Still Coloring My World

In a blog from last year, Coloring My World, I mentioned how my diagnosis with Stage 3 Lung Cancer led to my having a lobectomy to remove the tumor.  This was followed by months of chemotherapy.  Those months were difficult – enduring, surviving and recovering from cancer treatment.  Unable to carry on my usual activities, I took up coloring to pass the time, to attempt to relax and to creatively challenge my thinking.

In this blog are a few photos of pictures I have colored most recently. I think each of us humans should bring some beauty into the world, in what forms we can – art, music, gardening, poetry, photography, meditation, etc.   I am not an artist, but I enjoy coloring and seeing what emerges on a page.   I never have a finished product in mind when I begin, as I don’t have the artistic capacity to imagine what the end product should be.  The wonderful part of this is the end product is also a surprise to me!

So I too await to see what emerges as the finished product.  Often I start with one thing in mind, but as it sometimes takes days to finish a picture, my ideas change as to what I want to do or what colors I want in the picture.  So each picture ends up being a visual of my mind’s wandering through the fields of color.  Much of what I do is pure experimentation as I have no training in the visual arts.  Frequently what guides me in the color choice is to pick a color not already used in the picture.

I use a variety of colored pencils to do the pictures.  Originally I gathered together old colored pencils I found around the house, left from my 4 children’s school days.  My offspring are all now well into adulthood, and no doubt, like myself, thought colored pencils are part of childhood that you grow out of and leave behind.  I’ve discovered as an old man a delight in coloring I never imagined as a child.  And yet, it is a return to a childhood joy.  I now appreciate colors and coloring with the advantage of being an adult.   There is great freedom in the craft.  There is more to it than staying within the lines, I finally realized.

My health issues have continued.  Recently I had to have a lens implant in my right eye to restore my vision.  Once my eye has healed, I will be getting new prescription glasses and perhaps will be able to see a bit better to continue coloring.   I am participating in a medical study of a new targeted chemotherapy aimed at the particular genetic mutation the cells in the tumor had.  The health saga wears on.    The coloring is therapeutic as it restores youth in a way I never appreciated when I was young.  Perhaps unconstrained by training, I see colors and patterns I’ve never seen before.

You can see all of the photos I’ve taken of pictures I colored on my Flickr page at Coloring.

The Lord Turned My Mourning into Dancing

Yesterday morning, I had my first CT Scan since completing the chemotherapy.  The scans will be done vigilantly every few months for the next several years to search for any sign of the cancer returning.  Yesterday afternoon, I received a call from the oncologist’s office that the scan found no sign of cancer.  This was the hoped for news, and it brought joy to my heart.  Of course this scan was done but a few short weeks after the chemotherapy, and so I was expecting good news.  Thanks be to God!   At least for the next few months I can be thankful for the good news I received today.

PSALM 30

The Blessedness of Answered Prayer

I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up,
And have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried out to You,
And You healed me.
O LORD, You brought my soul up from the grave;
You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.

Snapchat--5070913981403405956

Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His,
And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.

Now in my prosperity I said,
“I shall never be moved.”
LORD, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong;
You hid Your face, and I was troubled.
I cried out to You, O LORD;
And to the LORD I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my blood,
When I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise You?
Will it declare Your truth?
Hear, O LORD, and have mercy on me;
LORD, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

Note that as in Psalm 103, the Lord’s anger does not last forever, but only for a moment.   Here we see that God is love.  Unlike some of us who are angry all the time and keep grudges and never forget or forgive, God does not stay angry or displeased forever.

The Lord Jesus taught:

“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.

Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”  (Luke 6:32-36)

Boundaries of Hair and Time

We reach the autumnal equinox in which there is about the amount of daylight as night time today.  We transition from summer into autumn.  The hummingbirds seem to have disappeared from the feeder, taking their clue from nature that it is time to migrate south and get away from the impending colder weather.

We give thanks to God, our Creator, for the beauty He has brought into being.  The world changes, transitions, from season to season.

The day is Yours, the night also is Yours;
You have prepared the light and the sun.
You have set all the borders of the earth;
You have made summer and winter.

