Standing in Line for a Miracle
About the Guest
Adversity is a tough teacher. And Pastor Jim Garlow knows. He's been walking alongside his wife, Carol, for the past five years as she faces the biggest battle of her life--cancer. Hear more about their journey, and why they continue to hope in the face of disheartening odds.
Adversity is a tough teacher.
Standing in Line for a Miracle
Bob: Almost five years, now, Jim and Carol Garlow have battled together as Carol has suffered from primary peritoneal cancer. Jim is a speaker, an author; and he has continued to be the pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego.
Jim: I was speaking in Washington D.C. It was a church just a few blocks from the Capitol. Sitting on the front row, I was the next speaker. The guy in front of me was speaking. He reported, “I’ve come through cancer—been in remission.” When he was reporting this remission—“How long have you been in remission?”—the crowd clapped and cheered.
Well, my wife has been in remission—I don’t know how many times—but the cancer has probably come back for the sixth time. For a nanosecond, I went, “Wait a minute! Hello! What’s this guy—what’s he getting it for? Do you not see Jim and Carol in San Diego?”—for a nanosecond. Then, I realized the words I’ve heard from my father, for my whole life, “Be thankful for what you do have, rather than what you don’t have.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 28th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today one husband’s story about being in the battle with his wife against cancer.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I know some of our listeners have heard you talk about seasons in your family, in your marriage, where there have been health issues that—well, when they emerge, they kind of change the equilibrium of everything; don’t they?
Dennis: They do; and it goes beyond the health issues, too, to being emotional issues, financial issues—challenges that people face—there are a lot of our listeners, right now, walking through a valley. It may not be the valley of the shadow of death—it may be that valley, but they’re learning some tough lessons.
This morning, I read this passage before coming to work, 2 Corinthians, Chapter 5, “For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home is destroyed”—speaking of our bodies—
Dennis: —“we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” The older I get, the more I get that passage. I really do long to take off that which is disintegrating—my body—and long to put on that which will have no more pain, no more sorrow, no more grief—and see Him face to face and be with Him.
We have a friend in the studio, with us today—Dr. Jim Garlow, who has been in a valley for a number of years, along with his wife Carol. We just want to talk with Jim about that journey and the lessons he’s learned. Jim, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Jim: Good to be with you, my friend.
Dennis: Jim and his wife Carol live in San Diego. They’ve been married 41 years—have four children, five grandchildren. He’s a pastor, an author, a commentator, historian, cultural observer. Jim’s got his fingers in a lot of different pies; but for the past few years, you’ve had to face something front and center, that a number of our listeners have also faced. It is the “C-word,”—cancer—your wife’s cancer. Take us back to the day when you and Carol received that news of her being diagnosed with cancer.
Jim: On June the 18th of 2007, she had minor surgery; and June 19th, I brought her home. We thought everything was fine—just a minor event. There were complications by midnight that night. I took her to the emergency room. I thought it was something very minor. I thought, “Why don’t we just take care of this, fix this quickly, and we go home?” They kept us through the night. Finally, about 6 AM, she said, “You better go home and get the kids up and around for school. Then, you can come back.”
I raced home, where my sister and brother-in-law were there—taking care of the kids. I let them go on home, got the kids off to school. At 7:09 on June 20, 2007, the phone rang—and my wife, not very assertive, ordinarily, in her language—she says, “Get down here, now!” I say, “What’s the matter?” She says, “Come.” I say, “What has happened?” She says, “Well, they’ve discovered something.” I said, “What?” She said, “A mass.” I said, “A mass—meaning?” She said, “Just come.”
That drive from home to the hospital—my mind was on computer scan a great deal and crying out to God. That was the beginning of what is now almost a five-year journey. We’re at four years and approaching 11 months, right now.
Dennis: As a pastor, you have a large congregation. You’ve cared for probably hundreds, if not thousands, of folks who go to your church, who have faced tough news. What prepared you for that moment in your life when you and Carol got that news?
Jim: My wife was much better prepared than I was. She had launched an intercession ministry, a prayer ministry in our church, and had felt passionate about that issue for quite a few years—raised up a lot of intercessors, had prayed with many who had cancer. She was on the front lines with people with cancer, more specifically than what I actually was. She handled it much better than I did, also.
