Monthly Archives: May 2011

Time Out

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? -Matthew 6:26-28

So much of life is timed. Work time, dinner time, night time, vacation time, Christmas time, prayer time, etc. I’m always either looking forward to something in the future, or remembering something in the past. Recently I’ve been reading about the “Holiness of the Present Moment.” I want to be walking in the NOW of life. When I do, life is so much lighter.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when I worry, a minute seems a whole lot longer than 60 seconds. Time slows down, and I become more tired and worn out. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 6. He wants us to see and feel His love, so He invites us to consider the world around us. He says, look at the birds; look at the lilies. These are His creations, which we had nothing to do with creating or fixing. They don’t fret or worry. They are His work, completely cared for by Him. We are His most precious creations, so the last thing we need to do is worry.

The Holiness of the Present Moment is staying in each moment and looking to Him. This sets time apart from the tic-toc of what the clock will bring, to the awareness of His Presence in all things. His reality and love are stronger than anything time brings.

Help

Hebrews 4:15 – For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:16 – Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Sometimes the concepts in these verses get separated, and we forget their amazing connection. The One who now dispenses grace and mercy from the universe’s throne struggled with the same human weaknesses which we experience!

Jesus Christ suffered and then became the perfect liason between God’s resources and our needs. He was tested, and mastered every type of battle – physical, emotional, relational and spiritual. Yet He did not seek out suffering, in fact He sought to avoid the agony of the cross. He’s felt the sting of man’s rejection. He was misunderstood, judged, and publicly humiliated. He knows what it’s like to cry out to the Father yet feel forsaken.

So with hard-earned sympathy, Jesus offers help, His grace, which is a supernatural ability to cope. He wants to be with us, and carry us through our battles. He is not some distant Monarch, but a tender Shepherd who guides and strengthens.

In addition to grace, He offers mercy. Unlike Jesus, I have not always handled suffering well. During my battle with advanced Stage IV metastatic melanoma, I complained, raged, and wallowed in self-pity. I was often frustrated that I could not handle the battle. Though He knew my sins and weaknesses, He continued to plead, “Don’t let the past stop you from seeking My help now.” This is mercy. He forgives if we approach through Jesus Christ’s work on the cross, not our own works (more on His forgiveness here).

In the end, His grace and mercy are “sufficient,” enabling us to weather impossible circumstances. He took on our substantial weakness, so we could partake of His incredible strength. So  let’s boldly ask and expect Him to help in our time of need!

Advice from a Weak One Made Strong

 

This week I am posting parts of an interview with Kalisha Frazier of UV Skinz about my book and battle with cancer. UV Skinz makes clothing and other products that protect the skin from ultraviolet rays. The interview was “live” and posted on their Facebook wall. Kalisha asked some good questions.

Q. You have been down a long road – do you have any advice to those in the midst of battling cancer?

A. Joe:  I think my best advice is to embrace your weakness. God never intended for us to handle cancer alone. When I was in the midst of the roughest times during my fight, I tried so hard to be strong. The problem was, I had become so weary, I had no natural strength left to fight. I was frustrated with myself that I couldn’t rise above the pain and sadness. I kind of beat myself up, because I thought I should be stronger. It was OK for me to admit I was weak, even though I was a big, tough guy from Pittsburgh, the Steel City. One of my favorite Bible passages is 2 Corinthians 12:9 & 10, “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

Q. You mention that you developed a “spiteful awe of cancer” during this experience. Can you explain how it affected your outlook on beating your disease?

A. Joe:  When I began the surgeries and treatments, I wasn’t totally committed to the battle. Stage IV melanoma is a very, very serious disease, and it is unwise to fight it in a half-hearted way. Early on, I had a type of denial, that I was going to get through this very fast, and I didn’t need to “baby” myself. After my two surgeries on the lymph nodes under my arm, I kept pushing myself. I didn’t want to miss either of my two kid’s (Jesse, son, & Amy, daughter) high school basketball games, which complicated recovery. I was running around in the rain and cold and got a staph infection which carried over to the surgery to remove one third of my stomach. I really didn’t want to be in the battle, but to fight well, I needed to surrender to the fact that I needed to get my heart into the fight. Still, in the end, I don’t claim to have beaten the disease myself. In May of 2003, my doctor told me I had days to live. The melanoma had spread to both sides of my pancreas, lung, kidney, pelvis and several other sites. He had given up on me. Only God could have stepped into turn my case around. I look at it this way, Stage IV melanoma was way bigger than me. I have no problem admitting that it kicked my butt. But God is way bigger than any disease. If He decides to keep you around, you will stay. It took a miracle for me, and I am blessed to have received one.

Q. What were your feelings when you found out that you were one of the rare cases of melanoma that did not have a “primary” source of cancer and that it had spread directly to your lymph nodes?

