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The Doctors for Cancer Care
All the passages below are taken from David Lyons and Linda Lyons Richardson’s book “Don’t Waste the Pain,” published in 2010.
In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians. (2 Chronicles 16:12, NASB)
We are deeply aware of the huge debt that we owe to dedicated doctors and nurses who have cared for us and our loved ones, but it was still difficult when early one morning in March 2009, two doctors and two nurses marched into Ian's hospital room, saying, "We'd like to talk about Ian's future---are you ready to discuss removing life support?" Looking down at my son battling for his life, I asked, "Could we have this conversation someplace else?"
As a result, three days later Renee and I walked into a formal "care consultation" to discuss Ian's future treatment. Other parents had warned us that this could feel like a court trial where we were fighting for our son's life. We walked into a conference room filled with twelve medical professionals, including four doctors, two nurses, two social workers, a chaplain, and a hospital administrator. Just a little intimidating! Still, we were prepared, and the doctor in charge seemed a little surprised when I read this written statement:
Thank you for the excellent care you have provided for Ian these past thirteen months. We love your people and your facility. You have shown compassion and courage and creativity. You have always given full attention to our needs, even in the midst of responding to so many other intense needs every day. You have gone without sleep and have carried Ian in your heart even when you go home. You have had a major role in keeping Ian alive, and we are deeply grateful.
Now, as we face where to go from here, it is vital that you understand where we are coming from as Ian's parents. It is no secret that we are followers of Jesus. Some may find the ways we express our faith strange or uncomfortable. Others are very comfortable with it. But all of you have always demonstrated the utmost respect. So I feel safe briefly explaining to you a couple of things that are central to how we'll decide our path forward.
First, our faith means we don't desperately cling to Ian's life in this world. Ian has already opened his heart to Jesus and walks with Him. So when Ian goes home to heaven, we know he'll be welcomed into a far better life, although far sooner than we could have expected. It would be a huge and painful loss for us, but we are not desperately or irrationally clinging to Ian's life.
Second, our faith means that we believe God is doing miracles today. You have probably seen some of them yourselves. Ian is already a miracle. No one expected him to live through last spring. Medical statistics said the odds were at least 100-to-1 against his survival then. But he has not only lived, he has thrived. Was that through medical care? Nutritional therapy? Was it something God did apart from natural means? A surgeon we know in Oklahoma often says all healing is a gift from God. Sometimes God works through medicine and medical professionals. Sometimes He works more directly, through what we call "supernatural means." But all healing is a gift from God. In Ian's case, we believe God is working through both natural and supernatural means.
We proceeded with a vigorous discussion about Ian's care---and even some laughter when I asked if Ian could "flunk out" of hospice care through a miraculous recovery. Altogether, it was an appropriate, though exhausting, encounter.
I hope that you never have to face such a meeting. But it is likely that at some point in your life, you will need to think through the implications of your faith as it applies to the medical profession. You will wrestle with who and what to trust with your life or the life of one you love. You will want to be rescued by doctors, medicines, alternative treatments, or those gifted in supernatural healing. You will search for wisdom for the hardest decisions you may ever face. You will grope for some way to control your situation. Pain, perhaps more than anything else, makes us desperate for control.
My Part and God’s Part
After nine years of chemotherapy and three surgeries, Linda has learned some important lessons in sorting out her part, God's part, and the role of medical professionals:
“Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” It’s such a trivial response to our pain that it’s become a joke. We want more than temporary relief; we want to be healed, and we want someone to make us better. Now.
If we eat right, exercise, avoid stress, sugar, and overindulgence, follow doctors’ orders, take our meds, undergo all the tests, and have all the surgeries, will we be healed? Is doing the “right thing” ever guaranteed to heal us? It helps, but, no. I know people who’ve gone the all-natural route in health care, and they’ve healed (unless they’ve not). I know people, who undergo all the accepted medical procedures, take all the prescribed meds, and they’ve healed (or they’re not). That might seem random, but God is not random. He is in control of our medical realities, and He is the one who heals. Because He has given us power and authority through the Holy Spirit, He also gives us a role in our healing. It’s a role---through obedience and prayer---but it’s not control. Peace comes when we finally get and accept that.
