Tag Archives: cancer

Bad is Bad

God is sovereign and God is good.

Ever since our scare with Mellie and cancer, I have been tripping out on this. The two concepts get along great while everything is sunshine and lollipops. But when life falls apart it is really difficult to believe both of them at the same time. If God is sovereign it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the things that cause our suffering are part of his design. Sickness, war, injustice, loss, misfortune—he is able to stop them, but he doesn’t. How can God be good and still let these bad things happen? How can we be comforted in our suffering?

I don’t like being hit over the head with Romans 8:28, the one about God working all things for our good. Don’t get me wrong, that verse is a great encouragement to me—when I’m clear enough to think it through. But the way it normally gets used sounds like Christianese doublespeak for saying, “Cheer up! Bad is really Good!” It’s just a flat contradiction of what I’m actually experiencing, what I’m actually feeling. Most of the time I don’t find that helpful. But recently I found, and oh how I prefer, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. The God of all comfort, who comforts us in (not in denial of) our troubles.

The real triumph of good over bad is so much richer than finding out that “bad” really was “good” afterall. The richness is fully illustrated in the paradox of the cross. “There on the cross tis fairest drawn, in precious blood and crimson lines” (thank you, Isaac Watts). The suffering and death of Jesus is the worst thing that ever happened. The suffering and death of Jesus is the best thing that ever happened. These contradictory statements are (I believe) both true. And the mystery that they somehow fit together is a deeper well of comfort for me than any attempt of mine to believe that bad is actually good. Because suffering is real—it aches, it dislocates, it grinds, numbs, destroys, it has real consequences. I am not going to pretend that revulsion, avoidance and mourning are not proper responses to bad things. I see Jesus in Gethsemane, sweating blood, desperate for a way out. But I also see Him on the other side of the tomb, with scars in His hands and side. The wonder is that instead of erasing the suffering of the cross—instead of somehow making it go away—Jesus’ resurrection redeemed His suffering. It was made new. The resurrection has such power that it transformed the foul blotch of Jesus’ shameful death into the brightest jewel of God’s glory and the centerpiece of His plan to rescue the world.

Think about that. The cross was the worst evil ever done. God knew it. But God was able to turn the tables on evil so completely that the worst Bad became the greatest Good. If that is true, what suffering is He unable to redeem? Should I not trust him with my own suffering and the suffering of those I love? Trust Him not to erase it, not to make it go away, but to redeem it.

Bad is bad. It really is. But Good is so good that it transforms the worst things into the best things. That is real cause for hope. That is sweet comfort. God is sovereign and God is good.

Benign in 09!

Just got back from the endocrinologist. Mellie is officially benign!

We are relieved, joyful, stunned, a little confused. The original biopsy was highly suspicious for cancer, but the final pathology report came back completely clear. It is much more likely that surgery confirms a suspicious biopsy, or the biopsy is negative but surgery reveals cancer. The doctor said that in her 11 years of practice she has only seen it happen this way twice.

I knew Mellie was special.

So we are stoked. But confused. Mellie is now down one thyroid and has to take a pill for the rest of her life. What was all this about? Was there ever any cancer? What are we supposed to take away from this episode?

I believe God is sovereign, which means among other things that nothing random happens. I also believe he is good. I don’t always know how those two fit together.

But I know Mellie is cancer-free. She’s on the mend. Thank you God. Thank you family and friends.

She’s gonna have the cutest little scar.


appendix, one kidney, one lung, half a pancreas, bone marrow, a good portion of your liver, tonsils, gall bladder, ear muscles, thyroid gland, adrenal glands, vomeronasal organ (look it up), tail bone, wisdom teeth.

The above is a list of body parts which you can have removed and still maintain a manageable lifestyle. From our experience, one thyroid gland equals one week’s worth of friends bringing us tasty home-cooked meals. There are 14 items on this list. That’s 14 weeks worth of food. Multiplied by two people, that’s a solid 7 month stockpile of supplies.

In these tough economic times it’s good to know what you can count on.


No one looks healthy in a hospital. The confident surgeon, the caring nurse, the visiting friend, the coffee cart worker, the smiling child in her mother’s arms—all of them sickly. The proximity of the suffering patients and their grief-stricken families, glimpses of red-rimmed eyes and shattered countenance behind swishing curtains, pacing past knotted clots of coagulated whispers in the hall—the dying diffuses through the air, bending the light in some unflattering way, highlighting an ugly commonality. The same broken lines etched across our faces, the same hinting hue in the soft blue shadows beneath our eyes. We are all residents of the terminal ward.

Standing in the bathroom outside the third floor Post-Op, recognizing these things in my own reflected face, doesn’t prepare me for her pale lips and large dark eyes swimming above the gauze-obscured wound at her throat, iodine-yellow. She is the color of milk. There is a dark red line drawn across white bedsheets, beginning at her neck and ending at a machine crouching in the corner making sucking noises. We are in a crowded room full of clatter and wheeled gurneys and beeping machines and hurrying people. Her eyes unfocus, slip off me to the movement behind. God, her eyes are so dark and so large. The air crowds in, bending the light.

