Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Epilogue

That is the end of the story I set out to write, but not the end of the journey. We spent 15 years in Ontario, 5 in Québec and have been back in Saskatchewan for 20 years. We are living in the Swanson congregation, where I saw no hope of finding work 40 years ogo. Times have changed, there are many small businesses run by members of the congregation and other employment opportunities in the area. I work part time as a bookkeper now.

Michelle experienced a new birth at the age of 12 and was baptized December 6, 1984. In her late teens and into her twenties she worked several years in nursing homes, then as a teacher in the schools of congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. She was an eastern girl, having spent most of her growing up years and her early working life in Eastern Canada.

She was teaching at Dumas, Arkansas when we moved back to Saskatchewan. We fully expected that her permanent home would be far away from us, but a young man at Swanson took note of her and proposed a year after we moved. We are very grateful to Ken Klassen, not only for bringing our daughter back to Saskatchewan, but for his kind and gentle ways as her husband and as father to their four children.

Tami Klassen, our oldest granddaughter was baptized earlier this year. The decisions we made many years ago are bearing fruit unto the third generation.

My mother visited us every year while we lived in the east, usually spending several weeks or a month at a time. She turned 90 in January of 1998 and we knew it was time to come back home to Saskatchewan. She lived with us for a few years and then spent her last years in a nursing home in Rosthern. She passed away December 31, 2006, just 18 days short of her 99th birthday.

Chris has had two bouts with cancer and is healthy and cancer free at this time. We will celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary this summer. Over the last few years we have both been working at developing writing skills to be able to share what God ha done for us and what He has taught us.

To know God without knowing our own wretchedness only makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes only for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ provides the balance, because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness. – Blaise Pascal

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Summer hibernation

Two weeks ago, we still occasionally ran the air conditioner to make the house comfortable. Now we use heaters in the morning to make it comfortable. We haven’t seen hummingbirds at our feeder for four days now. Blackbirds are gathering by the hundreds, sometimes perched all along the wires of the power lines. We hear a few sandhill cranes in the air as they fly down from their northern breeding areas. Combines can be heard from the grain fields all around us. The signs of the changing season are all around us.

Yet we are facing the coming of fall with more enthusiasm than we have for many years. You see, my wife had her last chemotherapy treatment just two days ago. Now the recovery can begin. The doctors have told us her leukemia has been beaten back, there are no remaining symptoms. All that remains is to recover from the drugs.

We went to Boston Pizza for dinner after her last treatment on Thursday, before the drugs began to distort her taste. She will have a few days of weariness, maybe a couple of weeks when things don’t taste right, some inflammation of the blood veins where the drugs were administered, plus the hidden danger of a weakened immune system.

Nevertheless, her energy level has increased towards the end of the last two cycles of treatment. She was going for two days of treatment at four-week intervals. She never felt seriously ill after the treatments, but the first two weeks after the treatments she did not have a lot of energy. Then the energy and enthusiasm would begin to increase up to the time of the next two days of treatments. Now there are no next treatments ahead of us.

It feels like we have spent spring and summer in hibernation. Now that fall and winter are ahead of us, we can wake up and learn to enjoy life once more. Rejoice with us!

We Bleed, All The Way Up

“We live in a disordered, chaotic, fractured, fallen world where the current of sin devours everything.” I love that phrase and it pretty much sums up the thoughts that were going through my mind today.

I was sitting with my wife as the chemotherapy drugs were dripping into her bloodstream and meditating on the twisted theology of well-meaning Christians who try to explain that God sends, or permits, cancer, leukemia and such things for His honour and glory. What I read in the Bible is that God created a paradise. When Adam sinned it opened the door for all manner of evil to enter this world and there has been warfare ever since between the forces of darkness and God’s true light.

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”

J.S. Park: Hospital Chaplain, Skeptical Christian

The patient really believed her cancer was somehow “God’s amazing plan for my life.” She went on to say the things I always hear: “He won’t give me more than I can handle. Thank God we caught it early. God is going to use this for my good.”

I get why we say these things, because we’re such creatures of story that we rush for coherence. But even when such theology is true, I want to tell her that it’s okay to say this whole ordeal is terrible and that it really hurts and that we live in a disordered, chaotic, fractured, fallen world where the current of sin devours everything, that bad things happen to model citizens, that nothing is as it’s meant to be, and the people who don’t catch the cancer early aren’t well enough to thank God for anything, and that not every pain is meant…

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Could this be idolatry?

