Thursday, May 29, 2008

Paradise Lost at last

At last, I have completed Paradise Lost by John Milton. I have been listening to the audio recording of it (which I received as a free download from christianaudio.com), and finished this morning as I hiked along the rim trail overlooking White Rock Canyon and the Rio Grande. The sun was hot, the breeze was cool, and everything was fresh from yesterday's rain. What a beautiful morning!

I really enjoyed the beauty of Milton's language, and admire the scope of the project he undertook. Let me share some words, put into Adam's mouth after Michael, the archangel, explains the mystery of salvation to Adam. It's from the last book, and gives the feel of Milton's summary and purpose...

...Enlightner of my darkness, gracious things
Thou hast reveald, those chiefly which concerne
Just ABRAHAM and his Seed: now first I finde
Mine eyes true op'ning, and my heart much eas'd,
Erwhile perplext with thoughts what would becom
Of mee and all Mankind; but now I see
His day, in whom all Nations shall be blest,
Favour unmerited by me, who sought
Forbidd'n knowledge by forbidd'n means. ...

...O goodness infinite, goodness immense!
That all this good of evil shall produce,
And evil turn to good; more wonderful
Then that which by creation first brought forth
Light out of darkness! full of doubt I stand,
Whether I should repent me now of sin
By mee done and occasiond, or rejoyce
Much more, that much more good thereof shall spring,
To God more glory, more good will to Men
From God, and over wrauth grace shall abound...


It is interesting to think that perhaps Milton himself fell into Adam's trap of seeking forbidden knowledge in trying to imagine the things not revealed to us in Scripture. Indeed, perhaps that is why he understood that temptation so well! I find myself sympathetic with Milton, at least in this work, and willing to enjoy the beauty of his language and the loftiness of his goals, without being too critical of his theology.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Some thoughts on prayer

What a blessing it is to pray: that is, to know there is a powerful God who will listen to me, and answer me, and give me what is best for me however stupid I am being. That is comfort! Even when I can't think of what to say, I can go before the Lord and lay my feelings before Him and know He cares for me. Wow.

I have attended churches my whole adult life that took praying seriously, and had pastor who preached about praying. That is a blessing, too! One of the best teaching tools passed on to me by my current pastor was Spurgeon's little pamphlet entitled, "Effective Prayer". It revolutionized my ability to pray in the tough times.

Tim Challies had a helpful post recently on things that can hinder our prayers. These are things worth thinking about.

And Stephen Altrogge had a helpful post recently on praying for friends who are in times of trial. Good reminders.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Living with cancer


Obviously, my own cancer makes me remember in a keen way the journey we traveled 16 years ago with Dave's cancer. Add to that a friend whose husband is battling cancer, and another who is living with metastatic disease, and several more friends in various stages of the battle, and things I have long forgotten are rushing back to me in a fresh, clear way.

This morning I have been remembering the difference between dying of cancer and living with cancer. This is an important difference. There may come a time to die of cancer, but the more difficult calling is to live with cancer. It really does come down to relinquishing the last vestiges of our control, and letting God be God in our lives and deaths. This is all well and good in the abstract, and a real challenge in the here and now.

I was remembering this morning the time that Dave was doing chemotherapy in Los Alamos after our return here from treatments in Houston. He wanted to go on travel for work even though he had NO (read ZERO) white blood cells. I tried everything: reasoning, arguing, crying. Because, of course, it is foolish to spend time in the recirculated air of an airplane with dozens of strangers when you cannot fight infection of any kind, right? I was getting no where with Dave. He eventually agreed to take it to his oncologist for a final decision, and I agreed to abide by the decision of the doctor. The doc asked Dave, "Will you wear a mask and refrain from eating or drinking in the airports?" And Dave said, "Sure!". And that was that. He could go. I couldn't believe my ears! Then the oncologist reminded me that Dave's desire to live his life, carry on with "normal" activities, was just as important to his recovery as the other stuff we were doing.