I found myself, by the end of just a few days, coming home from the hospital. The turning point for me was what I call the spiritual knot hole. We all have to go through a spiritual knot hole at one point where we release everything—where, “This could be it.” I was fighting for my wife’s life; I was clutching as much as I could emotionally.
Sitting at home, alone on a late Thursday night, through the night and early Friday morning hours, it hit me—that passage from Job, Chapter 2:9 where Job’s wife says, “Curse God and die.” I resolved that issue that night. “Lord, I’m going to love You, no matter what happens. If we lose this battle quickly here,”—as it appeared that we might at the time—“that does not mitigate against Your love. There’s nothing that tells me that You do not love me—nothing in this.” I resolved that issue.
Once I got pulled through that spiritual knot, that night—that Thursday and Friday night—just mainly tears—I was sitting in front of the computer, but I couldn’t even see the screen. Once I went through that, I began to be able to fight for Carol’s life, but with an open hand rather than a clenched fist.
Bob: The diagnosis was cancer of the liver. Is that right?
Jim: No, it actually went to that by the time it became Stage 4, but it was originally what is called primary peritoneal carcinoma. That is—the peritoneal lining lines the abdominal cavity. She ended up having over 100 tumors that they took out in that first surgery.
Dennis: All cancerous?
Jim: Oh, yes. Picture—if you threw sand on a hardwood floor, that is the kind of way in which this cancer moves—massive numbers, generally, pretty small—although, one of them was large. It went up to the size of an orange. There were some pretty large ones at the same time, but it had moved. It just moved everywhere! Her surgery was over eight and half hours long. It just got so many places. They cut out everything they could possibly cut out of her and still keep her going.
In that first week of surgery that we had—96 percent of those who have this type of cancer—do not survive to the fifth anniversary of diagnosis. That’s why the fifth anniversary has been so critical to us. We’re right at four years and 11 months, at this point. Only 4 percent survive to the fifth anniversary. We quickly saw that we were facing an enormous battle here.
Dennis: How in the world have you handled it because you’ve got all these trips to MD Anderson, you’ve got all this exploratory phone calls that you’re making, trying to find out, “What are the protocols? What are the options?” One case, you wrote that you had 400 different protocols, or choices, before you, that you had to go through?
Jim: Over 500 now.
Dennis: How have you done it all?
Jim: Well, the secret to doing so much is to do all of it poorly. [Laughter] That’s my immediate response, but I have been enormously blessed. I’ve been enormously blessed with tremendous support—support I do not deserve. I cannot describe the scores of people who’ve come alongside us to help. That’s where—I don’t see how people make it without the body of Christ. Our church and the body of Christ at large—oh my—they’ve made—
Dennis: It is rally time when someone goes through something like this; isn’t it?
Jim: We are forever indebted.
Dennis: One of the problems with going through a season like this is that many times we’re not good receivers—
Dennis: —of grace, and of gifts, and of people who want to give. Speak to that person who has a hard time receiving. What lesson have you learned about this?
Jim: Well, this is fresh because we’re in this battle. Now, Carol has good days—she’s up and around. Some days, she can—there’s days she gets up and drives the car. Most days, two out of three days, right now where we are in the journey, she’s in bed until about 1:30, 2:30, 3:30 in the afternoon. I can almost set my clock by about 2:30 afternoon, after she’s able to get up and has a level of productivity for a few hours.
Just about a week or two—maybe, two weeks ago, I suppose it’s been now—she’d been in the hospital a fair amount lately, and we’d just got out of the hospital. I walked in, and the washer had overflowed and flooded a bunch of carpet. I’m not generally quite this emotional. You know, life has stuff, but I was just—I really wanted—I’m not a crier—but I really wanted to cry, right then. It was just, “Man!”
It wasn’t that big of a deal, but given the dynamics of all that we were in the midst of—the hospital stuff—I just really wanted to cry but I pulled, and tugged, and finally got all the stuff, and got fans to start going. This same guy, who fixed up the backyard—when he found out, he said, “You did not call me! I’m here for you, and I’m absolutely insulted that you did not call me because you have robbed me”—this is his language—“of the opportunity to serve in the way that God called me to serve. You kept me from doing it by you doing that when I told you that is my calling.”
