Sunday, October 31, 2010
Ten years ago, when diagnosed with breast cancer, I was just beginning this writing journey. I wondered at times if I would live to see the fulfillment of the writing related dreams I believed God had spoken to my heart.
However, since that time he’s blessed me beyond anything I would have been able to imagine.
Just this year alone, since I started this blog midsummer, I’ve had visitors from dozens of countries around the world. In December, a devotion I penned will be on Christian Devotions.US and another devotion I’ve written will appear in the Upper Room, reaching one hundred countries in thirty-nine languages. On December 27th, my UR devotion will be read in Arabic over the radio in nations print media cannot reach. And of course, I’m hoping for wonderful things with my screenplay which was a Kairos Prize Finalist and is just been optioned by Elevating Entertainment. I have several other projects in the works, but it’s all a gift from God—my writing—my time—my very life.
Thank you for coming along this month as I’ve celebrated my tenth year living cancer free. I want every day that God has planned for me, and I do not have enough words in me to thank Him for all God’s already given. “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemers praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his Grace,” reads one of my favorite hymns by Charles Wesley. I wish I had a thousand tongues…and pens to write His praise.
I’m kind of sad the month is over. I’m packing up my pink clothes and Lucy will get a new collar. All the pink ribbon stuff will be shelved until next year. Don’t go away, though, just because the month is over.
My blog will resume its former look starting tomorrow. I may not post EVERY day, but several times a week.
I’ll be right here at One Ringing Bell with peals of words on faith, living, and writing.
Many blessings to you all.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
When I’m in the kitchen, we often have the opportunity to find out if the batteries in the smoke alarms are still working. I’ve somehow managed to keep my family alive for all these years, but we’ve had some close calls. I guess I use all my creative energy in other endeavors, or maybe food just doesn’t seem that important to me, but I’m not much of a cook. I have figured out, though, that if I have a few items that I do really well, I can keep at least the illusion of being able to find my way around in the kitchen.
Take biscuits for example. Now, I can make biscuits. And stand back for my iron skillet baked cornbread. Everyone loves my carrot cake, and I actually came up with my own recipe for a low fat oatmeal raisin cookie that doesn’t stay around very long.
Many years ago, when I first moved to this town, I became fast friends with a young mother, Sandy. She was going through some difficult times, and I was struggling to adjust in a new place. We’d sit on the church steps following choir practice, and long after everyone else went home, we’d be talking, and sharing life.
A short time later, all the women in Sandy's circle were assigned a secret pal. I wasn’t in a circle at the time, so when her pal started sending her things like candles, cute kitchen towels, and to my dismay, something with which I’d never be able to compete—recipes, I was jealous.
But, I decided to fight fire with fire. I rifled through my large assortment of like-new cookbooks and sent her one of my tried and true favorites:
Peanut Butter Crackers
4 or 8 Saltines
Some Peanut Butter (Can’t say how much, depends on your taste)
Crunchy or Smooth
Scoop peanut butter out of jar with knife and lavish on saltine. Repeat four times. If you like cracker sandwiches, add another cracker. Enjoy.
Sandy loved the recipe, and declared she’s used it innumerable times. So, there, secret pal.
It’s true that the simplest things in life are often the best. Take for example the truth of the gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 God so loved…that he gave…only Son…whoever believes…shall not perish…eternal life. So simple, and yet it takes a leap of faith.
If you’ve not believed this simple message of God’s great love, today’s a good day to take that leap. Let me know if you do.
I’ll be so happy for you; I might put on my new apron and make you some biscuits.
P.S. Feel free to share the Peanut Butter Cracker recipe. I’ve never been stingy with how to formulate my culinary masterpieces.
Friday, October 29, 2010
During the reconstruction process, I had to make many trips to see my plastic surgeon, Dr. Mark Goodman. My husband, Jerry, would accompany me on each visit. It was nice to have him there in case I had an emotional meltdown, which thankfully I never did, though every trip to any of my doctors during this time was a reminder of what brought me to them in the first place.
It never occurred to me to prep Jerry on “doctor’s office etiquette” for which the number one rule is: Doctors should never see your underwear, either on or off your body. I assumed Jerry knew this rule.
I was wrong.
On my first visit to Dr. Goodman’s office, when told to put on a gown, I carefully folded my shirt and placed my underwear inside it on a chair.
After the procedure that day was completed and before Dr. Goodman had left the room, Jerry in anticipation of helping me get dressed, grabbed my blouse in his right hand and my underwear in his left. He and Dr. Goodman were engaged in a conversation that involved directions. Jerry began to gesture with the left hand, my underwear adding emphasis to his every word. I watched, horrified, as it flew North, South, East, and West like a twin windsocks on a blustery day. I was amazed at Dr. Goodman’s self-control as his eyes never left my husband’s during the entire episode.
When we got in the car, I tried to be as gentle as possible with Jerry.
“I know you were trying to be helpful,” I said, “but please don’t show my underwear to the doctor.”
“What difference does it make if a doctor sees your underwear, when he’s just got through seeing your naked body?” Jerry asked.
Jerry’s an intelligent man with two graduate degrees. Why couldn’t he get it?
