Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Posts tagged ‘DWTH’

Under No Delusions

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When I’m involved in a writing project, or preparing for a speaking engagement, I’ll try to find time to do a very worthwhile psychological and spiritual exercise.  I’ll do “a personal gut check.”  Because I want my motives for doing what I do to be as pure as they can be, I want to determine what’s going on in my heart.

This idea of the personal gut check comes to us from Ancient Greece.  According to Pausanias, the following aphorism (short, pithy truthful saying) was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and this aphorism is attributed to at least six ancient Greek sages (but the one I lean toward is Socrates).  It says:  “Know yourself” (Greek: γνωθι σεαυτόν).   In Latin, the aphorism is generally given as nosce te ipsum.

In a discussion of moderation and self-awareness, the Roman poet Juvenal quotes the phrase in Greek, and states that the precept descended de caelo (from heaven) (Satire 11.27).  I think it’s a heavenly idea, too.  I think God wants us to engage in self-examination from time to time.  In fact, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul wrote that we should “examine” ourselves before we take Communion.

The saying “Know thyself” may refer by extension to the ideal of understanding human behavior, morals, and thought, because ultimately to understand oneself is to understand other humans as well.  However, the ancient Greek philosophers thought that no man can ever comprehend the human spirit and thought thoroughly, so it would have been almost inconceivable to know oneself fully.  Therefore, the saying may refer to a less ambitious ideal, such as knowing one’s own habits, morals, temperament, ability to control anger, and other aspects of human behavior that we struggle with on a daily basis.

One year ago I was sitting on Alii Kahekili Nui Ahumonu Beach, near Kaanapali.  You can see why most of the non-Hawaiian locals call it Airport Beach.  Alii is a beautiful stretch of sand on the island paradise of Maui, and while I was sunning I was reading The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis.  

I was doing some research for the book I’m writing (“Dancing With the Healer;” see DWTH references in this blogsite), and that day I was comparing my writing with that of Lewis’.  I did some self-examination – a personal gut check that I referred to earlier.  Was I setting out to write a best seller, or produce a work that would elevate me in the eyes of people?  Was I writing for money?

That why I wrote the following in the flyleaf of Lewis’ book:

I’m under no illusions.  What I have written so far is not profound.  You want profound?  Read C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed or Kurtz and Ketcham’s The Spirituality of Imperfection.

What I have written is a story, told by an average storyteller.  My preferred style of storytelling is verbal, but because I’m producing a book I’ve tried my best to write like I talk.  

Because I try to keep my audience with me when I’m speaking, I pause from time to time so those listening can catch up.  How do you do that – pause for effect – when you’re writing.  Ah!  I’ll adopt a style, well-spoken of or not, that will cause the reader to hesitate for just a moment so I can catch my breath.  I’ll use ellipses … those magical three dots that allow the reader to take a break, mid-thought.

What I like about writing stories as opposed to telling/talking a story is the opportunity to rewrite.  A rewrite is an author’s “do over.”  It allows the writer to edit, to clarify, and to amplify his thoughts.

The goal of the storyteller, I am told, is to engage the listener, or reader in the case of a book, and hold their attention until they “get it,” that is, they GET what you’re trying to say.  I want my readers to understand, to grasp my meaning.

But here’s the rub:  no reader can fully understand the writer’s meaning.  Not fully.  That’s true in the case of Dancing With the Healer.  I’m endeavoring to tell two stories, actually – my story and Vicki’s story.  Our stories interwoven.  And both stories are complex.

Vicki died.  She’s gone “to be with the Lord.”  She can’t tell her story verbally, except in bits and pieces via a few MP3s, CDs, and DVDs.  And yet she left behind some remarkable “things” that help her tell her story.  These things are proof that she truly (and fully) LIVED.  

Brandon and Chris, our sons, are proof that she lived and loved.  And then there are photos, and friendships.  And there’s me – a man changed and enriched by her life and love.  

And there are five little booklets.  Journals.  Beginning in 1982, Vicki faithfully recorded her experiences, thoughts, and prayers.  Her journals are very intimate, and they are proof that she truly lived.

Vicki eventually decided that she wanted her journals shared.  In 1982 she didn’t write for anyone but herself, but as her life was coming to a close she and I talked about not only sharing her thoughts and experiences with our family, but with friends … and then with anyone who would care to hear what she had to say.  

