Remembering


As many of you already know, my dad had a stroke early last Friday morning.  On the exact anniversary of my brain cancer surgery at Central DuPage Hospital, I found myself back in the neuro-intensive care unit at CDH, only this time, my dad was in the bed instead of me.  Thankfully, he’s doing okay–still very groggy and tired, the worst part is that his left side isn’t moving, nor responsive to touch.  He’s out of ICU now, and being prepared for transfer to Marianjoy for rehabilitation.  Continue to pray for movement on his left side to return and his blood pressure to stabilize.

When I started this post yesterday, I intended it to be about my own recovery from brain cancer.  Oh how things can change in just 24 hours!  Nevertheless, I’m grateful for all of you who have prayed and will  continue to pray for me and my health in the future (please include my dad in your prayers now…).  I’m also aware that, by God’s grace, my cancer story hasn’t cost me my life…yet (and, hopefully, never will).

But this probably hasn’t been the case for all of us and our loved ones.  Although cancer didn’t take my sister Beth in 2002, someone recently entered the curious question “What happened to Beth Kamphausen” in a search engine online and got linked to my Second Campus blog in the process.

Some people have expressed sorrow and surprise over how much suffering my family has had to go through in recent years–even before my dad’s stroke yesterday, or my cancer diagnosis last year–losing my sister to filaria in Borneo in 2002, my other sister Linda’s lifelong battle with epilepsy, my mom’s breast cancer and my dad’s ongoing heart problems, now complicated by the stroke.  As I remember all of this sorrow, along with Beth and her remarkable life (she’s been gone 9 years already!), I’m sad that sickness, death and suffering are so prevalent in the world today.  But in our pain, my prayer is that we don’t grow bitter and distance ourselves from God as if He doesn’t care or isn’t with us in the middle of it.  As C.S. Lewis once wrote in The Problem of Pain

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I’ve heard His shouts in my pain this past year–even today as I watched my dad go through such disorienting physical problems–and am more confident than ever He’s in control and is my Good Shepherd, leading me and my family through the valley of the shadow of death to the quiet waters on the other side, restoring our souls along the way–like the whispers I’m hearing from Him this week with the good news of my cancer-free report on Wednesday. But I’ll be the first to admit that’s it’s been harder to hear his whispers since Dad’s stroke last week.

In the midst of your particular pain, sorrow or sickness, I hope you all can hear Him through both His whispers and shouts the same way I have this past year.

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With the one year anniversary of my brain surgery for an undetected Grade 2 cancerous brain tumor approaching on June 20, sleep has been fleeting for me, to say the least. As much as I want to be strong, confident and faith-filled about Jesus’ healing in my life–it’s when the sun sets each day that my anxiety subconsciously climbs.

Of all the wonders of my rapid recovery from surgery this past year, that’s really the only thing I can physiologically note as being different–I have a much harder time sleeping now than I ever have–waking up much more often in the night, lying on my pillow, tossing and turning...chasing sleep.  In the past, when my head hit the pillow at the end of the day, I was gone for the night.  With our kids getting older now, it’s pretty uncommon for Karyn and I to be unexpectedly woken up for a nighttime crisis for them.  They’re all pretty good sleepers most of the time–which is pretty amazing considering the amount of anxiety I’ve caused them as their Dad in the past year.

The other day Anna was crying pretty hard about feeling sick–much harder than I thought a few weird spots in her mouth merited–but then it dawned on me, “Could she be crying like this about sickness because of me?”  That the reality of mortality has reared is ugly head in my family too soon–through the tears of my kids?  My tumor has harshly taught my children that the life they live today is only temporary–as Peter once wrote,

All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (I Pet. 1:24-25 ESV)

