Reflections on Living Life Forward… (part 2)


Kierkegaard said “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

I have a slight accent when I speak English. I have come to peace with that. It used to get under my skin when asked, “Where are you from, Ireland?” While the Irish do have their own winsome musical lilt, I would quickly correct that I was Canadian, the country touted for its pleasant English accent. And furthermore did you not know most newscasters in America come from Canada because of our easy-to-understand accent?” “Oh, so are you from Newfoundland or something, eh?” Sigh. The fact is, my first language was Dutch, which I am proud of, I just don’t want there to be a hint of it in my speaking.

I think back to when I was  I was old enough to start school. My English was so poor that the grade-one teacher had to remonstrate with my parents to switch languages used in the home from Dutch to English. I still have this tiny memory of being lost in my new dream world called primary school. It all makes sense now.

The Little Dutch boy (right)

Kierkegaard encourages us to look backwards to the past in order to come to a place in the now where our life makes sense. I guess looking back is like having this recall…we arrange the pieces of our lives like a photo album and we give meaning and captions to each photo. Most of the mental picture memories are good, but there are some we may not want to take out and handle. Those pictures conjure up in us feelings of regret or hurt or maybe even anger.

To take what Kierkegaard said logically a step further, simply looking back to the past and understanding it may not be enough; we need to find a way to make peace with our past as well. If I am to live fully in the here and now,  I need to first be able to look back to the past, understand it, see how it shaped me or misshaped me, and then look forward to the future with confident eyes.

The other day I laughed out loud when I read a tweeted quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, “I think somehow we learn who we really are and then we live with that decision.” I could have used that quote when I was twenty something! We need to learn who we are and then live out that discovery without shame. Not always easy. For not only have I been told that I have an accent, but that I am also endowed with a quirky personality. That too pricked against my pride of being a cool cat.  I’ve never wanted to explore the truth of my ‘quirky me.’ But as I look back at how a shy dutch-born kid grew up in an army family moving about from place to place in Canada, perhaps that was enough to make me a little quirky. And I am at peace with what is true of me and so many other strange things left unmentioned!

I’ve given you a glimpse of my own personal ‘looking backwards’ to try and illustrate that Kierkegaard was really onto something. The ability to make peace and find meaning with our past, both  the positive and the negative, enables us to function as, and forgive this religious word, a blessing to others.

This is living  our life forward with the clear eyes of hope. What good is it to live a story line that is absorbed in the world of self?  Doesn’t the greatest moment in life begin when you make the shift from self; from focusing on image, success and shifting your life forward toward significance for others? A healthy and oft’ repeated question begs us to imagine the day of our own funeral. As people are standing in the lobby with a coffee in hand, what would they be saying about the life we have lived? If it were my funeral and I could invisibly walk around and listen to the chatter I would hope to hear that I, Peter DeWit, made some positive deposit in their life and made someone feel loved, significant even.” That might give me some proof that I made the shift from self-focused success-based living (getting) to other-focused significance-based (giving) living.

In light of my recent reflections on my health and the word hope, admittedly I’ve had moments where I wondered if this slow growing brain tumor muffling my hearing was really happening. Like the man seeing his image speaking to him from the puddle wondering who the real person is, I wondered if what I was experiencing was a surreal dream of myself and I’ll wake up without any traces of this reality. Then there are times I get upset with this interruption to my regular routine of life. I don’t want to think about anyone drilling a hole into my head whatsoever! Yet, from ‘somewhere else’, maybe from within, I am reminded that all of this is not to diminish my faith, my future, but through it I can learn and will speak this new language. And though I speak it with a slight accent, this language called ‘hope’ keeps helping me live my life forward in the midst of uncertainty with peace.


Drill a Hole in my Head: Living Forward (Part 1)

We often say, and rightly so, “God speaks to us.” The Genesis story of creation is not about a God who launched the earth into orbit and suddenly got bored so He turned his attention elsewhere. It is quite the opposite, the God of the Bible is always paying attention… His mind does not wander… He sees everything He has made and takes delight in it. So, as His children on earth, we need to be convinced that God is not folding his arms at a bored distance, but desires to be near and dear and come speak gently to us. But where we run into difficulty is that we are not always paying attention to the gentle knocks, nor watching for his coming. So if the question is asked of us, “What has God been saying to you of late?” Our response is to go, “Ah… wha, sorry, what’s the next question?” We haven’t trained ourselves to discern his presence. I’m not suggesting that we become mystics or monks or spend hours in meditation before the sun even gets a chance to rise. But there is a calling from the deep to the deep in us for a good conversation.