My role, as storyteller, is to stay true to the promise that I made to Vicki in the Winter of 2002.  She asked me to help make sharing her journals possible.  She asked me to “fill in the blanks,” comment on the context of her journal entries, and put it all into a readable format.

Humbly, I’m trying to keep that promise.  I’m doing my best.  I’m trying to tell the story … our stories … as honestly and transparently as I can.  If anyone chooses to read Dancing With the Healer, my hope is they come away from the reading sometimes challenged, sometimes refreshed, and always a little closer to God.

Why I’m Writing DWTH

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I have been a pastor, or engaged in some form of specialized ministry since 1971, so when I let everyone know I was going to resign from Trinity Assembly of God in 2005, it caught my family and friends off guard.

“What will you do, and where will you do it?” were the questions I heard most often, and my answer was, “I’m going to sell my home, move to Hawaii, write a very special book, and find time to write some articles for pastoral trade journals.”

Not many had a problem with the idea of me moving to Hawaii, and several put in the common request when someone announces their intention to move to paradise: “Need any help?” When I said to one guy, “Yeah, you can help me get my house in shape so I can put it on the market,” he smiled and walked away laughing. “Qualls, you’re such a tease.” But I wasn’t kiddin’.

My plan after leaving TAG was to use my savings and the proceeds from the sale of my house to cover what minimal expenses I would encounter. I didn’t know how long my cache would last, but I figured that when my funds decreased to a certain level I’d seek employment, somewhere. By that time I hoped to have the bulk of the book finished.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “Minimal expenses! On Maui? Is he nuts? He’s moving to Maui for crying out loud!” Then I’d explain that my sister Claudette, and her husband Gene, had graciously invited me to come live – rent free – with them for a while. They had a lovely home on the island, overlooking Kahana and Napili bays. When you looked north from their lanai you could see the fairways and greens of Kapalua. Looking south you could make out the high rise condos of the Kaanapali resort village. Their home was also a stone’s throw from where my oldest son, Brandon, lived … and seven thousand miles closer to my other son, Chris, who was living in China. I could walk to the beach, or drive a short distance to play some of the best golf courses on the planet. Not bad, eh?

Now I ask you, who couldn’t write in a setting like that?

After nodding in approval (and trying to veil their jealousy), next I was asked, “Why are you writing this book?” Knowing that I had never been published, and being polite, my kith and kin were concerned about it’s “emotional nature,” and that I’d have no regular salary.

I’d explain my strategy for dealing with the financial issues, and then tackle the trickiness of the book question. I was as honest as I could be, in hindsight. I gave several reasons for writing it in the order that I was feeling at the time.

My first response early on was, “I made a promise to Vic, and I’m going to keep it.” That is still my first reason for writing. It is a book born out of the deepest kind of love between a man and a woman. It is truly a labor of love, and mirrors the commitments to Vicki I kept throughout our marriage.

Next I’d say that I want to provide our sons and progeny a record of a wonderful life. I want my sons to know their mother in a more intimate way, to better under-stand her earthly priorities, and to read about her dreams for and about them. I want my sons’ wives to “know” their mother-in-law. I also want her grandchildren to have something to hold that was “hers.”

These first two reasons for writing have not changed.

The first two objectives are personal and familial. The last intention can be distilled to this: I hope to inspire.

I know there will be people picking up a copy of this book who are looking for answers to serious questions about the immaterial part of battling a terminal illness. I’ll share what I’ve learned while observing an extraordinary woman dance her way through tumultuous times. I have some strong opinions. I’ll be candid. And I hope Vicki’s sincerity and frankness will inspire you to dance with The Healer, too, understanding there are treatments even the most skilled surgeons can’t provide unless they understand the spiritual dynamics of dealing with disease.

I hope to inspire couples with dysfunctional marriages to find healing in their home. After reading our story, I believe couples headed toward marital breakup will be encouraged to seek out a solution. Marital discord is so much like cancer. Such discord eats away at the core of a relationship until something dies in the soul of one or both partners. Depression soon robs the relationship of its vitality. But there’s hope!

I hope to inspire the spiritually curious to investigate the life and teachings of Jesus, maybe for

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 a second time. If you haven’t taken a good look at Him lately, I think you’ll see Him activity at work in our life-story. Then I hope you’ll become fascinated.

