My left foot won’t stop moving. Maybe you are more sophisticated than I am. The proper name is “restless leg syndrome.” I prefer to call it by the name that the TV show Seinfeld gave it: The jimmy leg.
When I lay down, I will lay on my left side to curb the jimmy leg. But a funny thing happens… my right foot starts shaking violently side to side.
I’ve always had twitches and shakes. I remember one time in high school I was given a fairly nice camera for Christmas and I was told, “I asked them if this would be a good camera because of your shaking.” I laughed about it then; I laugh about it now. I laugh about a lot of things. Laughing is a lot easier and more palatable–laughing is something I feel good about passing along to others. If I can laugh or make others laugh, I feel like I’ve done something good.
But the leg still shakes.
And the laugh grows a little more nervous. The jokes become more silly; more bizarre. My mind is like a frightened rabbit–it dashes around from one thing to the next. I occupy it with work; I bury it with busy-ness.
Through all of it, I am thankful for a clear head. I am able to detach from this scene enough to recognize it for what it is.
This is fear.
My mind seeks to avoid thinking about what looms later today: scans to see if I am cancer free. I am able to rationally say to myself that by Saturday, my life may be changed again dramatically. And in working through these thoughts, I realize that in reality, if I am NOT cancer free, then nothing changes from now to a day from now. All that really changes is my own knowledge of my situation, not the situation itself.
My leg is still shaking.
I know that my Redeemer lives. I KNOW it. I can sit here and focus my mind. I can keep a straight face. I can speak in even tones. I can tell you–as confidently as ever in my life–I am not afraid of my future. My future is not in my hands or the hands of oncologists. My future is in the Hands of the One who knit me together–as imperfect and defective as this earthly tent may be. My future is in the Hands of the One who called me to faith in the waters of baptism. As the explanation of the third article states: [He has] called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith…
I remember when we first moved to Indiana. We had lived in Nebraska for a few years, closer to my parents. I wouldn’t say that it was every single weekend, but probably two or three times a month my daughters would spend time with my parents–either at their house or at our house. Moving to Indiana was very hard on the girls because of that separation. About a month or so after we moved out here, my parents came to visit. I’ll never forget my two year old daughter running to my dad. He lifted her up and carried her as he walked into the house. I was behind him, so I got to see something that is burned in my mind: My daughter closed her eyes, got a wide, peaceful, tired smile on her face, and lay her head on my dad’s shoulder. If I could ever have captured a picture of “peace” that moment would have been it.
That is honestly how I feel. I have peace. I remember that look when I lay my head down at night, imagining that I lay my head on the shoulder of my Savior Jesus.
And yet my leg is still shaking.
I think of the father in Mark chapter 9. He brought his son to Jesus. As a parent, I can empathize with this father who is desperate for healing for his child. When Jesus said to this man, “All things are possible for those who believe,” the man responded with, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
My jimmy leg… my foot jerking violently… the horrific nightmares… the shaking… the racing mind. All symptoms of the same disease: fear. Fear, which is unbelief. Thank you, Jesus, for reminding me that I’m still a human needing a Savior. Thank you for reminding me that no matter how much earthly peace I may feel, no matter the confidence I have in You… that this life is not remotely what is to come.
Tom Petty once said that “waiting is the hardest part” and I suppose that is true for a lot of things. I admit that I struggle with patience. It is a struggle that has had negative impacts on me, my family, my relationships, and–subsequently–my ministry. I find myself saying that famous prayer, “Lord, give me patience and give it to me NOW!”
In all seriousness, I would have to say that my biggest struggle with patience is having the patience to hold my tongue. To many times I have not exercised the judgment of restraint, and instead have insisted upon my right to speak my mind. Invariably, I embarrass myself and I re-live my words over and over again. For years, I replay those scenes in my mind and live with regret.
My advice to everyone during this extremely turbulent time–as I write this the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election is still unclear and there are many accusations of fraud–is simple: Just wait. Before you say something or do something that you may regret, wait. Pray for clarity. Pray for the right words to say. Pray for our country and its leadership. Remember that the Lord still reigns, regardless of the outcome of this election. Trust me, as one who has too often spoken first and thought things out later, this is the better way.
Let me share with you two different times of when I actually followed my own advice here. I hope you find these two instances funny and hopefully you will understand why I issue a caution about the language that is to follow. Be warned, I use some profanity in these stories, and the purpose will be very clear at the end:
These two instances actually happened in close proximity–one the summer before my freshman year of college, and then winter of that year. In the summer of 1997, I was getting ready to begin my college career at the University of Nebraska–Kearney. I needed to raise some money to pay for school, so I took a job working at our local Wal-Mart. (Side note: I have some GREAT stories from my time at Wal-Mart! I should write about those some time…). I did all sorts of different things while I worked there, but the one area I spent most of my time was at the cash register.
