Praise for a day of health

National | "What would You have me do during this time?" Selected final reflections of a husband and father on the last days of his two-year battle with cancer

Issue: "Don't have a cow," Aug. 11, 2001

Chip Morgan wrote two Judgment Calls columns for WORLD (June 17, 2000, and Feb. 3, 2001) about his fight against a dreaded disease. Diagnosed at age 47 with a rare, fast-growing cancer gripping at his aorta, the Asheville, N.C., physician undertook risky surgery and powerful rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. What followed were nearly two years he described as "good days for relationships to grow, for writing, and for being around the family." He took up reconciliation as a calling among fellow believers as well as with college buddies he once scorned. At a May session of the World Journalism Institute in New York City, he filled 46 pages with longhand notes, in a notebook brimming with jots about experimental medications, phone numbers for friends and financial advisers, and Scripture citations handed off to him by prayer warriors. Cancer is a patient adversary, he knew. "Make no mistake," he told WORLD readers, "fighting cancer is like a war with many battles; it is not a skirmish." Tests in late May confirmed that the old nemesis was back. But Dr. Morgan did not give up. In June he traveled to Alaska with his wife Becky and two sons. He enjoyed a deck chair on the cruise ship, wrapped in a blanket, watching whales in the Pacific while a steward delivered cups of tea. He joined his two boys for a hike up Mt. Rainier on the way home, exploring glacial ice in a triumph over "air hunger," as he called it, his reduced lung capacity. In July pneumonia set in. Chest scans revealed fresh cancer growth, most seriously a tumor blocking much of his airway. Doctors began measuring his time in weeks. He wanted to write another article for WORLD about fighting on when the medical remedies run out. ("Do you have a shovel?" he would tease those who seemed ready to dig his grave, "because I don't.") But instead he wrote to his children and his wife of 28 years, poring over their future, and reminding them to "fret not ... it only leads to evil." Chip Morgan died early on Sunday morning, July 22. Here are some of his final journal thoughts: May 25: Father, it seems that You have allowed me to be in a place where, once again, it is apparent to all that I am totally out of control. After 17 months without any obvious evidence of recurrence, it is suddenly overwhelming that I am in a terminal phase of this disease, short of any miracle You may perform. We are all terminally ill, as friends like to point out, but I know that my time in this world is short. But "How long will it be?" is not the question, rather, "What would You have me do during this time?" How can I give glory to God in everything I do, in every relationship, and at every opportunity? How can I share quality experiences with each family member, recognizing that at some point in the future the kids will look back and think of their Dad-will they have empty question marks, or answers? My dilemma in this latter regard is that at present my kids have only a limited capacity or inclination to spend time talking with me about matters that may concern them very deeply in later years. Even now I have a choice to be triumphant in Jesus or abandon myself to the abyss of cynicism, bitterness, and all the other pitfalls of man, lacking the hope of eternal fellowship with Jesus and His redeemed. And so I do choose faith and hope. I thank You, Lord, for the peace that passes all understanding. We wait for Your healing and miracles, whatever that may mean. We cannot know, nor do I wish to guess the way of Your sovereign will. But I look forward to the days that remain, whether they be brief or extended. There is an abundance in Your kingdom through the knowledge of the love of God and the encouragement of sound teaching. June 3: Now is the time to affirm that life is a gift to be lived unto the glory of God. This phrase seems to some to sound like the desperate effort of a dying man to cover personal catastrophe with a veneer of pleasant language. We should be asking the harder questions. But this doesn't ring true in my heart. Though the energy is particularly low today, my heart has been full with the hope in the unseen Lord who has provided for the challenges of this season. He means to be glorified and for many to be drawn to Him during this time. This simple truth seems so clear at a time when I might readily doubt the future and turn to self-pity and anxiety. Hope, on the other hand, clearly lightens the load for those who stand nearby. In a way it is easier now than in the earlier period of waiting. Living in an uncertain world where cancer lay lurking became a sort of torment, for I suspected but couldn't be sure of anything. The 17 months without documented measurable disease were a delightful interlude of health when we all enjoyed the growing sense that maybe the cancer was gone. These were good months of living and claiming life with victory over death. At a time that is so precarious I am actually amazed in the freedom that I feel. Yet it does not seem to be an evasion of the mind from the truth of my plight so much as a resolve born of a conviction in my heart that this remains a season unto the glory of God in which a witness can be made for His name. I am aware of an authority given to me for a limited time to speak of His sovereign grace, hope, and provision. Opportunities to speak privately or in public seem to occur regularly, and responding to these is a priority. The timing of certain dates seems to suggest that the Lord has long since ordained this as my final season. My GI [gastrointestinal] certification expires at the end of this year; perhaps He never intended that I would need to take that exam again. It is hard to understand early retirement from medical practice, which has been a vehicle for relationships and a mode of ministry. Now I seem to have a different ministry, but I spend many days feeling totally curbsided and useless, even forgotten as a person. I know this to be a poison of the serpent. But many things remain incomplete. First there is the rearing of our four children. As my daughter Liza pointed out in the beginning of this illness, she wants me to be at her wedding. While these are our terms, the wedding of our children, let alone our grandchildren, seems a good milestone by which to mark the completion of our parenting. June 8 [to my children]: As I am writing this afternoon, I am resting a sore back after the lumbar vertebroplasty, where liquid Plexiglas was injected into a part of my spine for stability. This and the radiation to my spine and legs are being performed in part because I want to stay active and keep up with you guys as long as possible. When I breathe deeply there is the beginning of a sharp pain in my right side, probably from my liver. This is scary because I want to be with you and yet I need to pace myself to have any energy at all. Soon something is going to happen. Either the Lord will use one of the medicines to heal me for a while or else I will be gone to Jesus. Actually, there is no better place that I could be. We simply have trouble imagining what it will be like. And when I am gone from this world, whether sooner or later, I will simply have gone ahead and be waiting for you. But you have your lives ahead of you and every reason to be excited. June 18: Today is a day to give thanks for so many things, and yet I remain unmotivated to write. This has been the case for most of the last month, probably since the news of recurrence. Nothing had really changed; it had been there growing silently for some time. I had even struggled with some nausea for weeks. But then there is the inevitable shock; relief to know where you stand, yes, but still the shock. I have found myself needing to encourage others, to cheer them up and remind them of their hope. Everyone seems to be exuding sadness, almost forgetting the hope that is in them. I want to scream, "I'm still alive! Please don't try to dig my grave." But I cling to the bottom line and that is the sovereignty of God, something that is bigger than our sadness and loss. June 19: Forgive me, Father, for being so faithless, for being caught up so entirely to circumstance. Though I speak against it, I am in fact a slave to my body and physical sense of well-being. Grant me Your strength to focus outside of myself, particularly as my body fails me in so many ways. Thank You for a faithful bride; may I find the strength and she the courage to carry on. Thanks for unproved strength, completion of treatment, friends, and the myriad of other blessings You have unfolded for us. Help me to be a blessing to my family today, a father, husband, and balanced companion. We praise You for a day of health. May we see Your joy. July 20 [in the hospital]: His compassions fail not. Though He brings grief, He will also show compassion.... He does not willingly bring grief or affliction to the children of men. On Him we have set our hope. Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death, but this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. Therefore we do not lose heart. We are given the spirit as a deposit guaranteeing what is ahead.... We live by faith, not by sight.... To walk out in faith is the highest level of character. Jesus says walk! There is no thrill in walking. It is the test of character.

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