I began to see the application of this to several things I deemed as "stupid" activities from Dave at the time: running with neuropathy in his feet that made him fall, working a half-day after extremely toxic chemotherapy treatments, fighting to stay awake at night until at least 10:00 when he was exhausted. I realized he was living with cancer instead of dying from it. Yet again, he became my hero.

So, this morning I want to promise the Lord I will live with cancer as long as it is my calling. I am not sure what that will look like, nor if I have the courage to do it. But I know I can do all things in Christ, who strengthens me, and I know He has prepared this road for me, and its end is secure. What more can I ask?

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Loveliness of Jesus


Dave and I find ourselves once again reading the daily devotions found in C. H. Spurgeon's Morning and Evening. It is amazing how applicable these timeless truths are to our every day struggles in the Christian life, particularly in times of trial, when the word of God and encouragement to focus on Him is most urgent. If you have never picked up a copy of this little gem, may I recommend it? You can read it online here, and get weekly doses from it every Sunday here. And make sure you get an edition with the original language. The beauty of the language adds to the message.

Last night, the thoughts were so applicable to the end of a day that felt heavy with burdens. Even though I had a fun and relaxing day (see my post on the other blog here), we had many friends who had heavy, hard days, and I carried their burdens with me all day long. And last night, I was encouraged at bedtime by C. H. S. to look at the loveliness of Christ, and find my rest there. I am copying it below for your edification as well...

“Behold, thou art fair, my Beloved.”

Song of Solomon 1:16

From every point our Well-beloved is most fair. Our various experiences are meant by our heavenly Father to furnish fresh standpoints from which we may view the loveliness of Jesus; how amiable are our trials when they carry us aloft where we may gain clearer views of Jesus than ordinary life could afford us! We have seen him from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, and he has shone upon us as the sun in his strength; but we have seen him also “from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards,” and he has lost none of his loveliness. From the languishing of a sick bed, from the borders of the grave, have we turned our eyes to our soul’s spouse, and he has never been otherwise than “all fair.” Many of his saints have looked upon him from the gloom of dungeons, and from the red flames of the stake, yet have they never uttered an ill word of him, but have died extolling his surpassing charms. Oh, noble and pleasant employment to be forever gazing at our sweet Lord Jesus! Is it not unspeakably delightful to view the Saviour in all his offices, and to perceive him matchless in each?—to shift the kaleidoscope, as it were, and to find fresh combinations of peerless graces? In the manger and in eternity, on the cross and on his throne, in the garden and in his kingdom, among thieves or in the midst of cherubim, he is everywhere “altogether lovely.” Examine carefully every little act of his life, and every trait of his character, and he is as lovely in the minute as in the majestic. Judge him as you will, you cannot censure; weigh him as you please, and he will not be found wanting. Eternity shall not discover the shadow of a spot in our Beloved, but rather, as ages revolve, his hidden glories shall shine forth with yet more inconceivable splendour, and his unutterable loveliness shall more and more ravish all celestial minds.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Remembering the Truth

One of the challenges during any time of trial is remembering the Truth when your mind and emotions are so distracted. The distraction comes from pain, worry, information overload, the love and care of others, feeling sorry for ones self, and a myriad of other temptations. And I find I am prone to all of these! But when I focus on these things and forget the truth, then I am jsut set adrift in a self-centered abyss. It's an ugly place.

So, what do I do to keep focused on the truth? Of course, I don;t do so perfectly. I have plenty of moments of being overwhelmed, but if I stay there I would despair. So here are some of the things that the great Christians of old, and the Scriptures, have taught me to do. These are my weapons in the day-to-day battle that goes on in my heart and mind when the enemy wants to drive me to despair...
  • Dave and I memorize Scripture together. This week's verse is Isaiah 40: 29-31. Last week it was 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10. And the week before that, Romans 8:29-31. God's Word is like a balm.
  • We also pray together and read together: good reading, like Spurgeon's Morning and Evening (which really seems like he wrote it for me, not 150+ years ago!) And we pray and read separately, too.
  • I rehearse God's promises before His throne. "Lord, you promise to be sufficient for me, be so!"
  • I try to think of others and send cards or e-mails, or pray for them. I recall that this is really not the "Cosmos of Chris" even though I'd sometimes like it to be, and see how the Lord would use me even in this place to minister to others.
  • I listen to wonderful, uplifting music, watch cheerful movies, and watch my flowers grow. These are healthy distractions to keep me from wallowing.
  • I do the tasks at hand (maybe not as fast or efficiently as I'd like). I try to keep moving on what God has called me to put my hand to.
The "sound track" to this illness is a CD I got from Sovereign Grace Music shortly before my diagnosis called "Come Weary Saints". The music is wonderful, in the contemporary worship style. But the words are deep and true. I have it on my mP3 player, my computer and in the car, and find myself putting it on when I need to take my thoughts captive. I concentrate on the truth in the wonderful words, and force my mind to dwell on the Truth. What a lovely weapon to have in my arsenal for this battle!