I can certainly do things to make myself feel better for the moment. I can and should follow my doctor’s advice, take my meds, and eat the right kinds of food. I also understand those who feel they have to do everything in their power to battle their disease. But if I believed that I was personally in control of my own healing, then anxiety and bitterness would grow as I continued to fail at that. My life would be frustrating and wasted as I found I was unable to cure myself by my own actions. I’d feel like a passenger on an airplane who suddenly realized that the pilot had died and I had to land the plane myself. Yikes! I don’t know how to do this! I’m not trained! I have no idea what to do with these controls! If I mess up, I’m going to die! “Hello? Hello? Can someone help me?” Fortunately, God is in charge of healing. And when He heals, He tells me how to play my part. It’s so much easier---and better---to lean into what God Himself wants to do with my sickness.
It’s easier to live with cancer and other sources of pain when we know that we are in God’s hands. The final outcome is not up to us, or our doctors, or even the effectiveness of medicine. It’s up to Him.
I love what we see in our friends in Costa Rica. When they get sick, their first response is to pray! Sadly, for most Americans (Christians and non-Christians alike), our first response is to go to the medicine cabinet or the drug store or the health food store or---if it's really serious---to call the doctor. Our Costa Rican friends use doctors, too. But we can learn a lot from their first response.
God is in control of healing, but we do have responsibilities. Our first responsibility is to pray. Part Of our prayer for Ian was that he would grow into the faith and maturity to play his part in praying for his own healing, along with the thousands who were praying with him. The next part was for him to take personal responsibility for the restoration of his health, which is not always at the forefront of a teenage boy's mind. While we embraced chemo as God's means and our responsibility, it did a lot of damage while it was working so hard to kill the cancer cells. An oncologist in Texas, Dr. Jairo Oliveras, taught us nutritional therapy to rebuild Ian's strength during chemotherapy. We went after that aggressively, and God blessed our work. Over the next year, again and again Ian "beat the odds" and left his primary oncologist marveling at how well he handled chemotherapy and was able to live a relatively normal life.
It was not easy for Ian to give up things he loved to eat and to wolf down more than one hundred nutritional-supplement capsules a day. It required a huge amount of self-discipline rarely found in a twelve-year-old. In time he regarded it as routine and shrugged it off as a small thing. Worry? No, that wasn't part of Ian's psyche. Take responsibility for his part? Ian did that well.
Blessing Versus Miracles
There is a popular faith healer in our town. He has a television and radio ministry and travels the world doing crusades. I generally don't pay much attention to such people, but we have a dear friend who works for this man. In the midst of Ian's illness, she brought me a recording of one of his messages, a message I did not expect from such a person.
He distinguished miracles from blessings. I don't fully agree with his use of the words, but I do agree with the point he was trying to make: As he explained it, a "miracle" is God's supernatural intervention, but a "blessing" is God's favor flowing toward those who follow His instructions. The speaker chided those who ignore God's instructions, then expect Him to rescue them with a miracle. Some people do this with their finances. They don't follow God's instructions to discipline their spending and saving, then they expect God to rescue them when they miss a paycheck or have an unexpected expense. Others do this with their health. They don't discipline themselves to care for the body God has entrusted to them, then they expect Him to rescue them when it begins to break down.
Thankfully, God is merciful. He is often generous with miracles, even when we have not disciplined ourselves to follow His instructions. But He also expects us to learn from our mistakes. When people receive financial help from our church, they are required to take a course to teach them principles of financial management. And when I go to the doctor for high blood pressure, he gives me instructions regarding diet and exercise. In both cases, those instructions are a gift from God, who is trying to lead us into His blessing. He's giving us responsibility for our part. It's not that God only helps those who help themselves, but He does say that we reap what we sow (see Galatians 6:7).
