Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Advantages of Affliction

A few weeks ago Erin posted a wonderful poem by the pastor and hymn-writer John Newton, one of the most famous and beloved figures of the 18th Century Evangelical Revivals in England. I recently came across a letter Newton wrote to a member of his congregation in which he describes the “advantages of afflictions.”

Newton writes, “The advantages of afflictions, when the Lord is please to employ them for the good of his people, are many and great.”
1. Afflictions quicken us to prayer.
2. Afflictions are useful, and in a degree necessary, to keep alive in us a conviction of the vanity and unsatisfying nature of the present world, and all its enjoyments; to remind us that this is not our rest, and to call our thoughts upwards, where our true treasure is, and where our conversation ought to be.
3. Afflictions give us a more enlarged and experiential acquaintance with his holy word.
4. Afflictions give us occasion to know and notice more of the Lord’s wisdom, power, and goodness, in supporting and relieving, than we should otherwise have known.
5. Afflictions evidence to ourselves and manifest to others the reality of grace.
6. Afflictions advance our conformity to Jesus our Lord, who was a man of sorrows for our sake.
7. Afflictions increase our desire for heaven.

It certainly has been our experience that afflictions have many advantages, and by God’s grace, many of the things Newton names on this list have been fruits of the affliction in our lives in recent months.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Medical Update: Done with Chemo!

I am officially done with chemo! I had my final treatment last Wednesday (5/18). The days that followed were kind of hard because I was so excited to be done with chemo that I had forgotten that I was still going to feel sick one more time. Oh well. I am thankful that I have about two weeks “off” before my daily radiation treatments begin, so we are going to travel to St. Louis this weekend and will stay about a week. I am so excited to see my family and friends there! Matt, Lydia, and Hudson haven’t been up to St. Louis for almost a year and a half, so it will be great for them to go back and for us all to be together as a family up there.

Shortly after we return from St. Louis I will begin my radiation treatments. I will have the treatments every weekday for seven weeks (so Lord willing, I will be done with that by the end of July). While this will be a big time commitment (it will probably take about 2 hours out of my day for those seven weeks), I am not expecting too many physical side effects from radiation. Once radiation is over I will have a two-three month break before I have the reconstruction part of my surgery in the Fall. Then I will begin taking a post-chemotherapy medication that I will take for about five years.

I am thankful that this journey is progressing and that God has held me in his hand the whole time. He alone has given me strength for every new day.

“Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.”
Psalm 71:19-21

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Special Summer Blessing!

God has given us a huge gift for the summer! Our friend Bethany Haines has volunteered to come to Savannah to help me out with the kids as I finish up my chemotherapy and go through radiation. We know Bethany from St. Louis where her father, John Haines, worked with my dad for many years at Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church (in fact, he also hired Matt as an intern for a few months before Matt went to seminary). Like me, Bethany is studying Elementary Education at Covenant College has two sisters (in fact, I was her youngest sister’s Fourth Grade Teacher). Their family, now living in Charlotte, has always been such a special part of our lives and a wonderful blessing to us.

Bethany contacted me about two months ago and said that God had laid it on her heart to help our family in some way. With her summer break corresponding with my upcoming radiation treatments, she suggested coming to help with the kids. I excitedly responded saying, “When can you be here?!” J After talking it over, we arranged for Bethany to come for one week this month, and then return for most of June and July. Since our house is a little small and very busy with the kids, it doesn’t exactly lend itself well to house guests. But as always, God had a plan for every detail. We contacted some family friends of ours who also know Bethany and live just 10 minutes away from us, and asked if they might be able to host Bethany for the summer. Sure enough, they said that they had been praying for a way that they could help us. What a blessing it is that God provides for our every need!

Thank you, Bethany, for your selflessness in being here to help care for and love our children! We love you!

“And my God will supply every need of yours
according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:19

Sunday, May 8, 2011

For Erin: Happy Mother's Day!

