Friends visiting Lhasa

My Suffering May Help Others

My story of suffering may help others.
It is in this time of surcease that I find it both good and possible to look back over the past two years of my experience with cancer and, thereby, with my approaching death. Perhaps my story will give shape and meaning to the stories of so many people…” – Letters from the Land of Cancer, Wangerin, 11

It’s crazy to think that one man’s suffering can be another man’s hope. It may seem farfetched but it’s true nonetheless. My story is one of suffering, that’s a fact, but my story has turned into something much more. It has turned to a story of hope. Sure, people are encouraged to hear that I am in remission but I think they receive encouragement and find hope for other reasons as well.

After we found out about the cancer, Sarah and I had a conversation where we both desired to be open and transparent with the people around us. We knew this would be a battle we could not face on our own and welcomed the company. What we did not realize at the time was that people would flock around us with genuine love and compassion. People sat with us for hours, prayed over us, took care of our dog, bought us a much needed set of tires for our car, brought us meals for three months, paid medical bills, worked extra hours in our stead and the list goes on. As we talked with people, we realized that these “good Samaritans” were coming to our side because we invited them and created room in our lives for them. We opened our lives, both the good and bad, and welcomed people to be present with us. It still sounds crazy to me but people have actually thank us for opening our lives to them and allowing them to suffer with us. What a crazy thought- when we suffered, others joined us in our suffering and felt blessed. This is one of the mysteries of the Church. We are one Body, who function best together, even under the burden of heavy pain.

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part…This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.” –  1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (NLT)

Part of being the family of God, part of being community, is to suffer well together. Thank you Church for suffering well with me. May there be continued encouragement through the beauty of community.

Secondly, as we have been open and vulnerable with people, they have felt encouraged to see a fellow believer suffer and suffer in a way that was frayed around the edges. Part of this came as I was honest with my questions, doubts, anger and even depression. I didn’t wake up every morning with a smile on my face and a kick in my step. My heart overflowed with confusion, lies and fear of the continued pain. I continued to believe in God’s goodness and his sovereign hand but failed to see it fully in my story. The questions kept coming back, “why is this happening me? What are you doing God?” I realized very quickly that God was not afraid of my questions, fears or doubts. He welcomed them as a Father welcomes a battered son, not with rebuke, but with compassion.

How then can my pain bring hope to others? Because Christ is ever present in all our pain and sufferings:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” – Romans 5:3-6 (ESV)

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” – Isaiah 53:4

 

Suffering and Hope

Personal Reflections on Suffering

Processing your own personal suffering is not an easy task. Sometimes it is helpful to see your own story of suffering through the lives, writings and songs of others. By putting their lives on display, these men and women are inviting us into their suffering stories and thereby offering us the lessons they have learned along the way.

I too have found it hard to process my own sufferings. In the last 8 months I have endured a personal battle with brokenness and disease. It started in November with an accident that resulted in a blown knee and a crushed thumb.  Both needed surgery and the knee was almost beyond repair. Thanks to a great surgeon and the grace of God, the knee was reconstructed and has become useable again.

Then in February I was having strange symptoms that lead to a CT scan and revealed I was in late stage cancer, testicular cancer to be exact.  I was admitted to the hospital the same day and very quickly took a turn for the worse. The cancer had spread to my abdomen and lungs. As a result of the severity of the cancer, one of my major veins was blocked causing extensive blood clots throughout my legs and extreme swelling. In less than a week I gained more than 40 pounds of water weight due to the clots.

I spent two full months in the hospital before I was released to continue treatments as an outpatient. I did not know it at the time but there were days when those around me wondered if I would survive-whether recovery was possible or if the cancer had spread too far and too fast for me to be a survivor.

The last eight months have been a sobering experience marked by brokenness, exposed weakness and growth beyond measure. However, as my health returns, I find it hard to think back on this time. First, it is hard because when I do muster up the courage to remember, I am overwhelmed by the memories, the pain and all they entail. More than that I am finding it hard to remember and process at all. Some memories I have blocked out, some I have let go of and others I was simply too sick or drugged to remember.