Still, there's another theme in God's story. It surfaces again and again when God leads us beyond our own ability and teaches us to rely on His ability. Our destiny will always exceed our own ability. Our opportunities will also exceed our own ability, and God often prepares us for such opportunities through difficult circumstances. When those come in the form of a health crisis, we have choices to make regarding where we will place our faith.
The Place of Those Who “Practice” Medicine
In the past decade, Linda has spent more time immersed in the medical community than just about anyone I know. While admiring and appreciating her doctors, she's never questioned who is responsible for her healing.
What about those who skip the doctor altogether? We’ve all heard stories of people who do that, even parents who risk being held liable for abuse and neglect when they don’t seek medical treatment for their sick children. Why not just ignore the doctor and go straight to God for healing? Isn’t it up to Him anyway?
Some doctors are certainly tools used by God to serve His own purpose, to minister to those who are in need, and it is no insult to God to go to them for help. Some may take credit for healing; others know they are at the mercy of what God allows. A good friend who is a neurologist, referring to those who put so much faith in a good doctor, told us, “People would be horrified if they knew how little we know.” And this man is brilliant, tops in his field. He knows a lot, but he knows his own limitations. And he knows no one can ever know it all. That he is willing to acknowledge this makes me trust him more.
There’s only so much we can do to bring about our own healing naturally. We are limited beings. Remember Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 NIV) I take comfort in knowing the power to be healed---or even to feel better---need not lie within my own abilities or even my doc’s. As George Carlin once quipped, how long does a physician have to “practice” before she or he gets it right , anyway?
Songs or Swords
A month after Ian's initial diagnosis, I was reflecting on the interaction between supernatural healing and physical science.
From David's Journal March 4, 2008:
Yesterday was disappointing. Today is better. Yesterday nausea from the chemotherapy overwhelmed Ian. And we were thinking, Is this the way it's going to be for the next three weeks? Today we're using other medications to deal with the side effects, and Ian has improved. He's able to sit up, and he actually ate a popsicle.
So what does this year ahead hold for us? It's been thrilling to see such dramatic healing so far. But even when we see a 99 percent reduction in the tumor, we'll need to press on until the cancer is 100 percent gone. Will God do that quickly? I don't know. I pray that He will. But I am also preparing my heart for a longer road.
I think of how God defeated Jehoshaphat's enemies with songs of praise, but He defeated David's enemies with conventional swords. God chooses His means and His timing. In a culture infatuated with immediate results, we beg God for shortcuts, while knowing He may have a longer battle in store for us. We also know that God has a flair for the mercifully swift climax.
Tonight I pray toward two horizons. I pray that God will relieve the nausea so that Ian can eat and rebuild his strength. But I also pray that God will completely remove the causes of that nausea in such a way that all will know there must be a God in heaven.
Here's the thing. God is the healer, the Great Physician. He says, "I, the LORD, am your healer" (Exodus 15:26, NASB). He is Jehovah Rapha, "the Lord who heals." Jesus healed all who came to Him for healing. That was perhaps the main reason so many came out to see Him. It's one of the main things that made Him famous in Galilee and Judea. And He said, "if you've seen Me, you've seen the Father" (see John 14:9). Healing is a big deal to God. It's not a sideshow or a freak show, like some television evangelist shows.
Sometimes God does heal directly and supernaturally. But Often He heals indirectly through doctors, nurses, medicines, nutrition, and alternative treatments. The Healer has many means.
Disease Reveals the Heart
I'm looking out the window of my study, and I see Pikes Peak covered with snow. When we moved into this house, a dear friend looked out this same window and gave me this passage: "I lift up my eyes to the hills---where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1-2, NIV).
