Tag Archives: cancer

God’s Will?


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late Father Andrew Greeley wrote, “We are born with two incurable diseases, life, from which we die, and hope, which says maybe death isn’t the end.”

With Judy recovering from her surgery and things looking much more positive than a few weeks ago I have been doing some reflecting. One thing that really impressed me was how Judy handled this from beginning to end. She was concerned and worried much of the time, of course, when you get diagnosed with Cancer you should be worried, because you never know what course the disease will take, and what might even happen during surgery or subsequent treatments. I know people who thought that they were on the way to recovery who died unexpectedly due to an adverse reaction to chemotherapy.

That being said Judy never asked “why me?” nor did she attribute this to “God’s will” or try to rationalize it by saying that “God was testing her faith” or any of this other quasi-providential but really fatalistic bullshit. Her reaction to this mirrored much of what I believed when I returned from Iraq when there were times that I easily could have been injured, wounded or even killed in incidents that were all too similar to others who were injured, killed or wounded. Of course here I am referring to visible physical wounds, not the Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury that has so messed with my mind. Like Judy I never asked “why me?’ of attributed what happened to me to being “God’s will” or the “providence of God.”

I tend to agree with Confederate Colonel William Oates whose 15th Alabama fought so bravely and unsuccessfully against Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine at Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863 at Gettysburg. After the war, Oates, who was a Christian, reflected about God’s role in the battle and noted that he believed that God, “endowed men with the power of acting for themselves and with responsibility for their acts. When we went to war it was a matter of business, of difference of opinion among men about their temporal affairs. God had nothing to do with it. He never diverted a bullet from one man, or caused it to hit another, nor directed who should fall or who should escape, nor how the battle should terminate. If I believed in such intervention of Providence I would be a fatalist….”

I apply that to all of life, I do not believe that God intentionally afflicts people with disease, or directs events so they are killed. I don’t believe that it is God’s will for people to suffer from terrible diseases or directs bullets, speeding cars or other things which kill young men and women, children or other innocents.

I know that from the beginning of time that people have attributed things that they cannot endure to God, the Devil, or in some cultures gods and devils, or even to attribute such things as God’s punishment for the “sins” of individuals and even their descendants. I know that helps some people, sometimes I think even some of the writers of scripture to frame suffering; as a whole people need to credit or blame someone for terrible things that happen.

I cringe when I hear people say that they are suffering because it is God’s will, or that God is testing them, or I see something that a terrible natural disaster that kills thousands of people is an “act of God.” To be truthful I cannot believe that God is so cruel and capricious to be in that kind of business, and if indeed God is really that way I would rather be an atheist than go to seek a heaven ruled by such a being. And yes, I know that as a Christian that this puts me in a minority. I simply believe that as Jesus so wisely noted that “the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike,” in other words that it is called life, or the human condition, and all of us have to deal with it. To be somewhat crude I believe that shit happens and we have to deal with it.

I cannot imagine a God who wills, plans, and condones genocide, slavery,Infanticide, wars of aggression waged in his name, and every imaginable form of suffering known to humanity. I cannot image a God who so so earnestly believe inflicts such grievous suffering on his children. If we were to apply the standards of justice that we apply to human fathers who abuse or kill their children to God we would do ourselves good and we would probably lock him away for consecutive life terms, but our human need for explaining this prevents us from asking hard questions to the God that we claim to believe. Mark Twain wrote: “The best minds will tell you that when a man has begotten a child he is morally bound to tenderly care for it, protect it from hurt, shield it from disease, clothe it, feed it, bear with its waywardness, lay no hand upon it save in kindness and for its own good, and never in any case inflict upon it a wanton cruelty. God’s treatment of his earthly children, every day and every night, is the exact opposite of all that, yet those best minds warmly justify these crimes, condone them, excuse them, and indignantly refuse to regard them as crimes at all, when he commits them. Your country and mine is an interesting one, but there is nothing there that is half so interesting as the human mind.”

That being said I do live in hope, which is a part of my faith, a faith which is in things that I cannot understand nor can I prove. In this I do believe that God somehow gives people, even people that religious people call “non-believers” a grace to deal with tragedy, illness, suffering and death. I have to believe that because I have often seen non-Christians endure suffering and tragedy with a grace that many Christians, intent on finding a biblical or theological reason for such events do not display. When I think of this I am reminded of Jesus’s remarks about the Centurion who asked him to heal his servant and when Jesus offers to come tells Jesus that he is not worthy for Jesus to come under his roof, but to only speak the word and his servant should be healed (Matthew 8:5-13). The interesting thing about the passage is that the word used for servant is a Greek word for servant which only occurs once in the New Testament, the word Pais. In ancient Greek literature the term denotes a homosexual relationship, that of a man with his houseboy. In other words, Jesus healed a Roman, gentile, pagan Centurion’s homosexual lover, and had the nerve to say that he had “not seen such faith in Israel.” Since the writer of Matthew used the word Pais instead of the word doulos for servant it had to be deliberate and he had to know what he was doing, but I digress…

While I do not believe that God directs or permits death and suffering, I do believe that God is not absent in suffering that people endure, that God “Emmanuel” is with us, all of us; that God suffers with us, for that is the message of Jesus, the crucified one. I also believe that God who is with us, weeps with us as well as rejoices with us. That may not be a good answer for some who want to prove that God is behind everything, nor for those who do not believe in God at all.

