God’s Answer to Our Prayers

December 3, 2014

In recent days, referring to my medical treatments in Pittsburgh, I’ve had a number of people say to me, “I’m so thankful that God has answered your prayers.”

Trust me… I’m grateful for the fact that I’m doing well and feeling good and that things seem to be going well. I’m very grateful for that!!!

But I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what it means for God to “answer our prayers.” In no particular order, here are some of my rambling thoughts about God answering our prayers…

  1. There is a great deal about prayer I don’t understand. At its heart, prayer is an ongoing conversation I have with God which keeps me connected and in touch with the God who created me and who is with me every step of my life. Prayer is much more than just a time for me to pour out my requests to God.
  1. Prayer involves so much more than asking God for things. It is a time for praise and for confession. Nothing is out of bounds in prayer. Nothing is too great or too small to share in prayer. Prayer is the one place where we can be completely honest. God already knows what’s on our mind… why try to hide it? (Check out the honesty of Psalm 22.)
  1. I am absolutely convinced that God answers all of our prayers. Sometimes God answers my prayer exactly the way I want it to be answered, but sometimes God has something else in mind. We need to be careful when we say that God answers our prayers. Too often what we really mean is “God answered my prayers the way I wanted them answered.” The challenge in life is to learn to accept God’s answer even when it isn’t what I wanted! That isn’t always easy.
  1. I’ve discovered that there have been times when I prayed for one thing, but God had something else in mind. As difficult as it was at the time to accept God’s answer, I have also had those opportunities when I was able to look back and admit (not surprisingly!) that God’s response really was the best one for me!
  1. These prayers are all more difficult when it comes to personal issues like our own health or the health of loved ones. For reasons which I cannot explain or understand, there have been times when I have prayed for someone’s physical healing and it didn’t occur, and there have been times when I am confident no one was praying for healing in someone’s life and that person was healed. I’m not sure I can explain that.
  1. When those prayers of healing are not answered the way I want them to be answered, I find myself drawn to the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11. Go take a look at it… all ten were physically healed, but only one was “made well.” The word for being made well is the same as to be saved or rescued or made whole. As much as I pray for physical healing, at the end of the day, I’m grateful that God has made me well. Physical healing is temporary at best.   Being made well is eternal.
  1. I could go on and on about prayer. It’s a vital part of who I am as a follower of Jesus. Through prayer and Scripture, I stay in touch with the God who disturbs me when I grow too comfortable and comforts me when I am disturbed. Even when I don’t understand it or can’t explain it, I know I need to keep on praying!

I hope you do as well.

By the way…. I am praying for my physical healing, and I’m grateful for your prayers as well. I tolerated my treatment well, and we’ll go back to Pittsburgh in February for follow up scans. We won’t be surprised if they need to repeat the procedure again. Thankfully, it is a process which can be repeated numerous times.

For now, I’m enjoying Advent with the congregation of the Roswell Presbyterian Church. I’ll be preaching at all three services on Sunday, and look forward to celebrating the Second Sunday of Advent with you!


Thankful for What I Cannot See

November 25, 2014

I’m looking forward to a noisy Thanksgiving.  Really, I am.  My immediate family will be together with my parents and my sister and her family, and I’m confident of at least two things… there will be plenty of food to eat and there will be few moments for quiet reflection.  But it’s going to be fun to be together.

Family is one of the blessings for which I am giving thanks this year.  I’m surrounded by a group of people who love and care for each other, and I don’t take that blessing for granted.  I’m thankful.

I started making a list of all of the things for which I am thankful, and I realized that most of what was on my list are things I can see and touch and experience in real, day to day living.  I’m thankful for the material things of life, for my health, for medical technology, for friends, for a church family that surrounds me… and the list goes on and on.

But then I realized that the real blessings of my life are things I cannot see, but that I know are just as real as the things I see all around me.

I don’t mind telling you, my journey with cancer has been a roller coaster.  There are days when we feel like we have taken giant steps forward, and there are days when it seems like the cancer is cascading back over us.  For now, thankfully, the steps forward have been more numerous than the backwards falls.

But I know that for many people that hasn’t been the case.  My heart breaks for the countless numbers of people in each of our lives for whom the diagnosis has not been what the family wanted to hear.  Our congregation is full of those stories.

So I find myself struggling… what are the blessings of Thanksgiving for those whose story has not had the ending for which they were hoping?  Where is the thanks when life has not turned out the way I was expecting?  It will be easy for me to be thankful this Thursday… I’ll be surrounded by family and filled with plenty to eat.  But where is the thanks when those visible gifts are gone?

I have no simple answer to offer, but I share with you two blessings I have experienced which, to be honest, have been far more real and far more powerful than anything I can actually see or touch in real life.

