Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The peace of God's presence

For a news story about Senator Kennedy to turn into an opportunity to praise God is nothing short of a miracle.

Last week as I was driving to work, the secular radio station was broadcasting a news story about Senator Kennedy and his brain tumor. They mentioned that there is a Fort Worth resident who has the same, uncommon and highly aggressive form of brain cancer. His name is Gary Morey. My ears perked up. I know him! Gary used to attend our Church, and we were both regular participants in the Thursday morning men's breakfast at Rise and Shine, where you can get a great breakfast for under five bucks. Next thing I know he is on the radio talking about how God gives him the strength to face terminal cancer.

This morning I had the privilege of getting together with Gary Morey for breakfast. The servers at Rise and Shine know me vaguely, but they are on a first-name basis with Gary. It had been several months since I saw Gary, so as we enjoyed our coffee, eggs, sausage, hash browns, and toast we caught up on what is happening in our lives. You wouldn't know by looking at Gary or by listening to him talk and laugh that he has terminal brain cancer. The cancer was first detected in May of 2007, and doctors said that he had just a few months to live. He has been through surgery and radiation treatments which have slowed the progression of the cancer, but it was clear from the beginning that eventually he will die from this disease.

Please read this article for more background about Gary.

When I meet Gary I hope that I can encourage him, but his joyful outlook and his overcoming faith always result in me being encouraged instead. Today was no different. After we had our personal talk, I asked him a few questions. Here is what he had to say, transcribed as accurately as possible.

Don: I am here at Rise and Shine with Gary Morey having breakfast and some coffee and we are just going to talk about some of the things going on with him for the past year or so.

Gary: Hi. I’m Gary Morey with glioblastoma multiforme and enjoying it [laughs].

Don: Back in the fall you were at our church and you told us that you had two goals that you wanted to accomplish. One was to be there when your wife completed her degree, and the other was to vote against Hillary. Can you update us on how those are going?

Gary: That’s true. My wife did a great job, got her PhD and graduated May 10th. I thought I’d physically be in bad shape by then, but I was fine. I’ve never had any side affects from all the medications I take, all the x-rays I’ve had. So I was just a normal guy in the stands. And it looks like I’ll at least be around long enough for the Presidential election in November, so whoever the Democrats nominate, I’ll be there to vote against him. I guarantee you. Especially with who the Democrats are putting up now. At least I hope I’ll be around then. So that should work out.

Don: Can you tell me how having cancer has changed your perspective or your priorities?

Gary: Just knowing that my time to live will be shorter I want to make sure that everyone I know in the past, that they knew where I’m at, but also that I know where they are at. Because now I have the time to talk with them. And there has been two or three who have realized that I’m a person who is not going to be around forever, so they can talk with me about things that they would not even want to talk to their own wives about because I’m not going to go tell other people about the situation, so it was good to be of assistance in that way. So strengthening relationships from the past, but then also making new relationships along the way. In my new church, new hospitals, I got to meet new people and talk to them and be a proper witness. I have one neighbor who I am still working on. He’s had a difficult life, so I’m trying to keep him on my side and be a witness to him.

Don: How is your wife Janis doing?

Gary: She is doing really well. She just accepted the reality right away, as fast as any wife could. She immediately realized, and I did too, that this was not something that was just going to go away with a couple of pills. We realized what the facts were, that was a year ago. We immediately said, “Ok, Lord, where do we go now.” We were immediately looking for direction from Him. And he showed us very quickly. So she is doing great. So I joke with her that when I die she is going to marry some guy named Edgar. So I say, “Don’t go see Edgar yet!” So we can joke about things like that.

Don: I know that God has given you a heart for ministry to older people. A couple of years ago, you left Hulen Street to join a Church where you have more of a chance to minister to older people. I’m wondering if that experience has affected the way you deal with having terminal cancer.

