demeanor would suggest, or if I’m really a fraud trying to convince everyone, including myself, of a joyful feeling that just isn’t there? A walking social media facade? This question roiled around because I learned that my name was brought up recently at a church community group that was beginning their reading of the Book of James. The beginning of the first chapter (vs 2-4) goes as follows:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (ESV)
Right. Now, picture someone who has just experienced a terrible tragedy or is dealing with depression, and you read this to them. Will this likely provide some comfort? Probably not. On the surface I can see how some would find these trite, unhelpful, even uncaring words to hear.
As I lie in bed, I asked myself how I can count as joy the trials of these past 5 years. Well, it depends on how one defines joy, and I don’t think James is talking about a permanent smile of happiness.
As a committed Christian, I consider it my purpose in life to grow in Grace and to become more and more like Christ, to be a personal testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit in me. Becoming more Christlike means, hopefully, to become more humble, to love and serve others with less self-interest, and, of course, the so-called fruits of the spirit, but this requires a willingness to constantly undergo the difficult change and transformation from the comfort of who you are to the person you are meant to be in Christ. Giving up one’s self to take on Christ. This is deep stuff.
Those of you who are familiar with the book Pilgrim’s Progress know that the main character, Christian, constantly reflects upon the path that he is on, and every step along the way, when he meets new people or encounters some challenge, he learns rather quickly if he is hanging out with the right people and if he is making decisions that are helping him in his journey toward the Celestial City. Temptation is strong to stray from the path, to choose a life of comfort and ease, self-righteousness and self-contentment, alienation, even anger and violence and other ways of life that prevent progress on the journey.
Why am I writing this now? What kept me up?
I mentioned previously that I’m experiencing hydronephrosis (in layman’s terms, my kidneys are backing up). Yesterday, I had the two ureteral stents replaced. I had assumed the blockage was something in the bladder at the ends of the stents. It turns out that the doctor thinks there is a mass pushing against the ureters (especially the right one) that is causing the stent to collapse and cutoff the flow from kidney to bladder. Our hope is that the new stents will alleviate the problem and all will return to normal (reduced creatinine, etc). If not, then I’m likely headed towards a procedure to install a nephrostomy, which means the doctor will cut the ureters and run them out my back and connect tubes to divert the urine to a bag around my waist. Yes, this would mean 2 bags.
This is typically a temporary fix until some other issue (like kidney stones) is resolved, but given that my problem is a tumor in the area of the bladder, the only recourse for me is to have that disease and bladder removed, and we’ve already tried that once (2016) and the doctor aborted the surgery. So, this ureteral diversion would probably be permanent. And then what?
What if? What if? What if.
Last night the “what if” questions wouldn’t go away, and they’re sticking with me today. I’m entertaining questions that I know I should not ask, because it is healthy to stay in the moment, but I’m nonetheless concerned about what the future holds. So for those of you that pray, I’d appreciate your prayers. And I say this knowing that there are so many other people to pray for; I think in particular for young people and children in need. I don’t take lightly this request, as I value your mental and spiritual time to think of me in this regard.
As I walk through this path of life unto death as a pilgrim on a journey, I think I am a better person today than I was before cancer, not just different. And if this is not true, if there are people out there who disagree, who see only my character flaws, the hypocrite in me, the pride, you’re right of course. It is a constant struggle of the old self and the new. Regardless, I continue on as a pilgrim, seeking to become more and more like the Person that I chose to follow a long time ago and must still choose to follow daily, with my goal to glorify the Lord. I do look forward to the day a long, long time from now, when I’ll meet Him in the Celestial City, or whatever Heaven ends up being. This is what I have committed my life to, and I know my soul is making progress. And yes, in some mysterious way, there is great joy in this.
** The map is from the Wikipedia site on Pilgrim’s Progress