A Prostate Prayer: Recovery

Six weeks ago, my urologist told me that I had prostate cancer.  A week ago, I had surgery to remove my prostate. Today I am recovering from that surgery and marveling at the medical technology that has been brought to bear on my condition. I am cancer free. Who knew that they could do all of that?

Having been present with friends and church members at a fair number of surgeries and procedures, I had an idea of what was possible. Somehow the feeling is different when one is the recipient of the benefit of so much of the wisdom and art of modern medicine.  The wonder of it all seems a bit larger.

Yet, I have not simply been the recipient of great medical care through this ordeal. I have also been ministered to through the prayers and acts of mercy of the people of God.  The church has demonstrated well what it means to be the body of Christ. Who knew they could do all that? Of course, I had an idea, but again, somehow the feeling is different when one is the beneficiary of so much of the love and concern of God’s people.

I came home from the hospital feeling better than I expected and the first week was a daily reminder of the care and compassion of church members and friends. All I had to do was rest, watch television, surf the web and enjoy the meals that were arranged for each day.

Reading the newspaper during one of those recovery days, I was reminded that I live in a county where the biology used in our county high schools is being protested by some well meaning servant of the Lord because it is too scientific and not respectful enough of religion.  It is the latest manifestation of the seemingly ageless conflict between science and religion.  Yet, this time it is different for me. This time I am keenly aware of the efficacy of a medical system that rest on the foundations of an evolutionary understanding of biology.

The truth of the matter is that every advance in medicine in the last 50 years was made by someone who studied biology from a perspective that was not hostile to Darwinian influence.  We live longer, fuller lives, because of their efforts and dedication. Some of the people who have made these advances are people of faith. They manage to do cutting edge scientific research and believe in God.  The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Believing in God and being a good scientist is a rich and meaningful way to live a life that is pleasing to God and beneficial to humanity.

For those who want to protest the teaching that goes on in our public schools with regard to science education, the more germane place to protest might be the local hospital. The hospitals, the doctor’s offices and the surgery centers are the places where all that science education ultimately gets put into practice. If those who cannot reconcile a religious understanding of God’s creative activity with Darwin’s theory of evolution wish to eliminate the latter’s influence on their lives, then they should demonstrate their resolve by refusing the care of those educated and trained in modern science.  This mode of protest would be far better for the rest of us as it would not subject the science education of future doctors, scientists and researchers to the fundamentalist fears of overzealous religionists.  Many churches have their own schools.  Let them teach whatever they want to teach and call it science. However, do let good science be taught in our schools meant to serve the common good of us all.

For several years, I was the pastor of a church in a farming community.  I have many fond memories of those people and the lessons they taught me. When I go grocery shopping, I think of them. I get especially nostalgic when I am in the peanut butter aisle. Some of those peanuts could have been grown by a former neighbor.  Food comes from the grocery store in a way similar to medical care coming from the hospital.  The hospital is the point of delivery, but what is offered there is the result hard, often innovative work in laboratory and classrooms. Classroom’s where in all likelihood the science was influenced by Darwin and his successors.

The experience of surgery was a new one for me. I am grateful for a good doctor and a fine medical staff. I am equally grateful for all the church members and friends who expressed the love of Christ to me in such amazing ways before, during and after my surgery.  At the same time, I am thankful for those who work, study, learn and develop new procedures, medicines and technologies that I will never know, but have touched my life nonetheless.  I wish religious people would not demonize them so. They do much good.

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A Prostate Prayer

Not so many years ago I turned forty.  The whole thing was more or less anticlimactic. There were not many noticeable changes in my life, at least not many that I noticed.  One change that I did reluctantly make was to find a doctor so that I could have one to see for regular checkups and such.

I made this change reluctantly for two reasons.  First, I hate needles.  I always have. While I was well aware of advances in medical technology, I suspected that on some occasions needles would still be used.  I was right; they are.

My second reason for being reluctant was the pattern that I had observed among the members of the churches that I served — that being that once people start going to the doctor they always seem to need to go back to the doctor, or to go to another doctor and then go back to the first doctor, so that it seems that there is always a visit to the doctor looming in their future.  Turns out I was right again.

I have several friends, and more acquaintances, that have completed degrees in ministry and theology.  Discussing theology with them is something that I enjoy. My newest and best friend is Dr. Chris Ramsey.  His degree is not in theology.  His degree is in urology.  He is a great guy, though our conversations are not nearly as interesting or enjoyable as those that I have with other friends.  Yet he has pastoral sense about him.  I felt his gentleness and his concern when he told me that my prostate is cancerous.  He is thoughtful as well.  Yesterday he promised to see me regularly until he retires.  You see what I mean?  That was exactly why I was reluctant to go the doctor in the first place.  Once you start, they always find a reason for you to come back for another visit.