Gary: A little bit. We younger people think of older people as just being on the edge. They’re dying off. And I’ve just been amazed that they are not dying off. I still keep in touch with Glen and Dorothy Elkin, and they are just as strong as ever. They still have a beautiful garden. I thought I had a good garden til I saw his, and he is twice the age that I am and he’s now using a walker, but he still somehow keeps a beautiful garden growing. When I went to my new church there are a lot of old people, and I thought there would be a lot of funerals, but there has not been one. I never thought mine would be the first one. So I learned that you can never write someone off or think that they are limited just because they are old or they have terminal cancer. If anything I admire them more. I live in a neighborhood with a lot of older people, and I keep thinking that I’ll be so sorry when that person passes away. No! They are an important part of the community, good neighbors, keep a clean house, they’re not noisy like some younger people. They are a good example for us, and we need that. And I wish we could get the teens and twentys to look to them like I do now instead of thinking that they are just old geezers. They are a crucial part of our society.

Don: I have a question that someone asked me once, and it kind of stumped me. Any answer that I could come up with seemed like a cop-out. So I wanted to ask for your perspective on this. There are two people who both have a life-threatening disease. They are both believers, both pray fervently to be healed. Their families pray hard, their churches pray for them unceasingly. One of them recovers and returns to health, and the other one dies. How can that be? How does God decide this one is going to live and this one is going to die? Does prayer really work?

Gary: I go back to certain scriptures that are very important. This one came to my mind right away when this happened. Isaiah 55: 8-11 because these scriptures end by saying that when My Word goes out, it will not return to me empty. That is the part that has always been so strong to me. In reality now, the first two verses: “My thoughts are different than your thoughts, my ways are different than your ways, just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.” And you have to understand that God’s ways are so vastly different. And why do certain people make it and others don’t? I don’t know. Part of it is understandable, what kinds of cancer do they have, some are easier to treat than others. You just have to understand that there are not many people cured of this kind. A lot of people take the right medicines and stay around longer, but eventually the cancer will get them. But I tell people you have to understand that the same God who makes us happy when someone is born is the same one who makes us happy when he brings us home to be with Him. He’s the same God, and he never says in the Bible that a long life is preferable or that a short life is bad. So any length of life that you have to live, just thank the Lord for it. Thank the Lord for being alive. Now I’m sure that it is very different when a child dies. We have to recognize that God is very consistent. He always tells you that I will be there for you. When Steven Curtis Chapman lost his five-year-old daughter God was there watching that little girl get run over in his driveway. Yep, He apparently was there. God is always there with us. Each of these people were Christians and we have to look at each one as an individual. We each have different cells, we each have different fingerprints, so we are all very very different, so why did these cells start growing in one person and not in another? Well, we are different people, we are sinful people. Both people can thank the Lord that he was there all along. You’ve got to have that confidence.

There are a lot of wacky books out there about healing and dying. The only decent one I have found is by Billy Graham. I think it is just called "Dying". Billy Graham is just an outstanding man. I always thought the rapture would come while he was still alive. Who knows, maybe it still will.

Don: Thanks. Like I said, when I tried to address those issues it sounded like a cop-out, because I’ve never been where you are, so it means a lot coming from you.

Gary: And we don’t want God to be under our control. We don’t want to know how God reacts. Oh, this is what God will do. That’s not the faith I would want to have. That’s a God I can control.
Don: That would make him a very small god, one who we could wrap our minds around or keep on a chain.

Gary: Oh, yes.

Don: In the Bible God promises that He works together in all things for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. How do you see that being true in your life?

Gary: In my life He’s been wonderful. He gave me warning that my life was coming to an end. That is wonderful. I had this horrible disease, but I’ve never had a bit of pain, I’m just like a normal person. I’ve had the chance to get in touch with all my past relationships. It has just been one thing after another. Situations where we get these bills, $70 thousand bills, and with our insurance, it brings it down to an amount that we can afford. My wife got a great job where she gets a higher salary, when my salary went down our income stayed the same. That is so rare, many people when they get this kind of cancer they just have a horrible time. Maybe its because I’ve avoided a lot of sinful situations. In my whole life I never had a beer, never had a cigarette, never messed around with other women, I think the Lord is saying hey, this is a result of living a good life. At least that’s what I believe. And I’ve always wanted to be a good witness. He has always been there for me.

