What would Thomas say?

Today I went for an MRI at Karmanos Cancer Center and a biopsy at Harper Hospital. Up to this point, we have had nothing but morbid outcomes given to us by all the doctors we have seen. Today, however, Dr. Lin at Wayne State found the tumor to be superficial and easily resected with a reasonable hope for a cure, possibly without radiation, and a return to the status quo.

Were all these doctors (including him) wrong in their initial assessments? Were they just being conservative in their prognoses? Or did something, in fact, happen to that tumor?

Phenomena like this are not uncommon in God’s plan. He reveals Himself in degrees, and often in such a way as to make faith an essential aspect of the experience. Most everyone is familiar with the phrase “doubting Thomas,”  but few non-Christians understand the spiritual significance of the story.

Thomas was not present when the risen Lord appeared to the Apostles, and when told of it, he chose to be skeptical, not an unreasonable attitude given the incredible claim made by the others. Jesus again appeared to them and this time Thomas was present. When the Lord invited Thomas to place his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in His side, Thomas did so and proclaimed “My Lord and my God.”

Jesus’ response is telling.

Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.

What do we make of this? Is blind faith better than faith based in observed phenomena, “signs and wonders?” I don’t think so. God honors our faith however it comes to us. But often it comes to us in the context of what we already believe. Faith in the redemptive work of Christ requires first a faith in the plan of God, a faith that is itself a grace that can only come from God. Paul spoke of this in 1 Corinthians 1:21-23

For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…

The Pharisees demanded signs from Jesus. He was proclaiming himself Messiah, either an utter blasphemy or the very fulfillment of the ultimate aspirations of the Jewish faith. He did not fit into their concept of how Messiah would appear so they sought to ensnare him by demanding something that only a true Messiah could produce. Jesus’ response was harsh and to the point:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” He said to them in reply, “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.

Jesus would soon, in fact, show them the sign of Jonah, but even that would not satisfy them. He had been going throughout Galilee performing unmistakable miracles, and those who had eyes to see, saw them. The case can be made that, if God were to appear in His unveiled Glory, we would have no choice but to worship Him. But that was not the plan. We were given free will because only a free creature can love, and to fully reveal Himself would ironically make it impossible to love Him. So He reveals Himself to those who choose to see Him revealed in part.

What, then, is the point of all this? Simply put, what happened to me happened ambiguously, so that those with faith would see and those without faith might choose to see without compulsion. Even I won’t say that this was a verifiable miraculous healing. The evidence is imperfect, the outcome questionable. But I accept it as such by faith, as some of you might. And it may even be that this little “miracle” may make one of you less of a Thomas.

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Making it easier

To all my friends that had trouble commenting:

I had the blog set to require moderation of comments, but since I am so lazy it meant that your comments weren’t posting until I got around to it. I activated a plug-in that should prevent spam so if it works, there won;t be any restrictions. If I have problems with spam, I may have to tighten things up a little, but I’ll let you know before I do.

 

And thanks for all the response to my last post. More will follow. I have a biopsy tomorrow which will give us a better idea of what we’re dealing with. Pray for Charlotte. She’s having a tough time.

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I need some input

Normally when I post to this blog, I do so in the role of one offering ideas, explanations, insights and sometimes humor. I don’t get many comments so I don’t think of this as going the other way. But I am at a point where your responses can mean a great deal.

I am nearing the point where decisions will have to be made regarding my choice of treatment, decisions that have major consequences for how I live the rest of my life. In its simplest form, it reduces to this: do I want to take the least invasive approach which will allow me to continue living as I am now, but with the likelihood of a shorter life span, or do I want to take a course that will probably result in a cure but may deprive me of speech?

If you know me at all, and many of you certainly do, talking has always been what I do. I’m a teacher by nature and my greatest joys in life have been those few but precious times when what I say has made a difference in someone else’s life. It’s hard to imagine me still being me if I couldn’t do that. So what would be the point of living longer if that was the condition? What kind of life would it be to not be able to tell people that I love them? How could I deprive my wife of the words “I love you?”

But of course, I would have to be alive to do that. So choosing to keep my speech but possibly die sooner has a similar effect. Do I go for quality or quantity? How does that affect those who love me? Do they get a choice in this?

I have just about worn out the “?” key on my keyboard. So many questions and no real answers. I’m really grappling with a big one here. I’m going for a biopsy on Thursday that will define the parameters of this decision more clearly and, while I want to think that I will know what to do, I fear I won’t.