The first has been a sense of peace.  In Philippians 4:7, Paul speaks of a peace that “surpasses all understanding.”  It’s a peace that doesn’t make sense.  I’m in the middle of a crisis, and every instinct in the world says things are out of control and about to cave in on me.  Any yet, in the midst of it all, there is a sense of peace.  God is still in charge.  In the words of one of my favorite hymns, “Oh let me ne’er forget, that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

I’ve experienced that peace.  And I’m praying for you to experience it as well.

My second blessing has been the confidence of hope.  Hope is God’s assurance that there is more to the story.  There is a chapter that has been written but is yet unread.  God is still at work, even when the current circumstances seem to scream otherwise.  Paul wrote to the church in Rome to remind them… and to remind us… that ultimately, nothing in all of creation will separate us from God’s love.

I can’t see either peace or hope. But they are as real to me as the material blessings which surround me, and I’m grateful for both.

This Thanksgiving, especially for folks who may find it difficult to give thanks for the things we can see, I am praying for the often unseen but very real peace and hope of God to sustain you on your journey.

May you know God’s blessings this Thanksgiving week.


Come, Ye Thankful People, Come

November 20, 2014

It’s hard to believe that one week ago today I was sitting with a doctor in Pittsburgh learning about the brain radiation surgery I would be having the next day.  But here I am… back in Roswell and ready for Thanksgiving!

As you know, last Friday’s radiation surgery went so well that we were able to spend the day on Saturday enjoying some sightseeing around Pittsburgh.  We returned home on Sunday and I’ve been going full steam for the rest of the week.

Last night at RPC we had our unofficial kick off to Thanksgiving as we enjoyed Molly’s incredible annual Thanksgiving feast.  She and her crew do a fabulous job every week with our meals, but for this one dinner they go above and beyond to make it an extra special evening.  I joined many of you in eating more than I should have!

Molly’s dinner is a great reminder to us that this Sunday in worship we’ll have an opportunity to express our thanks and gratitude to the God who blesses us in so many ways.  It’s one of my favorite Sundays!  (I confess, one of the reasons I love this Sunday is because I love the hymns we sing at Thanksgiving!)

I’ll be wrapping up our three week sermon series on Wonder Women in the Bible by walking us through the story of Rahab from the book of Joshua.  It’s an incredible story of how God uses broken people like you… and like me!  I’m looking forward to being with you on Sunday to share that story.

Thanksgiving is always a special time, and this year brings special thanks from me.  I’m grateful for so many blessings… both seen and unseen… but today I’m especially thankful for the prayers of so many people which have been offered on my behalf.  I can assure you of this… through those prayers, Ellie and I have felt the calming presence of God’s strength.  It is that strength which has sustained us through the roller coaster days we have experienced.  And it is that strength which will continue to sustain us in the days which are to come.

As we head into a time of thanks, please know how grateful I am for each of you.  It is through you that I experience the blessings of God.  What a special gift you have given me!

May God continue to bless us all!


Successful Treatment!

November 14, 2014

The day was a little longer than we were expecting for today’s Gamma Knife radiation procedure, but after a full day at the hospital Ellie and I are thankful for the procedure which successfully radiated all the tumors which had spread to my brain.

Our morning at the hospital began early. I was fitted with a special “helmet” which was used to keep my head immobile throughout the day. An early morning special “mapping” MRI with very intense contrast showed there were even more very tiny tumors which had appeared in my brain. They were all very treatable, but it just meant the treatment process was longer than expected.

My longer procedure, along with the fact that I was the last patient of the day, meant that it was mid afternoon before we returned to our hotel. We’re back now relaxing in the warmth while watching snow flurries fall outside the window. (It’s the sort of snow people in Atlanta get excited about. I’m not sure the Pittsburgh folks even notice that it’s snowing!)

Having just received a life changing procedure, it’s amazing how minimal my side effects are! I have two little bandages on the front of my forehead and a very slight headache that Tylenol has more than handled. It’s nothing short of miraculous.

We’re going to hang around another day and then return to Roswell on Sunday evening. We’ll be flying home filled with gratitude and overwhelmed with thanksgiving.

I’ve been hearing all day about the prayers that so many, many people have been lifting up, and I know it is through those prayers that Ellie and I have experienced the peace and the strength of Almighty God.

We’re going to sleep well tonight… grateful for an amazing day of treatment and healing.

“But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness!” Lamentations 3:21-23


On With The Treatment!

November 13, 2014

Ellie and I arrived in Pittsburgh yesterday just in time to greet the polar weather sweeping in from the north. The drop in temperature has done nothing to dampen our spirits as we prepare for tomorrow’s treatment!

We met with the doctor and medical team earlier today, and our meetings confirmed everything we were anticipating.  I am an excellent candidate for tomorrow’s procedure, and the doctor is quite confident that the treatment will go smoothly and will be a complete success.

