Saturday, March 31, 2018

There Is No Place Like Home!

This morning as I opened my eyes and stretched my arms and legs I channeled my inner Dorothy, "There is no place like home. There is no place like home! THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME!"  What a delight to sleep in my own bed, in my own room, in my own house. 

It is the little things that make home home. Waking to your own alarm clock (okay, that was an accident; I didn't realize that it was set -- SNOOZE!); drinking from your favorite coffee cup; sitting on your favorite spot on the couch; listening to your kids talk; bathing your dog (what DID they get into while I was away?!?); lighting your favorite candle; hearing the familiar sounds of life as you know it all around you; all those little things that we sometimes take for granted make our homes Home. Three weeks is a long time to be away from home, but it is nothing compared to another I know. 

This Easter weekend I cannot help but be reminded of another who left his home. He didn't do it to save his own life like I did, in fact, he did it to save mine. He did it to save yours. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:20) He wasn't gone from his home for three weeks, he was gone for 33 years. During that time he gave up all the luxuries of home in order to fulfill his purpose-  to save us from our sin when we couldn't save ourselves. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) He was hung on a cross, buried in a borrowed tomb and on the third day rose again. Then, finally, he got to go home - to prepare a place for us! "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:2-3)  

One day we will TRULY be home. And that is the source of my strength. So while I celebrate my homecoming, on this particular weekend I have even greater celebration. I get to celebrate what Christ has done to save me through the cross. I celebrate the healing He has brought in my life and the overcoming of death in His, "For by his stripes I am healed." (Isaiah 53:5) I celebrate the words "It is finished" as I mark the end of radiation treatment, but even more so as I think about them in the context of the cross. "It is finished". (John 19:30) Death is conquered. Salvation is possible. His mission is fulfilled. I celebrate the closing of one chapter of my life and the beginning of the next, yet even more I celebrate that the cross was not the end of the story, but the beginning. "But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him." (Acts 2:24). I celebrate this weekend with gratitude for what Christ has done in my life and expectancy for what He will do in the future--  because the story is not over. One day He will return and when he does there will be a homecoming that will put mine to shame. " At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:27-28)

I have much to celebrate! So do you! There is no place like home!

More to tell on this picture soon!!!!!

Progress Updates: We are so grateful to have completed 15 rounds of Proton Radiation! Things went very smoothly and the side effects have been very minimal-- the doctors were very pleased! My skin has had much less reaction than they anticipated which is great. Just feels like a mild sunburn. My swallowing feels a little like something is caught in my throat, but not bad at all. It seems to get tired a little faster when I talk (Rodney and the boys may like that effect! LOL) The fatigue has caught up with me a little in the past few days, but I am hopeful that will pass quickly. I did not realize that the radiation would continue to cause some progressive damage for the next two weeks or so which means some of those things could continue to be impacted, but I have high expectations!! We will go back in a couple of months for scans to see how we are looking. I was surprised to learn that the spot will still be visible on scans (I guess I just thought that it would be obliterated) so they watch the scans just to be certain that it doesn't show signs of life. There are two other spots that we will continue to watch as well. It is likely that we will have to do surgery at some point, but these are slow growing thus far and are not posing a huge risk so we can watch and see a little longer. (I know it seems so strange, but this is the normal with this type of nuisance.) We continue to be thankful for the love and support that everyone has shown us. I honestly do not know where we would be without it! This round seems a little strange because we will have not final outcome of No Evidence of Disease (NED). Part of me feels a little anti-climatic about not being able to say "WE'RE DONE", but the other part of me says, "Oh HUSH, we're done with THIS part!!!" I guess I will listen to that voice! (Don't be alarmed that I am hearing voices - LOL) Thanks for loving us and praying us on!!!!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Standing Where the Fire Has Already Been

Dr. Erwin Lutzer once shared this story, "Many years ago, a father and his daughter were walking through the grass on the Canadian prairie. In the distance, they saw a prairie fire, and they realized that it would soon engulf them. The father knew there was only one way of escape: they would quickly begin a fire right where they were and burn a large patch of grass. When the huge fire drew near, they then would stand on the section that had already burned. When the flames did approach them, the girl was terrified but her father assured her, ‘The flames can’t get to us. We are standing where the fire has already been.’

