Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The value - and blessing - of thinking about death

It is never a bad thing to be faced with one’s mortality. Whether it is because of an accident (or, near accident), a persistent pain, or the doctor saying, “We need to run some tests,” it is profitable for us to think about death. Of course, it could be that someone else’s tenuous hold on life causes us to consider what is most important to us.

Now, please do not think this entry is going to be morbid. If you will read on, hopefully you will come to the exact opposite conclusion. I am not speaking of a nihilistic hopelessness that causes one to despair of life, but an appropriate consideration of the inevitable that changes the way we live.

Somewhere along the way in this journey (on these pages or in a sermon) I spoke about the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 in which he recalled his troubles in Asia that jeopardized his life and the lives of his companions. In verse 9, Paul said, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God Who raises the dead.”

The most difficult aspect Linda and I face with her cancer is to understand the balance of desiring and praying for life, yet facing the definite possibility of her death. We absolutely know that it is important to remain positive as we fight with all our might against this mass in Linda’s brain. Even though we know that God often does not choose to work medical miracles, one of the reasons we feel good about Linda’s chances is that so many of you are praying for her to be healed. Until the Lord clearly shows us that it is His will that her time is over here, we will do everything we can spiritually and medically to extend her life.

But, is it wrong to think about death, also? When we speak of death, does that mean we have given up? Of course not! It does mean, though, that we understand, just as Paul did, that our lives are in the Lord’s hands and none of us is guaranteed to see the sun rise tomorrow. God can and will do as He pleases, and whatever He does will be good. And when we live with the “sentence of death” upon us, we are free to live as we never have before!

Just think of how free you would be if you knew your time was limited – and you were OK with that! How would you live?

- You would most likely saturate your life with Scripture, just as Linda is doing.

-You would say the things that you have wanted to say for so long to those who mean the most to you.

- You would be bolder in your willingness to tell others about Jesus.

- You would want to worship Jesus more and get to know Him better.

-You would want to tie up loose ends and read old books (that are like old friends) again.

-You would live as though every day were your last, and thus, you would not waste nearly as much time as you presently do, because you would be aware that you would have to give an account for your life at any moment. (OK, I know the Judgment Seat of Christ is a bit later on the eschatological calendar, but your chance to make a difference in your report will be over at death)

We have recently been deeply touched by friends who embrace the sentence of death in their hearts. One dear lady in our church has struggled with an excruciating blood disorder for years that constantly threatens to take her life. Another gentleman in our church who has served the Lord faithfully for the greatest portion of his 86 years has battled cancer and heart disease for quite a long time and willingly speaks of his home with Jesus in such a way that it makes you want to go right now. One friend has struggled with cancer for years, and it appears that she may be losing her battle with this difficult disease. Another friend is very much alive, but in addition to losing her mother to cancer when she was 19, she has struggled with health issues for years. All four of our friends are intimately acquainted with Jesus, and all are willing to speak openly of death. Morbid? NOT ON YOUR LIFE! The sweet fragrance of Jesus permeates their entire beings! You will not find four people more alive than our friends. Oh, to be like these godly believers and their incredible spouses who walk with them in their journeys of suffering!

Linda is forced to think about death, though she confesses hesitation and struggles with feelings of inadequacy at the prospect of soon going to be with Jesus. I am privileged – not forced – to face her mortality with her. Since we live in 21st century America, I must repeat that to acknowledge this does not mean either of us in any way accept her soon departure as inevitable. But, as you know, the current death rate is 100%, and death will find all of us at our appointed time. Far better that we are all prepared, rather than not. Far better that we live with the sentence of death upon us so that we will be properly motivated to make the most of this day. I will write more about death in future blog entries (there is probably a better way to say that, but shocked as I know you will be, I am new to the blogosphere!), but I promise to eschew morbidity. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord – where is the sadness in that? Well, there is sadness for those left behind, but that is also for another day.

Please know that Linda read and approved every word (though I have made a few additional changes since her critique – I am never through writing; I have to just quit). In fact, I am happy to report that with a red pen in her right hand, her editing skills remain exquisite! Until next time, begin to live with the sentence of death upon yourself.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

words of wisdom from the 16th Century

For the first few weeks of our present trial, our church had a box in the foyer into which the Grace family members were asked to put verses of Scripture on 3X5 cards, as well as notes of encouragement. In the stack of blessings that we brought home this weekend was a small purple envelope with no name on it. Inside that envelope was a treasure. Brittle, yellowed paper held words that greatly moved and inspired our family. The words are from the writings of a 16th century saint. Whoever gave us this treasure – thank you! Hopefully you will be as blessed as we have been – meditate on these words:

“Strive to see God in all things without exception, and acquaint yourself with Him. Acquiesce to His will with absolute submission. Do everything for God, uniting yourself to Him by a mere upward glance or by the overflowing of your heart toward Him.

“Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly, and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inward peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.

“Commend all to God, and then lie still and be at rest in His bosom. Whatever happens, abide steadfast in a determination to cling to Him, trusting in His eternal love for you; and if you find that you have wandered forth from His shelter, recall your heart quietly and simply.

“Maintain a holy simplicity of mind, and do not smother yourself with a host of cares, wishes, or longings, under any pretext.”



Friday, February 23, 2007

Humility, Grace, and Other Difficult Lessons

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28. Is that why it is so difficult for us to be served? Is it because Linda and I are so like Jesus that we feel compelled to serve others and not allow them to serve us? Or is it pride?

As one of the under-shepherds of our church (Grace Community Church is elder rule, so I am one of several pastors), I am inclined to seek and meet the needs of others. Linda has always been the consummate servant (odd choice of words, perhaps, but accurate). But, if we are always serving, someone is being served – right?

Jesus’ words in Matthew 20 were written just after He had instructed the disciples about servant leadership. We are not to lead as world rulers do, but rather, we are to serve even those that we lead. So, it is entirely appropriate to look for opportunities to serve rather than to be served.

But, as is so often the case, we have perverted God’s principles for kingdom life. Indeed, if someone is serving, someone must be served. When Jesus shared the principle of servant leadership, it was a radical concept. We have made it an art. You don’t think so? Then, why would you rather serve than to be served?

In a sense, when we serve in our society, we show our magnanimity. “I am helping you, don’t you see? ME? I don’t need any help, thank you!” We never think that when we are helping others, but we are revealed (as I am so painfully aware these days) when we are on the receiving end. So, pride may very well be in play when we hesitate to allow others to help us. Oh, we would like to claim it is a biblical work ethic ((Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Corinthians 12:14), but most likely, receiving the service of others requires a humility that most of us are unwilling to embrace.

And the cards, meals, e-mails, clothes, books, CDs and so much more. We will NEVER even be able to thank you properly for you expressions of love! Linda will not be aware that I am writing these words until after they are posted (or she would probably stop me from saying this), but her servant’s heart comes through time and again when she receives cards, e-mails, or gifts. We are usually two or three days behind on the cards because so often when she opens one she will say something like, “Oh, we need to pray for this person – he needs a job,” or, “Their son is not walking with the Lord, and that is so difficult for them,” or, “Oh, she lost her sister to cancer three years ago.” She loves you so much!

But, we can never thank you properly. Far more than that, we can never reciprocate! And that’s important, isn’t it? In our society, yes. But, our need to repay someone for giving to us may betray a “works” mentality. God’s grace is absolutely undeserved and unearned – there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it! We respond to God’s grace in gratitude by willingly serving Him (Ephesians 2:8-10 for this whole paragraph), but we do not serve Him to re-pay Him – our bank accounts will never be large enough!

It has always been interesting to me how God accommodates our weakness while calling us to a higher standard of living. For instance, we are commanded to never seek praise for ourselves, but we are absolutely commanded to encourage and build others up in Christ. Just look at the way Paul bragged on those who served well (Romans 16 – the whole chapter; Philippians 2:19-30; Colossians 4:12-13). Also, as we have already noted, we are called to serve others, not ourselves, but if we are the ones doing the serving, someone has to be served – and so we need to learn how to be served in humility and love.

Even as I am writing these words, a home-health nurse is serving Linda and I hear her say, “I know, honey, I would rather be helping than receiving.” That, of course, prompts me to leave the computer and discuss this subject with all in the room. Colette, our nurse, shares what she heard a pastor say recently: “God did not call us human doings, He called us human beings!” In other words, we are called to “be” more than to “do.” A difficult lesson, is it not?

So, in humility and with grace (as God enables us, of course), we receive your gifts and service of love. If you never hear personally from us, please know that your acts of kindness have not gone unnoticed here, and certainly not in heaven. We have never felt so loved, though we did not know it was so difficult to feel so loved! Truly, your expressions of love and kindness have radiated (more than reflected) the love of Christ to us. As I encouraged you in the last posting, please learn with us. You have been so generous in giving, with not one expectation of reciprocation! When it is your turn to be served, please do not fight God’s goodness to you, extended through others – receive in humility and grace.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

a full week

Linda has five appointments today. Of course that is too many! We have arranged future schedules to be less demanding, but in these early days, some appointments have to be made and kept. Yesterday was very full, also. Radiation and chemo are conspiring already to make Linda tired.

Jesus faced exhausting days. It was not unusual for Him to go away from the crowds, completely by Himself, or to withdraw with His disciples to a quiet place. (John 6:15; Luke 9:10). Sometimes, though, the crowds found Jesus and came to Him (Luke 9:11). Jesus welcomed them and spoke God’s Word to them (Luke 9:11).

