Tag Archives: depression

Where Is God While My Heart Breaks?

-Joe Fornear

I hear it in your voices. I read it in your emails and notes. I see it in your eyes. Your cancer battle is a beat down. Mine was too. If it’s not the cancer wreaking havoc, it’s the treatments. You might be wondering, “Where are You, God?” I have wondered.

As we’ve mentioned over and over in our blogs, and in our books, if we’re feeling forsaken in the midst of pain and grief, we’re in very good company. Even Jesus felt forsaken, but you know what, He was the only one Who ever was truly forsaken. The rest of the Father’s children have just felt forsaken. Jesus literally was forsaken as our sin fell on Him and He was punished in our place. This so we would never be forsaken. He says He never leaves us, right?broken-hearted-9-13-16-small

When Jesus started His ministry on earth, He gave us His “mission statement.” He succinctly told us what He wanted to accomplish among us and in us. His first priority – no surprise here – was to preach the gospel, to deliver His good news (more on that good news here).

His 2nd priority? To bind up the broken-hearted. This is what He does. It’s Who He is. It’s why He came! His mission statement and promises:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners… – Isaiah 61:1

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. – Psalms 147:3

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18

So, “Where is God while my heart breaks?” The answer is simple – He’s not far away – He is near! So don’t drift away from Him in disillusionment and numbness. Draw near to Him, He has drawn near to you. We can believe it because He promised, so don’t believe your emotions or lies in your head. This, my friends, is where He is while our hearts break. Meet Him at a location near you.

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Five Signs Your Cancer Struggles Are Normal

My response to Pauline F.’s question was a no-brainer. During the 12 years since my cancer battle, name tag - normal - 7-17-15and seven years with Stronghold Ministry helping people fight cancer, it’s the question I’m asked most frequently. I too had the question during my Stage IV melanoma battle. So with Pauline’s encouragement and permission, I share her recent message and my thoughts.

I find that my emotions are up and down. I know that God is in this journey which He has me on, and I’m not alone. I know I’m in His will but I feel unprepared for this cancer journey. I just feel like I’m struggling, is this normal?

Yes, yes, to struggle is so very normal! Frankly, I think the mystique of the courageous, valiant cancer warrior does more harm than good. So I want to pull back the curtain on normalcy and describe what I’ve seen. Because if we don’t assess the hurdles correctly, we’re more likely to trip over them!

Here are five signs that your cancer struggles are normal:
1) It’s normal to be shaken and fearful when you have a life-threatening disease.
When you’re fighting cancer you hear it a lot – “Don’t worry, you’re going to beat this.” But I used to think, “I can’t even beat a common cold, so how am I going to beat cancer?” During my years as a carpenter, I fancied myself so brave and fearless, walking the tops of wobbly 3 ½” walls. So during the initial stages of my battle, I wasn’t too worried about cancer. Yet as the cancer spread and an oncologist slapped a one week expiration sticker on me, my self-confidence evaporated quickly. It’s really hard to know how you’ll respond until you’re totally out of control. Getting a death sentence is scary.

2) It’s normal to be angry when treatments aren’t working and human errors set you back.
I have no study to back this up, but I’ll bet the normal person gets angry at some business’ customer service at least once per week! The medical treatment business is no different as it’s run by humans like every other business. When you’re spending thousands on highly recommended but unsuccessful treatments; sitting for hours in doctor’s waiting rooms; or getting stuck ten times because a nurse can’t find a good vein – be assured, anger is a normal reaction.

3) It’s normal to be depressed that you’re losing such large chunks of your life to fighting cancer.
Fighting cancer can take over your life in a hurry and there’s often little you can do about it. You miss out on fun life events we often take for granted, like weddings, cookouts, graduation parties, school events and hobbies. In their place is pain, harsh side effects, and prolonged recovery times from surgeries. So for most, it’s no surprise that depression grows along with the list of difficulties. It’s normal to be screaming inside, “I want my life back!”

Joe Fornear’s book on his cancer battle, My Stronghold, is in our gift basket which is free to cancer patients – click here on the picture above to request one.

4) It’s normal to be disappointed in yourself when you’re not coping very well.
This may have been my greatest struggle. Deep down, I felt I should have been above normal. After all, I was not only a tough guy from Pittsburgh, but one who had been a crisis counselor for years as a pastor and Bible teacher. I think most people are like that – for one reason or another we believe we should be above normal, or at least not abnormal.

