Thursday, 18 September 2014

What's in a name?

It's always refreshing to know that someone checks out the accuracy of my blog, and my fan club in Sydney never disappoints! It was brought to my attention this morning that you actually cannot see the Pacific Ocean from the balcony of the Mount Lavinia hotel, which I consider to be a minor detail hardly worth mentioning.

However, in the interest of journalistic integrity, I am compelled to correct my facts, and lay the blame squarely on my eighth grade geology teacher. The body of water of which I was referring to is apparently the Arabian Sea; the rest of the facts I mentioned are, to my knowledge, still correct.

As I endeavor to learn from my mistakes, I can offer the following thought as advice to aspiring writers: Never rely on the accuracy of a tourist map when describing continents and bodies of water.

Nahum 1:7 "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble;
and he knoweth them that trust in him."

Location:Lost in the mountains of Kandy, Sri Lanka

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


As I look out over the balcony of my room this morning, my gaze goes across the gently rolling surf as it cascades over the green-blues of the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps 100 meters beyond the beach a man is floating in the swells, patiently waiting to catch fish on his line. Beyond the reef lies the dark blue of the open ocean, and 2,300 miles ahead to the west lies the border of Somalia.

This is maybe my seventh time to sit on the second floor of the Mount Lavinia hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Each time I've had the privilege to be here I have marveled at the opportunities God has given to me as a preacher of the Gospel. The Gospel has taken me around this world, to cultures and climates that are far different than the humble farm country where I call home. Today it has brought me once again to the tropical beauty of a nation that sits in the blindness of false religion. You cannot help but look across the teeming masses of humanity in this country and feel overwhelmed at the spiritual darkness that overshadows this land. Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam compete for the souls of men here, and the tragic end of each of these religious systems is the same: devoted followers of a religion will die in their sins, and face the judgment of God for eternity in the lake of fire. It brings such a heaviness to my heart to see it. But the Lord reminded me of something this morning. As I sat on the balcony overlooking the ocean, the sky was overcast, a dirty grey that seemed to cancel out the beauty of the land. Within minutes, a downpour blotted out all visibility and left people running for cover. But no sooner did the rain stop than the clouds parted and the morning sun cast its light... and what was for a moment bleak and grey was suddenly transformed into the dazzling colors of a tropical paradise. It was a tremendous reminder of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was the Apostle Paul who said:

Romans 1:16 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."

And here was the illustration, played out before my eyes... that the god of this world, Satan, has blinded the minds of them that believe not; but there is One greater than he, and the message of the Gospel of Christ is more powerful than the oppression of the devil. When the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ shines into the heart of a man, the clouds of sin are driven away, the conscience is awakened to sin, the spirit is made alive; or in the words of the Lord Jesus, that soul is "born again." And so I am renewed in my purpose as a preacher of the Gospel, and again am renewed in my passion to reach the souls of men who only need to hear the simple truth, that "Christ came into the world to save sinners..."

The previous few weeks in the life of our family have been filled with more work, prayer, strain and energy than at any time in our lives. August and September have been months of transition for our family and ministry.

The Lord has led me to turn the leadership of our church over to a man who I have had the great privilege in working alongside of in the minstry. I appointed Bro. Hernan Hullana as the Pastor of Southland Baptist Church on the fist Sunday in September, and that day turned a page in my own life and ministry. God has been preparing me for the work of evangelism, and in His perfect time has brought this transition to pass in our lives. I was not conflicted to turn pass on the mantle; quite the opposite. I rejoice in what God has done, and have full assurance of His leadership here among our church family. But it is time for me to move into a new role given by the Lord, and as I've observed over the years, transition is never easy!

This week I have come back to Sri Lanka with two dear friends in the Lord, Bro. Warren Bale and Bro. Niranjan Sundararaj. Once again we have come together to meet a few likeminded brethren and pray together for God to send laborers into the fields of Asia. We have covenanted together to pray in unity that the Lord would raise and send men into the harvest fields, and I can think of no better place to pray than in the veritable heart of Buddhism in the world. May the Lord of the harvest hear, and we trust that there would be a great reaping as a result.

But soon enough I'll be back in Sydney, and the whirlwind will resume! Our family is departing back to the United States on November 9, and after a brief rest and time with family, we will move down to Houston and spend time there as we seek some medical help. We would appreciate your prayer for us during that time. I believe the Lord would have us back to Washington over the summer next year, so that we can refresh and relax as a family. But after that, I am waiting on His will and timing for our next step. Many friends and family have asked me about this step in our lives, and all that I can say is, we are stepping out of the boat and into the will of God. We have a great many needs right now, but we have no resources. And yet, God is faithful. Our airfare has been paid off completely. Some of our medical needs have been financially taken care of. At every turn we have a need, and at every turn our Lord has met that need. I have been repeatedly asked, "are you afraid?", and I can say that from time to time I am gripped with fear. I do not live there, but I visit from time to time. The Lord has really helped Heidi and I to trust and rest in Him, so we are grateful. I do ask that you pray for us, that the Lord would show Himself strong on our behalf. We need a vehicle once we arrive, as well as an income. Our time is short before we go, our needs are immediate, and we are confident that our Father is always on time. But being patient can really hurt, though. Having needs like this really keeps us on our knees, asking the Father to help and provide for us. All I can tell you is, if you are going through a trial that drives you to prayer, that trial has great value.