What do you do with an exhausting, busy schedule? I could say that Linda’s sickness does not compare to Jesus’ ministry, but even in her infirmity, Linda ministers to others. What are we going to do? The only thing we can do – fall on God’s grace. (Thank you, Rich Mullins, for giving us guidance)

You have wept and rejoiced with us in these past few weeks. Thank you for following Paul’s admonition to the Roman believers to enter into others’ lives, whether in joy or pain (Romans 12:15). Now learn this lesson with us – 2 Corinthians 12:9: But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

Monday, February 19, 2007

To whom shall we go?

When you hear those words that change your life, you have a decision to make. “The MRI did not reveal that you had a stroke, but let me tell you what I did find. You have a tumor in your brain and it is 5 centimeters, so it has been there for awhile. We have been in contact with the neurologist on call, and he will be in to make a decision about treatment, which may include surgery.”

I will never forget the look of shock on Linda’s face. I have no idea how my face looked at that moment – probably it registered equal shock! If I recall correctly, I was pretty much speechless. We both cried as we held each other. When the first nurse came in, Linda asked her what her name was (I cannot remember, now). Linda called her name and said, “This is not a mistake. This did not catch God by surprise.” I heard those same words, spoken through tear-filled chokes and sobs, time and again that night. One nurse said, “Amen, it is not the end of the story until God gets the glory!”

Don’t you want that to be true of your life? Don’t you want God to get the glory in your life, whether it is through glorious spiritual victories or through gut-wrenching trials? Well, it was decision time for us. In reality, that decision was made long ago. It is just like my good friend Mike Calhoun with Word of Life used to tell teenagers, “You need to make a decision about a decision before you are called upon to make that decision. If your friend wants you to go to a party and get drunk and you have to make that decision at that moment, you are in big trouble. You better make your mind up before the temptation is ever put before you.” Amen, brother Mike!

Our decision about a response to cancer had been made long before the wee hours of February 3, 2007. I don’t think either of us asked “Why?” I have repeatedly heard Linda say, in the spirit of Job, “Shall I accept good from the Lord’s hands and not this tumor?” The tumor is there, of course, whether we accept it or not. We do not, however, have to accept it as from the Lord’s hand. We can become bitter, act only out of desperation, curse the day we were born – or we can submit to God.

In the early part of John 6, we read the account of Jesus feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children, with five loaves of bread and two small fish. It is understandable that the people wanted Jesus to be their king! They wanted, in fact, someone who would meet all their physical needs. When Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee, the people got into their boats and followed Him to Capernaum. Jesus knew what they wanted and began to weed out the followers who only wanted good things from His hand.

Jesus’ words in John 6 are some of the most difficult in the New Testament. Directing the people to their need of a spiritual relationship with Him, Jesus used a material illustration to make a spiritual point, as He so often did. Beginning in verse 48, Jesus proclaimed that He was the bread of heaven. He likened Himself to the manna that the Children of Israel ate in the wilderness. He said that His own flesh was the bread that God had sent from heaven. As you can imagine, that caused quite a stir! Imagine the crowd’s restlessness when Jesus said in verse 53, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” WOW! What would you have done if you had been in the crowd following Jesus that day? It is fairly easy for us to understand in the larger context of Scripture that Jesus was making a spiritual point and absolutely did not intend for His followers to turn into cannibals! But it was a difficult lesson. We are told that many of those who had been following Jesus turned away – the saying was too hard for them.

Jesus turned to His disciples and asked, “Will you go away, also?” Peter answered for so many through the ages – and he answered for us on February 3, when he said, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Much of what Jesus said to His followers did not make sense to them at the time He made His statements. Later, it all came into focus for them, and it is in focus for us. Much of what happens to us does not make sense at the time, does it? When life gives you something that you absolutely do not expect, something that would cause many to question the wisdom and love of God, we can turn inward, or we can turn to Jesus and say, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” That’s what Linda has said. That’s the decision I have made. Let me say as I have said before, we have made this decision only because God has enabled us. Oh, thank You, Lord Jesus!

I must confess that while God has given us great strength is this biggest trial of our lives, I (speaking for myself, not Linda) have not done so well in much lesser trials. How many times have I refused to deny God, but also refused to submit to Him and allow Him to help me through my difficulties? In essence, I denied Him, didn’t I? When we walk away from God’s Word, we walk away from Jesus. That is a strong statement, and you could certainly make a case for it not being entirely true, but if you think about it, I think you will understand what I am trying to say. In some ways, it is easier to submit in the things over which you have little or no control that it is to trust Jesus when some action on your part may bring about change or results more favorable to your liking. Am I making sense? I know that some will understand!

So, what is your big issue at the moment? Will you submit to Jesus, or say, “This is too hard for me,” and in essence, walk away? Far better, don’t you think, to say, “Lord, this is a hard saying – this is a hard assignment, but I have no choice. To whom shall I go? You have the words of life!”