A. Joe:  My huge disappointment was complicated by the fact that I was misdiagnosed by my family doctor for months. He has apologized for missing my diagnosis, and I forgive him, but he said twice during appointments about the growing lump under my arm, “Whatever it is; it isn’t cancer. It is too soft to be cancer.” Frankly, I would have preferred to catch the disease as a skin lesion in Stage 1, but God had other plans. I can see now why He allowed it. But, people should know, melanoma is very, very squirrelly. Always get checked once a year and always get second opinions on any lumps on your body.

Q. What changes have you made to your lifestyle to continue to boost your immune system?

A. Joe:  I eat a whole lot better. Less food overall; and a lot less sugar. I have worked less and slept more, as I have some serious workaholic tendencies. I also work on not getting worked up about life’s frustrations as stress wears down our immunities. I have learned to cast my anxiety and frustration on the Lord My Stronghold cover-largemore. That helps; He is my Stronghold in hard times and in every day life as well.

Q. How has cancer become a gift in your life?

A. Joe:  During my battle, when someone first mentioned to me that cancer was such a gift to her, I thought that was one of the dumbest things I’d ever heard. Now though I see how the Lord has used my cancer battle in many ways. A short list:

1) I have much more compassion for weakness and for suffering than ever. We launched Stronghold Ministry because of this. We help cancer patients through their battle.

2) I learned so much about the Lord and grew closer to Him. I now share this knowledge of Him with everyone I can, and certainly with cancer patients and caretakers.

3) I learned how fragile life is, and respect my own health more.

4) I have reconnected with old friends from college and high school. They were instrumental in encouraging me and inspiring me to hang on. I also reconnected so much deeper with my seven siblings and my mother as they were a huge support to me.

5) My wife, Terri, was such an angelic gift to me. We definitely have been changed by the whole experience, and the battle has helped our marriage. We appreciate each other more for sure.

Q. The day you found out you were cured…what was that moment like?

A. Joe:  At first I didn’t believe it. We had taken the PET scan images home after the test and
concluded the cancer had spread even more. We misread the scans obviously. Then when the radiologist’s report was read that I was NED (no evidence of disease), it was surreal. Eventually the news sunk in and we got very happy. My doctor was so cautious though, and said, “Now you have nine months to live.” But I proclaimed myself cured and told him all chemo would cease immediately. He talked me out of that, and I finished the remaining three rounds. I had several false alarms in the last seven and a half years where the doctors said the cancer has come back or probably come back. Five years is the official medical threshold when they consider you cured. It took about that much time to feel cured. But almost every day along the way, I thanked God for His kindness to me.

Kalisha: I invited Joe here to be apart of our LIVE FB interview so that you, the fans of UV Skinz, could hear the inspirational story of Joe Fornear. Raising awareness about skin cancer and finding the strength to fight it is all about the exchange of personal struggles and triumphs. The more we talk about it the more people will hear.

The Great Consolation

That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. Philippians 3:10

We seek to encourage people who are experiencing considerable pain. When pain wracks the body, it seizes the attention of our entire being. We cry out for relief to God and man. When relief is not found or granted, what then? Could there be some redeeming benefit to pain and suffering?

Like us, Paul sought God to remove his painful trials, and Paul certainly understood pain. A partial list of his sufferings is found in 2 Corinthians 12:24-25, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned.” When release from these sufferings did not come for Paul, he discovered The Great Consolation, knowing Jesus Christ, the great soother of pain.

For Paul, having a tight relationship with Jesus became the overriding goal of his life. Pain relief was secondary. But why? What did he gain from knowing Christ?

Paul provides several points of gain in knowing Christ through pain:

1) Knowing Him is the ultimate discovery of life anyway!
“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”
(Philippians 3: 8). Paul reset his affections from lesser, worldly desires, to Jesus Christ. As a result, he experienced the incredible kindness, love, and comfort of Christ. Thus he was drawn deeper and deeper into experiencing the most attractive Being in the universe. Could pain be the unexpected catalyst to awaken us to life’s most rewarding relationship?

2) Sharing in His sufferings leads to sharing in His resurrection power.
“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings”
(Philippians 3: 10). When we turn to Him in our pain, He touches us with His powerful presence. Then His resurrection power surges in and through us. His strength is perfected in our weakness. We find ourselves in His grip with an other worldly peace, and unquenchable hope.

3) Clarity of purpose to pursue eternal goals.
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”
(Philippians 3: 14).
To word this another way, it is extremely wise to leverage our time and efforts for eternally rewarding purposes. Then in the end, the payoff will be crystal clear. We will have answered His call, and thereby stored up vast treasures… in heaven! This is the ultimate focus, to tell of His goodness in every circumstance.

When we take our suffering and pain to the Lord, He pulls back the curtain to show us Himself. He is the Great Consolation. Where are you turning in the midst of your pain? Let’s draw near to know Him through the pain.