February 24 Evening Update

Made it back home to the kids around 5 this evening.  We had a good experience with the Functional MRI at Emory.  It was a lengthy and very detailed procedure that lasted almost two hours.  They were very careful to get all the needed data, repeating several of the scans in order to make sure they got the best images possible.  We now will continue to wait as all the data is compiled and analyzed.  We are incredibly thankful for the medical care that we have the privilege to receive, but we do not put our trust in man genius but in God’s goodness.  He continues to show us great grace in the midst of the journey He has placed before us.

In an email note to a friend this morning I was reminded of all that God has been teaching me during the last three weeks.  This journey with a brain tumor has radically challenged me with my own frailness and mortality and as a result has brought great clarity to life.

For many years now, the passage in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 has served as life verses for me:  “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our iner self is being renewed day by day.   For this light momentary affliction is  preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

These days I am constantly reminded of the urgency of eternity.  This has led to three specific areas where I have been growing: 1. to cherish Christ above all else (even more than life itself); 2. to reject the lie of sin and the deceit of this world (this is not my home); 3. to see people as eternal beings to whom I must reflect God’s glory (this is the purpose of life).   The adventure continues, may Christ sustain us to the end!

Jonathan

February 24 Morning Update

This morning at 10 AM we have an appointment at Emory Hospital for a Functional MRI.  This is a part of the plan to gather more data for the cortical mapping necessary for surgical planning.  Please be in prayer that this will provide more precise information about the location and extent of the tumor.  Pray that we would use all opportunities to make much of God in the midst of our circumstances today.  Thanks for your encouragement and support.

Jonathan

February 21

We had a very good meeting with Dr. Markert this morning. He confirmed that the second (Spatial) MRI did not show any change or growth from the first MRI taken three weeks ago.  This further supports their diagnosis of a low grade Glioma.  Although the MEG machine at UAB is still not functional and may continue that way for some time, Dr. Markert believes they can get the necessary cortical mapping for resection of the tumor from other testing.

Right now they are working on an appointment for a Functional MRI at Emory, with a second option in Houston.  It will take time to process and analyze the data from these tests, but we went ahead and scheduled a surgery date of March 22.  All of this is subject to change based on new information gathered from further testing or if there were to be a change in the symptoms, but it allows us to move from indefinite to a tentative timeline.

We are thankful for an opportunity to structure our time prior to surgery and make personal and professional plans leading up to this date.  Pray for us as we seek to maximize and prioritize this time for Kingdom impact in the lives of our family, friends, church, and all nations.

February 20

A few days ago a friend reminded me that in the midst of a struggle it is easy to become frustrated with the word “process”, yet God’s plan for our lives IS the “process” and it is IN the “process” that we know Him more.

This is no doubt a learning process.  Last week, after finding out that the MEG machine was still not operational, we began to seek possible options around us to get this done and to try to move ahead with a plan.  Well, after a couple of very stressful days -and many conversations, phone calls and e-mails, we realized we don’t completely understand everything that this technology involves, so we scheduled a new appointment to see Dr. Market again this Monday February 21 to discuss the relevance of this test and to decide what’s best for this specific case.

This part of the process taught us a little more about the intricacies of the medical world, but it taught us a lot about ourselves, about how we need to work together and about how we can serve each other in this journey.  So, today I thank God for the “process”.

Karla

Reflexion: Intended Effect & Side Effects

Over the last two weeks, I have been adjusting to the reality of life with a brain tumor.  In practical terms, I have had to modify my schedule to include all the doctor’s visits, rework my calendar to cancel the 33 days of international travel to 5 different countries I had planned on visiting over the next two months, and reorder my priorities on to include more rest and family time.   That last part needed to happen with or without the brain tumor.

In order to control the seizures and swelling produced by the brain tumor, I have been prescribed several medicines including seizure medicine and a steroid for the swelling in the brain.  My wife Karla has graciously set up a series of alarms and reminders on my phone so I don’t forget to take the medicines as a part of my new daily routine.  Thankfully these medicines have achieved their intended effect wonderfully and I have not had another seizure.  But, I have also been experiencing some other side effects of how my body responds to these medicines, including insomnia.

