Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"God Will Never Give You More than You Can Handle" -- Is it True?

A big story in our local news this past week was the suicide of a successful movie director who jumped off the Vincent Thomas bridge. The bridge is a familiar area sight and just a few miles from my home. Initial reports said that this man had just been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. His family has since denied that report, so we must wonder what drove him to this act and to abandon his wife and young sons.

Suicide is an offensive subject to me since I am fighting for my life. It seems to me that he threw away the precious gift of time that God had given him (the topic of my last blog). Is that okay? Is suicide okay in the case of those who have a certain amount of suffering in their lives or a terminal illness? If so, how do you determine the amount of suffering at which it becomes too much? There was much chatter about this event on a cancer blog website that I read. I was surprised that most of the comments folks made were about HOW he did it and that perhaps another method would have been less painful. There was no concern over what may have driven him to do it or compassion for his family that is left behind. It was more like a conversation on how-to tips for suicide. I thought it was so sad and my heart aches when I see through the eyes of people who have no hope.

I have had so many well-meaning people tell me that "God won't give you more than you can handle" as they face the challenges in their own lives and try to encourage me in my battle with cancer. In a way, I'd like to think that was true, and that God didn't have such a high opinion of exactly how much I CAN handle. I've thought it myself, when I heard of a friend who seemed to have more and more bad news heaped upon her. But then the other day I started questioning, thinking yeah, it sounds nice, but where in the Bible does it actually SAY that? Did God REALLY promise us that? Or is it just one of those nice-sounding expressions that people assume are from the Bible (but they aren't), such as "God helps those who help themselves?"

The truth is, the thought comes from 1 Corinthians 10:13:

"No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it."
So this promise is specifically about temptation, not suffering. Although we would like to think we are protected from "too much" suffering, that is a dangerous and false teaching. After being pounded by problems, we might conclude that God has let us down, but the truth is, He will never leave us or forsake us and His grace is sufficient!

The Bible is full of stories of people who were given "more than they could handle." So why does God allow it?

How about the Israelites when they were chased by the Egyptian army and trapped against the Red Sea? That was certainly more than they could handle. Or, consider Gideon and his troop of 300 which God had whittled away from the original 22,000 to do battle against 135,000 enemies. Think that was more than they could handle? In each case, there was no humanly possible resolution and God intervened to rescue them miraculously!

I think God often works this way in order to reveal His power and so that He will get the glory -- not us! It also teaches us an important lesson in relying on Him and not our own strength or "wisdom" as we go through life's inevitable difficulties.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 Paul wrote:
"For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction, which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us. He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us."

God may very well give you more than you can handle -- but don't worry, He can handle anything!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Gift of Time

So we just saw my oncologist a few days ago to discuss the results of my last scan. Although the results were better than I had expected, they were not as good as I had hoped!

The two tumors in my lung that we had spotted previously were still there, but had responded to treatment. The radiologist wrote that they were markedly reduced. That word excited me, but when I read the numbers I decided that he and I had a very different definition of the word. However, my doctor was very encouraged that both tumors were reduced and also the SUV numbers were way down, which indicated that the cancer was inactive or at least very slow growing.

Of course I would have preferred to hear that the tumors were gone, as had often been the results after previous rounds of chemo. It is also a concern that one of the tumors abuts my aorta. Don't like the sound of that. Perhaps that explains my lack of strength and energy lately. Yes, I'd rather the cancer was all gone, but now we have to just settle for reducing it and slowing it down.

I've been digesting this information for a few days now and adjusting to the progression of the disease. Although it's not what I want and I'm not feeling 100% or even 75%, I haven't lost faith and I continue to fight on. As I was doing some things around the house yesterday, I thought about how my focus, priorities, and daily activities have changed since my diagnosis. Some people die suddenly, without any warning, having had no time to prepare for it.

Some might be angry with God when they get a terminal disease, but we all have to go sometime in some way.  I smiled to myself and thanked God for the precious gift of time that He has given me. I realize I may have years left -- or I may not -- but fighting this cancer has changed my focus and allowed me time to do the things I'd procrastinated for too long. Long overdue things like organizing family photos (still working on it, but I'm getting there!) and writing personal and family history to hand down to my children and grandchildren. My husband and I have taken care of personal matters like our wills and pre-planned burials. But most importantly I've been sharing my faith more boldly than I'd had the courage to do before. I wish I hadn't waited so long to do that, but I'm so grateful God is giving me time now to do it.
  "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." Ephesians 2:10

I just heard of a friend's niece who is now terminal and home on hospice care. Doctors have only given her a few months to live and she still has matters she needs to handle. I'm praying that like me, God will give her the precious gift of time she needs to finish her purpose in this life.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Don't You Trust Me?

I watched a movie yesterday, "We Bought a Zoo" with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. Without giving away any of the story, the plot was a young widower and his kids trying to make a fresh start following the death of their wife and mother. Each of them was grieving her in their own way and hurting deeply. Some of them were not handling it well at all.

It made me think of my own family and how they might handle my death, if I should lose this cancer battle. I am perfectly content with going home to the Lord. I look forward to my new body and a new address in heaven, seeing my deceased believing loved ones, and seeing Jesus. I'll be in a better place with no more suffering or tears. Who wouldn't be fine with that? But I have always worried about how my family would get along without me and how they would handle my passing. It's in those thoughtful, heartbreaking moments when the Lord quietly whispers in my ear, "Don't you trust Me?"