The Lord has begun to open doors of opportunity for me in the ministry, however. There are a couple of churches that have asked us to come and minister to them, and we are taking it as from the Lord. We are going to need to find a place to live and settle for awhile, which means that the Lord will need to provide us a house. Would appreciate your prayer for that as the Lord brings it to mind.

There have been three main areas that I have been praying about, and seeking the Lord's mind as to how I should pursue them. This past week, God sent a most unlikely encouragement to me through someone I haven't seen in years, and through our time together the Lord answered prayer. So all we can do is rejoice and press forward into the will of God. I have a strong desire to encourage pastors and churches in the work of prayer and missions, and I see a great door opening as we are stepping forward.

I have learned a few things as this time of transition has gone forward in my own life, and I'd like to share them with you. You may not have a life-altering transition ahead, but the principles remain true no matter what kind of transition you face.

1. Transitions are a normal part of life, so expect them

If you're anything like me, I prefer things to be static: bacon and eggs for breakfast with an extra hot Starbucks almond latte. But life is rarely without changes, and I've found that I can either accept and adapt to it or I will lose my joy and damage the relationships I have with others. No matter how I face it, the transition will happen. So I might as well adjust my heart attitude and embrace the direction God is leading me.

2. Learn to be still during times of transition

The Bible says in Psalms 37:7, "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him..." It's not always easy to rest when everything is changing, but resting is the fruit of trusting the Lord. Recognize that this is a God-ordained change, so be still and let God manage the timing.

3. Transitions help us to stay reliant on God

The sameness of my circumstances gives me a lot of comfort, but being comfortable doesn't lend itself to having a dependence upon God. What transitions do is move me away from my comfort zone and leave me feeling vulnerable. This is not a bad thing! I believe the Lord uses my uneasiness to drive me to a deeper level of dependence on Him. So when changes come into your life, recognize that God is teaching you that you were not meant to find your comfort in your circumstances, possessions or station in life. Yes, changes do come our way, but we have a Heavenly Father who said in Malachi 3:6, "For I am the Lord, I change not..."

If you find yourself facing a change of life, you're in good company. You only need to read the Bible to see that every single man and woman that God used was called to a series of transitions! So in the language of the 21st Century, "chill out." Or, in the words of the living God, "Be still, and know that I am God..."

And if you want to know how things are going in my time of change, you can find me at Starbucks.

Nahum 1:7 "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble;
and he knoweth them that trust in him."

Location:Station Road,Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia,Sri Lanka

Thursday, 4 September 2014

An end, and a beginning

One of the curses of an overactive imagination is that I feel obligated to compose a novel every time I sit to write an update. Although I've needed to give an update for months, it seems that every time I block out the time to do it I am confronted by my old nemesis, the writers block. Gore Vidal once said that "Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps 20 players..." Now when I consider that, it explains the quality of what I write. After all, how profound can a man be when all he can hear is the screeching of an off-key violin in his head? If Shakespeare heard a symphony, I have no chance whatsoever. However, in spite of the limitations, I must try! My motto for this blog: Aim low and overachieve.

I cannot begin without first offering our profound thanks, once again, for the many dear friends that have been praying for us for these many months. I will occasionally come across a person who only heard about our lives and still took it upon themselves to pray. Although we may not know each other, I would rightly call you a friend, and I thank the Lord for you.

The end of July brought with it the end of Heidi's medical treatment for cancer. She finished her radiation treatment on July 23, and we were planning the party shortly afterward. It was a relief and blessing to know that her time would now belong to her and would no longer be shared with doctors, nurses, needles and radioactivity. I believe it was the prayer of many believers that brought about the mercy of God in her treatment, and she really did weather the storm well. Although the chemotherapy had its challenges, she faced very little problems with the radiation, and has gradually been recovering her strength, energy and mental clarity as the days have gone by. I would like to ask you to continue to pray for her, that the Lord would see fit to prevent a recurrence of the cancer. We know that anything is possible after this type of treatment, so we are resting in the goodness and mercy of God. Thank you for bringing it before the Throne.

Many have called or written to ask about the kids, and as a whole I can tell you that the Lord has been very gracious to them. Although cancer affects everyone differently, they have maintained a great spirit and trust in the Lord during all of it. I'm a grateful dad, and I know that your prayers for them have been a big part of their adjustment and stability during all of this.

