Monday, April 11, 2016

My Young Life Has Been Physically Ruined — Now What?

This article was posted on the Desiring God website today, April 11, 2016.

Here is an excerpt:

Shaun from Seattle writes in: “Pastor John, over the past year my brother fought a cancerous tumor in his optical nerve. He is only 20 years old. By the grace of God the cancer is gone, but he is now blind. When I talk to him he tells me that he knows that he doesn’t get to have a life anymore. What words of encouragement might you have for my dear brother, or for any young man or woman who feels like a physical disability has taken their life away?”

I think of when Jesus said, “Tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” in Matthew 6:34. And then Jeremiah said in Lamentations 3:22–23: “[God’s mercies] are new every morning.” I think they meant that there is a new, special mercy from God for every new, special trouble that each day brings. Shaun’s brother’s first 20 years was full of grace. It was. I don’t even have to know him to know that. But now this is a new sorrow, a new trouble, a new affliction. And God’s promises are that there will be new mercies, special mercies, specific, tailor-made mercies that were never there before that are perfectly suited for the burden of blindness.

To read the article in its entirety, go to:

Harps Unhung

One of the things that kept me busy the first year after mom's passing was completing a writing project that she had begun back in 1992. In a nutshell, the project was an attempt to re-write all 150 of the Psalms, using 150 unique styles of poetry. She was exactly 50% through at the time of her death. I completed the remaining 75 poems and the full collection was published in June of 2014 through Westbow Press. The book is entitled, "Harps Unhung: Praising God in the Midst of Captivity."

The book is available via numerous bookstore websites online, but Amazon is probably the easiest and cheapest place to get it.

Here is an excerpt. The first poem was written by mom; the second poem was written by me.


My Shepherd is the Lord, I have no needs
As I lie down in peace where’ere He leads,
By streams serene
Or pastures lush and green,
He lifts, restores my soul, on Him I lean.

And though I walk through valleys dark with death,
As horrors haunt my soul and steal my breath,
I will not fear
For You are ever near,
The comfort of Your rod and staff are dear.

You set a place for me among my foes,
Anoint my head with oil, my cup o’erflows,
You follow me
With love beyond degree,
And in Your house I’ll dwell eternally.

PSALM 144 

Sergeant Major of the Heavens, stronghold and shield,
strengthen my feeble hands that weapons of war, I may wield!
O Lord, what is man but a fleeting, shallow breath,
passing like shadows from transitory lives to their death?

Bear down upon the mountains ‘til they tremble – slip:
cause your presence to spill over the top of heaven’s lip.
Send forth lightening – golden arrows ‘cross the sky,
stretched on bows of thunder shot from cloudy thrones on high.

Free my neck from the grip of aqueous fingers;
scrape fables from unctuous tongues where wicked slander lingers.
Upon the charango, I strum an unknown chord;
songs for our holy Champion who saves us from the sword.

May our sons rise like cedars praising deity;
daughters, caryatids, raising a palace canopy.
May our silos overflow – livestock fill the stalls;
blessed are all of God’s people on whom all these blessings fall!

Back in the Saddle Again

I believe my last blog post was back in 2009. My beloved mother, Eileen, was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer in June of 2008. Her cancer journey lasted five years and she went home to be with the Lord in March of 2013.

The years since her death have been busy, difficult, complicated...but also very good.

The Lord has been very good.

But my season of grief and healing, relocating back to MN, and entering a new career field have kept me from writing. I am happy to report that I am back and ready to blog once again!

If anyone is interested in reading some journal entries that my mom wrote in the closing years of her life, please check out her Caring Bridge site here:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An Extracted Truth

I was in the bathroom at work the other day brushing my teeth. I never wanted to be “that one.” You know the one who keeps the toothbrush in her desk and is in the bathroom after lunch uncouthly spitting toothpaste into the pricey marble sink? But there I was upon dentist’s orders to brush my teeth after “every single meal!”

I was given this directive (along with a lengthy laundry list of others) in order to avoid further irritating a riled up nerve in my mouth that is threatening to abscess. So there I was, leaning over the marble sink, the eyes of six-figure-salary manager looking on in disgust as I spit lather from my mouth like a commoner. “Why am I doing this?” I thought, wishing she would go away.

Why? Easy answer -- pain. Lectures from my dentist, common sense, memories of past root canals, and pricey dental bills all failed to force me into that bathroom to brush my teeth in front of my peers previously. A throbbing tooth provided me all the motivation that I needed. I realized that God often has to deal with us this way. We know we should not do something, but we suppress our common sense, warnings from others, and past consequences and continue in our sin. How often does our behavior go on unchanged until the pain of abscessing sin exposes the raw nerve in our heart? “That hurts!” we say, and the behavior is altered.

