Lessons from the Land of Cancer

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to read at least 6 “improving” books, as Jeeves would put it. I’ve finished the first one, called Letters from the Land of Cancer, by Dr. Walt Wangerin. I started the book last fall, intending to read it to Cheryl Roelofs (my dear friend with first breast and then lung and brain cancer), but she deteriorated so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to finish it before she graduated to glory. However, with my husband starting radiation treatments this past week, pondering the subject of mortality and cancer has again become high on my list of things to consider. Don’t know if you or a loved one of yours is traversing the valley of the shadow of cancer, but if so, I can unequivocally recommend this touching portrayal of a pastor/professor’s journey. In fact, the book is so good that I’m reading it through a second time and will present it to my Sunday school class in February. If you haven’t pondered the mysteries of life, death, and your own mortality yet, you might be inspired by Walt’s deep faith but candid commentary on the ups and downs of the downward physical spiral that leads upward to our Lord’s everlasting arms.

“Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).

What’s The State of the Union? Dis-eased

Uncertain. Uneasy. The looks on their faces said it all: our vice president to the left, with his practiced, professional smile trying to mask insecurity over how the nation would respond to whatever Obama was going to say next, and our house speaker to the right, with his pained, poker face trying to mask discomfort with what the president was saying and how such refined wool would doubtless blur the nation’s vision.

Never heard such a quiet audience. Never heard a state of the union so carefully crafted to avoid conflict rather than “march into hell for a heavenly cause.” But, he accomplished his goal, I’d say. My two young adult sons, both college graduates but living at home without jobs in their fields yet, left politely after listening to the speech and went into the other room to see how the Australian open was panning out. They, too, were unsure of how to respond.

I think that’s all Obama was hoping for…to keep out of trouble just now with an eye toward being re-elected in 2012.  This wasn’t a state of the union really, it was his first big chance for a campaign apologetic, based largely on McCain’s 2008 campaign platform. Maybe if McCain been a young, charismatic Democrat, he would have won. McCain was, after all, one of the few men who did seem at ease tonight, probably because he’s old enough to appreciate that sometimes you win personally when you lose politically.

Don’t misunderstand me. There are some things about Obama that make me happy. I am a fan of someone with black skin becoming president in this melting-pot country of ours. I truly have bought into the American Dream, and I love the fact that someone from a broken home and an amazingly diverse and difficult childhood can rise to the highest office in our country. I love having a handsome, lanky, young leader who can calculate his environment and change course like a chameleon. I, too, will clap for a president who praises our teachers and soldiers and women, who commends the ideals of our country, and who ends his speech with a double “God bless.” I like all that.

However, I love actually pursuing truth, wisdom, and honesty even more. I’d rather have a clear call to what is right than a mesmerizing melody that sounds pleasant but appears to be carefully crafted political rhetoric to keep the nation uncertain and…possibly as comfortable as a frog in a steaming pot?? Give me life, freedom to pursue goodness and happiness in a just and fair way, and constitutional faithfulness, and I’ll be happy. Try to pull the wool over my eyes, and I’ll be uncomfortable and wary. Not at ease, but dis-eased, just like the rest of the folks who sat listening to Obama tonight.

What now? Pray for our leaders. Pray for our nation. Be a part of His people, who are called by His name, who are willing to humble themselves and pray. And work. And sacrifice for the sake of others, the health of our nation, and our world. May we turn away from evil in repentance and seek justice and righteousness for our nation. And, in our personal lives, may we “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

Keep Celebrating

Since Alan will start radiation soon, we decided to have a super special weekend celebration beforehand that included all sorts of wonderful things, including 1. an overnight at Weber’s Inn, 2. Lunch at Kathy and Carl’s (note the mouth-watering spinach, bacon and Swiss cheese quiche she made…

3. a trip to the Plymouth Ice Festival with Kathy, Stephen, and Joel (Carl has to work on Saturdays to get ready for their 5 services Sat/Sun!)

(It was totally freezing there, as per usual! As the live band announced: “Come on out, it’s —6° in the shade here!” I have no clue how they could even play…)

4. We buzzed over to Dan and Brianna’s for a delicious dinner of chicken nuggets “McMom” (a favorite family recipe from Brianna’s family) and other wonderful stuff before the four of us headed to a birthday party. (Note the pictures of all their nieces and nephews on their wall. May the Lord bless them with a baby of their own soon!)

5. The birthday party was for “Uncle Milton”‘s 86th birthday, sponsored by Larry and Kari. Larry and Alan have been friends since they were five and grew up together in Dafter, MI. They are probably our longest-standing (can’t dare say “oldest” 🙂 ) friends. Milton once drove all the way down to Saginaw in the middle of the night to rescue Alan, Aaron, Michael, and me once when the kids were babies and our car died on the highway trying to get up to the Soo.  That’s the kind of guy Milton is!