Prayer is central to this. I believe there is a “God way” through everything and in all honesty I’m really at peace knowing that I’ll get both the guidance and the Grace to live in a way most pleasing and useful to Him. That for me really illuminates the decision. Which choice makes me a more useful tool in His hands? I don’t believe that death is a tragedy. I do believe that a life without purpose is.

Before all else, I am a Christian. Jesus said that there is no greater love than when one lays down one’s life for a friend. But what does it mean to lay down your life? It certainly means dying in one sense. But it could also mean laying aside the life I now have for another one, one that I do not choose, but one that nonetheless fulfills my vocation. Do I lay down my life by shortening it or by sacrificing an aspect of it? Again, more questions than answers.

This has been an unusual post. I always take time to craft my work, write it, set it aside, return to it, refine it, produce the very best I can with the talent I have been given. But this has been more of a stream of thought, musing out loud and not really attending to the craft, because the craft may very well be in my willingness to expose my fear, my confusion; to be something I rarely am, unpolished.

I am not asking for answers, though I will certainly accept them. As for pity, I can produce enough of that for both of us if I give in to that impulse, so none is needed. I’m not saying that I don’t need anything. I just don’t know what I need. All I know is that whatever I need, it will come from you whom I love. I would appreciate comments just to know you have read this. Maybe you are as baffled as I am. That would be good to know. Maybe you have some insight. Also, good to know. Maybe you feel compelled to offer advice because you feel obligated. I won’t object.

I hope that this hasn’t been to much of a downer for anyone. These are the kinds of decisions each of us will likely have to make. So the real irony of all this is that you may be answering these questions as much for yourselves as for my benefit. So let’s be joyful, and let’s be grateful for the love we’ve shared.

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Tempus

My initial consult with Dr. Steven Chang at Henry Ford Hospital was very thorough and opened my eyes to how difficult my case is and how many different approaches could be taken in resolving it. Everything is at once risky and beneficial, and choosing a treatment strategy involves a pretty daunting set of permutations.

The options break down into three major classes, well known to anyone who has ever approached cancer treatment.

Surgery

The tumor is deep in the base of the tongue, just to the right of the midline. It has not involved any bone and does not appear to have metastasized. However, due to my narrow mouth opening (trismus) Dr. Chang did not feel that he could properly visualize and clear the margins robotically via the mouth. His only choice would be excision from under the chin, possibly involving a separation of the mandible, followed by flap reconstruction (from thigh or calf) to replace the missing tongue tissue. Due to the amount of tissue lost and the pre-existing damage to the left side of my neck, there would not be enough structure intact to support the larynx, so a laryngectomy (removal of the voice box) and a tracheostomy would be indicated.

At first I was a bit aghast at this, but he explained that it would be advantageous even if there were no cancer involved. First, it would actually improve my speech since I am operating on one vocal cord now and am breathy and unable to complete sentences in one breath. Many patients do quite well on laryngeal prostheses and he would expect a good outcome in my case. Secondly, it would completely separate my breathing from my esophagus thereby eliminating the possibility of aspiration pneumonia, a primary cause of death for people in my condition. (It almost got me once already.) Thirdly, and most exciting, I would recover some swallowing and be able to get off the feeding tube. This would be a major improvement in the quality of my life. He even advised that I might consider having this done even if we don’t do cancer surgery. I contacted Dr. Peter Belafsky at UC Davis with whom I had been working on the Swallow Expansion Device, and asked for his opinion if the procedure for its own sake. His reply: “Yes. I agree that laryngectomy is a very reasonable option and the one I would choose for myself.” That was quite an unexpected endorsement so, we may be looking at that as a separate issue at a later date if we don’t do the resection of the tumor.

Chemotherapy

Conventional chemo might be an option. But I am being evaluated for a clinical trial for what is termed “targeted therapy.” Here’s a really good fact sheet explaining it. My “Nurse Navigator” at Henry Ford Health Services (HFHS) is currently arranging to have my tissue biopsy sent for testing at Tempus, the primary company developing this treatment modality. If all goes well, I may be enrolled in a clinical trial or, if I qualify, for one of the treatments already approved by the FDA. This is no sure thing, Not every cancer is treatable this way, but we are hoping. This form of treatment is much less debilitating than conventional chemotherapy but does have side effects and risks, Still, I am eagerly hoping that I am a candidate. If this turns out to be the case, we would try this first with surgery as a fall-back plan.

Radiation

I will be seen by a radiation oncologist at my next set of appointments. There is already significant damege to my neck from the first cancer, so radiation may not be an option. That wouldn’t break my heart.

