Monday, June 18, 2012

Back to Normal?

The other day Laura and I were talking about the idea of maybe getting back to normal.  We entertained the thought a few days prior to her surgery believing the news would result in a cancer free report, and then we could get back to normal.  

The more I thought I about the idea the more I wondered what "back to normal" really means.  

  • Does it mean we are able to "get on with our lives?"  
  • Does it mean we are able to "go back to the way it was before?"
  • Does it mean we can "put this all behind us now?"
  • Maybe it means we are finally "over this hurdle?"  

Over the past twenty some years of ministry I have heard more people use such expressions as they were walking through a challenging juncture in their lives.  It might have been a tragedy, a struggle in their marriage, a wrestle with an addiction, or deep and abiding sin issue they were working through.  All they wanted was to get over it or through it so they could get on with their life.   

Personally, I have realized how easy it would be to approach this journey as a process we have to get through.  And yet, what I am discovering is when you look at a moment of suffering as something you have to "get through" many times it never gets through you.  Basically, you end up jumping over a slew of hurdles, thankful each part is over so you can "get on with your life."  

Divine interruptions are not easily stepped over and forgotten.  Such moments forge in us a depth of faith that would have never existed without such a detour in life.  

Without a doubt, this momentary time of trouble has served to be a shaping time in my life.  To be honest, there have been times when I longed to have this phase over so we can get back to normal.  But what's really normal?  Normal has been changed because life has been altered.  

Normal is no more.  

Normal was last summer.  A healthy wife.  Kids off to camp.  My head into my work.  That was normal.  

And yet what I've realized is when life is "normal" I find myself taking much of it for granted.  I end up doing life, because I'm always getting on with my life.  I cruise through conversations, get my head bogged down in a task-driven mindset, and scurry through my day truly believing I accomplishing a lot, only to look back and wonder what all I really did.  That was what normal was last year.  

This year we have acquired a "new normal."  It's packed full of unexpected turns leaving us wondering what might be behind the next corner.  It's giving us a photo album of pictures from a year ago when so much was different, and at times leaving us longing a bit for a some of what we had back - again a longing for the normal.  

We were praying and hoping Laura's pathology report would reveal a full cancer free diagnosis.  This would mean the reconstruction phase would be our next target and then we could get this deal behind us.  But, again the Lord has another plan.  

Laura's tumor was gone!  We are praising God for such a report.  Her surgeon today told us the type of cancer Laura has does not always respond favorably to chemotherapy, but for Laura it did.  The 5 cm tumor was gone and there was no more cancer in the tissue!  However, two lymph nodes were positive.  This tells us there is a high probability the cancer was in more lymph nodes then we originally believed.  It also indicates radiation is the next course in the treatment plan, which in turn means final reconstruction will not happen until March or April of 2013.  A gentle reminder life is not getting back to normal as we had hoped. 

Trouble transforms us.  It either makes you bitter or better, but you have to decide in many ways which one it's going to be.  

If going through your trouble means getting "through it" so you can "get on" with your normal routine - then you are probably missing a glimpse of what the trouble can forge in your life.  Chances are you could be missing what really does matter as a result of such a detour the Lord has allowed to take you on.  

Our detour has convicted Laura and I to challenge our kids more with the truth of God's word.  We want the Word of God to become a "normal" tool our kids grab hold of when trouble comes their way. 

This past Sunday we spent some time around the table reading the parable of the sower from Mark 4.  We talked about the four paths the seed landed on - dry path, rocky path, weedy path and good soil.  Laura explained to the kids trouble is going to come into their lives. Jesus made it very clear trouble will come our way.  During trouble you can run from God or to God, and particularly to the truth and power of His word.  We explained during this time we are hanging onto the truth of God's word and the promises it reveals to us about His character, and purposes for our lives.  The enemy loves to take trouble and use it to turn our faces from God.  The Lord longs for us in trouble to turn our faces toward him.  One way you are able to do so is to get into the Word and the Word into you so when trouble comes you have words that are going to hold you. It's a new normal we are shooting for in our family because of this journey.  

