Tony really struggled in his marriage.
He and his wife seemed incompatible and headed toward divorce. Focus on the family many, many times is just very encouraging. Very encouraging for us to stick together, to pull through, to work it out, to go the distance.
I'm Jim Daly. This season, help us give families hope. And when you give today, your donation will be doubled.
Donate at FocusOnTheFamily.com slash joy. Dr. Lee Warren describes the intensive care unit as a place where desperation and hope slug it out to see who the champion will be. He says that beeping monitors, hissing ventilators and humming IV pumps push their notes into the air, mingling with the steel hints of iodine and bodily fluids and waning faith. Today on Focus on the Family, you'll hear from Dr. Warren about his own personal struggles with God through many trials in the hospital and also outside it.
He'll offer hope to you to endure through your trials today. Thanks for joining us. Your host is Focus President and author, Jim Daly, and I'm John Fuller. John, what a vivid and accurate depiction of the ICU ward, something that Dr. Warren faces every day in treating his patients. Dr. Warren was our guest on a broadcast earlier this year that really spoke to our listeners and our viewers.
It was one of our top programs of the year. Dr. Warren has operated on deadly tumors and people with serious brain injuries as a surgeon. Before starting his practice in Nebraska, he helped to triage seriously wounded soldiers in Iraq. He's also experienced trauma in his personal life, and we're going to cover some of his amazing stories in his award-winning book, I've Seen the End of You. He's already faced more life and death situations than most of us will face in our lifetime. But God has given him the strength to do it, and we can grow spiritually as we glean from his stories about how fragile life truly is.
And this was such a deep conversation about the essence of life and death. And as you said, Jim, Dr. Warren's book was the winner of the Christian Book Award for biographies and memoirs. So congratulations to Dr. Warren for that. The title again is I've Seen the End of You, a Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know.
We'll encourage you to get a copy of that book from us here. The links are in the show notes or call 1-800 the letter A and the word family. Well, let's go ahead and join the start of the conversation with Dr. Lee Warren on today's Best of 2021 Focus on the Family broadcast. Dr. Warren, welcome to Focus on the Family. Thank you. I'm so grateful. Lisa and I are both so grateful to be here with you today.
Let me ask you, kicking this off, this is really interesting content, and we're going to get into it. You were raised in a Christian home. Your parents gave you that foundation of faith, but you had a relationship with a friend, I think, in elementary school that kind of shook and shaped your world.
What happened? Yes, I don't think I realized it until later, but in third and fourth grade had a young girl that I sort of had a crush on. I called her Annie in the book. And you were in fourth grade? Third and fourth grade, yeah. Good for you. And so I actually had my first fist fight over her, which I won't tell you if I won or not, but it's my book.
Get the book for more. So at the end of one school year, I just had this vivid memory of her driving off in the bus and waving goodbye, and my hopes were flying for seeing her next year. And then later that summer, my mom told me that she was sick and she might not be back at school. And it turned out she had a pediatric brain tumor, and I remember late in the school year, she came back to class and just looked like a different person. She didn't have her personality. She was swollen from what I know now was steroids and medication and radiation treatment and all that.
She had a wig on and just wasn't the same little kid. And then she died later that year. And as I grew up and became a doctor and looked back on all that, it just dawned on me at some point that my interest in neurosurgery probably started around that time when a little kid can be taken away from you by something happening in their brain. And I remember the talks I had with my mom and how afraid I was that for the first time, somebody my age could be sick. And I didn't know that at that time. Somebody my age could die.
And I remember how a mom always told me that faith would get me through those things and calm my fears. And so I think that was probably a foundational moment for me in becoming a physician and maybe even a neurosurgeon. Yeah. Let's move to your service. Thank you, by the way, for serving in the military.
Thank you. At the same time, I mean, you saw such trauma because you saw all of the back end of warfare, those men and perhaps even some women who were injured from their service. And describe that for those of us who will never be in that environment. One of the most surprising things for me, obviously growing up in the United States and practicing in the United States, we have endless limitless resources, right? So here we are in a tent hospital in the middle of the war and we didn't have those resources.
And so we had to think about every drop of blood and every tool that we used and all those things differently than we do back here. But also, we took care of civilians and we took care of the enemy and we took care of injured insurgents. So when an Iraqi insurgent gets injured on the battlefield, American medics fly them to hospitals and take care of them. That's amazing.