Now that I am in remission and feeling better every day; I want to remember, to process and to grow into a better man from these suffering. In my weakness, however, I realize I simply cannot do it alone. I need help from my beautiful wife and from the ones I love who surround me. I have also received help from those I do not know but from whom I find words of life. These are godly men and women who themselves have suffered and then taken the effort to write out their journey through suffering. One such writer is Walter Wangerin. Walter is an author and professor who has walked through lung cancer. In his book, Letters from the Land of Cancer, Wangerin writes letters to his family and friends from the moment he discovers the cancerous lump until two years later when his tumors lay dormant. His thoughts in these letters have helped me begin to process my own journey and to see my own suffering through his. Though meant for his family and friends, these letters have spoken directly to me. They have invited me to ask the hard questions and to work through the pain that cancer has left behind.  These are my thoughts, seen through the writings of Walter Wangerin , that have allowed me to open my emotional cancer wounds and begin the journey of growth and healing that come through suffering.

In the weeks to come, I will write on the fifteen thoughts/ideas/truths I have discovered though my journey. I pray they are helpful to you in some way. Here are a few of the thoughts I will write on:

1. My story of suffering may help others.
3. Facing death causes me to cherish life.
6. Cancer, and all that it brings, stopped me dead in my tracks.
9. I love my wife more that I ever have or possibly ever could.
12. In the midst of cancer, when there was still uncertainty about my life, I decided to live life well.
14. My pain and suffering does not end when the cancer is gone.

 

 

Spending the day in Amsterdam

Traveling Sloans

As you may be able to tell from the title of our blog, travelingsloan, Sarah and I love to travel. That is a good thing because we have spent a good chunk of our adult lives in other countries. For two years, we  lived and worked in Kathmandu. I (Nathan) spent a semester of college living in China and we have both been to several dozen countries. With each country came crazy food, confusing languages, lifelong friendships and a desire to keep experiencing the diversity and beauty of God’s creation.

We are blessed to be able to travel for work and take every opportunity to explore new places and learn new cultures. Why do I share all this you ask? Well, we have talked to many of you and consistently we hear how much you have enjoyed journeying with us in our story through our blog. We want to keep writing but would love to talk about more than just cancer. We want to talk about the things we love, some of those being travel, culture, food, the city of Louisville, what we are reading, great danes and the crazy things that happen in our lives. So bear with us and keep checking back. We know our cancer story brought you here but we hope the stories of hope, beauty and adventure will keep you coming back.

Wanting to start off well, we thought what better way than to share some picture of our previous travels. Enjoy the photos, some taken by us and some by our traveling companions.

Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea- France

Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea- France

Island in the Mediterranean- France

Island in the Mediterranean- France

Canal in Amsterdam

Canal in Amsterdam

Stonehenge on a stormy day- England

Stonehenge on a stormy day- England

Palace of Versailles, France

Palace of Versailles, France

Notre Dame- Paris, France

Notre Dame- Paris, France

Mars Hill- Athens, Greece

Mars Hill- Athens, Greece

Walking the Park- Belgrade, Serbia

Walking the Park- Belgrade, Serbia

Ancient Palace- Ethiopia

Ancient Palace- Ethiopia
Ethiopian Kids

Ethiopian Kids

Baboons in the Simien Mtns- Ethiopia

Baboons in the Simien Mtns- Ethiopia

Potala- Lhasa, Tibet

Potala- Lhasa, Tibet

Overlooking Lhasa, Tibet

Overlooking Lhasa, Tibet

Mt. Everest Base Camp- Nepal

Mt. Everest Base Camp- Nepal

Bhouda Stupa- Kathmandu, Nepal

Bhouda Stupa- Kathmandu, Nepal

Fitting for a Tibetan Chupa- Lhasa, Tibet

Fitting for a Tibetan Chupa- Lhasa, Tibet