So at the first of September, after 10 months of cancer and treatment, we find ourselves on the other side of the storm. When dealing with someone going through cancer, you are in a constant state of readjustment, I am learning that the aftermath is also an adjustment. Four questions immediately come to mind:

a) What, exactly, is the definition of "normal" for our family?
b) Why is there nothing but kale in my refrigerator?
c) How come my wife's hair will grow back, but mine never will?
d) Why is there nothing but kale in my refrigerator?

These things can be perplexing to a man in his 40's, particularly the last three.

The real challenge now is to seek the mind of the Lord for our next stage of life. I have come to learn in my own journey, as well as talking to many other cancer survivors, that life just changes when it's all over. Let me briefly outline a few of the changes that have come about.

1. Our marriage is not the same.

I can immediately hear the gasp! But have no fear, we are not in crisis. We're a changed couple. Just before Heidi started her chemotherapy, a man got in contact with me. His wife had also been on the journey of cancer and he wanted to talk to me about what's ahead. I remember that he told me that my wife wouldn't be the same when it was over. Now you don't really know how to respond to a statement like that, do you? You start wondering what that means: "Will she be crosseyed?" came to mind. Other more sinister thoughts were there as well. But the truth is, she is a very different person. She doesn't think the same way now, and who would? I can say that she is closer to the Lord. That's a good change! (Perhaps I should pause to clarify; Heidi had a good walk with her Saviour before this, it's only gotten better). But her features, mindset and emotions have changed, and as a result, our marriage has changed. We are closer now, but it's a different kind of closeness. As Christians, we have come to have a deeper love for one another because God has ministered to us through our trial. Now how good is that? I am learning to let go of the past and embrace the change.

2. Our diet is not the same.

No matter how you slice it, we have entered a new normal in the kitchen (refer to questions "b" & "d" above). We have heard and read every theory, idea, study, survey, experiment and opinion known to man about the cause and cure of cancer, and along the way, we've adopted our own blend of self-prescribed treatment. We've been climbing a mountain of food information, and I feel like the guy that said, "I love climbing because it feels so good when I stop." When I stop I'm gonna have a Big Mac. But the upswing to a new diet is that none of our clothes fit us anymore, which is an expensive blessing.

3. Our thought process is not the same.

Circumstances have a way of altering your mindset, there's no way around it. The way we think is directly tied to what we go through. There is a danger in this, of course, and so as Christians we have to follow the Word of God:

Proverbs 16:3 Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.

During this time we have purposefully given ourselves to the Lord and sought His help and leadership. I really see His hand in things as we've gone along, but through it all, we don't think the same! Our priorities have changed a bit. Things we thought were important we find are not any longer. Things we did (or wanted to do) have lost some of their value. Conversely, the Lord has sharpened some things in our minds as well. You tend to think more soberly about your future and opportunities to serve the Lord when you are faced with your mortality! More on this in the next couple of days.

So for all of you that have been praying, we sincerely thank you! Just because this treatment regime has ended doesn't mean that Heidi would still not need your prayer, so I would ask that you continue to bring her before the Lord as He brings it to mind.

Very soon I will update you on the changes that the Lord has brought us to in life, and where we are going from here.

The Lord bless you all,

Tom & Heidi

Nahum 1:7 "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble;
and he knoweth them that trust in him."

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Pick Up The Shovel

It's been a long while since I gave an update on our family, and I appreciate that many folks have emailed or texted to say that they've been continuing to pray for Heidi. Let me get you up-to-date.

She finished her 3 months of AC chemotherapy on February 18th, just three days before her 40th birthday, so she spent that day feeling her age. She is now officially over the hill, but we couldn't really celebrate at her expense for another week until she finally felt good enough to party. But we are thankful that she was able to make it through that last cycle without having to go to the hospital. On the 11th of March she began her second regime of chemotherapy on a different drug named Taxol, and she has a dose every Tuesday for 12 weeks. She will have her last chemo treatment on May 27th, so you can imagine she's looking forward to that. Although this new drug won't knock her immune system around as much, they told her that one side effect is that she will get grouchy toward her husband. Personally I think the doctor was trying to give her a medical pass on being irritable, but my objection was soundly overruled. Fortunately, I have recently acquired a 12-week supply of Valium, so I am ready for whatever comes...

Heidi has a remarkable resiliance, and has kept such a sweet spirit in spite of the way she feels. I always expect to find her being moody or with a bad attitude, because that's how I would be if it was me. But she seldom does, and continues to focus her heart on her children and walking with the Lord. So I can say that I'm blessed! For the most part she feels pretty good, although weak and tired. But we trust that she will be able to start building her strength again even during this new chemo treatment.

Life for our family was suddenly and radically diverted, and no doubt that many of you have experienced this due to illness in your own lives. I was thinking about this the other day as I read through the life of Noah.