So I am now scheduled to return to Detroit in a couple of weeks to go over the Tempus results and be seen by both the medical and radiation oncologists. I am also scheduled on Monday to see Dr. Ho-Sheng Lin, chairman of the Otolaryngology Department at Wayne State University School of Medicine/Karmanos Cancer Institute. We hope to have additional light shed on our situation.

I am probably happier than I should be, but I feel that I have that “peace that passes all understanding.” My faith is strong and I know God is in the midst of it all. Thanks for all the prayers and support from all my friends. I literally could not make it without the love I have been shown.

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Best Birthday Party Ever

The living room is quiet at last and Charlotte has gone to bed, exhausted from all her efforts to make my birthday party the unforgettable event that it was.  I don’t have anything profound to say, I just want to record my thoughts from the day so that I can relive it whenever I need a reminder of how precious friends are.

We had friends from St. Frances Cabrini, Immaculate Conception, the Disciple program we just completed, our Bible study, our Rosary group, Kiwanis, Marriage Encounter and Michigan. Most of them were in more than one category. And it was a collection of the most warm-hearted and congenial people I have ever had the honor of knowing.

I just want to say “thanks” to all who came and to those who wanted to come but couldn’t. You all mean so very much to me and your love and support come at a time when I need all I can get, which actually is true at any time.

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Here we go again

Yesterday I got confirmation of something I suspected for the couple of weeks. There has been a recurrence of oral cancer, this time on the right side. Fortunately it is only stage II but surgery is indicated along with chemo. No radiation, thank you God. My ENT does not feel that the Northern Arizona Healthcare system has a surgeon with the necessary skills to tackle this complex operation. He suggested the same doctor at the Mayo Clinic that I used before, but our experience there was less than satisfactory. My recent experience at UC Davis Hospital in Sacramento does offer a possible alternative, but I am also exploring the idea that a surgeon in Detroit has the necessary skills. That would save us a lot of money, and it would be wonderful to be near my friends during this. More to the point, I am concerned about what this means to Charlotte. She suffered a great deal during my first bout with this disease, and nothing saddens me more than the realization that her life will be just as afflicted as mine this time around. Being in Detroit would be a great aid to her, I think. So I am trying to push for having the surgery there. This remains to be seen.

The prognosis for a full recovery is good, so you will be stuck with me for a long time. But it is definitely going to affect (perhaps destroy) my ability to speak. That means that blogging and posting to Facebook will become my primary means of staying in touch. I will also be using email when appropriate.

It would be quite inaccurate to say that this is not distressing. But I am ready to face whatever challenges are ahead, strengthened by God’s Word.

Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses…and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ II Corinthians 12:7-10

There is no doubt in my mind that God will use this for His greater glory, and that is perhaps the basis for this “peace that passes all understanding.” If there is anything I need from you, my beloved friends, it is encouragement and humor. Your love means everything. Empathy and support are the antidotes for pity, self- or otherwise.

If you have any long comments, I would prefer to get them here rather than on Facebook, but either is fine. But any contact will be a blessing.

My love goes out to all.

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Never Too Late

My blogging slowed to a trickle lately. (Actually, to nothing) But I felt a need to journal so that my family would have a record of my thoughts. I almost started a separate blog, but realized that no one read this one anyway, so how better to stay anonymous than by blogging to an unread site. I felt guilty that I had waited so long to start journaling, but guilt should never be an excuse for inaction. I decided to start on my 70th birthday, but emerging circumstance dictate that I start now. So my next post, along with any I fell need to be seen,  will be shared on Facebook.

See you there.

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Did Jesus lie about the Flood?

Noah's FloodOur friends at christiannews.net posted this article regarding Ken Ham’s assertion  that Jesus’and the Apostles’ references to Noah and the Flood constitute proof of the literal interpretation of the Flood story in Genesis. His point is that, if the Flood is a myth, then so is the Gospel. My understanding of this reasoning is based on the assumption that Jesus of Nazareth, being entirely God, was therefore omniscient and would be lying if the Flood story weren’t literally true.

Ken Ham sets up a dichotomy but there are at least four reasonable postulates regarding His references:

  1. He was omniscient and spoke of a true literal Flood.
  2. He was omniscient and spoke of a literal Flood when He knew that it was only a story, in which case He lied and the Gospel is a myth.
  3. He was not omniscient and spoke of the Flood as any other Jew of the time might understand it, as being literally true.
  4. He was not omniscient spoke of the Flood as any other Jew of the time might understand it, as being a story.

