Ashes for Ashes, Joy in Mourning

Helmut Thielicke, the German theologian, warned any aspiring pastor that telling God’s truth is like a child stepping into a grown man’s suit of armor. Most of the time the elegance of the bravery is lost by the comical nature of the girl or boy wearing the garb. Even more so, when he or she holds the sword of truth above their heads with two hands, hardly in control of such an awesome weapon.  I have felt that way most of my life as I’ve read and preached the rich truths of God’s rescue mission for humankind while constantly worried that others would see the shallow ways in which I’ve lived them in my own life. Nevertheless, I’ve been challenged by my own decision to blog about what’s going on with this Myeloma and to stay truthful about the conflict between my own feelings and the walk of faith that, beyond my ability to deserve it, has proven God’s faithfulness time and time again.

As it’s become clear that at least for the present, the awful cancer is mounting a comeback and has successfully regained some ground against this chemotherapy.  Enough as such that my neatly organized battle plan has come unstitched and that I will have to wait for the transplantation process.  It took alot of gumption to be ready to go through with it, and now I find its delay not a relief but a dark cloud of forboding.

The realities of the past ten days have affirmed the things I have preached and read in the Bible; things that I guess on a deep level I haven’t really believed personally.  Others that have a stiffer constitution may think I’m a ninny for being so shallow but I’m surprised at how much I have to learn about things I’ve preached so confidently. So here’s the two main things that God has dragged me into and from where I sit, I guess I’ve had to learn them the hard way. I write these things now, both hopeful and desperate because I think that when the time comes I will lack to strength to describe what now is just faint aroma of future experiences.  Forgive me if they are too frank for such a piece.

The Human Body as Marvelous as It Is, Begins to Turn Quickly to Dust. I am surprised at how vain I am in the wake of my body beginning to betray me.  When the nurse at Stanford pointed out that my present height is three inches shorter than in my glory days, it was like a mini death. I can’t believe how upset I got that I was no longer 6 foot in stature, but instead 5’11”.  The curvature of my spine is now significantly obvious and the anemia has significantly weakened my muscle framework.  I have chemically aged ten years in the past six months.  Many have encouraged me that these issues will resolve when the cancer gets under control but it’s obvious that the strength and stature that I have often used are now of no use.

Second, the chemotherapy and the cancer itself has created a body odor which is like none other I’ve ever experienced.  There have been times when no number of showers and colognes will sufficiently mask the state I’m in. Frankly, it is the smell of poison and death in early stage.

Suffice it to say, I now understand why so many have refused the offer of visitation while they were going through this stage.  It causes an alienation that you can only attribute to the bowels of Hell. It is difficult to die alone, but painful for loved ones to see us in this state. It has prevented me from hugging and kissing my wife. I find myself removed from crowds and mumble words, lest my breath be too odorous.

My good old friend, Steve Givens has warned me that chronic pain alienates in an insidious manner and were it not for his advice, I’d be tempted to pull away altogether. But though I try to stay engaged, I can’t help realize that many of the ups and downs of the battle must be fought inward and alone. This was made even more painfully evident this past week when it was obvious that caring for my beloved Canto was an impossible task.  His behavior without my supervision became erratic and even dangerous. Twice he ran into the street in the rush of traffic to greet a visitor. Things he’d never do otherwise. So it pained me to no small degree to give him to a loving family who could care for him.

I have been miserable since.DSCN0382

I Believe in the Immortality of the Soul. Why? Because I so desperately want to live. In some strange way the dignity of humankind to scrap and survive is not just to leave the planet a better place for our children. I want to fight with every last breath to accomplish what I’ve been put here to do.  I don’t think I’m egotistical about that.  I see God’s vision for a just world and I haven’t finished my race.

To be frank, there are moments when I do have doubts about death but everything I see about humankind I now see from God’s perspective.  It’s a fascinating picture of grace.  We think the world is going to heaven because gays can now marry and we think the world is going to hell because a crazy guy used a handgun to kill black church folk.  In the middle of all of our bloated political thought, God is working with people who are a heartbeat away from turning to dust. And he is only a whisper prayer away from totally re-writing our identity to something truer and more complex.

At the end of July Dr. Anthony Le Donne will come to a public lecture and present the upside down Hope that is found in a God that identifies with our Suffering, rather than a God who identifies with our need for a Superman.  I pray that I am well enough to learn from Anthony’s talk. I think I’m only beginning to understand this Christian stuff.

27 thoughts on “Ashes for Ashes, Joy in Mourning

  1. Still praying. God does not always answer the way we want, but He will be with us not matter what we are going thru.

  2. Dan again I am lost for words. My heart aches and my eyes cry for you and your Family. I feel helpless in knowing all I can do is to continue to Pray for you and letting God do the rest. I want your permission to post your updates to our class group. So many have questioned me in your progress with care and concern. May Peace be with you ❤️

  3. Dan, I have prayed for you for many years “that God will clothe you with His Holy Spirit,
    And that your words would be like dynamite”
    God is still answering my prayer through your words.i hope they become a published book.
    God is good ,all the time.
    Thank you for this honest ,teaching ,personal
    And heartfelt blog about your journey . I hope we all draw closer to Him …we love you more than tongue can tell , praying for you,
    Jan n Dave

  4. It is difficult to know what to say…I think it is hard to realize how any of this feels, having never experienced anything close to this. You are making me do a lot of thinking. You seem to be very hard on yourself. You may be smelling yourself more acutely than others do. I can tell from the posts you receive, that many, many people love you and care about you, My only advice to you is to let them care for and love you. You will be doing them a favor too.