So now I am thankful.  I am thankful that there is something that can be done.  In fact, I have options.  I have to make a choice about which treatment I want.  How different that is from being in a situation where there are no options, no treatment, nothing that can be done.

I am thankful for all the people I have known who have faced disease, sickness and surgery and live to tell the tale.  I am especially grateful for those men that I know who have had prostate cancer and continue to live life to its fullest.  There have been many occasions in my life when I sought to give comfort to those who were facing medical challenges.  Little did I realize that they were teaching me and preparing me to face my own challenges.

I am thankful for Patti, Josh and Will for who they are to me and what they mean to me. While my condition is a long way from being life threatening, nonetheless it does give me pause to consider those people who are most important to me.  In a similar way, I think of others in my family who mean much to me.  Likewise, I am blessed with dear friends who freely share their love with me and lift prayers for me.

I am also thankful for church people.  Even before I told you about my condition, I was already drawing strength from you.  You are a gift.  You bring the presence of Christ to whomever you meet, even me.  Thank you.

I am also a little scared.  I still do not like needles, nor am I sure how I feel about a robot being turned loose inside of me.  If I knew more, I would most likely be more afraid.  But I do know that God is with me and that God will never leave me nor forsake me.  Thank you again for your thoughts and prayers.

The Reality of Hope

Coming to terms with reality is not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes the reality that is before us is such that we would rather avoid it than come to terms with it. Confronting it is uncomfortable and distressing. When we think about it, we are frightened and sad.

Coming to terms with reality sounds like a good thing to do. The very notion of doing so seems to imply maturity. When we come to terms with the situations that arise in our lives we demonstrate our maturity and our ability to cope. I suppose coming to terms with reality is a good thing.

However, I do have some reservations. The reality that I am confronting is my mother’s cancer. The doctor did call it that this week. Before, he had hinted at it, saying it without really saying. This week, he said it. He said that he is as sure as he can be that mom has cancer. I am sure that he is as sure as he can be.

Nonetheless, I still have reservations about confronting this reality. Confronting may not be the best word. I have some reservations about accepting this reality. Hope keeps me from too quickly giving in to this reality. In a way, hope is something of an occupational hazard for me. I am hopeful because I have seen people with cancer receive treatment and respond to it positively. I have seen people who were in bad shape rebound and recover. One day a man lying in the hospital bed barely appeared to be alive. The next day he is sitting up, getting up and talking. No one expected that to happen, but it did. Having seen that sort thing happen through the years on more than one occasion causes hope to take hold. Maybe there are medical reasons for such things happening, but I have seen doctors and nurses marvel at the mystery of an unexpected recovery.

Hope is the nobler reason for my unwillingness to accept this reality. My other reason is less rational. I am thinking this is too soon. There are other things, events and moments that she needs to experience. The image of my grandmother holding our boys in her arms is one that I treasure. That is an image I want for them to have with their grandmother. It is too soon for that to happen. There are still other images that I want for them to create with their grandmother and times that I want for them to have with her, more times that I want to have with my mom. It is too soon.

It is too soon, as if there is somewhere out there a point in time that would not be too soon. The time comes when it comes and we are never ready for it. No matter how prepared we may think we are we are not ready for it. We are not ready because we just cannot get ready to lose, to be without that which we have not lost nor been without in such a permanent way. We do not get ready for such a parting as much as we learn after the fact how the one we have lost remains with us still. Gone to be sure, but present with us as a result having spent a lifetime of giving herself to us, and pouring out her energy, effort and love on our behalf. Still, it is too soon.

It is too soon, because at least for today, the time has not yet come. Today, hope prevails. Reality, any reality, without hope is bleak indeed. We are blessed if we know the one who gives to us a hope that can penetrate any reality no matter how desperate that reality may be. Hoping with that kind of hope is not denying reality. This is true because that hope was brought into the world on the darkest of days under the bleakest of circumstances. That hope was brought to us on a cross and offered to us with the rolling away of a stone that revealed to us an empty tomb.

We are invited to embrace this hope, by denying ourselves, taking up our own instrument of death and following Christ, the one who is our hope. Being hopeful is not denying reality. Hope does not cause us to deny or even avoid the pain and suffering of this life. Hope does see us through such suffering and greets us on the other side.