God Always Shows His Hand

Dear Will:

It’s been quite an autumn.

It started with the prostate surgery in September. Everything seemed to go well, but about a month later I was in the ER for what turned out to be an “incarcerated bowel” (four feet of my intestines had escaped the stomach cavity and quit working). That required a nine-day stay in a remote hospital, most of it spent living on nothing but IV fluids and ice chips. And then for good measure I returned to the ER last week because I have developed a deep vein thrombosis, which is a fancy way of saying I have a blood clot in my leg.

Not fun. After going over 40 years without hospitalization, I have been in the hospital three times in less than 90 days. It has been painful, boring, frustrating, and (most of all) humbling.

At times, I’m sure, God comes to us when we call for Him in a moment of crisis. I have seen, however, that there are times when He actually goes before us and is waiting there for us when the crisis arrives. I can’t begin to tell you how often and in how many ways He showed His love for me in the midst of my suffering. God always shows His hand in such circumstances, and you don’t have to look very hard to see it.

Most often, His hands were the hands of friends and family, kind nurses and diligent doctors. The light in my hospital room always shone brightly because the love of God was there, expressed by the unexpected visit from a ward member, a note from my Seminary students, a simple act of kindness from a nurse’s aide. It was a profoundly moving experience to see, day after day, that He was watching over me and sending His children to me to let me know.

Do not get me wrong; I would not choose to go through again what I have been through these last few weeks. But having been through it, I remain very grateful. What a blessing to have my life touched in so many ways. How much wiser and more compassionate I will be in the future as I interact with others who likewise find themselves with physical or emotional challenges.

When I returned from the hospital at the end of October and sat down for the first time in 10 days with my family for dinner, I could not hold back the tears of gratitude that we were reunited. It might seem a small thing, but it was profoundly important to me. Consequently, when we were gathered around a Thanksgiving meal just a couple of days ago, I gave added thanks in my heart for the privilege and blessing of being together in that way.  I also feel blessed to have modern medicine, capable doctors and nurses, health insurance and an understanding employer. And above all, I have felt a deep gratitude for my wife who has somehow managed to keep the family operating even though I have been a heavy burden throughout what has proved to be an extended convalescence. Her compassionate service to me has often brought to mind the baptismal invitation that we might “bear one another’s burdens that they might be light.” Thus inspired, I am determined to go and do likewise.

I do not share all this to invite your sympathy. Rather I do it as an affirmation that God loves us and watches over us, and even when times are hard He is there for us and with us, every step of the way.

PW

Telling It Like It Is

Dear Will:

First things first: My surgery is safely behind me and the doctor has declared me “cured.” I’ll be in recovery mode for the next several weeks, but all of the really scary stuff has been taken from my body and sent to the lab. So I can get on with life.

The only “complication” so far is that I had to stay in the hospital a couple of extra days because of some ancillary bleeding. It was nothing life-threatening, mind you, just the sort of thing that makes a doctor crinkle his brow and muse a bit. When he informed me that I wasn’t going to leave the hospital as early as originally projected, Dr. Pasin was extremely apologetic: “I’m sorry, but I’m going to keep you in here an extra day.” He gave that speech twice.

Of course I was disappointed, but I hardly felt like he owed me an apology. What he was saying was for my good, after all. But such are our social conventions that we feel compelled to apologize even in circumstances when we are doing something for the benefit of someone else.

God is not bound by any such social conventions. “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself,” He says. In other words, “I’m not going to apologize for telling it like it is.” Which makes sense, of course. He then continues: “Though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). He’s going to speak plainly, without apology, and what He says will come to pass. Just like that. And it makes no difference whether He speaks as a voice from heaven or through one of His designated representatives—either way, what he says is going to happen whether we like it or not.

I bring all of this up because this weekend is the semi-annual General Conference of the Church, and you can watch it while sitting on the sofa in your family room. There will be a total of eight hours of instruction broadcast in two-hour chunks (Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. PDT) It’s generally broadcast over BYU-TV (channel 567 on my box) or on one of the public access channels. I hope you get a chance to tune in at least for a little bit.

In my state of convalescence, I’m likely to watch the whole thing (I’m still not getting around much). That will be a rare privilege, and I’m really looking forward to it. Thomas S. Monson, the Prophet and President of the Church, will be speaking (multiple times, no doubt) along with his counselors, the twelve apostles, and several other of the General Authorities of the Church. As I maintain my preoccupation with my physical well-being, it will be nice to have the distraction and to focus some time on spiritual healing instead.

Who knows? In my state, maybe my spiritual doctors will decide I need a few extra days of intensive care to stop the bleeding. Which would be fine by me. Whatever it takes to finally be pronounced “cured.”

PW

Dappled Things

Dear Will:

Well, I did it: Turned 50, just like I said I would. And once I got over the shock of the whole thing, I suppose it wasn’t that bad. I played golf with some good friends, and my wife threw me a party, and my daughter gave me this awesome picture of the Gossamer Albatross. (Google it. It’s super cool.)

Not bad at all, when you think of it. You might say it was a pretty great birthday, in fact. That is, until my doctor called and informed me that (are you ready for this?) I have prostate cancer.

Well, that’s pretty annoying, isn’t it?

I guess you could say that I’m upholding a family tradition. When my dad was in his 50s, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Last year, my brother (five years my senior) was diagnosed as well. So I pretty much assumed this day was coming. I just didn’t think it would come so soon.

I imagine that it isn’t that often that you hear the words mild and cancer in the same sentence, but that’s essentially how my doctor described my condition to me. As a matter of fact, my cancer is so mild that had it not been for my father and my brother it is unlikely that anyone would even know about my condition. However, thanks to our collective vigilance, we have caught it in the earliest possible stages. I don’t even have any symptoms, to be honest. I even pass the standard blood test that is supposed to give early warning of the disease.

Mild or not, I am going to have to deal with it, however. Next month I’ll go down to Mission Hospital and my doctor will use some fancy robotic device to remove the gland altogether, after which (he says) I’ll be “completely cured.” Just like that. I’ll have to take a few weeks off from work (and from teaching my early morning Seminary class for the high-schoolers), but otherwise I should be good to go, without any significant, long-term side effects. Which I suppose is why I feel more annoyed than threatened by the whole thing.

To sum up: It’s true, I have cancer. But I also have a good job, excellent insurance coverage, a highly-skilled doctor using the most sophisticated equipment in the world, and the earliest diagnosis possible. It leads me to repeat something I said to you last month: In that which matters most, I am one of the truly lucky ones.

So my otherwise pristine life is now dappled with this little blotch—an irregularity that forces into greater focus all of the good things which are also mine. And so, rather than curse God for “allowing this to happen,” I feel rather inclined to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins instead:

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
   For skies of couple-colour as brinded cow;
     For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
     And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
     With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
              Praise him.

PW