When Jesus Christ walked the earth he healed our diseases. He multiplied our food and we were full. He calmed our storms, he restored our community, he freed us from spiritual oppression. He pulled the money we needed from a fish’s mouth. We had no lack of wisdom. Even death obeyed him. He claimed he could forgive our sin.

All of this, every conceivable need of our sickly race, met in himself. And yet he had the audacity to say, straight-faced, It is for your benefit that I am going away.

And he did it. He left us here, in sickness, in hunger, in poverty, in conflict, in sorrow, in hospitals, in ugly commonality, for our benefit. He left us here, where his own sufferings flow over into our lives, in between resurrections, for our benefit. He left us here, part of a body and in the company of a counselor, for our benefit.

It is a strange gift, and I can’t get my mind around it, lying here at 3:00AM on a makeshift bed of chairs, red-eyed behind swishing curtains, listening for her breathing.

On the Mend

Mellie’s little thyroid went to be with the Lord Tuesday, Feb 24 at about 1pm. Hopefully it won’t be missed.

Surgery took 2 hours. Doc said all went well, Mellie was a champ. Initial tests look cancer-free! Thank God and thanks for your prayers. We’ll get the full pathology report when we get a check-up next Wednesday. A bunch of folks came by for a visit post-surgery, bringing warm fuzzies for Mellie. No beds at the hospital so we stayed in Post-Op for the night. Pretty lame place to begin recovery—lights on, slamming doors, people in and out all night, not to mention somebody drawing blood or prodding her with questions every three hours. I doubt she got more than a couple minutes of sleep at a time. I’m sure me snoring in the chair beside her didn’t help. We made it out of there by 11 the next morning; our hospital stay was almost exactly 24 hours. Mellie got to ride in a wheelchair out to my waiting car. Got her home and tucked into bed, and she’s been resting ever since. Mom and Darci have been great, the three of us just hanging out and helping M with whatever she needs. We’ve declined most visitors but friends have been delivering meals each night. How awesome to have such great support! We have a little womb here, safe and warm and well-fed, and Mellie is on the mend.

Ready To Roll

Mellie likes waterfalls, tasty food and massages, and she’s had all three in the past few days. We’ve got all the paperwork laid out, she’s got a little overnight bag packed up, Mom and Darcy, down from Vacaville, are safely ensconced in the Brewsters swank backyard casita in Pt Loma, ready to join us tomorrow for the trip to the hospital. Now she’s taking a shower to warm up her cold feet before heading to bed. I had a few minutes so I uploaded the latest Marginal Art submissions over here.

I guess we’re ready to roll.

Three Sisters

flickr | driving directions

We took an expedition out to the Three Sisters Waterfalls, in the Cuyamaca mountains outside Julian. One last hurrah for Mellie’s sick little thyroid. In a few days the doctors will chase away the cancer with their knives. The peaks are dusted white with snow. The gorge opens at our feet, a zig-zag scar narrowing to a box canyon in the distance. We can see the falls glinting in the sunlight. Who knew this place was here, just fifty-five miles outside San Diego?

One hour and we’re down a steep trail, from the car to the stream at the bottom of the gorge. Another hour of rock-hopping up to the top-most of the three waterfalls. With the recent rains the water is gushing. The top sister plunges a forty-foot freefall from a clean overhang down into a round echoey bowl, drumming and rushing, swirling and then squeezing into a narrow chute exiting off at an angle down the creasy face of the second sister, gathering speed, hitting her stone lip and spraying out in a bright arch down into a long rippled pool. Slowed, the sloshy water leans up against a wide edge. Slipping over, it spreads itself out across the bumpy granite all white and intricate like lace, twenty feet wide and sliding down soft into the lowermost green pool.

From the top, beside the misty bowl with the sun on our PB&J fingers, we rest and watch the stream make multiplication among the red and brown boulders, tumbling away silver along the canyon floor.

Then we turn to answer the challenge. We gather flint-jawed and scrunchy-toed to the edge of the elder sister’s pool. Into icy water, snow-melt squeezing lung aching groin clutching numb-fingered against the swirling current, fighting—winning!—to see what is behind the thunderous curtain of water. Stinging skin, squealing like little girls, standing knee deep on a sandy bank for a moment, finding it, wide-eyed, taking it for our own. Then flinging ourselves into the icy numbness again, rib cracking pushed by the flow toward sunny rocks. And out, breathless, steel nippled, hooting and blowing. Spread out flat against warm stone, pasty white February bodies goose bumped and cursing the shreds of cloud obscuring the sun. Laughing together with her, I feel clean.

Before church the pastors and elders gather with us in a quiet room upstairs. Oil on her forehead and prayers over her. Reasoning with God. My hand against her back is warm and moist. God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our trouble, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we have received. The sufferings of Christ that flow over into our lives. Later, downstairs, the water leans up against my eyes, and then slipping over, it spreads itself out across my face, intricate like lace.

