Learning How to Pray

When I first found out about my cancer diagnosis, I immediately prayed for a miracle.  So many others also prayed that I would be healed, that this tumor would miraculously disappear.  So many people, with much more faith and much holier than I, prayed to God for healing on my behalf.  Like Jesus, we prayed that God would take this cup from me, and like Jesus, God didn’t answer that request.

The tumor didn’t disappear.  I wasn’t healed.

This got me to thinking about how I pray.  I am glad I and so many others prayed for healing.  The Bible teaches that we should present our requests to God and healing is a great request. Miraculous healing happens today.  I’ve seen it.  But sometimes physical healing just doesn’t happen.  Sometimes God doesn’t take the cup that we have been handed.  And I’ve been struggling with that reality ever since.

Sometimes we don’t get what we want, no matter how good or noble the request may be.  

During the days leading up to surgery I began reading Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. It is a journey through Psalms 120-134, otherwise known as the Psalms of Ascents. It’s an incredible study and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Many of those psalms stood out to me, but one in particular.  In Psalm 123 the psalmist sings that he is “filled with contempt.” He’s mad, he’s hurt, and he doesn’t understand the prosperity of the mockers and the proud.

But he doesn’t ask for vengeance. He doesn’t plead for prosperity. He doesn’t even look for healing.  The psalmist has just one request:

God’s mercy.

The psalmist knows the character of God – and he knows that above all he is “gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love” (Neh 9:31).

Eventually, I stopped praying only for healing. I began to pray something else.

I began to realize that maybe I need something higher than physical healing.  I realized that the road of surgery and chemotherapy was the road I was on, like it or not. Maybe God wants to use this trial to make me better, more able to relate to others. Who knows? Regardless, if I am on this road I desperately need the mercy of God above anything else just to make it through.

So since then when I pray I take on the attitude of the psalmist in Psalm 123 – I simply ask for God’s grace and mercy.  For though I too am filled with contempt – contempt of cancer, of the pain, of the darkness and despair that can threaten to crowd my mind during this chemo cycle – I choose to rely on God’s great mercy to walk this road.  And when I do, God in his mercy never fails to flood my heart with peace.

Often times, we don’t know what to pray.  What do we say?  What do we ask for?  Sometimes it’s hard to even find words.  Now, when I don’t know what to pray, I pray for God’s grace and mercy.  Because that’s what we really need to live in this crooked world.

It’s hard when God doesn’t answer our prayers.  Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense.

Just before Jesus was to endure his incredible suffering on the cross he pleaded with God twice.  He said, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” Mark 14:36.

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We should present our requests to God.  He wants us to. But if we truly trust God as the greatest of Fathers, if we truly believe that God is the essence of Love, then above all we will choose to put His will over ours. No matter how hard that may be.

Some days it’s hard to make that choice.  For many of us, it takes time to make that choice. It’s okay to be hurt and angry for a time. Some days it’s hard to pray at all. It’s a daily process, to be sure.  Some days I fail to rest in God’s will above my own.  Thankfully God is gracious and sheds his grace and mercy on me despite me.

Because we know that He knows suffering, He sees our hearts, He is with us giving us grace that surpasses understanding even in the midst of it.

…though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.   -It Is Well with My Soul

The Day I Found Out I Had Cancer

I’ve always heard anesthesia was nice, but now I know – it’s great. I remember going in for the colonoscopy a little nervous, very hungry, and very exhausted after a long and intense night (those of you who’ve had this procedure know what I am saying, right?). I had never had an IV. I had never been admitted to a hospital at all. Yet here I was going in for what I thought was a procedure that wouldn’t find anything and was probably pointless. I was having some minor stomach issues, but no pain, no discomfort really. But the Doc said I should get it checked out. So there I was.

After going into the room for the procedure, the doctor came in and went over my info. He said it was very unlikely we would find anything serious given my age and symptoms, but we will check it out and it’ll be just fine. Then they put me to sleep.