5) It’s normal to wonder why you have to go through all of the pain and hardship.
On occasion I hear, “So-and-so never questioned why they were going through this battle.” That’s not normal. Even if a person never voices the question, it doesn’t mean they’re not internally questioning. Whenever someone tells me, “I never ask – why me,” I’m thinking why bring it up if you’re not wondering about it? Fact is, they probably have wondered about the question, it’s just that they’ve arrived at a peaceful resolution. So it’s quite normal to wonder why – even Jesus did.

Awareness that our struggles are normal does truly help. Still, fighting cancer is far beyond our strength to bear. Thankfully, the Lord makes struggles more bearable by granting us superhuman abilities and coping mechanisms. So let’s keep seeking Him for these gifts which He gives so generously. He helps a great deal, normally!

Listen to the Mockingbird!

– Joe Fornear

For most of last week, I heard him singing outside our house at all hours of the day. The little mockingbird was relentless. mockingbird - 5-22-15A few evenings in a row he was still going strong past midnight. Finally, the other night at 3 AM, a driving rain and thunder woke me up. Between the claps and gusts, sure enough, I could hear the little fellow tweeting out his songs.

In Matthew 6:26, Jesus said, “Consider the birds.” Perhaps this mockingbird has something to teach us.

I believe there are two major reasons why mockingbirds sing. The first is from this passage in the Psalms – birds praise God when they chirp.

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for He commanded and they were created. He set them in place for ever and ever; He gave a decree that will never pass away. Praise the LORD from the earth, you… wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds – Psalm 148:5-7a & 10

But certainly male mockingbirds are also looking to impress the females. I looked it up, only bachelor mockingbirds sing around the clock. Are they wooing by their ability to mimic the praise tunes of other birds? A female (human) friend commented about the likelihood, “A guy who’s praising God can be very attractive.” I suppose singing during a fierce storm in the middle of the night would be even more attractive to a chick. Interestingly, haven’t heard him much since that stormy night.

Storms can leave a muddy mess, but we can rise – even glide above it all. The poet Carl Sandburg once said, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.” In the fiercest storm of my life, my Stage IV cancer battle, wallowing in the mud was easy, yet wallowing made everything harder. On the other hand, praising God was hard at first, but made coping much easier. King David “saw” the choice:

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed with me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. – Psalm 42:5
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. – Psalm 40:2 

Choose wisely. I know it’s hard, but resist wallowing. And we’ll definitely need His help to praise in the storms. Listen to the mockingbird!

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Keep Calm and Cry Out to Jesus


– Joe Fornear

Once during a particularly rough patch in my Stage IV cancer battle, a nurse popped unexpectedly into my hospital room. She must have noticed my eyes were watering a little. She presented a pain level chart with ten emojis. Busted, I pointed to the face cry outwith tears on the cheeks – pain level 10. So she gave me what seemed like a cart load of meds, which helped for a time, but I still needed something more. When she left, I began to “cry out” to God, my Stronghold. I suddenly felt His Presence and comfort giving me super-natural strength to bear up under the pain. Can’t get that from a shot or pill.

Sometimes life’s pain can be so physically and/or emotionally draining that something needs to give… quickly. When even the best of human efforts makes little difference, there is always something we can do – “cry out” to the Lord.

Now some might think crying out is a sign of weakness. Right, it is. One of the “aha moments” in my own fight with cancer was to admit how weak I was, because well, I was pretty weak – still am. And now, while helping people fight their cancer, I often find myself encouraging people to embrace their weakness, giving them “permission to be weak.” As Paul said:

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10

The Bible’s list of “weak” people who have cried out to the Lord in the midst of affliction is lengthy and impressive: Job & Hezekiah (when they were sick); David (when he was hunted by murderous enemies), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Habakkuk, Paul (when asking God to remove his troubles – his “thorn in the flesh”), Peter (while sinking in the lake), even saints and angels in heaven. And yes, Jesus too:

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. – Hebrews 5:7

No matter what happens, on the worst of days or years, He is there and He cares and strengthens us when we cry out. King David had many occasions to cry out and he always seemed to get something back from the Lord:

In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears. – Psalm 18:6

I will extol You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up, and have not let my enemies rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me. – Psalm 30:1-2 (He can heal straight up – emotionally or physically!)