Most people probably don't know that. So our American Medical Corps takes care of everybody that gets hurt. And so for me, it was an eye-opening experience of taking care of somebody who had done this bad thing and blown up all of our soldiers that we were also trying to save and having to learn about mercy and not just about justice and all those things. It really solidified me as a trauma surgeon and as a human being, I think, to have that experience. And even there in your barracks in that area where you operated, you had shelling and things that were going on. I mean, it was close to the action. Yeah, we were mortared every single day that I was in theater for 120 days.
We only took mortared every day. You specialize in brain tumors. GBM, I believe, is the acronym. And let's just let the listeners hear what that is and what you tend to face with your patients every day. So there's a brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme that we shorten, thankfully, to GBM.
It's easier to say. And it turns out to be the deadliest, really the deadliest form of human cancer. And the problem with glioblastoma is you really can't cure it.
And it's like the whole brain just decides to become cancer. And so for the last 40 years or so, the survival rate really hasn't changed. It's about 15 months. If you have that diagnosis and we take the tumor out and give you radiation chemotherapy, you have about 12 to 15 months almost all the time. The five-year survival rate is very close to zero. And the 10-year survival rate essentially is zero. There's an old sort of joke that if you have a 10-year survivor, you probably misdiagnosed them.
And so I had this experience as a Christian who was also a scientist where I would see a scan. Really before I ever met you as a patient, I would look at your images and see that brain tumor. And I would say to myself, I've seen the end of you. I know what's going to happen to you.
Say that again because this was profound. I'll see the end of you. I just could see it in my mind like it was a movie playing out. I've seen the end. I know what's going to happen. I know what the biopsy is going to look like.
I know the conversation we're about to have. I know what the pathologist is going to tell me. I know when you're going to get chemo, when you're going to get sick, when your hair is going to fall out, when you'll stop eating. I know when it's going to come back, and I know when you're going to die.
And I can see it in my mind like it's true already. And so I struggled then because I also know that as a doctor, you are better serving your patients if you give them hope, and if you help them maintain hope because you have a much higher quality of life, and you go through everything better and you even have a better outcome in every way we can measure it if you maintain hope. And so here I have a situation where I don't have hope for you. And the Bible tells me God can cure you, and I don't really believe it because he never does it with this tumor. And so I'm supposed to sit down and try to doctor you even if I can't cure you, and what do I do?
And that's really the question I was struggling with as a physician when I decided to write this book. Well, and that's such on point. And I'm sure you hear from Christians who may be critical of you saying, well, God can work miracles, and you need to trust in God, and you're a Christian, Lee, and how did that begin to synthesize? And I understand it. I mean, you're the hard scientist, but a man of faith. So these worlds were colliding.
I can only imagine the conflict in you. They were, and I started having to do what scientists do, decided to study people and how they handle hard things and how they manage to get through them or not get through them. And I started noticing that the common theme of people who do well, even if they die, seems to be that they find something to hope for. And oftentimes that was resurrection and the afterlife and all the things that Jesus offers us. And I started to understand what Jesus means in John 16 when he says, I come and give you life even though you die, and if you believe in me, you'll have life and will never die. And so I started seeing people who could find that in the darkest moments, and it gave them something to hold on to.
And they had a better outcome even if they died from their tumor. And I decided what makes sense for me is to doctor people with things that will help them even if I can't fix their problem. Yeah. And I would think, you know, being a man of faith and a scientist, the reality is this life is just this moment for us. I mean, there's something eternal ahead, but we cling to this as if this is it, right? That's right. And that's why we have fear and we have doubt and we maybe have hopelessness. That's right. And that's the great news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, right, that there's something beyond this. That's right.
This isn't it. Let me ask you just to get some of the stories of your patients out of your wonderful book, I've Seen the End of You. You talk about a patient that you called Samuel, and what was his story with GBM and what did you see?
So Samuel is the guy that is the typical patient with glioblastoma. He's a good guy. He does it all right. He's got a strong family. He goes to church. It always seems like cancer hits those guys, right, the nice guy. And he's driving to work one day and has a seizure on his birthday, wrecks his car, or almost wrecks his car, and finds out that he's got a brain tumor. And I come to meet him and take him to surgery and it turns out to be a glioblastoma. And he just exemplifies this solid belief in walking out faith in Jesus Christ where he never wavered. Like he's sad, he's stressed because he doesn't want to leave his wife and his little kids, but he never gives up hope.
