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Earl Marshall

Author: Earl Marshall (page 1 of 21)

Cancer in Remission

Today (August 22) was the first time I have seen my cancer specialist since she called me on July 29 to let me know that the CT scan revealed no evidence of cancer in my lymph nodes or any other cancerous tumours in my body. Visiting with her today and hearing her reaffirm everything made it feel so real. I will continue monthly checkups for the next six months and then quarterly visits for two years and then . . . if I make it clear for five years I will be “released from the care of the cancer clinic.” It has been an amazing six months. There is nothing like walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

I am so thankful to God for the opportunity to enter into another ministry year able to serve him and I am most blessed to have experienced the amazing work that God has done on my soul these past six months. Weakness is God’s canvas in our lives to put the artistry of his power on display. He has chosen to do this in my life through a time of physical healing but also and more importantly by drawing me closer to himself. Praise be to God for that. There is a closeness to God that only weakness can provide.

I have been journeying through the Psalms during some of my cancer treatment and beyond. I was reminded through the question of Israel, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” (Psalm 78:19) that God brings his greatest blessings in the hardest places of life. I have been blessed to know the truth of Psalm 66:10, 12 and 16. That even though we are tested like silver, he does bring us out to a place of abundance and that this abundance many times is captured with this statement, “Come and hear, those of you who fear the Lord, and I will tell you about what God has done for my soul.”

Brenda and I are so thankful to the Lord for the prayers of people from all around the world. We have been overwhelmed with the love and care of God’s people.

All for his glory!

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 2 Corinthians 12

It has been a while since I wrote on this blog. I have been journalling extensively through my journey with cancer but I am choosing to be selective on posting some of those entries. I am currently in round six of chemo treatment. I will have a CAT Scan on July 22 and then receive the results on July 24. If there is no residual signs of cancer on the scan then I am finished treatment. We are praying to that end while trusting God with his will.

May 18, 2019

Don’t feel sorry for me!

I am unsure whether John Piper does his own tweets (doubtful), but it is crazy to know that we are reflecting on the same passages of scripture at the same time.

As I am reading 2 Corinthians 12 I am reminded that sometimes God gives you something to keep you humble (“too elated” – 12:8). It is not lost on me that the emphasis in this chapter is not the being caught up into the third heaven. No doubt this is something to celebrate and to speak loudly about but it is not the mountain top experience that Paul is focused on. He boasts more about his valley, his weakness. I am learning how that illness and major trial keeps you dependent on the Lord and this is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with pleading for healing but I am challenged to plead for the bigger win in my life. God has a sovereign plan that he is working out in my life.

12:9 – God’s grace is sufficient for me for God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Weakness is used in scripture to refer to general weakness, sickness, death and disease. I am captured by this truth that God’s power is caused to become (present passive indicative), made to be complete or accomplished in weakness. It is in weakness that God’s power is made to be complete. Here is God’s design, his power is made effectual through the weakness of cancer in my life. You will see God’s power most effective in me when I am at my weakest. No wonder then Paul says, “gladly, therefore, more I will boast in the weaknesses in order that the power of Christ resides/rests/dwells upon me.” His boasting is linked to the power of Christ dwelling upon him.

When he says boast he is talking about speaking loudly about his weaknesses. What does it mean to speak loudly about the weakness of my cancer? I am wary of drawing attention to myself and don’t want to come across as full of pride. But there must be room within humility for boasting. For the sake of Christ, for the Church, and for our witness we should speak openly about our weaknesses and the power of God resting upon us in the midst of them. Let people walk with you in your weakness. Let them see your pain. Let them hear your lament and praise. Speak boldly of what God is doing in you during the valley times of your life. His grace is sufficient.

