Saturday, September 8, 2012

The "Big C" Word--More Than One

When I lay in ICU connected with multiple tubes and lines and monitors, I didn't want to hear or speak the dreaded “C” word. It stood for CANCER and I had just gone through lung cancer surgery with a third of my lung removed. In God's sovereign plan for my life, I will soon celebrate the 22nd anniversary of that life-threatening and life-changing event. Nevertheless, I was left with residual effects for which there are no visible scars.

There is another “C” word that is equally devastating in the long haul. 

My beautiful friend Jennifer is finally on the list for a kidney/liver transplant after lengthy and arduous procedures and tests and evaluations and mountains of paperwork. Now the waiting for an organ donor stretches before her. She writes, “People say, 'You look so good!' yet I suffer from a chronic illness that affects every day of my life and has for over 30 years.” People need to be aware that often behind the face of a person who 'looks well' their never-ending suffering may not be visually apparent.

Another friend adds, “No one can see my illness, but I live with continuous pain and manage only with the help of continuous powerful drugs. There are days I can't drag myself out of bed. If I had a broken bone in a plaster cast, my suffering would be more believable. 'CHRONIC' is the big 'C' word in my life, and there doesn't seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.” 

As our years increase, there is scarcely anyone who doesn't have some unfixable, inoperable, incurable, deteriorating, debilitating, gradually weakening condition of body, mind, or emotions. Our mortal “earth suits” eventually all wear out and give out, some sooner, some later. Saint Paul puts it in realistic terms in Second Corinthians chapters four and five by calling our bodies “earthen vessels”—fragile clay pots, to be exact. He says “our outer man is decaying” and that implies the organs within us as well. Some inward parts of our bodies, our “plumbing and electrical systems” for example, simply don't function well anymore. When Saint Paul says we are “groaning,” it is almost an understatement. Many conditions related to aging, let's face it, are no longer able to be repaired or replaced—they must be managed, coped with, endured. They are CHRONIC.

Next week, September 10-16, 2012 is NATIONAL INVISIBLE CHRONIC ILLNESS AWARENESS week. (Google that site for a suggested list of 20 things NOT to say to someone with an invisible chronic illness!) Just because someone doesn't look sick, doesn't make their distress any less important. Such people are apt to feel lonely, misunderstood, and frustrated because they don't “look so bad” to others. Inwardly, chronic illness is exhausting and isolating. It can affect an entire family's ability to function normally. They deserve the same compassion and care and prayer as someone who has an obvious visible illness or suffered an accident. 

Heartaches, not only physical but emotional, are also deep internal and hidden realities. Mental and emotional torment, no matter what real or supposed circumstances are causing it, is invisibly excruciating. Loneliness and grief bring on intense desolation that others can't see. People struggle to seek reasons for their situation; they question why this has happened to them, why God won't heal them, what they did to deserve such prolonged suffering.

Saint Paul doesn't leave us in a depressed or discouraged state without pointing to an optimistic “nevertheless.” We are not merely earth-born, finite, temporary, frail, human bodies. God gave each of us an immortal soul that is “eternal in the heavens.” He calls it “the inner man” which is invisible but genuinely real. He tells us that our spirit or soul should be “renewed day by day” and that it isn't subject to deterioration as our bodies are. When the time comes that we can no longer be “body builders” we should concentrate all the more on being “spirit builders.” That is permanent construction. Our spirit is “a house not made with hands” destined to live with God when our body has reached its finish line on earth. No wonder Saint Paul cheers us on to “always be of good courage.” That wouldn't be the case were we persons made up of body alone.

Let's not think only in terms of the millions in that category but specifically of those in our circle of acquaintance and relationships who suffer from an invisible chronic illness. Who do I know who suffers from this particular “Big C”? I can compassionately reach out to love someone with an invisible chronic illness and “en-courage” and support and pray for them. And also help their material and mental well-being as I have opportunity through the biblical corporal and spiritual works of mercy. 

I'm sure I know many such people. They may or may not be in assisted living residences or in wheelchairs. They may be next door, in the next pew at church, in the next work station, in the supermarket line—or in our own family. They may “look normal” on the outside but inside their spirits may be wounded with despair and invisible pain. 

I shall begin with one—and go on from there.

…Like the Eagle

Encore post by special request.

 This article is slated to appear in Leona's book in progress:

 SINGING ON THE SUMMIT  (a sequel to her autobiographical Trilogy)

...Those who wait for the Lord--who expect, look for and hope in Him--shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint or become tired.” Ampl. Isa. 40:28-31

[The Lord] who satisfies your mouth [your necessity and desire at your personal age] with good; so that your youth, renewed, is like the eagles’s [strong, overcoming, soaring]! Ampl. Psa. 103:5

So what is all this about eagles? There are 25 spiritual analogies to eagles in the Old and New Testaments. Why did God pick that bird for an example rather than a chicken, vulture, parrot, crow, canary or turkey to compare His children to?