And he's just this beautiful example of what it means to really walk out your faith in Jesus Christ. So that conundrum is bad things do happen to good people and good things do happen to bad people. You know, the rain falls on all of us.
That's right. And so it's just a filter problem that we have. We pick out the ones we want to be sad about.
We don't pay attention to the other ones, but everybody has trouble. Well this is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly and today our guest is Dr. Lee Warren. His book, I've Seen the End of You, a Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know, is an excellent resource if you're grappling with some of these larger questions of life. Stop by focusonthefamily.com slash broadcast or give us a call if you'd like that book.
800, the letter A in the word family. Dr. Warren, you mentioned Joey a patient a moment ago. I do want to hear his story. What was Joey about? What did he show you? Joey might be the favorite person, at least I ran our office, that we ever took care of.
Joey's this guy, typical, when you meet him, he's a criminal. He was fighting a DEA agent, got hit in the head and knocked out, skull fracture, blood in his brain, and I had to take him to the operating room and in the midst of the blood clot there's a brain tumor that he didn't know he had. And so that seems like a fortuitous thing for him because had he not had the head injury from being a bad person, being in a fight with a cop, he wouldn't have known he had this benign tumor until it became a cancer, most likely. So it could have saved his life, right? And I give him this news that to me felt like good news.
Hey, we found this early-stage brain tumor and took it out, so you're going to be okay, most likely. And he's still mad about it, and it turns out Joey's had a bad life. One of his parents died, the other abandoned him. He's been in jail, he's had all kinds of hard times with drugs, and he's just had a really rough life. And he doesn't see anything good out of anything.
For him it's just another example of God hates him, or maybe God's not even real. And the course of taking care of Joey, he had a grandmother and a sister who never gave up on him, and a chaplain who befriended him. And ultimately, even though his cancer came back – I don't want to give the whole story away, I want people to read the book.
No, you've got to tell us. But basically, the last year of Joey's life in which his tumor came back, he lost his strength, and he ultimately passed away, he described that as the best year of his life. And the reason was he fell in love, he found Jesus, he found hope, he believed he was going to get to see his grandma again when he went to heaven, reconciled with his sister, made amends for a lot of the things that he'd been through, and he found the purpose and meaning of his life and found happiness even while he was dying. And so it just exemplified the idea that your life is not about the number of your days, it's about the quality of your days, it's about what you do with them and how you feel during them. And he was able to show me how to separate circumstance from emotion. And that turns out to be the key for how you find happiness and hope no matter what you're going through. Let me ask you, in the book, you specifically talk about that dilemma, you've touched on it, but to be more specific, you would see the end of your patient and know what lied ahead for them. And it kind of put a contradiction in how to pray for your patients. It did.
Describe that. I can feel it, but help us. So I used to think that prayer was about telling God what you wanted, and he either said yes or no. And the score of how many yeses and how many nos was a measure of how much he loved you, right? I sort of thought that, and I really learned it from Pastor John. Prayer is not about bending God's will to yours, it's bending your will to his. And so as I evolved through learning how to take care of these people who were going to die no matter what I did, I learned that helping them come to peace with it, helping them find a new way to look at the rest of the days that they had, a new way to make sure that their families were okay, that their marriages were okay, that their legacy with their kids were okay, was teaching them how to pray a prayer of asking God to fill them with hope, to fill them with a new way to see the things they were going through.
And so I was learning how to doctor people when I couldn't save them. Yeah, that's good. Then you don't have that sense of futility, I would think.
That's right. It gives you power. Right, and there is hope at the end of this. After Samuel died, one of your patients, there was a chaplain friend of yours who gave you some great spiritual insight and advice.
I think all of us will benefit from that. What did that chaplain say to you? Well, so Pastor John, I called him in the book, just basically helped me understand that somebody dying isn't the end of their story. When you look at the overall number of promises in the Bible, all of them point to hope for a future resurrection. And it can be hard to see truth in those promises when you read one like Romans 8.28, and it says that God can work everything for good. You say, how can he work Samuel dying and leave him behind two little kids for good?
How can that be? And he'll say something to me like, for the rest of your life, you're going to doctor people better. You're going to help people see and find hope in the darkest moments of their lives in a better way. And that will turn out to be good.
