My Life in 1994
On the last day of the NLMS, the instructors had to give a conclusion to the seminar. As part of my conclusion, I echoed the words I had heard my mom say to me. "Fight Satan. Satan knows the work you are capable of doing for God. He will try to stop you. And when you go home, take care of the youth and the kids at your local churches too, because Satan knows the work they are capable of doing for God. He will try to stop them. He'll try and try to knock you down and stop you from putting God first in your life.
You may recall from last time that among my mom's last words were "fight Satan." I remember those words clearly. I remember, for one thing, that I had no idea what she meant. It was confusing, and a little bit scary.
All the time I was growing up, I lived a fairly sheltered life. I grew up surrounded by love. I mean, we had our family squabbles as any family does, but we seemed to always get over them after a while. And yes, as a teenager, I did my share of door slamming and yelling and pouting. I got over that age, not altogether gracefully, but I did.
Really, until mom passed on, there was never anything really to talk about in my life. I mean, I had never really faced any real difficulties or problems.
Well, I'll take that back. I made a promise to myself when I was a teenager to never forget what it was like to be a teenager. So twice, on days when life was particularly awful, I sat down and wrote all the problems I had on a sheet of paper, so that I'd remember how miserable I felt. I happen to have them here.
So you see, at the time I wrote these problems, I was pretty shaken up by them. I can laugh now, but then, when I told myself there'd be a day when I could look back and laugh, I didn't really believe it. But that day came.
In the grand scheme of things, I guess I always knew how lucky I was. I grew up surrounded by love, by two parents who put God first and their family a close second, by a brother and a sister who, although they could get a bit annoying at times, were a brother and sister whose loved me and were concerned about me more than anyone in the world.
I went to a great school in high school, and a pretty good college too. I never had to face the loss of a loved one, or a serious illness. When I applied for college, I applied for one school and got in within weeks of applying. When I applied for a job at Rutgers, I got a great job with the help of Wayne, and basically my dream job a year later.
One time, I think about the third year of college, I was driving home from church with my mom. I basically said to her, "mom, you know, I do a lot of complaining, but you know, I think life is pretty good. I've got you and dad at home, and I'm in no rush really to move out of the house or start a family or anything. I really could go on like this for a while" Mom just smiled.
Last time, I shared with you what I went through in those last few weeks of mom's life. I shared with you a bit, I think, of the emotional pain I went through in the year or two following that. I had developed what in my mind was an "understanding" with God. I believed in God, but I just didn't think He really cared too much about me. Now I didn't really blame or resent God, I just figured that he had more important things to be concerned with than me.
My motto in life became a rhetorical question: "Who said life was going to be easy?"
Let's jump back to 1994. I had gotten into business school and about 2/3 of the way through. I went to the NLMS in December, had a month off in January, and went back to school in late January. I'd taken on a pretty heavy course load, but I was really beginning to enjoy business school.
When school started at the end of January, I had a bit of a cold. I had a sore throat for a while. At about the same time, I started to feel a little lump in my throat. I looked up "swollen neck" in a little medical book we have sitting at home, and the book said that swelling in the neck is fairly common following particularly bad colds. Sp I passed this off as a swollen gland which resulted from my cold. I really didn't think too much of it. After what happened with my mom, though, I was a little on edge. My mom, if you don't know, had anaplastic thyroid cancer. Anaplastic cancer is characterized by rapidly growing cells, which are of random shapes and sizes. It's literally one of the most lethal forms of cancer. by the time you feel it, it's already too late.
But again, I did a little reading and saw that it's fairly common for areas of the neck to swell immediately following a cold. So I decided to wait a little bit and hope that the swelling would go down. I told my dad about it, and he immediately made an appointment to see an endicrinologist. I assured him that that probably wasn't necessary.
I was in the Health Center at Rutgers with Steve Lin. He was getting a sore throat checked or something, and I had it in my mind to ask one of the doctors for their opinion. The doctor would only see Steve, though, and told him to tell me that he wouldn't see me. This was really no big deal to me, while in the lobby I'd read some more literature on swollen glands. I figured the doctor would just tell me what I had was a common occurence and that it would go away eventually.
I was in complete denial that anything was wrong with me, but in my mind, I was obviously a little worried. One night I had a dream. I had a fan next to my bed which was fairly noisy. One day, I left the fan on hile I was asleep. I had a nightmare which I can barely remember. I remember that the noise of the fan disturbed my sleep. I remember in the dream that somehow I was equating the noise of the fan with having cancer.
There was a radio station I listened to. One day, the announcer came on the radio and asked the listeners to pray for "a 26-year old who has cancer." In the back of my mind, I knew that she might as well would be talking about me.