“It’s too hard to explain. Just don’t.” I said firmly.
On my next visit to Dr. Goodman, I was sure Jerry knew what was expected. After the procedure, he picked up my blouse and shook it out in such a way that he made my underwear inside it a projectile streaking through the air at warp speed just in front of Dr. Goodman’s nose. It hit the wall behind me and fell to the floor.
I glared at Jerry.
Dr. Goodman pretended not to notice he’d almost been shot in the face.
I fumed all the way to the car. I slammed the door then looked over at Jerry, ready to chew him out.
Then he gave me one of those big dimpled smiles of his, and of course, I melted.
On our third trip to Dr. Goodman, I tried to make it easy for Jerry. I simply told him, “Don’t get close to my clothes before the doctor leaves.”
For once, he listened.
But in that environment I had to some listening, too. I had to change my pious, albeit uninformed view of plastic surgery. I’d always seen the profession as pandering to the rich and vain. Perhaps somewhere in the world that's true. But it's not what I experienced.
My hours spent in that environment put me in the midst of people waiting, just like me, to obtain some sense of order and normalcy once more in their lives. Repeatedly I have given thanks for doctors and nurses who excel in their profession in such a way as to offer alternatives to those of us whose bodies have suffered the effects of living in a less than perfect world. I’ve been amazed at the artistry, skill, and compassion with which each procedure is approached.
I found plastic surgery is about reconstructing a small boy’s finger after his was ripped off in an accident. It’s about giving a face back to a man who was trampled by livestock after having collapsed from a heart attack on his farm. It's about helping a woman like me walk away from breast cancer feeling she's had the last laugh.
"...but we will all be changed--in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." I Corinthians 15:51b-52
One day, in the twinkling of an eye, I shall exchange this body for a new one. The One who thought us up, whose artistry is displayed in all of creation has for us a body of heavenly imperishability. It will no longer need any maintenance or repair procedures and most certainly will not contain any plastic parts. Until then this earthen vessel, which I have been assigned, will do just fine, even with modifications. I am thankful for all the wonderful provision God has had for me, even and especially this plastic part.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
When my eyes met his, I felt the same thing I’d felt many times before like when I arrive at the top of that extra long Atlanta Airport elevator which emerges from the subterranean depths into the baggage claim area. Often, in line with all the sign holders, he’ll be waiting patiently for my arrival. There’s nothing like having him watching for me after having been gone an extended time, or even a short time. This morning when I looked up, even after all these years of being together, my heart leapt to see his face.
The song I played this morning refers to a day when my spirit will jettison out of Newtonian gravity. If seeing my husband’s face makes my heart leap, oh what incredible joy to see the face of Jesus when I arrive at the top of the escalator in heaven.
Until then, I’m thanking God for my precious companion. I believe one of our purposes in being together is that we “…be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Romans 1:12 I can’t even say how often when my faith is weak, my spirit sagging, he’s come alongside to encourage. I hope he can say the same of me. I don’t know if I would have ever made it through so many health issues as I have without him.
Truly, he is a gift.
So, all this is a preface to my funniest story that has to do with breast cancer, and Jerry is at the middle of it. I share it tomorrow.
As my grandmother used to say, "Y’all come."
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Now’s there’s a dated reference for you.
As you can see, his little ears stand at right angles to his body the whole time we’re there. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to affect his enjoyment though.
“If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.” The Message, Matthew 6:25
I don’t want to lift off my foundation when rains, rivers, and tornados come which often appear as things like health issues, family problems, or financial struggles. Sometimes life comes so fast, I hardly have time to process.
The thing I know about Charlie is that when he’s at the beach, someone’s always holding him, and that makes him feel safe.
And if I allow God to plant His words of truth deep within me, I’ll be secure through any storm.
So, if you see me, and my ears are flapping in the wind, don’t worry.
God’s got me.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Pileated woodpeckers. Not one, but two. In my whole life, I’d only seen a Pileated twice before. Here, right in front of me, were two of those gorgeous things. The Peterson Field Guide says it is “A spectacular black crow sized woodpecker with a flaming-red crest.” Spectacular is the word. The woodpecker measures from sixteen to around twenty inches tall. They are the grandest woodpecker east of the Rockies. Well…the grandest except for the Ivory-billed which was long thought extinct. However, I heard an exciting report not too long ago on NPR, which indicated new sightings have been made recently.
Anyway, here I was just pondering, and God sends these two visitors. For a few moments, it was just God, the woodpeckers, and me. Then I ran for my camera and went outside. I snapped a few not so good pictures and stared for a long time.
In a Bible study the other day, I mentioned the Psalmist’s cry from Psalms 86:17, “Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” We were talking about small miracles, if there’s any such thing, and I said I felt that day when the woodpeckers appeared was a small miracle—a sign of His goodness. It seemed God said, “I’m here with you. I just wanted to make you smile.”
The woodpeckers might not have been a big deal for anyone else, but for me they were a huge deal--because I love them so, and of course God knew that. As I look back, especially during the difficult times like when I had cancer, I can point to similar signs of God’s goodness—so many touches (or swoops )of His grace that let me know He was with me. Truly, he uses these divine touches to help and comfort us.
