Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Waiting is the Hardest Part. . .

Dear Friends,

A young Tom Petty sang that "the waiting is the hardest part", and my guess is we can all agree with him on one level or another. Today is the four week anniversary of my medical odyssey dealing with pancreatitis, blood work and IV's, ultrasounds, CT scans, supposed pancreatic cancer, a scheduled Whipple surgery, X-rays and EKG's, MRI's,  needle biopsies, a surgical biopsy, PET scan, and bone marrow aspiration. So, you might be asking, where are we after this "full meal plan" of diagnostics?

We're still waiting.

On Friday, we received the pathology report from my surgical chest biopsy. While the results are consistent with large b-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, there are some elements which are puzzling to the IU pathologists, so they have sent the sample to the National Institutes of Health to have a top cancer pathologist render her opinion. 

We hope to learn more about her views by next Wednesday when I have an appointment with an Oncologist/Hematologist at IU. On Monday, I meet with a supportive care doctor to determine how to best build and support my immune system. Later in the week, we plan to travel to Northwestern University Medical School to consult with an oncologist/hematologist who specializes in rarer forms of lymphoma, as it seems that mine is not quite "garden variety".

So, why is waiting so difficult for most of us? It seems to first be an issue of control - as in, who's in control. When we are waiting on someone or something, that person or event has a measure of control over our lives. Whether we are waiting at a stoplight, waiting for a friend to show up at a meeting place, waiting on your spouse to head out the door, waiting on a response to a job application, waiting on a medical diagnosis, even waiting to see a loved one again in heaven, waiting can be frustrating and create impatience and anxiety in our lives.

In the midst of my health uncertainties, however, God is teaching me an important truth that I know intellectually, but often behave as if I do not: I am not ultimately in control of my own existence, but God is. It is easy with our technology and wealth in the USA to fool ourselves into thinking we have more control over our lives than we really do. This line of thinking may seem like a giving up of control, but I would suggest that it is closer to surrendering the illusion that we were in ultimate control to begin with. 

If we are not ultimately in control, then who/what is? A high percentage of people today might say "chance", even "fate", or possibly some form of impersonal "providence". Many would say "God"; however, their conception of God is closer to the deist's notion of him as the absent clockmaker who created the world and then went off on some cosmic vacation in another galaxy. Not only should we reject the modernists' belief in random chance or the notion of blind fate, but also the view that God is somehow uninvolved in the lives of his people. This absent God is certainly not the Heavenly Father to whom Jesus Christ bore witness in the gospels: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows." (Mt. 10:29-31)

If control is the first issue making the wait hard, then trust becomes the second. If I cannot ultimately trust in myself or the randomness of life, then is God trustworthy?  I believe He is. Jesus taught and demonstrated to his disciples, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." (Mt. 7:7,8) He also promised, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." (Jn 11:25,26)  In the shortest statement of God's trustworthiness, the apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:8 "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Ok, if God - in and through Christ - has demonstrated his trustworthiness, why does He make us wait? Control and trust. He knows that by making us wait on Him, even in the midst of suffering, pain and confusion, we will come to know that He is in control and we are not. Further, when we turn to Him and ask in Jesus' name, we discover Him to be loving and faithful on our behalf. . . always. Read the Bible, and you will see that nearly all of its stories have to do with people waiting on the Lord to save them, reveal himself to them, or deliver them. Noah waited for months on the rain, Abraham and Sarah waited for decades for a son, Job waited in pain and in loss for restoration, Moses and the Israelites waited and wandered for two generations in the desert, David waited in exile for 13 years for the promised throne of Israel, and Mary and Martha even waited on Jesus while Lazarus lay in the grave for four days.

I am forced, then, to disagree with Tom Petty. Waiting is not necessarily the hardest part, it is often the essential part, because it drives us to the only One who has satisfying answers to our deepest questions. Psalm 40, written by King David (quite possibly while in exile), has meant much to me during these past four weeks. "I waited patiently for the Lord, he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord."

Waiting on a difficult diagnosis has not been easy, but it has been good in many ways. I am not in ultimate control of my destiny, as I have been abruptly reminded over the past few weeks, but I know the One who is. And He is good and trustworthy and always faithful. . . regardless of the circumstances.

In Christ alone,




  1. Oh, Newt, you make me cry.
    And I am reminded of Romans 5:2b-5: And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
    Suffering, persevering & HOPING with you in Christ,

  2. "We gotta get to a higher place
    And I hope we all arrive together
    We gotta get to a higher place
    If we want to survive the weather"
    Tom Petty - A higher Place

    Newt, seems like the water's rising, but you're wasting no time moving to a higher place

  3. Newt,My feelings are that being the faithful one you have been put you closer than most to an understanding of what God helps each of us to learn on our journey with Him.  Reading your words convinces me that you are learning ultimate truth and that does set you free.  I learned during difficult times for our family that 'seeking and asking for God's grace and mercy' in specific terms would be granted.  We who know you are praying in very specific terms for you and we believe those prayers are being and will be answered.  You are a 'child of God' and He will bless you and your family. Thank you for sharing your lessons and learnings as they are welcomed and nourishment to our souls.Sam Montgomery

  4. Newt,

    You are in my families prayers. Here are some words from A.W. Pink. He is one of the best on the topic of "trust and control.