(Psalm 74:16-17)

The leaves of our pink flowering Dogwood tree, so beautiful in the spring, are turning color and drying up.   The berry of the tree is now the last color of the season for the Dogwood.

In the ancient Roman Empire – into which Christ became incarnate and Christianity came into being – September 23, the autumn equinox was also considered New Year’s Day as Augustus Caesar’s birthday was said to have “miraculously” occurred at this time.    The equinox thus was used to mark the boundary between years.

I used to love summer, but as I’ve aged and moved into the autumn of my life, I’ve also come to love the fall season so much more than summer.  I am not so taken by winter, but I love the autumn temperatures, lower humidity, cool breezes and the color change of the trees.

I’m still in my own transitional phase in my cancer treatment.  The summer was spent in chemo, and so I was not out much enjoying the summer days.  As of last week, I completed the chemotherapy and now am trying to recover from the side effects and the cumulative effects of the treatment.  As the temperatures drop, my head is also losing its hair due to the chemo and I feel those cool breezes all the more.

A trivia question:  according to Orthodox prayers, what is the purpose of having hair on the head?

In the Baptism service, we pray:

” You have covered the head with hair, that it not be injured with the changes of the weather, and have fitly joined together all our members, that with them all we may give thanks to You, the Great Creator.”  (Prayer before the Tonsuring at Baptism)

Hair on the head is to protect the head from the negative effects of changing weather.  I’ve lost most of mine, so I have to resort to a hat to protect my balding head.   More transitions as we move through the year, and I move through the years of my life.

Of course we know that according to St. Luke’s Gospel, God counts the very hairs on our heads.

“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Luke 12:7)

The chemo is making God’s job easier as there are far fewer hairs to count.

 

Celebrating the End of the Beginning

Yesterday, I received my final chemotherapy.  The oncology nurses celebrated with bubbles and party horns.  I was thinking more of grander fireworks.

Rather than feeling that I reached the promised land, I identified more with Moses and Miriam who after escaping from slavery in Egypt and then from the pursuing Pharaoh and the chariot charging Egyptian army broke into a song of thanksgiving.

Moses sang in Exodus 15:2 –

The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.

Then Miriam sang in Exodus 15:21 –

“Sing to the LORD,
For He has triumphed gloriously!

 

I know I face weeks of recovery from the chemo side effects, and this week and the next will be the worse.  That’s why I don’t feel like I’ve come to the border of the promised land.  I’m still just on the other side of the sea that swallowed the Egyptian army.  I can catch my breath for the moment, but there is a long, unknown journey ahead.  Fortunately many others have walked that path.  And Christ Jesus has proven Himself to be my constant companion on my sojourn through life.

I’ll offer for today a Psalm of David composed as a hymn of thanksgiving for recovery from a grave illness. [Grave illness is a very clever play on words – is a grave illness a sickness unto death?  It was used so wittily by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet when Mercutio is mortally wounded in a sword fight and is asked if the wound is serious.  Mercutio quips, “No, tis not so wide as a church door or as deep as a well.  But tis enough, twill serve.  Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.”  Gallows humor for sure.  But such thinking has been with me for the past 3 months in the course of my chemotherapy.]

Psalm 30

Thanksgiving for Recovery from Grave Illness
A Psalm Of David.

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O LORD,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
To you, O LORD, I cried,
and to the LORD I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Snapchat--5070913981403405956

It only counts if it is certified:

DSC_0046

The Life of Every Creature is It’s Blood

“For the life of every creature is the blood of it” (Leviticus 17:14)

The Bible certainly holds blood as being sacred.  It imagines that the very life of every creature is its blood.  What this means exactly or how this relates to other ideas of life presented in the Scriptures is not exactly defined.  For example, in Genesis 2:7 we read:

then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Here we have life being in the breath.  The Bible does not offer any explanations reconciling these two ideas.  But then the Scriptures are not giving us anything close to scientific ideas about how the human body works.  The Bible does not mention cells, platelets,  or the circulatory system; nor give us much insight into the physical nature of blood.  Nor does it tell us anything about the relationship of the heart to blood.   We have to look to science for all these things – science has helped us understand the human body through discoveries not even remotely mentioned in the Scriptures.