I’ve not seen the woodpeckers again, but I keep listening for their loud, irregular peck, peck, peck in hopes of an encore. I wouldn’t be surprised if they do itinerate back this way. I think God loves an encore, too.
Monday, October 25, 2010
The night before the mastectomy in 2000, I stayed up late washing clothes, and taking care of details in preparation for my hospital stay. At one in the morning, I wrote these words in my journal: “Tonight, I say good-bye to a part of my body that God allowed me to have during the time of my life in which it was created to perform--at this breast I have nursed my two precious children. I’m grateful for that, but I weep over the loss of its familiar look. Nursing babies is most likely behind me now. A new part of my life is before me. I continue to trust that God has a purpose greater than anything I can imagine. I give Him my life, this night, once more.”
I went to bed that night having completely given my life and body into his hands. I don’t suppose I could have even imagined at that time that part of God's greater purpose would be sharing the words I’d written that evening with people all over the world. I share them now as a testament to God’s care over me these past ten years and to show the dreams he planted in my heart, he is bringing to pass.
When I left for surgery the next morning I found a verse on the windshield left there by a precious family in our neighborhood. “They cried out to God during the battle, and He answered their prayers, because they trusted in Him.”I Chronicles 5:20. I held on to that verse, and didn’t let go of it until after I’d already been given a sedative for the surgery. My hands relaxed and my husband slipped the verse out of my hand. I still have it.
Yes, God heard my prayers and the prayers of many others. Gratitude wells within me that he's allowed me all these years to serve and love Him and to share with you.
I am incredibly blessed.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
“Be still?” Easy to say--hard to do.
“Step out of the traffic?” Don’t we just usually go with the flow? I know that’s often my default setting.
But, or maybe I should say BUT, God says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
I’ve had the experience that when I’ve failed to heed his instruction on this, He’s allowed things to happen that facilitated my stillness--for my greater good. When I do quiet before him in meditation and adoration, I more fully experience God’s presence and peace.
With the upcoming elections, I find myself confounded as to how to cast my vote in one important race. God says “…take a long loving look at me…above politics…” When I wonder if what I write makes a difference, God says “…I will be exalted in the earth…” When seemingly irresolvable problems present themselves or questions about my health surface again, and a “But God…” is almost on my lips, “God says, take a look at me “…above everything…”
The words of Katharina von Schlegel as penned in 1752: “…Be still, my soul; your best, your heavenly friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”
My heavenly friend calls me, calls you to stillness before Him.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
I know better.
When I had cancer, I had a big howdy-do with living in the moment. There’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis toput you in the middle of the present. A threat to your life makes you notice the tiniest things, increases your gratitude, helps you value what you already have, and cherish those close to you.
When I returned to the present today, I noticed the leaves are finally beginning to turn, despite the enduring tropical weather here. The tea olives are still exuding their intoxicating scent, and one of my neighbors was helping someone strap a big red couch to the roof of their car—must’ve had a garage sale. I watched the majestic sofa sail out of sight and headed for home glad I’d not missed the launch.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”In my walk today, I wasn’t worrying about tomorrow, but I was missing my present. And that’s just about the same.
I snapped a picture of the first leaf of autumn just before Lucy and I ended our walk. Thought you might want to enjoy the moment, too.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Psalm 96:3 reads “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.” It’s my passionate desire to share God’s love and truth with the nations. May God’s richest blessings be yours.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
When I was diagnosed with cancer, it had been a comfort to me during hospital stays that on another floor just a few years earlier, I’d had my babies. Somehow, mentally, it helped balance the pain.
In addition, the nurse who’d been with me through four previous surgeries had moved to Florida. Her face had always been the last one I’d seen before anesthesia took over. I felt a little lost facing what could once more be a difficult diagnosis in a strange place with people I didn’t know.
Just a couple of weeks before my scheduled surgery, a new couple visited our church. I learned this couple, Dr. Joel Cook, and his wife Cheryl moved here because he was to be the new director of the breast health center where my surgery was scheduled--an amazing development. It turned out he would be on duty the morning of my operation, and I thanked God I would get to see his friendly face before surgery.
When I arrived that day, another dear friend was already there praying. After a reassuring visit with her, I was taken back to pre-op. The nurse said, “Dr. Cook will be in to see you in a moment. He has something for you.”
When he walked in, he held a bundle of pink and green calico fabric in his arms.
“My wife made this for you,” he said.
I took the quilt and spread it in my lap, and immediately felt wrapped in love. I couldn’t believe this gift. I knew Cheryl had only known about my surgery for days, so she’d had to work on this for many hours in a short time to get it done. She hardly knew me, and yet she’d made this extravagant gift of time, talent, and love.
Throughout the hours and days ahead other visitors, nurses and doctors added their names to the quilt. When I left the hospital, the love and prayers expressed through that quilt carried me through several difficult days of waiting for pathology results. It turned out three local pathologists could not agree about the status of the cells that had been removed. Once more, just as six years earlier when I was diagnosed with cancer, the tissues had to be sent to one of the leading experts in the world. This meant even more waiting.
At last, the results came back, and the expert’s report expressed a definitive benign diagnosis.
Benign is such a wonderful word.
