I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my [sickness] and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
We are so thankful to God for all of you. Thank you so much for all your texts, emails, prayers, visits, gift cards, work freebies, and acts of service surrounding this whole situation. It has been felt and appreciated, and we hope to thank all you personally as we move forward.
It obviously helps both Keri and I knowing the family has been surrounded by people who want to help, and who are helping. It has made this initial hospital stint completely tolerable and manageable, and we can’t thank you enough for your help.
Shelby Health Update
After some initial targeted chemo treatments early on, I did the atom bomb of chemo treatments, which basically kills everything, good and bad. This stuff is so severe the I can only ever really do it once, as my heart and body can’t take it more than once. This is the stuff that we only ever see and hear about that makes everyone sick. Thankfully, apart from some “mild” nausea and fatigue, I was able to recover a few days after it was over. They then did one more targeted chemo treatment a few days later, which has left me with some pretty severe ulcers in my mouth. This is by far the worst “side effect” I have experienced so far, which still leaves me pretty thankful overall.
Other than that, the most trying part has been the lumbar punctures (spinal taps) I’ve had to endure. Because leukemia is in your blood, they have to be diligent about making sure they can kill it anyplace blood might be able to get, which is why leukemia is so squirrelly this way. One place the cancer can get is in your spinal fluid, which if left unchecked, could access your brain. My first lumbar puncture was bedside, and they were able to access the sack behind my spine so they could grab a sample of the fluid to test. It was confirmed there were cancer cells in my spinal fluid, so they went ahead and did a chemo treatment right then. This just meant I would need to go through about four more of these, to keep checking the samples and make sure the chemo was indeed killing what was in there. They tried again bedside a few days later, and just couldn’t access that sack again, so they referred me to radiology the next day to do it under the X-ray. The process itself was easier than bedside, but they ended up “sticking” me 3 times to try and extract fluid, but they could never get the fluid to come out. They still ended up administering the chemo, but said they couldn’t do that again without extracting a sample first to keep testing it. While the procedure itself isn’t terrible, I was in shock for a few days after that, and my back is still sore from it.
Thankfully, my medical team ended up ordering me an MRI to see if they could pinpoint a better place in my spine to try and access that fluid, and a few days later I went in for the next treatment. The attending Radiologist was actually there, and the new fellow on my medical team was there too assist, and after looking at the MRI, they were able to find a spot on the first try, extract all the fluid they needed, and administer the chemo. Twenty minutes later, they sent me packing. It was a huge answer to prayers. I did one more yesterday (Monday) that had the same medical team in place, and it went as smoothly as the previous one, and my last one is scheduled for this Thursday.
Right now, I am finishing a short round of steroids, as well as some injections to start boosting my white blood cell count before they release me to the Coronavirus. So I’m entering into a monitoring phase right now. Feeling better. Trying to be as active as I can around here. Weight loss has been a little more drastic than maybe I initially anticipated (I have officially entered “high school weight” territory). My discharge date is set for March 27th, but I’m hoping and praying that I can be out earlier, maybe even by the 24th/25th. After that, I will learn what the ensuing months will begin to look like, as well as what the future possibility of a bone marrow/stem cell transplant will entail.
Praying for Keri
We are just at the beginning of what Murphy life 2.0 is gonna look like going forward, and while Keri and the support system around her have been amazing, pray that she would continue to receive and know comfort, and strength, and peace, and stability from something outside herself and those immediately around her.
The LORD is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is Zion’s treasure.
Pray that she would have something “firm” beneath her, and that her ultimate comfort and stability and safety and shelter would be found in the Lord. That she would call out to him in times where only he alone can sustain her.
A Few Lessons Learned and Learning
So teach [me] to number [my] days that [I] may get a heart of wisdom.
That was the Psalm we prayed during our Ash Wednesday service kicking off Lent, which also happened to be the same day I received my diagnosis. How many times have I prayed that prayer? And how many times has God actually taught me to “number my days”? Well this reality is slowly seeping into my heart.