Thinking the little analogy would go no further, I was surprised that same night, over dinner that the metaphor took on even more depth. The dentist had also instructed me to “baby” the left side of my mouth. I had made a pizza that night and after the first bite, I realized it was baked perfectly -- just like I liked it. It tasted SO good! But after a few bites, I realized that I was very frustrated. In trying to keep all the food off my abscessing tooth, the food was not really hitting my taste buds. My nose smelled the food, a taste bud here or there was catching a little taste…but because I was not fully rolling it over all of my mouth, I was not satisfied.

I realized again how much that is like our spiritual walk. We try to live these compartmentalized lives. We push our spiritual stuff into the corner just under the tongue – enough for survival and brief moments of taste, but far enough away from our sin so as to not remind us that area of our heart is rotting.

We say we want to taste Jesus – but we don’t really want to take a huge bite and roll him all over our tongue. Because when the conviction of the Spirit hits that raw nerve that is painful! So we avoid the pain (or so we think) by “babying” our sin, and not letting Jesus touch that part of our heart. So while we have just enough of Jesus to keep our sustenance going, we do not have enough of him to say, “I have never tasted anything so sweet! I want more!”

This tooth is driving me crazy. It hurts. But now, each time I become aware of its throbbing, instead of complaining, I find myself marveling in the fact that God loves me so much, he can take something as simple as a toothache and use it as a means to point me to his glory. If we could train ourselves to see more of him in every little detail – we would be praising him all day long!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Again I say, "Rejoice!"

"Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee who passing through the valley of weeping, make it a well" (Ps. 84:5, 6).

I have been thinking intentionally about joy lately. My middle name is Joy, and based upon the importance that Scripture seems to give to the meaning of people's names, I have begun to pursue joy with a new and deeper fervor than ever before. My mom did not originally intend to name me Vicki Joy. She decided upon the name only after I was born and determined that a spirit of victory and joy were the two main weapons I would need to get through life with a facial deformity. Because I have already seen evidence of these two graces manifesting themselves in my life, I am now engaging in an even more intentional pursuit of these fruits in my life.

But joy is an illusive thing. It is very easy to appropriate outward signs and indications of joy (laughter, smiling, telling jokes, being in a “good mood,” etc.) I have those disciplines over my physical body down pat. But my heart’s participation is another matter.

In my pursuit of joy, I have discovered several things:
· Joy is sometimes present, but manifests itself so quietly that it may go unnoticed
· Joy does not have to be loud, hyper, funny, raucous, or excited
· Joy does not come naturally – it must be intentionally pursued and fought for
· Joy can co-exist with sober-mindedness and sorrow
· Joy can be obtained on earth – it is not solely a promise for heaven

Hebrews 12:2 says, “…who for the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross…”

I believe joy can be mingled with sorrow. Jesus knew Scripture by heart, he had a flawless prayer life, he had godly friends, he faithfully attended the temple and gave his tithes…but none of these efforts carried his cross…joy did.

I don’t think joy is the absence of all pain and sorrow, I believe it is the catalyst that buoys us through them. Sorrow without joy breeds despair and hopelessness. Sorrow with joy breeds hope and strength.

Some have quoted to me the verse, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecc. 3:1, 4) as a means to prove that joy comes and goes in phases.

But I do not believe joy and sorrow are intermittent stages in life, experienced independently of one another. 2 Cor. 9:10 says, "...sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." This indicates that joy does not abandon us, even when we weep, because our joy is not a mere temporal feeling that comes and goes with the fleeting pleasures of the moment. Our joy is rooted in things outside ourselves, namely God, and because God does not change, our joy need not wane.

But this doesn’t mean it isn’t a fight. At every moment, our flesh and minds will work against our quest. Temptations to grumble will meet us at every corner. We must battle these grumblings and our only sword is the Word of God. The promises in Scripture have the power to cut these negative thoughts and lies and fears into pieces. And so we must gird ourselves with truth if we portend to think we can make war with our joylessness.

My mom recently shared with me that she got a picture in her mind where she saw herself standing out in the rain. She lifted her arms into the air and tilted her head towards the sky and was catching all the dew drops on her face. When she opened her eyes, she noticed that written within every single drop of rain was the word “joy.” Then she told me, “I felt like the Lord was telling me that even though the rains may come, he wants to shower me with joy." And then she choked up and said, "...and you know what, even though I have Cancer, I have never been happier in my life.”

