Waiting……

    

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
    but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
        they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary;
        they shall walk and not faint.  (Isaiah 40:30-31 ESV)

We all take comfort in the strength that is promised in this verse.  But there is a key word we often forget: “wait”.

Since my surgery on April 24th I have had to do a lot of waiting…

waiting

Waiting and meditating on my trip to Milan

  • waiting to get out of the hospital (two hospitals, to be precise).
  • waiting to go home from Milan after another week of constant checkups
  • waiting to be able to eat real food again
  • waiting to be able to read to my kids and pray out loud with them
  • waiting for biopsy results
  • waiting for stitches to come out
  • waiting for be able to preach, teach, disciple, talk, eat without pain(I’m still waiting on that one!)

Waiting has been a blessing in many ways.

  • It has helped me appreciate the patience and hard work of those around me, picking up my slack.
  • It has helped me have something to look forward to.
  • It has helped me delegate and swallow my pride as others excel at things I love doing.
  • It has helped me have time to reconnect with God on a deeper level through prayer, reading and meditation on God’s Word and truth.
  • It has helped me see God at work.

And God has been at work!

On May 22nd I went back to Milan with Claudio for my one-month checkup.  They gave me more good bad news… an in-depth biopsy of the part of tongue they removed found another carcinoma in situ.  So…more cancer, but the doctor does not see the need to take more (up to half my tongue)!  You can imagine the roller coaster of conversations I had with myself and those around me.  Here is a sample:

Pessimistic me: “More cancer!” 
Optimistic me: “But they got it all.” 
Pessimistic me: “But this is the fourth time!”
Optimistic me: “Well, in situ is the best kind to have because it didn’t spread.”
Pessimistic me: “But when will it end?”
Optimistic me: “Hopefully now!”
Pessimistic me: “But what if it doesn’t?”

How did I end this cycle?  I had to got back to a previous foundational thought: God is good.  Once we learn to trust him we can finally move on with our lives.

John Calvin said it this way:

“not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does not flow from him, and of which he is not the cause; in this this way we must learn to expect and ask all things from him, and thankfully ascribe to him whatever we receive.” [My emphasis]  (Institutes of the Christian Religion Book I Chapter II p. 40-41)

Despite the setbacks and the waiting we have much to be grateful for. In fact, God is working above and beyond our expectations and we can only look ahead to all He will do.  Here are a few clear signs of God’s blessing and protection:

  1. The carcinoma was in situ, therefore it did not spread.  The doctors don’t even want to see me again until September!
  2. We are so loved and feel so loved!!!
    1. When I got back from the hospital I had almost 800 e-mail messages…mostly of encouragement or of people wanting to help.  (Now you understand why it has taken me so long to write again!)
    2. MANY people have sent money to help cover my medical and travel expenses and even just to help me buy books to read during my recovery!
    3. Despite the burden of work of the ministry, our co-workers/family have encouraged me to take all the time I need to get better.
  3. God has amazingly mended some relationships that are very important in our life and ministry.
  4. We have had and will have several outreach opportunities:
    1. Music outreach
    2. Soccer outreach
    3. Baptisms
  5. We have had some precious family times!
Soccer Outreach

Soccer Outreach with Christian Artist Angelo Maugeri

What more could we ask for?  This very well may be one of the best years of our life!

Here are just a few important requests:

  1. Pray that my tongue would heal enough to get back to preaching and teaching, since Dann and Liz leave on June 13th for their 8 month long furlough.  I will be taking over several of their responsibilities in their absence: youth ministry, men’s ministry, staff leadership and…administrative duties (Lord help me!).
  2. That God would help us to catch up on so many things that I am behind on because of my illness and that we can manage our time and finances better.
  3. For Sunday’s baptisms and the choosing of our first deacons.
  4. That we can continue to improve at training leaders, in order to bring this church to independence.
  5. Our residence papers. Apparently they won’t renew Melodee’s residence papers without further documentation, including a marriage certificate with an apostille from Michigan that is translated and legalized.

Thank you for sticking with us as I continue to wait on God’s renewing of my strength, meditating and delegating!

whitmans_easter 2014

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Still in Milan

 

God doesn’t always answer the way we would have imagined.

Wednesday morning, as I was reading my devotions, the Lord put some verses on my heart.  In Psalm 77:1 the Psalmist describes his situation:

I cry aloud to God,
        aloud to God, and he will hear me.
    In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
        in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
        my soul refuses to be comforted.

There is no description of a deliverance in this Psalm, but it struck me that the turning point was in verses 11-13, where he affirms:

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
        yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
    I will ponder all your work,
        and meditate on your mighty deeds.
    Your way, O God, is holy.
        What god is great like our God?

What struck me was that the Psalmist did not reflect on his deliverance…but on the fact that God had delivered in the past. Reflecting on God’s perfect holy ways and on his power was enough to give him comfort.

Little did I know just how soon I would need that truth.

Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori

Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori

Our train left at 5:45 pm from Milan.  Around 5:35 my mom and I climbed onto our train, anxious to get back to our families.  As I lifted the suitcase onto the overhead compartment I felt something warm and different in my mouth. I sensed that something was wrong, so I turned to my mom and to the other passengers with me.  They all looked white as sheets.  I looked at my reflection and I could not see my teeth (remember, my mouth was still numb from the operation).

