January 12, 2009

Reflections from an Easy Chair
by Pastor George Van Alstine

I’m writing as I’m sitting in a big fat easy chair at the office of my hematologist, while the last of my twelve chemotherapy cocktails drips into my blood system. The process which began with colon surgery last June is almost over. What’s next? We just wait and see how effective the treatment has been. The doctor wants me to plan on a colonoscopy and mri “in about a year.” There’s no way of telling whether or not the original colon cancer has been completely wiped out unless and until it turns up again. Personally, I believe there are no more cancer cells in my body and I will fully recover.

Everyone who has a close call in life learns something new about God. My discovery is that I don’t have many of the “little answers” about why things happen the way they do. People may look for slogan answers about all things working out for the best, about God’s will being manifest in our suffering, about our always having the victory over sin and sickness. They won’t hear them from me. I’m more agnostic than ever about the “little answers.” But I’m surprised by how settled and confident I have been about the “Big Answer,” that God will carry me through to his destiny for me.

I remember a preacher whose health totally collapsed when he was fifty-five. His family was reduced to a poverty existence, his wife was overwhelmed with stress. His three sons blamed God and turned away from the church. After the worst of his pit-experience, he reflected in a conversation with me:

“I’ve preached for thirty years, comforting people with God’s promise that ‘underneath are the everlasting arms,’ but I never knew what that meant until now. All the other things that gave me security were kicked out from under me—family, financial income, health. The only thing left to cushion my fall were God’s ‘everlasting arms.’ ”

I think I’ve learned a bit of the same lesson.

If I have indeed “dodged a bullet” in catching this cancer in time, my good fortune will only grant me a temporary reprieve. Some day not too far off I will have to face the reality of death. Maybe I will have another five years, or ten, or even fifteen, but I will die. So this has been a good practice run. However many years I have ahead, I hope I live them with the assurance that “underneath are the everlasting arms.”

❖ ❖ ❖ ❖ ❖

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported me and my family through this journey. Quite a number of you have donated to the fund to help pay for the part of the treatment not covered by our insurance. Some of these donations have been surprisingly generous, maybe even sacrificial. I’m very grateful for these gifts of love.

The other great gift you have given me is the continual assurance that I am part of a living body of believers, where I am supported by prayer and practical caring. True Christian fellowship is not just talk, there is a day to day sharing of burdens and blessings. I hope I will always be there for you, as you have been there for me.