I’ve often thought about the timing of the Cook’s arrival in our town. Dr. Cook’s work here has since saved the lives of an untold number of women. I know the Cooks weren’t sent here especially for me, but at the time, it sure felt that way.
Cheryl’s extravagant gift makes me think of God’s love. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God? ” I John 3:1 God has never held back his love, even to the point of sacrificing his own son. “For God so loved the world that he gave…” John 3:16
Lying across the sofa in my office today is Cheryl's quilt, a beautiful reminder of how much God loves me and of how he calls me also to love extravagantly.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
As I lay on the examination table, I became aware of a flashing light. I sat up to see a computer with a slide show of what appeared to be fund raising events for the newly opened medical center where I was having the test. I thought if I watched, it might take my mind off what the technician and doctor were talking about in the next room. Thinking I might see someone I knew, I scanned picture after picture, yet none of them revealed recognizable faces.
Then just as I was about to lie down again, a photo appeared of a group of young gymnasts who participated in an event called “Cartwheels for a Cure” at a local gym.. There in that dark room, shining on me from the computer screen was my own smiling daughter who’d participated in the event by taking donations for the many, many cartwheels she turned.
She could’ve never known what comfort her cartwheels would bring me months later. God reminded me through my daughter’s bright face that I was not alone, and that God is faithful to light up our darkness.
Dear God, thank you for the assurance of your presence in dark places.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
The extremes in which God lives seemed to take my breath away--the very high and the very low. Holy God feels at home in a humble heart.
But how do you get one of those?
C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, if we meet a humble man, “He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” He goes on to say, “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can…tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. …If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”
I know when we come up against tough life situations like a cancer diagnosis, a death of a loved one, or a marital problem, we often are more open to letting God empty us of pride. God uses our desperation to bring us to that place where we’re not thinking of ourselves, only of the God who is our very breath. I’ve often experienced a powerful sense of God’s presence with people who’ve suffered greatly—people who have allowed God to use their suffering for His glory,exhibit a spirit of quiet and gentle humility. As Isaiah would say, “…contrite and lowly…”
I want one of those kinds of hearts. I want God to use whatever suffering I go through for Him. I want God to live with me.
How about you?
Monday, October 18, 2010
I sat on the floor with my Bible and found some well-worn pages. I thought I’d copy just a few verses on the old linoleum and particleboard, but wound up staying late into the night. There were just so many promises that had been important to me-- verses God had given me when I had cancer, when my mother was dying, and when my children were babies. Scripture rolled across my memory from thirty years of walking with the Lord. I just didn’t know where to stop. The rest of the family added verses the next morning, too. When the workers came, hardly a square yard of floor space remained blank.
In Deuteronomy 11:20, Moses tells the Israelites to write God’s words “…on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates…”
So, I may be moving on from the floors to the doors, too. I think I need to buy more markers though. As I remember, the reason I finally went to bed that night last year is I used up my permanent markers.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
“That’s not a star, that’s Jupiter.”
They all looked like stars to me. I decided to count them. First, there was one, two, then I counted to fifteen, and very soon, there were more than I could possibly number. A scripture I’d read days before came to mind, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26
Missing. I’d known recently what it was like at times to feel I was missing--lost in the universe--alone on a road of pain-wondering if God still had my address. The best scientists can only estimate there are maybe something like ten to the twenty-second power of stars in the universe. It’d take a lot of zeroes to write that number out, and yet God was reminding me the stars that are too numerous for mortals to count, He called each by name. He had not lost one of them, and He had not lost me no matter how I felt.
There’s a childlike but powerful poem whose source is now long forgotten: “Feelings come and feelings go, they can be deceiving. My hope is in the word of God, none else is worth believing.”
God’s Word is true, and I’m thankful He’s hung the stars in the heavens to be a constant reminder of his greatness and of his love for you and me.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Just a few days after my surgery for breast cancer in 2000, our family received a postcard from an acquaintance who is a businessperson in town. The personal inscription on the card read: “So many people are praying for Beverly’s complete return to health, that I’m sure God will bless your family in so many ways.”
I received a boxful of beautiful and thoughtful cards during that time, but this one from a woman I barely knew really captured my attention. I went back to it many times. I suppose the reason was the sender helped me see a bigger picture than just my health concerns.
Even now, I love to think on the truth of that card. I believe what she meant was that all those prayers would be used for more than just my physical healing--because of the prayers there were other blessings in store for us as a family. I hadn’t thought of that much before. I’m not often aware that when I ask God to heal someone, he might also choose to give him or her a better job, or help them forgive someone, or lift them out of discouragement. It is in his Word however, that he is able to do more than we ask or imagine, not only more, but immeasurably more. The expectation of God’s provision in those verses is so encouraging.
That one small card changed the way I thought about prayer. Now, because of it, my desire is that God would always use my prayers for immeasurably more than just for what I ask.
Friday, October 15, 2010
I've spent the better part of the last twenty- four hours with a Mom
whose child had gone missing. I'm happy to report that just a short
time ago, the child was found safe.
However, as I've sat by this Mom hour after hour and watched her ache
and long to once more hold her child, it's given me an even greater
sense of the Father's heart.