When you are a cashier, you learn to “read” your customer and then how to best serve them. Some people come to your line and want to get out of the store as quickly as possible. They may be angry, in a hurry, or maybe they just are thinking about something else. In any event, they do NOT want to talk. Just scan and sack the groceries and let them get on their way. Other customers come to you and want you to take your time. They want to talk. You may have to be their best friend or their confessor. Some people want affirmation; some want attention; and some just need interaction with a friendly face. Those are the customers who need a little extra time and care.
Sometimes I would misread customers and they would get angry or offended. I always felt bad about those interactions, but I very quickly learned to stay quiet until I got a good “read” on the situation.
One day, a lady came to my line and she seemed friendly; she wanted to talk. So I talked with her a bit–not overly so, but just keeping light conversation. We got to the end of her order and she said, “I have some coupons for those goddamn Doritos.”
I know I paused. I was kind of surprised. She didn’t seem angry… she said it so matter-of-fact. Did I do something wrong? What does this woman have against Doritos? If she hates them so much, why is she buying them?
I snapped back to attention and could tell I had paused a little too long. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite hear what you said…”
“I have coupons for those goddamn Doritos.”
I waited. I didn’t say anything. I wanted to ask her if I had done something to upset her. I wanted to apologize if I had done something wrong. But instead, I waited. I took her coupons and looked at them. Everything seemed in order.
She must have sensed I was a little perplexed because she said, “Now, those coupons aren’t good on ALL the Doritos, just the goddamn ones.”
As she said that, and while I was reading the coupon, I finally realized what she was saying. You see, in June of 1997, the next great Batman movie was released. Although it wasn’t as popular as the franchise is now, the marketing was ubiquitous. And sure enough, there were even “GOTHAM” Doritos that you could buy. And I suppose if you split it into “Got” “Ham” a person could get confused as to how that word is pronounced.
Immediately, I went about my business, we continued our conversation, and the customer paid and left. I waited… I actually paused for once in my life, and in the end, it was all a misunderstanding.
In August, I went off to UNK to start my college career. I was blessed to room with a friend of mine–someone who is still a great friend to me and my family. I love this man greatly and I am so grateful for his friendship. We hung out together, had long talks, played intramural sports together, and even would go to the dining hall and eat meals together with another friend of mine from high school. One day, after a workout, we decided to brave the weather and head out for dinner from our dorm (Randall Hall.) It was a little bit of a walk, but not bad at all.
On this day, though, we kind of misjudged the weather. It was a very windy day and when we got to the dining hall, we were hurrying to get inside. But as we were entering, a group of three ladies was leaving the dining hall, so we moved out of the way and the two of us passed the three of them somewhere in the entryway. As we went by them, one of the ladies yelled out, “Show us your nuts!”
What?? What an odd thing to say! Why would someone say that? I was floored. As soon as I got inside the building, I stopped and looked at my roommate. He was staring back at me.
“Did she just…?”
“Why do you think…”
“I don’t know, man.”
Now, I suppose we could have made a big deal out of it and made a fuss. But instead, we just let them go on their way. For their part, the ladies didn’t even slow down for a minute, so it made the comment even more unusual.
My roommate and I usually talked a lot about classes, sports… everything… when we ate together. But this dinner was different. This time, we were both so bothered by what was said that we were just completely silent. I am sure that I had a very confused look on my face. I could tell from my roommate’s face that he was just thinking about that comment over and over.
Finally, like some sort of inspiration, I realized we were all wrong. The girl had actually yelled out, “Shorts? You’re nuts!” You see, Nebraskans may remember that in the Fall and Winter of 1997, early-1998, we were hit with a lot of snow and cold. What I didn’t share with you earlier is that we had come from a workout or basketball game in our tank tops and shorts, through about a foot of snow in addition to that strong wind to get to the dining hall. After that revelation, our minds were at ease and we went about with a normal meal.
You would think that after two memorable experiences (here it is over 20 years later and I remember them clear as day) I would have learned my lesson: be slow to speak. Don’t jump to conclusions.
In the era of instant news and information everyone is an “expert” and speed is valued over accuracy. Factor in the contentious nature of this election cycle… and you can see the problems that confront us. For the sake of the Gospel, I urge myself (and anyone reading this) to please wait. Wait for clarity and wait before you react to something that may cause offense.
Of course, waiting is important in ALL things, not just in politics and relationships. Patience is necessary for our own lives. Again, I write this for myself more so than anyone else: Be patient. God is at work. I am currently in a “good stretch.” My chemo is done, my last scan indicated no cancer, and yet I have radiation treatments for six weeks, five days a week. I am in the middle of week two.