I touched my mouth and got a handful of blood.  I ran to the bathroom and tried to rinse the blood out.  No water came out of the faucet, so all I could do was spit.  As soon as I spit my mouth was full of blood again. I tried the other bathroom.  No difference.  Another sink full of blood.  Panicking, we decided to get back off the train before it left for a 6 hour trip (it was the last train of the night for Perugia).  My mouth kept filling with more and more blood.  I began swallowing it, because I didn’t know where to put it.  I couldn’t rinse out my mouth, so I didn’t know where the bleeding was coming from.  At this rate, I figured, I would pass out before I got to a bathroom in the station.

The police called for an ambulance, but it felt like forever before they came.  I kept losing more and more blood.  Finally a policeman encouraged me to spit the blood on the ground.  Then I remembered all those movies where they would put pressure on an artery to stop the bleeding, so I stuck my thumb on my tongue and kept it there until I could get it checked.  The ambulance came and brought me to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

By the time a doctor saw me, the bleeding had stopped.  In fact, he couldn’t even understand where I bled out.  Everything seemed to be in place.  We got in touch with my tongue doctor, and they decided to keep me for a couple nights in observation at this little hospital (the cancer center doesn’t have an emergency room).

As they brought me to my room, my mom asked if she could stay the night with me.  The person bringing us was categorical: she would have to leave the hospital immediately after dropping my luggage off.  I prayed in my heart to God:  “Lord!  Where are you??  I haven’t seen my wife and children in over a week.  We missed the last train of the night. I may have to be operated on again, including the wretched feeding tube. I almost bled out and now they want to send my mom away in the middle of the night!”

It was then that Psalm 77:1,11-13 came back to mind. “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.”   I figured God had given me those verses for a reason so I forced myself to focus on the fact that God had been mighty in my life to this point.  After all, the present seemed pretty dismal.  Even now, as I write this I can’t help tearing up as I think about it.

The nurses brought us to my room, where there was already another patient.  Then something happened…the one nurse looked with compassion on my mom and changed his mind, bringing us to another room, where there was only one bed and a recliner sofa.  They attached me to an IV and brought me a bowl of milk and even gave my mom a sandwich, and brought sheets and a pillow for the recliner for her to sleep on.

Before we went to sleep Wednesday night all I could do was look back amazed at how God had taken a situation of utter desperation and turned it around,  giving us above and beyond what we needed.  Once again.

Duomo of Milan with Claudio

Duomo of Milan with Claudio

Needless to say, I am still in Milan. Friday, Claudio from my church came to trade spots with my mom (he just happened to be a little over an hour away visiting relatives!)  Friday morning I went back to my cancer center, where my doctors checked me at regular intervals.

Claudio and I checked into a hotel near the hospital.  Today my doctor came again to check on me, even though it’s his day off.

Monday I have one last checkup, then Alessio and Roberto from our church will come pick us up and bring us home, Lord willing.

Every checkup has been perfect.  They have no idea what happened to me.  And I have been on strict orders to take it easy and relax. I have not even attempted to pick up a suitcase! We have walked a bit, I have rested some, I saw Milan’s main square for the first time in my life.

It feels like the calm after the storm.  I wrote this little poem as I reflected on this moment of stillness that God is giving me after my near-death experience.

Lord, help me not forget.
When the storm is over,
When gone is all that tore
  at my very life and breath.
Lord help me not forget.
 
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Suffering is what unites us.

 

If suffering is what unites us as human beings, then how is it that I can ignore the suffering of others when I am ok?

If you don’t have a close connection with suffering you are probably not even reading this article. At least I probably would have not read it until 2010.

Feeding tube - day four

Feeding tube – day four

This morning I woke up after a very peaceful night of sleep. It was my first almost full night of sleep since I got to the hospital four days ago. I pulled out all the stops last night. I asked for pain meds and sleeping aid.
The problem is I slept too well. My feeding tube came out. There is only one thing worse than having a feeding tube. Having to put it back in while awake.
I hoped they would let me keep it out. No way. It had to go back in. (Fortunately I got a new, clean one).

Here is how it went:

First time: I didn’t swallow at the right time. It went into my mouth.  I yanked it out.  No way!
Second time: It did not even make it that far.
Third time: The doctor coached me and it made it down: “breathe” now swallow hard, now breathe.” “We did it!”. “But it’s still stuck in my throat!” “That’s the point!” “But it bothers me!” “I’m sure it does, but it’s in. Now let’s get it taped up before it comes back out.” “No negotiating on that point.”

Then I had breakfast…a large latte with sugar…directly into my stomach through my mega-syringe.  That is, after a good job of uncontrollable sobbing.  Sometimes we just break.  I almost always have one of those breaking points sooner or later.
The feeding tube is still there, making me gag, but I feel better. Now I can think again…so I am writing this down to not forget.  But I have only been in this condition for four days. What about those who suffer for four weeks, four months, four years? What about those who suffer for eternity?