Let me make a statement to begin here. I believe every thing that God teaches us in the Bible. The stories are true, not hyperboles or clever illustrations. Unless it is clearly figurative, I believe it to be literal. Having said that, the story of Noah is one of the more bizarre stories in all of the Word of God.

Consider Noah, this preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). He was an ordinary guy with a family. Mrs. Noah isn't described to us, but I could presume she was busy picking up Shem's socks and trying to keep Ham and Japheth from breaking the furniture. And it was surely a bit stressful being the wife of an outspoken preacher in an ungodly society. Her husband wasn't winning any popularity contests, and she no doubt copped some persecution, especially after he started cutting timber.

Although we can imagine they didn't have an "easy" life as faithful followers of God, we can presume they lived a stable and somewhat ordinary existence. At least until the day Noah came home and told his wife about his day:

He: "Had an interesting conversation with someone today."
She: "Oh yeah? Who?"
He: "Um, God."
She: "No way! What did you do now?"
He: "Knock it off. [pause] Um, have you ever wanted to take a cruise?"

God intervened in the ordinary life of one of His children, and started him down a journey that took more than 75 years. You know the story, right? He built the ark, God filled it with animals, and then God told Noah to get inside. There was nothing "normal" about their lives for nearly 100 years.

Fast forward a few years, and we see Noah put the finishing touches on the ark. He tosses an extra couple of coconuts over the top, ties a volleyball to the bow, and says to the family, "load up." The Bible then tells us, "and the Lord shut him in." (Gen 7:16) For the next year, old Noah is in this boat, and throughout my entire life I've had this "Sunday School" mentality about that trip. We see the illustrations of his journey, Noah bravely facing the daunting waves ahead, standing strong in the bow of the ship, a smiling giraffe on one side, a happy hippo on the other. But when you think about it, the reality of his cruise was about as opposite as you can get.

For about a year, Noah floated inside of this boat. He couldn't get out, no casual stroll on the top deck, or lounging with Mrs. Noah in the pool. There was a window, which may have been a skylight, but if it wasn't dark and stormy, the only thing visible was water. I wonder how many times Noah paced the decks? How many times did he wander past the sheep pens, the lemurs or the hyenas and wonder when this was going to end? How many time did he have to shovel out the horse stalls, and feed the rhinos, and wonder what was going to happen in his future? How many ladders did he climb, how many times did he take the kangaroos down to the middle deck for an afternoon hop, and say "Lord, is there any word?" I realize it's all speculation, but I see these truths in the story:

1. God shut him in the boat, it wasn't Noah's idea.
2. God told Noah it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights (Gen 7:4), but when it stopped raining, the waters kept rising. Wonder if Noah was thinking, "Did I misunderstand what God said to me? The water is still rising!"
3. For 150 days the waters prevailed (Gen 7:24), and there is no record that God was talking to Noah during this time. As a matter of fact, God didn't speak to Noah again until the journey was over; an entire year!

Now when I consider this story, I see the parallels in my life. It was God who shut us in, if you will. In the circumstances of our lives, it was the Lord who both commanded it and sealed the door when we got inside. It wasn't up to us, it was up to Him!

Although there is comfort in knowing that your life's situation was orchestrated by God, after awhile you wonder how long you're going to be floating around. Every day becomes the same as the one before it. The duties of life have changed dramatically, but they still have to be done and there is very little that is different. You've stepped onto the merry-go-round and you can't get off.

On top of it all, the Lord isn't saying much! I know He's not angry, He's just not talking much. And as the days go by, it's still stormy outside, the duties of the day still beckon, the family still needs to be cared for, the future is unclear.

Where will we set down, and when? And after that, what then?

Have you ever been there? As I relate this to you, it seems to me to be a complaint, but it is not. It's merely a statement of fact about our life that I hope resonates in yours.

If you are in a situation that God has designed, and it forces a major change to every part of your life, then you need to let go of former things and embrace what God has placed in front of you.

If your lifestyle and responsibilities have changed dramatically due to this change, do not fight the change. Engage in your new duties and remember that God gave them to you.

If you can't see much ahead, if it seems dark and stormy no matter which window you're looking through, don't fret, and don't spend your time looking out the window. Keep your head down and fulfill your duties.

If you haven't heard from God in awhile, don't give up and faint in your mind. Don't think you "missed it." Don't think He's mad at you. Just remember that God is your Commander-in-Chief, and your only duty is to obey your last order: GET IN THE BOAT.

And never forget, at the end of this journey will be a new beginning. God is preparing you as well as your environment, and when the two meet, you'll see how wonderful the future can be. After all, it has been designed by a loving and gracious Father, whose ways are still past finding out.

So go pick up that shovel and head down to "B" Deck; the zebras left you a little surprise.

Nahum 1:7 "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble;
and he knoweth them that trust in him."