In the midst of Ian's illness, I personalized this passage this way: "We lift our eyes to the physicians, nurses, chemotherapy, and nutritional therapy---but where does our help come from? Our help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth." In other words, we love our physicians and nurses, and we'll do our best with chemotherapy and nutritional therapy. But Ian's Maker is the One who will heal him.
King Asa, from the book of 2 Chronicles, drifted to another perspective. Early in life, Asa had been a great man of faith. When facing an Ethiopian army of a million, outnumbered more than 2-to-1, he prayed:
LORD, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, 0 LORD our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. 0 LORD, You are our God; let not man prevail against You. (14:11, NASB)
But later in life something had shifted in Asa's heart: "His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but the physicians" (16:12, NASB).
Asa's example is sobering. He’s not so different from most of us. It's so easy to drift into depending on something or someone other than God. Mindful of this, whenever we administered medicine or therapy to Ian, we also laid hands on him and prayed. This reminded us of who the Healer really is.
Praying For Your Doctor
What if Asa had sought the Lord and prayed for his physicians?
It is hard for me to imagine the weight of responsibility a surgeon bears when he cuts open someone's body. Whether or nor they know it, surgeons need Gods help. Praying for our doctors is one of the most practical ways we can work out this dilemma of entrusting so much to them while depending entirely on God. This journal entry of Linda’s, written a few days after her third surgery, illustrates this:
February 2, 2002
It’s interesting that with this surgery I asked people to specifically pray for Dr Boice and not for me. It seemed odd that I couldn’t think of anything for people to pray for me. The reason why revealed itself the evening of the surgery.
Surgery was scheduled for around 7 pm and we had to arrive a few hours early of prep. While I was lying on the gurney waiting to be wheeled into the operating room, someone came in to tell me it would be awhile. Dr Boice was still assisting with another surgery that had begun at 10 that morning and things aren’t going well. What? My oncologist was going to perform surgery on me after already being in a difficult surgery all day? Great.
Dr Boice didn’t finish until after 10 and finally met me in the OR around 11 pm. He had to have been exhausted. Yet my surgery went smoothly, and the results were excellent. The highlight for me came the following morning. Around 7 am, although I was not ready to be awake, Dr Boice came bounding in. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him so energized and happy. I asked if he was exhausted after such a long previous day, and he said he felt “great” and was thrilled with the ease and the results of my surgery. This, after nearly fourteen straight hours of surgery and very little sleep.
I thought back to all the people who had promised to pray for this doctor and silently thanked God for guiding me to ask for that prayer. It was comforting to picture God guiding his hands and strengthening him all along.
We can pray that God will strengthen and enable our doctors. We can also pray that He will change their minds. "'the king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes" (Proverbs 21:1, NASB).
If that’s true for kings, it’s true for doctors, too. While I don't believe that God flips some remote-control switch to change a doctor's thinking, I do believe He will prod them in another direction when it serves His purposes. Of course, Satan can prod a doctor's thinking, too, and we have to stand against that.
In March 2008, Ian's oncologist had given us a twelve-month road map for treatment, which called for radiation and surgery in July and August. But by June we were already seeing miraculous progress. Wanting a specific prayer target, I asked the oncologist what kind of progress he would have to see to change his mind about the radiation and surgery. After a long pause he said, "In Ian's case I cannot imagine a scenario in which I would not recommend those procedures." I was disappointed. We really did not want to take Ian through radiation and surgery. Yet we couldn't see ourselves refusing those treatments when the doctor felt they were needed. So the doctor became the beneficiary of our prayers. With such an aggressive and dangerous cancer, it was very unlikely that the doctor would risk forgoing these treatments. Merely healing Ian would not be enough; we were asking God to heal Ian and change the doctor's mind.
