Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Frontier Medecine, Trials, and Cancer

Those of us who enjoy historical fiction are also very thankful that we don't actually live "in the good old days," and one of the reasons is modern medecine. I remember the day when my children were learning Nebraska history and I told them that, if we lived in the late 1800s, only one of them would be alive. Three of the four darlings pictured at the right back in our home-schooling days would have been lost to illnesses that, today, are honestly "no big deal," thanks to that gooey pink stuff called Amoxicillin and 'wondermous' things like IV antibiotics.

My heart has mourned with pioneer mothers. I've shed real tears over words like these, "our little daughter was taken from us. I had borne all, or tried to, without murmuring until now. This trial, this great sorrow. How could I bear it?"

In the writing of Sixteen Brides, I was challenged to find bona fide treatment for a compound fracture that wouldn't require amputation. Happily, I was able to find a "new" treatment documented in a German medical paper from the era that allowed rancher Lucas Gray to keep his leg. But that was the exception rather than "the rule" back then.

Over a century has passed since the days my imaginary friends inhabit, and so many more sick people survive than they did "in the good old days," but we still have to contend with disappointment when it comes to medical issues. That happened for our family back in 2001, when my husband Bob graduated to heaven after a five and a half year encounter with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Twenty-two days before Bob's departure, he taught Sunday School. His lesson that day was titled, "What God has Taught Me." Here are some of the things Bob shared. I hope they encourage you with whatever difficulty you may be facing.

"Through cancer and the process of dying, God has taught me that I am on earth to:
  • Be a light to the world, revealing Jesus Christ, all that He is and all that He has done, by what I say about how I live my life. Ephesians 5:8-10
  • Trust Him, His purpose in trials and suffering is for His glory and my good. 1 Corinthisans 6:20, John 16:14, Romans 8:28.
  • Conform to the character of His Son, Jesus Christ (2 Corinthiasn 3:18; Philippians 3:21; Romand 8:29-30)
  • Be shaped. Trials and difficult circumstances are tools in the hand of God used over time to shape me into His likeness. 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 1:29-30, 3:10; John 16:33, 15:2; James 1:2-4; Galatians 5:22.
  • Prove my faith in Him. Job 23:10; Psalms 66:10
  • Provide visible and genuine evidence to the world of my faith in Him through each trial. Job 23:10
  • Continue trustying and obeying Him, through adversity and not grumble, murmur, or complain about it. I Corinthians 10:9,10; Philippians 2:14.
  • Strengthen my faith muscles. Romans 10:17
  • Develop enduring strength for greater usefulness. Hebrews 12:7-11
  • Grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. 2 Peter 3:18
  • Learn to view adversity from God's perspective, through His Word. Philippians 3:7-11; Job 2:10, 23:10.
The pioneer woman I quoted above who lost her child and wondered how she could bear it also wrote, "I am afraid I almost rebelled against God, and still He was good. She was too frail for this hard life and He transplanted her to a fairer clime and I have since been glad it was so. She is waiting to welcome us home." Julia has been reunited with that child ... just as family and friends who know Jesus will one day be reunited with Bob Whitson.

I'm humbled and amazed by the faith that saints sometimes exhibit when life and this fallen world throw terrible things their way. But they give me hope. If they could do it ... maybe I can, too.

May you be encouraged today by pioneers and brothers in Christ who faced some of the worst ... and responded in the best way possible.

--Stephanie G.

P.S. The kids on the haystack are doing great (praise Him).........here's proof.


  1. Hi Stephanie:

    I’ve read that even in 1900 half the children died by the age of five. I’ve also read that parents didn’t want to get too attached to their children until they were older. Women were even afraid to have babies in hospitals because so many died of childbed fever – which was very real and very deadly. Yet, these issues seem to be mostly ignored in historical romances. I understand this as they are very sad issues. We don’t read romances to feel bad.

    This brings up another issue about religion. I get the feeling that we really can’t understand religion without using it and using it on a daily basis. I think for us religion is a matter of belief but for those in the 19th Century, is was a matter of daily use.

    The women who mentioned God and the death of their babies were very dependent on their beliefs. People ‘used’ religion then and when we read about a father saying grace at meals, this prayer was very real to those people. They really were thankful.

    The bible quotes you gave brought this home to me very forcefully. We are blessed and blessed everyday.


  2. Interesting thoughts on "using" religion on a daily basis. It seems to me that what we observe in people's lives, no matter when they lived, is consistent with what the Word says about genuine faith. Genuine faith is refined by fire. That doesn't mean we don't tremble and fear. . . but in the end, perseverance wins out. Tragedy really does reveal what we're made of.

    I appreciate your thoughts so much, Vince.

  3. Wonderful thoughts, Steph! And that haystack photo really made me smile! I think that's about the age your kids were when I first met you. What blessings I know they are to you still.

  4. Come now, my friend.........I believe you are only a tad bit older than my oldest daughter! But alas, you are right.............grannies that we are, isn't it grand that the Lord has us still "in the loop" with writers and readers......and friends.

  5. I've often thought about whether my family would be alive now if we'd been born hundred years earlier--even fifty years earlier--and the answer is NO. When I wrote about Martha Washington and found out that George died of his throat swelling up, something I'm prone to suffer with coughs and strep and sinus issues, it makes me feel very thankful for modern medicine, walk-in clinics, and Walgreens. We take so much of it for granted.

  6. Hi Stephanie -

    I know I wouldn't be around without modern medicine. Sorry to hear about your husband. My beloved died 3 1/2 years ago from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.


  7. Ah, Susan ... I'm so sorry. The holes in our heart heal, but they don't fill. No one else can fill them but the beloved who's already been there. At least that's my experience.
    Grace and peace to you today.