Larry is a sociology professor at MSU and Kari is an OBGyn, who’s now working at the same community health clinic as Daniel. It was SO fun to be together and hear LOTS and LOTS of stories from Milton about the Dafter years from the 1920’s to the present. Totally charming.

6. As if that wasn’t enough fun, Sunday evening we had a surprise 50th birthday party for Steve! We three girls (the “birthday clubbers”) have decided we need to do fun stuff for our husbands on their birthdays too sometimes!

So, we started out by bowling, which is something none of us had done more than about once since high school. It was SO MUCH FUN!

7. Afterward, we girls had thought to buy take-out pizzas and root beer, but Rex had other ideas. He decided to make dinner for us all (since all three women were tied up with other obligations Saturday…not like he wasn’t, being an extremely busy anesthesiologist…) At any rate, he made us a dinner I will never forget! The guy is an incredible gourmet chef (and I’m totally serious)!

He had so many complicated, amazing dishes, and I’m not sure if I could even spell the names of them right. Suffice it to say, it was truly incredible!

Last but not least, we celebrated Steve’s “over the hill” party, complete with gifts that Alan had received when he turned fifty (some time ago now!) and had passed down to Rex…who has now passed them on to Steve. Isn’t that what friends are for???

1. Sunday was “Sanctity of Life Sunday.” 42,000,000 babies have their lives taken from them every year. 2. I am just about to run to the hospital to visit 45-year-old  E.J., who’s back in with more symptoms from her stroke. 3. At 10:30 this morning there is a hearing for the guardianship of Cheryl’s very elderly, dementia-ravaged mother (Cheryl being my friend who passed away last October). 4. This afternoon is the final divorce proceedings for some friends I’ve known since college days who have been married for 40 years. I can’t tell you how much that one hurts! 5. Alan was to start radiation today, although the hospital called to reschedule for tomorrow. I could go on, but I won’t.

All the sorrows of life could take the stuffings right out of us, but don’t let them! Whatever’s going on in your life, keep looking up to Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith.” I am often encouraged by this picture from the Song of Solomon 8:5, “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?”  May it be each of us, leaning on the precious, everlasting arms of our heavenly bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ!


Not long ago Alan and I returned from a friend’s home to find our entire street blocked off from all three possible directions. Getting as close as we could, we discovered that our neighbor’s house was on fire!

We parked at a church down the road and walked home, stopping to see that our neighbors were okay. The elderly husband and wife both made it out, and three dogs, but they lost several other pets. My neighbors were in shock. “The only thing I thought to grab was my Bible! I don’t even have my purse, or any money, or my driver’s license!” the wife said sadly. Apparently, her husband was stoking their wood fire  in the basement and somehow it triggered a chimney fire.

Soon smoke and flames were billowing from the upstairs windows of the 100-year-old farm house. What a tragedy!!

Since one daughter was with them and another daughter’s home was available for them to stay at (while the daughter spent the winter in a Phoenix condo), we left them after giving them our name and number on a slip of paper in case they needed a place to stay while they recover what they can. Also, the Red Cross was there to help them. Sadly, I think there must not be much to recover, because the house was completely boarded up within a couple of days, and I haven’t seen or heard from them since.

What would you miss most if you lost all your possessions in a house fire? It occurred to me that what I would miss most are all the pictures and videos I’ve taken of the children over the years. This has inspired the “perfect” winter project…something I always dreamed of doing but never found the time to do. Joel is editing down all our videos into a “best of” for each year (working backwards from 2010). Stephen is scanning in all the pictures from our family photo albums, starting from 1973 when Alan and I got married as well as digitizing all the stories I read aloud to the kids (such as The Little House” series by L.I. Wilder) and making DVD’s of them. I am poring over my digital photo library from the past 10 years, making albums of pictures of kids, flowers, nature scenes, pictures related to biblical themes, etc. When we’re done, we’re going to make copies for each of the kids as a part of our family “heritage,” since we don’t really have much in the way of heirlooms for them. I can’t tell you how much FUN this project is, and it brings back so many happy memories!

So, I still feel a twang of terror every time I drive by my neighbor’s home, but I am glad it prodded me into doing what’s been on my heart to do for many years! Is there anything that you might do differently if you thought your house might go up in flames? How about spiritually? I’ve been thinking about that one too, because we never know when we will die!

“Every man’s work shall be made manifest…because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (I Corinthians 3:13)

Illyana: Little Brave Heart!

For those of you who prayed: Thank you!! Illyana survived her surgery and is resting well. She will need two more surgeries over the next few months, so whenever the Lord brings her to your mind, please continue to pray for her.

Here is something her mother shared just before the surgery: “By way of encouragement let me share the story of Evelyn’s dream. (Evelyn is Casey and Luisa’s four-year-old daughter.)  Last summer when Luisa was already pregnant for Illyana, Evelyn told her mom one morning that she had a dream that night. Jesus came down and cut open her chest and fixed her heart she said. We all remember this story, and at the time were a bit concerned about Evelyn, but then decided it had to do with having Jesus come into her heart perhaps. Then we didn’t worry. Now I find it comforting, because Jesus will be right there with the doctors and nurses and staff, fixing her heart. Her heart is literally in His hands. He is also our great physician. … Then this morning the Lord gave us these verses: Psalm 28:6 “Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy. 7. The Lord is my strength and my shield and my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. 8. The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one. 9. Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.”