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Prayer Request!

Tomorrow morning, I will be preaching at Grace Community Church. Many of our friends from North Harnett Primary School will be there, so both families (several of you are in both families) will be in attendance. I saw some of you today as you served Linda and me so beautifully. The yard and house work are absolutely amazing to us! It is one of countless ways you have been Jesus to us. The meals, the cards, the clothes for Linda - there is no place to stop, so I had better not get started!

Thank you also for praying for Linda during her radiation treatments. She wants you to know how successful your prayers were - she went to sleep during radiation! Actually, she was exhausted yesterday, and she is pretty tired today. Please pray for her to be able to get the rest she needs.

Please pray for me as I preach tomorrow morning. I have been most grateful that our elders are willing to share this preaching load, and I am even more grateful after preparing the message tomorrow! I will share a good bit about how God is working with us through His Word. We must not lose sight of Him in this process! Pray that I will stay focused, and that my emotions will be kept under control. I chose this time because I thought it would be a good time, as far as emotions go. As I was writing the sermon (even sharing such personal thoughts, I wanted them organized), however, I got choked up a few times. Your prayers have been a huge key in the way God has sustained us thus far. I am counting on your prayers tomorrow morning! God bless you. We love you!

Friday, February 16, 2007

medical update and more

Well, the last time I wrote, I told you that Linda and I want this to be more about Him and less about us, in the same spirit of John the Baptist (John 3:30). I know, however, that many of you are interested in how things are going. THANK YOU for your love and concern!

We are about to leave for our second round of radiation. Linda requests that you pray specifically at 1:30 every weekday afternoon for the following things: 1) pray for the team working with her, 2) pray that she will not have itches and twitches, tears and coughs, as she must lie perfectly still for 5-10 minutes; 3) pray that she will not be claustrophobic with the tightly confining mask she must wear that holds her head in position; 4) pray that God will zap EVERY bad cell in her brain; 5) pray that she will remember Colossians 1:9-11 (her “radiation” memory verses) as she meditates on what is really important.

Linda has had a good week. We are realistic about this disease, and we are also VERY hopeful. Our doctor in Sanford – Dr. Robert Patterson – is, as I have told you before, one of many angels of mercy (don’t forget, in Scripture angels always take the male form) who is ministering to us. His optimistic spirit and recollection of his brother’s success (who may or may not have had GBM – he told me the first time that his brother’s biopsy was sent to four labs with different conclusions, but the recollection of his report was lost in a flood of information when I wrote the first letter) hearten us. We absolutely are not losing sight of eternity, as you will hear in the message Sunday morning if you are at church, but we are enjoying every minute and praying for 50 more years worth of blessings here!

Well, I had to step away to help Linda, and I will not even proof this note (a little help, please David!) because we are walking out the door, but I will write more to tell you how so many of you have been Jesus to us. We love you so much!


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Linda's Valentine to Brad

Brad, some things came up this past week or two, so I was not able to get you a Valentine’s Day card. Would you mind if this could count this year? If you don’t mind, I may share it with one or two who might read your blog.

My heart and mind are so full they seem to swirl most of the time these days, so I’m going to try to sort some out. I’m mainly mulling over thoughts that follow up Brad’s second recently-posted letter in order to give my perspective during these days.

Just about every Christian wedding ceremony contains some portion of the Scripture found in Ephesians 5. The whole chapter is filled with practical advice on how we as believers in Jesus Christ should live, but I particularly love the thoughts on marriage since I am seeing them lived out right now before my eyes.

Jesus is described a husband or groom, while His bride is actually all Christians – that is, true believers in Christ who have a relationship with Him.

God himself invented marriage, not just for our benefit and pleasure, but much more deeply, to be a beautiful symbolic picture of Jesus as a perfect groom or husband to His bride – Christians who have a relationship with Him. Just like Jesus loved us enough to give Himself for us, husbands are directed to love their wives in the same way.

As Brad mentioned earlier, we have no intention of causing any unnecessary pain or hurt in addressing this subject. Many of our dear friends through the years have experienced the devastating pain of a hurting, wounded, broken marriage; even rejection and abandonment. I just really want to let you know that I am truly experiencing this spiritual dimension of marriage with a depth I never really saw before.

Brad and I have been best friends for three and a half decades and lifetime partners for over 30 years, but these past days have allowed me to see unconditional love like I never have before. With my left-side muscle weakness, I have never felt more helpless and dependent upon others. Along with my children, parents, sister, brothers and many other dear friends, I lean very heavily (literally) on Brad these days for basic locomotion and to meet basic needs. Several times a day we have opportunities for us to be reminded that we said “in sickness and in health” in our vows long ago, and Brad is proving that he meant it. He is pouring himself out for me sacrificially over and over every day, showing me his commitment, compassion and unconditional love, with not one glimmer or sigh of frustration. I am so grateful for Brad and his love, faithfulness, compassion, and kindness, all undeserved by me.