Some people suffer all their life and then head to an eternity of suffering. I need to stop ignoring the suffering of others. Today is my turn. Tomorrow it’s your turn. And I want to be there for you. Especially if you were there for me. But even if you weren’t.

Suffering unites us more than happiness.

If I know that you are headed to an eternity of suffering I am going to beg with you. This suffering reminds  me of what you will go through…forever.  I am going to cry with you. I am going to talk to you about it. If my five minutes of suffering felt like an eternity, your eternity of suffering really will really feel like an eternity! It will not end.  Our suffering only gives us hope if our hope is Christ.

Discussion Question:
What have you learned about suffering?

P.S. It looks like I might be getting out Wednesday, but I really want this feeding tube out NOW!

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News from Milan – from Melodee!

 

I want to preface this note by expressing my personal gratitude to you for all of the love and prayerful concern you have demonstrated toward us, particularly in the last few weeks as we have taken a step of faith by leaving the doctors here in Perugia to seek more specialized assistance in Milan.

So without further ado, here are the happenings of this morning:

I was greeted with a phone call around 7:15 from my beloved husband!  He was all prepped and ready to be taken into surgery, complete with paper gown.  If I hadn’t been impressed before by the new doctors and hospital, the paper gown did it now!  At Perugia, we’ve always worn our own clothes, but there they give you gowns!!!!  A little too much excitement, I know.  Then all of the sudden I heard, “Whitman”, and he was gone.

After a few tears and still another prayer, I started the day getting Eva fed and changed, Noah changed and breakfast for the rest of us.  Noah wanted my mom to pray.  As she prayed for Jon, I started crying again, thinking of the pain he would have to deal with in the next several days.  She finished praying, and then out it came.  Noticing that I was crying,  my precious little 3 year old boy, in a matter-of-fact, completely trusting voice responded, “The doctor will fix Daddy’s tongue.”  It wasn’t what he said that shocked me, but how he said it, so certain that Daddy would be okay.  It reminded me again that that is the kind of faith we need to have in our God.  God knows exactly what He is doing, and we need to trust him blindly, just like Noah trusts the doctor.

Intermission

Around 10 after 11 this morning, I received the phone call from Jon’s mom letting me know that he was out of surgery and in the recovery room.  The doctor had come in and explained what all he had done and what the results were.  I know what you’re thinking — “Results? Already?”  Apparently that’s another plus to going to a cancer center.  Here, we have waited at least two weeks for each biopsy; there, they run the biopsies while they have you open so they can take more out if they need to.  So, from what Rachel understood, the doctor cut much deeper into the tongue and took two specimens and then three others from the surrounding area.  All five were CLEAN!!!  The catch is that by making such a large incision, they did have to graft some skin from his shoulder onto his tongue, so the recovery will be more delicate and extensive.  The blessing of this graft, however, should mean less tightness and pain (created by the previous scar) and more mobility of the tongue.

That was the Melodee version.  Thank you for bearing with my loquacious writing tendencies!

If you have more of the “Jon” mentality of conciseness, here’s how you can praise God:

1. Despite missing the assigned train, God allowed Rachel and Jon to change tickets without any problems, resulting in minimal tardiness to the hospital.

2. The surgery went well, with the best possible results: all of the biopsies were completely clean, and the skin graft should allow more more mobility without tightness and pain!

3. Jon is in a comfortable room without other patients where he can rest and not have to talk.

Here’s how you can keep praying:

1. Pray for Jon to be able to support the pain and the feeding tube.

2. Pray for his mom and others that will be there to assist him.

3. Pray for his physical recovery and spiritual encouragement.

4. Pray that he will NOT talk under ANY circumstances, as this is very important for the grafting process.

Thank you again for all of your support and prayers,

Melodee, for Jon, Noah and Eva

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Second Milan Visit

 

Thank you for your prayers!

If you were one of the OVER FIFTY PEOPLE who signed up for our prayer chain, I have some blessings to share with you.
  1. Cenni had most of the tumor removed from her brain last Thursday and she was already in church Sunday!  I will try to get you a picture of her for you as soon as possible!  She said that she has never felt so close to God as she does now.
  2. I gave the signup list to Donatella. She had tears in her eyes.  Tomorrow night she is going to read each one of your names in our prayer meeting.  Thank you for praying!
Speaking of tomorrow…
Tomorrow morning we are heading to Milan again for my follow-up visit.  (Thanks to my dear friend and mentor Steve Standridge for asking!!).
Here is where it gets interesting…by we I mean me, Claudio, Melodee…and Eva!The point of the visit is to evaluate the MRI and to schedule the surgery.  Imagine…five ours on a train with a six month old!  It will be great!!  I am so excited for Melodee to be there to meet the doctor and make decisions together.
Please pray for wisdom for:
  1. Scheduling the surgery
  2. Deciding to do the surgery privately through our insurance or through the national health care system.
Family portraitWe are so grateful to God for each one of you who read this, pray for us, give, to keep us going!  We truly feel like the richest people in the world!

 

PS.
We finally have some updated pictures on our website!!  Click here or go directly to our Downloads page.
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