But these incidents soon passed. The day before the doctor's appointment, I felt for the lump in my neck, and it seemed like it wasn't there anymore. I had my dad cancel the appointment with the endocrinologist.
A week or two passed. The lump was obviously still there. One day Sam came home to visit. My dad had him feel my neck. He told me that it probably wasn't anything, but maybe I should get it checked out. We made another appointment with an endicronologist. Sam tried to explain that a lot of things could account for the lump in my nack, more of which were purely harmless. But as a precaution, especially given our newly-established family history, it'd be a good idea to check it out. I was crushed. I wanted to hear that it was nothing to worry about, and that I could go on living life.
It finally began to dawn on me that this could be serious. I was scared.
The night before the doctor's appointment I wrote a little entry in a sporadic journal I keep. I'd like to read it to you now.
Hello. It's 10:00 PM. Do you know where your priorities are?
Well, hello again. It's been a while. I guess this is the place where I'm to write all my life's questions and ponderings, so here's a biggie. This lump that's been in my neck has been going on for about three weeks now. I have no idea what it is. But it's kind of scary. Check that...change "kind of" to "really." Sam's talking more like a brother than a doctor when he says that its nothing to worry about. I think.
So anyway, I go to the doctor's tomorrow to get it checked out. 1:30 pm. I'll go not knowing what it is, and I'll come back knowing. It's weird. The doctor says one thing, and I go back to living life like normal. He says another thing, and my whole life is changed.
I mean, other people face a lot worse things than the big "C". Just three weeks ago when this thing first popped up, good Ôol WAWZ never-answer-my-Word-Challenge-call lady Susan Choi mentionned "a twenty-six year old who has cancer." And I look around at someone like Yvonne. She was really so brave, the way Jocelyn described her. I can't see myself even coming close to being that brave.
I guess all these hymns I sing should help me. I need God real bad. I've been so rotten lately. The roller coaster called my righteousness has really plunged from a high back in December. I guess this is a trial, whatever happens. If it turns out that I'm sick, I'm going to need God badly. If it turns out I'm not sick, I'm going to remember that I may need God badly at a time I don't expect, and would be wise to keep a solid relationship with Him.
How does that hymn go...when sorrows like sea billows flow...whatever my lot...Thou hast taught me to say...It is Well, It is Well with my soul...
I'm so scared. I wish that I could just talk to God and ask Him what He wants from me. But I'm such a sinner...how can someone so impure as me talk to God? Well, God, if you're reading this...I'm really sorry for the things I've done. I know I've ignored you and I've sinned recklessly. But I'm sorry. I need your help to make me stop sinning. I need to have a pure heart, and not waste my time. The time you give us is so precious...how can I waste it like I've been wasting it?
I wish I didn't have to get the the point where I face death before realizing all this. But no matter what happens, PLEASE be with me. Please....I can't do anything without you. Lord, please help me. I'm so ashamed of myself. I need you. I'm sorry...I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I need you to hear me. I know I refused to hear you before, but please don't do the same thing to me. Please help me handle life ok, and glorify you in whatever I do. And when I die, please let me glorify you too. And please take me to heaven when I die, and please let me be with you forever. If I just knew that I was going to heaven, I'd have no problems with dying. But I don't think I'm ready.
I need to get ready. I need to shape up. Please let me remember this. DOn't let me fall anymore. Please let me remember how scared I was tonight. Please somehow let me know how I can get you to love me again. I've thrown you away so many times...I'm such a fool. Lord, have mercy on me...I don't know what I do.
Anyway, please keep in touch. And please comfort me, althouh I don't deserve it. Thanks for everything, and I mean thanks. Amen.
We visited the endicronologist the next day. He took a biopsy of the lump in my neck and told me that it'd be a couple of days before they'd know what it was. So, I got a little chance to think things over in those few days. A few days later I was sitting in my room. The phone rang. I knew it was the doctor. I held my breath and waited. A few minutes later, my dad walked into the room.
He said, very gently, "the doctor said it was probable papillary carcinoma of the thyroid". As I was processing these words in my mind, he went on to try to reassure me that the doctor said that this was nothing like mom's cancer, and that everything would be okay.
Of course, all I could hear in my head was that I had cancer. Cancer of the thyroid. Sam explained to me that the fact that mom's cancer and my cancer both happened in the thyroid was medically coincidental. Papillary carcinoma, he explained, has an excellent survival rate. It's a slow growing cancer, cahracterized by well regulated cells, while anaplastic carcinoma is characterized by wild and rapidly growing cells. Removal of the thyroid gland meant removal of the cancer. The only difference in my life would be that I'd have to take a small pill each day, and supplement to give my body the thyroid hormone that my body wouldn't be producting anymore. This didn't seem like too bad a trade off.
