by Elizabeth Burgard Fulgaro © 2014
I have been listening to the wrong voices. Instead of pressing in for His voice and resting in it, I briefly stepped off the Rock of His Truth and promises and unwittingly placed my feet as if upon unstable sand. It is so easy to have happen, especially when walking through a difficult time.
In my case, because the present challenge involves conquering cancer, the other voices come from the medical community who are trained to the best of our current ability, are extraordinarily well-meaning and want only the best for me. They give diagnosis and prognosis. They quote from long-studied statistics and speak caution so as not to set what they professionally consider would be unrealistic expectations.
Thus the pathology report John and I received from the surgeon last week showed indeed there was more cancer than they had thought prior to surgery. It had begun to spread beyond the thyroid with cancer cells attaching the right side of the thyroid to the muscle in my neck. My exceptionally skilled surgeon had removed all of this with clear margins (which means he removed beyond the border of the cancer and took some of the surrounding healthy muscle tissue with it, in order to make sure he got “all” of the cancer.) Two small lymph nodes, which the thyroid hid from view in the pre-op sonogram, the surgeon also removed during surgery as a precaution. These also came back as cancerous in the pathology report. The surgeon was not surprised because indeed they were right next to the cancerous thyroid.
What does this mean? The surgeon was quick to say that all research data shows that a person in my condition has a 96%-98% or so likelihood of living another 20 or more years. Hurrah! At my current age of 55 to have a life expectancy of 20 or more years puts me at age 75+ which is great, period. Without cancer one can easily die a multitude of different ways long before that.
However, in the same hopeful breath, He also said it was possible there was more teeny-tiny thyroid cancer in the neck which could not be detected as yet. On the other hand he stated repeatedly this was not a survival issue. Thyroid cancer was not the same as other cancers such as liver or pancreatic. Thyroid cancer was notoriously slow growing. In fact, in many cadavers offered for research which had died of other causes, when they were cut open, thyroid cancer was also found, however it had not been part of the person’s demise. Thus, it was highly likely I would die of something else. (That’s good, right?) He repeated, with my condition we were not concerned with whether I would survive or not. However, I would require ongoing surveillance. Due to the spread of the cancer beyond the thyroid itself there would be another blood test in a few weeks. Based on that result, radioactive iodine treatment would be prescribed—probably one or even two treatments. Each treatment consisted in ingesting a single pill, with the dosage to be determined by a doctor of nuclear medicine. The iodine delivers the radioactive poison into the thyroid area to theoretically find and destroy any remaining cancer cells. And yet after that is complete, due to life-long “surveillance” (for which I am also thankful), the journey with cancer is not done and will not be done until something else eventually kills me.
Hmmmmm….. Talk like this takes your mind places. Knowing I am mortal and this life is finite is not a surprise. For years I have collected dishes and sewn homemade cloth napkins decorated with wildflowers because they remind me we are all like grass in a meadow, which will be gone after a fleeting season of life. My personal stationery has a photo of wildflowers on it for this reason as well. Our lifespans here when compared with eternity are short!
For years I have made conscious decisions with my time to clean my home less and study the Word and write songs, books, booklets, devotions and Bible studies more because I know our time here is brief. I have wanted to focus whatever time remains outside the blessing of time for family and friends as much as possible on that which lasts. I do not want to be distracted and focused on His lesser things for me—not even for one day—and suddenly find myself at the end of this natural life, on the brink of eternity, when I shall stand before Him and give an account for how I have spent the time He allotted me with God-assignments undone, which I had known were mine. If He takes me sooner than He enables me to finish these, then that is fine, but let them not remain undone on my account!
And yet, despite this ever-present awareness of mortality, which has caused me for years to daily focus on serving eternity, to have this mortality truly placed definitively close-up before my eyes can be somewhat saddening and unsettling. I have had to stop my thoughts from wanting to run away with me and consciously put back the Lord’s view before my eyes. Yes, with medical professionals we are talking about the potential length of remaining natural life and eventual natural death and yet, nothing has really changed. God remains in control as the only One who has the plan for my life and power to bring it to completion. Human wisdom can be listened to, but God’s plans will be supreme. I may die sooner or later. It is in His hands. Period. If I can keep my eyes stayed on this truth in Jesus, He enables me to walk on water. Though the waves are rocking and rolling beneath me, I remain on top completely in His perfect love and care with His deep abiding joy and peace accompanying me.