As wonderful and blessed as this is for me, I am seeing this and feeling this in a whole new way. Since a Christian marriage is supposed to be a picture of our very relationship with Jesus Christ, I am finally starting to really get it. Whenever I see Brad patiently take care of me, pray to me, sing to me, comfort me, cry with me, wake up in the middle of the night to talk to me, get me water, or move me around, I am getting a very tangible reminder that Jesus Himself is here with me, and that He does love me and has not forsaken me, even during these dark, scary days.

Soon after receiving our stunning news, I specifically prayed for God’s touch, His voice, His presence. I was desperate for it. After just a few days, the bolt of a thought came pretty quickly: “Girl, wake up and put on your glasses! I am here. I do love you – so much that I died for you to forgive your sins so we can be together forever. I will always be faithful to you and will never leave you. I love you unconditionally, and will comfort you.” Yes, He is also using the touch and the care of my precious family and friends, music, and His amazing written words (which I find myself craving more and more). But I just wanted to share with you this meaningful depth to our marriage that God is showing me in my life. It has certainly caused my gratitude to deepen for the love of Brad and Jesus Christ. And I am loving them both more and more every day.

Brad, thank you so much for all you’ve done for me, for what you are doing now, and for what you are going to do. Thank you especially for your unconditional love to me and for being a very real picture of Jesus to me during my days of the greatest need in my life. I am totally addicted to you, and would love nothing more than to hop up right now and spoil you to pieces! You are my best friend on this earth, and I love your smile, your eyes, and your big heart for the world and for Jesus. You are so smart and funny and wise, and I am so glad God put you here to go through this with me. Happy Valentine’s Day, Baby.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

a note from Brad

February 13, 2007

I keep thinking that our lives have prepared us for this place. I know how that sounds, but it is not what I mean at all! It is not that Linda and I have walked so closely with the Lord that we naturally just respond the right way. HA! On several accounts!

First of all, this trial is ridiculously tough. I nearly panicked last night when I thought about the fact that Linda may not be here with me much longer. We repeatedly ask God for a miracle in the face of impossible (human) odds. We know that God will be glorified in life or death, but we ask for life!

Second, neither of us look back on our lives with particular pride – and that is not because we are so humble. So many times God has given us opportunities to trust Him, but we have often chosen to work out our own problems in typical 21st century American fashion. Now, He has brought us to the place where the best that man has to offer is insufficient. It is a matter of trusting God or embracing despair.

We choose to trust God. Once again, not because we are so spiritual, but because He has enabled us to do so. If you are wondering what I mean by that, I don’t have any idea that I can explain it. I absolutely know that there is nothing inside either of us that would lend itself to trusting God this much in this crisis. He makes it possible – today, that is. Who knows how we will do tomorrow? I used to think I knew how I would respond under pressure, but like Peter, I found that my life did not always measure up to my mouth. (John 13:36-38; 18:15-18)

I guess the point I am trying to make is that it seems to us that there is too much “I” and “we” in these notes. I have this fear that a phrase like “it’s all about God” has become a cliché that is thrown about by “those in the know.” There is not anything wrong with the words, but I wonder how often it is true of us? Funny, I asked that very question to our congregation the Sunday before that fateful Friday when our lives were changed forever. Then we knew. Then it became crystal clear – either we believe it all (God created the heavens and the earth, when Adam and Eve sinned, we all fell with them, God came to earth and died for the sins of man, He will return to rule completely one day), or we don’t believe anything. It was not a difficult choice, because the Lord was with us, weeping with us, putting His arms around us, comforting us with His presence that Friday night.

So, it is about Him. Linda and I have come close to making it about us in so very many ways, and because of the heart’s deceitfulness, it may very well be about us. No question, we want God to be glorified. And we want the last sentence to be so much more than words. Life is so fleeting. We cram a lot in during our very modern lifetimes, but even still, life is gone before we know it.

Our prayers have been a great deal about physical and emotional needs, lately. Our hearts are increasingly being drawn to the prayers of Paul, where his interest lay in the spiritual health of his readers. Colossians 1:9-14 is particularly encouraging to us, but so are Philippians 1:9-11, Ephesians 3:14-21, and Ephesians 1:15-23. As you pray for us, please pray that we (and you!) will know the Lord in the ways these prayers encourage us to know Him. God bless you!

Monday, February 12, 2007

just so you know...

even if we don't get to respond to your e-mails or comments immediately, we are doing our best to keep in touch with all who have expressed their hearts and have joined us in prayer!

Pastor Brad

Letter from Linda's Heart

Sunday – February 11, 2007

My first thought when I awoke this morning (actually, in the middle of the night) was, “Jesus, I am Your little lamb. I need You to be my Good Shepherd. Today is my birthday, and this is not the gift I would have chosen. You have chosen it for me, though, and I trust You. I believe – help my unbelief.”