Sam had just happened to be in Lancaster, PA, and the month before as part of his medical program, he just happened to have been working with a top thyroid surgeon. Sam arranged for me to stay at his place the week I was to have the surgery, and arranged the whole surgery for me with the doctor.
I met with the doctor. He went on to mention one other thing. If I had happened to wait too long before having the cancer removed, there's a chance that the cancer would have spread past the thyroid gland, into my lymph nodes. From my lymph nodes, the cancer could then spread rapidly throughout by body, most likely straight to the lungs. The problem was, there was no way they could tell from the biopsy...they wouldn't know until after the surgery. They would have to remove one of my lymph nodes and examine it. If it was clean, the cancer had stayed confined to the thyroid gland. If it had cancer, I'd be in a bit of trouble. At the best, I'd have to have some chemotherapy or radiation done, I think. At the worst, I'd have only a few years to live, maybe less.
Now, while all this was going on, I still had school to go to, and was going four times a week. Now in my high school days, if I had the sniffles, I'd use it as an excuse to stay away from school. Now, things were a bit different. Somehow, I knew that I couldn't let this thing beat me.
Funny thing happened the next few weeks. I started to take school more seriously. The operation was to fall during the week when I had multiple midterms and multiple papers to give. In the weeks following the operation, I would have to give a few presentations, do some finals, and write a lot of papers.But I wouldn't drop out of school. Somehow I knew that I had to hang on and do the best I could.
I started to look at life a little differently. One of the things that really started to bother me was the fact that I'd done so little for God. I mean, I had never really preached to anyone. I typed up a letter explaining some of our church's beliefs and posted it onto the Internet. It seemed kind of paltry, but it was something.
Now at this time of the year, the OJ pre-trial was just getting underway. Now I'm a little embarrased to admit it, but I had started to get into it. But suddenly, the OJ trial just seemed a little too frivolous for me to care too much about. Then, after a while, I started to get really annoyed with the TV. I'd watched TV for hours and hours before, but suddenly, it was just this chattering box. I couldn't believe that I'd wasted so many hours of my life sitting in front of this noisemaker and feeling somehow fulfilled by it. It was so meaningless. So empty.
I tried to do things for God. I worked a little on an article for Living Water. I tried to think of things I could do with the Junior One class. There was so much to do. Everything else just seemed so empty, so purposeless.
The week of the operation came, so I took a week off school and drove to Lancaster to stay with Sam and Linda. I was in and out of denial for some time, but when Sam and I went to register at the hospital for the operation, I glimpsed that the endicronologist's report again. I'd seen the report, and the words "probably papillary carcinoma" many times before. But finally, it hit me. I had cancer.
Suddenly, things became a lot clearer. I mean, I was still scared, but life suddenly wasn't so complicated anymore. All the problems I always thought were problems suddenly didn't matter anymore. Instead of a hundred little worries, there just one thing on my mind. Was I going to live? When I prayed, suddenly, I wasn't really complaining anymore. I just asked God to help me through this thing.
I remember the day of the operation clearly. I went into the hospital and went to the floor where the operation was going to take place. I was put in a hosptial gown and strapped to a gurney. There was a waiting room where a few other men were talking. I remember the TV was on. It was Sally Jessy Rephael. The topic was some inane and offensive thing. I desperately wanted them to turn off the TV and let me sit there quietly, but I didn't want to cause a stir. I was strapped to the bed, so I couldn't move around.
Then, I looked at the magazine rack. Amidst the magazines, there was a Bible. It was like an oasis in the desert. I asked the nurse to hand it to me, and he did. I opened it to anything I could read...Romans 8 , some of the Psalms.
After a while, they wheeled me into the waitig room for the operation. I waited there for a long time. I remember I prayed i silence. I wasn't asking God to cure me. I think all I asked God to do was to forgive me and to help me. I knw there was a chance, probably slim, but a real chance, that I wouldn't come out of this operation. I wasn't sure if I'd make it to heaven, but at this point for some reason I wasn't really thinking about that. I just asked God to let everything go smoothly.
Finally, the nurse came in and began to administer the anesthetic into my IV. She said something like, "things are going to get really fuzzy from this point." They wheeled me into hallway and into the operation room. Things were fuzzy. I was lying on my back, but I saw the bright lamp and I heard the doctor's voice, talking to the people around him.
A moment later, I heard another woman's voice. "The operation is finished. It was a complete success." It took me a while to realize that it was quite some time later and the operation was over. My throat felt sore, but the news that the operation went smoothly really overshadowed whatever pain I had.