Beyond this insertion of what will be an ongoing back and forth with the medical community into my life now (which is quite a change since I have not struggled much with even colds or flu for the past five or so years), for me personally the most disconcerting aspect of all of this has been the potential for loss of voice. I love to teach, which tends to require the ability to speak. Additionally, I love, love, love to worship our Lord in song. To date, He has blessed me to be able to record over 100 of the many original songs to Him and for Him which He has had me compose. The melodies and lyrics drop into my mind and according to His instruction I capture them to be released into our atmosphere the way He ordains, so that He would be more welcomed here. In this way, by the increase of His Spirit in our midst as He is magnified in our praises, many more individuals will seek and find Him and begin receiving His transforming gifts so that one by one nations will change and honor Him as King. Releasing these songs as the Holy Spirit leads, wherever I go, even driving in the car has become a lifestyle for me.
When the diagnosis of thyroid cancer came with surgery set as the best remedy, interiorly there was a part of me who rejoiced. No, I was neither glad to have the cancer, nor excited about surgery and losing an important gland like the thyroid, but I felt as if God were rescuing me from an enemy I had not even known my body was physically fighting. And it meant that I had not imagined the strange sensation the past few years that it was somehow harder to sing. It had simply been a little more difficult to push the air through. I had had no idea my throat was constricted. I had not known that was a possibility. I had thought I just needed to strengthen my stomach muscles and diaphragm to provide better air support. So to me this surgery was meant for my restoration and not destruction. In addition to saving me bodily from this enemy which had been silently destroying me in hiddenness, the surgery seemed a promise God would sovereignly remove that which had been constricting my voice so it could be all God intended. By the surgery my voice would be saved and set free!
The surgeon did caution me that one risk of surgery was loss of speaking and/or singing voice. I cautioned him that both speaking and singing were very important to me. He made sure surgery included “nerve monitoring” in an effort to protect both as much as possible.
Following surgery I had a speaking voice. It was hard to speak, but it worked. It was more than a whisper. There was tone. It began monotone, but it was tone! It was weak (and is weak), but it was there. I “tested” briefly the third day to see if the nerve which enabled singing was intact. I hummed briefly and indeed could sing two notes. But that was all. Unfathomable, when singing had been so simple, easy and completely natural before for there to be nothing beyond those two low notes which would come out.
Believing God had shown me shortly before surgery that I may have to work to fully regain my voice by persevering through specific exercises (and He had given me a picture of my friend and vocal coach, Grace, helping me through them), I wanted to learn what those exercises might be and when to start them. So I went online looking for answers. I not only needed to know when to begin working toward vocal restoration, but also how long and in what manner to rest the voice. And I did find one extraordinarily useful post by a medical doctor specializing in this area. He consoled another patient to wait for healing and not panic right after surgery. The body would need to heal. Super!
However, almost all the remainder of the posts on multiple sites were by fellow patients at various stages post-surgery who had never recovered full use of their voice for speaking or singing. They were all desperately looking for answers which didn’t seem to exist. This was very disconcerting and discouraging and began to threaten to lift the blanket of His peace under which I have rested throughout this season and replace it with worry and fear.
This morning, the Lord began working in His magnificent way in my heart: I have been listening to the wrong voices. I have been giving merit to what the other patients have written, who have made their experience public. From a practical perspective, certainly they do not represent all who have undergone the surgery, and perhaps it is more likely that those who are struggling and seeking answers will post over those who are not on the Internet searching because their recovery is proceeding with time. That is the practical aspect.
Yet, there is more. The most important is to take these sneaky little worry-thoughts and take them captive to the Truth of Christ. First, it is possible my voice will never return to what it was and I need to find His peace in that possibility, choosing to be at rest in Him even in this. I am not to be attached to things of this world—even an ability which He gave me to speak and sing. At some point, no matter what happens now, the season for speaking and singing with this physical body will be over because this body is indeed a temporary tent and not destined for eternity. And so daily, I am working to give up my will and release it to my Lord and my God. It is a constant moment-by-moment decision to keep giving my life over to Him for Him to use as He deems fit. I fully admit this is not easy. Some moments I am strong. Others I am weak. But by His grace, I choose not to cling to anything, including my desire to continue to speak easily and sing. I choose moment-by-moment to offer my trust to Him regardless of outcome as a sacrifice of praise. In this morning’s email Inbox happened to come the following exceedingly appropriate verse:
11….I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am. (Philippians 4:11b Amplified)
But this morning, I am also reminded of His promises to me and to stand in faith on them. He is the only One who controls the outcome. He is sovereign and nothing and no one knows better than He. The best of human wisdom is still foolishness to Him. He can do and allow whatever He wants! And I believe He has promised this surgery was for my restoration and not destruction—for release of my body from cancer and my voice to sing for Him more, not for its suppression.