Osiris weighing the heart

What the Scriptures do offer us is not science but a spiritual view of the physical world.   In saying there is life in the breath or life in the blood, Scripture is simply pointing out what believers accept as normative – namely, that there is something beyond the merely physical.  Humans are more than just chemistry or biology or physics.   There is something about our existence which is not completely explained by or limited to the physical world.

In going through chemotherapy, I’ve experienced a way in which “life is in our blood”.   For chemo does many things to the blood – to the white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets which threaten the very life of the person receiving the chemo.   This week is my “off” week from chemotherapy.   Yet as has happened in past weeks, I end up needing treatment to booster my white blood cell count.   With the white blood cell count being very low, my immune system is compromised and I am at increased risk for infections of all kinds.  My ability to stay alive is found in my blood.   Science has discovered the importance of blood for being life giving to each of us.   Science can show us medically and biologically how blood  is related to life.  But it is spiritually that we come to fully understand what life is.  Science is thus helping us understand the spiritual nature of physical things.  It helps us be pro-life by showing us how it is possible to save lives.  Science helps us deal with the impermanence, the transience of the physical world, with threats to our own mortality.   However, science cannot solve for us the mystery of what life is or what life means or the value of life – these answers we find in God.

Theology: The Mother of All Science

Chemotherapy can only deal with my biological life.  The life which is in my blood or in my breath, this is life which comes from God.  It is life not limited by or to time or the physical world nor is life curtailed by physical death.   Chemotherapy reminds me that my life has a physical existence and I can be affected by what happens to my body.  But chemotherapy helps me understand that life is something not completely encompassed by the physical.  On the contrary, my physical existence is encompassed in the mystery of life.

“Life is short, the age to come is long, and little the length of our present existence. Man, this great but petty being, to whom the scant present has been allotted, is weak. Time is scant, man weak, but the contest set before him, with its prize, is great, even if it is full of thorns and puts our trivial life at risk.”    (Nikitas StithatosTHE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Location 37498-37506)

I Shall See the Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living!

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27:13-14)

As of this week, I have now completed three out of the four scheduled three-week rounds of chemotherapy.   Thanks be to God!  It has been a long and arduous sojourn.  I have had many doubts that I would be able to complete the treatment.  And yet, today, with only one more three-week round left, I do believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  I really felt I was on a long slog through the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death.  Today, I feel like I can begin to see the end of this wandering through the wilderness.

I think about the Prophet Moses towards the end of his 40 year wandering through the desert on the sojourn to the Promised Land.  Yet he was told he would not actually enter that Land, but would die after seeing it from afar.

And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” (Deuteronomy 34:1-4)

Moses heart must have been mixed with joy and grief.  Gladness at being able to finally see the end of the sojourn, but grief knowing he himself would not enter that Land.   My heart has been heavy the past 9 weeks as I really couldn’t see the end of this chemotherapy.   The path seemed too daunting and I often wondered whether the cancer could be as bad as the effects of the chemo.

The last three week leg of my journey begins in two weeks.  This week’s chemo will now have its way with me, but because I can glimpse the end of the journey, I know I can survive this and even triumph over it.

There is one verse from Psalm 118:17 which is recited at Matins every morning which has sustained me through the darkest times of my life.

I shall not die, but live,
And declare the works of the LORD. 

Like Moses, I know I have not reached the joyous goal of the journey.  I have been granted a blessed vision that the sojourn will end.  And then will start a new sojourn of vigilant watchfulness to see if the chemo conquered the cancer.

Moses may not have lived to enter the Promised Land, but he did live to see Christ.

Cumulative Chemo

I began my third round of chemo this week, receiving two different anti-cancer drugs on Monday. The oncologist had told me before I began that I would now start experiencing the cumulative effects of the chemo, which would especially manifest itself in extreme tiredness as the body is worn down by the chemo.  His warning was no exaggeration.  The chemo flattened me, leaving me almost no energy to do anything.  The good news  is I am one step closer to completing the treatments.

Below is a photo of a t-shirt sent to me by a friend who has already undergone chemo and survived.  I wore it to the treatment on Monday.  It is a good reminder of what cancer is not and what it cannot do.

At least in terms of the treatments, there is light at the end of the tunnel for me.