Perhaps the key to speaking boldly is found in the next verse, 12:10. Paul says that he is “content with weaknesses . . .” That word “content” actually is better translated delight or continuously pleased. When you can see your weaknesses as for the sake of Christ and delight in this it makes such a huge difference. Don’t get me wrong there are many moments when delight is the farthest thing from my mind while I am going through chemotherapy. But being able to step back and know that I am strong when I am weak because the weaknesses of my life are causing God’s power to be complete in me brings great delight to my soul. So, I can and will speak boldly about my cancer and what God is doing in and hopefully through me in the midst of it. This is a time of change in me, the power of Christ is resting upon me – perhaps more now than ever before.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 2 Corinthians 7

This is an interesting chapter. You can feel Paul’s love and concern about how the Corinthians are accepting of him. Actually one of the subplots of 2 Corinthians is the importance of relationships. Early on he is concerned about his relationship with the Corinthians and their relationship with one another. I have found this to be true that when you are in the midst of weakness from affliction relationships matter more than ever.

It is no secret that the past three years have been life altering for Brenda and I and at the heart of the struggle and change has been how things changed with our relationships. So, as I found myself diagnosed with cancer and dealing with the rhythms of treatment the relationships were what mattered, I love how God in his grace gave me a phone call during cancer treatment that helped begin the process towards restoration in the things that matter most, relationships.

Paul has made a difficult decision and you can hear the angst he feels with this. His difficult decision was to write the Corinthian’s a challenging letter. Making these kinds of difficult decisions and not knowing how they will impact your relationships is gut wrenching. He is almost on “pins and needles” wondering how the church has received this and how it has impacted his relationship with them. See what he says in 7:7, “Make room in your heart for us.”

He is effusive towards them. He says in 7:4, “In all our afflictions, I am overflowing with joy.” He speaks of being in Macedonia of having a body that had on rest, but being afflicted at every turn – fighting without and within. We don’t know exactly what he is referring to. Perhaps he is speaking of his conflict with the Corinthian church. I tend to think that he is making a general comment to his suffering for the faith. The Apostle Paul and his team did not have an easy go in most places. The Gospel was confrontational and he was afflicted because of it – fighting within and without.

What I love the most about this chapter is that in the midst of the fighting without and fear within, God comforts him with news from Corinth which causes great overflowing joy in his life. In the midst of the affliction and suffering he is comforted – from unexpected places.

Oh, how I loved that phone call. With tears streaming down my face God comforted me with news from unexpected places. It is true that relationships do matter. God will comfort and bring joy but sometimes not where you are expecting or with the direct struggle you are dealing with. I would love to hear “you are healed” but sometimes the words we receive are other words and from different places. These to bring us joy. An unexpected word of testimony about a past deed or word said in someone’s life or even a moment of peaceful quiet in your soul or a glimpse of the greatness of your Creator, all bring overflowing joy.

Joy comes from the beginning of the restoration of relationships that were torn in the midst of the struggle. Sometimes hard words must be said. Many times the hard words said are difficult for the one who is saying them. But because relationships matter and restoration can happen in Christ . . . therefore, we are comforted (7:13).

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 2 Corinthians 6

I have been reminded that even in the midst of something so life-jolting as cancer people/I struggle with having the right affections. You would think something that is so life and death altering as cancer would rattle you into reality. 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 reminds me that this is not the case.

Persuasion is not always the problem. Now is the favourable time for salvation. There is never a better time than the now. The Apostle Paul says that he/we is not the obstacle to a person’s response of repentance and therefore, reconciliation with the Lord. He says in 6:11, “we have spoken freely to you . . . You are not restricted by us.” No, the problem is that they are restricted by their affections.

We are finding this to be true even with those who have cancer. Crazy really to face the reality of death without any sense of hope and still not turn to God. Our affections, the things we hold on to in our hearts are what keeps us from relationship with the Lord. We hold on to things, idolize things that are in replacement of God. The temple of God does not have agreement with idols. You can’t be unequally yoked. It does not work, at all!