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

From our heart

It's 11:45 p.m. at our house, and the family has gone to bed for the night. Things here at home are quiet now, with only the occasional sound of cockroaches rummaging through the fridge in the next room. Outside, the crickets annoy me through the brick and mortar, and the smell of curry annoys me as it lingers from the previous tenants. But these things don't move me tonight, these little annoyances. Not even the yowling of my stupid cat can get me down. You see, even though I sit alone tonight, sweltering in the humidity of my lounge room, I am keenly aware of so much to be thankful for in my life. I'm feeling appreciative.

The past couple of weeks have been the normal roller coaster of chemotherapy for my wife. She really has felt good for the most part, but her neutrophils got down to zero again, she developed a mild infection and fever, so back to the hospital we went. She spent the first night in a room with three other women, her immediate neighbor being a somewhat large Indian woman who spoke no English, had both hygiene and hearing issues, and answered every phone call on speaker. After a good dose of culture, the nursing staff moved Heidi into a private room, which turns out to be the same one she was imprisoned in the last visit. She threatened to carve her name into the nurse before she left, but I suggested she carve it into the wall instead. She was only in for two days before they let her out on good behaviour, so we praise the Lord for the short stay. If chemo was a boxing match, the score would be 2-0, chemo is out in front.

Today she went back in for her third round of chemo. As I mentioned previously, she is to have four cycles of these more heavy drugs, and then will begin a weekly dose of another drug that will go on for three months. So we passed the 75% mark for the "hard stuff" today. The only difference today was that her white cell count was still quite low when she showed up, so they gave her the chemo but also sent her home with a nasty little shot that she has to self-administer tomorrow. This drug is meant to boost her white cell count, but apparently is a mean little bugger, so they've warned her that she'll feel reasonably horrible for several days afterward. She's a trooper though, and I think she would rather have a shot and stay home than risk getting sick again and being incarcerated in a public hospital. That's the brief update on where she's at for now.

I understand from Google analytics that my blog has a total readership of 4, so I must apologize to my fan base for the delay in posting these past couple of weeks. Sometimes, when I have time, I have no energy or mental space to sit and write, but I do feel badly, especially since there are folks out there who are genuinely concerned and prayerful for my wife.

Coming back to my previous thought, I have found myself more and more appreciative of things as these past weeks have unfolded, and I wanted to take the time to share it with you.

I appreciate our church family. Each of you have been gracious and kind to us these past months. I appreciate your concern for my wife, and the genuine love you have shown her in various ways. I know she is grateful as well, and we thank the Lord for your compassion and love. There have been a few men that have shown a concern for our personal finances during this time, and I am deeply grateful. We appreciate the flowers, the meals, and the time you are giving us as a family to deal with our lives right now. Things have changed, and they will continue to change as we wait on the Father to continue to unfold His plan in our lives. But we as a family sure do appreciate our church family.

I appreciate some dear friends, both here in Australia and back in America, who continue to be a strength to me. I confess that I have often taken friendship for granted, but as I began to face a trial in my own life, God has reminded me of the value of good friends. Thank you for your email and texts. Though you may not hear back from me, please know that I read each one, and often find myself brushing away tears of gratitude when I read "a word spoken in due season." (Prov 15:23) I pray that I might be able to repay your kindness in the coming years in some way.

I appreciate other friends in the ministry here in Australia. Even some church families that we do not know well have reached out to us with letters, cards, flowers, and expressions of prayerful concern. We are deeply thankful to the Lord Jesus for you; you have encouraged our hearts greatly.

I appreciate our families back in the United States as well. It's got to be difficult to watch this from a distance, and I know you do not have the time or resources to come this way. But you encourage us in your way, and we know that you pray constantly for each of us. That is enough. We do trust that we will be united again and enjoy a renewed fellowship together, but all in the Lord's good timing.

I appreciate my children! Wow, what great kids we have. They have stepped up and become a great help and blessing in our home since this all started. We try to talk to them, to encourage them, and to reassure them as the days go by, and we are so thankful that God has extended His grace to them in these early days.

Let me also say how much I appreciate my wife. She lies in bed tonight, pale, sick, weak, wearing her cute little blue beanie to cover her bald head. In the morning hours as the sun begins to shine through the blinds, she pulls her little hat down over her eyes and goes back to sleep. One of the many advantages of having no hair, apparently, not to mention the amount of money I'm saving on shampoo and conditioner. But I love her more now than ever I did. It's funny what disease does. She remarked to me the other day that she was thinking about how good our relationship is. While I think we would both say that our relationship has not been bad, it is certainly stronger and at a deeper level than ever before. I appreciate that she is faithful to the Lord. She reads His Word every day, she spends time in prayer and fellowship with Him, even when she doesn't feel good. I believe this is and will continue to be the foundation for her emotional stability. And the more I see her walk with God, the more I love her. She will be the wife I need her to be as she walks closely with the Lord, and the same is true with me. Heidi just has a great spirit, even when she doesn't feel good. She doesn't lounge around in self-pity, she isn't snappy and unkind. She walks in the strength of the Lord and has been a wonderful testimony to her children and her husband of the grace of God being lived out in His children.