Why? Why radiation if I don’t have cancer? Why can’t I just get back to the way things were? My doctors want to make sure that there is no chance for there to be any cancer in my body since I had five lymph nodes that showed signs of cancer. And so I wait. My body is broken. Prior to my surgery in June and the chemo that followed, I had lost 60 pounds and I was walking our neighborhood, feeling good, eating healthy, and exercising daily. I was probably the healthiest (barring the cancer, of course) that I had been in about 15 years.
And now, I’ve gained back 10 pounds. I can barely walk the same amount that I did back in February when I started exercising. My muscles are sore from basic stretching or even from just sitting upright. I still have a few days a week when I need to lay down to rest. My mind is ready to GO… but I need to be patient.
Wait, Weber. Be patient. Remember that God’s Word speaks about this as well in Psalm 27:
Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
Here I am, at my last chemo treatment for now. I know the next two weeks will be very difficult. It is interesting to consider the different types of pain I will face in those two weeks. I will have joint and muscle pain like I just got run over once again by the 1996 Battle Creek football team. I will wake up with my face cramping because I have been grimacing in my sleep. I will have severe stomach pains; feeling like my body is being put slowly through a meat grinder from mid-chest down. I will have heartburn. I’ll have tinnitus and blurry vision. I will go between bouts of exhaustion and bouts of insomnia.
Pain isn’t just physical. There’s the mental, emotional pain of trying to come to grips with my own mortality. What if…? Will I see my kids graduate? Will I be there for them to lean on when they need me? What about my Sarah? What an amazing, strong woman! And yet… where am I for her, now and what if I’m not there in the future? What will she do? What about my teachers? What about our school and families? COVID was bad enough… it was mentally taxing and emotionally draining. I was looking forward to relaxing and gearing up for a new school year. I mean… I was REALLY looking forward to the new school year… like no other year before.
I am so thankful for friends and family who have been able to move me from this pity party to focusing on the good. My cousin sent me a fantastic meme early on in my treatment. It was a picture of the band The Cure and said, “I’m no expert on cancer, but this is The Cure.”
I have made several bad jokes along those lines throughout this journey. I told someone that even if everything has been correct and this does kill my body, I have the last laugh. I know my Redeemer lives and there is nothing that can separate me from His love.
So, in the end, it’s like Ecclesiastes: Everything is meaningless. In this valley… I see that everything is a distraction. This life is not about this life. And as I try to deal with all of the thoughts, emotions, pain… I realized somewhere along the way a simple truth about humanity: We have nothing. I have nothing at all. The possessions I have are all from God. No matter my station in life, if this cancer was not found early enough, it will kill me. No amount of money, status, or prestige would change that. And when I die, my possessions will be sold. Things that I thought were worth keeping will be cast aside. Some things may be kept and passed on to loved ones… mementos that will sit on a shelf gathering dust for an occasional wistful glance, or things simply boxed up and set aside. I imagine that there will be many things thrown out; many things that are sold in a garage sale. When I die, my family will mourn, and then they will continue to live. They will go on to graduate, get married, have families of their own.
And so I go back to that question… what do I have? I have nothing. All I have is that which God has given me… all I have is that which God has entrusted to me. When I realized that, I was suddenly thrown back to five dates:
June 15, 2001. The night before my wedding. I was in a hotel room, going through a box of football cards, thinking of the next day. And I suddenly prayed silently, “Lord, I need you to do this.”
November 25, 2004. As I looked at my daughter Hannah, the very first thing that came to mind: “Lord, I need you to raise my child because I can’t do it.”
February 13, 2007. For a fleeting moment, right after Naomi was born, she did not make a sound, “Lord, please raise this child to love you.”
June 17, 2010. After realizing that our twins had died, “Lord, Jesus… Lord Jesus… help.”
May 19, 2011. After my son Gideon was born, “Lord, I need you to raise my boy because I can’t do it.”
I vividly remember a day in January, 2018. I became the interim principal at my school during a very difficult time. Someone approached me in tears, saying, “I am afraid we put you in a bad spot.” My response wasn’t all that eloquent, but what I wanted to impart was that the Lord had prepared me for that moment. It’s been rough. But the Lord has prepared me for this moment. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not parroting that oft-repeated, yet incorrect, phrase that “God will not give you more than you can handle.” He most certainly will! You are crushed by life so that you can turn to our Lord and rely on Him.
The only thing I can offer is love. And that is not from myself, that, too, is something I do not have, it is something I lack. But it is something (again) that I have been entrusted with. It is all I can do, it is all I can give.
