As many of you know, it’s been a crazy few weeks for my family and I. On Friday October 23rd we learned from an MRI that I had a large tumor in my brain. On Monday November 2nd, I had surgery to get a biopsy of the tumor and excise as much of it as possible. Since then I have been recovering from the surgery and waiting for the biopsy results.
My family and I have also been overwhelmed by love. It is impossible for me to describe the outpouring we’ve received. Aside from being so diligently prayed for by so many people I don’t even know, from all around the world…aside from dozens of people descending on our house before the surgery to fix things, clean things, set stuff up for me to be out of commission…aside from the jaw-dropping generosity of people contributing money to pay for our expenses…aside from helping with and loving on our kids…aside from the practical time-intensive help…there is just more, and more, and more.
Never in my life have I felt so loved and cared for by God and the people around me. Some of you have heard me say thanks and some of you haven’t…I know there are so many of you that I don’t even know to thank, but you have served me. Please know that not only am I grateful for my sake, but I am grateful to see how God has worked in so many of your hearts. I did nothing to earn or deserve any of this love, yet here you are sacrificing to give it. To me this is evidence of God at work in you, which to me is the greatest thing. Please know He is also at work in my heart, and my family’s.
Because I know so many of you care and are praying, I want to share what we’ve learned so you can be aware, and pray if you are doing that for me.
My surgery went as well or better than we could have hoped.
The surgery’s primary goal was to excise enough of the tumor to get an accurate biopsy, to learn exactly what kind of tumor I have. The tumor was large and in some complicated spaces, which meant the surgery would definitely not be able to remove the entire tumor. The surgery also carried with it the risk of me losing some motor control and possibly a stroke. By God’s grace my surgeon, Dr. Tse, and his team, did a fantastic job. He excised 75% of the tumor, which was more than anybody expected. I experienced no motor control loss, no permanent brain damage, no stroke. My wounds from the surgery have been healing cleanly, and there have been no real complications.
Brain surgery recovery is no picnic; my sleep schedule is erratic, I can’t drive, I am tired and weak…those sorts of things. But the recovery is progressing the way it should. The worst experience I’m having recovering from the surgery is some pretty severe leg/knee pain, but when you compare that with what could be, that is pretty great stuff.
We have the biopsy/pathology results and know what kind of tumor I have.
I have Grade 2 Olingodendroglioma, which is a type of brain cancer. As with every health condition there are so many variables, so if you Google that you will end up with more questions than answers. But for my particular situation, you should know that Grade 2 is very good news. Based on the tumor’s appearance and behavior up to this point, doctors were worried it could have been a much, much more aggressive type of cancer. Of course the best kind of brain cancer is no brain cancer, but praise God the pathology results were much better than they could have been.
My next step is deciding on a treatment plan and going from there.
As I recover from surgery I will be consulting with my team of doctors to decide on a treatment plan to fight the cancer. Surgery recovery is likely to keep me off work on Doctor’s orders into early/mid December. It is overall going the way it should, though, so I hope I can transition back to working soon.
I am more convinced than ever at God’s goodness and faithfulness toward me, and toward you.
I am not lying when I say that through all of this that I have been met by God in ways that I never have. Those of you reading what I’ve been writing have gotten a glimpse into that. I am not excited about having brain cancer. But as has been so clear, this week especially if you look at the news – this world is a broken place. There is horrific suffering everywhere. What my family and I are facing with this cancer is one more piece of evidence that our world is broken. This is all entirely consistent with what we see in God’s Word, and the truths of the Gospel.
What the Gospel says is that even though our world is broken, it will not be so forever. Even though I am a sinful man who deserves the wrath and judgment of God, because of Jesus I receive God’s love and grace, and adoption into His family as a son and heir. God owes me nothing but wrath for my rebellion, but instead He has given me life. This same offer is true for everyone: we are all broken sinners who can receive the unconditional love of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not our efforts. In these last weeks He has surrounded me with people lavishing my family and I with all kinds of love. But more than that, He has given me more of Himself.
I hope to be able to flesh more of that out as time goes on. But for now I want to end this by sharing a couple of big ideas God has been working into my heart, that I hope He will work into you.
One thing I know many people have been praying and hoping for me is a “miracle,” by which they mean I am completely healed and the tumor disappears, never to return. I think that would be pretty awesome, and I believe God could do that. I will be praying He does. But I do not believe my greatest need is health or an extension of life. My greatest need is God Himself. The greatest possible purpose of my life is to glorify God – to help others see how good He is.
In the last couple weeks I read through Timothy Keller’s amazing book, “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering.” (You should read it; it is the most comprehensive, Biblical, Gospel-drenched book on evil and suffering I have read and it is outstanding.) I want to share a couple quotes from that book that have encouraged me, and I hope will not just encourage you but help you think differently about suffering overall, and God Himself.