My normal right now is undefined.  
My trouble - this momentary trouble - is redefining me.  

These past few weeks:
  1. I've been ALLOWED to care for Laura in ways I never have before. 
  2. Our conversations have gone places they never would have without cancer or this journey we are on.
  3. My kids have grown - they still struggle to pick-up after themselves.  Sometimes they are not always self-motivated.  They still fight with one another.  I have to prod them a bit to get moving or stay focused.  Yet, they have developed a depth they never had before all this surfaced in our lives. They ask deep and honest questions.  They are more open with their thoughts and feelings.  Their prayers, even Bella's, are going to deeper places.  We are seeing character forged in each one because of this time of trouble. 
  4. My work has not consumed me.  As hard as it has been not to enter into work related conversations I have fought hard not to make such a move.  There have been some weak moments - but for the most part I have resisted the urge.  God, Self (if I'm not healthy nothing else will be), Wife, Kids, Friends, Work - this is the new normal I'm banking on - I'm learning.  
  5. My personal time with the Lord has become richer.  Maybe it's because I know the Lord has been and is going before, beside and behind us each step of this journey.  
So, I have no idea what it would mean to get back to what was normal.  Such a normal is bound up in a picture album from a year ago.  There are times when those pictures create a longing to go back a bit.  I'm different from a year ago.  Laura is as well; however, we now have a new normal, and we live with a new reality the Lord is truly in control.  His plans are not our plans, but He does have a hope and and a future for us.  It may never involve cancer again.  It may.  Whatever it is, I know He will walk with me through it as it works its way through me.  I pray it becomes my new norm for the manner in which I approach trouble in my life.  


Thursday, June 7, 2012

12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child

Abraham Piper 
My son Abraham, who speaks from the wisdom of experience and Scripture, has written the article that follows. I read it with tears and laughter. It is so compelling that I asked him immediately if I could share it with the church and the wider Christian community. There is no greater joy than to see your children walking in the truth—and expressing it so well. The rest is Abraham's untouched. -John Piper

Many parents are brokenhearted and completely baffled by their unbelieving son or daughter. They have no clue why the child they raised well is making such awful, destructive decisions. I've never been one of these parents, but I have been one of these sons. Reflecting back on that experience, I offer these suggestions to help you reach out to your wayward child.

1. Point them to Christ.
Your rebellious child's real problem is not drugs or sex or cigarettes or pornography or laziness or crime or cussing or slovenliness or homosexuality or being in a punk rock band. The real problem is that they don't see Jesus clearly. The best thing you can do for them—and the only reason to do any of the following suggestions—is to show them Christ. It is not a simple or immediate process, but the sins in their life that distress you and destroy them will only begin to fade away when they see Jesus more like he actually is.

2. Pray.
Only God can save your son or daughter, so keep on asking that he will display himself to them in a way they can't resist worshiping him for.

3. Acknowledge that something is wrong.
If your daughter rejects Jesus, don't pretend everything is fine.
For every unbelieving child, the details will be different. Each one will require parents to reach out in unique ways. Never acceptable, however, is not reaching out at all. If your child is an unbeliever, don't ignore it. Holidays might be easier, but eternity won't be.

4. Don't expect them to be Christ-like.
If your son is not a Christian, he's not going to act like one.
You know that he has forsaken the faith, so don't expect him to live by the standards you raised him with. For example, you might be tempted to say, "I know you're struggling with believing in Jesus, but can't you at least admit that getting wasted every day is sin?"
If he's struggling to believe in Jesus, then there is very little significance in admitting that drunkenness is wrong. You want to protect him, yes. But his unbelief is the most dangerous problem—not partying. No matter how your child's unbelief exemplifies itself in his behavior, always be sure to focus more on the heart's sickness than its symptoms.