If you're out there reading this and wonder if God still wants you, if
he still loves you--turn--look homeward. Run as fast as you can. The
trip is not far. He longs to wrap His arms around you, press his face
into your hair, and hold you to His heart. There is no transgression
too great for him to forgive. Just come home. Don't delay. Throw down
anything that's lured you away. Find all you long for in His embrace.
His love is stronger and greater than any love you can imagine.
Look homeward. He waits for you with arms wide open.
Sent from my iPhone
Thursday, October 14, 2010
At intermission, I ran into a friend who is an accomplished musician herself, and we were marveling over the talent of the 5 Browns.
“Isn’t it amazing” she said, “that God could give them the discipline to develop their talent in this way?”
I did find it amazing. Discipline is a word that doesn’t usually give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. The words hard, long, and tedious more aptly describe what comes to mind when I think of discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7 reads, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” I can only wonder what God might accomplish in my life if I allowed Him to work fully the self-discipline he desires for me in the spiritual realm.
I know it doesn’t happen all at one time. When I’ve had to recover from surgery, I did it one small step at a time. Initially painful, the discipline of exercise strengthened the weak muscles and in time, I, found myself strong again.
It gives me a good picture of what God could do in the spiritual muscles in me that are weak. And when I remember the soaring sounds of the 5 Browns, I hear even the music of self-discipline.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
As I watched the news, a verse that meant so much to me when I had cancer came to mind. “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters.” Psalm 18:16 Though the miners have not been in literal water, they’ve been in metaphorical deep water,—just as I felt I was when I had cancer. Though going through cancer is not fun, I can’t even imagine the ordeal these men have been through these past sixty-nine days.
A few moments after I’d decided to write from Psalm 18:16, I saw I had a message from writer Michelle Cox. She’d sent me a wonderful note of encouragement on Face book. I went to her page, and have her permission to post what she’d written there about the miners. “What a joy to watch the rescue of the miners in Chile. I stayed up part of the night and cried with the families as their loved ones were freed. This morning, I thought about how God did the same thing for us. He came to the darkest places of our lives, and set down a container of Grace named Jesus, and set us free.”
In so many ways, Jesus rescues us. He’s rescued me from sin, trauma, cancer, heartache, disappointment—the list goes on and on. Through many trials, I’ve felt the strong arms of God holding me fast and taking me to higher ground.
So, let’s continue to pray that all the Chilean miners may reach safety. And as they come into the light and doors open which they would’ve never imagined, pray they would have wisdom to allow God to use the rest of their lives for His glory.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Actually, it seems I’m always on a learning curve; it just changes in intensity from time to time. I’ve come to accept it as the norm. I recently had a conversation with a young writer in her twenties who at the time was writing children’s books.
“I’ve thought about writing screenplays,” she said. “But, it would mean I’d have to learn something new.”
With my mind spinning from a screenwriting book I’d just finished which was full of new information I was trying to process , I tried to tell her as kindly as I could that it’d be better if she accepted “learning something new” as a given. I refrained from explaining to her that I started out on a typewriter. I thought it might be too “…when I was a child I walked five miles in the snow to school…”
Having a brush with cancer gave me more of a “Why not try it?” attitude. I had felt God calling me to write in such an intense way. It seemed God was speaking to me through new opportunities that’d never been on my radar screen, and I took the next step. Yes, it was quite possible that I might fail, but I just had to go where God was leading which often meant learning a new skill. Well, which almost always has meant learning a new skill.
Being a finalist in the Gideon and Kairos competitions all came of learning something new, and being willing to follow what I believed to be God’s purpose for my life.
So here’s to throwing out the phrases “I don’t know how, I’ll have to learn something new, and I’m too old” and here’s to “straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14
…now where is that instruction book?
Monday, October 11, 2010
One of the biggest challenges in waiting, especially with a life threatening diagnosis potentially lurking in the wings, is not allowing your thoughts to go wild. I have a friend who often says, “Our thoughts create our emotions.” And she’s right, so that’s why it’s so important to surrender our thought life to the Lord, because if our thoughts are centered on him, our actions will not be far behind. II Corinthians 10:4 says “…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” That means we don’t get into all the “what if’s” in a situation, because that only takes us to a bad place. We don’t let our imaginations conjure up worst-case scenarios or brood over what might happen. Sometimes we can’t stop thinking about something detrimental, but what we can do is substitute the truth of God found in scripture and meditate on the life changing and life giving words found there.
As difficult as it is to say, the waiting time is where God has often done permanent and life altering work in my life. Yes, I’ve found God is all about the wait. Sometimes, I think he has more for us in the process than in the end result. If we allow it, the wait is where he refines our character, tunes our heart, and takes us to higher ground.
We’ll find in the end, the wait was definitely worth it.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Elizabeth has an unusual story. With an upbringing in the elite Buckhead section of Atlanta, and schooling at the prestigious Westminster Schools then later at Vanderbilt University, she seemed an unlikely candidate for what came next. God called her to missions—something that had never been on her radar screen. But she followed the call, and she and her family have now lived in France for twenty years as missionaries. She'd had a desire to be a writer since childhood, and after moving to France, even with the challenges of raising small children in another culture, somehow Elizabeth continued to write. Fifteen years of diligent work and prayer passed, then finally, she saw her dream come true when she was offered a book contract in 1994. According to her website, she’s since had seven books published.