The first quote is in the context of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who you may know from the Old Testament. They were three guys who refused to stop worshiping God, so they were thrown into the furnace to be burned up. Before going into the furnace, they basically said “We believe God CAN rescue, us, and we believe God WILL rescue us, but even if He doesn’t, He is God and we will worship Him.” This mindset/approach to suffering is so different than our natural one – here’s the quote that explains part of how it’s different – I think it explains the mindset/approach God is growing in my heart through the current uncertainty in front of us. I hope you are encouraged by it, because I am:
The answer is that their confidence was actually in God, not in their limited understanding of what they thought he would do. They had inner assurance that God would rescue them. However, they were not so arrogant as to be sure they were “reading God right.” They knew that God was under no obligation to operate according to their limited wisdom. In other words, their confidence was in God himself, not in some agenda that they wanted God to promote. They trusted in God, and that included trust that he knew better than they what should happen. So they were essentially saying this: “Even if our God does not rescue us— and that is right— we will serve him and not you. We will serve him whether he conforms to our wisdom or not. We do not defy you because we think we are going to live— we defy you because our God is God.”
I often hear people say, “If God is going to bless us, we must believe fervently without any doubts that God will bless us. We must claim our blessing with full assurance that we will get it.” But we don’t see that here, nor do we see that attitude in other places in the Bible. Think of all the greatest servants, from Abraham to Joseph to David to Jesus himself, who often prayed and did not get the answer they sought. If we say, “I know you will answer this prayer, God. You can’t not answer it”— then our confidence is not really in God’s wisdom but in our own. As a pastor, I have heard countless people say, “I trusted God, and I prayed so hard for X, but he never gave it to me. He let me down!” But to be more precise, their deepest faith and hope was actually set on an agenda they had devised for their lives, and God was just a means they were deploying to get to that end. At best, they were trusting in God-plus-my-plan-for-my-life. But these three men trusted in God period.
The “I just know he will rescue us” kind of approach may seem confident on the surface, but underneath, it is filled with anxiety and insecurity. We are scared that maybe he won’t answer the prayer for deliverance. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego really believed “all the way down” to God. So they were not nervous at all. They were already spiritually fireproofed. They were ready for deliverance or death— either way, they knew God would be glorified and they would be with him. They knew God would deliver them from death or through death. Their greatest joy was to honor God, not to use God to get what they wanted in life. And as a result, they were fearless. Nothing could overthrow them.
By God’s grace, that fearlessness over what comes next, and that joyful submission to what God decides to do, is how I currently feel. I feel great freedom and joy. Feelings change, of course. But I have this confident faith in God in a way that I haven’t. I ask for your prayers, for Janelle and I – that God would strengthen our faith as we enter into the real furnace of battling the cancer.
The cornerstone of that faith is Jesus. He is why we can have this confidence that God is for us. Here is the second quote from Keller’s book that provides a Gospel perspective on our suffering:
But preeminently, it means to see with the eyes of your heart how Jesus plunged into the fire for you when he went to the cross. This is what you need to know so you will trust him, stick with him, and thus turn into purer gold in the heat. If you remember with grateful amazement that Jesus was thrown into the ultimate furnace for you, you can begin to sense him in your smaller furnaces with you. This means remembering the gospel. He was thrown into the ultimate fire, the fire that we deserve. And that is how we are saved: If we believe in him, then none of that wrath comes to us.
What if, however, you believe that God saves only those who live a very good life? If that is your belief when suffering hits, you are going to hate either God or yourself. Either you will say, “I lived a good enough life. I deserve better. God has done me wrong.” Or you will say, “Oh, I must have failed to live as I should. I am a loser.” Either way, you go into despair. A heart, then, forgetting the gospel, will be torn between anger and guilt. If you go into the furnace without the gospel, it will not be possible to find God in there. You will be sure he has done terrible wrong or you have and you will feel all alone. Going into the fire without the gospel is the most dangerous thing anyone can do. You will be mad at God, or mad at yourself, or mad at both. But if you say to yourself when you get thrown into the furnace, “This is my furnace. I am not being punished for my sins, because Jesus was thrown into that ultimate fire for me. And so if he went through that greatest fire steadfastly for me, I can go through this smaller furnace steadfastly for him. And I also know it means that if I trust in him, this furnace will only make me better.”
I am so grateful for the truth of the Gospel. My most fervent prayer and hope is that you would be able to see and experience Jesus too! May all of us be able to see through our brokenness and the world’s brokenness, the greatness, graciousness, goodness, and glory of God. One day He will set all things right. One day all the sad things will come untrue. One day we will be able to look back at all the pain in the world and see that somehow God redeems it to make what comes next even more glorious. And yet, while we wait, He is with us. Who is like our God?