5. Welcome them home.
Because the deepest concern is not your child's actions, but his heart, don't create too many requirements for coming home. If he has any inkling to be with you, it is God giving you a chance to love him back to Jesus. Obviously there are some instances in which parents must give ultimatums: "Don't come to this house if you are..." But these will be rare. Don't lessen the likelihood of an opportunity to be with your child by too many rules.
If your daughter smells like weed or an ashtray, spray her jacket with Febreze and change the sheets when she leaves, but let her come home. If you find out she's pregnant, then buy her folic acid, take her to her twenty-week ultrasound, protect her from Planned Parenthood, and by all means let her come home. If your son is broke because he spent all the money you lent him on loose women and ritzy liquor, then forgive his debt as you've been forgiven, don't give him any more money, and let him come home. If he hasn't been around for a week and a half because he's been staying at his girlfriend's—or boyfriend's—apartment, plead with him not to go back, and let him come home.

6. Plead with them more than you rebuke them.
Be gentle in your disappointment.
What really concerns you is that your child is destroying herself, not that she's breaking rules. Treat her in a way that makes this clear. She probably knows—especially if she was raised as a Christian—that what she's doing is wrong. And she definitely knows you think it is. So she doesn't need this pointed out. She needs to see how you are going to react to her evil. Your gentle forbearance and sorrowful hope will show her that you really do trust Jesus.
Her conscience can condemn her by itself. Parents ought to stand kindly and firmly, always living in the hope that they want their child to return to.

7. Connect them to believers who have better access to them.
There are two kinds of access that you may not have to your child: geographical and relational. If your wayward son lives far away, try to find a solid believer in his area and ask him to contact your son. This may seem nosy or stupid or embarrassing to him, but it's worth it—especially if the believer you find can also relate to your son emotionally in a way you can't.
Relational distance will also be a side effect of your child leaving the faith, so your relationship will be tenuous and should be protected if at all possible. But hard rebuke is still necessary.
This is where another believer who has emotional access to your son may be very helpful. If there is a believer who your son trusts and perhaps even enjoys being around, then that believer has a platform to tell your son—in a way he may actually pay attention to—that he's being an idiot. This may sound harsh, but it's a news flash we all need from time to time, and people we trust are usually the only ones who can package a painful rebuke so that it is a gift to us.
A lot of rebellious kids would do well to hear that they're being fools—and it is rare that this can helpfully be pointed out by their parents—so try to keep other Christians in your kids lives.

8. Respect their friends.
Honor your wayward child in the same way you'd honor any other unbeliever. They may run with crowds you'd never consider talking to or even looking at, but they are your child's friends. Respect that—even if the relationship is founded on sin. They're bad for your son, yes. But he's bad for them, too. Nothing will be solved by making it perfectly evident that you don't like who he's hanging around with.
When your son shows up for a family birthday celebration with another girlfriend—one you've never seen before and probably won't see again—be hospitable. She's also someone's wayward child, and she needs Jesus, too.

9. Email them.
Praise God for technology that lets you stay in your kids' lives so easily!
When you read something in the Bible that encourages you and helps you love Jesus more, write it up in a couple lines and send it to your child. The best exhortation for them is positive examples of Christ's joy in your own life.
Don't stress out when you're composing these as if each one needs to be singularly powerful. Just whip them out one after another, and let the cumulative effect of your satisfaction in God gather up in your child's inbox. God's word is never proclaimed in vain.

10. Take them to lunch.
If possible, don't let your only interaction with your child be electronic. Get together with him face to face if you can. You may think this is stressful and uncomfortable, but trust me that it's far worse to be in the child's shoes—he is experiencing all the same discomfort, but compounded by guilt. So if he is willing to get together with you for lunch, praise God, and use the opportunity.
It will feel almost hypocritical to talk about his daily life, since what you really care about is his eternal life, but try to anyway. He needs to know you care about all of him. Then, before lunch is over, pray that the Lord will give you the gumption to ask about his soul. You don't know how he'll respond. Will he roll his eyes like you're an idiot? Will he get mad and leave? Or has God been working in him since you talked last? You don't know until you risk asking.
(Here's a note to parents of younger children: Set up regular times to go out to eat with your kids. Not only will this be valuable for its own sake, but also, if they ever enter a season of rebellion, the tradition of meeting with them will already be in place and it won't feel weird to ask them out to lunch. If a son has been eating out on Saturdays with his dad since he was a tot, it will be much harder for him later in life to say no to his father's invitation—even as a surly nineteen-year-old.)