I came across that story this week and it spoke to my heart.  I have to be honest and say that I sometimes feel like the little girl in the story. The emotions of seeing the flames of the Nuisance creeping across the prairie of my life can sometimes threaten to engulf me, too. I hoped that I would never see those flames again and yet here I am; but just like the little girl in the story, I have a Father who assures me, "The flames can't get to you. You are standing where the fire has already been."  You notice the father didn't say that the flames wouldn't come. He didn't say they wouldn't feel the heat. There were no promises that they wouldn't be singed a little by the flames. They would definitely walk away smelling like smoke, but the flames wouldn't reach them. They were standing where the fire has already been. 

There are many thoughts I have had as I have reflected on this story.  I can't say that there is no fear or discomfort in having to go through treatment for round 2 of the Nuisance, but I can say that having witnessed the fire before I know more of what to expect. Having survived a proverbial blaze I now know more about the importance of holding onto my Father's hand so I don't get separated from him. I know to look at him instead of the flames because the flames are fueled by fear and if I stare at them it is like adding gasoline to the fire. I have learned that being safe does not always mean being comfortable. Fire can still be hot even if it isn't touching you. I have learned to believe that if my father says it will be okay then it will be okay. 

Now that last statement requires taking the lesson to a deeper level. Believing that things will be okay means coming to the realization that God's okay and my okay may not be defined in the same way and I have to trust that His definition, whatever it is, will better than mine. This is where the metaphor moves in a different direction, flames can shift after all.  What if God's okay and our okay are not defined the same way and it involves death? Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced that possibility in Daniel 3. They refused to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar and as a result they were being thrown into a fiery furnace. I always hope my response would be like theirs, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.  Their okay was that they be saved from the flame (which He ultimately did), but their conviction was that even if He didn't they would worship Him still.  Believers can always trust that God's okay is better.  "The flames (death) can't get to us. We are standing where the fire (death) has already been." My okay says that I will come through the fire and have many beautiful days ahead (which I do believe to be true!!!!) BUT even if I don't, I have this assurance-- I am standing where the fire has already been. You see, the thing that gives me the greatest courage is this:  "For God so loved the world that he lay down his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16. Someday, either now or 50 years from now, we will all face death, but those  who have accepted Jesus as savior will not be touched by that flame. We will be standing where the fire of Christ's death for us has already been and that spot cannot be touched by death again. Our bodies may fail, but our souls will be secure. That is how we can trust with certainty that His okay will always be better than our okay. That is how we can have courage when we face difficult circumstances. That is how we find peace even in the face of fire.

Do you have struggles in your life that you seem to deal with over and over? Maybe it is the weight that you have to keep losing or the debt you keep having to struggle with. Perhaps it is an argument that you just can't seem to resolve or an illness that just won't go away. Maybe it is all of those things and more! That is how the Nuisance is for me. Where there are prairies there will always be fires. My advice is to hold onto the hand of the Father, fix your eyes on him and trust that while you may smell like a campfire, the flames won't reach you. On a larger scale, my hope is you never have to face the flames of death without the security of believing in one who died on your behalf. For God loved YOU so much that he gave Jesus so that if you believe in him you will not die, but have everlasting life.  As a believer you can trust that the flames can't reach your soul. You are standing where the fire has already been.

I have finished five rounds or Proton Radiation this week (speaking of fire)! We continue to be grateful for you prayers and encouragement! I am feeling great. While we know the effects of radiation are cumulative, we are hopeful that the next two weeks will go as well as the first! 
Thank you for praying us on!

"He (Nebuchadnezzar) said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." Nebuchadnezzar then approaced the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here! So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched and there was no smell of fire on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God...for no other god can save in this way."

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
Isaiah 43:2

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Choose to Be Pink in a Sea of White!