I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord. How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust, and has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood. Psalm 40:1-4

The final cry we share today is, according to the title of Psalm 102, “A Prayer of the Afflicted when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD.” Appropriate, as it shows that crying out is for all us afflicted ones… of all generations:

But You, O LORD, abide forever, and Your name to all generations. You will arise and have compassion on Zion; For it is time to be gracious to her, for the appointed time has come. Psalm 102:12-13

People say a good cry cleanses the soul, but a good “cry out” to Jesus Christ the Savior can even bring eternal cleansing of our soul. Have you cried out to Him for eternal salvation, believing in Him alone for forgiveness of all your sin? I’ve done this and am incredibly glad! More on how and why here. And let us know if you received Jesus as your Savior through a book, blog, email or tract from Stronghold Ministry, we’d like to encourage you more and it will encourage us. We’re crying out for your good!

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Standing Firm on Those Shaky Days

– By Terri Fornear

The evil “day” in Ephesians 6:13 can feel more like an evil eternity! How do I “stand” as Paul says when things are really tough?armor - 2-28-14

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm, therefore… – Ephesians 6:10-14.

It’s funny, he uses the word stand, when I feel like I’m slipping, dodging, tripping, falling all over the place.

Standing means:

1) I have to stop! Stop battling, stop trying to figure everything out.

2) Admit my ways are not working.

3) Realize this thing is bigger than me and my abilities.

4) Put on the invisible armor, God’s armor… HIS righteousness, truth, peace, grace, and faith. Stand in HIS work and strength.

Now, as the darts are coming, the confusion rising, the battle raging… NOW, as I stand in all of Him the war is being won. Don’t look around, feel His Life now! Then, He promises:

After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10

The F Word and Cancer – Focus

– By Joe Fornear

Not a day goes by that I don’t read or hear the f bomb dropped on cancer, or the phrase “cancer sucks.” Trust me, I totally understand the sentiment, and I’m not in judgment mode here. Nor am I wishing to lecture anyone on how to live.walk on water - 2-18-14

I’m just wondering about the wisdom of focusing on how bad something is in order to cope or overcome it. Can we give our trials too much power, thereby making them even harder to overcome?

I speak from experience here. During my battle with advanced Stage IV metastatic melanoma, there were times I vented externally at cancer, and sometimes my venting was strictly internal. Still, the result was the same – the cancer got bigger and my God became smaller. Venting is the antithesis of praising God.

I think God illustrated forever the power of focus during the storms of life through Peter’s walk on water. When Peter kept his gaze on Jesus he was able to stay above water. When he focused on obstacles, the wind and waves, doubts overcame him and he sunk.

Now fortunately, there is a Plan B if we find ourselves sinking or under water. I have discovered, like Peter, that the Lord graciously responds to that simple prayer, “Lord, help me.” He always lifts us up with His strong right hand.

Still, He prefers we learn how to stay on top of our circumstances. The secret is to keep focusing on how big God is! He is the God who flung 300 billion stars across our Milky Way galaxy, which is just one of 100 billion galaxies in the universe. So do the math. Which is bigger, God or cancer? There is no comparison… so why focus on how bad cancer is? Eyes on Him.

Supernatural Provision

– By Joe Fornear

Not many people realize the financial challenges which cancer or severe sickness can bring. But patients and their caretakers know them all too well. During my battle with Stage IV metastatic melanoma, finances were a constant concern.

  • My wife Terri lost tutoring income to take care of me.Elijah & ravens
  • Alternative and supplemental vitamins were expensive.
  • Travel costs for treatments were significant.
  • Then my major medical provider dropped me. And this after discovering my deductible was per calendar year and not per illness.

We were digging a money pit fast, but God provided in surprising ways. As in the days of the prophets, when He used ravens to feed Elijah in the wilderness; so He will use unlikely sources and people to take care of His children (find out more about how to know for sure you’re His child).

Feeding by ravens was doubly amazing. They are notorious for not even feeding their own young! (Job 38:41; Psalm 147:9). In addition, as Jesus pointed out, Elijah was also fed “through” a poor widow after years of drought, and widows had no social safety net. Also this widow was Sidonian, a people not naturally friendly to a Jewish prophet.

Request a free Stronghold Ministry gift basket for you or someone you know fighting cancer.

So in the midst of your greatest physical and financial crisis, look to the One Who can trump the natural order of things to supernaturally display Himself to you. As Jesus said, no worries.

Lord, as in everything, we are powerless without You, so we ask you to provide for us somehow in the midst of our crises.

Easier Way

– By Terri Fornear

In a way, fighting with Joe against Stage IV cancer was easier for me. It was obvious we were powerless. I had the hearts and support of many. I allowed myself and others to be powerless. I admitted I was powerless over “cancer, Joe, kids, life itself, and that my life had become unmanageable!” Step 1 had come TO me… fast and furious.

