Friday, September 28, 2012

Anointing service

We are having a small, private anointing service for Alan this evening at 6:30 pm EST. Wherever you are, feel free to join us in prayer. We are praying that God's purpose be fulfilled in our situation, and surrendering everything to Him.

For those who are unfamiliar with the ceremony, anointing is not a demand that God use His power to heal. Rather, it is a ritual demonstrating our surrender to His plan. Scripture tells us to anoint anyone who is sick, and have the elders of the church pray for him or her.

While we pray for healing and express our complete confidence that God can heal Alan, we are surrendered and at peace with whatever God chooses to do in our situation. The anointing service will be an expression of this faith.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Echoes of faith

And despite everything else going on in our lives, our children remain the personification of joy and fun.

The other night, when my sister was staying with the kids (date night! Yay!), Seth prayed an interesting prayer. "Dear Jesus, please help us to be like echoes. Amen." After his prayer, he looked up at Valerie and asked, "You know how we can be like echoes? When we tell other people about Jesus, they will tell other people, and they will tell other people. Like ripples in the water."

Sweet little guy, he's so right. May the echoes of our faith ring until Jesus comes!

All things work together

We've been so blessed by the outpouring of love and concern from our friends, and even some strangers, over this past weekend as we shared with all of you our recent challenges with Alan's diagnosis. God has created us for community, and we find such healing and encouragement in the support of others. As God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone." Even Adam's life in a perfect garden with God Himself as a Companion wasn't complete without human fellowship.

But the greatest strength I find is in the promises of God. If that sounds shallow, it is probably because you have not been where we are today. Right now there are promises I want, promises that God doesn't give. I want Him to promise that my husband will not get very sick during treatment, and even more, will recovery quickly and completely. I want promises that God will intervene and take away all unpleasant circumstances.

I don't have those promises.

Instead, though, I have better promises. Promises that God will never leave me or forsake me. Promises that He will not allow more than we can bear. Promises that nothing really bad will happen to our family. Because He has said that He will make all things work together for good to those that love Him.

I can do that!

I don't know how I can possibly handle some of the potential outcomes of this crisis, but I know how to love Him. I know how to trust His promises. God is who He says He is in His Word--I stake my life on it.

So like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, I feel like we stand before the fiery furnace of affliction. "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace....But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Maybe we will be burned by the furnace of affliction. Or maybe God will do something miraculous and prevent that. Either way, God is with us, and we are part of a mighty brotherhood of faith. We don't need circumstances to testify as to whether He is loving and powerful, as He says He is. Some of our "cloud of witnesses" were delivered by chariots of fire; others were beheaded in cold dungeons. All were delivered by God, and all will someday stand together on the Sea of Glass and testify that His grace was sufficient.

There are times my heart fails at the thought of trials that may be ahead. But through everything I have a wonderful peace and absolutely solid assurance: God is going to use this situation to glorify Himself. By that, I don't mean He is a glory hog, or that our suffering is irrelevant to Him. Far from it!

I mean God is going to use this to prove that He is good, and to change us into His image. He is showing the universe that He is love, that His law of love is the best way to rule the universe, and that He can transform even sinful people into His image of selfless love. And even better, He can use any circumstance--even ones that are against His will--to contribute to that process.

 All things DO work together for good, for those who love God and have committed their lives to Him. I know He is coming soon to deliver us from pain and darkness, and to conquer the enemy forever. And trusting that puts everything else in my life into perspective.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A different kind of blog post from the usual

Years ago, I started this blog as a way to keep my mom updated on the amusing happenings in our household (since I couldn't remember them all well enough to tell her on the phone). Over time, she and I told other people about it and it metamorphosed into a window into the Parker household.

Well, it's still a window into our household, but some of the goings-on are likely to surprise you this time. They've certainly surprised us.

So...this post is an update on a new beginning in our lives. Not one we anticipated or would have chosen, but apparently one that God sees can bring blessings to our lives. Trusting that God is a God of love, we believe this new journey will teach us many precious lessons about the character of our faithful God.