No, this is not what I would have chosen. Although the tumor has been growing for a few months in my body (this particular tumor grows quite rapidly), I was not remotely aware that something was wrong until a little over a week ago. I have had no choice but to lean on the Lord’s grace – not day by day, but moment by moment. As I received one shock after another in those first few days, I did my best to keep the proper perspective. Even that, I knew, came from God’s grace.

When the enormity of what I was facing became clear, it was relatively simple to consider what was important. Brad and I had many “middle of the night” discussions. The steroids I am taking tend to keep me awake at night. The steroids I am taking also keep Brad up at night! Those times have been precious to both of us.

In the bowels of this trial, I am grateful. I am grateful for knowledge. Not only knowledge of the world, but knowledge of my Maker and the way He made for me to relate to Him. I am also grateful for belief. I know that even believing in Him would not be possible without His work in my life (John 6:44). And I am so grateful for my family. All my brothers and sister were here with me this weekend, with my parents, my husband, my children, and my in-laws. We had communion this (Sunday) morning and later received the most wonderful DVD with some of our church family sending thoughts and prayers. What a blessing!

My heart is so full when I think about what this sickness means. I am in a win-win situation. If I live, I continue to be blessed by my family, my church, my school, and my friends in other places. If I am taken to heaven, I really win. Now, I don’t want you to think I am super-spiritual. That is a very difficult perspective. I pray repeatedly, “God, be merciful to Your little lamb – please heal me.” I do my best to end that prayer with, “Nevertheless, Your will be done, not mine.” Still, it is difficult.

We will all go out of this world, though, won’t we? I am ready (in one sense) to go. Long ago I acknowledged that what God says about my relationship with Him is true. I am a sinner – not just someone with flaws, but one who is separated from God because of my sin. That is a difficult concept in a time and place where we always try to sell our good points. One of our big problems is that we do not understand God. If we could get one glimpse of His holiness we would quickly cry out and acknowledge our sinfulness (see Isaiah 6 – the whole chapter). Because God is holy (literally – “other than”) and I am sinful, I am separated from Him. If I remain in that state, I will spend eternity separated from Him. But – and I am so thankful for that conjunction – Jesus made a way!

Jesus, God’s Son – literally, God in the flesh – came to this earth as a human being. He never sinned, thus He was not under the same condemnation as the rest of us. That made Him eligible to pay for our sins, which He willingly did on the cross. I know that concept is difficult for some on many levels, but since we have become isolated from God through our prosperity, freedom, technology, and philosophy, we do not recognize how serious it is to offend (with our sin) a holy God. That is why Jesus’ death was so awful to behold. Not only did He die a horrible death (crucifixion was horrible), but because He was bearing our sins, God the Father turned His back on Jesus. That is why Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It was because He was bearing the weight of my sin at that moment. He was paying for your sin.

God accepted Jesus’ death as payment for my sin. It only is credited to my account, though, if I believe. To do so, I must turn from being the captain of my own fate and place myself completely in His hands. That is what repentance is – “Not my way, Lord, but Yours.” I must also confess that I believe Jesus died for my sins and I accept Him as my Savior. When such belief is expressed to God – oh, you cannot imagine how everything changes! If you don’t know Jesus, please read Romans 10:9-10 and give your heart to Jesus.

I did so when I was a child. Now at 52, when I have no assurance whatsoever that I will see 53, I know that when my time is through here, I will live with Jesus forever! One of the main reasons I do not want to leave just now is that I want to tell so many others this good news. If you have read this far, then you have heard. I want you to be in heaven with me. Would you trust Jesus as your Savior? Do not do so because I am on this sick bed and am asking you to. Do so because one day you will be standing before God – the greatest desire of my heart is that you will be ready.

Brad promised to be brief in his last letter. If he keeps his promise, I will do my best to follow his example. Thank you so very much for all your kind expressions of love – our family is overwhelmed, and I mean overwhelmed! Thank you for allowing me to share my greatest burden at this time when all is so clear. It is not easy, and there is much I don’t understand, but God has graciously allowed me to see what is important and what is not. His grace is sufficient, Scripture says, and I need ever ounce He will give me. God bless you! I love you!