Aaron, an elderly brother from the congregation whee we used to live, had been driving down a lonely highway in Texas. After an hour or two he saw a young man hitchhiking and offered him a ride. The young man got into the back seat and they chatted a little. All was silent for a while, then the hitchhiker said “Jesus is returning soon.” Aaron looked back, but the back seat was empty. He had not stopped the car, but the hitchhiker had vanished.

Or so I was told. When I asked brother Aaron about this he said it had never happened. This story was heard often about 35 years ago, always about a friend of a friend, never a first hand account. Perhaps it is still being told. What makes people want to believe stories like this?

A few years later thee was a story going around in Amish and Mennonite communities about an Old Order Amish family with eleven sets of twin boys. Pretty soon the number was up to an even dozen. Then they were reported to be moving to Tennessee, to join a Church of God in Christ, Mennonite congregation. Brother Rodney from our congregation was travelling in Pennsylvania with his family at this time and news came back that he had met this family. I asked him about them when he returned home. He had never seen them. It appears that nobody else ever did, either.

A few years after that, there were news articles in the local daily newspaper about a young father with incurable cancer. The family heard about a clinic, in Texas again if I remember rightly, with a promising new therapy. They would take the patients urine, extract antibodies from it and inject them into the cancer patient. There were glowing testimonials of the success of this therapy. But it was prohibitively expensive.

The young couple sold their home, there were community fundraisers to help cover their costs, and they set out with high hopes. There were a few early reports in the paper telling how he was beginning to feel better already.  Then nothing.

Two months later there was a tiny item in the back of the paper reporting the death of this young man. He left a wife and several small children who were now completely destitute. However, the clinic in Texas was probably doing quite well financially. (I believe they were later shut down by the authorities.)

Why are people tempted to believe such stories? Why are so few motivated to seek out the truth? When people choose to believe a lie, either because it is interesting or because it offers hope in a hopeless situation, is this not a form of idolatry?

Our life is changing

Wednesday evening I said good-bye to the members of the Toastmasters club that I have belonged to for two years. This morning my wife and I said good-bye to the Youth Sunday School class we have taught for the past six months. Today was my wife’s last day of work at the home for seniors where she has worked for almost eight and one half years.

Leaving the Youth class was a routine thing, teachers change every six months. We will still worship together, but I will miss the class times.

The other two events are not routine. My wife has CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia) and has been getting more fatigued with every passing month. She has appointments in March for a CT scan and another visit with her oncologist and we expect treatments to begin about a month from now. This should be good news, the oncologist says the treatments will lower her abnormal white cell count and increase her energy level. Good news or not, it is too much for her now to put in an occasional day’s work outside the home.

I feel the evening trips into the city for Toastmaster meetings don’t really fit with the way our spring and summer seems to be shaping up. I have learned much through Toastmaster and made good friends, but this is the end of going to the meetings.

The future is hidden from us. We are told that the chemotherapy that she will receive will not be as hard on her as the drugs she received 35 years ago. She came through that episode remarkably well. But now she is 35 years older. We want to go forward in the faith that is portrayed in the following lines from Minnie Louise Haskins:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied:

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than  light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me toward the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

The quest for health

Some trust in doctors

Folks today seem to accept it as fact that this life is all they have. They turn to doctors for help in staying alive as long as they can.Sometimes people blame the doctor when someone dies – it would not have happened if the doctor had done his job.

People also turn to doctors for help in staying happy, or dealing with emotional trauma. Yeats ago, they would have gone to their pastor, priest or rabbi for help in such troubles.

I believe most doctors are trustworthy. I also believe they can help with many emotional, mental and developmental issues. But genuine healing can only come from God. The doctor can help, but he is not infallible, and we are all going to die sometime.

Some trust in natural remedies

My wife and I visited a young wife and mother who had cancer. She knew her time on earth would soon be over. Yet she faced the future with faith, peace, and even joy. She told us that the thing that troubled her the most was Christians who came to her to propose one kind of herbal remedy or another. These were well-meaning people who were true believers in the remedies they suggested and made her feel that they thought that if she didn’t try their remedy it would be her fault if she died.

Some people spend their life savings on a new remedy or therapy that is not approved by the medical profession, but which promises to cure their ailment. Reports come back that they are feeling better every day. Then we hear that they have died.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that many prescription medicines are plant-based. I know that many herbal and vitamin supplements will enhance our health. I also know that many “natural” remedies do not deliver on the promises made for them and may even have harmful side-effects or interactions with other medications.