I'll never forget receiving the call from our oncologist: “There is no sign of the tumor, and the bone marrow tests show 0.00 percent cancer." Feeling bold, I asked about the radiation and surgery. Without hesitating he said, "I don't think those will be necessary." God had not only healed Ian, He had led the doctor to change his mind in spite of the professional risks that implied. Now that's a miracle!
“Trusting” Your Doctor
In one of her more vulnerable moments, Linda had to ask herself if she merely trusted her doctor, or if she was putting all her faith in him.
I was ill, physically exhausted. Two of our vehicles needed professional help; there were many unsolved problems with the closing of my former business that needed attention; I was dealing with multiple weekly hospital visits, unexplained headaches, and was at my wit’s end. On the way home from another physical therapy session, the car I was driving said, “I quit.”
I called Larry, our knight in shining armor (make that shining tow truck) yet one more time. As I waited for him, my cell phone rang. It was my oncologist’s office, telling me that my doctor, who had cared for me for the past eight years, was moving his practice out of Annapolis.
I went from faithful servant to insane, screaming woman.
I was NOT going to let this happen! Over my dead body (okay, bad phrase) would I lose him. I trusted and needed him, no one else could care for me as he has. He knows me; I know him. With three to four other hospital visits per week and my life at stake, I absolutely could not deal with this. “He can’t leave me,” I sobbed.
The fit ended as quickly as it had started. God heard me cry out to Him, and I went from desperate panic to complete peace when He uttered these words into my head; “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NIV). I sat still. I remembered Romans 28:8: “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (NIV). Before Larry even arrived, I gave it all up. No, I was not going to “let this happen.” It was to happen because God is still in control of my life. I trusted Dr Boice, but I trusted God more. If I had to find another oncologist, God would guide me to that person. I know who controls my life, and as much “faith” as I have in Dr Boice, I know it’s not him.
God’s Second Opinion
For years our father battled back pain and high blood pressure. Like the woman who suffered with a hemorrhage for twelve years, he "endured much at the hands of many physicians" (Mark 5:26, NASB). Yet he would get upset if we would ever question anything that a doctor told him. Others are on the opposite end of this spectrum, demonizing doctors. I'd rather begin with the assumption that a doctor may be God's instrument to help me. But he is not God, even if he thinks he is.
We tend to look at a doctor's prognosis as a pronouncement from on high. Yet no matter how much confidence doctors may have in their treatment and training, we still call the advice they give a medical "opinion." Ian's oncologists, who are believers, were very aware of the "but God" factor. God Himself had a second "opinion" about Ian's prognosis. And His opinion is always true, an accurate reflection of reality.
It's easier to trust doctors who recognize that their opinions are just opinions, as Linda discovered when God weighed in on her treatment with an opinion of His own:
I recently changed chemo drugs. The previous drug was lab tested as the most effective in fighting my particular cancer. But once we used it, it was a complete and unexpected failure. The results were clear. Not only did it not work, it allowed the cancer to grow exponentially. Fortunately, Dr Boice is not the type to insist he knows it all when my body seems to have a mind of its own. He knows it’s no reflection on him when God has other ideas. The smartest medical people are the ones who know they don’t know it all. They’re the ones I trust. I take joy in the times God goes against what is “expected” and surprises us.
A “Leaning Over” God
Our experience with Ian taught us how intimidating a hospital atmosphere can be. There is a military-like discipline that is necessary among medical professionals. Doctors expect to be obeyed by nurses and aides; when they're not, lives are at risk. But that expectation can spill over onto their patients and come across as arrogance.
I am impressed with Dr. Ben Carson, a prominent neurosurgeon. In his book Think Big, he talked about how some surgeons can become prima donnas, strutting around expecting others to bow to their authority, and how such behavior is often rooted in insecurity about their abilities or self-worth. He also pointed out how arrogant people tend to stop learning and thus lose competency.
By way of contrast, he described one operating-room experience when four-year-old Christine inexplicably went into cardiac arrest:
As my hands moved quickly, I was silently praying, Lord, I don't know what's going on or what caused this. Fix it, God, please!