11. Take an interest in their pursuits.
Odds are that if your daughter is purposefully rejecting Christ, then the way she spends her time will probably disappoint you. Nevertheless, find the value in her interests, if possible, and encourage her. You went to her school plays and soccer games when she was ten; what can you do now that she's twenty to show that you still really care about her interests?
Jesus spent time with tax collectors and prostitutes, and he wasn't even related to them. Imitate Christ by being the kind of parent who will put some earplugs in your pocket and head downtown to that dank little nightclub where your daughter's CD release show is. Encourage her and never stop praying that she will begin to use her gifts for Jesus' glory instead her own.

12. Point them to Christ.
This can't be over-stressed. It is the whole point. No strategy for reaching your son or daughter will have any lasting effect if the underlying goal isn't to help them know Jesus.
It's not so that they will be good kids again; it's not so that they'll get their hair cut and start taking showers; it's not so that they'll like classical music instead of deathcore; it's not so that you can stop being embarrassed at your weekly Bible study; it's not so that they'll vote conservative again by the next election; it's not even so that you can sleep at night, knowing they're not going to hell.
The only ultimate reason to pray for them, welcome them, plead with them, email them, eat with them, or take an interest in their interests is so that their eyes will be opened to Christ.
And not only is he the only point—he's the only hope. When they see the wonder of Jesus, satisfaction will be redefined. He will replace the pathetic vanity of the money, or the praise of man, or the high, or the orgasm that they are staking their eternities on right now. Only his grace can draw them from their perilous pursuits and bind them safely to himself—captive, but satisfied.
He will do this for many. Be faithful and don't give up.

© Desiring God. Toll Free:1.888.346.4700

Sent from my iPhone


This morning we started our day by reading Isaiah 40:10ff.

"See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart."

We have been blessed by the assurance we are truly in the palm of our Lord's hands. His strength has been evident through these months. We have been privileged to fully experience the gentleness of our Good Shepherd guiding and comforting us through the arms and hands of all who have reached out to us.

We rested well last night. Presently, Laura is in the care of a fantastic surgical team. Most of all, she is nestled in the arms of our Lord.

Thanks to all for your prayers and support these days and months.

Sent from my iPad.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lessons Gained

Tomorrow is surgery for Laura. Over the past six months she has demonstrated strength, grace, trust, but most of all a deep faith in the plan God has laid before us. I have been privileged to watch her dig deep into God's Word and find those nuggets of truth she has hung onto each step of the journey so far. As a result, my life has been enriched and my personal faith challenged by seeing her's grow.

We hold onto Isaiah 43:1-3 knowing the LORD our God is with us through the water and the fire. Lamentations 3:22-28 reminds us of how much we have been consumed by His love and care, but most of all the deep and abiding peace of His presence.

His plan has been good. Because of His great love we have not been consumed by the challenges, but have basked in the goodness of the Lord's compassion and faithfulness which have been poured out on us every morning.

Laura's faith has been steadfast. She has not wavered through the turbulence. Fear has been overcome by the truth of the Lord's deep love for her life.

Much has changed over the past several months in our lives and home, and we know God is not finished with us yet. The hardships He has led us into have rubbed some edges off us.

This time has served to sharpen us and soften us. In the hearts of our kids it has served to shape character as well as given them handles to hold onto in the future. Our marriage has gone places it never would have gone without the cancer.

