Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Prayer Challenge

I have always struggled a bit with prayer - what form should it take, how to address God, what to say, what to ask for, what's the point, etc. I don't think that this is particularly unique for anyone who chooses to address God from time to time.
Several years ago, I decided that I would change the tone of my praying and the way that I addressed God. Rather than adopt a little me talking to the all-powerful God type of perspective, I would address God as more of a friend That was, after all, consistent with the more familiar relationship that I was looking to foster w/him. I would start my prayers w/something akin to "Hi God. What's up? Just checking in…" That worked for me for a while but in the end was a somewhat empty familiarity in that it was unfounded. It was like those guys that call you buddy when they barely know you. "How's it going buddy? Have I got a deal for you."
When the awareness that something was wrong in my body began about a year ago, my prayers took on a new urgent significance. As I was seeing different doctors and having various tests done, I would pray, at each step of the way, that God would grant me the best news/result at that particular juncture. So, it was that I was relieved when it wasn't a kidney problem; relieved when it wasn't a mysterious virus; relieved that it wasn't hepatitis. At every step, I could rest assured that my prayers might be getting answered in that whatever news I did get was the best at that point. Until, I was left with few "good" options of what it could be. [At one point I heard about a woman who had similar symptoms and ultimately found that she had an issue with her belly button. So, I prayed for the belly button option.] Even once the cancer was confirmed, there was little time or emotional space for spiritual accountability - there were critical medical decisions to be made. As it turned out, I now see that it just so happens that God came through at each crossroad and ultimately did give me the best news that he could.
Looking back on that progression and on my relationship with God since, I have consciously been trying to pray a little differently. Until now in my life, my prayer requests have been very general - that God be present or help out in a given situation, I left Him a lot of leeway. It was ultimately up to Him on what he was going to provide and how something was going to go down so I didn't get too specific in my requests. Being polite and non-demanding n my prayer requests was also very safe. By doing so, I wasn't holding God accountable and so I never had to confront him when/if he fell short of my needs or expectations.
Lately, I have been challenging myself to have a better (more intimate) relationship with God. I've been looking to up the ante for both of us. I've been trying to be specific in my prayer requests and then deal with the disappointment if those requests are (seemingly) denied. A setback merely invites another, albeit more difficult, conversation with him.
It is analogous to the choices we make in the way that we conduct our relationships with those near to us. My relationship with Jacquelyn would probably be much more sanguine if I made few or no specific requests of her, if I never asked her to fulfill my needs. But it is precisely in how we express our needs and then go about satisfying them for each other that is the basis of the love in our (any) relationship. The waters might be calmer in the absence of such exchanges but they wouldn't be very deep.
So, in seeking a deeper and healthier and more intimate relationship with God - and all of the important people in my life, really - I am putting my wants and needs out there. I am asking and then dealing with the potentially messy consequences. It may be a more difficult row to hoe but will, I trust, be far more fulfilling.

Monday, October 5, 2009

September Sensitivities

I have faced another new reality in my life in the past couple of weeks. For better or worse, my awareness is heightened when it comes to any unexplained physical ailment. I am now always suspect, always sick – so that any unusual symptoms could "mean" something.
I had been feeling intermittently off for much of September. I was feeling some abdominal pain, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fever, excessive burping and a general tiredness. A little of this, a little of that, coming and going, a couple of days each week, none of it serious, and then I would feel fine. In days of old, I would probably not have gone to see a doctor the whole time – waiting it out instead.

On the other side of the coin, I was also upping the miles on my marathon training this past month. Weekends are when I do my long runs and early in the week was when I felt worst – so I wondered if there was a connection there. Besides being vigilant post-cancer, training also makes me extra in-tune with my body – so, I thought that I might just be ultra-sensitive to minor changes in my body. The worries of the loved ones around me made me regret sharing so much news of my minor discomforts with them (at first), but finally convinced me to go get checked out.

Ultimately, I feel that I was patient but attentive. I have a whole stable of doctors to choose from and didn't know exactly which one to approach. By the second week of discomfort, I was in contact with three different ones. My general practitioner suspected a stomach virus (the fallback diagnosis) during week 2. My surgeon didn't seem overly concerned but suggested an appointment soon. My gastroenterologist prescribed some blood work and a CAT scan by week 3. The scan seemed like overkill but who am I to argue with the woman who first early-diagnosed this cancer nearly a year ago.

Thankfully, all looks "perfect" in her words. My CA19-9, a marker for the cancer, is as low as ever. The CAT scan looks beautifully unchanged from the last one (just two months ago). The only curious thing was that my white blood cell count is out of range on the low side. Considering that it's been 3 months since my last chemo treatment, I would have thought my blood counts would have returned to normal. Still, a decreased ability to fight off viruses would be consistent with my having a couple of different little sicknesses during the course of the month.

Thank God for my continued good health. I have often said that I feel that God has been walking beside me throughout this ordeal. When I was receiving my chemo or radiation treatments, I would imagine God directing the poison and searing damage directly to the cancer cells. And so, although I still most assuredly believe that He is with me, I am challenged now to recognize something beyond that. God is not only beside me, before me and behind me. God is in me. I believe that God wants to express himself through all of us. I would actually like to believe that he wants me to be well. The potential is there for him to express himself through me always – but only if I can recognize and accept that possibility. Living that life is a lot more difficult than it may seem.

I thank God for the grace of his transformational presence. I am also thankful that I have the opportunity to get myself checked out when I am worried about what might be brewing inside of me. And thanks to all of you who have been praying for me as Jacquelyn and I have wondered and worried about whether all was well.