Some trust in faith healers

Another young lady was dying of cancer. A minister anointed her and prayed for her healing, and she was healed. She then was called upon to speak to groups of people and interviewed on radio to tell of her healing. A year later she was again dying, of the same cancer that she had been healed of. Her friends hardly knew how to talk to her – wouldn’t it be unbelief to admit she was dying?

This happens all too often, yet people want to believe that there is someone out there with the gift of healing who can help them.

Some trust in God

Isaac Mastre was a well-known minister and travelling evangelist in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. There were times in his travels when he was asked to pray for a sick person. A number of remarkable healings occurred. In writing about one such incident he said “This is given to the church.” In other words, Isaac  Mastre did not see himself as someone with the gift of healing – all healing comes from God.

“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:14-15). Please note that this does not say “call for an elder whom you know has the gift of healing.”

These verses are not just about physical healing. They point to the need for spiritual healing. That is the most important healing of all, because this life is not all that we have.

 

Life isn’t fair

These are real people that I’m going to write about, but I’m not going to use their real names.

Elsie and Elizabeth were already quite elderly when we knew them; the story of their earlier life was told to us by others. They were sisters, born in pioneer days on a prairie farm and grew up during hard times.

Elsie was the oldest and was born before her mother was married. Her mother appeared to find her a constant reminder of her shame and treated her harshly. Elizabeth, on the other had, was her mother’s favourite. Both girls grew up and married. Elsie and her husband moved several times and endured many hardships; four or five of their children died when quite young. Elizabeth and her husband were never very prosperous but all of their children grew up and married.

When we knew them late in life, Elsie was a sweet and caring lady. She was interested in others, thankful and content, never complained, a joy to visit with. Elizabeth was the one who seemed bitter about how life had treated her, and appeared to have little interest in others. Both would have called themselves Christians and were faithful in attending church. I don’t know all the story and it is not up to me to judge, but the difference in attitude was striking. What impressed me the most was that the one who might have had reason to complain that life wasn’t fair was the one who was the happiest.

Sheila was a young girl we got to know on our visits to Saskatchewan. Her mother subsisted mostly by welfare and had a series of live-in boyfriends, some of whom had fathered her children. Sheila was eleven years old when we invited her to spend a few weeks with us in Ontario. We spent a night with friends along the way and in the morning the husband took Sheila out to show her his chicken barn. Sheila was a city girl and that morning she learned for the first time where eggs came from.

The following year we heard that Sheila had cancer. Along with that we learned that she had been sexually abused by one of her mother’s boyfriends. We were back in Saskatchewan when she had her first chemotherapy treatment. We had a little contact over the next few years as she continued to battle the cancer.

When she was fifteen she flew out to BC to spend some time with her mother’s aunt. We were travelling to Saskatchewan again that summer and arranged to meet her and her mother at the airport when she came home. We met Sheila as she got off the plane, but her mother never showed up. “She never does,” Sheila told us, “even when I come home from the cancer clinic in Saskatoon, I have to find my own way home.” We took Sheila out for a meal and a visit, then drove her home. That was the last time we saw her alive; she died shortly after her sixteenth birthday.

This was certainly a disadvantaged child, yet she was the most stable and mature person in her family. When she was twelve and in the hospital for chemotherapy, she was trying to teach her brothers to behave. She loved her mother and never complained about her. This was just the way things were and Sheila accepted that. We didn’t sense any anger or bitterness in her.

We don’t know how much exposure she had to the Bible or Christian teachings. Certainly, there was none at home. She talked of attending Salvation Army services at times. In the short time she spent with us, she experienced how we prayed before meals, had family devotions every day, and she attended Sunday School and church with us. Members from a nearby congregation went into Saskatoon to sing for her several times when she was there for chemotherapy.

Considering the setting she came from, could she still have been in a state of childhood innocence, or had she at some point made a decision to follow Jesus? I don’t know if even Sheila could have given a clear answer to that, but there was something about her that gives us hope that we shall see her again one day.

Life isn’t fair, but the things that happen to us do not determine whether we are happy or unhappy, whether we are saved or lost. It is the way we react to those things that makes all the difference. “Therefore choose life,” Moses told the people.

Cancer Centre

My wife had her first visit at the Cancer Centre yesterday.

Now isn’t that a scary way of starting a conversation?  The visit really wasn’t so scary.

Let me start at the beginning.  Four months ago Chris decided that the tiredness she felt after a day’s work had to be due to something more than being somewhat overweight and out of shape.  She saw our family doctor and was sent for blood tests.  When he saw the results of those tests, the high white cell count caused him to immediately suspect that she had CLL – Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.