Echoing through my mind this morning has been the Old Testament story of the ancient Israelites, after they had left Egypt, God had parted the Red Sea and for 40 days they had wandered through the wilderness led by God’s pillar of fire and pillar of cloud, they had received His commandments and now were on the verge of entering the land which the Lord had promised would be their home. This land was already inhabited by other tribes, yet God had promised it to them. In Numbers 13 and 14 is the story of how the Lord told Moses to send men ahead to explore the land of Canaan, which He was giving to the Israelites. In it was an important reminder for me.
1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send on of its leaders.”… 17 When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are the unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do you best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)
21 So they went up and explored the land…23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs…26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”
30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.
1 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
5 Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. 6 Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8 If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9 Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
10 But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. 11 The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?…21…as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, 22 not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. 25 Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.”… 28 “So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: 29 In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. 30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31 As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. 33 Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you. 35 I, the LORD, have spoken…” (Numbers 13:1-2,17-21,23,26-33; 14:1-11,21-25,28-35 NIV)
Whose report will I choose to believe? The Lord had promised me my work for Him vocally was not done. There had been a myriad of signs regarding this. Now He has allowed me to do some practical research–a sort of scouting the lay of the land. The information available through the Internet initially was disconcerting. Now….whose report will I believe. Will I be like the Israelites who saw the formidable potential obstacles before them and decided they would be overcome by these, or will I be like Joshua and Caleb who seeing the formidable potential obstacles, believed in the power and grace of God to bring them safely into that space which He had promised? The Israelites who chose to believe the bad report instead of trusting in the power of God to bring them through that which looked impossible by human means, paid a high price for their unbelief. They never entered the land God had promised them. In fact, they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until all of them who had not trusted in God’s promise were dead. 40 years…..In the initial 40 days, the Lord had led them out of Egypt and to the border of where they would receive fulfillment of His promises to them. But by their lack of faith in God and courage to believe and follow Him, they continued to wander in this dry, barren place until they died in the wilderness. They never benefited from God’s promise because they chose to fear what they could see instead trusting in what He had promised.
Yes, the Lord has gently convicted me this morning. I have been giving too much credence to the wrong voices. May Joshua and Caleb be my guides. I will continue to be aware of medical community wisdom and published experience by a partial base of other patients, and yet I also will continue to listen for what God has to say. What He promises is that which I choose to believe. My Lord is faithful. He has never disappointed me. There has not been one thing He has promised that He has not done. I will trust in the LORD with all my heart. I will not lean on my own understanding. In all my ways I will acknowledge Him, for He alone will make my paths straight. (Based on Prov. 3:5-6) And when over time He has done what He has promised to do, it will be He who gets all the credit so that He is more known and gains greater renown, so that ever more individuals can have opportunity to see Him at work, begin to seek Him for themselves and find their ways home.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)NUGGETS OF GOD’s WISDOM God’s Wisdom is more precious than gold. This blog by Elizabeth Fulgaro helps readers discover God’s way versus the world’s one “nugget” at a time. http://www.ascendinworship.wordpress.com www.eaglesnestfoundation.org
Elizabeth Fulgaro is a wife, mother, writer, inspirational speaker, worship leader, composer, singer & recording artist. She is also a Certified Financial Planner and Accredited Financial Counselor with a heart for helping Christians understand and steward their finances God’s way.
For books, worship cds, Bible studies and teachings written by Elizabeth Fulgaro or to schedule her to come speak to your group please visit www.holyspiritpress.org Worship music audio clips can be found at www.cdbaby.com/Artist/ElizabethFulgaro and on itunes.
Elizabeth is the Founder of Eagles Nest Foundation which provides spiritual support & encouragement to military and military families as well as those in physical and emotional battles (such as cancer, long-term illness) as well as those grieving a loss. For information email email@example.com or visit www.eaglesnestfoundation.org