That will turn out to be a good part of Samuel's legacy down the road. And so the chaplain really just helps me to reorient my thinking away from loss means God doesn't care. Death means God isn't paying attention or doesn't want to hear your prayers. And actually, God's always doing the thing that's good for us in the end. And it's not about how long you live.
Yeah. Some people might be thinking, okay, well, Dr. Warren's a neurosurgeon, even though he went to the war, you know, he's above the fray of life. But you have had it like right in the bullseye. You lost your son. Describe those circumstances, what was going on and what happened to your boy? So Mitchell was this beautiful kid, brilliant, witty, fun, loved Jesus. But like many teenagers, he had a couple rough years and got kind of confused about some things. And we were, as he went off to college, a couple of years where we weren't as close as we had been. And he was trying to figure out his own way. And in July of 2013, he started calling more and we were starting to feel a little bit more hopeful.
And then our church in Alabama did this 21 Days of Prayer event at the start of every school year, where you really focused in and prayed for the kids and prayed for your family and all those things. And on the morning of August 19th, my phone rang and Mitch called. And we had this long talk, the longest one we'd had in forever. And he said, Dad, I want to come home.
I want to get back in school. And I realized where I need to be and what's going on. I had this great hope. And he said, You love me? And I said, I loved him. And it was the last words we ever spoke to each other. And on the morning of August 20th, the prayer that morning was from the youth pastor at the church about praying for your kids and how God was going to give you victory in your child's lives.
And so we were just filled with this immense hope. And later that day, he was stabbed to death and died. And we don't even know the circumstances. The police never really could figure out what happened. Two boys died in that house that night.
And they were best friends. And we don't really know. And so we were sort of taken from this place where we thought it was all going to be okay. And we'd been praying so hard for so long. And it seemed like God was answering our prayers, and then he was gone. And it was just this huge chasm of why would something – you know, it's one thing if you didn't think it was going to be okay and something like that happened, but it was worse for us, I think, because we had so much hope. So it felt like God played a trick on us. And so it was also ironic because I was in the middle of writing this book about how to help people in hard times. And all of a sudden, I went from observing them to being one of them. And that passage when Isaiah says you're in the furnace of suffering, that's what we were in. And so I really, for a little bit, wasn't sure what I believed anymore. And I just wasn't sure that God could really let something like that happen and be who he said he was.
I mean, that's powerful. And my brother has had that experience. He lost his son to cancer when he was young. And I said to him, is there a day that goes by you don't think of, Bobby? And he said, no, every day. And I think people – again, you would think given the processing that you were doing, trying to figure out, Lord, these patients are dying.
I don't know how to pray for them. I'm a scientist. I mean, I could see that in you.
You're very logical in your thinking. And then to have this happen, which turns everything upside down, the things you thought you knew, the things you thought you were resolving with God were right back in your face. Did you have that moment? I mean, I tend to be more of an emotional person this way where I'd be saying, Lord, what are you doing?
Why this? Did you have that kind of moment? I did.
Of course I did. And I think Lisa and I and all bereaved parents, I think you couldn't be truthful if you said you didn't doubt God in some of those moments. And I started going back to what I knew, which was reading the Bible every morning, having a process that I follow through.
And I would read something, and I wouldn't believe it at the same time. And I started feeling with that guy Mark that comes to Jesus and says, I believe, but help me in my unbelief, right? But somehow I knew that if there wasn't a resurrection, if the promise for the resurrection wasn't true, then I didn't have anything to hope for.
Because the idea that I could see my son again someday was enough for me to be able to put my pants on the next day and try to go make a cup of coffee and make that day happen. And one by one, every day, some little bit of grace would happen. Somebody would call at just the right time, or the verse of the day on Bible Gateway would pop up, and it would say, The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, Psalm 34, 18. Or it would say something like that, that verse where Paul says, If we don't have the hope for the resurrection, then we're to be pitied more than all men. And I would say, Yeah, that's right.
I could see that. And so I had this one moment, crystal clear moment I can see in my mind, where I saw the promise that God says that all Scripture is true, another one that says it's impossible for God to lie. And so if those two things are true, then the hope of the resurrection has to be true, too.
And therefore, all those other promises have to be true. And I just decided, Lisa and I sat down one day, and we decided that we believed that. And we were going to start just pressing into it. And every day something happened, somebody called, something occurred, and it had just enough power to get through that day. And as the days went by, it got better. It didn't go away like your brother with Bobby. It doesn't go away. But the light starts coming back on because you believe it's true. And then it starts showing you that it's true. And that's what happened for us. Well, and I hope that's the hope that people are hearing right now.