This is the good news?  Yes, it is.  Despite my health crisis having intruded on my kids’ collective childhood–as a family, we are certainly much more aware of the wonder of a God who is mindful of us as fading flowers, dressing us even more majestically than all of Solomon’s finery, watching over us like the birds of the field, knowing that they need to eat to survive.  While I chase sleep at night caught up in a cycle of despair and fear, my Father takes care of me and quiets me with his love–he even sings over me (Zeph. 3:17)–just wish I would let Him sing me to sleep more often these days…

I definitely understand this kind of Father love so much more intimately since my cancer diagnosis, I just wish I rested in this reality more regularly every day.  But I can’t see underneath the new scar on the right side of my forehead, can’t look through my skull to tell if the cancer’s back or not.  So instead of being content and quiet in God’s real compassion for me, I embody my discontent by tossing and turning through the night.

I expect good news when my latest MRI gets read by my doctor on June 22 at the University of Chicago, I really do.  And even if it’s not, I’ll be okay–just a reminder of not getting too invested in this temporary life, tempting though it may be to believe like so many that this life is so much more important than that life, the eternal, amazing one coming someday (perhaps sooner than I wished…)

So, on the start of this good day, after a good night’s sleep as I get ready to go on a field trip with my daughter Anna to the Shedd Aquarium downtown, I’m grateful and excited about today.  I’m reminded of Solomon’s words in Psalm 127–words which Karyn prayed over me earlier this week when sleep was fleeting…for even sleep is a gift from my Father.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

I don’t like to think about my enemies because, most of the time, I pretend that I don’t have them.  But if I’m honest, of course I do.  It’s always so much more personally productive and gratifying to subconsciously crucify “those people”–especially my leaders–that I dislike or have hurt me.
Instead, I prefer to believe, in my pride, that I’m one of the most likeable people I know:  a capable leader who’s winsome, articulate and inspiring to follow.  Unfortunately, while I might think these shiny, happy attributes are accurate descriptors of my own character as a leader;  I often grow impatient, judgmental, and downright cantankerous as a follower. As I think about leadership and followership in my own life, I happened across a quote by Henry Longfellow recently that has stuck with me.  He’s quoted as saying, 
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life, sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
     This quote serves me like a hot branding iron to what’s left of my right frontal lobe. I feel the need to recognize in myself the fact that some people just don’t (or won’t ever) like me personally or as a leader.  But it’s also a call for serious reflection and understanding to not take my leaders’ mistakes so personally myself–that my leaders are indeed sinful, busted-up humans just like me and Christ calls me to move toward them, love them, forgive them, reconcile with them and forbear with them as a rule of everyday Christ followership, not as a subconscious afterthought.
I’ve often said lately that it’s a miracle of God’s grace that Blanchard Warrenville has survived these past five years. 
As leaders at Blanchard, we’ve given plenty of people the opportunity to be angry with us over the mistakes we’ve made in launching our second campus.  I wasn’t here during those early days, but I can’t help but admire the guts it took to actually act on our faith that way–pretty inspiring, God-honoring stuff.  In some ways, we’ve led well. For instance:
  • We definitely knew that, if Warrenville was to succeed, God would have to empower His people by His Spirit to make it happen. And, without question, we can testify to God’s power at work to sustain us these past five years.
But there’s a more than a few examples of problems that have been more tricky to put up with as “followers”…
  • We didn’t know (or fully understand) how expensive the property we purchased at Warrenville was going to be to develop–particularly the water and drainage issues.
  •  Of course we didn’t anticipate the Great Recession or how challenging and expensive maintaining our Warrenville property would be in that context or our Wheaton campus beginning to show its 20-year age.
  • We didn’t recognize how costly it would be to obligate every parent to serve in childcare over the last five years–while very well-intentioned (and still very effective!–over 80% of our parents regularly volunteer to serve our kids–pretty amazing…)
  • We didn’t realize how challenging it would be to nurture the rich relationship we would continue to share with our Wheaton campus along the way–although it’s been remarkable to watch how John Casey and especially James Grout of late have continued to be a part of the teaching team at Blanchard Warrenville.
  • And, as Campus Pastor, I know I haven’t done a great job of championing Wheaton’s campus life at Warrenville (or vice versa…)
     Frankly, I’m surprised at how forbearing people at Blanchard have really been.  Still, a lot of folks have left us from the original launch.
     But, praise God, most of us are still here.  God’s still “forming a people at Warrenville to glorify him everywhere.”  I wouldn’t say we’re thriving yet–but I do believe we’re on the cusp of some beautiful things to come…
     Right now only 40% of our adults are connected to small groups at Warrenville.  I believe that must at least double in the next year for us to move toward more meaningful and formative discipling relationships.  That requires me championing an intentional strategy for developing and equipping more small group leaders and launching a significant number of new groups this coming fall.
     Despite our readily apparent warts and flaws at Blanchard, a couple who recently attended a family function at another church came back to Warrenville so grateful for the tangible and rich presence of the Holy Spirit alive and speaking to us there during our worship gatherings.  I share their enthusiasm.  I’m also so excited that we continue to make real strides in incorporating our kids into our worship gatherings.
     I love that our church is so full of young families and kids!  Our desire is to include them as often as possible into our worship teams throughout the summer.  It’s critical for all the generations present at our worship services to have a meaningful voice as we listen to God together.
     So, people of God at Blanchard Alliance Church (Wheaton and Warrenville), this is a call for both you and me to trust God as he guides our leaders and all of us in our relationships with one another–we often have much more in common than we give each other credit for.  That’s really no secret at all as common sinners saved by grace. So, in that humbling light, let’s be both Christ-honoring leaders and followers.