Linda Talley

Friday, February 9, 2007

Letter from Brad

Dear Church Family and North Harnett Family,

This has been the worst week of my life - and this has been the best week of my life. Last Thursday, Linda began having balance problems. By Friday, she was stumbling to the left. We thought she was having a bizarre reaction to medication. Friday night on the way into a restaurant, I asked her, "Why are you dragging your left foot?" She said that she was not aware that she was dragging it. After dinner, we went to Barnes and Noble (no surprise there, huh?). Our daughter met us and noticed that Linda's mouth was drooping a bit on the left side. I did not notice this, but Autumn insisted that we go to the emergency room. I called Dr. Lane to see if the medication she was taking could be causing these symptoms. He said no and encouraged me to go to the hospital. We went to Rex Hospital where she was taken fairly quickly because of her symptoms. The doctor, after asking about when her symptoms started appearing and when she started taking the new medication, surmised that she was indeed having a bizarre reaction to the new medicine she was taking. She assured us, though, that they would do some tests to rule out a stroke (which we thought to be a possibility). When she came at 2 AM to report to us what she found, our lives were instantly changed. "I did not find a stroke, but let me tell you what I did find. You have a tumor in your brain, and it is 5 centimeters, so it is not a small tumor. It is deep in the brain, so this is serious. A neurosurgeon will be here tomorrow morning to assess the CT scan we have done."

When I heard the words "tumor" and "brain," it was as if I entered another dimension. Time did not slow, the room did not spin, it did not even seem surreal, but life was entirely different, and I knew it.
So did Linda. As the reports continued to come, we rode a rollercoaster of emotions. By now, many of you have read about the brain tumor known as Glioblastoma Multiforme (misspelled in the first letter). It is one of the worst cancers one can have in the body. From a medical standpoint, there is little hope. Many think that those who have supposedly survived these tumors were cases in which the tumor was misdiagnosed. We had hoped to pursue the gamma knife procedure (you may recall, Marilyn Tate's brother-in-law had this procedure), which would not be long term, but would at least give us a year or so, but we were told that Linda is not a candidate. We will begin radiation and low-grade oral chemo next week. Please pray that Linda will have the strength she needs to ride back and forth to Raleigh. We have not given up hope that God will heal Linda, but if she survives this cancer, it will truly be a miracle. That would be more than OK with us!

In light of such long odds, could this possibly be the best week I have ever had? Yes! It is not about the odds, anyway; it is about our relationship with the Lord and with one another. God has blessed Linda and me beyond anything we could have imagined. I wish so badly that I could have been a better husband to this point, and she wishes that I had also - no, wait - she wishes that she had been a better wife. (Our doctor has reminded us that laughter is good medicine, according to Proverbs, so do not be afraid to laugh with us!) Who doesn't? But you know what? God has made us one flesh. As she lies in that bed, part of me does also. As I write this letter, part of her does also. I have cried more this week than I have all of my life together before this week - and many of those tears have been tears of gratitude for what God has done for us. In no way do I mean to cause hurt for those whose marriages have not made it, or whose marriages are less than wonderful. Truth is, Linda and I would not have thought that our marriage would be so great at this point a few decades ago. As we stayed committed to one another, though, and worked at our marriage, God knitted our hearts together and she truly became bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. I have never been so thankfulfor my dear wife as I have this week. I could write another paragraph just like this about my children, who we have always said turned out better than we raised them to be. So, our family has cried tears of pain - almost wailed at times - and we have cried tears of joy and gratitude.

Most of you will not read this until Friday or later. Linda will return home in the early afternoon. She is quite weak, so we will need to continue to limit her visitors. Do you know how difficult that is for us? Do you have any idea how badly we want to spend time and pray with each and every one of you? You have showered your love on us so fully that I am afraid we will lose track of who did what! Thank you again and again for your many, many, many expressions of love and support. You are all such dear friends and, indeed, family.

We have probably received more than 300 cards and letters that specifically contained verses of Scripture. You cannot imagine how seldom verses are repeated! It is amazing to see how God comforts you through His Word in so many different ways! The Bible is an amazing book. It fits your personality, and it fits mine! Let me assure you that your heartfelt expressions (and sometimes words) of encouragement through Scripture have ministered to us enormously!

We have no idea what will happen to Linda. Nor do we have any idea what will happen to Brad, Liz, Ben, Laurel, Judge, Autumn, Brian, or Michael. Many of you have lost family members to cancer - or to sudden heart attacks, or car accidents, or any number of ways. We will all go, will we not? Linda is just about the most nutritionally minded person I know, and yet she has a deadly brain tumor! It will be a supernatural intervention (even if it comes through radiation and chemo-therapy) should Linda survive this cancer. We will hope and pray for long life until it is apparent that she will soon be with Jesus. We refuse, though, to demand answers from God, or to refuse to face reality in almost 100% of these cases. If you could know when you were going to die, would you choose to do so? I think most of us would say "no" because we would fear the answer would shock us, since we all think (or at the very least, hope) we will live to be 100 years old - at least. Ah, what we should desire is that we will glorify God in our sickness (and death, if He calls us) to the greatest extent possible. I believe Linda is glorifying God in her illness. Please join us!

"Glorify the Lord with (us), let us exalt His name together." Psalm 34:3.


Please excuse this "poor man's blog." In the future, I will seek to remember the dictum, "brevity is the soul of wit."