I weep for our nation–a nation torn apart by hate and distrust. I weep for those suffering from COVID–whether they suffer physically from the actual ailment or if they suffer mentally, emotionally, spiritually out of fear of the disease.
And the only thing I can do, the only cure, is love. That’s all I can offer you. I wish I had more to give, I wish I could solve our problems. I wish I could make you all happy again. I wish I could laugh with you.
But these are not things that I can do or give. They are not my job. And so, broken as I am… I can do nothing except try to rest in the arms and love of my savior, Jesus.
Friends… LOVE… the LOVE of Jesus, is the only cure. For all of this.
I love you. But much, MUCH more importantly, Jesus loves you. Please… please do not ignore that. Do not just gloss that over.
If you are a devout Christian… remember Jesus loves you.
If you are not… know that Jesus loves you. And please, please… don’t roll your eyes. Please, please reach out to find out what that really and truly means. To be a follower of Jesus, to know that He loves you, is not to enslave yourself to laws and rules. That is an absolute lie. My friends, to follow Jesus is to have FREEDOM. To be set FREE. To have forgiveness and to know (even if imperfectly this side of heaven) what true love is.
I’m finding it hard to wrap this up… who would have thought… Weber keeps talking. I guess I’ll wrap up with this:
“For God so LOVED the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world would be saved through Him.”–John 3:16-17
EDIT: Before you dive in, I just wanted to warn you that this particular blog post got a bit long. Sorry folks!
I had the privilege to hear author Dan Webster during SLED training in St. Louis about 15 years ago or so. I cannot emphasize enough the impact his sessions had on me. I felt as if he was speaking to me directly about the importance of authentic leadership. I highly recommend his books and to bring him in to speak with your faculty and staff! Dan is disarming, honest, and real.
One aspect that he spoke of and he wrote about in his book ‘The Real Deal” is the importance of not rushing through our “valley” moments. These “valley” moments are those Psalm 23 moments–yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… Not Valley moments like when you take a fun trip to Phoenix! We all experience those valley moments. Dan’s point to our group and in his book both is that we don’t like to face these valley moments, and as a result there is a temptation to rush through them to the “good” side of things. But if we do that, we miss critical chances to grow. After my second round of chemo, I lamented that it is the closest thing to hell I could imagine. A good friend who is also battling cancer said to me, “When you find yourself going through hell, keep moving.” How true that is! But at what pace?
I suppose I tend to rush through the valleys, or at the very least my initial entry to these valley moments sees them as short-lived events. But some valleys can last for a long time. The end of 2019 and the entirety of 2020 has been a valley moment. Illness, death, and serious health problems of friends and family marked the end of 2019. Then, on January 3, 2020, I caught what I thought was a cold. But then by January 5, I could tell it had moved into my chest and I had pneumonia. After some doctor visits, various treatments and medications, and after a few days of staying home from school, my loving school board and pastors sat me down and put me on leave for two weeks to recover. Shortly after, I had a day where I could not breathe and I ended up in the hospital. “This won’t be a big deal,” I thought. But after some treatments, scans, and medication, I was admitted. During these tests, they found a nodule on my lung, 1.2 cm in size. I was told that they would keep an eye on it and I would need to get it checked out in 3 months.
So, I missed the month of January. I was able to get back to work in February and didn’t give my nodule much of a thought. However, we all know what hit in late-February/early-March. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that week of March 8. It started with me meeting with a fellow school principal on Monday to discuss other matters. Once we discussed that, our conversation turned briefly to COVID and we both thought we would stay open. I spoke to some of our school leadership who had the same thought. The next day, I left to lead an accreditation team in a town about 2 hours away or so. All of the members of our team were convinced that we would stay open on Tuesday, and on Wednesday. But then on Wednesday evening, the NCAA tournament was cancelled as were many NBA games. So Thursday morning, our last day of our NLSA visit, we didn’t know what to expect. And on my drive home that evening, my phone was blowing up with texts, emails, and calls about districts who had gone to remote learning. I came back to school on Friday and sat in on a meeting with our county department of health which made it clear that we would be closing. As the schedule would work out, we also hosted a potential teaching candidate that day. So by Friday evening, I was a busy, busy guy working to get us ready for remote learning. I spent all weekend working on details of our plan. I wanted our teachers to have the tools they needed; I wanted them to feel as comfortable as they could; I wanted them to know that this would be a challenge, but I also knew that they could do it. You see, I get to teach with a group of all-stars. Even though I knew they would be apprehensive and overwhelmed, I KNEW they would be okay. There was no question in my mind. They are professionals and they are great at what they do.