“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3)

Praise God, and bless his name forever!


Lots going on…as I guess is true everywhere. My daughter-in-law Grace is recovering well from her surgery to relieve varicose veins. We’re so thankful for that! Last week a dear friend (with 4 young sons) was diagnosed with M.S. and ended up in the hospital for several days. She’s coming home today, but what a shock and sorrow! Another girl friend ended up in the hospital last week after a lot of neck/head pain and various symptoms. It turned out that she had a stroke, although the doctor believes she’s young enough to make a full recovery. I’m going over tomorrow to help out and take dinner to her family.  Over the weekend one of Brianna’s younger sisters got married in a very joyful wedding. However, one of Brianna’s sister-in-laws gave birth to a beautiful little girl, Illianna, who has a heart defect that will result in the baby’s dying unless there can be a successful surgery tomorrow that saves her life. Will you pray with me for a successful surgery? Thanks!

Brianna with Illianna

Daniel with Illianna. The surgery will be at University of Michigan Hospital (where Daniel did his residency last year)

“For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him” (I Samuel 1:27)

Today the first half of the verse is true, may the second be true tomorrow!

Prostate Cancer

Alan and I grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have been hanging out together for a lot of years… friends since we were 12 and married for almost 38. 🙂

We’ve pretty much seen the world together (except for Antarctica)

And have known lots of happy (as well as sad) times

It’s wonderful to have a companion even into our sunset years!

Alan was diagnosed with prostate cancer a couple of years ago. Last year he had surgery, but his PSA has continued to rise. He says with a sober smile that both cancer and surgery are highly overrated. Yesterday we went to the doctor, who’s recommended radiation treatments. That’s a big step for us, but I’m glad we can take it together.

“But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me (us), I shall (may we) come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

I Think I Can…I Think I Can…

How are you coming at facing the challenges of 2011?

Jon and Linda are stuck at an airport in Amsterdam without their luggage (as just one couple in the hundreds of thousands of travelers who’ve been stranded throughout Europe since Thanksgiving)

Dear Christoph (on the left) and his precious wife Sarah are supposed to leave next week to serve as missionaries in South Korea for a year, and now a succession of crises that have arisen to hinder them. Dear Alan (on the right) has a rising P.S.A….should he have radiation therapy post haste? Are we truly hearing the voice of the Lord correctly? How our frail hearts tend to anxiety! (This picture was taken last spring in Germany, when we were all feeling cheery and not the least bit anxious 🙂 )

“I think I can…I think I can…”

Whatever challenges you’re facing this year, I pray that both you and I will possess the faith of a child as we look up to our dear heavenly Father for wisdom! If it is God’s will, well then…we know we can!

“I can do all things through Christ, which strengthen me” (Philippians 4:13)


New Year’s Resolutions

Ever since hearing Cec Murphy speak at a writers’ conference some time ago, I’ve been getting his newsletter, and I just loved this one, so I’m passing excerpts along verbatim (although the pictures are from our woods):

Many of us… start each January with the decision to defeat the problems that tripped us in the past. I like that idea—forgetting all the foolish and wrong things we said and did, and uniting our energies to move ahead this year. Yes, I like the idea. It’s not possible for most people, but it’s still a good idea. The past remains part of our lives. The mistakes of the previous year don’t disappear. We resolve not to repeat them, and we can build on the shame of previous blunders to correct our present and future actions.
Most of us don’t openly admit it but we figure in the past when we stand in the present and project an elegant future. But the previous failures haunt us and it doesn’t take long for most individuals to say, “It’s futile.” Those old fiascos paralyze us or make us doubt we can change. My friend Ron Heiber has a saying that resonates with me, “God never consults our past when planning our future.” That means our loving God forgives us. And with that is implied, “Go and sin no more.”

What if we thought of life that way? What if we were able to start each year as if it were new and unblemished? We wouldn’t worry about what we didn’t do previously or how we aborted our best plans. We’d be able to focus only on what we can do now—and do it with a fresh start. “God never consults our past when planning our future,” Ron said. “I don’t have to remember my past when I plan my future,” we can say.
“Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

Make Way for the New

The last of our visiting kids left, and so Stephen and Joel helped me tuck away all the Christmas decorations and ornaments. (Molly is our chief inspector.)

Taking out the Christmas tree and vacuuming up the pine needles is the last job, and it always feels a little bittersweet…hard to give up the passing year! 😦

However, the sunset of the old always makes way for the dawn of the new, and so I’m determined to embrace 2011 with joy, by God’s grace, whatever lies ahead.

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
~Joseph Campbell

“In his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5)