So most nights I now lie awake with my mind racing through countless thoughts.  This often goes on for several hours at a time.  But instead of just laying in bed, I have found that the best response is to climb out of bed and spend some time in prayer and then to sit down and write out all the random thoughts spinning through my head.  The result has been a series of documents that I have started to refer to as my insomnia papers.  If nothing else, writing all these things down has been helpful therapy for one of the side effects of the medicine.  But, I also want to share some of those thoughts and our journey through this blog and trust that even insomnia may be redeemed for a greater purpose.

So, in response to the first blog post, I have had many people ask a version of the same question: “How can you know God is in control of all things and that He will use this situation for your good and His glory?”  The second most common response is for people to say something like, “you’re a good person so just press ahead and everything will work out for you.”  Both questions essentially drive from the same question.   I believe that at some point in life, all of us ask ourselves about the purpose for our existence.  This question is an important one to answer clearly because, whether we realize it or not, it determines how we understand ourselves and how we interpret and interact with the world around us.   The answer to this question then determines how we perceive and respond to reality, or our “worldview”.   So, in response to the many questions that friends and family have been asking along these lines, I would like to lay out my “worldview” in a series of reflections.   I will also post regular updates on the blog about our journey with this brain tumor, but occasionally I will include a longer reflection about life.  Hopefully in these “reflections”, I will be able to explain the confidence that I have in God, but also correct the idea that this confidence has anything to do with me or something that I have done.

The best place to start this conversation is with God himself.  Now it’s important to realize that we can’t base our discussion about God, solely on my thoughts or your thoughts about God.  If we did, then all we would be doing is creating a god in our own image and not the true God of the universe.  There will always be mystery involved in our understanding of God, but He is knowable through His revelation of Himself in the Bible.  In the Bible, we see God as creator of the universe and mankind created to worship and serve God.  JI Packer says ”we, as creatures, are absolutely dependent on God, and that he, as Creator, has an absolute claim on us.”

The first pillar of my confidence in God is knowing Him as Creator.  I was created by God for His purpose.  I think deep down, when we are quietly truthful with ourselves, we all know that we were created.  Our constant search for meaning and significance in our lives is evidence of this reality.  But, you see, this was God’s design, His intended effect in all our lives to provoke us to seek Him.   So that, in knowing Him, we may find our true purpose for which we were created.  The medicines I am now taking have accomplished their intended purpose of stopping the seizures, much as the knowledge of being created, accomplishes the purpose of seeking the intent for which we were created.  But there have also been other side effects of how my body responds to the medication.  In a similar way, there are side effects in how we respond to the knowledge that we were created by God.  We see in our lives the side effects of how each of us respond to this inherent reality.  In the next reflection we will talk more about these side effects and how God uses our responses to accomplish His purpose of making Himself known to us.

Thank you for sharing in this journey through your prayers and support!

Jonathan

This week

Since Monday February 7th, after a very helpful and informative meeting with our neurosurgeon, Dr. Markert from UAB, we have been waiting to schedule a test called a Magnetoencephalography (MEG) that will provide cortical mapping for the proposed surgery in order to remove as much of the tumor as possible.  The results of this test take about 2 weeks to compile and analyze.  The sooner we have the results of this test, the sooner surgeons can make a more informed and comprehensive plan for surgery.

We just found out this afternoon that the MEG machine at UAB is missing a part and may not be operational before the end of the month.  Due to this indefinite delay, we are now seeking to have the MEG test done elsewhere as soon as we can find an available MEG machine and schedule an appointment.

Please be in prayer that God would open up the doors for us to have this test done soon so that we can move forward with the plan for surgery.  We trust that God is in sovereign control of all things including this machine malfunction and the delay in our timeline.
Pray that we would make wise decisions on where to go from here.
Pray that God would continue to place people to guide us as we navigate this new world of medical care and procedures.

We are thankful for your continued prayers and have truly sensed God’s sustaining power and presence as we walk forward in faith on this new journey he has placed before us.