I remember feeling an immense feeling of relief. And I was really thankful. I was talking to my dad, and suddenly, I remembered mom. How when she had the same operation that I did, but it was unsucccessful. I told you about that time I walked into her hospital room and she had tears in her eyes. I asked her why she was crying, and she replied that she couldn't believe that God loved her so much; even though she was so sick, God still prepared a beautiful hospital room and with beautiful view, and so many people who took care of her.
I rmeember saying to my dad, "After these past few years, I was convinced that God just didn't care anymore." And then I kind of choked up. "But now I see that he really had cared for me all along." It was a breakthrough of sorts. The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. I always did, and I still do, take too much for granted.
There was still the question on whether the cancer had spread. The doctor came in a day later, and told me that the lymph nodes were clean. All I had to do was come in a few months later. My thyroid was removed, and in turn so was all the cancer. To be 100% sure that every trace of cancer cells were gone, even the microscopic ones which could have been missed during the surgery, there was an established procedure of my drinking some radioactive iodine. The thyroid normally is the only part of the body that actively sucks up iodine. This normally keeps it healthy. By drinking radioactive iodine, the radiation would kill whatever thyroid cells I had left, and with it all virtually possibility of recurrence.
They'd follow up with a scan and another treatment in a year, and another one in two years to make sure that all the thyroid tissue was gone, and in effect, any possibility of the cancer coming back. I had the second year scan done about three weeks ago. And thank God, they found that
Now I've read a little about thyroidectomies. The established procedure of today, an operation, followed by a dosage of radioactive iodine, did not exist as recently as ten or twenty years ago, I think. Until recently, to completely remove thyroid cancer, a doctor had to pretty much remove everthing in the area, possibly including the vocal cords. My incision was stiched up with sutures that dissolved inside the neck, and left only a small trace of a scar, literally unnoticeable. Until as recently as five years ago, a doctor had to use staples to close up the incision, which could lead to complications and scarring.
It was just a matter of having everything prepared for me. Everything just sort of fell into place. There was an established procedure to remove thyroid cancer. My brother had just happened to be in medical school, and had just happened to have worked with a thyroid surgeon. My mom happened to have had thyroid cancer herself, and I think if that wasn't sticking in my mind all the time, maybe I would have taken this lump in my neck even less seriously than I did, and it probably would have had time to spread.
I did a lot of praying in that time, and I know a lot of brothers and sisters prayed for me. I'm so grateful for that, because that love, in NJ, but all over, meant so much to me.
Was this a "miracle"? Well, some people would say no. Sometimes people tend to think that miracles only happen when flashes of light and bursts of thunder happen. We tend to feel that God only is with us when we see obvious manifestaitons of his power, if we feel something in our prayers, or if we are healed instantly of sicknesses or problems.
In other words, we tend to focus on God's mighty works and forget
about God Himself. I often think about Elijah. When ELijah was in desperate
straits, he did a little searching for God on his own. Let's read
I Kings 19:11-13.
It's walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but fearing no evil. But being comforted.
I think that being a Christian does not mean that every sickness is going to be healed, or every desire is going to be granted, or every problem is going to be solved instantly. But what it means is that no matter how things go, whether we're on the top of the world or at the bottom of despare, that we have someone who is with us. Proverbs says the way of the Lord is a refuge.
I do think about how I would have handled this whole edpisode different if I did not have Jesus in my life. There would be no one to understand how I was feeling. There would be no one to cry to for help. There would be no one to thank when things went well. Life would be so empty, so meaningless, so purposeless. I wonder about all my friends who don't believe in Jesus, and I can't see how they possibly find any kind of meaning in life.
Me, on the other hand? Well, I don't pretend to be some great Christian who doesn't sin and who has discovered the sectret to being happy. But I think this part of my life has taught me a lot about what it means to be a Christian. It means being thankful. It means calling out to God when you need him.
It means praying, not the kind of prayer where you set an alarm clock and force yourself to go for thirty minutes each day. This always get me...I used to do that, but then I realized that this is probably kind of insulting to God. It's like we want to talk to one of our friends, but our friend really doesn't want to talk to us, but to be "proper", our friend would call us on the phone, set a timer, try to make it through thirty minues with a conversation with us, and when the timer goes off, would hang up the phone. Talking to God isn't a chore that needs to be done. Neither is reading the Bible. Both are really privileges. Now again, I'm not saying that I've discovered the secret to being able to pray for a long time every day. But I do think that I, and a lot of us, need to really think about what it really means to pray. You don't need to wait until a set time to pray. Whenever the mere thought of prayer enters your mind, wherever you are, close your eyes and say something to God. He's listening.