We may have a difficult week ahead as Heidi deals with her latest chemo, in addition to the white cell boost she needs. But through it all we are both absolutely confident in the love and tender grace that our Savior extends to us. She often remarks to me, "How do people get through this who aren't saved?" My answer? "I don't know." But to know God personally through the saving blood of Jesus Christ is the only thing that keeps us going. Paul said it best:

Romans 8:38-39 "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Will keep in touch!

Nahum 1:7 "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble;
and he knoweth them that trust in him."

Friday, 3 January 2014

One of those days

You ever have "one of those days"? That means something different for everyone; the day your car blows the engine, or your son falls off his bike and breaks his arm, or your mother-in-law shows up for a surprise visit. You know what I mean - "one of those days". We had one of those weeks.

Last Sunday afternoon, as we sat around in the lounge room, Heidi was telling me she thought she might have a fever. Now to the uninitiated, this is a bad thing for a chemo patient, as the chemotherapy drugs kill the white and red blood cells and the neutrophils. This means that the body is unable to fight any infection at all, no matter how small. I dutifully got the thermometer and, viola, she's outside of the margin. If a chemotherapy patient has even a low grade fever, it's time to go to the ER. I know this because the chemo nurse told us, and because I am a man. Allow me to explain.

Men are different than other mammals. We're wired differently. We have this pre-programmed circuitry in our DNA that says "fix it". This, by the way, is why every man likes Wreck-It Ralph. We can sympathize with both characters, since we also inherently love to break things. But today I go into "fix it" mode. When there's a problem, I'm here to fix it. My wife has a fever. Fix-It Felix is on the job.

So back to my lounge room. Things now begin to get hazy as my mind kicks into "fix" mode. Wife has fever, have to go to the hospital. Time to make this happen, Tom, so lets go down the list:

Throw wife over shoulder and run for the car. Check.
Come back in and get the keys. Check.
Stop and fuel the car up because it's empty. Grrrr-check.
Call the house and tell the kids we left. Check.

Does this sound familiar to anybody? So we race down the road to the hospital, at least as fast as this 4-cylinder can take us. "Why didn't I get a faster car?" And have you ever noticed that when you're in a hurry, every light is red? And you always seem to get behind a 90-year old woman driving 20 in the fast lane? Why do these things happen to good people? And the whole way there, my wife is saying things like "Slow down, I'm not dying".

Analysis: My wife is delirious. Drive faster!

After a 4-wheel slide into the ER parking lot, we're in the door, and by now I'm a mess: shirt half buttoned, hair sticking up, got this wild look in my eyes. The triage team isn't sure who the patient is at this point. I insist it's my wife. They decide to take blood pressures on both of us, and I still insist it's my wife. Ah, men are tragically misunderstood!

Heidi has this nifty card that she carries that identifies her as a chemotherapy victim, ah, patient. She shows this to the Emergency Department and things happen quickly. Within five minutes we are in a room, she's having blood drawn, and the doctor is having a chat with us. Wow, I gotta get me one of these cards! They do a quick evaluation and wait for the results of the blood work, and we learn that she is neutropenic. I had to learn what that means. Neutropenia is an abnormally low count of neutrophils, a type of your white blood cells that help fight infection. This is not unexpected during chemo treatment, and so we realize we're going to be staying around the hospital for a few days. Sure enough, about two hours later they move Heidi upstairs into C5c, bed 52. Now we've gone to a public hospital, which means that they put her into a room with three other people. It's now after 9:00pm, she's feeling lousy, aches, chills and fever. And it turns out that the three patients she shares a room with are three old guys. I considered saying something to the nursing staff about moving her, but about that time she gets off the bed and wheels her little IV cart across the room to the restroom wearing her hospital gown. The three old geezers all went into respiratory arrest, and the nurses decided that having a pretty blonde lady in the room with three heart patients wasn't in their best interest, especially if she was walking around. Problem solved!

They transferred her immediately to Bed 49, a private room, and we breathed a thankful sigh of relief. We made it!

The next several days were tests and managing the pain and symptoms. Her oncologist said he would reduce her next dose of chemo, scheduled for the 8th, and that this shouldn't happen again. You gotta love the optimism of doctors! So we spent the week in the hospital. She had an appointment with the wig lady on Monday to have her head shaved and the wig fitted, but that didn't happen, so she lay in bed all week shedding like a golden retriever. I kept telling her to look on the bright side - at least picking all that hair off her hospital gown gave her something to do all day. I brought her a little beach hat and one of those dog-hair tape rollers. I guarantee she was the only patient on C5c with one of those!

