Bert, my big brother, shares his recent life with you here. This is Part 1 of 2. Don't miss the song at the end.
* * *In 2008 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My urologist used three dreaded words to describe it: Aggressive (a 10 on a scale of 10), Advanced, and Invasive. It was later determined to have metastasized to my bones, making it incurable.
I began making a list of things cancer has shown me. The list is constantly changing, both in length and in content. My sister Kathy asked me to share the list with you as it presently stands.
Ten Things Cancer Has Shown Me
by Bert Tippett1. That I can have “perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3) in spite of a bad diagnosis.
The “bad diagnosis” was not mine; it was our son’s. In 2003, our son, Brian, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. My wife, Dianne, and I had traveled to North Carolina to be with him for a painful bone marrow test. That night, as we lay in bed, we both felt we were drowning in despair. She was crying and I was angry. One of us said, “We have to pray!” So, we did. What followed was a sense of peace that neither of us could explain. We talked briefly, then slept soundly the rest of the night.
That peace still sustained us five years later when the diagnosis was mine. Oh, I did awaken one morning, turned to my wife, and said, “Dianne, I’m afraid.” She smiled and said, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee” (Psalm 56:3). Later that same day, I got a card in the mail from a friend who had battled his own cancer. In the card he wrote, “I’m sharing my cancer verse with you – Psalm 56:3.”
Although I have had three or four nights when the gravity of my disease made it hard to sleep, for the most part I sleep soundly every night, thanking the Lord for another day and for the assurance that He is with me all the way through this experience
I was visiting a church when an old friend asked me how I am doing. I told him that I was enjoying perfect peace. His face lit up and he exclaimed, “Isaiah 26:3, Isaiah 26:3!”
“That’s right,” I answered. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” A bad diagnosis is no match for God’s perfect peace.
2. That I’m really not afraid to die.
We say that, but when we come face to face with the probability of death we learn if we really mean it. My mother-in-law used to say, “There are lots of things worse than dying.” She was right. Even knowing that my cancer is incurable, I constantly meet people and say to myself, “I would not trade places with him.” Compared to issues like Alzheimers and troubled children, cancer is nothing.
I was reading through Genesis recently and kept running across statements describing the deaths of the patriarchs. They “gave up the ghost” (took their last breath) and they were “gathered to their fathers,” which sounds like a reunion to me. None of that is anything to dread. The process of dying may be difficult, but the actual event will be pure joy.
When the bodies of servicemen killed in action are brought home to the United States, you often hear a military band playing a piece by Dvorak taken from his “Ninth Symphony.” Lyrics have been added and it is popularly known as “Going Home.” One set of lyrics reads:
It’s not far, yes close by
Through an open door
Work all done, care laid by
Going to fear no more
Mother’s there 'specting me
Father’s waiting, too
Lots of folk gathered there
All the friends I knew
But another set, one that I much prefer, reads:
It's not far, just close by;
Jesus is the Door;
Work all done, laid aside,
Fear and grief no more.
Friends are there, waiting now.
He is waiting, too.
See His smile! See His hand!
He will lead me through.
How can you fear death with such a glorious prospect?
As a good friend of mine said shortly before his death, “I’m not afraid to cross that river because I know the One who owns the land on both sides.”
3. That I must control the things I can and trust God for the things I can’t.
Oprah Winfrey was interviewing Michael J. Fox regarding his Parkinson’s disease. She marveled at his sense of humor and cheerful spirit. At one point he told her that he could not control having Parkinson’s, but that he could control a million other things. Something about that resonated with me.
When God called me to preach, I had a choice. I could accept His call or reject it. I could name other important events in my life when I knew God’s will but had the choice as to whether to do it or not.
But with cancer, it was different. God gave me no choice; like it or not, I had cancer. Why should this event in my life be different from other events, even those that rank among the most important? I am considering two possible reasons.
First, I would never have chosen cancer. Who would? Second, the blessing of God’s presence in the midst of my cancer is a landmark event. I hate to think what I would have missed if God had given me a choice. It was too important to be left to me.