One of the songs I have been listening to frequently lately is below. Everyone should have this CD to encourage them!

As Long as You Are Glorified by Mark Altrogge

Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings
Yet not welcome any pain
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine
Yet grumble in days of rain
Shall I love You in times of plenty
Then leave You in days of drought
Shall I trust when I reap a harvest
But when winter winds blow, then doubt

Oh let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified

Are You good only when I prosper
And true only when I’m filled
Are You King only when I’m carefree
And God only when I’m well
You are good when I’m poor and needy
You are true when I’m parched and dry
You still reign in the deepest valley
You’re still God in the darkest night


© 2008 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sacred Seduction


My dear friend Randy sent me the lyrics and a rough recording of a new song by his son, Seth and daughter-in-love Amy. The lyrics are below. What an encouragement to be sold out for Christ! It encouraged me, and I hope it will encourage you as well.

Sacred Seduction

Words and Music by Seth and Amy Greenwald, Andrea Rowe, and Tom Yu

5/2/2008

They tell me all the things, things I should do

If I want to grow closer to you

But I can’t find the strength

In my brokenness and heartache

To do this on my own

All that I can see, Is you drawing me into your arms

Wiping clean my tears of fear and alarm

Who can resist, your sacred seduction

Slowly breaking down my defenses

Take me unto you

Cherish me forever

To have and to hold

Rejoicing over me with singing

(Repeat)

They tell me all the things, things I should do

If I want to grow closer to you

My strivings are stilled

When you remind me

I am pursued by you

Take me unto you

Cherish me forever

To have and to hold

Rejoicing over me with singing

(Repeat 3X)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

God's better plan

I have prayed and prayed that the Lord would allow my lymph nodes to be clear of cancer. And while we don't have a confirmed diagnosis on the nodes in my chest and abdomen and pelvis, they are active with something bad. While this came as a blow, I knew it was God's answer to my prayers. I have such a strong sense that God is calling me to know Him better, walk with Him farther than I think I can, gain more intimacy with and trust in Him. While His answer to my prayers is difficult, and not what I wanted and hoped for, I know it is good, and it is better for me than my own plans. My own plans would trust God a safe distance, just to the very end of my finger tips. But He won't settle for that. It's all of me, without reserve, no grasping fingers struggling for control, that He insists on. So, here I am for our next great adventure, Lord. Be sufficient for me.

Here is my song for the day:

Glorious by Mark Altrogge

Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings
Yet not welcome any pain
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine
Yet grumble in days of rain
Shall I love You in times of plenty
Then leave You in days of drought
Shall I trust when I reap a harvest
But when winter winds blow, then doubt


Oh let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified


Are You good only when I prosper
And true only when I’m filled
Are You King only when I’m carefree
And God only when I’m well
You are good when I’m poor and needy
You are true when I’m parched and dry
You still reign in the deepest valley
You’re still God in the darkest night


© 2008 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Miscellany

This morning was one of those mornings that started early... after a peaceful sleep from about 11:00 until 4:15, despite grumblies in my tummy after my barium snacks yesterday afternoon. But at 4:15 I was wide awake, an the day was starting despite my best attempts to return to sleep. So I prayed, I cuddled with my husband, and then rose to listen to God's word and start the day...