By Half

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

I completed this week half of my chemotherapy.  I have completed as many treatments as I have left to do.   Of course being half done with the chemo itself is not the same as being done with half of the side effects from the chemo.   Those side effects linger much longer.   But being half way through the actual drug therapy gave me reason to reflect on the word ‘half.’  We find in the Wisdom of Solomon (18:14-20) a retelling of the Passover story, specifically of the Angel of Death passing through the land of Egypt.

For while gentle silence enveloped all things,
and night in its swift course was now half gone,

I find the course of treatment to be like a continuous night – but now half gone!  I am not the cheery positivist who rallies through the chemo by thinking positive thoughts.  I have cancer and I have chemo.  I don’t like either.  In fact I hate the chemo, even if it is doing some good.  It is a bitter, venomous drug with noxious effects.

your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne,
into the midst of the land that was doomed,
a stern warrior
carrying the sharp sword of your authentic command,
and stood and filled all things with death,
and touched heaven while standing on the earth.
Then at once apparitions in dreadful dreams greatly troubled them,
and unexpected fears assailed them;
and one here and another there, hurled down half dead,
made known why they were dying;
for the dreams that disturbed them forewarned them of this,
so that they might not perish without knowing why they suffered.
The experience of death touched also the righteous,
and a plague came upon the multitude in the desert,
but the wrath did not long continue.

The dreaded Angel of Death, so Wisdom has it, is made better by the people knowing why they had to suffer.  I know I have to suffer the chemo to overcome the cancer, but it is suffering nonetheless.  And I feel half dead as a lingering side effect.  The Angel of Death is portrayed as a warrior leaping from heaven.  The chemo is a warrior as well, hopefully making it possible for God to work in me.  The Angel of Death at least discriminated who would become victim to death.  Chemo, not so much, as it destroys good and evil.  The medical plan is that it will destroy more evil than good, so the good will survive and revive.

Half empty?

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  Luke 10:30

There is that half dead again.   Technically it is the cancer which is the robbers, but the chemo leaves me in much the same condition as the robbers left the victim in the Good Samaritan parable.  I need Christ to pick me up.

I find in my sufferings a great concern for all of those people of the Middle East suffering because of war, civil war, terrorism and Islamists.  My trial is half over, but there is no way for any of them to know where they are in their suffering.   I have hope that in the end, some good will result, but so many of them have nothing but uncertainty to face no matter how much they endure now.  It is not at all clear which of the many battling factions would bring good to the region.  May God help them all!  Be merciful, O Lord, to those who are suffering throughout the Middle East.  There are Your people there, Lord and they are suffering horribly.

For the suffering people of the world, as well as for myself I turn to God with the Prayer in Time of Need:

Almighty God, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, come to my help and deliver me from this difficulty that besets me. I believe, Lord, that all trials of life are under Your care and that all things work for the good of those who love You. Take away from me fear, anxiety and distress. Help me to face and endure my difficulty with faith, courage and wisdom. Grant that this trial may bring me closer to You, for You are my rock and refuge, my comfort and hope, my delight and joy. I trust in Your love and compassion. Blessed is Your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

 

A Man Born Blind, Jonah, Job and A Believer

And his disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  (John 9:2)

The question the disciples ask the Lord Jesus in John 9 has taken on new and personal meaning with me.   When some hear that I have been diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer, they often ask two questions:

Were you a smoker?

Is there a history of lung cancer in your family?

The questions are logical – people trying to make sense of the lung cancer diagnosis.  Obviously if you were a smoker (you sinned), the lung cancer is the consequence of your behavior.   Or if your family has a history of lung cancer, then it is your ancestors who passed the gene along to you (parent’s ‘sin’).   What the logic does of course is put the person at ease, for if there is a clear cause and effect of sin to disease, my interlocutor can feel safe that the world is reasonable and logical.  People get lung cancer because they smoked/sinned or the inherited the sin from their parents.

Such logic helps people get through the day and helps them avoid thinking about their own mortality, but we all know the world is a bit more unpredictable than our reason allows.  The Holy Prophet Job  got his story in our Scriptures.  Retributive justice is not always at work, or the only force at work, or may not even remotely be the cause of the effect.