But the timing of COVID also pushed my lung appointment to May instead of March. I had a PET scan… my nodule lit up. Still, the notes on the scan itself say that a malignancy was highly unlikely due to not having any risk factors. My pulmonologist kept saying, “Don’t worry… we can wait another 3-6 months.” Uhhh… no, doc. We’re going to figure out what the heck this is!
So, at the end of May, I had a lung biopsy. That in itself was a valley. Wallowing in my own bloody mask, feeling the large bore needle sticking out of my back, being told when to breathe and hold my breath (sometimes for long periods) was a difficult thing. Afterward, the tech who performed the procedure told me, “Look, I can tell that it was a tumor.” And on June 8, I found out that it was an adenocarcinoma, stage 1B. “That’s ok,” I thought. “It could be much worse.” Based upon what I had read, I knew that was a possibility. The 5-year survival rates were good based upon staging… ok… we’ll do this.
But it seemed that every bit of news I heard after that was not positive. The tumor tested ROS-1 positive. ROS-1 accounts for about 1% of all lung cancer diagnoses each year. It is relatively “new.” Five-year survival rates are not that great. Surgery was scheduled to remove the offending lobe of my lung. It was while I was recovering from surgery that I saw the report from the Mayo clinic. It is never good to see lines in your medical report that say, “Thank you so much for sending this case to us! It is certainly an unusual and complex case!”
And while recuperating in the hospital, I developed a pneumothorax shortly before I was to be released, lengthening my stay by another 5 days. I found out that 5 of 36 lymph nodes taken had traces of cancer. Three of them were adjacent to the tumor, which apparently was not much of a concern. However, two were in my mediastinum, which meant that I went from a stage 1B cancer, to stage 3. Now I would undergo chemotherapy and radiation.
I thought that was the extent of my valley. I kept looking for the end of the valley; the way out. It felt that the bottom just kept dropping lower and lower. At what point would they say that I was incurable? When would this freefall from “just a spot on your lung, nothing to worry about” to… this… end?
I saw respite just prior to the start of chemotherapy. I had to visit with the radiologist to learn about radiation after the chemo. He said, “Before you start chemo, we need to do a brain scan to make sure that it hasn’t spread there.” Here we go again. I knew it. I knew that I as going to get bad news… I hadn’t had any good news in about a year. I had the scans on the morning of July 27, which was the day before I was to start chemo. That afternoon I called for the results. If the scan was clear, I could start chemo the next day. If not, I would start with radiation treatments and they would try to shrink the brain tumor. The idea at that point would be to provide palliative care. I finally got through to the doctor’s office. “Please hold while I get the nurse.” Ok… I guess I’ll wait some more. After about 3 minutes which seemed closer to 30, the same person got on the phone. “Sir, the nurse would like to take some time to talk to you about the results and he is a little busy right now, so can he call you back when he is free?”
I guess I know what that means.
I called for Sarah and told her what the receptionist had said. I’m telling you right now, I NEVER… NEVER… want to see that look on my wife’s face again. EVER. I hugged her tightly. I told her I would be okay. I assured her that she and the kids would be okay as well. And then, about five minutes later–which is about 5 years in cancer time–the nurse called back to say, “Your scans came back clear, you can start chemo tomorrow.”
I’m sure I probably looked just like this guy:
But… it was a win!! It was the stop of the freefall.
And I think that is when I finally understood Dan’s lesson on the valley. I had been looking for the end of the valley when I should have been looking for the Lord had been doing. There are many blessings I am learning in this valley. Here are a few:
LIVE. Do it. Live!
I think back to things I was too frightened to do, or risks that now seem incredibly not-risky in retrospect. When people hear about stage 3 cancer… 10 hour-long chemo treatments… 6 weeks of daily radiation treatments… there seems to be a “look” or tone which comes across as part sympathy, part “I wonder if that guy would leave me any cool stuff,” and part “Do I have to go to his funeral? It better not be on a game day…” The fatalist view that we have from cancer is well-earned, I suppose, given that most of us are related to or have a friend who has died from the disease.
But… here is the key thing. This is a truth that I knew. It is something I could tell you dispassionately, but now it is more real to me:
We all die. You will die. That is not something that is negotiable; it is not something that you can say, “Well, maybe if I take these vitamins I’ll cheat death…”
We will all die.
BUT we are not dead yet! This bout, this fight I am waging now is a fight for my life, for sure. But it a fight of the living! I am not “dying of cancer.” I am “living with cancer.”
That may not sound comforting, I suppose, but because of Jesus, I entrust my life and death to Him. My illness and my battle are in His hands and there is no better place to be.