We walk into this next phase knowing that God has been at work in all things and will continue to be as He forms us into the people He longs for us to be.

We are thankful for His grace! I am thankful for the common grace He has given me in my wife! Ron

Monday, March 26, 2012

Free Access

This weekend we focused our service on Hebrews 4:13-16.

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.   For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

The emphasis of the message revolved around the thought that Jesus came to experience what we experience.
  • Jesus understands us.
  • Jesus sympathizes with us. 
  • Jesus invites us in.  
I am so thankful for the way in which the Lord is using our journey to guide my thoughts and direction for PCC, and especially our family.  He continues to show himself faithful and true every step of the way.

We ended the service with Laura sharing her story via video.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

God's Amazing Timing

Each week I get asked multiple times to give an update of our current cancer ride.

For the most part all are doing well.  There have been some moments when things are bit emotional, but overall we are counting our blessings for the progress so far.  Based on the most recent MRI results as well as Dr. Gize's assessments it is clear that the therapy is doing it's deal along with the hand of God at work.  We are so thankful for all that has happened so far, and for the many ways God is blessing us.

Our chemo treatments have turned into opportunities to look beyond ourselves.  We have been privileged to arrive at the clinic only to find someone from Pathway showing up at the same time for their appointment.  This has allowed us time to not only catch up, but to encourage one another in our fight.  Each time I am reminded of God's perfect timing in all things. 

Over the past several weeks we have had the wonderful opportunity to meet for the first time, other couples from PCC who are on the same journey we are.  I find myself walking into each Monday with my eyes a little more open, and wondering who God will introduce us to that week. 

A couple weeks ago following one of those unusual moments Laura put up her hand, gave me a high-five and stated, "We have the best job ever!"   I echo her thoughts. 

It seems each encounter has given us added confidence as we walk with others with the hope we have in Christ Jesus.  Our sense of community is certainly expanding, as well as the common ground we now share with others.   We certainly don't celebrate the disease, and would prefer some other means for meeting people, but these divine appointments have opened our eyes to the various ways God is using this in our lives and with others. 

This past Saturday following service I popped into the benefit for ten-year-old Devon Grobaski.  I was so thankful for the remarkable number of people from PCC who showed their support.  Devon has a battle on his hands, but this little guy is walking through this with amazing strength and fortitude.  He's such an inspiration to so many.  Again, our hearts have become even more sensitive to such stories because of our story.

We know God will not waste our cancer, because we refuse to waste it.  We long to learn from it, grow from it, and gain a deeper level of trust through it.  We are different today then what we were several months ago, and I'm deeply thankful for such growth. 

The cancer certainly rearranges your life, but it is what it is.

Yet, God is using it to open our eyes to the wonder of His works and His timing in all things.  He is etching into the fabric of our lives a greater awareness of His amazing grace and goodness.  He is allowing our story to intersect with the stories of others, and hopefully to be a source of comfort to them along the way. 

So I end with Paul's words to the church in Corinth.  Words that have become incredibly personal and meaningful these days.  Words I've often taught, but can now apply in ways like never before. 

"All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ." - 2 Cor. 1:3-5

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Great Life!

Laura completed round four of her chemotherapy this past Monday.  We looked at this as a true milestone in her recovery knowing that these first four rounds can deliver a bit of a punch.  As the treatments progressed so did the physical and at times emotional impact of the drugs.  She continues to be tired, at times her moods can be a bit blue, and there have been some shivers in the night.  When I look into her face the weight loss is so apparent, and yet her drive continues to outperform her challenges.

The kids continue to make their way into her bed throughout the day.  I have caught glimpses of Dawson walking in, rubbing her head and giving her a kiss.  Sophia and Lydia love camping out with their books in tow, and either doing school work beside her or on the floor near her.  Bella is her own woman controlling every other space she wanders into. 

I can sense that the kids know we are in for a long road over the weeks and months.   They are learning to take on new responsibilities and I'm proud of the attitudes they tend to display on a fairly consistent manner.  We are truly blessed.