My heart is full of gratitude today, in spite of the fact that the swell of my existential ocean is rising and I see a line of breakers bearing down on me.  On behalf of the people of Blanchard Alliance Church–despite incredible opposition, in the midst of a bankrupt culture and a horrendous recession–by God’s power and grace, Blanchard Alliance Church has established a healthy, expectant second campus in Warrenville.  It’s already been five years since our original launch in April of 2006!

We’re a little tired of the waves crashing in, mind you, but we haven’t lost hope–it’s hard work to do great things for God! 

Sure, our leaders (including myself) have made plenty of mistakes along the way–we’re far from perfect–but, in spite of all that, look what God has graciously done among us!  We now have 120 adults attending regularly (half whom are parents!) and around 80 kids from newbies to high school students.  Over 80 percent (!) of our parents have faithfully served in childcare for the last five years, choosing to miss worship services for the greater good of blessing others at Warrenville.

Sure, we have a $900,000 debt load remaining on our property and building–but we have paid more than $3 million off already–UNBELIEVABLE–all in the midst of a brutal recession!

We have experienced multiple leadership changes (which caused significant anxiety and uncertainty about our future…).  We’re moving more and more toward fully integrating our families together in worship services–encouraging our amazing children to lift their voices in praise of our great God during our gatherings.

Even better, a significant number of people, both kids and adults, have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior since our launch (may this never stop, but GROW). We are getting a clearer sense of what it means to be Christ in the community of Warrenville (including tomorrow’s National Day of Prayer Gathering at the gazebo outside City Hall at 11:30, as well as CareFest at Johnson Elementary on the 15th)  I have a growing sense of anticipation as God births a renewed commitment to prayer at the Warrenville campus–it’s been a beautiful thing to watch people being prayed for regularly during our worship services.  Their eager expectancy testifies to our belief that God is mightily present to heal and restore us as God’s people serve together in unity.

I’m thankful for our leaders who have kept their commitment to rotate the teaching team between our two campuses, instead of defaulting to satellite messages.  It’s not always been pretty or perfect, but we’re learning.  I don’t have the stats, but I know we lost a significant percentage of our original launch team within the first two years of Warrenville’s establishment. Birthing a second site hasn’t been easy but I have great affection and gratitude for those of you who’ve hung on to ride out the waves!