We can preach, present the gospel with an open heart but if hearts are trapped by the affections of idols of this world, and they are, there is hope for salvation only with the Spirit of God tearing down the idols. Please Lord do this thing before our very eyes. Save us from ourselves.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 2 Cor. 5

May 8, 2019

It has been a few days. I am in the middle of Chemo Round #3 Week. Monday, my hospital day, was long. The “hood” on the chemo drug mixing machine was not working properly so it pushed everything back. My 9:00am appointment turned into a 12:45 pm appointment and we did not get home until about 4:45pm. I think all of that set me back and made Tuesday that much more difficult. I was really out of it all day Tuesday. Today, May 8, I have more energy. Overall the week so far has been similar to previous treatment weeks so I am able to cope. I just don’t like going through it – that is basically it. I don’t enjoy trials.

This week I have been reflecting on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 and today I read 2 Corinthians 5. I can’t imagine a more concise chapter on ministry than 2 Corinthians 5. In 5:1-5 the Apostle Paul reminds us that while we are still in this tent, we groan (covering that feeling . . . so get that), being burdened . . . so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. I can relate to that. But note that the conclusion to all of this is NOT to give up but to press on. 5:6 he says, “so we are always of good courage.” 5:8 he says, “yes, we are of good courage.” Why does he say that? In 5:7 he notes that “we walk by faith and not by sight” and in 5:6 because “we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.”

Because of all of this “we make it our aim to please him.” Knowing that we will stand judgment we make it our aim to please him.

This was so timely for me . . . thank you Lord for this reminder that I must make it my aim to please you. No matter how many days I have on this earth and in this body, this tent that is being destroyed, I make it my aim to please you!

So how do I specifically do that? While I am suffering how do I please the Lord? Well there are many ways to do that but the direct application in this chapter is found in 5:11. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade others.” The idea behind persuade is convince. This is a strong convicting word. The Apostle Paul picks this theme up again in 5:20 when he says that “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Pleasing God has everything to do with persuading others to be reconciled to God. Not that I am able to persuade anyone but there is a conviction that God wants to through me make his appeal. There is no lack of boldness in these words.

Why do we do this? Because of the fear of the Lord and because of the love of Christ that controls us, see 5:14. Even as we suffer our aim is to please the Lord and we do this by convincing others to be reconciled to God through Christ. We have no ability on our own to convince anyone. It is the Holy Spirit that does this. But we act/preach/communicate boldly. We are ambassadors of the King.

None of this is possible without the love of Jesus Christ. 5:21 reminds us that Christ knew no sin, God made him to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. That is amazing love!

So when you and I are suffering be of good courage and make it your aim to please the Lord by persuading others to be reconciled to God. We do this because we fear the Lord and when the love of Christ controls us. We implore others to be reconciled to God and experience in Christ being the righteousness of God.

This is an other-world, kingdom, way of thinking. Oh, to be able to see the daily grind of suffering with these kinds of spiritual eyes.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 4:16-18

On May 4 I realized that I was starting to feel sorry for myself. It was amazing how a little thing like tingling in my finger tips set me off and got me thinking about the worst. I so needed 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 that morning and it is what God gave me for my daily meditation.

So we do not lose heart! There should be no give up or a discouragement that leads to stopping. This is the same idea that Jesus speaks to his disciples about prayer in Luke 18:1. We all have a tendency to get discouraged and give up. There is room for lament for sure. Lament is necessary. But even though our outer self is wasting away and indeed that is happening, to all of us and at different timetables, the question is, “is my inner self being renewed day by day?” Is the outer man so much of my focus that my inner man is not being renewed? There are these moments where I am realizing that the circumstances just take over. How do I see my inner soul renewed every day even when cancer and this treatment seems all pervasive?

I have to recategorize the cancer. It is a light and momentary affliction. Note first that it is an affliction. I am not saying I should ignore the affliction. It is a suffering that does not always feel light nor does it always seem to be momentary. Yet this is how the Apostle Paul categorizes his sufferings. The only way I can recategorize cancer like this is if I see the purpose behind it and the result of it.