So, I realized—I’m trying to see it from his vantage point. I’m slowly getting better at it; but I’ve said to people over and over, “I do not want—when I ask you for this, I do not want you to ever feel trapped. This is not a forever thing. You can say, ‘Okay, Jim, I can do it for two more weeks; or I can do it for today, but I can’—you have rights to take an exit ramp off this because this is a pretty long road so far.”
I’ve instructed our congregation because I’ve learned a lot. People will say—they’ll call when somebody has a catastrophe; and they’ll say, “Well, let me know anything.” I said, “No, don’t do that. Don’t do that because that person will never call you back. What you need to do is be highly specific.”
You can offer something concrete. If a family has a catastrophe, some major event they go through, say specifically, “I’m able for the next two weeks to get your children to school each morning. I can pick them up at 7:30 and have them to class on time and pick them up each afternoon for the next two weeks.” That way, it’s very specific and the person will go, “Oh, thank you. Yes.”
Always be specific if you’re able to, or maybe list, “Some options I can do for your family: I can assist on this. I’m good at organizing meals. I’m good at having meals brought to you, maybe once each evening. Would that be enough? Tell me your tastes, your preferences. We’ll organize meals over the next month just to cover that.” That way, the person does not feel like, “Oh my, they are going to obligate themselves forever, and they’ll want out of this.” It’s highly specific where the person doesn’t have to think much because when you’re hit with these things, your mind is not even clear—
Dennis: Right, you don’t know what you need, at that point.
Jim: Exactly, because you don’t know where the road is going—all these bends and roads you are going to take—I didn’t know we’d end up in MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Now, we went a lot of other places, too. We went to Oasis of Hope Hospital in Tijuana, Mexico—wonderful, wonderful place. We went to the Yeh Center in Upland California, up in the LA area. Then, we’ve had wonderful physicians, right there in San Diego, in traditional care, but all—
At MD Anderson—the number of people in Houston who meet us at airports and get us back to the airport—it’s absolutely amazing! We didn’t know all these needs. So, if people can be as specific as they are able to when they help a family catastrophe, it’s very, very appreciated.
Bob: I want to take you back to what you called your knot-hole moment—that point where, in the midst of this diagnosis—the awareness that the doctors were saying, “This is grim.” You came to a point where you said, “Whatever happens, I will not doubt God’s love.”
I’ve a friend of mine who is a young woman in her late 20’s—lost her mom a year and a half ago—still wrestles with anger toward God for taking Mom early. She was just with some other friends who had lost a sister in an accident. The first question for them was, “How do you deal with your anger toward God?” That knot-hole moment is critical. A lot of people get hung up and never get through the knot hole. What’s your counsel to them?
Jim: Well, I’m going to probably report something in which I am in the minority on. I suspect most people don’t accept this explanation—and I certainly don’t condemn anybody if they do. The framework, theologically, out of which I approach what we’re in the midst of is not a framework out of which I believe that God said, “Okay, I think we’re going to afflict Jim and Carol with cancer right now because that’s going to bring the best out of them.”
That is the prevailing view, and I understand why people say that. I don’t condemn people who take that view. I don’t condemn them at all. In fact, perhaps, they are right; and I’m the one that’s wrong. I take a little bit of different posture; and that is this: God created a perfect world. He’s going to take us to a perfect world. In between is a pretty torn-up mess—pain, heartache, suffering, sickness, disease, death, and a lot of tears. How did we get there?
We got there by Lucifer’s sin, his rebellion. We got there by Adam and Eve’s sin and our embryonic presence in that. We got there by even our contribution. If we want to blame Adam and Eve, we have walked in sin.
Jim: I’ve contributed enough to the mess of this world, myself, in the wrong choices I have made. Now, you put all that together and the cumulative impact of the history of the world and the entire population walking the pathway of sin more than righteousness; and we have a mess.