Most of all, I think that being a Christian means to love God. We read in Romans 8:28 that In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Now we all say we love God. If I asked everyone in this room whether they loved God, I think pretty much all of us would raise our hands. But I think if we went to God and asked him how many people in this room love him, I wonder if God would give any
Jesus asked this question to Peter. "Do you love me". Peter replied in the same way all of us do. "Sure, God, I love you. Don't ask such a silly question. Of course I love you."
Now Jesus didn't say whether Peter was right or wrong. He just said, "Feed my sheep".
Peter denied Jesus three times, and Jesus asked Peter three times "Do you love me?" How many times have we denied Jesus? How many times have we had church work that needed to be done, but our mind was on the things of the world? I'm ashamed to admit that since I've started working, a lot of the church work I'm supposed to do has gone by the wayside. It's a matter of priorities, and of good time management. I think about what I wrote that day in my journal. "The time you give us is so precious...how can I waste it like I've been wasting it?"
Make a resolution to put God first. Putting God first does not necessarily mean that you have to physically spend more time doing God's work than doing schoolwork or working at your job. Putting God first does not necessarily mean that you have to physically spend more time doing church work than time you spend with your family and friends. I think that Putting God first means that even if you spend one minute a week doing church work, and the other 10,079 minutes of your week being busy with schoolwork, with your career, with your family, or with your friends, that God is always tantamount in your mind, even when you're doing other stuff. Putting God first means that one minute of church work no longer becomes a chore, but becomes a privilege, and that one minute of church work is something we take seriously, and do with all our might.
So when do we begin this new attitude of worship? There's a day I want all of us to mark down on your calendars to make your resolution to put God first in your life. It's not New Year's Day, it's not the day after the last day of the Spiritual Convocation. It's not your birthday. It's today. If you don't start today, you'll never start. Today will always be today, and tomorrow will always be tomorrow.
And if you go for a few weeks and then slip, well, the next time that a day called "today" rolls around, try it again. The key is to keep trying. God doesn't grade on acheivement, he grades on effort.
I've made this resolution, to put God first in my life, about a hundred times already. And in the old days, when I'd falter and start sinning again, or start putting God's work on the back burner, I'd get all frustrated with myself and consider myself a failure in faith. But I think that the failure doesn't come when you look at yourself and find that you're not all happy and holy and righteous. The failure comes when you stop trying. Because it's not up to us to change ourselves, it's up to God to do the changing for us.
All we have to do is show God that we've got a heart to draw near to him, and God will come running to meet us, with open arms.
Finally, let's turn to Proverbs 24:3. By widom a house is built, and through understanding it is establishged. Through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful trasures.
I'm finding out very quickly that lbeing a good Christian is not something that comes in a moment, or a day, or a week, or a year. It's something we work on all our lives. When times are bad, we turn to God for help and guidance. When times are good, we turn to God to give thanks and rejoice. Some people forget to remember God in bad times. More people forget to remember God in good times. I think the really successful people in life remember GOd always.
There are some people who say to themselves..."it's too late". I can't do it. I've messed up too many times. There's no hope for me to return to God.
But to these people, I ask you to ask yourself three questions.
Close your eyes
If the answer to all three of these questions is Yes...guess what? it's not too late. God is keeping you around for a reason. It's still day. The night's coming, when we can't do anything else. But it's still day. There's still time.
While we're on the subject of breathing, Listen to yourself breathe for a few seconds. If you're about twenty years old, and assuming you live a full life, you have about 283,824,000 more of those left before your last one is used up. If you're around forty years old, that number goes down to 189,000,000 breaths. Each minute we use up about ten more. Life is short. The time that God gives us is precious. Each breath that God allows us to have is a gift we need to cherish. There'll come a day sooner than we think when we're down to our last thousand. Then down to our last hundred. Then down to our last fifty.
At that point in our lives, what will we be doing. will we be in agony, grasping on to every breath. Please God. Please give me a little more time. I'll tell people about how you died on the cross for sinners. I'll make your church into a place where people can come to find rest for their souls. I'll write for you. I'll make sure the little ones understand completely who You are and hold on their faith and protect them from the evil one! Lord, there's so much I never got to do for you.
Or Will we be at peace, and say to ourselves, I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race? I have kept the faith? And then will be drift peacefully into sleep, knowing full well that we've accomplished what our Lord wanted us to accomplish, and that in a moment, we'd be resting on the other side of Glory?
All content on this site is copyright (c) 1992-2003 Steve Liu. Please do not copy, duplicate, or redistribute in any form without the express consent of Steve Liu.