I need a reason for my suffering. It is preparing. That word means to have an effort by labour or to achieve. It is used in passages like Romans 4:15; Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Corinthians 9:11; James 1:3. There is a reason for my suffering, for my cancer, and it has to do with preparation. I want to be careful here to not be so trite with suffering. This is not a “suck it up buttercup” statement. Suffering is painful, long, hard and recategorizing it and seeing a reason to it does not negate the pain. It is the miracle of God, however, to be able to experience purpose in the midst of the pain, to experience joy and trust in suffering.

The reason of preparation is a result, an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. This light and momentary affliction is preparing this result. We enter the kingdom of God through suffering. In comparison to the eternal weight of glory my cancer and suffering is a light and momentary affliction. There is no comparison to glory. Again, we enter the kingdom of God through suffering. The glory of the kingdom shines bright. Revelation 21 and 22 is so triumphant that it is beyond words. The image of the lamb shining the glory of God into every corner of the eternal city is too much to comprehend. It is crazy amazing!

Now all of this is not automatic. Just because someone is suffering does not mean that it will automatically produce this result. There is a note of faithfulness in these verses. There is a response that is necessary. How I see is the difference. What my mind and heart are focused on is what is important. We look not at the things that are transient or momentary but on the things that are eternal. So in the midst of the pain and suffering we are called upon to focus our attention not on the momentary but the eternal. My mind and heart need to be focused on the things that God is doing for me now and in the future that are eternal. Things like shaping my character and making me more like his Son and my eternal rest. All of these are motivation to see these verses true in my life.

It comes down to an affirmation of priority – what is of greatest value and what I believe is most important. This is how my inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 1:5-7

It has been a while since I originally read these verses as part of my journey through 2 Corinthians with cancer but they are even more important to me tonight. I am starting to begin to feel the cumulative effects of cancer treatment. I am thankful for how God is faithfully carrying me through the challenge. After my first round I found the rebound of the two weeks after the chemo treatment week to be such that I felt good strength. After my second round the rebound was not as strong and I can now begin to see that this journey may very well be a steady decline. I believe I am up for this with the strength of the Holy Spirit in my life. When I am weak is when God’s strength is on display. I believe that.

Now this is where the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:6 ring true for me. He says that comfort comes when we patiently endure the sufferings. Paul is speaking to the Corinthian church and the suffering that they are going through that is common to Paul’s. I know this is different than my suffering but the applicational principle is true.

Comfort comes when you patiently endure in the suffering!

There is no short pathway to comfort. The kind of comfort that God gives comes through patient endurance in the suffering. There are many forms of comfort. There is the comfort of relief that you get when the struggle is removed. So many of us wish the circumstances that we face could just be gone from our lives. There is the comfort of distraction. Most of us understand that the brokenness that life brings does not just disappear and that is when some look for a temporary comfort through distraction. Looking for anything that can numb the pain or even for a short period of time transport you to another kind of reality. Some turn to abusive behaviours that eventually wear off. There is the comfort of patient endurance. This is the kind of comfort that 2 Corinthians 1:6 is talking about. This is what I long for. This is God’s comfort. This is normally a comfort found in the midst of the pain. I don’t believe that Paul is speaking of comfort as an end to the suffering but I do believe he is speaking to a comfort that is found in the suffering. To share in God’s comfort means to share in the sufferings.

All of this is accessible in our lives when we patiently endure.

I so needed to read that again tonight. No comfort without patient endurance.

Cancer and Thanksgiving

This second round of chemotherapy has been much better than the first. I have felt much better overall but I am struggling with ongoing fatigue. Working, resting, walking is a normal routine for me, all under a careful watch to see how my body is reacting. For the most part things are going well. I did lose my hair. Just before I received round 2 I noticed that my hair was starting to fall out so I just went ahead and got it all shaved off. I was grateful that as my barber said, “I have the right shape of head for the bald look,” who knew?