I’m sure that some will consider what I wrote today as blasphemy, but then I have to agree with Mark Twain who wrote, “Blasphemy? No, it is not blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, he is above blasphemy; if He is as little as that, He is beneath it.”

Have a great night,


Padre Steve+


Filed under christian life, faith, Religion

Christians and Pagans: Glad for You All


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I want to say thank you. In the past couple of months Judy and I have undergone a tremendous amount of stress. She was diagnosed with Endometrial Cancer at the beginning of July that was after we found that she had suspicious granular cells the same day in early May when we had to have our oldest dog, Molly put down. That scared the hell out of me, all I could think was “both of them, no!” Since then all I could think was that I had lost the dog who helped say my life after Iraq and the only woman I have ever loved who coincidentally is probably the only person who could have put up with my long-standing love affair with my other mistresses, the United State Army and Navy.

Judy went through a D & C at the end of June, actually the day of our 32nd wedding anniversary that showed the cancer. Her OBGYN immediately made a referral asking that the case be handled promptly. He did not want to take any chance that the cancer would spread. Sadly, the first surgeon we were referred to kicked the can on surgery to the end of August. That caused us after a fair amount of consternation, especially when we found out that the doctor was going to be on vacation for a good part of July and August, something that neither she or her staff told us.

That led to a lot of anxiety, and when we found that we had been lied to we went back to her OBGYN, a very wonderful doctor who referred us to another OB-Oncologist who saw us two working days from the referral and in surgery a week later. Today we got the results from the pathology that they caught things early enough, the cancer had just barely begun to spread to the muscle lining of the uterus and that with the hysterectomy that there is a 95% plus chance of a complete cure with no further treatment, just periodic monitoring to make sure nothing comes back.

During the past couple of months we have had a lot of encouragement from a lot of people, some who are Christians and other people who are not. In fact many of those who are not Christians would be considered bound for hell by many people who claim the name of Jesus. They are mostly friends from our favorite haunt, the bar at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach. Most of them we have known for years. They are friends, some Christians of various denominations, but people who don’t wear their faith on their underwear. There are others who are Wiccans, Jews, Moslems, Atheists and Agnostics, straight people, as well as Gays and Lesbians, and people who still have some kind of faith but are no longer a part of any religious denomination. These are people that some pollsters refer to as the “Nones,” or no religious preference.

Some people might be offended at what I say now, but that is okay. We have been members of many churches over our lives, and yes, we still have friends from those churches who are dear friends who would do anything for anyone, showing the love of God through simple human care to anyone. We love and value those people, they are too numerous to name. At the same time as far as churches that we have been members of, that is another matter, I cannot think of a single church, chapel or congregation that has been more compassionate, caring or wonderful in their care than the people at Gordon Biersch, no church we have belonged to has ever been sop caring. Our general manager Eric was the first visitor. Our friend from the bar, Barb brought a card signed by everyone she could get, along with flowers and a gift basket. Others showed up too, including a Catholic priest who through the machinations of a corrupt bishop is currently unassigned, though his heart is all for carrying the love of Christ to people, no-matter who they are or what their faith.

I contrast this with the supposed care of some people and churches, in fact most demining the pastor of the evangelical church which first ordained me in 1991 who told a parishioner who asked how sick he would have to be to get a pastoral visit in hospital “you don’t want to be that sick.” I kid you not, the pastor joked about it in his Sunday sermon. Sadly, that is par for the course. Many of the people that we have known from churches in the area have simply said that “they would pray” even though Judy just wanted a visitor or someone to hang out with during the anxious weeks before the surgery. I value and appreciate prayer, but if someone lives within a few minute drive and can’t be bothered to stop by or even make a phone call I wonder how sincere the promise of prayer is.

I have also been blessed by my fellow faculty and staff at the Joint Forces Staff College who have helped make my life easier over the past few months, people, who like our friends at Biersch represent a wide spectrum of belief, and all want to find a way to help in some practical way. My students too, in my ethics class and Gettysburg Staff ride have been wonderful, checking on me and letting me know that they are thinking about or praying for Judy. This includes both of the Saudi Arabian officers in my ethics class, both who have checked in on me and let me know that they are praying for Judy.

That being said, our “Nones” show a better witness of Jesus than many who call themselves Christians. Maybe that is why according to so many polls and studies that so many people are fleeing the church, or organized religion in general. Many it is because they are cared for more than those who we have so often denigrated as “Pagans” than those who beat their chests about the rightness of the Christian faith and support supposedly “Christian” politicians who tell us why they should rule others who do not believe like them through the power of the government and the courts; but then when people have forgotten the basics of the love of God, all they have left to rely on is force to maintain their rule over others.

