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February 07, 2005

I've been sick, the kind that lingers and begins to make you wonder if you will ever feel good again, or if instead something ghastly has hold of you. Nothing does, says the doctor, just a combination of fatigue and virus and various peripheral complications. I hate the feeling of physical weakness; it puts me out of sorts. I suspect I will be quite graceless at dying.

I was afraid because the weakness wouldn't leave me. I imagined I had some disease of the heart or blood, and that soon I would be the subject of hallway whispers and conversations between doctors quite unable to help but constitutionally incapable of admitting it.

I used to be afraid of death. Every visit to the doctor was tinged with fear that he would find another lump in my throat that didn�t belong, only a lump unlike the first one, a lump not so easy to cut out. Every clean evaluation was like a reprieve.

When we lost Caroline I began to look forward to death. Then we had a baby, and another, and another. I guess ancient fears have ways of re-attaching themselves. Now I don't fear my death for me, but for the family I would leave behind.

It's funny -- a family has a way of forcing spiritual maturity on those capable of such a transformation, and this maturity is a precursor to courage, and yet family can make such cowards out of us. Missionary trip -- are you crazy? I have children to look after. Go deep-sea diving? You must be out of your mind. Go pester one of those ubiquitous, shiftless, childless college grads for a partner. I have a family to protect.

No wonder so many men are increasingly comfortable with sending young girls to do our fighting for us -- all of us with families are too fearful of What Might Happen.

If you believe that death is the absolute end of you, then you do well to fear it -- more so than you will realize until that day. But many of us proclaim something very different, and yet look at how we arrange our lives. Nearly every waking thought is bent on either eliminating risk or cultivating distractions from it. We who believe in a Creator profess a dependence on Him, but we don't behave as if it's true.

Or maybe it's closer to the truth to say that we know it's true, and we hate it.

I remember sitting in a jet sent by my former employer to fetch us back from the clutches of Children's Hospital in Chicago. Our last real hope, they almost killed Caroline before telling us what they knew before we arrived, which was that she was going to die. Our pastor had flown up so that he could fly back with us, and I remember telling him that every hope had been removed one by one, so that now we sat in the palm of God.

"There�s no better place to be," he said. I knew I was supposed to believe it, but I didn't.

When we have no other hope, we face the possibility that His plan won't be ours. Sometimes He lets worldly dreams go unrealized, and tragedies happen, and illnesses rage. To trust Him is to abandon your plans.

This is a hard thing to do. It is doubly hard when you have been wounded, and you know that He could have stopped the wounding.

I think of my children, and how they trust me so completely. Sometimes that trust leads to wounds, and not all of these are for their good. Sometimes they are hurt by my stupid words or actions or inattention. And yet they trust me with abandon. With complete abandon.

"For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." I've been thinking about that, as I reflect on how I run to Him when I am desperate, yet when I am wealthy and well I devote my time to building a kingdom where He isn't needed. I find that I become Peter in the hours before the crucifixion, knowing Him but pretending otherwise.

So I am praying now that I will be Peter on the Sea of Tiberias. This is the chastened, broken man, the one who carries the knowledge that he abandoned his friend in his moment of greatest human need. And then Peter sees his risen Savior waiting on the shore, and rather than cling to safety this time he plunges into the sea, to be with Him all the sooner.

We leave much behind when we do such a thing, but maybe that isn't so bad. In fact, maybe it's the best thing we could ever do.

I want to find out.

Posted by Woodlief on February 07, 2005 at 08:03 AM


I'm afraid I'm going to have to steal some of this. It's amazing. In fact, I think I'm going to have to send it to my church pastor to steal. Thank you so much.

Keep up the good work. And keep up the struggle.

PS. I know what you mean about fearing death for the sake of your family. A strange place to be.

Posted by: Deoxy at February 7, 2005 9:37 AM

I finished Wild at Heart, the book you gave me. Yes, I see why it is what you are/want to be. And yes, Celeste, I see why it has given you insight into your husband. Being childless, I don't have the complete protectionist struggle, but I strive to be that "uncle" (I LOVE being called uncle by my close friends' children) that supports the dad in his ability to protect AND lead his sons into a true man's natural, spiritual self.
Rock on, pops.

Posted by: Shawn at February 7, 2005 10:59 AM

Good post.

I'm in the middle of reading "Wild at Heart" and recognized some of the themes from what you wrote. My dad taught me "First comes me, then me again", when it needs to be "First comes God, and then Him again."

The unconditional love we get from our children is so precious yet at the same time so scary. Am I good enough to deserve it? I know I'll fail and come up short, yet my youngster comes back to me with a hug. I don't understand it, nor will I understand it when Jesus greets me after leaving this world. All I can do is accept it by grace.