I continue to struggle with purpose and feeling useful. There are times when I just feel like I am on the bench waiting to get back into the game. This really came into focus when I was not able to be at church or with family on Easter weekend. That was much more difficult than I imagined. I am growing in my appreciation of being with my church family. I am thankful for those who have visited and stayed in touch during my treatment weeks. The ability to be with those I care about and share in a love for Jesus Christ with is a blessed privilege. When it is taken away from you, you realize just how important it is.

In the midst of the emotional waves of ups and downs I am finding myself thankful. It is hard to explain mostly because I know this is not a me thing but a Spirit of God work in my life. On one of my walks this past week I was struck with just being thankful for what God is doing in me while I struggle with enduring in the midst of suffering. So, for the thanksgiving God has placed in my heart I boast in my suffering knowing that God is producing endurance and endurance is producing character and character is developing home (Romans 5:3-5).

Round 3 begins next Monday.

Round 2 and Philippians 4:2-11

Monday April 15 is the start of round two of chemo treatment. I do know what to expect tomorrow morning which is helpful but I am not looking forward to it. I don’t think any round of treatment is going to be comfortable. I am growing in my embracing of the chemo as good for me and my fight against cancer.  I continue to ask God to use chemo as the his means of healing. Asking that this would be his will and all for his glory.

I have been impressed by the Spirit of God to be bold in my prayers. So I am asking God for protection in the midst of the healing. I am also trying to be bold in applying Philippians 4:2-11 to my life. The Apostle Paul says, “rejoice in the Lord.” This is not a random be happy, or always be up/positive but there is a object/subject of rejoicing and it is the Lord. He says, “rejoice in the Lord” – rejoice in who he is, what he has done and what he is doing. He also says, “The Lord is at hand.” The reason I have no need of anxiety tomorrow or any other day after that is because the Lord is at hand, he is near, he is here. I love this picture. The Lord right by my side. This is absolute protection. I can call on him because he is at hand.

Don’t be anxious about “anything.” There are no limits to that word. But in “everything”, I love the fact that there is nothing I need to be anxious about but in the everything of life, again no limits to that word, I am called to do something very specific. Interesting that when things don’t go the way that I want my first response, my tendency, is to fret, complain, feel sorry for myself, or even try to fix the problem that is causing the anxiety. The Apostle Paul says, “by prayer and supplication.” I need to understand the differences between these two words (more homework to be done here). I do see the magnitude of “with thanksgiving.” That is hard, praying in the midst of anxiety with thanksgiving. This gets to the heart of lament. There is clearly room in our prayers to God to bring our questions and frustrations with boldness but there is also trust (Psalm 13). I see thanksgiving as the fruit of trust. It is founded in knowing and believing in the sovereignty of God. It comes from being able to see his hand at work even in the anything and everything of life. It is not hiding from the hard things or even backing away from the questions and fears in the middle of the challenges. But as I trust I can be thankful.

As we let our requests be made known to God then something amazing happens . . . .

PEACE

The peace of Christ guards my heart and mind. This is the battle ground. Cancer is not just a physical struggle it is a battle of the heart and mind. Peace guards when I/we apply Philippians 4:2-11 in our lives. This is awesome truth. This is freedom in life.

Cardiology

When they were prepping me for my cancer treatment they discovered that my heart was not working at a maximum percentage. I can almost hear the good natured sarcastic comments from my friends. Yes, I will admit that the doctor has shown that I do have a heart but that it isn’t working as well as it should. So, today I met my cardiologist and tomorrow I get to do a stress test. Another admission, it has been a while since I ran for more than two minutes straight. Hopefully not because I can’t but basically because I have no desire to run for more than two minutes straight (who really does? 🙂 )

What I loved about my visit today was the greeting in the examination room. Some doctors put their diplomas and certifications on the wall. Not my cardiologist, his room was full of these.

 

I would like to think that I am in good hands.

Update – passed my stress test and there is no structural issues in my heart. That means my arteries are ok.

The puzzle continues.

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