I’ve taken note that sometimes God comes knocking on our door through circumstances that gets our undivided attention. It came about for me with hearing issues. Ironically my physical hearing maybe reflected my spiritual hearing, or lack of it. As I tried to get to the bottom of why my right ear seemed muffled, the third ENT specialist mouthed the words, “You have a tumor in the brain,” Finally, I had my answer! Then I was completely stunned. I didn’t hear much of anything else in that bright office. Patricia, my wife of 30 years, also heard the words and began shaking uncontrollably. She was still shaking when we got to the parking lot. I remember as I walked to the elevator that I couldn’t look anyone in the eye, not even my own Patricia. I was floored as I pondered my new future. Questions pounded my brain, “Do I have brain cancer or will I die soon? What does this new tumor-reality mean for me?”

No one expects to be smashed with news like this. In an email a friend wrote, “When I heard your news I was numb. It really helps me put my situation into perspective.” Another person said, “If Peter can be happy even with a tumor in his brain, I guess I can learn to be happy with my situation.” With a chuckle I thought, “Lord, this tumor is a pretty nasty way to help others, don’t you think?” Yet times like this do help us to ‘stop and think’ and open ourselves to new perspectives and to be thankful for what we have and where we are in life.

Since the initial bad news I have been reassured by the medical field that I don’t have cancer and I most certainly won’t die soon. That being the case obviously God still has earthly purposes for me and therefore a few more chapters are still to be added to the Peter DeWit life story! The fact is, even though I feel like I am ‘young’ for my years, Father Time keeps ticking away, and one day I will come to an end in one manner or another. So at 50 years of life I am a lot closer to the final paragraphs than when my story started as a ‘once upon a time’ in a little hospital room in Holland.

I know there is a long road yet to go. I don’t want to think about my head being drilled. Though this surgery is not thought to be life-threatening, this situation has invited me to reflect personally on how I want to respond to God, to life, and to others. Humbly I’ve asked myself and my God, “Are there areas in my life that I need to re-align now or change now or concentrate on now in order to become a better reflect ‘You-in-me? What has really absorbed my thinking is searching out the depth of the word hope.

The question that I have brought up with others frequently these days is: “When life seems to be turned up-side-down and all around us seems to be full of negative outcomes what enables the people of God to keep living with joyful purpose and hope? Obviously there are so many wrong ways we can respond to the incessant struggles and disappointments of life. The Bible talks of those who have slowly drifted away from the faith they once held dear and ended stone-cold in their love. I’ve seen too many lose their ‘zest’ for life because of as rotten happenings, failures and injustice, both real and perceived. I have seen some, when life knocks them down, after the numbness wears off, their response is to shout at God in anger, “Why did you allow this to happen to me? Where were you that day, when… my child ( Or change that to mother, father, wife, dog, and cat; etc) got killed?”

Another story comes to mind when Jesus’ own disciples violently woke him up during a storm on a sinking boat. In that storm they accused Jesus of not caring for their fate. There certainly are times when it seems that God is not paying attention to our prayers and situation. My own wife tells of putting her Bible in a drawer for two years while simmering on His imagined silence to her prayers for better circumstances. Though she never walked out on God, she wasn’t too happy with Him.

Just yesterday someone wrote to me saying how angry he was at losing his wife to a sudden heart attack. It took him a few years to finally forgive God! In his own brutally honest words he said, “Not great theology, but good psychiatry!” David in Psalm 44 got so mad at God that he harangues his God by saying, “Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake… Just wake up and do something to show you are engaged in this relationship, please!”

I recognize that anger might be a legitimate and necessary response in the process of re-kindling your hope. God is not threatened by our questions, anger or doubt. But at the same time the Lord wants to redeem us from our despair. He wants to move us from anything in our past that may have caused us to become bitter and into hope. Rubbing shoulders with people who have stayed the storm, soul survivors, is one way I am encouraged to hope. Now when I think of this tumor in my brain, I ponder and wonder, “Hmm, maybe God is telling another good story of hope through me?

Some Strand of DNA Gone Awry!

The past few months I have been taken aback with some hearing loss, painful reactions to loud noise and pressure to the inner ear. I took the steps to see some doctors to find out where the cause came from. Everyone seemed to be poking around and sucking out the wax. But the right ear was the weird one, not waxy at all! The third doctor, after using the wax sucker mechanism and coming up dry, began to take me more seriously. After numerous tests and questions, he decided to order me to the MRI room.

