Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving "Top Ten"

In this season dedicated to giving thanks, I have decided to share with you my "TOP TEN" pick of blessings over the last year.

#10 -- My father and siblings: Among other challenges faced by my dad, four brothers and sister, my personal encounter with a life-threatening condition has renewed and strengthened a bond of authentic caring, thoughtfulness, tolerance, and appreciation for each member of my birth family that is enormously gratifying. I sense a closeness that we have not known since childhood (and perhaps never before with such quality and genuineness).

#9 -- My church family: A very special group of people who know and love God passionately have been an enormous support to me and my family during this battle with cancer. They have visited, called, encouraged, prayed, sent loads of cards, offered meals, transportation, labor, genuine love and fellowship. Particular gratitude goes to those in our "CARE group" with whom we meet weekly and who have faithfully supported the entire family through this difficult time. Other life-long friends who share the same passion for God have faithfully refreshed and strengthened us along this journey.

#8 -- My physicians and their staff: I could not have chosen a more competent, caring, or thorough-going team of professionals to shepherd me through this battle with malignant melanoma. The team includes Drs Rose, Alexander, Grosh, Sheehan, Larner, Randolph, Gould, Parent, Hood, and a host of others who work in the emergency room, in front of radiology CRT displays, or peering into microscopes. In addition, I am indebted to Dr Glenn Jones for assuming the care of my wife when her "favorite" physician became disabled!

#7 -- You: You who have shown an interest in my well-being and progress over the last 23-month battle with malignant melanoma, who have followed this blog regularly, who have commented, encouraged, sent cards, challenged, and prayed for me. Many of you are former patients. You have sustained me, strengthened me, motivated me, inspired me and truly overwhelmed me with your thoughtfulness and genuine concern.

The Crabtree Clan at Thanksgiving

#6 -- My grandchildren: Pure delight! Well, maybe not always pure, but always a delight! Morgan, Madison, Matthew, Mark, Asher, Zephan, Evelyn and Adelaide -- each with unique gifts, personal strengths and challenges; each a source of great pride and joy.

#5 -- My sons-in-law: Alan, Matt, and David each have demonstrated dedication to family and to my daughters that has been a source of great encouragement for me. In spite of the demands of career and ongoing education, each has made family life a high priority and each is seeking to honor God in all their endeavors.

#4 -- My children: Kim, Beth, and Christianne have more than accommodated themselves and their families to our situation -- they have leveraged the circumstances to enrich us all with their courage, creativity, and dedication to family. They have not put life on hold, but engaged in activities that reflect their passion for godliness, life, beauty, and love of others.

#3 -- My wife: Linda has been a faithful partner through some very difficult times this last year. Although I have not been bed-ridden as I was off and on during the first six months of this battle with cancer, I have been very dependent on her for transportation, nutrition, companionship, and, at times, as my peripheral brain. I cannot imagine life without her. Armed with a faith that has withstood the test of this trial, she has not missed opportunities to encourage others facing similar challenges.

#2 -- God: This journey with cancer has welded my relationship with God, transforming it from an exercise of initial child-like faith into one of intimate trust and commitment -- paying dividends that include an imperturbable peace, courage, quiet personal joy, and a renewed passion for others to experience the same quality of relationship with Him. My identity no longer relates to what I do, but who I am in Him (transformed from a human doing to a human being, precious to Him).

#1 -- Malignant Melanoma: Ahh, where would I be today without YOU?! I would not have known the richness of these other blessings, nor the preciousness of each and every human encounter, nor the resilience and power of a mature faith in Christ, nor the depth and steadfastness of God's love in the face of enormous challenges. Each of us some day will face death. Whether or not mine comes as a consequence of this malignancy, I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to face head on the implications of my mortality in the light of God's endless supply of love, mercy and grace! (See James 1:2-4, 1Peter 1:6-9)

Recent undoctored image of Dan
(notice absence of stethescope)

As the apostle Paul declares: "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, 'For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)

At this time of thanksgiving, I do not wish you my same journey, but I pray you may know the rewards that come from the same depth of relationship with the God who loves us and supplies our every need.