I hope to inspire pastors, who most often live lives of quiet desperation, to develop meaningful collegial relationships. My father used to say, “The banana that gets separated from the bunch gets skinned!” That was his way to saying, “There is no way we, especially in the ministry, can go it alone.” I feel very strongly that “going it alone” in ministry is a sure-fire way of setting yourself up for trouble. And because I’m one of you, I think I get most (at least many) of concerns pastors and ministers have. I think I understand the fear of betrayal that develops in our hearts in proportion to the closeness of the relationship, whether it be peer or professional. I think I understand the root of many pastoral stressors that causes our occasional depressions to look Goliath-like. For the most part I get the nature of ministry, with its blindsides, hostilities, and threats. Been there. So, I’m writing for pastors.

I also hope to help and then inspire, coincidentally, those who have been spiritually abused by a few popular pastors and Christian “teachers.” Religious abuse happens. It can be sexual or psychological. Every kind of abuse certainly is spiritual.

Not everything that comes our way through Christian media outlets or from Christian bookstores is from the throne room of God. Some of the stuff desperate people are exposed to in times of unbelievable difficulty is whimsical, faddish, or heretical. There’s a lot of confused and anxious people in the Church of Jesus Christ buying in to some really goofy teachings that further muddle innocent minds.

I’m sharing our story so that vulnerable believers will have another point of view because many Christ-followers are told they are sick, diseased, going through trials, or financially wanting because they lack faith, that there’s sin in their life, they let some stray thought become a confession, or God is hacked off at them for only-He-knows why. So I’m writing for those who need to hear something biblical that doesn’t need to be dug out of the Scriptures by a prophet who has a special revelation, but can be discovered by any truth seeker.

I’m writing to inspire hope.

May God help me.

A Time To Dance, by Joan Rhoden

hp_scands_672419202815.jpgThis article appeared in the Pentecostal Evangel magazine on Mother’s Day, May of 2001 (http://pe.ag.org/Articles2001/4540_rhoden.cfm).  Joan Rhoden lives in Richmond, Virginia, and is the wife of former District Superintendent, Dr. H. Robert (“Bob”) Rhoden.   Joan and Bob have been my friends from 25 years, and Joan wrote this article shortly after Vicki, my wife, was dramatically healed of ovarian cancer.

Come on, Vicki, dance with Me.

These were strange words for a Pentecostal pastor’s wife to hear. Born and reared in a traditional Assemblies of God family, Vicki Qualls was not exactly savvy to ballroom etiquette. She laughed out loud as she sensed in her spirit that God was speaking and wanted to take the lead.

But I’m getting a little ahead of my story.

In October 1998, after what was supposed to be a routine surgical procedure, it was discovered that Vicki had cancer. The type of cancer was determined to be uterine and ovarian and very aggressive. A complete hysterectomy was performed, followed by six months of precautionary chemotherapy. By all appearances it was successful. Vicki was pronounced cancer-free.

But a peculiar pain surfaced in April 2000, gnawing away at her side and back. This time a CT scan revealed a mass attached to a muscle in her back and wrapped around her aorta. It was deemed inoperable because of its location and hemorrhaging potential. The news wasn’t as shocking as the first time, but it was certainly more devastating. So much so that it literally bowled Vicki over — she fainted. “I didn’t know that happened in real life,” says Vicki. “I thought that only happened in Southern novels.”

The joking quickly vanished as Vicki and her husband, Lowell, went home to wrestle with God over what action to pursue. What does faith require? Doing nothing and expecting God to take over? Or exhausting all human options and then watching God step in? After much prayer and research, the Quallses opted for an extreme nutritional plan as well as a new, mild form of chemo with fewer side effects.

At this point, Vicki became enveloped in an unexplainable blanket of joy and peace. She talked to her church family at Trinity Assembly of God in Richmond, Va., explaining what was happening to her. Then, again, at the Potomac District Ministers Institute, she addressed her colleagues with a message of hope that whether she was healed or not, God would be glorified and people drawn to Him. She thanked her peers for passionately praying for her healing. “But whether I live or die,” she assured them, “I win. My future is secure in heaven.” She urged them to pray with equal passion for unsaved friends whose eternal destinies weren’t secure.