At first, the mention of leukemia sent us into a panic.  Then I googled CLL and found that the word chronic means that people don’t die from it.    That brought a little relief, but there was still a lot of uncertainty as to what it means, and will mean, for Chris.

A suspicion of CLL is not a diagnosis.  Not too long ago the only way of obtaining a definite diagnosis was to take a bone marrow sample, not an enjoyable experience.  New technology allows doctors to examine the external shape of white blood cells to determine if they are normal or if they show the malformation that is characteristic of CLL.  Chris had that test and it was positive.

She has had x-rays and a CT scan that show no internal organs are affected.  She has had periodic blood tests and visits with a hematologist at Royal University Hospital.  He told her that the later tests show very little change from her first test, meaning that the CLL is progressing very slowly.

Now the hematologist at RUH has passed Chris’s file on to a hematologist at the Cancer Centre for ongoing monitoring.  The road from here looks like this: they will do periodic blood tests to monitor her condition.  The next test will be in three months and if it shows very little change the tests will be spaced out further.  In time, if the CLL causes further complications, chemotherapy will be necessary.  But this won’t be anything like the chemo that she had thirty years ago after she had cancer.  It will probably only involve taking pills, and will have very few side effects.

CLL is not curable, but it is treatable in its more advanced stages.  And the treatment is generally quite effective.

For the present, Chris is learning to live with CLL, pacing herself and accomplishing more than if she were to get frustrated and try to do more at one time than her body could cope with.  God has been good to us in times past, making a way for us in all the troubles we have faced, and we trust He will continue to do so,

Please don’t try to pressure us about Mexican doctors or miracle herbs

I haven’t been writing much lately, what with frequent trips to the city for medical appointments and dealing with the troubling news that has come from those appointments.  Now that things are beginning to settle down, I want to give a brief status report before I get back to writing about other things.

My wife appears to have Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.  I say “appears” because we understand it would take a bone marrow test for a definitive diagnosis.  Nevertheless, the elevated white cell count and lymphocyte count are strongly indicative of CLL.  This was shocking news, but once we got over the shock we realized that the future doesn’t look all that bleak.  Many people live for 15, 20  or even 30 years with CLL and do not require drastic treatments.

In fact, it was rather a relief to have a name for the fatigue and other symptoms that Chris was experiencing.  She had felt that there must be something terribly wrong with her – she must be terribly out of condition, or sometimes she felt that she must be just plain lazy that she felt so weary after a day’s work.  Now that she knows that there really is something wrong with her, the guilt at least is gone.  She told me yesterday that the fatigue doesn’t necessarily correlate with the amount of work she does.  She spent several days working in the garden last week and felt fine afterwards.  Another time, after a fairly light day of work, she feels beat.

Chris had another form of cancer when she was 27.  We went to the elders of the church, they had an anointing and a prayer for healing, then counselled us to follow the doctor’s advice as to the form of treatment to be done.  She had surgery, followed by chemotherapy and remained healthy and cancer free up ‘til now.  Our daughter was eight years old back then.  She and her husband will soon celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary, their three oldest children will be 11, 9 and 7 this summer and the youngest will be three in fall.  We expect that Grandma will live to see them grow up, too.

We got another piece of advice 33 years ago, that I found quite troubling at the time.  A brother from another province heard of my wife’s cancer and sent a letter urgently advising me to take her to a certain doctor in Mexico.  The tone of the letter seemed to suggest that I would be negligent if I did not follow his advice.

Around the same time, a sister in Pennsylvania was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  She and her husband were new Christians with small children and everyone felt a great sympathy for them.  However, God granted this sister such a peace and joy in her suffering that she was a comfort and encouragement to all who came to comfort and encourage her.  We visited her twice, a year apart, and she told us the hardest thing to take was all the well-meaning brothers and sisters who came suggesting a miraculous herbal remedy for her cancer.  The suggested remedies were different, yet it appeared to her that each one proffering a remedy seemed to feel that if she did not take their suggested remedy it would be her fault if she died.

There was an anointing prayer for healing and fellow believers from far and wide continued to pray for her healing.  She underwent the best treatments available at the National Cancer Centre at Bethesda, Maryland.  She chose not to try any of the suggested herbal remedies and she did die.  But she died in peace.  Would it have helped her to put her faith in modern-day medicine men?  I really don’t believe it would have, more likely it would have led her to put her trust in something else than God.

I understand that many people do not agree with me in this.  But I hope that all will respect our wishes not to be showered with suggestions of miracle working Mexican physicians or herbal remedies.

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