I went through a similar situation nearly 20 years ago when doctors found an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) in my brain, a potentially fatal condition. I considered treatment options and made out my will, just in case. My sons were 4 and 8 years old at that time and I couldn't imagine them growing up without their mommy. While Satan tortured me with those agonizing thoughts, the God of the universe quietly countered my fears with "Don't you trust Me, Erin?"

In this crazy busy world we get so caught up with doing things and handling them ourselves without ever seeking the Lord or realizing that He's in control. At home, I'm one who organizes and handles things. I'm in charge of reading instructions and directing assembly of things. As the only female in the house, I'm always the one depended on to help find lost items (Mom! Have you seen my ---?). And I am the head peacemaker, translator, and negotiator between my men when an argument occurs.  AND I'm the only one who knows how to fold fitted sheets! What in the world would they all do without my help, guidance, and wisdom?

 Oops. I really let my ego get carried away when I entertain thoughts like that. I know that God is loving and all-powerful. He is large and in charge. I can trust Him with all aspects of my own life, but releasing the care of my beloved family completely into His hands and letting go?  That is really tough, but ultimately I know I can trust Him with them too. I think about how deeply, deeply I love them and then I try to compare that to Jesus' love for them -- I know He loves them even infinitely more that I do, and gave His life for them, so of course I can release them into His Hands and trust Him to take care of my family if I'm not around.

My favorite lesson on trusting God is the story of Peter walking on water with Jesus in Matthew 14:22-32 . Peter was doing just fine as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, but when he started checking out the wind and waves around him, he started to sink until Jesus took his hand.

I was listening to a radio program the other day on which the host told about her recent cesarean childbirth. It had been her greatest fear come true, and she too had heard the Lord had ask her "Don't you trust me?" She did, and everything turned out fine. So often God uses our greatest fears or the things (or people) that are most precious to us in order to teach us to trust Him.

Ok, Lord, I'll trust You.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Heavenly Body

I spent some time yesterday inside a scanner "tunnel." The machine buzzed and hummed and moved around me searching from head to toe for signs of that cancer. I had to lay there completely still for 24 minutes. I always use this time to talk things over with the Lord. It has been 5 years ago this month since the mammogram that found my cancer, so I've been through quite a few of these scans. I used to think of these scans as just a formality to confirm that the cancer was still gone, but since it returned so aggressively I can't help but wonder which part of my body it will invade next.

After 5 years of various treatments my poor body has gotten quite beat up. I know I can never expect to feel 100% again because of the damage done to it. With each symptom, ache or pain I wonder if it's caused by the cancer, or a side effect of medications, damage from treatments, or just plain growing old.

Of course I pray for God's miraculous and complete healing, and I believe that He could if it was His will. But I'm just not sure that it is. Does that mean I have a lack of faith? No way. I know that God designed this earthly body of mine to only last a certain number of years. This body is destined to break down, wear out, and fall apart. So at some point some part is going to give out and I'll be trading it in for a new heavenly body. Some days I really look forward to that body!

 I thought back on conversations I've had with friends lately. As we get older (50's and 60's) it seems like our conversations include much more about our latest pains and illnesses. We used to laugh about our parents' same conversations, but now our kids are teasing US. Yeah, 50 or 60 used to sound ANCIENT to me when I was younger, but as I reach those numbers myself it doesn't seem so old any more! But now our bodies are limiting us and won't let us do nearly all the things we'd like to.

Our hair is gray, white, or falling out. Or better yet -- it's sprouting out of places it never grew before! Our joints ache and tell us when a storm is coming. We have to buy "comfortable shoes" now to accommodate our ingrown toenails. Charlie horses send us leaping from bed in the middle of the night. Our calendar fills up with various doctor appointments and we can't even read it without our bifocals on. All of this is really no surprise, it just seems so foreign when it starts happening to YOU! God warned us in Psalm 103:14-16:
"For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer."
 Probably the part I hate the most is food limitations. We have to watch our calories, cholesterol, sugar, Vitamin K, you name it! Anyone reading this who's under 30 has either tuned out or is laughing hysterically at the "old people" -- but trust me, you'll be here too someday. I would dearly love to travel the world, go to exotic restaurants and sample their wares without ever having to give a thought to what ingredients are in it that might make me sick.

John & I have annual passes to Disneyland which they have graciously agreed to put on hold for us until I am well enough to use again. We haven't been in 2 or 3 years now and I miss it so much. Sure wish I had the strength and stamina to do it (even in a wheelchair). Occasionally I can manage a shopping trip to Walmart, as long as their motorized carts are fully charged. We went last night and John pushed me around in a wheelchair cart -- small children stared at me like I was an alien, but it was still great to get out of the house.

My heavenly body will never tire out, never lose hair, never sag or wrinkle. Never get a headache or heartburn. It's going to be wonderful to eat whatever I please -- I look forward to that marriage feast! The Bible tells us that our new bodies will be imperishable (oh, I love that word!), perfected, glorious, powerful, immortal, changed. Read that again slowly and take a moment to savor that thought! You can't help but long for that!
"Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality." I Corinthians 15:51-53
"Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is." I John 3:2