Tonight before Laura and I went to bed I stood over the sleeping bodies of my oldest girls and thanked the Lord for the character He is shaping in them.  I peeked in on Dawson and found myself deeply grateful for his kind and gentle spirit.  I then crawled into bed hoping I would crash quickly only to find myself listening to Laura sleep, or should I say "snor" - extremely honored to be her husband.  On my way down to write this post I opened Bella's bedroom door, and smiled that sleep had finally conquered her driving spirit.

I had a challenging and deeply painful day at work today.  Sometimes walking with people in the midst of their messes leaves one a bit weary.  It was good to go home and be immediately reminded of all the ways the Lord has poured out His goodness on my life even in the midst of our cancer journey. 

"I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live." - Ps. 146:1

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Random Thoughts

Over the past several weeks we have adjusted considerably to this new journey God has us on.  Laura and I recognized early on that her diagnosis created a great deal of inner tension and chaos.  Emotions were raw, and all our questions seemed to lead into more questions rather than solid answers.  As the initial days unfolded and our medical course was set there was some settling that took place. We no longer questioned the extent of the cancer or the treatment plan.

Laura has done a fantastic job walking through her chemotherapy as well as sticking to a radically changed diet.  Her attitude is inspirational to me.  She does remain positive, but she has also been extremely open about her frustrations and inner turmoil.  There have been days when the best thing to do is stay in bed.  I have also witnessed those moments when the frustrations and reality that the cancer is not going away today or tomorrow evoke a great deal of emotion.  For both of us, the questions our kids continue to ask remind us that even though we may be settled in what we believe God is doing, they are not.

This week was our third treatment.  She was visibly and physically impacted in a much different way then the previous two.  She's a little more nauseous, a little shaky, and certainly tired and restless.  She has one more round of the strong treatments and then moves to the twelve weekly rounds.  We are having conversations about surgery.  The extent to which she desires to go and where to have it done.

I've been so grateful for the board of elders, and staff of PCC who have walked beside us with tremendous understanding and grace.  Being allowed flexibility to be home when I need to, as well as having a relief pitcher who steps into the teaching helm on the weeks during these initial four big treatments has been a tremendous blessing.  It's allowed me time to serve my wife and kids, and I have witnessed PCC being served as well as growing in ways it never would have without such an interruption in our plans.  We have been impacted by those who have taken time to cook a great meal, send a card of encouragement, sit with our kids so I can work, as well as clean the house at times when chaos rules.  Thank You! 

The cancer has caused us to adjust to a different schedule.  We cannot predict how Laura will react to the full scheme of the treatment plan.  At times the questions our kids ask still leave us a little rattled.  I still feel a little scattered, but then again that is pretty normal for me. 

Every so often someone will ask how school @ home is progressing.  To be honest it has been interrupted a bit, yet the kids are learning a great deal.   We are finally back on a daily routine of assigned work and additional responsibilities.  They are working hard on assignments and will jump into an ancient history project starting next week.  Lydia is going to focus on the process Egyptians used to mummified their dead.  Sophia is going to research and build a project around the sphinx of Egypt.  Dawson is still deciding.  We are all for our kids gaining academic knowledge, yet there are much deeper lessons to be learned through this journey.

The greater lessons our kids are learning focus more on how we as a family are walking through this season trusting in God's leading and plan.  This truly is the lesson for all of us.  My prayer is that each of our children will be able one day to pull from this experience a rich treasure of stronger character, as well as a depth of understanding the joys of serving those you deeply love.

It has been my pleasure to serve my wife.  To walk beside her in both the tender and tough times.  I am grateful for the depth of our love for each other and  the manner in which we have sensed God's gracious guidance along the way.  We are growing in unexpected ways due to the road God has us on.  The suffering, frustration, big questions from little minds is all for a purpose.  God is revealing treasures to us the can only be found in the darkness.

"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.   Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,   for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls."  1 Peter 1:6-9