New Year's Eve came, and I had permission to go to the Ward and spend time with my wife. We watched a 9:00 firework show outside the window of her hospital room, and before long she started getting sleepy. We prayed together, I blew her a kiss, and came home to a quiet house. As I lay in bed, I began to think of the past 12 months:

A year ago our family was back in the U.S. visiting family and friends. We had enjoyed Christmas with our families and were bringing in 2013 like we had any other year. There was no thought to anything unusual or unexpected ahead. We didn't know that there was a cancer growing inside of my wife's body even as we celebrated another year ahead. A year ago I had plans for the new year and beyond; I was preparing for a missions trip to Europe. I had a schedule for my year!

A month ago my wife had just had a second surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes under her right arm. We were still coming to terms with this sudden and unexpected turn in our lives. I was trying to figure out how to prepare for the next year ahead. We had to move house as our landlord had sold the house were were living in. Life had changed.

A week ago was Christmas Eve. Things were pretty sedate around our house that night. It was still a blessing, but of course, things were different. We were in a new house, nothing felt like home. It was a bit surreal for an otherwise normal time of food, fun and fellowship at home.

An hour ago I said goodnight to my wife as she lay in a hospital bed. I couldn't kiss her because of an infection risk, and couldn't stroke her hair since it was falling out on her pillow!

A minute ago I rolled over to look at the side of the bed where my wife should be lying, as the New Year rolled in. I looked at the ceiling and began to think and pray.

Now as I considered these things, it occurred to me how I had been living this life God gave me. I have often talked about being submitted to the Lords will. Submission to the will of God is proven in the valley, in the unexpected circumstances of life. When things go "well" there is no submission on our part; rather we express a grateful acceptance of the blessing and provision that God gave us. But when things do not go as we wished, as we enter a time of testing or hurt, we are put into situation where we can choose to truly be submitted, or simply seek to endure the hardship until it's over. And that's exactly what I don't want to do. The fortitude of a human being can enable them to endure adversity for awhile. We can endure pain, or discomfort and grief. We can weather the storm out of sheer determination and get through to the other side. But if that's all that happens with this thing in our lives, I know the trial would have been wasted on us. I was praying the other day and told the Lord, "I don't want to miss what you are trying to do in my life!" I don't want to endure, I want to submit. Man, that's tough.

It was the Lord Jesus Christ who gave us the perfect pattern of submission. As he knelt in the Garden of Gethsemene, on his way to the cross, he told the Father, "Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matthew 26:39) Not what I want, but what You want. The big problem in all of this is what I want! I want happiness, health, prosperity. I want my dreams fulfilled, my future mapped out. I want a full head of hair. These impossible things are my fantasies for Tom, but as I gaze into today, I don't see them being realized in the manner I had dreamed up. And so this is the battleground for submission: do I trust God enough to do what's best for me that I will unquestioningly submit to His directive will? Even if it hurts? Even if I don't understand it?

I must admit that I don't always succeed in that area. There are times that I fight against the current that my Father has placed me in. But by the grace of God, there are times that I don't fight. I must always remember that God would not have placed me here unless there was something wonderful that He wanted to do in my family, and in my own life.

Heidi was discharged yesterday, and is back home and relaxing. We are thankful! So we face this New Year ahead, but as I sit here today, I am determined to face it with the right spirit. God is always right and good, He sees what I do not and knows exactly what needs to happen in my life for the right outcome.

If I'm honest, I'm looking forward to seeing what He does in our lives in 2014.

Nahum 1:7 "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble;
and he knoweth them that trust in him."

Friday, 20 December 2013

Suck it up!

Have you ever done a self-evaluation? I've read books on leadership where they tell you to evaluate your leadership style. I tried that but found that I was every leadership style, and at the same time none of it. I once took a spiritual gifts test, and all I could think about was "What kind of wacko came up with this?" I didn't realize that you could actually fail a spiritual gift test, but that's ok - at least I'm consistent academically.

I've been having a look around my own heart the past few days, and I found some interesting things. In every one of us there are positives and negatives, or so I'm told. There are areas in which we are gifted, and areas that we have zero talent. I've actually discerned that I have a few unusual gifts, two of which I will share with you.

Firstly, I have the gift of talking out loud to other drivers. Now at first glance this may not seem to be an asset, but it has served me well in my life, being a useful vent for the frustrations of my day as I drive home from the church office: "Whassamatter with you, are you brain dead?" The problem with this gift is that in the 27 years of my driving career, I have never met a single driver with the gift of listening. Even my own loving wife doubts the validity of this gift, and will occasionally offer a comment after one of my tirades: "You know they can't hear you, right?" Wives can be an insensitive lot.

