I called my pastor today to complain.
She came to our home yesterday to check on me, serve us communion, anoint me with oil and pray for me. I had also wanted to talk to her about something I’m trying to discern. As someone who shares our general age bracket, Karen had some sound counsel. But she may also have jinxed me.
Her counsel was related to one issue (which I’ll write about next time), but the advice seeped over into another arena where I wasn’t looking for it to meddle. She shared some wisdom about those times when multiple options all seem good and it’s difficult to discern a way forward. Her own spiritual director had encouraged her at those times to pray “the increase/decrease prayer.” Karen explained this means asking God to increase your desire for the direction God would have you choose, and to decrease your desires toward the other options.
Within a couple of hours, I was confronted with new a “choice” I hadn’t even wanted to consider…
Following my colon surgery two weeks ago and the diagnosis of cancerous lymph nodes, the remainder of my 2019 is already well mapped out: 6-8 weeks of recovery from surgery, followed immediately by months of chemotherapy. (Easy to say, but all of these are brand new developments in my life, and we’re still trying to catch up to the reality of it all.)
But it seemed that God was showing off all along, because early this year we arranged a home exchange with a family in Paris, set for the first three weeks of August. I’ve never been to Paris, and I’m turning age 65 in August—what a treat! And then this surprise cancer and urgent surgery. But wait! Perhaps those dates could provide the perfect respite before embarking on chemo!
That’s the way it seemed for the past couple of weeks, and my doctors, though initially reluctant to delay treatment, also agreed with me about the emotional value of keeping our plans… even though it would mean waiting until 10+ weeks after surgery to begin treatment. But the wheels fell off yesterday.
My friend Amy is a top diagnostic radiologist who works with some of the best oncologists in the nation, and while she tentatively agreed with this idea, she offered to check with a colon cancer specialist to verify the plan. Late yesterday she texted that he explained that for each one-week delay there is a 15% decrease in benefit of the treatment. What? That was shockingly tangible and significant. So now I’d actually be putting my life at statistically significant risk to make the trip? But what about God’s provision of it? This home exchange had come together so easily with a wonderful family who live in a lovely home on the edge of the central city. Friends had counseled, “You MUST go!” Tickets were long ago purchased; commitments have been made.
I was the one unwilling to consider cancelling our trip. Janet now admits she’s been worried about something happening to my health during the trip, as well as about my reduced energy level for making the most of the opportunity. But if this is God’s gift to us, all that will work out, right? (I didn’t actually say that, but I probably lived as though that was my feeling.)
After receiving the text from Amy, I jumped online to look for scientific articles. The most pertinent one validated her text and listed three factors that reduce survival rates, two of which fit me (age range, and emergency surgery). And all of this jived with a medical book we’re reading that mentioned the risk of accelerated secondary tumor growth following the removal of the primary tumor.
One by one, the puzzle pieces were falling into place, and I didn’t like the picture they were portraying one bit. It was time to reach out to the family in France and give them a heads-up on how things were trending. I emailed them last night so they had a chance to absorb the news and catch up. We offered to talk informally: Perhaps their dates could shift forward? Perhaps my tests next week would shed more light?
I had a tougher day physically yesterday anyway, and all of this distressing information really wore me out. But by the time I sent the email, I told Janet that in light of this new medical information I was halfway ready to let go of the trip if needed.
In short, the Paris couple was amazing this morning when we had a videochat. They were totally committed to us making the right decision for us and even offered that a future exchange might work. They own a mid-sized company, so they understand that unforeseen things happen. Unfortunately, their dates are set in stone, so they were very glad to hear from us now so they could begin exploring other lodging options. And the exchange website we use ( www.HomeExchange.com ) also offers some limited insurance. I called the web service, and they were incredibly understanding and immediately reached out to Guillaume & Olivia to offer to help them find an equal or better exchange, difficult as that is on short notice.
So today has seen me peel away further from being wedded to this dream trip, and that’s what I phoned Pastor Karen to complain about. This isn’t one of the things I wanted any discernment about! This was my dream. This was God’s amazing provision, right? I’d been fully committed to it, barring bad test results next week. But Friday’s new information preempted even the need for more test results, because nothing we will learn would lessen the importance of starting treatment on time… it would only heighten it further.
I think we need to cancel the trip and plan it for another year. Pastor Karen replied via voicemail: ‘As sad as I am about it, I do strongly feel in my spirit that you’ll take this trip in the future, as a celebration trip.’
For now, I’d appreciate your prayers… yes for discernment and an increase/decrease in my desires, and then perhaps prayers for a bit of comfort in letting go of one more in this malignant string of letting-go’s around my surprise cancer diagnosis.
I still don’t know for certain if the Paris arrangements were God’s wonderful gift and we just need to push through, or simply Cory’s plans. But the preponderance of evidence here seems to quickly be tipping toward the latter, and it would be foolish to actually risk my life on it.
Is the trip “from God”; or is my relationship with Amy? What’s God’s provision? What’s distraction? What’s coincidence? I’m not one of those people who insists “there are no coincidences;” I think there are tons. Discernment is not easy in the midst of the fray, is it? Even after the fact, we are at risk of simply ascribing overarching meaning to events based on the way they worked out.
At any rate, my commitment to the Paris trip has definitely decreased and continues to do so rapidly. But the desire that continues to increase is to bless Olivia & Guillaume for their graciousness. So for any of you in SoCal (especially in south Orange County), if you’d like to enjoy 2-3 weeks in Paris this August in exchange for a lovely family staying in your home, please speak up!! Or if you’ll be gone then and would simply be willing to let a first-class family stay in your home in your absence, that’d be fantastic.
Finally, please pray for my test results next week, as well. Pray first and foremost for accuracy and completeness. The TRUTH, not hopeful speculation, is what sets us free. And then of course, we’d love the truth to be encouraging news showing no further spread of cancer.
June 29, 2019
PS: Your messages and gestures of love and support have been overwhelming and deeply humbling on this journey.
6 thoughts on “Complaining to my Pastor (and maybe to God)”
Far beyond St. John’s and Orange County, there are many of us following your journey and praying earnestly for your quick return to good health. Your reflections, while written in the context of your own fight with cancer, contain priceless messages of hope, faith and grace that should resonate with all of us on some level. I think you have the beginnings of another book – perhaps one to be completed in Paris some months from now.
Thank you for sharing. May God continue to give you strength for the journey.
Tim, thank you so very much for your precious and encouraging words!
This is a beautiful and powerful example of how God speaks to us. I agree with everyone’s sense that it is for the best, and that a big celebration trip later is no doubt in the works.
With your permission, I plan to use this as an example in my ministry with young adults and others at our church. We frequently process together with them the various ways God speaks to us, and how to discern his will.
And Darlene are continuing to lift up you and Janet and your family in the midst of this challenging journey. Reach out if there’s any specific ways (other than prayer) which God brings to mind that we might be able to help with.
Love you guys!
Tank you Larry! And yes, you are most willing to share this or any other meditation I send out anytime you think they would be meaningful to someone.
Make that “I and Darlene,” please!
Thank you for sharing your journey with such honesty, Cory. Praying for your complete healing and for God to sustain you all with comfort and strength as you go through the hard and tiring weeks ahead. I’m sure Paris is in your future and that when that trips happens, there will be many indicators of its perfect timing.