Richard, Raymond and Rufus (affectionately known as Sarge) were brothers; sons of poor parents who labored from morning ‘till night on the farm in order to survive and provide for their ten children, as well as several unofficially adopted cousins. Their home, a ramshackle farmhouse had an all-purpose kitchen with a wood burning stove and a big table. Two chairs with a board stretched across the backs served as my grandmother’s ironing board, and her iron was a heavy cast-iron one that was heated on the stove. This was also where a washtub would be filled with water, also just heated on the stove, for baths. A door led from each side of the kitchen—one down a path to the outhouse, and the other into a side yard with a well where Grandma pumped all of her water; with dozens of chickens roaming free, at least until she decided it was time for one of them to become dinner.
Shortly after my dad, Richard, passed away in 2009 I told my mom I’d write his biography. Many from our large extended family contributed their memories, but the real treat was hearing some of Uncle Sarge’s tall tales from childhood. His Arkansas dialect is mostly unedited in an attempt to keep the story’s authentic flavor. (Dad on the right and Sarge on the left in the picture–the last time they were together on a cruise to Alaska in 2007, as far from their Arkansas roots as either could ever have imagined.)
“Once I got play’n in some lime out in the chicken house. They used it for puttin’ in the chicken nests to keep the mites and other critters down. Well, Mama saw that lime on my hands and said, ‘Son that could kill you.’ So I freaked out and Richard and Raymond teased me mercilessly about it for months. This went on and on, and the more I was scared about it, the more they went on. I got so scared that I wouldn’t put my hands on my body or in my pockets. I was afraid I was going to contaminate myself and keel over dead. Richard and Raymond would tease me all the time and tell me I was gonna die from touchin’ the lime and then they would try to get dirt on my hands, so I would have to wash them. Finally I got over being scared about it, as I had lived for months and hadn’t yet died. I was sure glad when I figured out in my mind that I wasn’t gonna die from touching the lime, but Richard and Raymond sure had a good time teasing me about it.”
How easy it is to be bamboozled by someone you trust, and the tale of the teasing brothers makes me recall the more serious issue of false teachers. Consider the words of Jesus as well as the admonitions of John and Peter:
Then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There!” do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, “Look, He is in the desert!” do not go out; or “Look, He is in the inner rooms!” do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. Matthew 24:23-28
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 Peter 2:1
“Moving Mountains” is an article that grew out of my journal entries during 2006 when I was fighting breast cancer. It is included in my book, “I’m Still Standing”.
Mountains. How I love the mountains! And I’m not alone—any season of the year will find many heading to there to relax—from mountain climbing or biking to snow skiing or sledding; from swimming in a mountain lake to skating on its ice; from gathering around a campfire on a warm summer night to relaxing in front of a roaring fireplace on a snowy winter night, the mountains are an amazing retreat. Flower-carpeted hillsides in the spring or snow-capped peaks in the winter, they are things of such majestic beauty and grandeur that any description seems inadequate. But mountains also have another side. They are places of terrible danger. Every year we hear of hikers being lost, of people being stranded in the snow with tragic results, of swimming or skiing accidents, of avalanches. Perhaps the difficult, dangerous aspect is why we so often think of the problems or challenges in our lives as mountains that we must climb, ever straining to get to the top. Certainly cancer, or any other disease for that matter, can seem like a mountain. So, as I contemplated my diagnosis and the long and difficult treatment that it would entail, I also contemplated what Jesus had to say about mountains. In his words, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20b, NIV)
How often have I read this verse and visualized a physical mountain on the horizon; questioning or doubting the meaning—assuming that my faith is too weak because I know that the mountain is simply not going to get up and reposition itself no matter what I say or pray. Not that I doubt God’s word; I just don’t expect to see a mountain move.
But what if the mountain is really something in my life that is just too big for me to overcome? What if it’s financial trouble? What if it’s infertility? What if the mountain is cancer—or death? What if it’s a problem that’s so massive that I can’t see any way through or around it? Faith will move those mountains—yes it will—I know it will! In fact, it may appear to everyone else that the mountains are still there—but suddenly, for me, it can be as if they no longer exist. Even death? That’s a biggie. But yes again! Death is impending sooner or later for all of us—but death is only the end of physical life, and none of us is even promised a tomorrow, let alone a week, a month or a year. So if I really believe what God has told us—if I really believe that death is swallowed up in victory and has no sting—then what’s the big deal? The big deal is my own fear—fear of pain, fear of loss, fear of the unknown.
So, what will I do? I can cower in fear in the shadow of the mountain, worried about the very real dangers ahead—worried about the pain of surgery, the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Or, I can worry about what will happen once I get to the top of the mountain—what if I find a mountain range ahead instead of a wide, pleasant valley flowing with abundance? What if I find an uncertain future filled with another illness or metastasis? I have to face those fears head-on and recognize them for what they are—challenges that have been placed in my way by a devious, cruel enemy which can be removed with faith. I get to decide who wins. Fear or faith is my choice. Which will it be? Two reactions that are diametrically opposed; but one leads to anxiety, sorrow and defeat, and the other results in peace, joy and victory. No contest—faith is my only choice.
This is the foundation of my life—God is real—his Word is true—my life is his—he is my refuge, my place of rest, my peace and my hope. Oh, he may deliver me in different ways—sometimes he will take me through a mountain before he removes it. I may come to a mountain and realize there’s a tunnel—a day by day way to keep on keeping on. I can’t see any light at the other end, but I know it’s there and I just have to keep going. Once I’m through, I look back and the mountain has disappeared—vanished into thin air as if it never existed. By faith, the mountain has moved. Or, if it can still be seen, it’s now just a little blip up against a far-away horizon, nothing more than a molehill.
Other times I may have to climb a mountain, encountering one challenge after another along the way—the landslides, storms, wild animals, hunger and pain of life—but I keep on—and finally I arrive at a summit to find a vast panorama of beauty ahead. So I continue on my journey, occasionally glancing back, and once again the mountain has disappeared—it’s shrunk down to the size of the distant hills.
I’ve lost count of the mountains my Lord has moved for me. He’s proven himself over and over, even when my faith was so weak there was hardly any at all—so weak that it wasn’t any bigger than a mustard seed. And so, as I consider the fact that the cancer is something for which I must be treated; as I recognize that it’s not an easy battle; I also realize it’s really a non-issue because my God is the mover of my mountains.