Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks, Gathering Joy

“In everything give thanks…” (1Thes 5:18)

As I write this entry in the journal of my journey with cancer, a quiet and gathering joy inhabits my thoughts. And I am as intrigued by the phenomenon as I am pleased at the opportunity to express my gratitude.

Words are hardly adequate to describe my appreciation to the hundreds of you who have prayed earnestly for me, sent cards, offered practical acts of kindness, and buoyed me up with words of encouragement. I have also received excellent professional care and the well wishes and support of many colleagues. The outpouring of love, genuine concern and generosity has overwhelmed both me and my family. We thank God for each one of you.

Of course He is the One to whom all praise is due – for demonstrating His steadfast love, His faithful presence, His power to heal, His mercy and grace. I smile as I contemplate the beauty of how He has worked “all things together for good.” (Rom 8:28) Among the many lessons learned over the past several months is a new understanding of the transforming power of irrepressible gratitude and pervasive praise. Let me review…

Before any of us drew our first breath God saw our brokenness and the consequences of a creation gone astray. While still in a state of rebellion, He declared clemency for us through the sacrifice of His own Son, (Rom 5:8) thereby sealing forever the certainty of His love. (1John 4:10) With faith enough to recognize this gift, as a young man I turned myself in and received His forgiveness. My life was changed and my future secured.

Relative prosperity, excellent health, a fulfilling career, a wonderful family, and pleasant circumstances engendered an attitude of gratitude over the years that was reinforced by numerous examples of divine protection and providence. Almost everywhere I turned and everything I touched affirmed I am loved of God, a beneficiary of His goodness. Under such circumstances, what's not to be thankful for?

Then in January of this year dramatic events shattered this pollyanna perception of what constitutes God’s blessing. I was given six months to live and by my professional experience I knew that it likely would not be a tranquil passage. From the stunning moment I learned that I had disseminated cancer, through the nights of intractable pain, during the rampant decline in strength, amidst all the side effects of Interleukin-2 therapy, He graciously reassured me that He had not changed. His love had not diminished and He was no less deserving of my praise. In fact, it was often in those moments of extremis that His intimate presence was most palpable.

So I learned to give thanks in the midst of the pain. As I related in a previous entry, I would combat the pain with anthems of praise or humming to recorded hymns. Notice I gave thanks not for the pain, but in the pain. For it was in the pain I could appreciate the quality of love that constrained His Son to suffer unimaginable agony for me while uttering “Father forgive them…” (Luke 23:34) And it was in the pain that, without answering why, I was aware of His personal favor.

I also learned that the surprising consequence of giving thanks in the midst of suffering was an exhilaration and imperturbable joy that both eased the pain and produced a settled peace impervious to further adversity. I am aware that there are biological correlates to this phenomenon that to me only reinforce the wisdom of the Creator’s instructions: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks...” Sow gratitude; reap joy.

Through this experience and in my astounding recovery I have gained a new certitude and capacity to celebrate the profound and changeless love of God.

My wish for you and your family is not simply a “Happy Thanksgiving” but rather the lasting joy of giving thanks.


PS – We return Monday, December 1, to Charlottesville for a full day of imaging studies and follow-up exam. I will keep you posted.


  1. I was looking forward to your Thanksgiving entry. :) Thank you for always pointing us heavenward. Continuing prayers for your family. May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  2. Hi Dr.Dan. From my family to your family,We want to wish you a great turkey day. I sure hope these sons of mine slow down on the eating. My thoughts are going with you and Linda tomorrow. My prayers are with you.


    PS I have my own PC now.