Then Joe got well and I slowly felt responsible to live “my life” again!footprints - 11-12-13

  • I gained 40 pounds and counting!
  • I became addicted to “worry and fear” and that wasn’t stopping!
  • I was enslaved to people’s opinions of me!
  • I was addicted to bitterness toward a false view of God!

My ways weren’t working very well. So three years ago, I decided to get help. I cried out to God for my own life! I admitted I was powerless over myself and others and that I could not manage my own life!

I had known Jesus as the TRUTH and the LIFE, but I needed Him to show me on a daily basis how He is the “WAY.”  (John 14:6). He broke down a way to follow Him into steps. It started with looking at myself first – to admit just how powerless I really am.

Do you have a list of things, people, places, experiences which bring out your powerlessness? I invite you to walk with me through the 12 steps to recovery! Make your list and enter into your powerlessness. This first step is the only step without God, yet it is okay to see how you do life without Him in your own strength! If you are ready to let his power in, He will show up in step 2! After all, He says that His yoke is easier and His burden is lighter (Matthew 11:30). Next month, I will discuss Step 2 with you!

Jesus, I love how You woo us into Your WAY of doing Your LIFE!

The Single Most Destructive Attitude You Can Have

– By Joe Fornear

While fighting cancer, caretaking, or just navigating everyday hurts, one attitude will bring more pain and sadness into our lives than any do not enter signother – resentment. I know this from years of pastoring; counseling patients, caretakers and married couples; and of course observing the disastrous impact of my own bouts with bitterness.

In future posts, I will address resentments toward others, toward the sick people we care for, and even resentment toward ourselves. Yet first I want to focus on an unexpected target of resentment – God.

Resentment Toward God

Perhaps you’ve lashed out at God, or witnessed someone rail against Him, yet often resentment toward God is more subtle. Now I’m not backtracking from my theme from last week – that grieving and mourning loss is appropriate. Again, King David, Job, and Jesus all lamented their circumstances. But there is a line we can cross from grief into resentment. Despite a flood of anguish from devastating personal tragedies, Job managed to walk the line: “Through all of this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:22). In other words, Job did not charge God with being evil or unjust. How do we recognize the lines?

  • Demanding answers from the Lord as if we are the final judge of Him.
  • Commanding the Lord to change a situation because we “deserve it.”
  • Numbing ourselves to Him – shutting Him out of our lives. I must admit at points during my battle with Stage IV metastatic melanoma that in my disappointment, I shut God out (more on this in my book, My Stronghold). In the final analysis, passive indifference is not much better than open defiance.

So what do we do with resentment toward God? Admit and confess our feelings to Him and a trusted person. Ask Him to help us release all bitterness and to help us resolve the tensions that led to the bitterness in the first place. When we let go of rotten anger, we may begin to make sense of His purposes for allowing hardships… and to feel His soothing love again.

Father, thank You for Your graciousness in overlooking our bitterness, and for helping us to resolve it in a healthy manner.

Lighten Your Load in 2013

I’ve got a bad habit that I’d like to break in 2013. When I return home from grocery shopping or errands, I try to carry too many items fromiStock_000000478647 - woman multi-tasking the car to the house. I’ll stack things, squeeze them under arms, and grab as many grocery bag handles as possible – just to save a minute or two.

This habit has proven costly. Recently my cell phone squirted out of a pile, flew through the air and landed squarely on the pavement. The screen was hopelessly shattered. I need to let the lesson sink in – there are limits to how many items one can carry.

What is true for physical limits “carries” over to spiritual and emotional limits. We can only haul so many burdens before control squirts out of our hands. Nerves shatter. Tempers are lost. We stumble under the weight.

As usual, the solution is simple, yet profound. There is a loving, very capable God Who can carry ALL of our burdens.

“Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”  – 1 Peter 5:7

Our imaginations, insecurities, and internal and external voices may seek exceptions. I struggled with eliminating exceptions during my battle with Stage IV metastatic melanoma. Yet there is no circumstance the Lord cannot handle. It truly is easier than we think – when we let Him carry the load.

Lord, give us eyes to see how much bigger You are than our problems.

The Battle for Your Mind

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Martin Luther once said, “You can’t prevent a bird from flying over your head, but you can prevent him from building a nest in your hair.” We can’t prevent doubts and fears from popping into our thoughts, especially when we’re going through a major crisis like fighting cancer. Yet we are not victims – we do not have to give in to destructive voices.

