"Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
"You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
"My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever."
-- Psalm 73:23-26
(While there may be some updates on my post-cancer screening tests, this will be my last blog on A Life's Walk with Cancer and www.caringbridge.org. Starting early next year, I plan to resume my research for “Ishmael’s Cry,” a non-fiction that addresses how abusive and absentee fathers in our country adversely impact the relational, vocational and emotional development of young boys. You can follow my progress with the book at: http://www.ishmaelscry.com/. Also, I want to extend my sincere gratitude for following and commenting on my personal journals as I faced another round of cancer. Now, I feel great and remain hopeful that this new treatment will keep the cancer cells from metastasizing again. God bless!)
There is an old aphorism that states, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” In the highpoint of battle and under perilous conditions…bullets flying overhead and mortars exploding all around…soldiers are known to pray to God for their own lives, while hoping to see and hold their loved ones once again. Although this adage is historically attributed to soldiers fighting in combat, it can also be commonly associated with anyone who submits to a higher being when faced with a life-threatening event, such as being diagnosed with cancer.
While I’ve been a Christian for more than 20 years (I accepted Jesus Christ in 1993 while on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps), my faith has certainly increased during each diagnosed stage of melanoma cancer: 2007 (Stage 1), 2013 (Stage III), and 2016 (Stage IV).
It seems that with each diagnosis, I become more aware of God’s deepening grace in my life; evidenced by the increasingly peaceful state in my heart, which allows me to be a longsuffering cancer patient. And through His grace and presence, in toto, has made me into a dependent beneficiary of His strength, counsel, and guidance. In the basic tenets of my Christian walk – praying, reading the Bible, and serving others – God has indeed strengthened, counseled, and guided me through the literary scriptures found in His Word.
In 2013, when diagnosed with Stage III melanoma cancer, I embraced 2 Timothy 4:7 as my war banner in fighting this life-threatening disease. Then after a year and a half of being in remission my cancer metastasized. Soon after being diagnosed with Stage IV, God took me to Psalm 73:23-26, by way of four different occasions, within a month time period. It was in the fourth encounter with Psalm 73:23-26, sent by a friend of mine, that I felt God was prompting me to embrace Psalm 73:23-26 as my new war banner, while at the same time learning what He was trying to teach me.
When I read, studied, and meditated on Psalm 73:23-26, the words…ever so eloquently woven into each verse…reminded me that God continues to hold me in His strong grip and will never let me go; counseling and guiding me with His word and truth; revealing to me there is something much better beyond the grave; and even though this body of mine will fail eventually, my Jehovah will always be my strength and portion.
Psalm 73:23, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.”
- God’s Spiritual Intervention – Author and a wartime chaplain, Oswald Chambers wrote, “God engineers circumstances and brings us into difficult places where no one can help us, and we can either manifest the life of Jesus in those conditions (Psalm 16:8; 27:8, 105:4), or else be cowards and say, “I cannot exhibit the life of God there.” Then we deprive God of glory.”
- Existential Meaning – It is in my genuine opinion, a judgement that is not entirely fashioned from my own conclusion, but instead by means of a spiritual revelation wrought out over a period of time…and it is within this evincing truth…that God allowed His character to be manifested through my thoughts and actions when fighting against cancer. In fact, this experience with cancer has confirmed that God is, and always will be, with me – an intimate revelation of Him always holding “me by my right hand.” By way of an unexpected paradox, a life-threatening disease in my body has produced a genuine inner freedom, which no man nor teaching could have ever nurtured, thus giving me new perspectives, gratitude, and new-life expectations. And this was done by the transference of cancer.
- My Personal Response – As I hold onto God’s peace, strength and presence, I will strive to remember His great deeds (Psalm 77:11-12), keeping my eyes on God always (Psalm 16:8), seeking His face (Psalm 27:8) and strength (Psalm 105:4), and striving to remain in Him unceasingly.
Psalm 73:24, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.”
- God’s Spiritual Intervention – The blessing of having cancer is realizing the “full confidence in God’s continual guidance through” this difficulty; giving me strength within my bones (Isaiah 58:11), and knowing that He will guide me until death (Psalm 48:14).
- Existential Meaning – Looking back at my first diagnosis with cancer, and considering all aspects in one’s response to cancer, I could have easily embraced anger and bitterness, and thus justified and carried an excessive, self-absorbed state of perpetual despondency. However, this sorrowful state would have propelled me to stray away from His gracious counsel, providence, and spiritual growth; and this I will not have! Because, to give in to despair is to reject the bountiful lessons and blessings in life challenges and struggles, such as cancer.
- My Personal Response – To continually seek His favor and counsel, especially in the gravest of circumstances.
Psalm 73:26, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
- God’s Spiritual Intervention – Before being diagnosed with cancer on Tuesday, November 5, 2013, God was already preparing me for the upcoming fight against this life-threatening disease. During one of my morning devotionals on Saturday, September 21, 2013, about six weeks before being diagnosed with cancer, God revealed Proverbs 24:10. After reading and meditating on this scripture verse, I journaled this prayer: “My Dear Father, the Lord of my life, by the grace of your precious word, give me your strength and wisdom to face each challenge and difficulty in my life, and help me to grow stronger during the difficult times in my life.”
- Existential Meaning – When people tell me, “Alex, I am amazed by how you fought against cancer” or “You are such a great fighter,” I wish they could clearly see the source of my strength. In my heart, not only do I believe God led me to journal the above prayer so that I would know His strength and courage, He also wanted me to know…regardless of life or death…He is always with me. In fact, in the beginning of the diagnosis, I felt weak and frail against this new enemy (Psalm 38:10), but I was reminded by Psalm 73:26 that God controls the number of my days on earth (Psalm 39:4-5), and with that in mind, I should not be concerned when my body fails. I find peace in knowing that I am just a mist on a leaf (James 4:14); my life is but a vapor…here one day, gone the next. What truly counts is the legacy I leave behind.
- My Personal Response – During this short time on earth, I will continuously strive to find my purpose within the context of Christian servitude. Even though I’m but a humble vessel to be used by Him, I will also try to enjoy life by spending time with loved ones, working hard to be of value, and gaining wisdom in order to make good life decisions.
So, as I step forward in life as a cancer survivor, I will always hold Psalm 73:23-26 close to my heart, and know that God continues to hold me in His strong grip and will never let me go, to counsel and guide me with His truth. And even though this body of mine will fail eventually, I look forward to hear His words, “Well done, my good servant!” (Luke 19:17).