That white cold room under the ground was just a little surreal… after putting my head into the head gear it looked like I was ready to be blasted off to join the Mars probe. “Lay completely still”, I was told. And then after 45 minutes oh how I had to pee. Then I was rolled back out to the land of mortals to shoot some solution into my veins for another session in the white cocoon. (I asked to go to the toilet then, and was given a firm negative response, they even told me to stop all that swallowing movement!) Finally after almost 90 minutes of holding my pee and keeping my saliva still the technicians said “Finished!” I then ran to the toilet unbeknownst to me that the white capsuled scanning machine had spotted a tumor at the stem of my brain that had been putting pressure on my inner ear’s nerve, cutting off the ability of my inner ear to receive messages clearly from the outside world into my inner reality.

As I walked to talk over the results with the ear specialist I breathed a sigh of ‘okay’ and reminded my brain not to worry about anything as God was always in control of these sort of things. The ear specialist went over the pictures one after another and saw the tumor and continued to say that though he wasn’t a neurologist these tumors are pretty easy-peazy to remove and always benign. Phew, I could sleep now without any problem, right? And I did, no reason to worry.

A few days later I went in to see the expert, the neurologist. He seemed a little confused in his opening remarks, looking me over maybe wondering why I, such a healthy specimen, was sitting at the other side of his desk. Then when he began to piece together his conversation with the ear specialists he produced the MRI data on his screen. He spoke words that sounded like a tiny low whisper. I wondered if this was good? So I said something to the effect of, “Can you speak up, I can’t hear a word you are mumbling!” And so he spoke his truth a little louder. His truth did not set me free!

Let me simply let you know what my little ears, the left good and the right half blocked, understood. As the neurologists looked on his computer screen flipping through the data provided by the MRI, he pointed to this and that in my brain. I nodded as he pointed at shapes that looked like misty clouds. Then he explained that the white stuff that looked similar to my pocket trumpet was actually a tumor and it was atypical. “Atypical?” Not good, I surmised. Although I am not your typical man and a little proud of that fact, I knew enough to know that an atypical tumor in this case was bad news! According to the photo-data the tumor had definitely sneaked it’s way into the hearing canal making it an Acoustic Neuroma tumor. It was also seemingly a broad based tumor, meaning that it had perhaps components of the less harmful Meningioma. Hearing him talk in his soothing tones was deceiving and I my eyes widened and my breathing quickened. But this next sentence hit me between the solar plexus: “We Thais, if we operate, are not quite good enough to guarantee that you won’t be deaf and maybe a little odd looking afterwards!” Huh? What are you saying? “Yes, these tumors can attach and wrap themselves to nerves that send important messages to the brain and vice-versa and taking out the tumor without damage to the nerves is a difficult challenge.

I really was ears at that point! So the specialist tried to help me understand the consequences and risks, being that if I had the operation in Thailand that I would most definitely lose the hearing from my right side and a very high chance of paralysis on the same side of the face. Not what I wanted to hear! He said that because of my young age and the fact that tests show my hearing is still okay on the right side and because of the type of work I do, public speaking, he wanted only the very best to do the surgery. “Okay”, I thought, “agreed to the max!”

HImagee continued in soft tones giving me a quick shot of hope that I would not look like a 90 year old invalid by stating that there could still be a chance of saving my hearing somewhat and keeping the famous Peter DeWit facial expressions that he is known for when speaking in front of audiences. He intimated that my best chance of keeping some of my hearing and my ‘face’ was to go abroad to the very best and do the surgery. Agreed again. Then he said, “I need to operate now, you can go now. And give me a call soon and I’ll let you know the next step!”

Next step? I have to admit that my inner being was sinking faster than I had ever felt it sink. I did not want to look anyone oin the eye, but saw my wife literally shaking beside me as my soul gasped for a little more hope-air. At 50 years ‘young’ this comes so unexpected. I used to brag to myself that I had never spent one single night in a hospital, (besides at birth in the warm arms of my mother). And I have always tried so hard to stay fit and eat my cereals and work-out to boast mean guns! So why was my brain doing something so foolish betraying my healthy body? Not sure, DNA gone awry? My brain just cannot answer that one! But kidding aside, it was a bit heavy to receive this fresh news. And what was next for me with all those I knew and loved? Do I go public and ask the world to pray or do i just tell God in the private chambers of my heart? Wisdom, give me wisdom on the next steps, I pleaded! So, maybe both the telling of others and to my God. This is the time that I need to ruthlessly trust that my friends will do what they say, and that is pray. And then I need to do what I always said I would do in times like this, ruthlessly trust that God will be what He has always been, a healer. Not just someone else’s healer, but my healer.