Many people are plunged into circumstances they would never choose, circumstances that have nothing to do with cancer. It may be childhood abuse or physical, mental or emotional disfigurement. Yet God can use even such as these to His glory. In John, chapter nine, the disciples asked why a man had been born blind – a condition over which the man had no choice. Jesus answered, “. . .that the works of God should be revealed in him.”
I think it is what we do with those things we can control that makes all the difference. I can choose bitterness or I can choose trust. I can focus on myself or I can look for doors God will open for me. As Michael J. Fox said, "It is those things we can control that define us." They are the things that tell the world if we are really serious when we pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
4. That the prayers of others will be my strength.
One morning several months after I was diagnosed with cancer, I received a rather fat envelope from Vermont. Vermont? Who do I know in Vermont? A note inside revealed that it was from the first young couple whose wedding I performed. He is now pastoring a church in Vermont and his wife is in charge of the children’s ministry, Barnabas’ Kids. Along with the note was a stack of hand-made cards, decorated with drawings and stickers. Every one of them contained the same message inside: “We are praying for you.” One enterprising child added a second note: “I hope you fell (sp.) better.” What a blessing!
Recently, a pastor and good friend called to tell me he was visiting a shut-in who saw my name on the church’s prayer list. “Who is this?” he asked. The pastor told him about me and reported my condition. The man told him, “God has put him on my heart and I am praying for him every day.” It is such people and their prayers that convince me that I am securely in God’s will. He is hearing their prayers and meeting my needs.
I post occasional notes on Facebook, where I have nearly 1,300 friends. I recently asked them to pray that a new chemo “cocktail” would be more effective in controlling my cancer. Many of them responded that they had already prayed and would continue to do so. I even had messages from alumni on mission fields assuring me that Christians in China and Spain, who have never seen my face, are praying.
Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t receive a card, a phone call, an email, or a Facebook note assuring me of prayers. My wife and I draw daily strength from the knowledge that our needs are being taken to God in waves of intercession.
5. That God is strengthening my wife just as He has strengthened me.
My wife is an incurable optimist. When I rear-ended a police car and we were watching him walk back with his citation book in hand, she turned to me and said, “Well, at least we don’t have to wait for a policeman!”
I knew my diagnosis had a huge effect on Dianne. But it really came home to me one morning when our son took me out on the deck where we could talk privately and said, “Dad, I know you are handling this, but don’t forget, this is harder on Mom than it is on you.” In some undefined way, I was aware of that. But Brian’s admonition moved it way up in my thinking.
Dianne and I share everything. At any given moment, she can tell you how I am doing. We have chosen to be totally open with each other and with our children regarding the cancer – its treatment, our states of mind, any aches or pains, etc. We even talk about my final service and matters regarding her life after I am gone.
I can’t find words to tell what Dianne is meaning to me right now. We have had a good marriage, but she has never been dearer to me than now. Her prayers and her encouragement mean more to me than anyone else’s. We sit across the room each morning with our coffee and biscotti, and have our devotions. Praying aloud, at home is a common occurrence.
We do everything together. When she shops, I take a book. At Kohl’s, Belk, or Penny’s, we part at the door and I head for the shoe department. They always have someplace to sit in the shoe department. For whatever time it takes her to shop, I sit and read. When she is ready to go, she knows where I am. She’ll find me and say something like, “Who’s that good looking man sitting over there?” I’ll smile and we’ll go home together.
I recently told her that I fully expect to be waiting for her at the gate of Heaven. But the crowd welcoming her may be large and we may somehow miss each other. So I added, “In case you don’t see me, ask where the shoe department is.” When she finds me, we’ll go home together.
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Kathy here. The You Tube song (above) is Brad Paisely, featuring Andy Griffith. You'll see why it's a favorite of Bert's right now.I'll post his Part 2 (#6-10 of Ten Things Cancer Has Shown Me) next Friday.