Tuesday, May 20, 2008

God, Nature, Miracles and Accomplishment

Last night Jon Lester pitched a no-hitter for the Boston Red Sox. No-hitters are special and rare. This one is a bit more unusual because Lester is the first left handed pitcher to do this in over 50 years. The real story here is the fact that Jon Lester has fought and defeated lymphoma in the past couple of years and in addition to being alive, he is alive and performing feats few ever have.

I think great victory in the face of cancer, serious injury or tragedy is why America fell in love with Lance Armstrong. Lance won the Tour De France 7 consecutive years. That is 2 more times than anyone has ever won it. While that is a great story and legacy the more amazing feat is that he did so after surviving, no...defeating testicular cancer. His testicular cancer was a germ cell cancer that had already aggressively spread to his brain and lungs, but it didn't prevent him from being a champion.

You may be asking yourself if Blake is in a sports mood. I always love sports but today I am thinking about fantastic achievement in the face of cancer, injury or some other tragedy. You see, my first cousin Lori has a daughter and twin sons. One of the twins, Rick, was participating in spring training football practice 11 days ago when a simple slip changed his world and the world of everyone around him forever. Rather than tackling with proper technique like he has done well for years, he slipped and made contact with his head. He initially thought the radiating pain in neck and arm was a simple, yet painful "stinger" or pinched nerve. His opinion instantly changed when he lost all sensation and ability to move on his right side. Every football players worst fear had just come true. Rick played his last down of football and was now paralyzed. A short time later he was being life-flighted in a helicopter to Huntsville so he could receive better medical care than was afforded him in our smaller hometown.

Rick isn't ordinary and shouldn't be underestimated. Despite the negative prognosis, Rick began to erase his probable fate of using a wheelchair as his determination and grit lead him to fight back and not accept life with a handicap. Feeling began to return as his family prayed. As Rick would have sensation return, he would work diligently...and people would pray. The cycle continued until he and God turned what should have been months of rehabilitation and a lifetime of disabilities into 5 days of treatment and 3 days of rehabilitation. Thankfully and with great praise I can now report that he is home and compared to his earlier condition, he is doing just fine.

Rick's mother, Lori, said something when I saw her in the rehabilitation facility that really hit home for me. She said that she just kept praying and reading scripture even when she didn't feel like it and even when God didn't seem near. I instantly thought, "YES!"...that's exactly the point of faith and an intimate walk with the Father. Lori experienced true faith, actual intimacy and displayed a level of maturity few ever will at the bedside of her son. For example, am I only married when marriage is fun, easy or comfortable? Of course not. I am married every minute of every hour. When it is easy and when all hell breaks loose. I can't escape my marriage when it is fulfilling nor when it is lacking...I am married. In the same way, God is God all the time. When God blesses us with life and when God walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, God is relevant and God is real. Did Lori just arrive at this place of faith? Was this lone event the only catalyst in her life to produce such mature faith? No. She has walked with God and spent time with her Father long before this event...and that made all the difference.

I would also suggest that other family members have modeled for Lori maturation and faith. Lori has two aunts, my mother being one of them, that have sat at the bedside of their children with very different outcomes. Lori has attended funerals of her cousins, knowing that their mother's prayed and fought with all they had...seemingly in vain. I don't know for sure, but I imagine that the thoughts crossed Lori's mind of the times prayer didn't lead to life. If they did cross her mind I pray she also saw the continuation and growth of faith in those moments by her aunts.

Lori also has an even closer example of grit, determination and the transformation of a Godly woman. Lori's mother and my aunt, Lynda, was diagnosed a few years back with colon cancer. She has had a reprieve at one point but today continues to battle cancer with great boldness, courage and zeal. Lynda has allowed her diagnosis to focus her eyes with more clarity on her Father and has fought the temptation to allow her diagnosis to define or limit her. Recently her youngest child told me, "she does what she wants to". Knowing Lynda, I am encouraged and incredibly proud of her for that attitude and fight but I would be lying if I said I was surprised.

C.S. Lewis said the primary difference in "nature" and "miracles" is the amount of time involved. If I plant a seed and months later I pick a vegetable from a plant, I call it nature. If I put a seed in the ground and instantly a bush forms and a vegetable is produced, it is a miracle. In the case of Rick's recovery, Lori's faith, My mom and Sue's loss and Lynda's continuing battle it seems that time is everything. Rick exceeded time expectations, Lori's faith wasn't confined to the times she "felt like it", time continues to heal the families broken by loss and Lynda daily lives life, fully enjoying time with friends and family.

God is real, prayer is powerful and the drive and determination of the people of God makes all the difference in the world. May we continue to be challenged to walk more intimately with God, to love others more passionately and to fulfill a mission of Jesus by living more abundantly. I personally thank God for allowing me to witness those around me who abide in Him. God is really good!!!

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