Then my hands firmly gripped Christine's frail body. I had to turn her over to pump her chest (which couldn't he done from the back without injuring her spine). I paused momentarily before I flipped her over. In that instant, her heart started back up again.
"Thank you, Lord," I said aloud. "I don't know what happened, but clearly You fixed it." We were able to proceed without any further difficulty.
We never did figure out what had happened; perhaps it does not matter. What does matter is: I am convinced that God heard my prayer and intervened for young Christine. This is not to say that I count on pulling off a miracle every time something goes wrong. I follow the simple principle that God cares about every area of our lives, and God wants us to ask for help.1
Dr. Carson often speaks of sensing God guiding his hands, like a father leaning over the shoulders of his child. That's what I want my doctors to experience.
My friend Russ shared with me an extraordinary experience he had as a teen. A skiing accident had caused his hip to come apart to the point that he would not he able to walk again without risky surgery. The surgery would require his doctor to twist his leg, forcing it into place. If he twisted too gently, it would not work. If he twisted too hard, it would damage tissues beyond repair. The doctor told him that the best he could hope for was 60 percent success. And he wouldn't know whether it was successful until months after the surgery.
At that point in his life, Russ was painfully shy. So he was alarmed when God prompted him to say something bold to the surgeon before the surgery. He hoped the anesthesia would knock him out before the surgeon showed up. But God kept him awake long enough to overcome his fear and say to the surgeon, "God will be with you, helping you."
A few months after the surgery Russ went in for his follow-up appointment. The doctor told him that the surgery was 100 percent successful, not just 60 percent. He was surprised when the surgeon, who was from India, then pulled out a large photo of his guru and started talking about him. Russ was doubly surprised when the surgeon said, "When I was doing your surgery, I had a powerful sense that God's hands were guiding my hands. Please tell me about your God who was guiding my hands." He did not know those hands, but he sensed their presence. Then he sat there patiently while a shy teenager told him about Jesus Christ, the Great Physician.
As we spent many weeks in intensive care with Ian, we saw how much of medicine is educated guessing, experimenting, and giving things a good try. We also came to deeply appreciate the years of training and experience that enabled our doctors and nurses to guess well. But above all, we saw God leaning over their shoulders.
“Miracle Cure” or God’s Timing
An old friend of Linda's sent her a copy of the National Enquirer and told her to read one story, saying that it was actually true. Yeah, sure, she thought as she read the headline: "Mom walks for first time in 31 years---just four hours after taking one little pill!" A woman who had been wheelchair bound most of her life went to a neurologist, who gave her a pill. Later that day she climbed out of her wheelchair and walked for the first time in years. A real-life miracle? Well, yes and no.
The neurologist in the story was Linda's friend, Tony, the one who sent her the article. The story was indeed true. With an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Tony, a neurologist, likes to attend seemingly obscure lectures on medical research, always hoping to learn something new. He'd attended a conference the week before this woman "happened" to come into his office. She had the exact symptoms he had learned about, and her rare disease was fresh in his mind. He quickly diagnosed her and was able to accurately prescribe the right medicine for her. She walked later the same day for the first time in years. He also diagnosed her daughter with the same inherited disorder and saved her from a lifetime in a wheelchair. Needless to say, the woman and her family were stunned and thrilled. They thought Tony was a miracle worker.
Miracle? To the woman it was. To the National Enquirer it was a great story. To Tony, it was the thrill of a lifetime to make such a difference. But who or what cured her---the pills or Tony? Or, was it God? Tony will tell you it wasn't him, but the timing. He was thrilled to be a part of that experience, but he would never say he "cured" her. He was in the right place at the right time, and so was the woman. God is the one who put it all together, but He allowed Tony to get the credit. Coincidence is that for which God does not bother to take credit.
God can heal through many means. But we must not confuse the means with the Healer.