In some ways, my previous update was easy to write. I was only a few days deep into what is slowly dawning on me will be a much larger and longer hardship; including much larger trials, and emotional and physical sufferings. All of this has afforded me ample opportunity think about the ways I encouraged you to pray for me initially, as well as the ways my days are being “numbered”:
- Whatever allusion of youth, strength, health, and wisdom I may have been holding onto is quickly fading, if not gone entirely. I am a weak, broken, needy, dependent sinner, in need of a God who can identify with the sufferings I am experiencing now, as well as offer me a hopeful and assured future that is free of cancer. I can’t do any of this on my own. I can’t handle life on my own right now. The good times or the hard times. I realize that I am more reliant on the grace of Jesus than I ever imagined, so I want to do things today that have lasting value.
[I am] a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
I want to hear about my wife’s day, my kids sports and Playstation stories; I want to hear the nurses stories about their weekends and families; I want to hear about the interns crazy schedule the next two weeks. I have been forced to be unhurried and undistracted, and I want to be present with the people God brings into my life today. I want to be an encouragement to them, and show my gratitude and appreciation to them. Today, and the people God brings into it for me, are a gift from God, and I don’t want to waste this opportunity.
- I continue to pray that I wouldn’t waste this cancer in helping destroy any appetite for sin in my life. When God looks at me, I suspect he doesn’t see cancer as my most serious problem. He’s most interested in what’s happening in the part of me that can’t be poked, scanned, or medicated. The most important healing in all this will address my sinful heart and mind. The longer I have sat with this thought, the more I feel the tragedy of potentially being healed of cancer, yet having a soul still plagued by sin.
Leukemia did not appear in me by some random genetic accident, but ultimately entered my life by the sovereign will of God. And I continue to find great comfort in trusting he permitted my cancer to achieve some deeper, eternal purpose. God will ultimately use the broken things of this sin-cursed world to accomplish his will for my good and his glory. As Demetrius is fond of saying, “God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines.”
2 Corinthians 12:9–10
[The Lord’s] grace is sufficient for [me], for [his] power is made perfect in [my] weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Because of this, I want to continue to learn to pay close attention to my inner man, especially as my outer man deteriorates. I am reminded of Paul reminding Timothy:
1 Timothy 1:5
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
- I continue to pray that this would deepen my affection for Christ, and cause me to lean in to him throughout all these hardships. I was never promised a pain-free life, but here’s what has been promised to me:
I am promised that his “power is made perfect in weakness” (1 Corinthians 12:9), and that “he who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). And what is this good work? To be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). Jesus Christ has put on display the grace of God through his suffering (Hebrews 2:9–10); and now through suffering, I can know Christ better and become more like him (Philippians 3:10).
Very Practical Aside – The Dwell scripture listening app has been absolutely life-giving for me during my time here. Whether laying in bed at night, or in the morning with my own thoughts and fears and anxieties, it has been refreshing to simply LISTEN to God’s Word. This app has also proven timely for me as I’ve had to endure some pretty trying tests and procedures, which leave me crying in my room on my back for extended periods of time. The app has many “playlists” geared towards specific things, which I’ve listened to a lot of. In addition, I’ve made it a point to listen through Philippians daily every morning as a daily reminder that:
what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,
- I am not indispensable. Throughout this process, it has been an absolute joy for me to work and pray with some of you as I have relieved myself of some of my regular week to week duties around Redemption Hill Church. It has been a welcome reminder that JESUS promised he will build his church (Matthew 16:18), not Shelby. God WILL accomplish his work of redeeming a people from every tribe and tongue (Revelation 5:9; 7:9–10), not the strategies of Shelby.
To date, I have been privileged to have a small role in the big story he is writing at Redemption Hill Church, but I am not the center of the story, and its successful ending doesn’t hinge on my skills or talents. If anything, it has been a remarkable testament to his power that he’s been able to accomplish ANYTHING through me.
2 Corinthians 4:7
We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
As funny as it may sound to some, I’m guilty of taking myself way too seriously, and it has been exciting to see others step up throughout this and lead. This is ultimately a beautiful picture of the church.
