I Am Eustace

I’ve been reading a classic by C.S. Lewis, which I’ve read a few times before, but not for several years. The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, from The Chronicles Of Narnia. It wasn’t a great movie, but the book is amazing.

I have two new books by favorite authors of mine waiting to be read, but I wanted to read this story again as soon as I finished my friend Kim Bryan’s book, Hope For The Hormonal. I was inspired to read Dawn Treader again by my friend Lisa Belisle Smith.

Lisa has been a great encouragement to me. I’ve been honored by her comments on and shares of this blog. She commented on my Facebook timeline after she read my post, See More, that my journey reminded her of how the character of Eustace in that book was freed of his dragon skin by Aslan. I thought this was a beautiful and fitting analogy. I read that chapter of the book again yesterday morning, for perhaps the fourth or fifth time in my life. But this time, it came alive to me in a new way.

If you’ve only seen the Narnia movies, or are unfamiliar with them, I highly recommend the books. They’re intended for children, but they have incredible depth for all of us. Especially for Christians.

For those who don’t know the story, without getting into too much detail, it tells of three English children who are drawn by magic to a land where Christ is represented by a huge, sentient lion named Aslan. Two of the three children had been there before, and love being there. The other, Eustace, was a miserable sort who only complains about being there. It’s the story of their voyage on a ship called The Dawn Treader. Hence the title.

Eustace hates being on the ship, and makes life difficult for everyone on board. At one point, the ship encounters a storm that causes damage, forcing them to stop at the next island for repairs. Eustace is not interested in helping, so he sneaks off on his own to find a spot to rest. He finds a pool near a cave, where he encounters an old dragon, which dies without noticing him. Eustace then finds the dragon’s hoard of treasure. (If you know anything about dragons, you know that they always have a hoard of treasure.) Eustace starts gathering up as much loot as he can carry, but then falls asleep on a pile of gold coins.

When he wakes up, he discovers that he himself has become a dragon! At once, he becomes very lonely. He longs for the company of the people he despised only one day earlier. He flies off in search of them, and somehow manages to communicate with them who he really is. He is sorry for the trouble he’s caused, and sets about finding food and a tree trunk that they can use to replace the mast that was lost in the storm. But he’s still a dragon.

One night, he encounters Aslan, who tells him that he must shed his dragon skin. Eustace manages to do this, but he finds that, underneath, he has another dragon skin. He tries again and again, but can’t shed the dragon completely. He has to let Aslan cut deeper than he thought possible. Only then could the boy emerge. Once the boy emerges, he is reconciled with his friends, and his relationships with them are transformed.

This story has great resonance for me. I’m sure you can see why. Lisa has seen it in my posts. While I hope that I was never as big a jerk as Eustace, I often was a complainer. More often than not, I was only interested in my own concerns. I wasn’t one of those who stayed to help rebuild the ship. Instead, I went off on my own. I wanted that pile of gold. Even if it turned me into a dragon.

Then, I was diagnosed with cancer. I got hit by God’s 2 By 4. It changed my perspective, but didn’t peel away the dragon skin. Like Eustace, I began to long for human connection like I hadn’t before. The step that Eustace took to contact his shipmates was difficult for him. My decision to go public with my diagnosis was difficult for me. But it began the process of healing. Eustace discovered that, in spite of everything, he was loved. I discovered the same thing.

Like Eustace, I tried to peel the dragon skin off, but to no avail. I couldn’t do it on my own. The love I received from others carried me for a while, but it took God cutting deep into me to bring the boy out. When this happens for Eustace, he is not the perfect boy on the first day, or week, or month. It’s the beginning of a process.

Likewise, I have had many relapses, which I am as transparent about in this blog as I can be. But now that the dragon skin has been discarded, I am different. Not as different as I want to be, or as different as I will be, but definitely different. People comment on it frequently.

For instance, I have never been one to attend weeknight prayer meetings as an adult. Decades of weeknight music rehearsals burned me out on weeknight church events. And I’m ashamed to say that prayer was not a big priority for me. That has changed. Now I pray every day, and made sure to attend a prayer meeting last Wednesday night in the home of my new pastor. I’m no longer able to be up front running the show on Sunday mornings, but I want to support the church in any way I can. This is not the old me. It’s not the dragon. The boy has finally emerged.

I’ve made some new friends online who have shared their difficult cancer journey with me, and I find myself praying for them throughout the day. This also is not the old Mark. The old Mark would be busy trying to find a gig. He would be looking to “do church” rather than wanting to simply be the church.

The anger, while still there, is fading. If I can just learn to let it go, and extend grace to others the way it’s been extended to me, (not by them, but by God) then I’ll really be able to make progress. Those feelings, when I allow them to, bring the dragon back. I can’t keep putting the dragon back on. I have to leave the dead dragon skin on the ground, like Eustace. And only God can cut deep enough to remove it completely.

I have good days and bad days, like we all do. Thursday was a good day. After coffee with my pastor on Tuesday, my therapy appointment on Wednesday afternoon, which went very well, and the prayer meeting Wednesday night, (not to mention writing The Right Side Of The Dirt in about 75 minutes; it came out whole cloth that fast. That never happens.) I felt very good on Thursday. So good that I got my song back again, and was able to write another original song for the musical I’m trying to get finished.