An eagle is the king of the birds, remarkable, bold, powerful, large, clean, tenacious, intelligent, committed for life to their mates, and terrifically aerodynamic. Eagles only flap their wings about ten percent of their flight time, not continuously like other birds. They soar on air currents. They don’t flock or hang around with other birds. But when an eagle hears the distress cry of another eagle, it flies to the rescue.

An eagle’s wing span can be 7-8 feet enabling it to fly long distances. Parent birds nest high up in trees or on mountains, always with their backs to the rock. Eagle parents build their huge nests so incredibly stable and secure that they can weigh up to 3 tons. They can be 20 feet deep and over 9 feet wide. The eagle eats only fresh meat from the time it is born and doesn’t relish roadkill like vultures. It fearlessly thrives on adversity. The Creator has designed eagles powerfully to survive harsh climates and difficult conditions. 

It can sense a storm before it can be seen. That’s the time it decides what it will do. The position of its wings not the force of the wind determines the outcome. The eagle flies into the storm knowing that the headwind gusts will pop it right up over the storm. It can fly twice as fast in a storm. If it goes through a storm the right way, it will benefit by growing stronger. In a storm it is separated from all other birds. Some birds may fly high but none as high as the eagle’s seven miles altitude.

An eagle’s eyes are so sharp that it can see its prey from two miles high. The higher up, the better it sees. It can dive at a rabbit or fish at 200 miles an hour. It is born with a solution in its eyes that eventually hardens and acts like a compass. Instinctively it can locate the North Pole. If it goes in the wrong direction from its home it gets a low-level pain in its eyes until it turns to fly in the right direction. An eagle is born with trifocals, three lenses in its eyes, and can see in all directions. The first one protects the sensitive eye from debris. The second is a telescopic vision lens, and if it could read a newspaper, it could do so from a mile away. The third lens is tinted and comes from both sides of the eye toward the middle. An eagle is born to look directly into the sun. That lens protects its sight from UV rays, so it can fly toward it.

The crow is one of the worst enemies of the eagle. If the crow can get on the back of the eagle and dig in with its talons, it knows that the eagle is so big it can’t turn back quickly to get the crow off its back. To get rid of it, the eagle waits for the thermal currents, pulls out that third lens, gives a shout, a screechy cry that scares them and flies off speedily directly into the sun. It mounts higher and higher until the pest can’t breathe in the high altitude and drops off. Moreover, the enemy can’t stand to look into the sun.

An eagle is so strong it can pick up a kangaroo and break its back with its talons. It is long-lived, from 60-100 years, some known to have lived 128 years. An eagle is never too old to reproduce, even into old age. It can’t exist in captivity, it needs to be free. If captured and forced to eat dead meat it will become weak and sickly and eventually die.

God has put into the eagle the instinct for daily maintenance which it tends to meticulously. It spends up to an hour each day sitting quietly on a rock in the sun preening and cleaning its feathers. A large eagle has up to 7,000 feathers, about 1,200 on each wing. It passes each feather through its mouth and breathes on it like steam cleaning. That restores its feathers from yesterday's wear and tear. A gland in the eagle's mouth secretes oil to weatherproof and waterproof the feathers when it needs to dive in the water for fish.

How the Aging Eagle Renews Itself

In spite of all that daily maintenance, the time comes in the life span of this majestic bird when all of its wonderful functions begin to diminish and wear out. It faces an aging, deteriorating crisis, unable to navigate in the air as it has been accustomed to do. Its eyes are becoming dim and no longer moist, its talons are not as sharp, and calcium deposits on its beak prevent it from being able to hunt as before. The eagle is losing strength and its feathers are becoming sparse. (Sound familiar?) It is one tired bird!

It could give up and settle down to rest on a canyon floor, just dragging around in its weakness. But it will die in the valley if it stays there. The valley is not where God means for eagles to die, moreover, its time to die may not have come yet. When another strong eagle sees the bedraggled, defeated eagle in the canyon, it screams at it and dive bombs at it to stir the eagle up to follow its God ordained instincts. It must leave the low places where it is unprotected in its weakness from its enemies and go to the mountain like God ordained through the instincts He put within it. The time has come when it must "mount up with wings as an eagle" to the highest place it can find, away from everything distracting and remain alone.