Postulates one and two are Ham’s dichotomy and are entirely predicated on the assumption that Jesus, being God, was omniscient. But there is evidence in Scripture that Jesus Himself may not in fact have been omniscient which thus allows for postulates three and four.

We focus on Jesus’ divinity but don’t always see the correlate, namely God’s carnality. If Jesus was tempted “like us in all ways, except for sin,” He clearly shared our carnal nature, although untainted by original sin.

Furthermore

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Phillipians 2:6-8 (NIV) [emphasis mine]

So it is altogether plausible that, although Jesus was entirely God and entirely man simultaneously, he might not have possessed all the attributes of divinity by virtue of of His incarnation. It seems to me apparent that Jesus did not comprehend His full nature from infancy, that awareness of His being the Messiah came to him in stages. Yet He was God from His very conception, so there had to have been times when He was not omniscient. Similarly, although He possessed the power of prophecy (as no man ever had) yet the prophetic office does not imply omniscience per se. Even at the last, during His agony in the garden fully aware of the death He would likely soon suffer, nevertheless prayed

… Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
Mark 14:36 [KJV]

Knowing that God the Father had spared Isaac, perhaps (and this is only speculation) He might have wondered if the Father would likewise spare His own Son. He clearly speaks as having His own will apart from the Father. In any case, it is clear that there was at least a sliver of uncertainty regarding the Father’s will, and a sliver is all it takes to render moot the question of omniscience.

So having established that God incarnate might not be all-knowing, we can allow the possibility that Jesus may have been referencing the “time of Noah” and the Flood according to the prevailing understanding of devout Jews of that time. Whether they saw it as literal or metaphorical is not a question with a direct answer. But it really makes no difference. It still obviates the necessity for a literal Flood.

Let me take pains to affirm that Mr. Ham’s reasoning is not in itself wrong except as it fails to take into account a fuller range of possibilities. My greater concern is that, in setting up a literal Flood as a litmus test for being a Christian, he may be turning some away from a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ who might otherwise have been saved if not for such rigidity.

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I thought “vain repetitions” only referred to Rosaries

Report: Average Christian Spends 37% Of Prayer Time Saying Word ‘Just’

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Orlando and the human heart

You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.  – Rahm Emanuel

I have refrained from posting anything on Facebook regarding the Orlando massacre (and it justly deserves that name.) Most of it is either treacle or polemic, neither very enlightening. But I quote Mr. Emanuel for a reason. It seems that even before our nation has started to process the immensity of this act, the narrative has been seized upon as a platform to push various political agendas. I refuse to address any of them directly, but a short, incomplete list will suffice to give you the flavor:

  • LGBT
  • Gun control
  • Gun rights
  • Islamic barbarism
  • Islam, religion of peace
  • Border security
  • Anti-Trump
  • Anti-Obama

The real issue, and one that never occurs to the zealot, is that the human heart is inherently wicked. Many will nod in agreement, meanwhile believing their own hearts to be pure. This is the sin of pride, and a grave one it is. The moment we lose sight of our own fallen state, we cut ourselves off from the grace of God. Those who are well have no need of a physician.

C. S. Lewis spoke of it as “enmity to God.” There is an excerpt from Mere Christianity called “The Great Sin” and is worth reading. I could easily embed the entire thing but you can read it here. I will, however, quote it in part.

In God you come up against something that is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know your-self as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

The quandary we find ourselves in is beyond challenging. Jesus said to love your enemies and He placed no limit on that definition. I confess that I continue to be filled with self-righteous rage every time I see images of 9/11. And I seek them out deliberately to arouse those feelings. I want to hate, and hate strongly. This is pride. This is the spirit of antichrist. And it was against that spirit that Jesus directed His angriest comments. It was the spirit of the Pharisees. We are no different, and painful as it is to say, it is Christians who often display this in the greatest measure.

What, then can we do? I think first of all, admit to ourselves that our anger is more a reflection of our pride than a justified response to inhuman brutality. It is only by accidents of birth and the power of the Holy Spirit that we do not do such things. Secondly, I think we need to earnestly confess this to God and, if you are Catholic, to humbly partake of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, what used to be called Confession. Most importantly, we should pray not only for those who suffered death and injury and for their families, but for the perpetrators as well. Their hearts are not beyond the reach of God’s healing Spirit and our intersession on their behalf is powerful and effective.

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.- James 5:16
Having said all this, let me emphasize that I am nowhere near this degree of humility. I can see the way, but I despair of having the power to follow it. I only pray that God will impart to me by His grace the means to move forward.

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