As she suffered during lonely days and nights, a new friendship with Jesus emerged. It was while Vicki walked and talked with her Friend that the “dance with Me” invitation came. It also dawned on her that God had prepared her for this trial.

Seven years earlier, in 1991, she had penned a curious journal entry. She was attending a Women’s Ministries Getaway and heard Marigold Cheshier’s vibrant testimony of her healing from cancer. The atmosphere was charged with faith. When she returned to her room, Vicki wrote: “I’m tired of being ordinary … I long for God’s power to work in me and through me to touch others.” Then she wrote about a strange foreboding that swept over her. She felt that God was going to allow her to deal with a personal tragedy — maybe even cancer. Whatever happened, it would be all right. “Pain could be my friend,” she wrote.

The seven years between the journal entry and her illness were laden with other challenges. Her sons, Brandon and Chris, went through some teen-age prodigal years. But they both returned to the Lord, are filled with the Spirit and alive with faith today. Her husband battled a debilitating siege of depression for 18 months.

So God had been at work, time and again proving himself trustworthy. Vicki let God take the lead.

Then more bad news. The nutritional plan and chemotherapy were not working. The tumor continued to grow. Ultimately, it grew to the size of a football, pressing on her back and protruding from her right side. She decided to stop all treatment, placing her future in God’s hands.

In January 2001, a new scan got her doctor’s immediate attention. With guarded excitement he told her, “I don’t understand what has happened, but your tumor is now positioned differently. It no longer appears to be attached to your aorta, and it seems to have a clear margin almost all the way around it.” It had encased itself in what he described as a thick, leathery shell and looked like it was operable.

4540_quallsdoctor.jpgSurgery was scheduled for January 26. A vascular transplant surgeon was called in to help Charles Jones, her gynecologic oncologist. Two units of blood were on standby in preparation for a potential transfusion. The operating room at Henrico Doctors Hospital in Richmond, Va., was reserved for a four-hour surgery. Dr. Jones was confident for he knew the divine Surgeon.

(Lowell, Dr. Charles Jones III, Vicki) 

After just two hours he appeared in the waiting lounge, grinning from ear to ear. “Pastor Lowell,” he said to Vicki’s husband, “I’ve never seen anything like this. It came out!” He hardly had to cut — removing it mostly with his hands. No transfusion was needed.

Two days later the pathology report revealed the healthy tissue around the perimeter of the tumor was cancer-free, but the most amazing thing of all was the tumor itself. Its blood supply had been cut off. The cancer cells inside were either dead or in the process of dying — an “abortive state,” the doctors called it. God had destroyed all the cells, and because of that no follow-up treatment was recommended. “I’ve never seen this before in all my years of practice,” says Dr. Jones. “As physicians God has provided us with tools and gifts to treat our patients, but these gifts have limitations that only God can overcome with miracles. God has blessed all of us with His miraculous intervention in this healing.”

How does she feel about what has happened? “I’m awestruck,” Vicki says. “It’s been a very serious, awesome, holy thing. It is just God’s grace — no merit of mine.”

Questions still face the players in this medical drama: What does God want us to do with this experience? What do we say to people who are still praying for healing? “We’re all going to die,” Vicki has told some of her friends who struggle with cancer. “Some of us just die sooner than others. The most important thing is our relationship with God and how we live out whatever days He gives us.”

Vicki Qualls will never be the same again. She is healed — and is dancing with her Healer.

January 2008 Update

First, I’m really pleased to tell you that I’m making great progress with “The Vicki Book.” This month I’ve stayed in my creative (rather than editing) mind, and it’s paid off in many pages produced.

Some have asked me if I’m working with a publisher. Not yet. I want to have the whole book finished before I go to a publishing house. I’m not concerned about making money on this project – my first book – so signing with a publisher, while it may not make financial sense, makes “distribution sense” to me. I don’t know if I’ll use a denominational publishing house, unless their distribution system is multi-faceted.

As you know, in writing the book I’m keeping two promises – each with equal weight. That is my motivation for writing “Dancing With The Healer.” I’m keeping a promise I made to Vicki and one I made to God. I believe God wants me tell her life story, and honor Him in the process.

A good friend of mine (from Liverpool, England) is helping me develop a web site that will be used exclusively to tell Vicki’s story, sell DWTH, and provide MP3s, CDs, and DVDs of her teachings and sermons.

Keep me in your prayers!