I also have the gift of sarcasm, which in my opinion is one of my more endearing features. Along with calling other drivers "morons", this gift also seemed to come quite naturally to me. Indeed, it needed very little development. Witty comments, clever insults and basic harassment are always lurking under the surface, even from my days in primary school. When I was young I was a slow grower, so although I didn't have a single muscle as a kid, I did have really fast legs. These were the only reason that I didn't die in the third grade. I remember playing tee ball during recess one day, and a fat girl named Joan got her finger caught in the chain link backstop. I watched as the fat oozed out of her finger, and that event activated my gift! It instantly found its way from my brain to my mouth. I made an innocent remark, and before I had time to react, Joan was running across home plate with a bat in her hand, screeching and howling. I never feared for my life like I did that day. Even the school bully had nothing on Joan. Now that I've had ample time for reflection, I think my comment might have prolonged her life and happiness, as she most probably lost ten pounds chasing me around the swing set. I still occasionally have nightmares of a fat girl chasing me around the playground with a wooden bat. Shudder! What I'm saying is that clever and well-timed comments are a gift which I'm thinking I could use in my future ministry. What might that be, you ask? Although I don't have the gift of fraud, manipulation or narcissism, I believe I could still be a televangelist!

There is one gift that I don't seem to have, though. I've actually felt a bit proud over the years that this was not in my repertoire. I'm referring to the gift of compassion. Now my wife is a compassionate soul. There's not a boo-boo that doesn't get special treatment, not a stray cat that won't get a feed and a free bed for the night. I'm not that way. When I see a boo-boo I say things like "suck it up" or "you're not gonna die", and when I see a stray cat I run to get my boots on. I'm just different is all. I've laughed about how compassion is not in my dictionary, as if it was something optional that I could do without in my life. And then suddenly my wife got cancer and my whole perspective changed with astounding speed.

I remember that we got the news of cancer on Monday. There were several days where we were reeling with the concept, trying to come to terms with a radical change of our current circumstances and our future life. Emotions I had never felt flooded my heart. Thoughts I had purposefully avoided now came crashing into my mind unwanted and unchecked. I cried often and without warning. There were times it was irrational or unreasonable but I cried anyway. And in those few days after getting "the news", God began to work some very profound and real changes in my heart. The next Sunday I was at church, greeting people and preparing for the messages of the day. I remember someone shook my hand before church and told me of a health concern in their life; not a crisis, but a concern. Normally I would kindly ask some questions and then pray for their situation, but I would be emotionally unmoved. But this day was different. As soon as I heard their concern, tears sprang to my eyes, and I was instantly not only concerned but involved. What was happening to me? God was beginning to teach me compassion.

When God speaks of Himself, He reveals His character and nature to fallen man. Notice how He describes Himself:

Psalms 145:8 "The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy."

Think of it, the very nature of our eternal God is compassion! What an attribute, what tenderness He shows to fallen people like me. When we read of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, we see this attribute on display in numerous ways. When he saw the multitudes he was "moved with compassion". When he saw the lepers or the blind or bereaved, he was compassionate, and in his compassion he ministered to them. What a rebuke to my hard heart!

I've been wondering how many opportunities I've missed in my life because I lacked compassion. How many people could I have helped, encouraged, or even won to Christ if I had only humbled myself enough to really care about them? I know some compassionate people, several of them in our church. These men and women really care and everyone around them can see it. Although I've had years of opportunity to be humble and care more for people, I've arrogantly hid behind a facade of spirituality and made jokes to hide behind. Even now as I look back I am ashamed!

Three days ago my wife had her first chemotherapy treatment. It was a stressful and anxious day for both of us, honestly. This was another "first", we didn't know what to expect or how she would respond, and I found it quite easy to be thinking only of her and our situation. But God had other plans that day. We met a young lady and her father who were also there for treatment. It wasn't the father that needed chemotherapy, however. We knew them from an introduction earlier this year, and God worked things out for us to be there at the exact same time. She also has breast cancer, but the cancer had already spread in her body before they discovered it. Heidi and I were both moved with compassion, a genuine care and concern and desire to help in any way we could. Although we only had a brief time to talk that day, we were both blessed to be able to partially focus on someone else instead of ourselves. I'd like to ask you to pray for Kirsten, for her recovery, for her life, and for her to know the peace that can only come through Jesus Christ. She seems to be a wonderful lady, a young wife and mother, and I am praying that Heidi will be able to be a blessing and encouragement to her in the days ahead.

As for Heidi, I would appreciate your continued prayer on her behalf. It's difficult to watch your wife suffer and change, but we are learning to adjust for this next short while as she undergoes treatment. I would like to sincerely thank each of you that has shown such a genuine compassion toward us during these past two months.

It was in the Book of Jude that our Lord gave us two simple principles about compassion:

Jude 1:22 "And of some have compassion, making a difference: (23) And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh."

The two truths I see are these. First, compassion makes a difference in anybody's life! Try it sometime. And second, in the context he is talking about having compassion toward the lost, and being compelled to seek to win them to Christ.

Perhaps we should be asking the Lord to help develop a greater compassion in our lives. I would not have chosen this pathway to teach me compassion, but I'm grateful that the Lord is working to change me!

Nahum 1:7 "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble;
and he knoweth them that trust in him."