    • Thanks Kalleen. I admit I drift toward dark thinking when I write and hope it’s not too melodramatic. Since I’ve been through so many hospice situations, it’s possible I’ve projected those into my psyche as well. I hope you know I’m just humbled to be a man of God’s choosing and and letting others care is both a blessing and a challenge for me. The reminder is helpful

  5. Thank you for sharing. I am not sure I have the words to express what I’m feeling right now but your struggle and you understanding is an inspiration. God bless!

  6. I am in awe of your willingness to be so candid and open. Of course I want a miracle to occur (and quickly please), but my respect and honor and love for you has increased – even exploded – as I see how
    honest you are in passing on the journey we don’t want you to have to take, and we don’t want to ever take – unless it is the will of God.. “But He knoweth the way that I take. When He hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.”

  7. Dan, this journey that you are on is illuminating to me and I’m sure to many others because we all are feeling the doubts and humanity of our own journey. You are the vessel that God is bringing to test OUR faith. I continue to pray for your mental, physical, and spiritual health many times throughout the day. Thank you for being so strong in sharing. I have suffered with depression much of my life so I can understand how the darkness can take over even though we both know what God says is true.

  8. Again, thank you for your sharing of your struggles, and letting us try to share a bit of the load in prayer. We continue to lift you up to our Lord, for renewed strength for the whole journey. Thanks for the nice note and wristband!

  9. Dan – Thank you for your honesty and transparency. Hard stuff to write, hard to read, but I think we are richer for it, on both ends. I sent you some music through I-Tunes that has been a blessing to me and other loved ones when going through dark and desperate times. It was a couple of months ago, I think, and I am never sure with I-tunes if the music actually gets to my intended recipient. Other than prayers, it is the only offering I can make – music that washed me with peace no matter what the circumstances. Having to send Canto off must have been one of the hardest blows yet. My prayers are with you and Meg both as you travel this difficult (is horrific to strong?) path.

    • Dan – Thank you for your honesty and transparency. Hard stuff to write, hard to read, but I think we are richer for it, on both ends. I sent you some music through I-Tunes that has been a blessing to me and other loved ones when going through dark and desperate times. It was a couple of months ago, I think, and I am never sure with I-tunes if the music actually gets to my intended recipient. Other than prayers, it is the only offering I can make – music that washed me with peace no matter what the circumstances. Having to send Canto off must have been one of the hardest blows yet. My prayers are with you and Meg both as you travel this difficult (is horrific to strong?) path.
      Leah Puhlman

      • Leah, In the haze of early chemo I did download the cards. In the shuffle of days since, I haven’t downloaded the purchases onto any of my devices. I thank you for reminding me. I can do that today!

  10. Your thoughts remind me of this verse: ….being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. …. I like that God is into confidence building, He wants us to have confidence before the judgment seat, not fear. Perfect love cast out fear.

  11. Yo, Dan. At the risk of offending some of your constituents, I resort to heartfelt and vibrant words heard and uttered a lifetime ago in a jungle faraway. “You are a hardcore mutherfucker,Dan!” Above the Rest. Maybe those words are the sincerest I can manage to attest to your unflagging courage and determination in the face of all that “stuff” you wake up to each day. You think you smell like poison? What? Ain’t none of us can’t cut through that ploy. Hug Meg. Hang on. Laugh with your sons and daughter.
    You have more reserve in the tank…Supplied by the God you love and in whom we believe under your tutelage. We all pray for your recovery.
    Fuck myeloma, or whatever it’s called. Kick its ass down the road.
    Hope you and Canto will be able to get back together soon.

  12. I haven’t noticed a change in your stature, but a greater awareness of your presence
    I haven’t felt the need to run away, but a desire to be with this peeled away, reality of Dan that allows more of the true self to be glimpsed
    I haven’t smelled the odious, but have heard you and seen you and it has been easy
    I miss hearing your messages at church but have shared your insights with others and so your outreach ripples on
    That bounding, big eye-ed, long lashed caramel canine is obviously absent, but he brought a joy and companionship to your life and many smiles to mine.

  13. Dan, this is beautiful and poignant … Please don’t give up the faith that you will get through this. You have so much support and it’s such a tough road … But there will be ups and downs before it’s over and things will take a long time to be “normal” again (if in fact it ever really is). Lots of prayers, thoughts, and positive energy coming your way.

  14. HI Dan, I have had Healing in the wings of Jesus and have the overcoming by the blood of Jesus

    and the power of His testimony!!!

    I remember when I was young and a sixth grader who wanted to find Christ. I was a Hindu and a

    spiritual person.

    Then I had friends who invited me to youth group at our church.

    I wanted to got to summer camp and you helped me raise funds by paying part of my way there.

    I did some yard work for you and you gave me a scholarship for my summer camp.

    That is where I discovered Christ as my Lord and Savior and still followed along ever since.

    I then later took a picture of us doing construction on a trip for church.

    God is a blessing.

    When I suffered most. I kept fighting saying I did not want to die!!

    I wanted to live!!

    Don’t give up the ghost as people say!!

    The Lord Almighty is powerful to save!

    God is a blessing especially to those who serve Him in Spirit and truth!


  15. Dan,
    Your honesty and ability to articulate the deep currents within you display real faith – the kind most of us hope to never need to exert. In some profound way your struggle speaks more to me than your victory might – should God grant that. It points to our longing for Christ’s ultimate redemption of all things. Oh how I long for that for you and me and this world of brokenness. What other response can we have in the face of extreme pain, injustice, disappointment and evil of all sorts? As I read your thoughts I think, this is a person I’d like to spend eternity with, whether or not it comes sooner or later. May our heavenly Father give you a sense of His presence in isolation, sufficient insight for the day, light in the dark times, healing in His measure and hope for the future.

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