The aging eagle finds a high flat rock in the direct sunshine. For two weeks it works hard to rub and scrape its talons against the rock to sharpen them again. It knocks its beak repeatedly against the rock or a branch to break off the calcium deposits, until the old beak crumbles away revealing a renewed one. If necessary, it flies headlong into a rock to accomplish that.

The eagle occasionally returns to the fresh stream in the valley to drink from the cool water and to bathe frequently to get rid of all lice, parasites, and mud. All the while it is plucking out its worn feathers until it is nearly naked. This is undoubtedly painful, but its remarkable instinct tells it that this pruning is necessary for renewal. The eagle spends most of its time resting quietly and warming itself in the sun and heavenly breezes. It renews itself for 40 days until it grows new feathers, and all of its functions are revived as good as new. Its eyes become clear as a young eagle's again, its talons and beak are restored to sharpness, and its normal strength has returned. God let the bird know that it wasn't finished with the life God planned for it yet.

When the eagle senses that the restoration is complete, it takes off again soaring into the heights, crying loudly with its renewed voice and with the rejuvenated capabilities and strength of a young eagle. Once renewed, it is said that if you put it side by side with a young eagle only a year and a half old, you can't tell the difference. Psalm 103:5 has been demonstrated!

A time and season for all things

An eagle doesn't migrate like some other birds. It never goes far from the rock on which it was born. In the eagle's life cycle, when it senses that the time has really come to die, it goes to its home rock, wraps its talons around it securely, and watches the sun set. It looks directly into the sun with a faraway look in its eyes. It is not necessarily sick, but God has put in its heart the desire to be free from the present world. The eagle instinctively knows that its purpose on earth is done. When the sun has set, it lies down and peacefully dies.

God has put into the hearts of His children to go through a time or many times of renewal like the eagle, especially during a long lifetime. But eventually, like the eagle, we clearly sense from God that the time has come, that we have reached "a time to die," to go to The Rock of our birth, Jesus, for the final launch into Eternity.

Jesus endured the pain and suffering on the cross, but at a certain point He knew from God that the time had finally come to die and declared, "It is finished." He released His spirit. "Into Thy hands I commit my spirit." This was his deliberate action, His decision. His life was not taken from Him.
Likewise there is that knowing point in time when to endure and continue is no longer the struggle, no longer the question, the decision. A child of God is no longer "hard pressed between the two" desires, to go or to remain, as the apostle Paul declared he was in the Philippians record. He knows the time has finally come to release his spirit into the presence of God.

"With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation" (Psalm 91:16) is God's sure promise. The time eventually comes when the child of God is truly satisfied to go because God calls his life complete. He relaxes and rests in the arms of God. He hangs on tenaciously to The Rock, and The Rock, Christ Jesus, hangs on to him. He "faces the sun" (Son) and looks forward at peace toward the joy that is set before him, anticipating at last to experience the salvation God has promised to show him.

Friday, September 7, 2012


(A Guest post from a friend whose pseudonym is "Earthy Monk")
“The most holy and important practice in the spiritual life is the Presence of God – that is, in every moment [taking] great pleasure that God is with you.”
Brother Lawrence
Presence.  When I looked up synonyms for “presence” the following words were given: attendance, occurrence, charisma/aura, and ghost/spirit.  As I use the word here, I am doing so in the same manner as Brother Lawrence: I speak of the Gift of the Presence of God.  In and through Baptism and Faith, we have been given a few promises from God. To name but a few – eternal life (John 5:24), all things working for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28), and that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us (Matthew 28:20).
Present.  When I looked up the synonyms for “present” this is what is given: there/here/near; current/present-day; and gift/offering.

Both words are beautiful in their apt description of God: He is a very Present help in our time of need and His Presence is faithful and forever.  The Presence of God is Present and a Present.

That above stated reality reminds me of a phone call I received last year from one of my brothers, Kevin, telling me another of my brothers, Kenny who has struggled most of his life with severe mental illness and addiction, had been found on the street unconscious. At the time they both lived in Roanoke, Virginia – a lovely small city in southwestern Virginia.  Both of these brothers struggled hard with life for over 6 years.  Kenny had been homeless and self-medicating a debilitating reality called Paranoid Schizophrenia.

I went to visit Kenny in the hospital only to find out that he had also been diagnosed with cancer and that it had spread to his lungs, brain and stomach.  We three brothers spent the day together along with 2 of my nieces, just hanging out and talking and telling goofy family stories (funny how when someone is about to die we all of sudden remember the good times).  Kenny died when I was about half way home on my four hour trip.