Christians and Pagans. I love them all, especially those who demonstrate the love and care of God to others, even those who they may not agree with theologically, politically or philosophically. But then doesn’t that go to the heart of the Gospel?

Anyway, hopefully Judy comes home tomorrow or no later than Sunday and we can get her back to 100% within the next few weeks.

To my readers here on the page, those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I am grateful for your kind words, thoughts and prayers. It really does mean a lot to both of us.

Have a great night and thank you so much,


Padre Steve+


Filed under christian life, faith

Too Young: In Memory Commander Marsha Hanly, Nurse Corps US Navy

LCDR Marsha Hanly caring for a patient in the ICU of the USNS Comfort 

“Nursing is an art:  and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or dead marble, compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit?  It is one of the Fine Arts:  I had almost said, the finest of Fine Arts.”  Florence Nightingale

This afternoon I was stunned to learn that a very dear co-worker and friend from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth had unexpectedly passed away. Marsha Hanly was a ICU Nurse who arrived at Portsmouth about the same time I did in 2008. She had just completed a Master of Science in Nursing at Duke with a specialization in Adult Critical Care nursing.  Marsha exemplified all that is good in nursing and was as devoted to her calling as Florence Nightingale described.

I remember what seem like countless times where I stood beside Marsha as she cared for critically ill or dying patients, comforted their families and helped the other nurses and physicians in the ICU. I also cannot count the number of times that she stood by me as I prayed for patients as they lay in critical condition. She was an outstanding nurse and Naval Officer as well as one of the most kind and compassionate people that I have ever met. She was devoted to her husband and children and to the welfare of those committed to her care. She was funny and joyful person who was real. She was a committed Christian, wife, mother and fantastic nurse. She could laugh and she could cry, she really loved and cared for those that she served.

Last year Marsha deployed on the Hospital Ship USNS Comfort as part of Operation Continuing Promise, a medical mission to the Caribbean Sea, South and Central America. While deployed she was selected for Commander in the Nurse Corps. She returned late in the Summer and in November was diagnosed with Cancer. She underwent successful surgery which left her cancer free but in need of Chemotherapy to ensure that she remained so. She returned to work in late April and began her Chemo this week. Her last post on her Caring Bridge blog ( http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/mahanly )talked about how she described what she believed would be the course of her Chemotherapy, side effects and how long it would take. She was looking to the future and even to this weekend with her children. I don’t know the circumstances of her death but imagine that it was a sudden and catastrophic event related to the Chemo in some way.

When I read the news on Facebook, where I keep up with my friends from that ICU as well as so many others in my life I was stunned. As I read the comments of her fellow nurses and my former co-workers, nurses and physicians alike I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I couldn’t believe it because I simply expected this otherwise healthy, young and vibrant woman to sail through Chemo and completely recover. I am so stunned that I cannot believe that his has happened.

This is one of those times where I ask God “why?” I have to admit that I cannot understand this and I have a hard time with the whole “God’s will” thing when things like this happen to people like Marsha. People that devote their lives to caring for others and raising their young children.  I grieve for her husband and kids, I remember her bringing them in to work sometimes.  I pray for her husband Scott and their two young

Likewise I grieve for those who knew and loved her in the Portsmouth ICU. For those that have not been closely connected with those that labor in critical care specialties like a busy ICU there are few places where people bond so closely. Critical Care Nurses and Physicians work in a surreal world where life is constantly hanging in the balance and as a result have a camaraderie that is much like combat soldiers, police and firefighters. This is not just a job, it is a calling, in a sense a sacred vocation. Marsha exemplified the best of her profession and what it is to be a friend.

Even though I left Portsmouth in October 2010 to come to Camp LeJeune I still count the staff there as my friends. We went through a lot together. Many of them were there for me when I was going through difficult times as their Chaplain. Marsha was one of those people. I cannot imagine her not being there when I go back at some point or not seeing her serving and caring for Sailors, Marines and their families somewhere else.

Last week we honored Nurses during National Nursing Week and the anniversary of the founding of the Navy Nurse Corps. Marsha was the best of both. The Nurse Corps has suffered a terrible loss.

Marsha touched so many lives. I know that my former co-workers and friends at Portsmouth are taking this hard. It doesn’t seem right and it doesn’t seem fair. I have a hard time theologizing deaths of people like Marsha. While I am sure that the Lord has her with him I don’t understand her loss here.  While I fail to understand I do still pray that God must have a purpose and I do give thanks for the honor and privilege of knowing Marsha and working with her. In times like this I find some comfort in the prayers of the liturgy and find this one from the Book of Common Prayer to be one that I can pray in good conscience even when I struggle.

“O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our sister Marsha. We thank you for giving her to us, her family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Rest in Peace Marsha. Rest in peace.

Padre Steve+


Filed under faith, remembering friends, shipmates and veterans