Since I’m blogging everyday in October for Breast Cancer Awareness, you might be asking what this has to do with BCAM? In Elizabeth’s bio she writes, “My life has not turned out in any way as I had thought. There have been many difficult, challenging times.” But she goes on to say all the wonderful things God has brought about on this unexpected path.
And I would say, my life has not turned out the way I thought it would either. I never expected to have breast cancer. I’ll never forget the day I had the mammogram, which would later show a problem. I have a distinct memory of leaving the hospital taking in the beauty of an early spring day. It never occurred to me I might have cancer.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Like Elizabeth, I've found that God has worked so many wonderful things in my life and others lives on the unexpected path. Through what I went through with cancer, I've found that God doesn’t waste our suffering. I’m thankful I can trust Him with my future.
A future which I hope holds reading many more books by Elizabeth.
I've had the opportunity to meet Elizabeth on one of her infrequent trips back to the U.S., and she was so gracious and encouraging to me in my own writing endeavors. Please read more about Elizabeth Musser at her website www.elizabethmusser.com and if you haven’t read one of her books, please do. You’ll love it. Guaranteed.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Deanna discussed her hospital stay with her children when she learned she had cancer and asked if they would help decorate her room. Morgan, six, and Jason, eight, delighted in spreading glitter glue on a poster for their mom.
On the day of her surgery, Deanna left notes for her husband to give the children each day she was gone, and she invited them to eat her Jell-O and ride on her hospital bed as she recovered. When Morgan and Jason visited, they didn’t seem to notice her tubes and monitors, which she’d told them about, but were interested in riding on a bed that went up and down. Though they passed on the Jell-O, they took pride in their poster, which was displayed in Deanna’s room.
Hopefully, these few tips will spark other ideas which will help Moms and Dads parent their small children through the uncertain experience of having a parent with a serious illness. I found myself asking often for wisdom especially during that time and am thankful that if we need wisdom we can ask God “who gives generously to all…” James 1:4
Friday, October 8, 2010
A day like today is so easy to rejoice in; it’s the days I’m not basking in the light that make it a little harder to embrace Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Those are the days I must choose to rejoice--when circumstances threaten to take me in another direction.
How do we do that? Some of what I know about this, I learned when I had cancer.
First, focus on the truth of God rather than the problems. Sometimes, I have to write a verse down and put it where I can see it all day, so that it may saturate my mind and spirit.
I’ve also found it important as much as possible to surround myself with uplifting media. Watching a news cycle of grim headlines can take us down a bad path which only adds to any other difficult circumstances with which we may be dealing. I usually get the news from print media, because it provides the information without so much sensationalism.
I’ve also found when I’ve taken time to notice some of the small but beautiful gifts God has given me, that my gratitude level increases--things like the first red leaves on the maple tree, the puppy’s adoring eyes, or especially an embrace from my husband.
Those are just a few things that help me. There are more, but right now, I’m going to squeeze the last glory from this wonderful day by walking the dog. I’m remembering an old hymn:
For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
Grateful praise, indeed.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
|Mom and I|
My mother didn’t want to be there. She wanted to be home. Home hadn’t been an option for her in quite a while with so many difficult health issues. I felt helpless in the face of a cruel disease that was slowly stealing her life. I’d just sit by her bedside praying, her moments of lucidness becoming fewer and fewer.
On a Saturday night in early October, as I was preparing to go to bed, I dropped to my knees and asked God to heal her or take her to be with him. Her pain seemed excruciating, her quality of life so diminished. I put her in His hands, and got into an empty bed, because my husband, a pastor, was out of state for a few days preaching at a family camp.
I went in to see Mom early Sunday morning and found her unusually alert. I asked if she wanted some applesauce and was surprised when she nodded her head. She’d eaten so little lately. I fed her the sauce and sat down. Then she did something so bizarre. She began to look up to the ceiling all around the room. I couldn’t understand what she was seeing. I got up to check if there was a spider or bug crawling along the top of the wall. I kept saying, “Mom, what is it? What are you looking at?” Unable to speak because of a stroke, she just continued the wide eyed staring at what I couldn’t understand. A friend came in; we visited a little longer, then my friend and I prepared to leave for church.
“I’ll see you a little later,” I told Mom. Mom briefly acknowledged me with her eyes, and then resumed her intense study of the room’s periphery. What in this world was she looking at? I thought as I walked to my car.
A good friend was filling in for my husband at church that morning and concluded his sermon by saying, “There are some things you can’t fix, but when God fixes them, they stay fixed.”
As his words lingered in my brain, I left with my children after church to have lunch, and almost pulled into the nursing home on the way, but the children were very hungry. We’d just finished lunch when my cell phone rang. It was the hospice representative calling to say my mother had just died.
There were things about my mother most people didn’t know--difficult private battles which she’d fought with great courage. Now all those terrible battles were over. I knew then the last time I’d been in her room, she hadn’t been looking at anything in this world. She’d been staring at angels--a room full of them that’d been sent to accompany her into the presence of the Living God.