Don: Someday when you stand before God, what one question would you like to ask Him?

Gary: How could He love us? He gives us all this wonderful direction in His Word, and we still sin against Him. How can that be? I’d like to hear it from His own lips. How can he do that? How does he constantly forgive us and still be there for us? Because I can love my wife, but there are still times when you’re not feeling like “I love you”. You want to get angry for a while first, and then shut up. God’s unconditional love is a mystery to me.

Don: A lot of people wonder about how a loving, all-powerful, good God allow pain and suffering and death and wars and all the bad stuff that goes on?

Gary: I have to go back to original sin, with Adam and Eve. If they had not taken advantage of that opportunity to sin against God we would not be in that situation now. We would be in those perfect bodies. But we took on that role of individual people, fallen people who could have anything happen to us, unfortunately its something that Adam and Eve got us into. Again you have to think of the Lord who allowed us to be born and say thank you for allowing us to be born. Thank you for having us in this country, because we could be in other places where it is not so good to live. You have to go back to His promise that he is always there. There is a verse I just recently found, Romans 12:12. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” I like that because it gets at what all those scriptures say. Be always joyful, and when things get tough, be patient, and the King James says “be in continuous prayer”. And you have to be that way because it just does not make sense. When you think about 9/11 and all those people getting incinerated, that is a day when everyone is going to be asking those questions. How? How? How? And it is hard to fall back on scripture on that day, but that is the world we live in now. The Lord is here, but he also lets people go against each other as they did on that day. But as far as my individual situation, I just thank the Lord that he allows me to be alive. And I thank the Lord for the people I know, and I hope that I can be a good witness on my way out. Because you are a witness to me. You are not weeping, feeling sorry for me, you are joyful. That is encouraging to me. So I just want to do all I can to be encouraging, to help out however I can. To be a good witness to everyone.

Don: My last question, is there a scripture that is special to you, that you would like to share with us?

Gary: Yes, it would have to be the Isaiah 55 passage. God’s ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. That’s why it is important, because God is so much bigger than we are. That is something we can fall back on. For my situation, they say I’ll lose my sight, I’ll have paralysis, that means death is coming. I need to fall back on that truth. It’s ok because he said that his ways are different. There is a reason that this is happening. There is a reason that I can’t see now. There is a reason that I can’t move. Ok, I can deal with that. He continually reminds us in scripture that he is always with us. I am very confident that He is right there with us, and He will help us in small ways along the way. Even if it is just to give me relief of pain, he will do that. I am confident He will be there. I just lean on Him 100%.

Don: As I talk with you I can see that your way of thinking is different from the way the world thinks, and your response to this disease is different. You have a joy and a peace, and I think that reflects God’s different way of thinking, and that encourages me.

Gary: And you have got to remember that this is not a sudden death. I think people in that situation deal with it in a way that is very very different. It is hard to talk to them, and I don’t expect them to fall back on this immediately. It is going to take some time for them to work through this, when death is a sudden thing. But when I know that death is coming, I need to prepare myself and take advantage of the opportunities.

Don: Thanks Gary, you are a great encouragement and a great witness.

I thank God for blessing me with good health. A few people are blessed to experience the miracle of healing and recovery. While I still believe that God could heal Gary if that was His will, Gary has experienced a different kind of miracle, not a bit less amazing than physical healing -- the faith to trust in God's presence and His goodness, in spite of not understanding all of the reasons, a heart which thanks God for each day of life, and the opportunity to turn any sitation into a chance to bring glory to God.

1 comment:

todd said...

One of the best things you've ever written, Don! I've had breakfast with Gary at Rise n Shine a couple of times and always come away feeling encouraged by spending time with him. He will always be one of my most cherished friends and examples.