Day 1 of Radiation is in the books! The countdown is on! The process was super easy, especially compared to some of the other stuff we have had to do to The Nuisance in the past. The machine they use is a BEAST! It is the size of a room. Pretty amazing! It is mind boggling to me that this technology exists! Who can imagine what the future holds?!

Photo Credit: MD Anderson Proton Center

We are so grateful to be able to do the Proton version of radiation as it does less harm to surrounding organs and tissue. It has a lower risk of secondary nuisances so we are grateful for that! The therapy can give a higher dose of radiation with a lot more accuracy. I hope to learn more about how it works as we move forward! For now I am just imagining a giant game of Space Invaders going on and blasting the little booger into oblivion!

After treatment we headed to one of my favorite spots - Hermann Park. We are so blessed to be staying right across the street. It is a happy place for me! As we walked through the park we admired the beautiful Azaelas that were blooming all around every corner. Spring has definitely sprung! As we rounded a corner my eye was immediately drawn to this bush: 

In a long row of white azaelas there was one small branch of pink. The thought immediately occurred to me, “Choose to be pink in a sea of white.”  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  I don’t know about you, but I find conforming to be almost a passive act. I don’t have to try very hard to conform to the world — I have to fight NOT to.  Paul was saying that the only way to be transformed, to be something different, to stand out from the world, is to renew your mind. When we take time to refresh our minds then we begin to have more clarity of what God is whispering to our souls. I am afraid that whisper is often drowned out by the noise of the world. As I snapped a photo of the pink flowers, I thought of all my friends who are on Spring Break this week. I hope that you are taking some time to renew your minds this week and that you get the rejuvenation you need to be PINK in a sea of white!

Choose to Be Pink in a Sea of White!

Thanks my friends for praying us on! We know good things lie ahead for us! We are grateful for each and every one of YOU!!!!! Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Victory Laps

One of my favorite definitions of faith is that faith is believing in what God has already done. My guess is that the person who first made that statement was referring to the ability to trust that God has already taken care of the future outcome of our various situations; that he has gone before us to work all things together for our good and all we have to do is trust him. While I do believe that, the phrase has always spoken a little differently to me. Sometimes people ask how I can have faith that things are going to be okay (one way or another) in the future. In order to answer that question I have to point to my past. My faith in the future is built on HIS faithfulness in the past. Yesterday I had a beautiful reminder of just that.

My dear friend, Ann Archer, has been a part of the American Cancer Society Relay for Life for years following the loss of her husband, Jo Paul in 2005. She has given tireless hours to raise funds and awareness so that others don't have to experience the loss she and her girls have had to experience. Over time her commitment to this cause has changed countless lives. She has walked with friends who are on the same path. Her life makes a difference in the battle against the C word! Yesterday she helped organize Relay Recess 2018. Students from local elementary schools joined in the walk to support the American Cancer Society. I, and other survivors like me, was invited to come walk the opening lap. Together we held the banner and made our way around the track, while the students cheered and yelled and clapped. As we walked to celebrate what we have overcome, my mind began to recognize the irony of the moment. While I circled the track in victory over the past, my heart began to tremble with thoughts of the future. The cheers began to fade away and the jeers of fear began to fight for my attention. It was ironic to be celebrating beating the Nuisance while preparing to leave to go fight it again. Tears sprang up behind my sunglasses as that old uncertainty threatened to overtake my mind BUT just as quickly my mind was able to reflect back on the past five years. I AM A SURVIVOR. Time and again our needs have been met. Over and over and over people like you have stepped into our lives to help us when we can't go it alone. I have seen miracles. I have had peace. I have seen joy where there should only have been sorrow. I have seen my boys protected and covered from harm through all of this struggle. Doors have been thrown open that should have been closed. I have found beauty in scars that were meant to defeat me. I can have faith in the future because I have seen these things in my past. What He has done before He will do again.  Even when things don't turn out the way I want and pray, they still turn out for my good. I can look back and ALWAYS find that to be true. As I ran through that list in my mind, once again I could hear the cheers and clapping. The fears were silenced by faith, they were replaced with hope. Wars are won by multiple battles. I have won a battle and I will win the war.