Alan decided to write this update in his own words.

Dear Friends,

A number of you have been asking about my health, and we wanted to share publicly what has been happening so we can clarify the rumors and also solicit your prayers.
During the summer, we followed up on some routine blood work that had indicated elevated liver enzymes. The result was shocking. I have hepatitis C, and have likely had it for several decades. For those of you who don’t know much about the disease (as we didn’t), it is a virus that attacks the liver, slowly causing inflammation and scarring. Most people who have it show little to no symptoms and are unaware of the disease for 20 to 30 years. It is not easily transmitted, except through infectious needles or blood. We are not sure exactly when I caught it, as I had both blood transfusions and surgery during my childhood and youth in Africa. Since the virus was only discovered in 1989, transmission through blood transfusions was common.

At the end of the summer, I got a biopsy to determine how far the disease had progressed. Unfortunately, I have stage four liver disease, known as cirrhosis. A normal liver is stage one; an inflamed liver is stage two; a hardening or mild scarring of the liver (known as fibrosis) is stage three. Stage four is when there has been permanent, irreversible scarring of the liver and is the last stage before liver failure. While there are many potential complications, the greatest risk is the development of liver cancer, which occurs in 20% of all cirrhotic patients. Even without cancer, if the virus remains in my system, the condition will likely worsen and I will need a liver transplant.

I don't feel sick. Like most patients with hepatitis C, I don't experience many symptoms. Other than some mild fatigue and insomnia (that we had initially put down to the stress of my accident in March), I feel fine. I have continued to engage in my regular teaching and evangelistic ministry and we could almost fool ourselves that I do not have a potentially life-threatening disease. But the biopsy and test results are clear. Unless we do something, as our specialist put it, there will likely be severe liver complications within five years.

We have been through the cycles of good and bad news. First, we found out that there was medical treatment available that was able to clear the virus from over 80% of patients.  Then we got the bad news that I have the worst type of virus (known as Type 1), which has traditionally only had a 35% success rate. Then there was more good news. In the last two years, new drugs have been made available which have doubled the rate of success for Type 1 patients. Then more bad news, as we found out the potential side effects of treatment were severe, including fevers, fatigue, rashes, anemia, a lowered immunity, depression, nausea and a host of other unpleasant possibilities. About 15% of patients have to stop treatment because they can’t tolerate the side effects.

We have visited three liver specialists and talked to numerous doctors in our friendship network such as Neil Nedley, Mike Hollie and John Chung. It is clear that there are no natural remedies that will kill the virus. While we are taking steps to be as natural and healthy in our diet as possible (and fortunately, we had already been eating a healthy diet), we have no other recourse but to pursue treatment. There’s a danger in posting this publicly, as every person who has found a natural remedy to work for them will try to persuade us to adopt it so that we can fight this disease. We’ve looked into this extensively and we have not found a single person who has been cured of Hepatitis C by natural means.

So while we are convinced that we will do treatment, we are still finalizing what that treatment will be. In October we will see a fourth specialist to consider a clinical trial. There are several new treatments that claim to have better efficacy and less side effects. However, they are not publicly available as they are still being approved by the FDA. We are going to be carefully looking at our options before making a final decision and we hope to start treatment by January. My treatment is expected to last a full year and we will not be able to do any significant travelling or speaking during that time. Our hope is that I will clear the virus within the next year and then begin restoring my liver. We are hopeful that with natural remedies and a healthy lifestyle we can avoid a liver transplant.
We would appreciate your prayers as we move ahead. With three young children (who vaguely understand what is happening) and a burgeoning ministry, it is a little scary to face our own mortality. We are planning on an anointing in the next couple of weeks and believe in God’s restorative power (whether by medicine or more miraculous means!) Regardless of the future, we are grateful for your support, and most of all to our loving God, who never allows more than we can bear. We are confident that even though He has not ordained suffering, He uses it as part of His great plan to change us into His image, and to reveal to the universe that sin (not pain) is the enemy. Whatever is ahead, His hand is over our lives, and we trust His loving care.
Alan and Nicole