After surgeries, chemos, drugs and radiation during my battle with Stage IV metastatic melanoma, I felt very vulnerable to these mind games:

     What if? Why is this…? When will…? Woe is me!

Yet as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10, we don’t have to fight in the flesh – our own human resources. We have powerful spiritual weapons to wage the war, and winning the battle for our minds is surely a supernatural feat. What are these weapons?

  • God’s Power“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). Ask Him to fill you with His power to fight the battle for your mind. He will release the very power of Jesus’ resurrection in you and through you (Ephesians 1:20).
  • God’s Promises – When Jesus was under spiritual attack, even He quoted and stood firm on the promises of God found in the Bible. The Lord has promised to never leave or forsake us. So we can rest in Him – He promises to carry us every step of the way. Remember, His promises are true, whether we feel them or not. We should walk by faith – not sight.
  • God’s Proclamations“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ”(2 Corinthians 2:14). Thank Him that we already have the victory in Christ over agitating thoughts – because we do! Praise becomes us, and it chases off gloom like no other weapon.
    • Praise Him that He is greater than cancer!
    • Praise Him that nothing is too hard for Him to handle – including depression!
    • Praise Him that He has provided every spiritual blessing we need to handle a battle with cancer and the games of our minds! (2 Peter 1:3).

Lord, we rise up and reign with You in the battle for our minds through the divine weapons that You have freely provided!

Depression and Cancer

The other day, I received a question so common, I want to talk about it here. From our website’s contact form: “How can u deal with the depression that this illness causes?” I assume this was in reference to my battle with Stage IV metastatic melanoma, which the questioner was battling as well. Yet depression is common with any cancer.

So based on watching other patients and dealing with my own depression during my cancer fight, here is my advice:

1) Give yourself a break.
Many cancer patients, myself included, beat themselves up for feeling down, which only makes them feel worse. But my goodness,  cancer causes such high stress levels. When we consider all the elements of battling cancer, we find a perfect storm for depression. There are chain reaction struggles that actually cycle. First the pain; then pain pills; then constipation from the pain pills; then enemas for the constipation; then hemorrhoids from the enemas; then pain from the roids; then back to square one. And chemo is an emotional depth charge – the vomiting; hair falling out; losing too much weight; looking at the ashen, emaciated face in the mirror. No wonder we get depressed!  It is natural to feel very sad. If you don’t feel sad when battling cancer, I would say that is a sign of emotional unhealthiness.

2) Find an anti-depredepression-sky-and-bended-manssant that works for you.
In general, I am not real big on anti-depressant drugs. But since I was  taking drugs that suppressed and depressed my entire being to treat the cancer, I decided not to hesitate in taking something chemical to counter this side effect. The drug which worked best for me was ativan, also called lorazepam. Keep searching with your doctor until you find one that works well for you. Not all oncologists routinely probes for cancer related depression. So especially if you are coping well on the outside with your depression, you will probably need to ask for a prescription.

3) Turn to the Lord and open up all your feelings to Him.
I have noticed when reading the patriarch, Job, and the authors of the Psalms, including King David,  that they often had symptoms of what we might call clinical depression – sleeplessness; constant tears; wanting to die; total hopelessness. They didn’t bury how they felt, they let it out, and faced the emotions squarely with God. He loves to show Himself in the midst of our pain and struggles. Your tendency might be to turn or drift away from Him in this turmoil, but actively turn towards Him instead, even if you feel angry. He can handle your negative emotions, and He already knows your thoughts anyway. Be sure to ask Him for a response, and then listen – He speaks in many different ways.

4) Talk to people who understand and ask for support.
Find a support group, phone partner or a crisis counselor or call us at Stronghold Ministry (Call toll free – 877-230-7674). Depression can make us feel so isolated and alone, but you will be surprised how effectively others can help lighten your load. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. If someone really encouraged you, don’t hesitate to ask for a repeat connection. If you think someone’s presence would help you, risk letting them know, even if they haven’t had cancer. “Could you come sit with me and talk? I would really enjoy hanging out with you during this time.” Or, ask someone to read to you. Don’t sit and pout that someone you need hasn’t come on their own. ASK FOR HELP.

5) Make sense of your struggle.
To help make sense of your sufferings and get an eternal perspective on their purpose, I strongly recommend a book called, “Streams in the Desert”. This book helped me see God’s higher purposes in our suffering. He is not a masochist in the sky, delighting in our suffering; nor is He ignoring our plight. He is good – all of the time. This book has helped me and many others, so pick up a copy.