Posted by: MarcV at February 7, 2005 1:16 PM

Very touching and true. Thank you for speaking frankly about your doubts in the midst of your faith. To trust Him IS to abandon one's plans for specific outcomes and methods. I love Him for His patience and tenderness in dealing with my shortcomings. Continued prayer for you and your family.

Posted by: SLC at February 7, 2005 10:07 PM

Amazing. I believe you and I are on the same page of our spiritual walk with Christ; I've been studying Roman 7 lately where Paul laments that he does the things he hates and doesn't do the things he wants to do. And on top of all that, this weekend I was reading reviews of "Wild at Heart" and considering buying the book. I don't know what you've written about it, but I know God sends his message in subtle ways. I'll buy it today.

Thanks for sharing your faith today.

Posted by: Michael at February 8, 2005 9:28 AM


Thanks for the thoughts. As usual, they are right on target.

Back in college, one of my professors had a favorite diagnosis for the extreme risk aversion of us moderns. Enlightenment thinking taught us we were the center of the universe, he would say. So it should be no surprise that we fear death, because death very literally is the end of the world.

Posted by: John at February 8, 2005 10:12 AM

Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your life with us. Vulnerability on your part, promotes learning on our part. I help lead a GriefShare group at my church and plan on sharing this with our "guests." God has given you something incredible and I hope you continue to share it with us, as you use it to acomplish His plans for you.

Posted by: onelamb at February 8, 2005 1:26 PM

Tony, how do you do it? Fine piece, and reflects some of what many of us have dealt with.

Posted by: Pilgrim at February 9, 2005 9:55 AM

you're probably dead now, so you'll never read this (because there's no internet in your mythological afterlife, sorry to tell you), but i found your suicide note very amusing.

Posted by: Wayne at February 9, 2005 9:06 PM

i just happened upon your blog.

i read your caroline story.

i weep for you.

i pray for you.

and may i come back and read again, please?

feel better
feel loved by the Lord


Posted by: MMM at February 9, 2005 11:46 PM

I was very touched by what you wrote! God has truly given you a wonderful gift to share your life experiences! I cried when I read about Caroline (especially when you released her). Please continue to share your heart as you journey through this life; others are blessed by it.
What a time that will be... when we all get to heaven!
God Bless You and Keep You!

Posted by: Cheryl at February 10, 2005 8:37 PM

Hi guys,

I really enjoy the writing here - so I stop by from time to time. I'm not trying to start a religious war :), but I'd like to share another perspective. I've seen references to "Wild at Heart" and I have to point you to a review. You may dismiss them as "fundamentalist" or "legalistic" if you choose, but IMHO he makes some very valid points regarding this book - even if you don't agree with everything that's said.

Part1: http://www.svchapel.org/Resources/Articles/read_articles.asp?id=94

Part2: http://www.svchapel.org/Resources/Articles/read_articles.asp?id=98

Posted by: Dep at February 11, 2005 5:23 PM

Finally a blog with substance! Your posts are a sight for sore eyes, even if I don't always agree with you. (and that's the beauty!) I actually stumbled upon your site after searching for a childhood cancer support group to attend for one of my courses....Caroline's story drew me in and your fluency and intellect kept me here.

Posted by: Danielle at February 13, 2005 10:01 PM

Tony, not to dismiss the spiritual nature of your post, but to offer a bit of practical advice.

Get your thyroid function tested. Everyone I know - about 5 people, myself not included, went through very similar stuff before diagnosis and treatment.

And treatment is the easiest in the world.

Posted by: Pamela at February 14, 2005 12:06 PM

I am trying to be like Stephen (Acts). Even in the face of grave physical danger, he chose to follow Christ and testify of Him. Not that I'll ever be in fear of losing my life for my religious beliefs, but I'd like to think I'd stand tall as Stephen did in any situation.

Posted by: cooper at February 14, 2005 3:24 PM

You are very kind (as are the rest of you, though it takes a bout of sleeplessness for me to get around to saying so). I don't have a thyroid gland -- lost it to cancer when I was fifteen. But that's been checked too. I'm feeling much better now. But thank you for worrying over me.

Posted by: Tony at February 15, 2005 2:29 AM

You, your words, and their message simply amaze me.

Thank you.

Posted by: Christina at February 15, 2005 6:10 PM

Good luck with the healing.

Posted by: The Sanity Inspector at February 19, 2005 1:08 PM

Thank you Tony.

Posted by: jANELLE at February 21, 2005 4:08 PM

Hope you're feeling better now. Best wishes to you and your family. -- Obelix

Posted by: Obelix at March 3, 2005 1:18 AM