My mom is able to experience true joy in the midst of Cancer because there are gifts much greater (and much harder to obtain!) than a young, healthy body. In exchange for her health, the Lord has buoyed her up in her time of sickness with a vast army of intercessors, a husband who has risen to the occasion and is cherishing her as the wife of his youth, and she has been afforded a scenario that has allowed her to contemplate and experience the deeper benefits of hope and faith that can only be seen when life and all its temporal pleasures threaten to be taken away.

Joy doesn’t come from good health, it comes from the Lord, and sometimes we see the Lord most clearly when all the other promises have abandoned, deceived, or disappointed us. When health and life and good times fail us, we look around to see if anyone is left standing or if we are utterly alone. It is in these times that we see the Lord has remained standing. “I will never leave thee or forsake thee, for lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” How can these words mean anything to us until we have been forsaken by all others?

I believe that heaven will usher in a kind of endless joy like we have never known, and a joy like we can never know here on this earth. But that does not negate Psalm 27:13-14, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”

I like that David exhorts us to “be strong and take heart” – it indicates that for sinners to expect joy from a holy God takes faith. Waiting also increases the challenge because it is so easy to perceive a “wait” as a “no.” But the Psalmist encourages us to fight through the doubts and the guilt and the long periods of delay and to courageously continue to expect the goodness of the LORD on this side of heaven.

I do not believe, as many modern Christians do, that suffering is the appendix of the Christian body (namely, it is a spare part that we do not need and can merely cut it out and discard it once it begins to irritate us). I believe that suffering is as integral to the body as the blood flowing to our hearts. But I do not think embracing God’s disciplines and trials for our lives means resigning ourselves to morbid melancholy. Being morose is not a requirement (or sign) of holiness. We can be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. That is what I am striving for.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Love Vs. Knowledge

I was reading Ephesians 3:19 (" know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God") and something struck me.

I have always interpreted that verse to mean that the love of Christ "surpasses" other words, "it is too much for our feeble minds to comprehend." (And I do think that is what it means).

BUT, in the NKJV (above) it doesn't use the word "surpass" it uses the word "passes" and so the mental picture that slammed into my head as I read the verse was of two runners on a race track. One runner is Love and the other is Knowledge. They were neck and neck, but then Love, in a burst of speed, runs past Knowledge, leaving it in the dust, and goes on to win the race.

So, in addition to God's love being beyond our comprehension, perhaps this verse could also allow for the idea that the Love of God is SUPERIOR to mere knowledge of Him. We all know it is possible to have a complex understanding of theology and still miss the proverbial boat of knowing God.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Poem

This is a poem written by a friend of mine. She is 16 and has CP.

What It’s Like to be a person with a disability
(For those of you who aren’t)
It’s like fitting into the cracks of the wall
But not fitting in with the people
It’s being stared at
Because you don’t talk the same
Or dress the same
Or walk the same
It’s like walking through the halls
Eating lunch alone in the hall
Because you cant find
One of your close friends to eat with
It’s being picked last for a sport
Because they know you can’t hit the ball
It’s like going to years of therapy
Just to learn how to walk right
It’s like having braces on your feet
That doesn’t go with your cute outfit
It’s like having a small group of friends
Who are there for you no matter what
It’s like being a teenager in high school
It’s like deserving the same respect
As anyone else
I’m different
becauseI have a disability
But I’m still
A human being

Friday, November 14, 2008

Andrey Update

I blogged back in 2006 about my trip to Kazakhstan where I worked for ten days in a few orphanages where disabled children lived. While there, we met Andrey -- a boy with a severe cleft palate that left a gaping hole in the middle of his face. After some pleading (and much prayer) the orphanage workers brought Andrey out to meet us. After our brief visit, we continued to stay in touch with Andrey and the orphanage workers and for two years prayed and waited for a way to bring Andrey to the U.S. for surgery.

He was able to come and stayed in Detroit for nearly a year, at which time, he underwent three operations -- all done gratis by the surgeon!

Andrey, his surgeon, and his host family (who are the friends I went to KZ with in 2006) are all featured in a video (link below) that was produced by a local news station in Detroit. You will have to copy and paste the link into your browser in order to view. The video is about five minutes long.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Love Cancer

I was surfing the web recently trying to find some teal-colored cancer-awareness bracelets. In the end, I decided to just go to a bead shop, buy some teal beads, and make my own. Every site I stumbled across had bracelets with a phrase like, “I HATE CANCER!” engraved on it. My online shopping spree was the result of my mother being diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer about two or three months ago.

Rewind to about thirty years ago. I was 7 years old and my grandmother had just died. It was the first funeral I had ever attended. My first experience with death. I barely knew my grandmother as we lived out of state at the time. We flew back to MN to see “my grandma’s" funeral. The reason I put that in quotes is because in my child-centered world, she was a person of significance because of her relation to me. I was too young to realize she was attached to anyone else’s world.