So, the blame, to me, is not on God, who created a perfect world but was so secure, who allowed us to have the option of choice; and we chose badly. My anger for cancer, and heartache, and suffering is the enemy. My anger is the evil one. I’ve kept appropriate anger, appropriately channeled. I don’t blame God. When His full ways are followed, we had a perfect world. When His full ways will be followed, we will have a perfect world. That’s what He envisions.
Consequently, I don’t find myself in a posture of blaming God. The only moment, in this whole journey I’ve had with some real, severe angst—that went pretty deep for a little while—I was speaking in Washington D.C. It was a church just a few blocks—I think eight blocks or less—from the Capitol. Sitting on the front row, I was the next speaker. The guy in front of me was speaking. He reported, “I have come through cancer—been in remission.” Well, my wife has been in remission—I don’t know how many times it’s come back. It depends on how you define remission, quite frankly. Following one potential definition, the cancer’s probably come back for the sixth time. The first remission was fairly long.
The nature of primary peritoneal is that it—is its remissions get shorter, and shorter, and shorter until they are almost nonexistent. If we can call Carol’s remission—sometimes they use the label, even, “partial remission”—if the disease is in stable condition, which it is as of last week according to MRI; but I think probably it’s come back six times in this process.
I was sitting and listening to this guy speaking in Washington D.C., right before I was going to speak—he was reporting this remission. “How long have you been in remission?”—the crowd clapped and cheered. For a nanosecond, I went, “Wait a minute, God! I’m here. Hello! Do you not see Jim and Carol in San Diego? What’s this guy—what’s he getting it for?”—for a nanosecond. Then, I realized the words I have heard from my father—my father is deceased now—but for my whole life was, “Be thankful for what you do have, rather than what you don’t have.”
In the midst of this battle, I blame disease, heartache, suffering, sickness, and disease on the enemy and the cumulative impact of Adam and Eve and all our participation in that. I’ve got that as the foundation piece for me. That doesn’t address all the complexities and issues of the sovereignty of God and His power and might. I recognize that.
But my view of miracles and healings is that every time we hear of a healing and a miracle—and we’re still standing in line for ours. We’re still anticipating. We haven’t given up at all. We’re not discouraged. I’m very deeply concerned, but I’m not discouraged. When a miracle breaks through into the present tense, I believe that’s the hand of the Father reaching into the future, dragging it into the present, dropping it there, and saying, “Here, I want you to get a taste of what it’s going to be like when I fully have restored everything to what it’s going to be.” These are hors d'oeuvres of the main course yet to come.
Now, this is the fact that it has not hit us yet in the fullness. One person made the case to me the other day—said, “Jim, you’ve had a whole series of sub-miracles,” and we actually have, if I look at it that way. We haven’t had the biggie—the final breakthrough that I’m really longing for—to see her well here and now; but at the same time, when God does those, He’s just tugging the future into the present to give us a glimpse when, “I’m fully in charge, and people are obeying Me, walking in My ways, in the full righteousness and wholeness.” I envision that’s the way it’s going to be. That stirs great hope in my heart.
Dennis: What I hear you saying is—you maintain your courage and not get discouraged—is, really, a snapshot of what Paul—what he really preceded the passage I started today’s broadcast with. In 2 Corinthians, Chapter 4, he says, verse 16, “So, we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
You know, we look, now, at what we see; and this is perishable, but there is an imperishable. There is a place where there will be no more sorrow, suffering, grief, no more angst, pain. It’s that hope, I think, that keeps us going. What I see in your eyes, right now, that keeps you going—wanting to serve Him, be faithful to Christ, and go through this valley with your wife, and maintain your relationship with God, and with her, and with your family, and your community of believers. That’s how you do it.
Bob: I know when you and Barbara have been walking in a valley yourself or when you’ve talked to other couples who have been there, one of the books that you have recommended to them is Jerry Sittser’s book called A Grace Disguised.
Bob: It’s a book that you found great comfort in. Our listeners may know somebody who is in the same kind of circumstance, and they may be looking for a way to minister—a way to reach out. You might want to get a copy of Jerry Sittser’s helpful book. It’s called A Grace Disguised. We’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the book.
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We want to encourage you to be back with us, again, tomorrow. Jim Garlow is going to be here again. We’re going to continue to hear more about how God has sustained Jim and Carol as they have walked through this difficult season with her cancer. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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