Desperate people sometimes turn to desperate means. We're all familiar with charlatans who claim to be able to heal whatever ails you. There will always be peddlers of "snake oil" and such things. And there will be those who claim powers from God that they do not possess. But that does not mean that God does not give the gift of miraculous healing. I believe that He does, even today. I realize this is hard for some to accept or believe. If that's you, please hang in there with me for a moment because I'm going to land on something that is vital and on which I think we can agree.
God sometimes breaks through the time/space continuum and does a healing miracle. In fact, He does this a lot more than many of us know. I used to think this happened only on the frontiers of the gospel. Anyone familiar with how the gospel is moving among Muslims knows there is a prevailing pattern of Muslims coming to Jesus through visions and dreams. And other Muslims are coming to Jesus through miraculous healing, much like we read about in the Gospels. Just a few weeks ago my daughter witnessed this in Mozambique. With her own eyes she saw a Muslim tribal chief healed from a deformity caused by a machete accident. The next day he brought his entire village to see the Jesus film.
But I've witnessed God's miraculous healing in even my own context. While we were in the hospital, a family from our church was waiting for their son to die in an adjacent ward. He was clinically brain dead after a suicide attempt. But a friend, who happens to have a PhD in psychology, came to pray for this young man, and God healed him. The next day he walked out of the hospital.
On a more personal (if less spectacular) level, an acquaintance from California came to pray for Ian. He told us he'd seen many people healed in response to his prayers but was also careful to tell us that not everyone he prayed for was healed. After he'd finished praying for Ian without any apparent effect, he asked if anyone else needed healing. I guess that Renee was in a "Why not?" mood and told him about a shoulder injury that for years had kept her from being able to raise her arm above her head. After she demonstrated the problem, this friend prayed. Immediately Renee's pain disappeared, and the mobility of her arm was restored and remains restored to this day. This stirred some excitement, and as he left, he said that he thought God had done that just to encourage us to believe that, in His time, He would heal Ian also.
Now, if you are like me, you are mentally calculating possible natural explanations for these things. That's okay. Here's my point: Whether you are a Muslim tribal chief or a boy with cancer or a mother with a lame shoulder, God's desire is that you put your faith in Him rather than in any healer. I believe that God sometimes---even often---does bring healing through the prayers of His people. I even believe that He'd like to do more of that if we'll ask more. But if anyone starts putting his or her faith in the one praying rather than in God Himself, God is not pleased.
The King Has One More Move
In late February 2009, Ian's cancer had crossed the blood-brain barrier and was attacking his brain in earnest. Ian was pressing on with life in spite of the progression of disabilities that were taking over. He hiked up mountains (with a limp), played with his friends, laughed and made us laugh. Then suddenly he fell into seizures one night in the middle of a play rehearsal with a thousand cast members standing nearby. He was rushed to the hospital and may not have lived through the night without serious intervention. That launched us into our most difficult interactions with medical professionals, including the "care consultation" I described earlier. A month later it was becoming clear that this time the cancer was not being defeated by chemotherapy, and we were running out of medical options. I wrote to our praying friends:
March 25, 2009
"There's really nothing more that I can do.” These are not words you want to hear from your oncologist. But it has finally come down to that. The MRI yesterday indicated that in spite of the intravenous and intrathecal (spinal fluid) chemotherapy, Ian's brain looks worse. All of us are taking this as a clear indication that this time God is not using chemotherapy to heal Ian.
Is that checkmate? Is this where we give up hope?
We're in what chess players call the endqame. I used to be a serious chess player. Our team won the state championship, and at nationals I even met Bobby Fischer. My favorite opening is called the Queen's Gambit. In that opening, you take a risk right up front, on your second move. You move your queen bishop pawn out without protecting it. It looks so vulnerable. Experienced opponents know that grabbing that pawn would be a big mistake, but it's a risk nonetheless.