So I will live! And I encourage you to do so as well! I am seeing this played out in the lives of friends–friends who are starting businesses, taking a chance on pursuing their passions, whether it is white-water rafting, opening a brewery or a restaurant, even enjoying retirement after growing their business.
2. Plan Wisely
This may sound like a contradiction to the first point, but let me try to explain. This valley has taught me that balance and discretion are important. Don’t set aside things for another day. Remember the parable of the rich fool. We are not promised tomorrow. Do the things that you know you need to do; take care of the God-pleasing tasks on your plate. Seek His wisdom and guidance so that you can discern what things are priorities and which are of lesser importance. Prepare for your future, of course, but do not live in a future that may not exist. Find the balance of being wise in your planning while also taking care of the importance that face you today.
For me, the planning phase seemed to come from a particularly low point. I don’t think I can forget sitting in my hotel bed and reading the words from the Mayo Clinic that said, “Overall, this is a complex tumor that is marked by aggressive and rapid decline and a poor outlook.” Those words felt like a literal slap in the face. I didn’t know what it meant to be hit by words until that moment. It led to a dark couple of days, but I turned that darkness to light. I had been putting off deliberate and thought-out written plans concerning my death. The day after I read that, I began to plan. I made a list of things that I would not see if I were to die in the next year. I don’t know why I did that, but I found it therapeutic to think of these things systematically. And it provided me with motivation to do more research; to fight even harder. I worked myself into a frenzy the night before my first chemo treatment. And even going into today, treatment three, I had that same angry, focused, manic excitement of facing an opponent that has no idea what he is up against. Cancer does not know the punishment my body can take. I am like a crash test dummy. I can start at the top of my head and go down to my toes and name 100 or so injuries, illnesses, or ailments that I have conquered or tolerate daily.
Because I know something else cancer doesn’t know: I know my Redeemer lives and that He has seen me through all of these things. It is not I who have faced them and “won.” Instead, I am just the vessel that Lord uses for His purpose.
I learned that in this valley. I thought back to all of things I was boastful or prideful about. In grade school, I could shoot a basketball pretty well. I remember one game in which I hit shot after shot and the other team called timeout to go to a box and 1 defense. When they came out of the timeout, I saw the kid looking around for who he was supposed to guard. I knew it was me… I just knew it because I was truly in the zone. So… please understand… I REALLY was not trying to be cocky when I did this… Honestly…. I was just trying to help the kid out
I whistled to him, waived at him, and pointed to myself.
I can’t believe it! Oh man! Of course, the referee started laughing. That’s when I realized, “Maybe that didn’t come out right…”
Fast forward to the summer before my 9th grade season. I permanently dislocated my right thumb… the thumb on my shooting hand. This of course had a major impact on my shot and I ended up playing in the paint for my high school years as a garbage man, collecting token rebounds. I went from being a 20 point a game player to maybe hitting double digits two or three times in high school.
And this would play out time and again throughout my life. In fact, it happened right before my surgery this summer! Our school is working to paying off building debt and I thought I had such a great idea. I would take these piggy banks that Mrs. Davis had been able to get for our school, make a video, challenging our kids to raise $2500 in change, and have them bring back the banks at the start of the school year! Then, when we made that goal, I would draw some names and I would let those kids shave my head! They would love it, it would be fun, and, hey, it’s only hair… it will grow back.
And then we heard about the coin shortage. I mean, literally… this was a week or so after I had issued this challenge. Sigh.
And then I found out I would have chemo. And of course, my hair started falling out. I had already shaved my head to deal with a skin reaction I had after my first chemo treatment. But when my hair started growing back it grew back white and “crispy.” It was the first time I could remember my hair hurting… don’t ask me to explain the biology of that. It is out of my pay grade. So, I had to shave it again. I don’t know if my hair will grow back, so I don’t know if I can follow through on my promise.
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” I have found that the Lord often has had to use the rod and staff on this stubborn sheep, making things so blatantly obvious that I finally remember that He is in charge.
I wrote a few blog posts on this back a few years ago that you can find in my blog archives here and here. To understand that God is the owner of all things is FREEING. “My kids” are not my kids. And with that thought, I can rest comfortably, knowing that if I entrust my health and well-being to God, then how much more the children that He has entrusted to me? The family in which He Himself has placed me? And so, no matter what happens, I can echo the words of St. Paul: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Okay, Weber, you have rambled on a long time here… what are you getting at? The point is, as stewards we are freed from the burden of “ownership.” Instead, let us be wise stewards, once again finding balance in our lives. The balance here is to be prudent and thorough in our planning without clinging rigidly to OUR plans and being open and flexible to what and where God may lead us. In that spirit, my second list I created in my planning was to write down a list of who I will see in heaven–the great reunions that Satan cannot prevent. And then, once I completed that list, I began to focus on point 1: LIVING.