    "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."

    How many of God’s children have, through the centuries, drawn strength and comfort from this blessed verse. In the midst of trials, perplexities, and persecutions, this has been a rock beneath their feet. Though to outward sight things seemed to work against their good, though to carnal reason things appeared to be working for their ill, nevertheless, faith knew it was for otherwise. And how great the loss to those who failed to rest upon this inspired declaration: what unnecessary fears and doubtings were the consequence.

    "All things work together." What a glorious Being our God be, who is able to make all things so work! What a frightful amount of evil there is in constant activity. What an almost infinite number of creatures there are in the world. What an incalculable quantity of opposing self-interests at work. What a vast army of rebels fighting against God. What hosts of super-human creatures over opposing the Lord. And yet, high above all, is GOD, in undisturbed calm, complete master of the situation. There, from the throne of His exalted majesty, He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11).

    "All things work together for good." This must be so for three reasons. First, because all things are under the absolute control of the Governor of the universe. Second, because God desires our good, and nothing but our good. Third, because even Satan himself cannot touch a hair of our heads without God’s permission, and then only for our further good. Not all things are good in themselves, nor in their tendencies; but God makes all things work for our good. Nothing enters our life by blind chance: nor are they any accidents. Everything is being moved by God, with this end in view, our good. Everything being subservient to God’s eternal purpose, works blessing to those marked out for conformity to the image of the Firstborn. All suffering, sorrow, loss, are used by our Father to minister to the benefit of the His elect.There is nothing in God, and there is nothing from God, for which the saints do not love Him. And of this they are all assured, "We love Him because He first loved us."

    Peace Brother, Andre'

  5. It is amazing the positive impact you are having in the face of such adversity. In a situation where one would expect to receive ministry, you are flipping it around. It is such a blessing hearing your insights and many are and will be touched...myself included. The prayers will continue to be lifted up from here in Georgia. Keep pluggin! In Christ, Boo2

  6. Newt, I was glad to get this link from Sally today. I've thought a lot about what you must be going through. Reading your blog reminded me of one of my favorite Taize songs "Wait for the Lord". The lyrics are: Wait for the Lord, his day is near. Wait for the Lord, be strong take heart. I found Taize music to have a tremendous centering and calming effect on me. The songs are short, prayerful and have a way of sticking in your head. You might find them helpful while enduring long waits and medical procedures.

    Peace be with you and your family.

  7. Newt, Susan and family,
    You know that you are in our family's prayers. We rejoice with you at good news and fret with you during the waiting time. It is good to read that you are so trusting in the One we have trusted.
    I do want to share a couple of scriptures that became my daily anchors during my cancer adventure. With them, I was able to trust and relax in His care in a way that I would never have believed possible.
    Isaiah 43 2-3 "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you pass through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
    So, we're going to get hot and we will get wet, but we are never alone or overcome. He holds us.

    Then, as I prayed for complete healing, I read Jeremiah 31: 3-4 "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful." We will be joyful with you when the day comes when He has rebuilt you.
    Blessings and peace to all of you.
    In Him,
    Jenn and Greg James

  8. Newt,
    Liz and I send you our best wishes for a speedy and healthy recovery. Warmest thoughts and prayers to you and your family.
    Rich and Liz Pilnik

  9. Newt,
    Liz and I send you our best wishes for a complete speedy and healthy recovery. Warmest thoughts and prayers to you and your family.
    Rich and Liz Pilnik

  10. Newt

    We (David & Anna) have made our prayers for you (albeit a buddhist flavour). Our thoughts are with you at this time.

    Would you please allow me to pass on a small piece of buddhist thinking:

    "Buddhists believe that suffering is inherent in life, and that suffering is the result of attachment. Eliminate attachment to the things of this world, and you eliminate suffering"

    Best Wishes
    Anna & David Gee

  11. Dear Newt,

    We continue to pray for your complete healing. I'd been especially praying for strength and patience as your life was held in a "holding pattern" (this had been the hardest thing for me years ago when I went through my diagnosis, which was pretty straightforward when compared to yours). I'll continue to do so, but what a blessing it was to read your latest comments! It is such a testimony of your faith that you are able to be such a "light" for others despite the trials you are undergoing. And your light shines far - I have been able to share your faith with Yoshi and he now prays with us much more than he did before.

    We'll continue to pray for your complete and miraculous healing. All our love to you, Susan, and your children,

    Martell Miki