Paul wrote in II Timothy 4:18 of his confidence that the Lord “…will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” My experience with my mother on the day she died cemented my confidence in God’s promise of heaven as nothing else ever has.
Today, October seventh, is nine years to the day my mom made that trip to heaven. I’ll go walking again tonight and catch the scent of the tea olives, but I’m just wondering if maybe in some way they are the smell of heaven itself for me. And my friend was right, I couldn’t fix my mother’s situation, but God has fixed it for all eternity.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
One of Vonda’s messages is about our ideas concerning beauty. She said that when she was growing up she was everything beauty was not. Now, I’ve always thought Vonda a very attractive woman, but she went on to explain. She said that beauty was tall, and she was short. Beauty was blond, and she had dark hair. You get the idea. What she meant is she didn’t measure up to the culture’s idea of beauty. And she pointed out; we can hardly ever keep up with that, because the culture’s idea about beauty is always changing. She performed her skit from the Song of Solomon, which portrays in a comical way the idea of beauty in Solomon’s time. If you’ve not seen her do this, I’ll provide the link at the end of this blog. It’s hysterical, yet full of truth.
As a breast cancer survivor, one of the things I’ve had to deal with is body image. Breasts are one of the ways our culture defines feminine beauty, so how does a survivor handle what can be a beast of cultural ideas?
Although every woman who loses a breast is going to go through a grieving period, the way to fight the beast is to focus on what lasts. Proverbs 31:30 says, “…beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” All of the outward beauty on which our culture puts so much emphasis, is going away, but the inward beauty we allow God to develop in us lasts forever. Tony Campolo has said that in our culture we’ve swapped all the price tags. Indeed we have in so many ways. We often value the temporal, to the exclusion of the eternal.
For me, it helped enormously to have a husband who told me several times a day how beautiful he thought I was. Even with years flying by, and wrinkles accumulating, I still believe him. Jerry’s opinion is but a reflection of God’s view of me, and the God who created me thinks I’m his lovely handiwork--no matter how many body parts I lose on this earth. And that's what really slays the beast!
You will find Vonda’s “Solomon’s Beloved” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEmhI8FL_ZI or you can visit her at her website www.VondaSkelton.com Enjoy!
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
I thought I’d get a photo of our puppy, Lucy, in her new pink Breast Cancer Awareness collar. But maybe not. As you can see, the photo shoot didn’t go too well. Lucy is only motionless when she’s sleeping. She’s really helped me bump up my heart rate when we go for a walk, though.
“Can’t you make that dog stay still?” Jerry said. “How can I get a picture when she’s writhing?”
“I’m trying,” I said wrestling with the dog as she gnawed on my arms.
Jerry snapped the picture a second too late—again. “I told you we should have gotten an older dog,” he said frustrated.
Right, but Mr. Marshmallow caters to that dog as if she was one of the children, because Lucy makes us smile, and we adore her. She, however, has returned our affection by chewing, shredding, gnawing, and pretty much destroying anything her little baby teeth have touched. And she knows the moment a twig falls from one of the trees in the backyard, too, because within minutes it’s lying at the back door. By the end of the day, it looks like we’re about to start a campfire on the doormat.
In fact, I’m glad we now have a battery-powered blower, because every morning, and I do mean EVERY morning, I blow off Lucy’s collection from the day before.
“Why don’t you buy that dog some chew toys?” I hear you say.
(…patiently clearing throat…) She has a stuffed man, a squirrel, a chew bone, an assortment of balls, a toy dog, and a plush tiger. But she’s definitely demonstrated an affinity for more organic material.
And speaking of organic material, did I mention we’ve had a little trouble house training her?
As I write, Lucy is curled up in one of the patio chairs. Since a puppy, she’s preferred human seating to the standard dog accommodations. We really didn’t name Lucy after the character Lucy Ricardo; it's just the only name on which the kids could agree. But, Ricky’s comment to Lucy has come to mind many times. I’m pretty sure as the years roll by that our Lucy is often going to have some 'splainin’ to do.
I have a lot of mercy for her, though. I’ve felt I had to do a good bit of explaining myself because of the messes I’ve made in my own life. I’m thankful that “…where sin increased, grace increased all the more…” (Romans 5:20) because of what Jesus did for us. It’s so good to know God can make something good even of the awful stuff I've left by His door.
Now, has anybody seen my purple slipper? Lucy…
Monday, October 4, 2010
Getting a cancer diagnosis is like other “bad news” kinds of things. It feels like a big cow in the road that you can’t get around—no way to move forward or make plans. The day after I found I had cancer, I was scheduled to speak at a service in a women’s prison. In finalizing my message for the women that evening, I realized we had a lot in common. My life as I had known it was coming to a halt for a season so I could deal with this cancer, just like their lives in so many ways had come to halt. Also like some of them, I found that within the confines of what seemed like a very small space, God was at work.
Isaiah 45:3 says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” I believe I’ll always mine from the wealth God has given me through that which from all appearances seemed like a dark time. But in fact, his presence and voice have never been more real to me than in days of complete and utter dependence on him . My prayer is that I would live in that presence every day.