The next thing I remember was waking up to Mary’s face – she had tears in her eyes. She said, “Gabe, I have bad news. They found cancer.” The tears started to fall. I remember being shocked and thinking maybe I was still dreaming. I tried to shake out the fog in my head. I asked if they were sure, and she said yes, they found a tumor – 5 inches long – in my colon.   I remember feeling stunned. Blindsided. I still feel that way to a degree.

[Sidenote:: As I was sitting in the hospital there that day I thought of how I love it when people get blindsided on reality shows like Survivor or the Bachelor. That is my favorite part – when they go in to a rose ceremony or tribal council all confident and cocky, then get voted off. The shock and disdain of their reaction is fantastic, isn’t it? I smiled at this and I thought about how I just got a taste of my own medicine. #blindsided]

So that week followed with a series of tests, meetings, a lot of prayer and a lot of shock. We had to wait over the Memorial Day weekend to get the results of the PET scan that indicated if the cancer had spread anywhere. That was one of the longest weekends of my life.  Thankfully we got a good bit of news when we found out nothing has spread – it has remained in that location. It was nice to get good news.

So it turns out that I officially have stage 3 colorectal cancer. I’ll start treatment – radiation and chemotherapy – this coming Monday, June 8th. I will go in for radiation 5 days a week for 5 weeks, and take the chemotherepy pill every day for 5 weeks.  That will be followed by a 5 week rest period, and then surgery after that. Then we will most likely do post-surgery chemo for a time.  It’ll be quite a journey.

I hadn’t officially announced it yet, but I was selected for an Active Duty position with the Air Force as a Chaplain. We were gearing up for a total life change. We were wrapping our heads around moving in the near future. I was excited about taking a new full-time job. We felt sure that is where God was leading us next. Now it looks like that is on hold for at least awhile.  It’ll depend on how everything goes.

We will definitely continue with the photography business. Mary and I both love it and I should still be able to work most days during the treatment. I certainly still plan on being at our weddings on Saturdays. And I will continue to work at First Alliance Church on a part time basis as well.  They were more than generous in offering to keep me on staff, albeit in a different role than before.

This has been the most difficult couple weeks of my life and Mary’s life, for sure. It is still all hard to believe, to take in.  I’ve had every emotion imaginable: hurt, anger, fear, disbelief, confidence, and most in between. I’m told that’s normal. I’m doing OK though, just trying to take it one day at a time, trying to not live in the ‘what-ifs,’ and trying to keep a broader perspective through all of this.

The amount of support we have already seen and felt from our friends and family has been astounding. The prayer, texts, calls, cards, messages, meals and words of encouragement means everything. Without all of this I honestly don’t know how we would be making it. So thank you to all of you – you know who you are. Both my family and Mary’s family have been amazing. We are so grateful for them especially. The kind words, the support, really does wonders for the spirit and soul.

I know this is going to be tough. I know it’s doing to be dark at times. But I also know that God is with us in the valleys of life and even in the shadow of death. He will give me grace and strength when I have none of my own. Every great story has conflict – and this is mine. I’ve resolved I won’t be defeated by this.  I want to use this setback to grow closer to Christ. I want this suffering to drive me to Him, to drive away the sin and selfishness that is harbored in my heart and cause me to grow closer to His heart of love.

I am so thankful I have Mary, an incredibly strong, amazing person to help me through this.

A few passages of scripture have really been encouraging to me over the last couple weeks.

The Light shines in the darkness, Yet the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:5

No matter how dark things may get – I don’t need to lose heart, because the Light has already won.

And I just came across Psalm 121 a couple days ago.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?

It comes from God, the maker of heaven and earth…

The psalm doesn’t suggest we will never face pain or hardship. The psalm talks about God as our guardian in the midst of trials, our strength when we seem to be in danger. Our God is present in our dark times, he is with us at our lowest points in life.

As Psalm 46 says, God is our ever present help in time of trouble.  I’m banking on that more than ever these days.

And I’m also banking on the help and support of family and friends.  I know we will need the support and help more than ever in these days.

We would be so grateful for your prayers for healing. For grace. For divine strength.

If you would like to stay updated on what’s going on or would like to know how to help, visit our site: http://posthope.org/lawsonlife and/or email Lovingthelawsons@gmail.com

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