3. Enjoy the little things.
I remember driving home when I was released from the hospital. The trees! The stores! The signs! It was a sensory overload. But I LOVED it! I hadn’t seen any of that for 10 days. I remember sitting outside on my front porch, watching how the light interacted with the flowers in our flower bed, seeing the shadows dance as the flowers moved in the breeze. Hearing the wind blow; watching the leaves shake on the trees. I remember going outside to watch the rain again, like I did as a child. There is beauty in the simple things. I do not know that I would have rediscovered this except for life in the valley.
And the valley took this lesson even further, too. One of my great faults has been focusing too much on the past. I second guess myself often. I review my decisions too much. I critique everything I do harshly, leading to regret, frustration, and shame. Often this just happens. Out of the blue I will think of some embarrassing event or something that I have done that I regret. It could be something from when I was a small child–like the time I broke a plate at a Mexican food restaurant when I was 3 or 4. Or it could be something recent–like driving by my neighbor while he was pushing a wheelbarrow. I waved to him, and trying to be polite he waved back, dumping the wheelbarrow. I should have known better! I should have stopped to help him! In my professional life, I take criticism, no matter how trivial, to heart. I don’t take offense, but I dwell on my failure.
This penchant for looking backward instead of forward invades everything. (Maybe that’s why I love history? Who knows…). I watch old sports events or old television shows and I start thinking about how great it would be to live in the past or travel to the past.
But my time in the valley has tempered this. I was watching an old football game from 1970, and I started down that old road of “wouldn’t it be great to live back then?” Then it hit me: if I had this cancer back in 1970, I would be facing a death sentence. That realization jarred me greatly and it quickly changed my viewpoint on the past and of looking back. All at once, I realized that I have spent too much time dwelling on things that I cannot change; focusing on things that are superfluous. In short, I needed to balance my appreciation of the past with a healthy, optimistic view of my future.
Round three of chemo is in the books. I’m still in the valley. But round four is scheduled to be my last. Hopefully I can take these valley learnings and continue to grow. Thank you Lord for teaching me in my valley.
For the life of me… I can’t remember the name of it, but there was a video game I would play–some sort of boxing/combat game–that had an announcer say: “Round 2… FIGHT!”
That is where I am today. Sticking with the “fighting video game” theme, I feel like the beat up version of Little Mac from Mike Tyson’s Punchout. You know what I mean if you played the game. Not this version:
Instead, the version where he kind of looks like Sloth from the Goonies:
I had a few people write to me about my last blog post and I was absolutely floored by the reactions it received. Thank you for your words of encouragement and your prayers. It is a difficult fight for sure. A few of the comments kind of bothered me, though, if I’m going to be honest. I am not quite sure how to address this… if I should address this… I don’t know. I’m sitting here again hooked up to my chemo and just kind of flowing “stream of consciousness” here.
The thing that bothered me is that some people said I was brave. Man… that could not be farther from the truth.
When I was a child, I always thought I was named for John, the disciple of Jesus. It wasn’t until I was older I finally figured out that “John Mark” (my first and middle names) refers to Mark. (Yes, I’m not always so quick on the uptake… there are several hilarious examples of that over the years, but I digress.)
Mark, you may remember, was the young man who accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey. However, perhaps due to his youth and immaturity, he abandoned Paul. The whole episode eventually led to a split between Paul and Barnabas. There are some lessons that can be learned from this whole episode, and Mark ended up writing the first Gospel account, but in the end, I always wryly conclude that I was named for a coward of Biblical proportions. 😀
And that probably describes me well. I am a nervous person. I am someone who hates to see loved ones in any type of distress at all. I probably don’t die on enough hills or defend my thoughts as well as I should. I don’t like dealing with angry people; I seek to resolve conflict quickly. I have probably “run” rather than “fight” more than I should have. I am so incredibly far from being brave. I am a coward!
Since my cancer diagnosis, I have cried often. Not the silent tears that I wipe away and say, “Bah! Something got in my eye!” while watching Brian’s Song. No, there are times I have sobbed. On two occasions, I have just lashed out angrily at my circumstances in some sort of fruitless exercise in self-pity. I have yelled at my family. And I then cannot live with myself for doing so. I am ashamed of myself. That is far from being brave.
There are some things you just have to put your head down, and plow through. I tend to deal with these situations by withdrawing into myself. These types of situations are ones that I prefer to face on my own, with my Savior.
And that is the key.