Jonathan

The Essential Guide to Life with a Brain Tumor

My travel clothes are hanging next to my bed along with all of the travel essentials: ear plugs, chewing gum, and travel guidebook.  This morning I was supposed to be jumping on a flight out of the country with a group from our church to serve in Thailand and China for two weeks.  I have the privilege of serving as Pastor for Global Disciple-Making at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.  In this role I mobilize, facilitate and equip our faith family to make disciples of all nations through short-term mission trips and long-term church planting teams.  My bags were all packed; the team had been trained; passport, immunizations, and visas were all in order; but I am not going to be able to make this mission trip.

Up until a few days ago, I was a healthy and adventurous 36-year-old husband and father of three, full of dreams and hopes for the future.  My perspective and expectations about life were suddenly rocked Monday afternoon, like the ground shaking uncontrollably in an earthquake or when you are in a sudden car accident.  While on a conference call to arrange the logistics for an upcoming trip to northern India, my head began to spin, and I felt like I was going to faint.  Tunnel vision set in, and I completely lost all sight out of my left field of vision.  At the same time a bright light began to flash repeatedly just where my vision had gone out.  I was taken to the emergency room and in the waiting room began to loose all sensation in my left fingers, then my left hand, up my left arm, across my chest, down my left leg, across my face and finally my mouth and tongue.  A few hours later I was informed that a CT scan and an MRI revealed a large mass in the back of my brain that the doctors believe to be a 6 centimeter brain tumor sitting on my occipital lobe.

If you have ever been through a traumatic event or natural disaster, you know that there is an immediate feeling of disorientation that occurs until you can regain your bearings.  The worst disorientation for me came in the form of fears and concerns for my family.   What will happen to my wife and kids when I am gone?  Who will raise my children in the fear and admonishment of the Lord?  Will we be able to cover the medical expenses related to this condition?  The fog of these questions and doubts began to descend upon me, but in the middle of hearing the ER doctor explain what they found, I heard a voice, as clear and true as any, and it was coming from my mouth, but the words were truth from the Heavenly Father, not my thoughts.  Even as they came out of my mouth the disorientation and confusion began to subside and greater clarity set in.  The ER doctor stopped in mid sentence as he heard these words: “I know that God will use even this for my good and for His glory.  I don’t know how it will happen, but I know that God is in control of all things and I will trust Him.”  I will trust him with my family, my finances, and my future.  I will not fear what this world may bring.  I will trust in God.

The brain tumor did not catch God by surprise.  God has known it was there long before the doctors discovered it.  I am finite and fearful.  He is infinite, all-knowing, and all-powerful.  At it’s most basic element, Biblical faith is trusting in God.  This is the Good News, the gospel, at its core.  We turn away from ourselves and our control and trust in Him.  We are unable to rescue ourselves from this life of sin and death, but God through the provision of his Son, Jesus Christ, has paid the price for our sin and restored us to right relationship with the Father.  Faith is fleeing from self-sufficiency to Christ-centered dependency for salvation and for life.  We often think about faith as a one-time event.  There is an immediate reality to salvation that comes the moment we are justified before the Father.  But my earthly father once told me that learning to trust God is what life is all about.  This is learning to walk by faith.  So I am thankful for this opportunity to continue to trust God and walk by faith.  God is already using this brain tumor to transform me more into the image of Christ.  I will submit to his plan for my sanctification.  In the grand scheme of life, not much has really changed since Monday, I am just more aware of my dependence on God’s sovereign control over all things.   I will continue to trust and depend on God’s plan for my life.  I am His and He is mine!

So instead of getting on a plane to Southeast Asia this morning, I turned over and glanced at the reading material I had been given at the hospital and one of the titles caught my eye:  “The Essential Guide to Brain Tumors”.  So, I decided that I would begin to journal about this new journey that God has us on.  I am entitling it “My Essential Guide to Life with a Brain Tumor”.  I am inviting you to share in this journey with us as we learn to trust God through the challenges and the adventure.