Apr 4, 2010

The Miracle of Flight

I am constantly amazed by the resiliency of birds.  I am especially enthralled with small birds that flourish in harsh conditions.  How can a body so small and frail withstand extreme cold, heat, winds, rain and snow?  How does one so fragile live in conditions that would cripple even the strongest man?

Of course, one obvious answer is the feather.  With this one simple adaptation, these prehistoric reptiles became great modern aviators.  The feather acts as a shield against the wind.  It serves as an insulator against the cold. Through the power of the wing, they avoid predators.  They find their food.  They mate, migrate and colonize.  What a wonderful gift.  This lightweight filament extension enables each aerial acrobat to live a life that appears effortless and free.

Sometimes people have this same wonderful gift.  For example, my friend, Galen has wings.  Not literal, flapping, feathered appendages.  But Galen sores.  Through some miracle, he has found new life in a place of harshest conditions.  Galen received a wonderful gift and as a result, he appears to live life the way God intended, effortless and free.

Last fall, my friend discovered he had prostate cancer.  This is not uncommon for a man of his advanced years, so he was not surprised when a few simple tests revealed that he suffered from the disease.  However, a series of additional tests exposed that there was more to the extensive nature of the growth.  The doctor came into the room and broke the news.  Every bone in Galen's body had the metastatic disease.  In so many words, the doctor informed him that he was "grounded".  They would do everything possible to make him comfortable but there was no good news in this diagnosis.

Just after he received the news, a mutual friend called to tell me the story.  I left the next day to see my friend and when I arrived, his wife, Alice greeted me at the door.  She led me to the living room where I met Galen.  We talked for nearly two hours.  The most moving words came early in our conversation.

Galen started the sentence with his customary, "Well.....," as if he were about to reveal the secret of the universe.  And I think he did.

"You know, I'm not afraid of dying.  I've had a good, long life and think I've made the most of it..."  Galen paused and tears came quickly to his eyes.  "But I just hate to leave Alice..."  His voice broke as he pointed his finger to his bride of decades, "...and my kids.  I just hate the thought of what I'm going to miss when I'm gone."  In my mind, I tried to think of the best pastoral response to this sad thought.  I decided there was nothing else to add and we sat in silence for several minutes as we allowed the words to settle in.

After a wonderful time of sharing, we prayed together.  We both had tears in our eyes as we said goodbye, knowing it could be the last time we would see one another until we were reunited in Heaven.

Since that visit, I've called Galen every few weeks to check on his status.  During one call, he reported that his back was beginning to bend and he could no longer stand straight. During another call, Galen shared his joy of a Christmas gathering with his family.  Another conversation brought the news that he was doing well, in very little pain, but cries easily due to the hormone therapy.

It was the last call that shocked me the most.  A repeat bone scan had been performed to evaluate the progress of the cancer.  His doctor had called with the results.

"Galen, I hope you are sitting down."  The doctor's voice had a sense of urgency.  "There isn't one spot of cancer on one bone in your body. I don't know how this happened but it did."

Through some miracle, through some blessed act of God, Galen had found healing.  He still has the prostate cancer and is still being treated for this primary source, but the metastatic disease is gone.

Of course, no one lives forever.  Everyone's time will come.  But Galen received wings on the day of the doctor's telephone call.  That call meant more days spent with Alice, more time with his children, grand and great-grand-children.  That call meant that Galen could sore above the harsh conditions of life a little while longer.  This body, so small and frail, will withstand the extreme illness, the devastating disease, the crippling diagnosis. 

What a wonderful gift.