I feel like God did that with us. He opened this game, put us in a high-risk position, then told us to play it out. (He could have led Israel directly out of Egypt, but instead He led them on a circuitous route that left them pinned down by the Red Sea. Why? So He could show them His glory by delivering them from the impossible situation into which He had deliberately led them!) For years He has led our family to live our lives out in the open, transparently sharing our joys and sorrows, our victories and defeats, with those who pray for us. Then He led us down the cancer road with Ian and surrounded us with a growing army of prayer warriors around the world.
I want to make something very clear. We are not driven by fear of Ian's death. It would be a very traumatic loss, but that is not our focus. All along we've said that we will not take desperate measures to avoid the possibility of Ian's death. Neither are we driven by fear of caring for Ian long term in his current condition. The cost would be huge in every way. It staggers us. But we're resolved to follow wherever God leads. Our posture continues to be, "Not our will but Yours." If it were God's will to take Ian home, that would not destroy us or our faith. We'd struggle, but we'd still love and trust Him. We know Him too well. Yet we are convinced that God will heal Ian. He just has not given us the details of how and when.
A few days ago our daughter-in-law posted one sentence in our online guest book---a sentence that rang out like a cannon shot across the bow of the Enemy: "The king ALWAYS has one more move." In a chess game that is not true. By definition, checkmate means that the king is threatened and cannot move out of check. The king has no more moves. But Christi was not talking about chess. She was talking about life! And she was talking about the King of the universe. When Jesus was crucified, Satan thought he had won the game. But the King always has one more move.
So here we are. Medicine has run out of moves. And we're waiting for the King.
And God did move. In spite of ongoing seizures, we soon took Ian home to care for him. Once again, the doctors were amazed. Without chemotherapy, for no apparent medical reason, the cancer began to recede. It was a fierce battle, but against all odds Ian at times actually began to walk and talk. Then one morning the neurologist called to tell us that Ian's EEG showed no seizures. Not only that, but his brain waves, though still very slow, were becoming more organized; when he was asleep, they were almost normal.
The neurologist called this surprising. I called it miraculous. He said that although he's not an oncologist, this would indicate to him that the brain tumors were under control. Under control of what---or whom? Ian had not had chemotherapy or anything to treat the cancer in weeks and weeks. Ten weeks earlier doctors had given him three to six weeks to live. Three weeks earlier when we came home from the hospital we were told that without treatment the cancer would probably take him down in days to weeks.
We were beyond anything medicine would do, and it looked like God Himself was stepping in. We were excited.
But the very day after the encouraging neurologist report, an ambulance rushed Ian to the hospital again. The cancer had surfaced in his lungs and was beginning to suffocate him. Although we were back in intensive care, we were far from ready to give up. As I stayed by Ian's bed praying through that weekend for what only God could do, far away in Texas, our friend Kathy Gray was writing this song just for Ian:
The doctors are grim and their news weighs heavy,
The room starts to spin and his gait is unsteady,
He looks at his boy in the bed as he says he
Doesn't know how much more they can take
He senses the warmth of her hand on his shoulder,
He looks at his bride and begins to feel bolder,
She reminds him what the Father has told her,
And the hope resonates ...
The King still has one more move!
And I told you His Love would see this through,
Keep believing in spite of your unbelief
And My Spirit will comfort and bring you relief
And faith will reveal what you cannot see
That the King still has one more move!
The next morning, Ian was welcomed into heaven by a great cloud of witnesses. That was not the move we expected.
God says yes to our prayers, but He also says no. We'll look more closely at that in the next two chapters. No matter what the outcome, our family saw that, when tested, our hope was not in medical professionals, medicines, therapies, or even those gifted in supernatural healing. They all have a role to play, but ultimately our hope is not in this life. Our hope transcends this life and eventually lands us in heaven for eternity. The King always has one more move, and our hope must be in Him alone.
Question for Reflection
1. Ben Carson, Think Big (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 243.
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