Updated Surgery Details

Doctors called this morning and bumped Mellie’s surgery time up to 10:45am tomorrow. So I guess that makes the day’s schedule something like this

10:45am Check-in for PreOp
11-1:00pm PreOp, 1 visitor at a time
Surgery 1-3 or 4pm
Add a few hours for Mellie to wake-up and sleepily wonder if Chad is available to rub her back.
Visiting maybe around 6 or 7pm?

I don’t know if this affects whether or not she’ll stay at the hospital over-night. We’ll plan on her staying.

Surgery Details

Tuesday, Feb. 24th, is Surgery Day. Adios, lil’ Mellie thyroid!

Here are the details:
Kaiser Zion
Check-in for pre-op at 2pm
Pre-op 2-4pm or so, 1 visitor allowed at a time
Surgery goes til around 6 or 7pm
Afterward Mellie hangs out for a couple hours before she can have visitors again

Odds are that she’ll be there overnight!
Room service and bed pans… high class.

Tomorrow we’re heading up to the mountains. Mellie wants to make sure that if anything goes wrong on Tuesday she won’t have spent her last few moments hunched in front of a laptop working for somebody else. So tomorrow is designated Fun Day.

I think we’ll hike in to the Three Sisters waterfalls. We’ve never done this one before. With the recent rains it should be pretty great!

Perspective & Spaghetti

I’m not naturally a community person. Which is funny, because my job, which I love, is all about fostering, building and organizing community at Uptown Church. But left to myself I tend to keep to myself.

For the most part, that is. Having Mellie in my life is a notable exception. Whether it’s traveling across the country or walking around the block, there is no question that things go better with Mellie. I probably need to tell her this more. I think she believes that my favorite feel-good romantic comedy film is Into the Wild. Not true. Now, if that guy had an awesome cutie like Mellie with him in that bus in Alaska, just the two of them eating the correct herbs and saying “Hey Babe, let’s get this moose meat back to camp, pronto!” that would be different. That might be Oscar quality.

Or it might be Grizzly Man. I don’t know.

But the point is, I’m not naturally wired to want to “do” life with others. All this stuff that real community requires time, energy, listening, caring, trust, emotional bandwidth, permeable boundaries, sharing burdens, forgiveness. Not my forte. And it’s not just that I’m bad at those things. It’s the fact that in community those things are two-way, not just one-way. Therein lies my true incompetence. You don’t just give forgiveness, you have to receive it, too. You don’t just take someone else’s burden, you have to give them yours. It’s messy. It’s sticky. It’s cooked spaghetti, all tangled up. You try to fork out three noodles and you get fifty, so you twirl and twirl and only succeed in gathering more so that now it looks like you have stabbed a large ball of yarn with your fork and in rash despair you are driven to cram the entire wad into your mouth and hunch down over the plate clenching the edge of your chair to suppress gag reflexes as the ten-foot long knotted mass slides down your throat with the sauce scalding your neck.

I prefer my spaghetti dry and straight. See how happily the little spaghettis live in their plastic home? They are together, but separate. Not quite in community, but perhaps close enough. I can select a single noodle, if I so choose. I can examine it for quality and decide it I’d like to make it part of my meal. If it displeases me, behold, I can leave it to be pecked by crows.

I can tell you all about the riches of community. Heck, I can even believe in the riches of community. Nevertheless, the strange truth is, when left to myself I will keep my spaghetti dry. Weird and stunted, I know.

Into this small world comes a lump. Then a phone call from Mellie’s endocrinologist. Maybe cancer. Definitely surgery. Soon. She’ll need to take a pill and come in for checkups. For forever. She’ll have a scar on her beautiful neck. Ahh, how do you process this stuff?

Mellie actually seems to be doing well. She’s concerned, a little nervous about the surgery, aware of what it means. But she’s upbeat, positive. It’s cool to see.

I’m under a heavy blanket. It’s hard to move my mind around what’s happening, it’s hard to pray about it. I keep thinking about the scar that will appear on her neck. I think it’s just the most concrete thing my mind can latch on to. I need more than this scar.

We put the word out to some folks. And the response has been good, even amazing. Calls and emails and texts of good wishes and prayers. Good in and of themselves. But look, let me explore this. In an odd way, I think they have also provided for me a means to navigate this dense and unfamiliar terrain. Instead of relying on my own perspective—limited, down here in a ditch, hemmed in by circumstances—Instead of my own perspective, I’m getting reports from you. Different perspectives from higher ground. Ashley has been emailing us—she’s been through this very surgery and she’s letting us know what it looks like on the other side. Forrest sent a link to an article John Piper wrote on the eve of his prostate cancer surgery—perspective-shifting thoughts on not wasting your cancer. Chris prayed for us over IM—that’s a new one for me. Kiley is putting together a schedule of friends to bring us meals so we can take it easy next week—a reminder of how well we are provided for. Listen, without this community intertwined around us, I wouldn’t have these perspectives. I wouldn’t have the help I need to process this stuff. All I would have is that scar. Does that make sense?

So it’s true that I’m not naturally a community person. I can tell you about the riches of community. I even believe in the riches of community. But right now I am experiencing them for myself. It’s a change of perspective. Thank you. It’s a good lesson.