I think we all go through times that we struggle with faith. How can we not? It is an elusive thought. It seems intellectually unsound, fundamentally unbelievable, naive at best. If you try to reduce it to science or logic it falls apart in your hands. But some things aren't meant to be explained or understood. They just are. Love is more than a chemical reaction. Joy is greater than a rush of endorphins and serotonin. We can't always explain it, but we feel it, we see evidence of it, sometimes in the strangest of places, and if we are smart we grab it up and revel in it. Faith is much like that. I may not be able to answer every question about faith. There is no formula or equation to explain it, and honestly there are times that it makes no sense, and yet my life is overflowing with evidence that I have every reason to believe. Not that it always goes my way, not that there aren't struggles, not that there is never fear, but somehow, every time, God shows up. Faith is believing what God has already done. Faith conquers fear!

As we walked the last half of the lap, my thoughts shifted from celebration of the past to anticipation of the future. The Survivor's Lap was a promise fulfilled and a new promise made.

For I am about to do something new.
    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19

Monday I will begin proton radiation treatments at MD Anderson. While we dread being away from our boys we know that this, too is for our good and we are thankful. Somewhere down the road we will probably be facing additional surgery, but for now we are focusing on one spot near my carotid and brachiocephalic arteries. We are ready to zap that little booger! We continue to be so blessed by your prayers and support. Thank you will never be enough for all you have done to love and encourage us. Thank you for helping our family. Thank you for loving us, praying for us, and meeting our physical needs through your gifts. Our hearts are overwhelmed! We love you! 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

And Then They Came

Have you ever had those times in life where circumstances paralyzed you? When I say paralyzed I am asking in a very broad sense of the word. Sometimes life paralyzes us physically where we are incapacitated to the point of being unable to move in either a literal or figurative sense. Other times events occur that cause us to be paralyzed emotionally, financially, socially, or spiritually. I think if we are quite honest we have all faced that at some point in our lives. While we would like to believe that we are independent and capable of moving ourselves forward in life, there are times that circumstances are too great and we cannot meet our own needs. That is a hard place to be. I believe our human nature is designed to be able to provide for ourselves in order to survive, so dependency goes against every grain in most of our bodies. Personally I was born with an X-Large independence bone; it doesn't show up on x-rays but my parents will confirm the diagnosis. I loathe the need for dependence and yet right now fearless dependence is all I have to help make me brave. The irony of that conflict is not lost on me. I am learning new lessons about it every day. This week as we have been trying to make preparations to be in Houston for three weeks of radiation treatment, I have been overwhelmed by the circumstances. Getting calendars aligned, making arrangements to make sure my sweet boys are taken care of while we are gone, completing insurance paperwork, arranging travel, locating lodging, making certain my work responsibilities are covered, and covering all the bases in between has led me to moments this week when I literally find myself walking in a circle, paralyzed and unable to move myself forward. And then they came.  

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.... 11 I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12)

Just like the man in this story, friends have stepped forward and taken a corner of my mat to help move me to the healer. I love that the man's friends in the story would not allow any obstacle to stand between them and their mission of having their friend healed. When they could not get through the door, they came down through the roof. This week God has placed people in our life who have been dedicated to overcoming any obstacle that stands between me and healing and as I type this I can't help but cry over the emotion that kind of love stirs in me. I do not know how in the world I will EVER be able to say thank you, but in a time when I was unable to meet all of my own needs, and the needs of my family, others have stepped forward. I won't list by name because I don't even KNOW all the names and I definitely do not want to miss a single one because we have felt EVERY hand. Some have lifted my mat by praying and encouraging us, another shared her talent of making t-shirts and so many of you have carried me by buying them- my prayer for those t-shirts is that they help us all remember how to be brave. Some have given reward miles so that we can fly home and hug our babies, excuse me, fine young men, on the weekends and even took the responsibility of booking the flights so we didn't even have to deal with the hassle. Some of you have made sure food is covered with gift cards; others are helping with lodging through your amazing gifts. And just like in the story from Mark, "We have never seen anything like this!"  We can never thank you enough!