I may “sound” brave (I guess?) behind a computer screen. I do joke around about having cancer. A lot. Probably to the point that people think I am extremely, morbidly disgusting. But that confidence is not innate. It isn’t bravado… it is trust. That is probably the best word for it: Trust. I know that my redeemer lives (as Job once said.) And that has made all the difference. I trust the promises of God. I trust that He will see me through all of this. I have no doubt that I will get angry, cry, have my moments of fear… but I will be safe. In the end, after the pain, after the horrible side effects, after all of this eventually–even if not from this cancer–comes death. This marks an ending. But it also marks a beginning. And that beginning is something in which I hope and trust.
Someday, I will be done with chemo. Someday, I will be done with cancer. It may be on this side of heaven. And if so, GREAT! I can refocus on losing weight and getting healthier. I can take Hannah fishing. I can go to Naomi’s performances. I can build stuff with Gideon. I can take Sarah out. We can go on family vacations and trips. I can get back to my incredible school and to my amazing students. I can work with a staff that I have nicknamed “The Dream Team.” I miss them all so dearly. How I would LOVE to be do that all again. But maybe I will be all done with cancer and chemo on the other side of heaven. And if so, GREAT! I will be reunited with family members like my grandparents, my Uncle Jim, my Aunt Debbie; more distant relatives like Uncle Will and Aunt Dorothy. I will get to see heroes like Earl Cotter and Ron Harman. I will get to see friends, colleagues, classmates, and students like Justin Mueller, Al Henderson, Drew Ekart, and Jon Geitz and Kayla Jones. And I will see my twins. I will be free from pain. And I will await for all of my loved ones to join me.
This fight is long, but in the end… I WIN, no matter what.
Here we go… the pre-meds are all done. Time for the chemo. Round 2… FIGHT!
You see, my BEST day was my baptism day–the day I was baptized into the Body of Christ and the Holy Spirit bestowed His gifts to me. For any Christian that is truly the BEST day of your life. (“But John… what about when you die and join Jesus in heaven?” Ok… I can get that line of thinking but (1) That hasn’t happened yet and (2) That is the best day of your death–or, the best day of your eternal life. I’m talking earthly life, here.)
Before I go further, I also need to acknowledge some other GREAT days. My wedding day, the day I met Sarah, the birth of my children, and many other days rank right up there as GREAT days in my life. So, don’t fret, family… just hear me out. I am NOT discounting you one iota.
Ok… so, why is TODAY the second best day of my life? Today I am typing this with an IV hooked to my hand. I have some poisons called Cisplatin and Alimta being pumped into my veins. I will be here for 7 hours. I will require a few hours of hydration to avoid kidney damage. The side effects from this course of treatment will be severe and some may leave permanent, life-altering damage. I will do this for about 6 weeks. Then I will go through radiation therapy that will be every day, five days a week, for another 6 weeks. (As a side-note, I am wondering what I will be like when that is all done… will I have super powers due to all the radiation? If there is anything I have learned from comic books and movies it is that large doses of radiation grant super powers. Or, on the downside, will I feel like I have been cooked? But I digress…)
Why was I saying this is my second best day again? Oh yes… here is why: I am here. I am alive. So… there’s that. But even further, I am getting treatment. I feel good so far. I have the love and support of many. I have the prayers of many. I lack nothing. Today is my second best day because I not only have EVERYTHING I need for today, I also have the right mindset; the right level of energy and focus; the right attitude to go along with all of the things that God has provided for me this day.
And as I sit here looking out the window at the world going by, I realize something… days like this are rare. Rarely do I feel like all of my Madden Ratings come together to be “99” on the same day. (You have to be a football video game nerd to get that reference…). And rarely do I take the time to reflect on it. Thank you, Lord, for preparing me for today. Thank you for all of these gifts. They are so much more than I deserve. Thank you for today–for the gift of life today.
Yes, I can say with full confidence, today is the second best day of my life.
(If you aren’t a football fan… bear with me here.)
Lawrence Phillips wasn’t “a” football player. He was one of the best college running backs I have ever seen–live, on tape, in person, etc.. He had a great combination of speed, size, and agility. He was tough. He made exceptional athletes look very, very average. If there was a weakness in his game, it was in his attitude. Lawrence Phillips was an angry and scary Marcus Dupree. When Lawrence ran with the football, he didn’t just want to score a touchdown; he wanted to score a touchdown after running you over.
One of the more important Christian works of the 20th century was H. Richard Niebuhr‘s “Christ and Culture.” This book has sparked dialogue and is often revisited by theologians who take the principles outlined and attempt to modernize or (at the very least) apply them to our age. In the end, we recognize the tension that exists between that which is holy and that which is… well, everything from “secular” to decidedly “unholy.”
So, what happens when secular culture faces a dilemma of one of its gods set against culture?