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Brad's first letter...

Dear Church Family,

You do not know how good it is to be a part of this family! I cannot tell you how much your support has meant to Linda and me. The outpouring of love from people all over the world is testament of Linda's impact on so many lives. The prayers coming from so many churches encourages us beyond words. The verses of Scripture on 3X5 cards coming from everywhere sustain Linda in these difficult days. Nothing, though, means as much to us as being a part of this church family (along with our own precious family, of course).

Please know that while we have asked for limited contact just before and after the surgery, our hearts yearn for you. KJ has kept us informed of your love and passionate desire to communicate your love for us. It goes without saying that we feel unworthy. It is the desire of our hearts that you know how very much you have blessed us. The steady stream of visitors from our church on Saturday (I KNOW many of you would have come, but did not because of a fear of overwhelming her) was an encouragement like you cannot believe. I have NEVER seen Linda draw strength from people like she did on Saturday. God knew what she needed - and it was our church family. We look forward to the coming days when she will feel good enough again to continue that type of nourishment from the body. In the meantime, though, you cannot imagine how much the cards with notes and Scripture have meant to her!

As you have heard, Linda's prognosis is not good. The type of tumor she has is the most aggressive form of cancer that develops in the brain. The surgeon is convinced this tumor is no more than 2-3 months old. It was the size of a golf ball, and continues to grow. It is far too deep in the brain to remove, and in fact, damage was done getting the biopsy. Linda has little ability to move her left arm, hand, or leg. This movement will likely return, with therapy. The concern is that she will not live long enough to enjoy the improvement that is possible. That is what the "book" says, anyway.

The book - Little chance for survival is given for a glioblastoma multiforme. Chemotherapy does not work, radiation does not work, and a tumor this deep cannot be removed. Our surgeon is recommending radiation - only because he knows we are not ready to quit trying. Our basis for hope is in the Lord, of course, but also in the knowledge that our wonderful doctor in Sanford, Rober Patterson, has personal experience with this kind of tumor. His brother had not only this tumor, but two other deadly tumors in his brain and was given six weeks to live. He received radiation, anyway, and lived for sixteen more years! Tomorrow morning, we will speak with the same radiologist who worked with Dr. Patterson's brother.

Could God remove this tumor? Absolutely! He may, but He has not chosen to do so, yet. Are we praying for a miracle? Absolutely! Whether that be through a divine touch, or through the unlikeliest of results with radiation, we will rejoice any way God brings it. Will we lose faith should God choose not to deliver one of the most gracious ladies we have ever known? Absolutely not! All of our lives are in the Lord's hands, and He is good, no matter what. Life has always been this fragile - we just were not aware of it. Life is, by the way, still this fragile for all of us.

Oh, I hope this does not discourage you! Some may think this is a concession, an admission of defeat. Not so! We remain hopeful against the odds. We trust in the Lord, not the odds! Michael (our son) shared a most encouraging word from Philip Yancey's book on prayer. Yancy says that we should say "nevertheless, Your will be done," at the end of our prayer, not the beginning. Like Jesus in the garden, we pour out our petition with passion, but we end by leaving our fate in God's hands. Also, KJ (who has very much been our pastor in this trial) shared today that our faith only means something if life does not always turn out the way we desire. If all goes well all the time, we need no faith. We know, though, that God can deliver if He chooses.

So, until it becomes painfully clear that God has decreed that Linda's time on this earth is done (not her ministry - that will live for a long time!), we will remain hopeful. I refuse to think of the implications of life without my love, because she needs my optimistic strength to fight - and fight we will! At the same time, we remain realistic. Either way, we live by faith, not by sight. Already, our family has enjoyed a sweetness in this trial known to very few families. We desperately want more time with Linda. Should God choose to take her, we must cling to what Paul knew so well - for me to live is Christ, to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21) Do you, brothers and sisters, believe that? I know you do!

So, family, continue to pray for us. I know that some of you will wish we were looking at this a bit differently, but if we were looking at it the way you would like us to, someone else would be thinking otherwise. We live in a country where EVERYTHING can be fixed. But, not everything can be fixed. Our God, on the other hand, can do whatever He pleases. Oh, how we hope He chooses to gain glory through a miracle! Our greater concern is that we do what pleases Him, regardless of His pleasure regarding us. Our lives are in His hands.

How can we tell you how much we love you? Thank you so much for walking through this with us. Please feel free to call my cell and leave a message, though I will not be able to answer many calls. It appears Linda will be in Raleigh for awhile - rehab is soon, though we do not yet know particulars. We very much want to get back to Buies Creek and Grace Community Church. It is after midnight and I must be at the hospital early, so I will sign off. I labored with this paragraph - so many emotions, but no adequate way to express them. WE LOVE YOU SO MUCH!

Brad and Linda