While we haven’t done the greatest job of keeping our Wheaton campus fully engaged and informed on the good things that have been happening in Warrenville, I bless our Wheaton campus for having the courage to step out in faith by launching Warrenville in the first place!  So what’s a crumbling Wheaton parking lot in light of that?  Sure, it will cost money to fix,

but as long as we remember that we are the capacity and God is the supply, we’ll be fine.  Obstacles are good for our faith.  So let’s keep wading into the water, staring down the waves coming at us, setting our chins firmly forward and dive right into those breakers!  Bring it on.  God is on our side. 

Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea–the LORD on high is mighty. Psalm 93:4 (NIV)

God loves the Church and will never abandon us in the deep end.  We are more than conquerors through Him who loves us!

What about you, Warrenville-ites?  You’ve read my song of encouragement to us all at Blanchard today (and I could say SO MUCH MORE…) What encouragement would you speak to your church in these days?

How has God been with you at Warrenville these past five years?

How is God growing your expectancy for our future?

I invite you to share your story as a comment to this post.

Over the last four Sundays at Blanchard Warrenville, we’ve had the opportunity/blessing during our worship services to go forward to  little tables set up in the corner of our sanctuary to express our gratitude to God for his goodness, kindness, mercy and healing in our lives in this season of Thanksgiving.  We sang the “We Will Remember” by Tommy Walker every Sunday and I sensed the Holy Spirit really connecting those lyrics with our everyday lives–for me,  the third verse was powerful:

I still remember the day You saved me
The day I heard You call out my name
You said You loved me and would never leave me
And I’ve never been the same…

I do remember that day.  I was eight years old.  I was on summer vacation in Indonesia with my family.  We had just finished watching the only English language TV series on for the day.  That night it was EmergencyI don’t remember all the details but, obviously, Mom and Dad had let me stay up late to watch with the rest of my sisters.  In hindsight, I’m really glad they did, because, after watching the show, I crawled into bed terrified.  Somebody in the show had died.  And as I tried to close those eight-year-old eyes, they wouldn’t let me.  Deep in the  background of my sleepy subconscious I heard laughter–that I attributed to the devil.  He was laughing at me that night because, though I had grown up in a Christian home, I was his.  I hadn’t given my life over to become a devoted follower of Jesus yet. And, in that moment, I wanted to change my eternal position forever–to claim all the great stories about Jesus from the Bible  I had learned growing up and make them my own.  Feeling a strong sense of urgency to talk to my older sister, Beth, I got out of bed and crossed the hallway to knock on her door.  I told her I wanted to invite Jesus into my heart and have him become Lord of my life.  She happily agreed to help me.  So I prayed and invited Jesus in.  And the laughter stopped.

Satan had no power over me anymore.  I was now a child of the King forever.

How about you?  Do you still remember the day Jesus found you and called out your name?  And If you haven’t heard Him yet–just listen–He’s calling.

With Thanksgiving coming tomorrow, and thanks to our season of remembering at Blanchard Warrenville, I remember that day with gratitude–especially the peace and healing I’ve experienced over the last five months as I’ve recovered from brain surgery.  Jesus has been wonderfully close to me, given me a peace that passes all understanding.

I’m so glad I listened when he called out my name that scary night in Indonesia.  And I’m thankful for all the ways we had a chance to say “thank you” to him on our tree in Warrenville over the month of November, too.  

One of the things I added to the tree last Sunday?  That I was able to go to the table with Anna, my daughter, and be able to return to my seat, healthy and well–brain cancer and seizure-free.  Unlike on Father’s Day when, after returning to my seat from taking Anna, my initial seizure started.  And my life changed forever after that.  But I’m still and always will be a child of the King because of that day Jesus called out my name.

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, His love endures forever! (Psalm 136:1 NIV)

 

Ever been pushed to the edge of your faith?  Where our human need for tangible evidence of God’s existence pushes you to the inky fringes of your mind’s capacity to tolerate the murkiness of this busted up world we live in? Welcome to the color of my thoughts these days.