With an ever-deepening attitude of gratitude,

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Beast from the Northeast

The Nor'Easter of 2009 at the Crabtree home

If you know where we live, you know that we just experienced one of the worst Nor'easters in this region in over a decade... four days of gale-force winds, high tides and heavy downpours that came to visit us from the remnants of hurricane Ida, November 11-14. Facing the northeast on the southern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, our house gets pummeled by these storms that, due to their tendency to loiter for days at a time, dump more rain and can cause more tidal flooding and wind damage than a hurricane. Although not unscathed, we survived the storm better than many along the coast.

Friends of ours not only lost a good portion of their protective dune, but had significant water infiltration, loss of power, a house fire ignited by a power surge, subsequent smoke damage, and the headache of a major clean-up. Other friends situated more inland had to deal with a gigantic oak tree that could no longer resist the wind and soil-loosening rains, crashing into their home with destructive force. Others were displaced or stranded by rising tidal flood waters, power outages, and/or direct structural damage from the storm. (For related videos of the damage, click here.)

By comparison we count ourselves fortunate to have suffered relatively minor damages so that we will not need to make an insurance claim. We never lost power and, due to the deposit of a large mass of vegetative debris from the Bay, have the potential for expansion of the protective dune barrier in front of our house. The tidal flooding never reached our home. Even our weather vane survived peak gusts of over 75 MPH.

In addition we were blessed with the timely arrival of Dr. Rod and Jeannie Mirich, dear friends from Danville, KY that we have known since our years in residency training back in Southern California. Aware of my impaired ability to keep up with the physical demands of several different projects around the house, they had planned this visit to help in whatever way needed long before the storm was even forecast. They were a God-send! Together we accomplished in a few days clean-up and spruce-up tasks that would have taken me weeks to complete on my own. And, of course, the fellowship was sweet.

Adjacent to our home is a public park on the Bay where the city stationed massive dumpsters, allowing citizens to bring storm debris for more convenient disposal. It was heart-breaking to see families discarding flood- and/or wind-damaged belongings, including mattresses, furniture, carpet, etc. I chided myself as I recalled how much I bemoaned the theft of a couple of bicycles from our garage earlier this year...

I am reluctant to admit it, but the experience has reminded me of how prone I am to allow material things to own me, rather than the other way around. You would think that, facing a terminal diagnosis, I would have learned that lesson! Of course the truth is that we own nothing in this world -- not really. All the physical things we enjoy are but a loan. Ultimately, they can be repossessed by the bank, claimed by the government to settle an unforeseen tax liability or by the imposition of powers of imminent domain. Genuine ownership is an illusion. We are but caretakers of everything we "own".

The Bible teaches that in reality God owns it all. We read in Psalms: "For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is Mine, and all it contains." (Psalms 50:10-12) Once I get my mind wrapped around this truth, I recognize I am but a custodian of things on loan from God... including my next breath! If I will but live that way, I will know true freedom from anxiety and disappointment. (Matthew 6:25-33)

The real beast does not come from the northeast... rather from the backwaters of my own heart. If I will but choose to rely on the steadfast character of God's love, I will withstand and overwhelm any tsunami of physical loss. "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (See Romans 8:35-39)

Ever more grateful for that which He has entrusted to us...
Dr Dan

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Many Happy Returns

Linda and I surrounded by friends from her ladies' group known as the "Biblers"

Today is the xxth anniversary of the birth of a very special lady -- my beautiful bride, Linda. And I am so grateful to be here to celebrate her special day once more. While I always anticipated that I would be the one who, in our "sunset" years, would be the stronger, healthier provider/adventurer -- in many ways our roles have reversed as she has faithfully nursed me, nurtured me, encouraged me, chauffeured me, compensated for my newly acquired deficiencies, and served as my peripheral brain with patience and grace. There is no one on earth who has meant more to me.

And there are a scarce few that I know who have invested more in the lives of others with such passion, genuine love, wisdom, energy and grace... and with such a rich return on investment! Pictured above, for example, is a group of ladies (and their husbands) who all love each other as sisters, constantly encouraging one another in practical, meaningful ways and meet regularly for in-depth Bible study, prayer support and outright fun. On this occasion, this precious group of friends prayed over us, trusting God for grace and healing.