I’m trying the supplement that I ordered. I’m very much hoping that it helps me keep my moods in check. I did sleep better Thursday night after having taken the first capsule, but I thought that may have been because I had had such a good day. I took it again yesterday, and my moods were more even keel than they have been recently. I slept well again last night. So far, so good with 5-HTP. My oncologist’s office knows of no problems taking it with Lupron. If this supplement keeps me from having to take an antidepressant, I’ll consider that a victory.

In case you’re wondering, my weight is good. I’m still maintaining at around 128. I will be taking some of my world famous homemade dark chocolate ice cream to my nutritionist next week. Is it Eustace-ish to brag on my ice cream? If so, too bad. That’s an area of pride that I’ll never get over, I’m afraid. It just that good.

I know that I’m still not the man that God wants me to be. I know that I have relationships that need to be put right. I have no desire to run the show anymore, but I still have the urge to promote myself. Not as a singer, but as a writer. But I think my motivation is better than it was before. Before, it was about gigs and CD sales. Now it’s about helping others with this blog. Mostly. I admit that when my stats say that lots of people have read a post, I’m glad that many people may be helped by it, but I also feel good about myself.

Sometimes I feel like I trumpet my spiritual progress more than I live it out. But then someone wants me to pray, and I dive into it, when I used to promise to pray for people, but rarely did.

I need to remind myself again that Eustace didn’t have Lupron in his system. Some of this is chemically induced, maybe most of it. But since God started working on me so intensely these past few months, I think some of these issues were brought to the surface by him, rather than hormone treatment.

So while I’m trying to give myself a break because of what I’m going through, I also want to pay attention to what God’s teaching me through all of this. He’s using my difficulty to bring me closer to him. I want him to cut as deeply as he needs to cut. I want all of my relationships to be transformed, not just some of them. I want to shed the dragon forever. Because I am Eustace.

The Right Side Of The Dirt

I’m having a much better day today than I’ve had for about a week. That in spite of the fact that I didn’t sleep much last night due to foot cramps. That’s a first. When I don’t sleep well, I usually am not in a great mood the next day, but today I feel pretty good. Tired, but good.

I think I have a handle on where my anger is coming from, and how to get to where I need to be with all of that. I had coffee with my pastor yesterday, and it helped just to talk things out with him. I had my second therapy appointment today, and that went very well also. I’m not over the hump yet, but I think I can see the top of the hump from here, and how to get there.

Someone in my support group said something today that made an impression on me. He said it’s good to be on the right side of the dirt. Or words to that effect. I like that. The right side of the dirt. We all know what he meant, of course. He meant it’s good to be alive, which is a no brainer. We can all agree with that. When you have cancer, every day is a bonus. Actually, every day is a bonus whether you have cancer or not. But I didn’t always have that attitude until I got hit by God’s 2 By 4.

But with the stuff I’ve been dealing with lately, being on the right side of the dirt has other meanings. I’ve got some spiritual dirt I need to get on the right side of. Emotional dirt, too.

Lupron in my system makes that more difficult. It seems to create more dirt. Or maybe it wets it down and makes it heavier. Or maybe my analogies are ridiculous. Probably, but you get the idea. It’s hard to clear away dirt when your emotions are all messed up. It’s hard to do anything when I’m in that state. Anything except write this blog. For me, writing about what I’m going through is the perfect tonic. It’s good for what ails me. I’m so thankful to have this outlet, and even more thankful that anyone wants to read it.

I’ve gotten a lot of good advice and input from friends in the last two days. Very practical stuff. And I am starting to be able to feel God’s presence again. It’s not like it was, because of all the dirt that’s been stirred up lately, but I’ll get there.

Many guys on Lupron are also prescribed an antidepressant to help regulate their emotional state. But I don’t want to go that route if I can avoid it. I don’t really believe in taking a second drug to counteract side effects of a drug you’re on. That feels like a trap to me. My wife and I are not “pharmaceutical” types. We prefer the more natural route, emphasizing diet and supplements.

But my mood swings and anger have been so bad lately, I thought I should ask the support group what they are taking, and how it affects them. I thought I should at least ask. So I asked the group that question. I was getting answers and responding to them, when I was messaged by a good friend who knows nutrition, and takes a supplement to help with similar hormonal issues. She sent me a link to a site where I had to take a quiz about my emotions, moods, and compulsions. I got a high score in the same category that she does, so she recommended the supplement that she is taking. It helps increase serotonin levels.

I feel a lot better about trying that than an antidepressant. I ordered a bottle on Amazon, and it should arrive tomorrow. I hope it helps. And yes, I will inform my oncologist that I’m taking it.

But that whole episode felt like God working to me. I’m looking into answers that I’m not comfortable with, and while I’m doing it, a woman who I consider a saint feels motivated to message me on the subject at that exact moment. After a little research, her solution feels right to me. In my world, we call that a God Thing.

I’d tell you who she is, but I should probably stop tagging friends so much in this blog. But she’s made many appearances here. I’m sure she’ll make many more. She’s like that.

I hope that helps me clear away some of the dirt. I hope it helps me control my moods. I hope it helps me sleep through the night.

I have a prayer meeting to go to tonight. Between my therapy appointment today, writing this post, and an hour of prayer with fellow believers, this will have been a very therapeutic day. The kind of day that makes me feel glad to be on the right side of the dirt.