The Gamma Knife procedure which I will have is amazing… We go to the hospital at 5:30 Friday morning, and I should be back at the hotel by a little after noon. The side effects are minimal, if any, and the success rate is extremely high. As I have said many times, my current condition is very treatable, and everything we heard today continues to support that.

As we prepare for tomorrow’s treatment, we are humbled by so many, many blessings. I’m keenly aware of the volumes of prayers being lifted up on my behalf, and I am so grateful for the prayers each of you is offering for me and for my family. God continues to sustain us through those prayers.

I’m grateful for the medical insurance which you provide for your church staff through the Presbyterian Church (USA). Nothing has gotten in the way of my ability to have this procedure.

I’m thankful for the incredible staff at RPC with whom I work. During these whirlwind few weeks of my diagnosis, tests and treatment, things at church haven’t missed a beat. I’m blessed to be able to work with such outstanding people.

So many blessings… the love and support and encouragement of my family and friends… but most of all… the strength and peace of a God who sustains us through the ups and downs of life.

Thank you all for your prayers. I wish I had the right words… I’m honored, humbled, thrilled, overwhelmed…

Most of all, Ellie and I are grateful.


Treatment Plan Is Set!

November 6, 2014

(What follows is the current situation with my health… for background, check out the previous posts to this blog!)

Treatment plans are set, and I want to share with you my update. I am blessed with an excellent team of doctors here in Atlanta. Dr. Pradeep Jolly, my medical oncologist, and Dr. Hamilton Williams, my radiation oncologist, have been and are continuing to provide me with outstanding care. I am very grateful.

When my new issue of brain metastasis arose, however, I was very thankful for their support in seeking out the very best place in the country for me to receive my treatment. The best option for me has turned out to be a procedure being done at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. My scans and films were sent to them, and we received word this morning that I am “an excellent candidate” for the procedure.

Ellie and I will travel to Pittsburgh next week. On Friday, November 14, I will spend the morning undergoing a very advanced procedure known as the Gamma Knife. It is referred to as a surgical procedure, however there is no actual incision that is ever made. It is a very specialized, intense series of radiation focused directly on my specific brain tumors.

This was exactly the treatment for which we were hoping, and is a tremendous answer to prayer. The procedure will be completed by lunch time next Friday, and I’m told there are virtually no side effects. We’ll hang around a couple of days to make sure everything is fine and return home after the weekend.

The very good news is that this is a procedure which has an extremely high rate of success. As I have said before, my current condition is very treatable. This procedure will help ensure that future tumors, if they should occur, will be able to be dealt with in a similar manner.

Needless to say, we are thrilled that things are working out this way in my treatment, and I continue to give thanks for my medical team and for the outstanding insurance the church provides for all of its full time staff.

I’ll keep you updated, but I’m looking forward to being with you as I preach this Sunday. We’re launching a new sermon series we’re calling “Wonder Women!” I think you’ll find it intriguing. I will miss next Wednesday Evening Fellowship, but our excellent staff has already put a plan in place for the program. Emily was already scheduled to preach on November 16, and I’ll be back in the pulpit on November 23.

Ellie and I send our heartfelt appreciation for your continued prayers, your support, and your encouragement.


Thank you, Roswell Presbyterian Church!

November 2, 2014

It’s Sunday afternoon and I confess, I’m getting ready to take a nap, but before I do, I want to take a minute and say a special thank you to the Roswell Presbyterian Church.

Today was the celebration of our 175th anniversary as a congregation, and along with the historic festivities you honored me for my twenty years of service here at this congregation. We had banners and bagpipes, glorious music and incredible crowds, wonderful laughter, and, along the way, a few heart felt tears.

I can’t thank you enough for making it such a special day! You honored our heritage, you celebrated our ministry, and you made me so proud to be part of the history of such a wonderful congregation.

Thank you so much for the lovely gifts you gave to Ellie and me! What a special surprise! They were all so meaningful and will always help us treasure this special day. We’ll look forward to making that trip together!

RPC was the first congregation founded in the new colony of Roswell, and in 1854, when the state of Georgia incorporated the Town of Roswell, the original state charter spelled out the boundaries of the town as “embracing an area one mile in every direction from the Presbyterian Church.”  From the very beginning, we have literally and figuratively stood at the center of this community, and I count it a very special honor to be able to serve with each one of you in this ministry.

So many, many people were part of making today special, and I can’t begin to name them all. Please know that from the bottom of my heart how thankful I am.

In the coming days I will be using this blog to keep you updated on my health and on my treatment plan. I’ll make sure you know what’s going on, and I’m so grateful for your prayers, your support, and your encouragement as we travel this road together.

In the meantime, Ellie and I want to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!” We love you all!

I give thanks to God every day for the privilege I have of serving with you.


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