This special sisterhood began in the fall of 1990 when Linda (along with a next-door neighbor) mounted bicycles and canvassed nearly 400 homes in the Virginia Beach community where we had just moved to solicit their interest in a lady's home Bible study. Suffering saddle sores from that effort, their investment paid off with the launching of not one but two regular gatherings of women from diverse religious traditions who grew in their understanding of scripture and in their devotion to both God and others.

I could tell you story upon story of individual women, children and whole families whose lives have been forever changed for the better because of Linda's wise, caring, insightful (and often incisive) investment of love, practical acts of service and godly wisdom. Not only has she hosted neighborhood Bible studies, but spent countless hours one-on-one and in small groups of women, mentoring them on a host of knotty issues with exceptional practical insight rooted in biblical wisdom and genuine love. She has served with energy, creativity, and grace as women's ministry director at our church, hosted innumerable couples Bible studies, provided for temporarily homeless or abused women and families, and all the while invested her heart and soul (not to mention her considerable culinary gifts) into the lives of her adoring family.

Linda surrounded by her three favorite mentees, daughters Christianne, Beth and Kim

I could go on and on about her many talents, exceptional beauty (inside and out), considerable culinary skills, disarming hospitality, creative flower arranging, and penchant for making any social gathering that she hosts (whether family or friends) both memorable and meaningful. Her unique passion and skill for distilling complex biblical principles into practical life-changing applications is unsurpassed. It will take an eternity to measure the many happy returns attributable to this one fully invested life, of which I have been the chief beneficiary.

Happy Birthday, Sweetheart!

PS -- check out a previous entry on all this woman has endured by honoring me with her love and devotion.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Faith of our Fathers

My father, John Crabtree, on the occasion of his 95th birthday celebration!

In spite of the challenges presented by this battle with malignant melanoma, I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity it has presented to reflect and comment on the critical role that faith has played in how we face adversity and the reality of our ephemeral journey on this planet. Having just returned from a whirlwind trip to Michigan for my father's 95th(!) birthday celebration, I am reminded anew of my great fortune to have been raised in a home with a heritage of Christian faith.

While not a perfect family by any means, my parents faithfully gathered all six children to attend Sunday morning services at a local Baptist church just three blocks from home. I now recognize what an enormous task this must have been and am grateful for their efforts. Sitting in a circle on the clapboard floor of Mrs. Mistele's Sunday School class, I learned of the genuine love of God and took those first steps of faith to surrender my life to Him completely.
Me and my three older brothers, in our Sunday best

The entire Crabtree clan on the front porch of our Detroit home

Generations earlier, my great grandfather Will Crabtree modeled a life of faith before his family. My Dad fondly recalls riding behind his grandpa every Sunday on old Dolly, the family plow horse, to the Piney Grove Baptist Church in Winfield, Tennessee. En route, great grandpa would stop at a special spot where he would get down to pray by an old log at the roadside in preparation for the services to follow. My father knelt beside him. His 95-year-old knees still bend in prayer today.

Having a clear consistent example of genuine faith at an early age is a powerful influence in the lives of those who choose to follow Christ. While faith is not inherited, it is more often caught than taught. A Barna Group study published October 11, 2004 found "that two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. Less than one out of every four born again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their twenty-first birthday."

I am enormously grateful that all three of our daughters, at an early age, chose to follow Christ. While their mother and I made sure they heard the remarkable story of Jesus' life, we also recognized that genuine faith is consequential and demands a lifestyle surrendered to His will. We consciously sought to model a consistent commitment to the Lordship of Christ in our lives.

In each case as they made their own decision regarding faith, their mother and I wanted to make clear that doing so meant more than simply giving mental assent to the facts about Jesus (His deity, His remarkable life, death, burial and resurrection). Rather, in terms they could fully understand, trusting in Him meant they needed to make Him the boss of their life! (John 1:12-13) Gladly He is, so that they now model for their own children that same quality of surrendered faith.

I know not how many days I may have to invest in the lives of those I love. In reality, none of us does! But I find myself ever more conscious of the enormous privilege and responsibility to share in both clear words and consistent actions the transformative power of faith in a loving God of mercy and grace.

Dad, Happy Birthday and thanks for a heritage of faith!