- Finally, I asked for prayer to not waste this cancer as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ. It became apparent to me early on that the best way to do this is simply by loving, and encouraging, and expressing my gratitude to every doctor, nurse, and staff member I came into contact with, all in the midst of my own weakness. I want to be as candid and honest with them as they walk with me through various test, expressing any anxiety I have, all the while being candid and honest on why I can have hope in the midst of all this.
As I walk and pray these hallways on a daily basis, listening to other patients and nurses, I am learning that cancer provides a temptation to turn inward and become self-focused, and an all too real roadblock to actually loving other people. All this had lead to daily intercession from me for all the care-givers around here. I want to know all their names. They have all cared for me so well. They earn a living by showing practical love, which I’m learning is an extraordinary means of common grace around here. They are a gift from God to the patients and families on this floor, whether they know it or not. So I want to simply recognize them as a way of loving them back; by expressing my gratitude and appreciation to them as much as I can, while taking every opportunity to explain why I can be hopeful and joyful because of what Jesus has done for me in the midst of all this.
Cancer has provided me an opportunity so far to demonstrate, and pray for, and encourage the people I come into contact with regularly around here. Stuff that maybe prior to all this, might have simply been head knowledge for me when it came to processing suffering biblically, both with and for other people. I am keenly aware that have been given a unique platform for speaking into the lives of a lot of not-yet believers on this floor, as well as the believers I encounter, and I don’t want to waste this opportunity while I’m here.
Continued Practical Ways to Help and Encourage
If you still wanted to do anything meal or money-wise, the best way to continue to contribute to the Murphy family is through simple gift cards right now (Walmart, Kroger, Sheetz, Wawa, Visa-type cards). These have been a Godsend for us the past few weeks, as it has lessened the grocery and gas burden on Keri and our Nissan Quest.
As far as continued encouragement goes, I want to take a moment to cut through some of the awkwardness some of you experience when it comes to knowing what to do in situations like this. And believe me, I say all this having felt this nervous energy myself when knowing what to do or say with people who are now in my situation:
- No, there is not much you can DO for me physically right now. There will come a time once I am back home where I can let people know of any physical needs I have, but right now, I am being cared for well by the doctors and nurses here, all under the providential care of the Master Healer.
- Text messages and emails are of great comfort to me right now. Even just knowing that you’re praying for me is huge. A lot of my time is in isolation at the moment, praying by myself, praying for strength and comfort, and to be able to know and feel God is with me, especially during some of these harder procedures. To have someone else come along beside me, praying that same thing, is huge. Don’t underestimate your seemingly short and innocuous texts. They carry weighty and eternal significance for me right now.
- I love receiving visitors, and have been the recipient of many a visitor daily. They are pretty liberal with visitation around here, and it has been good to see many of you and catch up, and to have you pray with me. Don’t be afraid to swing by.
- I know many of you simply don’t know what to say to people in times like this. Again, this was me prior to all this. I know sometimes it can come off as trite and shallow. But hear me: no one is systematically critiquing your gospel encouragement in times like this. I have been encouraged each and every time I received a text that simply read, “You don’t have to write back, but I wanted you to know I’m praying for you.” When my brain has been foggy from chemo, or I lay on the bed crying after a trying procedure, I have loved having people remind me of God’s presence by sending Scripture verses, quotes from hymns, and links to whatever worship songs they are listening to right now.
I am painfully aware that none of this is easy. Even with the above advice, we will still make missteps and endure some awkward encounters, but it is too easy for us to feel discouraged or completely helpless as we watch people we love suffer, therefore we do nothing. My prayer is that through all this, the hearts of the people at Redemption Hill Church will grow in steadfastness, not only because of my situation, but because of countless other similar situations that are already going on, or will in the near future. And God wants us to be able to respond well in situations like this. As Romans 5 promises:
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.
The undergirding truth here is that the One who will ultimately wipe every tear from our eyes one day, sees and knows our suffering, our heartaches and needs. He sees and knows our friends’ heartache and needs as they experience cancer. So we can lean into him as we come alongside those we love who are experiencing times like this, simply by being present. We can rest and be assured of the faithfulness of Jesus, our Savior, the Man of Sorrows, and our perfect Friend, as we enter into suffering with others.