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Proverbs 31:25-30

Dear Erin,

Today is the fourth year our family will celebrate you on Mother's Day. As cliche as it may sound, you have deserved to be thanked and praised each year more than the last! And this year is certainly no exception. This is your first Mother's Day since being diagnosed with breast cancer and I have never been more eager to thank you and praise you for who you are as a mother than I am today!

Because of your chemotherapy treatment a few days ago, you went to bed exhausted last night and will probably wake up feeling even more exhausted this morning. But here's where Proverbs 31:25 will kick in: you will get out of bed with strength, dignity, and even a laugh. Why? Because you are looking forward to temper tantrums, dirty diapers, and a husband who doesn't hear you half the time? No. You will get up with strength, dignity, and a laugh because you love your family more than you love yourself. In my selfish materialism, I could easily give you a list of ten things I'd love to get for Father's Day. But when I asked you what you wanted for Mother's Day, you said, "Some new backyard toys for the kids!" But that's just you. You would never put your own needs or desires ahead of your family's - even when your body is fighting the effects of chemotherapy.

And idleness (Proverbs 25:27)? Forget about it. Not once - even in the past six months - have I ever heard you say, "I just need some time for myself." Not once - even in the past six months - have I ever heard you say, "I deserve a break." Sure, your cancer has slowed you down. You haven't been able to do all that you normally would. There have been days when you have had no choice but to be idle. And why were those days so hard for you? Because you felt sick? No. Because you couldn't enjoy a good meal? No. Those days of "mandatory idleness" were so hard for you because you couldn't care for your children. Your love for them and desire to care for them is so great that not even cancer could shift your mind from thinking about them to thinking about yourself.

There are countless reasons your children could "rise up and call you blessed" and I could praise you (Proverbs 31:28). I could make a long list of the ways you have surpassed all of the other excellent women of this world (Proverbs 31:29), but as you know, I am a skilled rambler and people would probably stop reading my list eventually. So I'll cut to the chase. The number one reason you should be praised is not your charm (though I find you quite charming) or your beauty (though I find you incredibly beautiful - I've always loved the bald look!), but the fact that you fear the LORD (Proverbs 31:30). Ultimately, I believe it is not your love for me or our children that makes you such a wonderfully selfless and steadfast mother, but your love for God. It is your desire to honor Him above all others, your desire to bring Him glory and not yourself, and your desire to reflect His love that you love us so very well.

So today, on this Mother's Day, know that your husband and your children want to shout your praises loud and clear - not just to you, but to everyone! We want your name to be known, honored, and praised at the city gates because of you are a woman marked by strength, dignity, laughter, industry, and love for the LORD. You have been that kind of woman all the years I have known you, and you have continued to be that kind of woman in these past six months - even on the hardest days. We love you and - with tears of joy - we thank God for you.

Happy Mother's Day, Erin!

Matt, Lydia, Hudson, and Samuel

Friday, May 6, 2011

I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow

Several years ago, Matt and I came across a poem by John Newton called, “I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow." You can read it below. We were both struck by the beauty and truth of Newton’s words, so we framed the poem and hung it on our bedroom wall. A couple years later Indelible Grace wrote a hymn tune to the poem (see video below). I have been thinking a lot about Newton's poem lately. It has really help put my thinking about prayer and suffering into a better, more biblical perspective.

I have grown up in a Christian home all my life, but it was not until high school that I really started to grasp true Christianity and made my faith an internal relationship with Christ rather than an external religion only. In college I began praying specifically that God would use me for His glory in whatever way He saw fit and that I would grow and understand His salvation more deeply. And God answered that prayer, as Newton’s poem suggests, largely through many trials that I had and continue to have in my life: dealing with the death of my father, living far from home, and now battling against cancer. I can say with confidence that God is answering my prayer. Life is not about our circumstances, but is about our relationship to God and our awareness of what He has done for us in Christ and is continuing to do for us each day. God is answering my prayer by teaching me that life is not about being in a “happy” place in life, but is about glorifying Him.

Now, I need to pray that God will continually remind me of these truths so that I might find “joy” in Him every day!

I Asked the Lord That I Might Growby John Newton (1779)

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

"More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
Romans 5:3-5