We were made for more than this.

A haunting, old song of Amy Grant’s has been floating through my consciousness lately called “What About the Love?” Even though it will take you some time, the song lyrics(by Kye Fleming & Janis Ian) are worth the read (or a listen on iTunes)…

She asks a frighteningly powerful, yet eternally-conscious human question,

Is this all there is?…Something’s wrong.”

As I continue my recovery from brain cancer surgery, I’m mentally pressed to reconfirm my core convictions about everyday reality.  Here are a few of my frequent questions.

Does the God of the Bible exist?

Is He in control?

Does He have the power to heal disease?

Does He have the power to forgive my sin; to bless me with peace that cannot  be intellectually explained?

Is the reality of heaven really better than anything this world has to offer?

Is he preparing a place for me there?

Should I die from cancer, will God be my daughters’ Father and Great Shepherd?

Did Jesus experience my pain as a human and suffer unto death to make a way home for me?

And, every day, in faith, I choose to say “yes” to all of these questions. (And a whole lot of other ones.)

I would also add, that I say “yes” with greater conviction than I ever have before.

I long for heaven today like I never have before.

I believe God loves me and will take care of me, no matter how many days I have left.  He gives me power and authority to live with confidence and conviction.  I can’t quantify my faith for you (but that’s why it’s faith, right?  Call me crazy.  But you can’t take it away from me. It’s mine but Christ has plenty for you, too,  if you’ll take faith in Him for your own.

The voice of the world might tell you this is all foolishness.

Go ahead and buy what the world’s selling.

It’s honestly tempting–but I’m really not interested.  The “answers” offered just don’t hold up.  I’ll take and claim what the Bible teaches me to be true about God and his work on my behalf.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Hebrews 10:22-24 (NIV; emphasis mine)

I’ve got everything I need in Christ Jesus, thank you very much.  How about you?

So, to answer my own question…

Is this all there is?

No. There’s so much more,  if we’ll only step out into the murky darkness to take hold of it. Will you?

A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth more than rubies.  Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value…Prov. 31:10

One of the most moving experiences of my recovery from brain surgery is my beautiful, noble wife, Karyn.   She has been an absolute rock to me– and she (unlike me)  actually remembers the bad stuff–the week of my surgery at CDH–the three scary days when I couldn’t use my left side, when my surgeon kept reassuring all of us that it would all come back with time… when I was in so much pain post surgery, I could barely function.  13 years ago this Sept. 6 at Blanchard Wheaton, Karyn pledged to stick with me “in sickness and in health” –she’s kept her promise to me , hasn’t she?  I’m so proud of her and in love with her (more than ever)!

Actually, that’s been one of the more inspiring sights here at Marianjoy in the rehab gym every day to see spouse after spouse compassionately loving their now very different husbands or wives (post stroke) such simple, quiet love displayed for all the rest of us–no panic of discomfort(at least not that I can see) just patient, devoted acceptance…just like my Karyn.

Seriously,  who else but Karyn would have stuck with “crazy old me” all these years?…

From moving to Phnom Penh, Cambodia giving up her job at Blanchard as Children’s Ministries Director to follow me to Colorado Springs for five years so I could be a Student Ministries Pastor as prep for the mission field in Cambodia to being willing to have her third child in a  foreign country like Bangkok, Thailand?  Now that’s a Prov. 31 woman! In faith in her Great God, she always puts her next foot forward for what the day holds–not shrinking back--, believing God will take care of her and our family, just like He always has.  Speaking of being UNSHAKABLE, well, that’s my Karyn…Now, I’m sure she’ll tell you she’s had her weak moments where everything comes crashing in at once (probably in the quiet of nighttime, so she can’t even breathe…) but she graciously doesn’t tell me about those moments most of the time…


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