My history is I was not a tobacco smoker, and there is no known history of lung cancer.  There is no doubt some cause for the lung cancer, but as the doctors have told me, we will never know what caused my lung cancer to begin.

Snapchat-4859042708232994141

Believers in the ancient world did not have an explanatory category of “natural causes.”  For me in the scientific world, I can see there are natural disasters whose causes can be explained by natural forces.  The right collection of natural forces will produce a tornado or an earthquake or an epidemic.  I don’t have to think that every event is caused by an angry God.   The ancients, lacking a “natural disaster” category tended to interpret all things as acts of God.  What was not ever certain was exactly what caused God to act in a particularly destructive way.  Many theories were proposed: sin, icons, lack of icons, unwillingness of people to change, people too willing to change.  The Prophet Jonah, one can recall, was distraught that God didn’t destroy the city of Nineveh.  He proclaimed the city would be destroyed, hoped it would happen, and then was disappointed that God didn’t do it.  Jonah laments what he knows about God: “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”   (Jonah 4:2)  Sadly many people today share Jonah’s lament and don’t want God to be merciful, abounding in love and ready to relent from punishing.  They prefer the God of retribution not the God who is revealed by Jonah or by Jesus.

I believe in a merciful and loving God.  I’m not blind to the suffering of the world. I’m experiencing it myself.  As a believer, I have to wrestle with the real world, and faith in the God of love.  I accept a modern scientific world that some events can be explained by natural causes.  I don’t always know where God’s hand is in these events.  I know God created this world.  God continues to love His creation, despite the many problems created by natural causes.  God could have created a different world, but He apparently finds this world a good world in which to love us.  Mortality is part of this world, God loves us anyway.  Our Christian faith is that God enters into the human condition and dies in order to save us.  God does not avoid death.  God does not ask us to suffer something He Himself is not willing to suffer.

This week I began my second round of chemotherapy.  Yesterday I received two different chemos aimed at destroying the lung cancer cells.  I’ve experienced many of the serious side effects of the chemo.  I reported that in a previous blog: Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  My first week after treatment was a whole lot rougher that what I’m currently experiencing, though I recognize that symptoms come and go throughout the chemo process. And while things are better this week compared to the first round, better is neither good nor normal.   Psalm 107 comes to mind again.

Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he sent forth his word, and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the sons of men! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!  (Psalm 107:17-22)

This week, though I experience that loathing of any food, I am thankful to the Lord for His steadfast love and His wonderful works.  Christ is present even in the suffering of the world.

And to the question the disciples asked at the beginning of John 9 and at the beginning of this blog,

Jesus answered: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”  (John 9:3).

The story of Job is lived many times in the history of the world.

Perseverance: Making It To the Finish Line

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. (1 Corinthians 9:24)

wreathSt. Paul imagined the Christian life as being an Olympic race in which you must complete the race in order to win the prize.  The words are meant to encourage us to continue in the running, even when things become difficult.  His words, however, rightfully apply to many activities in life.  I’ve begun a race against cancer with chemotherapy being the arduous course for the contest.  I’ve completed the first of four treatments. This first lap was difficult, more than I imagined.  The next lap begins July 27.  I am grateful to have completed the first round, but am reminded of the reality of the full length of the race.   St Cyprian of Carthage (martyred 258AD), following St. Paul’s idea of the Christian life as a race, says:

“The act of confessing Christ as the starting point in the race to glory is not already the successful end that merits the victor’s garland. It does not mark the end of the act for which one wins praise, but makes a worthy beginning in that direction. Since it is written: “He who will persevere right up until the end, shall be saved” (Mt 24.13) whatever will be before that end is but a step by means of which one ascends to the summit of salvation, not the finishing post fixed at that summit’s highest point.”  (On The Church: Select Treatises, Kindle Loc. 3261-64)

The goal is to reach the finish line, not just to run for awhile.  I admit perseverance will be a test for me.  A couple of the saints and martyrs who bears the name of Theodore were soldiers and persevered in the faith.  I’m not so courageous as them, but am encouraged by their examples.

I look forward to that day in which I can say with St. Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.(2 Timothy 4:7-8)