At the graveside, I experienced something that profoundly changed my life. My mom began to cry (another first) and she was muttering through her tears, “Mama, Mama, don’t leave me, Mama….” I was very confused. Why was my mom calling my grandma, “Mama?” I tugged on the sleeve of her black sweater dress and inquired, “Mommy, why are you calling Gramma, ‘Mama?'” She leaned down and whispered tearfully into my ear, “Because your gramma is my mommy.” A light bulb went on in my head and I understood. But the light was immediately extinguished when seconds later the thought came, “Wait…if mom’s mommy can die…someday so will mine.” All of those Sunday school stories about Adam and Eve being shunned from the garden suddenly found its place in the real world….my world.

From that day on, I lived in fear of losing my mom. Many times as I got older, we would be sitting on the couch together and I would hold onto her arm or hug her and be thinking, “Appreciate this moment…some day she’ll be gone.” Taking advantage of every moment to not waste the time I had with her became an obsession fueled by fear. Thoughts would flash through my mind….me standing by a sliver blue casket crying, “Mama, Mama…don’t leave me…” would instantly evoke tears. I would pray, “God what will I do? How will I ever go on without my mom?”

Corrie Ten Boom’s now famous “train ticket” analogy would often be what got me through those times. I felt the Lord telling me that I did not need that kind of grace right now, but when I did, it would be there for me.

And so there I was, eight weeks ago or so, standing in a hospital room. Mom was in bed where she had been for nearly two weeks – growing weaker by the day. Dad stood at the foot of the bed. The colon surgeon was on the other side of the bed, across from me. She took out her clipboard and opened her mouth to speak.


It shot out of her mouth like a bullet – linguistic steel came thrashing towards me. I could almost see the word, spelled out, like a train of letters, barreling through the air straight towards my face. And then, a soft brush on my shoulder and a faint whisper in my ear, “Christ is a bigger C-Word.” And then, right as the bullet was about to crash into my face, it hit an invisible wall - the nail-piereced hand of Jesus - just millimeters in front of my nose. The word-bullet shattered and fell crashing to the floor.

It didn’t touch me. It couldn’t. It could not lodge into my heart, it could not reach my bloodstream, causing blood to rise and turn my face red. It could not reach my tear ducts to release hot salty tears and send them spilling over my eyelids. It could not touch my limbs, causing them to shake until I succumbed to sitting down. It could not touch me.

I stood there feeling like I was standing a foot off the ground – completely ensconced within a bubble of complete tranquility. I cannot say I didn’t feel anything, because that would infer shock or denial. I did feel something – and it was good. I felt the presence of Christ in that room and I felt no fear. Total, deep, and utter peace.

A lot has happened since that day in the hospital. Mom has started chemo, regained a lot of strength, and much of the original news (which predicted fatal results) have been downgraded. Lord willing, she will heal and go on with life.

Much of my childhood fear of losing my mom is now gone. I realize that if God was able to give me sufficient grace for a false alarm how much more grace He give me when it is truly needed.

And so, wearing a bracelet that declares, “I Hate Cancer!” would be the same as saying that I hate the sovereign work of mercy that God chose for my family’s good. Would a Christian wear a bracelet that declared, “I hate Romans 8:28!" No. So, I can honestly declare, “I love cancer!” -- because it ushered Christ into my family’s life in a very real way. It humbled us, it led to the tearing down of strongholds, it erased grudges, it invited serving one another in love, it strengthened family bonds, it increased personal prayer, it revealed self-centeredness and sin. It crushed my life-long fear of losing my mother and it taught me to trust wholly in the sufficiency of God’s grace to be there when I need it.

My parents and I take a lot of time now to talk about God’s goodness to us and we marvel at how graciously he has treated us. We feel more loved by one another and more loved by God than ever before.

The gift of Cancer is not that mom’s diagnosis has improved and that she will likely live. That foundation is sinking sand. If healing is my rock, it will eventually crumble. Fact is, if not now, at one point, my mother will die. The real gift of Cancer is the sin-killing, laser precision effect that it wrought in my family’s lives and nothing – not cancer, not death – can now take that gift away from us. It has been given, we have received, the transaction is complete.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Woman in Iron Lung for Almost 60 Years Dies

I saw the most incredible story on the news last night about a woman in Tennessee who was diagnosed with Polio at three years of age. She spent her entire life (from three years old until 61) in an iron lung. She died recently due to a power outage at her home, caused by a tree that fell down on a power line.

To read more about her amazing life, go to:

Or do a Google search for "Dianne Odell."