Let me end here because this is the question. I mean, when you look at all this, what word of encouragement do you have for the people listening right now that are going through so much? They might have the prodigal child. They might have the tumor. They might have some other diagnosis that brings mortality right into focus for them. And maybe they haven't done the right thing, said the right things.
Perhaps they're not drug dealers, but maybe they haven't lived up to their spiritual potential in Christ. What advice do you have for that person that's devastated and hasn't found the rails to run on? Well, I would say this. It doesn't matter what you do for a living or how much money you make or how much influence or power or status you have in this life because if your kid dies or if you find out you have a brain tumor, you're the same as everybody else in that moment.
You're a broken human being. And the height from which you fall, if your life is built on all those things, on the need to have good circumstances or the need to have a high income or the need to have status or whatever, then when you lose those things because your body doesn't work anymore or because you can't find your way to get to work because your child died and you can't put your pants on that day, you lose everything. So what I would say to people is those aren't the things that should define your life because they can be taken from you. The thing that should define your life is the fact that somebody loved you enough to die for you and that their real hope of your life is in what Jesus said would make your joy complete, which is to trust in him because when those hard moments happen, you will find that it's true that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and you will find that it's true someday that God can work things for good because he did for us.
I started writing and blogging and podcasting in 2014 as a way to communicate with my family, and that began to be shared around the world and all of that, and my blog and podcast and stuff started becoming something we would hear from other people about. And in the years since we lost Mitch, two different people have written to me and said they didn't commit suicide because it was something I wrote or said on my podcast. So friend out there listening, your hope cannot be on things that you can lose or that can be taken from you. Your hope has to be in something that's beyond or you can see right now, and that's Jesus. And something you said that caught me, we're all broken people. That's the reality of this life. No one's going to live forever. Everybody's going to hit that pit in the road, even if things are sailing along right now, which makes that verse that you've mentioned a couple of times so true that he's close to the brokenhearted. I love the next part. And saves those crushed in spirit. And that might be the whole purpose of what we walk through in this temporal life so that we can have eternal life with him.
That's right. Man, Dr. Warren, this has been fantastic. I so appreciate the fact that you labored through the pain, emotional pain.
To write this book, I've seen the end of you, a neurosurgeon's look at faith, doubt, and the things we think we know beautifully, Don, and so full of great content to make us think about what this life is truly about. It's been a privilege to have you here with us. It's been an honor to be with you guys. Thank you. What a powerful conversation with Dr. Lee Warren.
And as we noted, this is one of the top programs of the past year on Focus on the Family. John, let me also add, for you the listener or the viewer, if you're grappling with weighty issues about life and death and you don't know where to turn, please give us a call. We have people, caring people, to help you talk through this issue, whatever it is you're facing.
And we've been doing this for over 40 years, so you're not going to surprise us, and we want to be here with you. Caring Christian counselors will call you back and talk with you and give you some direction on what next steps you might be able to take. We also have Dr. Warren's wonderful book, I've Seen the End of You. Let us know if we can send that to you. And right now, if you can make a donation to the ministry for a gift of any amount, we'll send you a copy of this book as our way of saying thank you on behalf of those families that you're going to help through Focus on the Family. We're a phone call away if you need that free consultation with a counselor or wish to donate or get Dr. Warren's book. Our number is 800, the letter A in the word family.
Or stop by the episode notes. We'll have the links right there for you. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. Plan to be with us next time as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ. I was shocked when she gave me the divorce papers. I was so done.
I had reached my breaking point. I was desperate for a shred of hope, so I called the Hope Restored team at Focus on the Family. They listened to me and they asked about what was happening in my marriage. They encouraged me and my wife to attend one of their marriage intensives for couples in crisis, and they prayed with us. They helped me believe that my marriage could be saved.
They agreed to go but was very skeptical that anything could help us. But the whole environment was so safe and non-judgmental. I felt my heart start to open up as we worked with the counselors. Both of us still have work to do in our marriage, but for the first time in a long time, we have hope again. Focus on the Family's Hope Restored marriage intensive program has helped thousands of couples who thought that their marriage was over. Find out which program is right for you at HopeRestored.com.
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