We eventually found the cows’ owner and went on our way. Our destination was a women’s prison where we were ministering that evening. I was thankful I could enter that facility with so much hope because of what God has brought out of my own confinement of cancer.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
God has often spoken to me through dreams. Back in the spring of this year, I had what seemed to be a “defining moment” dream. Our family faced many challenges at the time, and in the dream, I was awaking on a hard surface—like the hardness of my life then. Beside me was a bell, and as I looked it, a realization dawned on me in the dream which seemed like the most wonderful news I’d ever heard. “I’m the bell ringer,” I said. I grabbed the bell, and began to ring it with great joy. As I did, many people gathered to worship God. There’s more, but you get the picture.
When I awoke, I realized I didn’t know a lot about bells, so I did some research. The scripture at the bottom of this template from Exodus 28:33-35 says, “…gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate around the hem of the robe...” This refers to the bells around the hem of the Priest’s robe in the temple. According to many sources, those bells are meant to symbolize the going forth of the word of God. From this, I felt a new encouragement to “ring out” God’s truth whenever and wherever I could. That dream and the scripture about the bells was the impetus to start this blog, and has recently provided confirmation for other writing endeavors.
My heart and mind are now sensitized to all things “bell.” A couple of days ago Mary Demuth, a gifted author who often speaks to my heart, posted an article on her blog about being a “Cow Bell” Christian where she offered insight on yet another dimension of bells. She writes, “Farmers are selective about which cows they adorn with a bell. They choose the smartest, wisest cow because they know that cow will keep the other ones safe. Find the jingling cow; find the herd under her care. Could it be that God does the same with us? That He places cowbells around the necks of those who are smart in the Spirit, who exercise wisdom?”
She concludes by saying, “Are you ready for the cowbell? To be entrusted with the responsibilities it represents?”
The answer for me is simply I sure want to be ready for anything that God has for me. I don’t want to waste these precious days God has given me beyond my cancer diagnosis. I want to be faithful to be the “bell ringer” for Him.
Interestingly, in the short time since I started “One Ringing Bell” I’ve had visitors from about a dozen countries around the world. What a joy it is to ring out for God.
Please check out Mary’s blog here http://www.marydemuth.com/2008/01/cowbell-christian-2/
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Just days before my scheduled mastectomy in June of 2000, our family decided to go ahead with an already planned short vacation to an island off the coast of South Carolina. Frankly, I didn’t even know if I could enjoy it with the surgery facing me the morning after we returned.
One evening while we were there our young children, my husband Jerry and I were walking along a boardwalk on an inland waterway. There was a nearby band playing familiar music. Jerry and I found ourselves beginning to dance along the boardwalk under the stars while our children played at our feet. It seemed we were dancing right in the face of cancer. This has become one of the sweetest memories of our lives together.
Our anniversary fell just a week after my mastectomy. How could we make the best of this situation? In answer to that question my husband went out to a local steak restaurant and picked up take-out dinners. As our children were entertained at a local pizza restaurant courtesy of a dear friend, we ate our take-out dinners on the good china in the dining room by candlelight.
After dinner we took out a CD we had purchased of the band we heard on our pre-surgery vacation. Somehow, I secured the two drainage tubes I had, and we danced unhindered by bandages. As we danced, we remembered the stars and the water from the week before, and God’s faithfulness to us in these days. It’s strange how God enables us to re-frame the difficulties of our lives. When I think of mastectomy, I think of being held in my precious husband’s arms, and I think of dancing.
To this day, those sweet memories of dancing more than outweigh the memories of the difficulties I faced. God taught me during that time that he truly does give us “…beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 61:3
Friday, October 1, 2010
I hear a lot of talk about what we would do if we only had thirty days to live. Well, I’ve been living that way for ten years. Every day, I try to squeeze as much as I can out of it. That doesn’t mean I climb Mt. Everest, or tour the world every other month. No, if I had thirty days to live, I’d hug my kids, kiss my husband, pet my kitties and puppy, spend time with my extended family and friends, cook meals, and wash the dirty clothes(well, maybe a little less clothes washing). I’d pray, write, play the piano, watercolor and worship with other believers just like I’m doing. My chest bears many scars, but I have a husband who thinks I’m beautiful; and though life continues to hold many challenges, its filled with wonder as well.
Jesus knew his time was short, but he lived a rather ordinary (albeit perfect) life for the first thirty years. When you think about it, though, life itself is never ordinary. The gift God has given us of living and breathing on this planet is so completely extraordinary, we should pray for an ever increasing awareness of this gift he’s lavished upon us. The prophet Isaiah wrote in 58:11, “And the Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” I want to be a spring whose waters never fail, a person who effervesces the grace of God—who really lives every day.
By God’s mercy, my cancer was caught very early, and I’m still here telling the story. Get your mammogram, or make sure the woman you love gets hers. I’ve just had mine. When you see those pink ribbons, remember to pray for the almost two million breast cancer survivors in the United States, that they would live their lives to the fullest, and especially pray healing and hope for those who are just being diagnosed. And join me here for Breast Cancer Awareness Month as I share, remember, give thanks…and really live.
Tomorrow, join me at “One Ringing Bell” for Dancing Lessons.