I know Cancer quite well.  Cancer has had a say in the death of my mom, my maternal grandmother, my great grandmother, and my aunt: Five women and three generations…and now add to that list a brother.  And Kenny had already been dealing with schizophrenia, addiction, homelessness and the pain of childhood abuse, so his life has been far from peachy.

Which leads me to this: How do we speak to the gift of God’s Presence to someone, not only hurting so badly, but so incapacitated as to possibly not even comprehend it?

When I sat by my brother’s bedside knowing he was not even sure if I was really his baby brother or another hospital staff member, I kept asking myself, how do I speak of the love of God?  Or of the comfort of the God of all comfort to him?

The answer that came to me in a whisper is: we don’t. We just sit there, be with the suffering one.  And it was a lesson in pure powerlessness to just sit there with him deeply. I knew God was with me and with Kenny during that time.  I knew the words of the Lord Jesus, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  I knew then and I know now that God is faithful, for God cannot ‘not’ be faithful.
So the reasoning within went something like this: when I was with my brother, God was Present there with him in his pain, in his clouded altered state.  God was the ever-Present Presence in that time of need.  It was a radical learning experience of the truth that God comforts us so that we in turn can offer comfort to others.

This is what compassion is and means: to be with others in their pain.  Compassion cannot nor does not take away another’s pain.  Compassion literally means to “suffer with.”  So in that moment with Kenny, I prayed that the God of Compassion would fill me with divine compassion and give me the patience to sit in one of the most powerless and yet powerful positions.  I was unable to do a single thing – I could not then and I cannot now heal people and yet I was in the most powerful of places, for it is precisely when pure powerlessness occurs that God’s power can freely flow.
God may not come into the picture and cure the person, but God can come and bring healing to him.  It is vital to learn that healing and curing are not the same thing…one can occur without the other.  We may not find a cure for our ills or pains, but God in infinite compassion can bring some level of healing to our woundedness.

May we learn from our powerlessness that it is at that very time the power of God enters us.  May we learn the power of Presence (without having to fix or cure).  May we learn to get out of the way and act as a conduit of the love of Jesus. May we all be so filled with the Spirit that we become the very embodiment of God’s compassion, and so resemble the beautiful likeness of Abba and thereby offer the world the promise of God's Presence.


Each chapter of the new book AGING JOYFULLY is introduced by one of Leona Choy's poems. Dr. Starr's Chapter 10 exploring the question, "SHALL I MARRY AGAIN?" is launched by the following poem:


God made the human heart
in such a way that if it sings
it cannot sing alone.

Nor is man ordained
to live a solitary life
to work alone
or play alone.
He seeks a partner
with whom to share his joy.

Man cannot love without response
from another heart that echoes his
to which he can relate.
He needs another soul
with whom he can communicate
in satisfied oneness
displacing his isolation
completing his identity
with a complementary heart
that sings a counterpart melody
to his song of love.

Sunday, September 2, 2012



Co-authored by Dr. A. Timothy Starr
 and Leona Choy
Off the press in late September 2012!  
Books need to be shipped from Canada where they are published. Nevertheless, I'm keeping the price low here in the U.S.  I do need to know in advance how many books to have in stock.
For Pre-publication orders you don't have to pay now—unless you wish to.
Let me know the number of copies you want and your mailing address.
Pre-publication special promotion price at a deep discount!
Only $12.95 per copy instead of the list price of $17.99. Add $4.00 S/H for 1-2 copies.
 For greater quantity, I will inform you of the S/H. All books signed!
If copies are to be given as gifts and signed accordingly, please provide information.
If you want copies drop-shipped to friends, add separate postage.
Please make Checks payable to Leona Choy
Mail to 497 Devland Dr. Winchester, VA 22603

Solve your Christmas and birthday giving for your over-55 friends and relatives
  • your seniors group at Church
  • your pastor and leadership staff
  • church library
  • Bible study classes
  • community groups
  • care facility residents
  • caregivers
  • newly retiring friends
  • adult "kids" with senior parents
  • high school and college reunions
  • a gift to yourself!
  • in short, EVERYBODY needs or will need AGING JOYFULLY!

 *     I've had the privilege to co-author this book with Dr. Starr by providing one of my contemporary poems to introduce the theme of each of his thought-provoking, insightful chapters.

       A prominent denominational Christian leader in Canada, Dr. Starr is an author, speaker, pastor, church administrator and friend from our college years. He has specialized in pioneering senior adult programs for which he has provided outstanding literature, conferences and seminars, a magazine, and books.

       With Hazel, his lovely wife of 63 years, he resides in Canada where, as a couple, they exemplify the concept of "aging joyfully."
Leona Choy