Here are a few things I've been collecting that have been interesting or encouraging to me lately. Hope you find them so as well...
  • Stephen Altrogge offers and excellent, brief audio clip of John piper talking about the benefits of suffering here. I can only say "Amen!"
  • Dr. John Currid offers this encouragement for not losing heart here.
  • Tim Challies offers a helpful reflection on our job as parents and our response as children here. (And his blog today on our inherrent sinfulness is excellent as well!)
  • Dallas Theological Seminary has an online rare books collection that looks worth knowing about here.
  • And lastly, just for fun, Switchfoot has just released a music video of a song done for the soundtrack of the upcoming Narnia movie, Prince Caspian, here. Since we are both Switchfoot and Narnia fans, this was fun to watch (thanks to T.C. for the link.)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Strange Things

There are many strange things about walking on this cancer road I find myself on. First, of course, is just the lack of control, seemingly suddenly, over any details in your life. Your schedule is suddenly rearranged, shuffled, and constantly in flux. Having done this with Dave and then with my mom, it doesn't seem quite as shocking as it was in the past, but it is still disconcerting. It comes with normal routine and normal interactions halted, and I find myself missing the normal, missing my students, missing my friends.

Then there is just the weird idea that you actually have cancer. I felt fine until they started exploring my cancer, of course. There was no lump, no physical symptoms, nothing. But now I am poked, prodded, on special diets for tests, drinking horrible substances, and starting to feel downright sick.

And then there are just the surreal moments. Last week as I was laying in an MRI machine, face down, with my arms over my head for 45 minutes, I had on head phones with music to help blur out the odd clicks, whirs and pounding of the MRI machine. I had told the technician that classical music would be great, and so she started a CD of Mozart music running. The first thing on the CD was the opening movement of the 40th symphony. Now, every music major has, at some time, had to memorize these themes. In college, we used to put words to every theme to help us remember them. So I found myself singing in my head, "It's a bird, it's a plane, no, it's Mozart..." as lovely, balanced and beautiful music came to my ears, with the clicking and pounding behind it and the weird feeling of being inside an MRI machine. For a minute I felt like I was in one of those sci-fi or horror films where something unnatural is happening but the music is calm and beautiful.

These are the times when being a Calvinist pays off. I know a God who is so much bigger than the circumstances around me that I can laugh at them (as I almost did in the MRI machine, though I was not supposed to move...) And I can hold on to the knowledge that, even if these things are not what I would choose, they are no surprise to God, and they are planned from the foundations of the earth to bring about my good and His glory. Those promises become not just platitudes at such times, but things of hope and substance. but sometimes I need to battle to hold on to them. I am not trying to paint the picture that I am not fearful at times, or dreading surgery. I am. But I run to Christ in such moments. And He is good to meet me where I am and love me through it.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things?If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written,

"For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:18-39

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sabbath Sentiments

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”

~C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms


Friday, May 02, 2008

On being a demanding child

Spring is so full of promise. And so is my heart, though my body feels awfully weary today. The cold snap we are experiencing is biting to my soul, and seems to reflect the circumstances of my life somehow.

As I learn to rearm myself for the battle ahead (pick up the weapons of the spirtitual war that will help me fight the physical one), I am dwelling in God's promises. I am afraid I am also being a demanding child. When the enemy is attacking, I find all I can do is remind God of his promises and demand He keep them.

"Lord. you say you will be sufficient for me. Be sufficient."

"Lord, you promise the peace that passes all understanding. I need that peace right now. Please give it to me!"

Christ said what father, when his son asks for bread, will give him a stone instead. So I am asking for those things that the Father promises His children: peace and rest and trust in Him. And I am being insistent in prayer.

I am also asking Him for what I want: healing, restoration of health, minimal pain. But I am not demanding these things in the same way. I do not know the mind of God. I do not know what He plans for me. But I do know I can rest in the fact that His plan is perfect: it is good, and will bring Him glory. So the things I want, I lay before Him, and ask Him to give them to me if they are best, and to help me accept His will where it is different from mine.

What a privilege it is to be a child...even a demanding one.