Mark's story of the paralyzed man is not written from the perspective of the mat. We do not get to hear what was running through his mind, but from someone who is currently on that mat, let me tell you what he probably felt. As he looked up at the faces of his friends he probably thought, "I do not deserve this. I can never repay this kindness." As he felt his weight being carried in their hands he probably thought, "I wish this wasn't necessary. I wish I was the one helping another." When he saw the dirt on their hands and the sweat on their brows from breaking through the roof he probably thought, "This is too much to ask of them. I hate being a burden!" As he stared up through the hole in the ceiling and saw his friends as they lowered him down he probably thought, "This is crazy!! I can't believe they would go to this length for me! (And please don't drop me!!! LOL)" And when he laid at Jesus's feet and heard the words, "Take up your mat and go home." He was probably once again paralyzed for a moment, this time in pure joy and gratitude and amazement.  I know because today that man is me. 

Y'all, thank you for being our friends. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for putting that love to action. Thank you for praying for us. Thank you for overcoming every obstacle to get us to the healer. Thank you for coming when we couldn't carry the mat. Thank you will never be enough. We anxiously await the words, "Take up your mat and go home."

I have a favor to ask. I know that many do not see my blogs. If you have been part of groups that have helped carry our mat would you please print and share this post with others you know have been a part of helping us. I know that so many have anonymously helped us and I want to be sure they know how grateful we are!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Fearlessly Dependent on the One Who Makes Me Brave

The words whizzed through my mind as though they had been spoken aloud. A sentence I have never heard, a thought I have never had, a statement that I am clinging to-  “Fearlessly dependent on the one who makes me brave”. Fearlessly. Dependent. On the One Who Makes Me Brave.

This week my husband, Rodney, and I have been at MD Anderson. We were here just a few weeks ago and the doctors wanted to follow up on some changes they were seeing on my CT scans. We have traveled back and forth to Houston for five years tracking the progression (and lack thereof) of Stage 4 Thymoma. There have been many ups an downs along the way - suspicious moments, praises for stability, gratefulness for being “unremarkable” on scans. There have been more ups than downs, thankfully. Thymoma, a.k.a. The Nuisance, is just that - a nuisance. It is a cancer that has a tendency to recur. It is known for its slow-growing, indolent (I say insolent) tumors. Much of the journey with The Nuisance includes a watch-and-see approach. Doctors watch to see when and where things are growing and make determinations about when it is necessary to take action. On this particular trip we have learned that action is required.

On Monday I had a PET scan and Tuesday a biopsy on one lymph node of concern. Initially the doctors thought they were seeing just one spot "light up". However, as they studied the scans they discovered there are actually more like three. As I look back through my past reports I can see that at least one of the spots has shown up on my scans since 2013 so it is definitely a slow mover. One of the others appears to have been present as well. It has changed, but slowly. Those two spots are not our concern at the moment. The lymph node that was biopsied is our focus right now  and was positive for The Nuisance on the biopsy. It is between two arteries. It is quite small, but growing. Because of its location it is not surgically removable due to prior surgery scarring. Because of its location and growth, it cannot stay.

As I got ready for my final appointment of the week I felt anything but fearless. That is when the thought passed through my mind. - “Fearlessly dependent on the one who makes me brave.” I can't be fearless right now, but I can be brave. There are times in our lives when frightening circumstances are the reality. You have them. I have them. There are things we cannot overcome, situations we cannot avoid, problems we cannot solve. I have been here many times before. Over and over it has been made abundantly clear to me that I have every reason to fear if left to my own devices and every reason to be brave if I will allow myself to become dependent on the one who does have the ability to overcome.

I remember getting stuck on the roof once when I was a kid (interestingly enough I have done this more than once - some of us are a little slower to learn). I was brave enough to go up, but not brave enough to come down. I couldn’t see where to put my foot and I was so afraid of falling. I couldn’t stay where I was, but I wasn’t brave enough to move. Luckily my dad was there. He helped guide my foot to the perfect position to help me take that big first step. Then he took my hand and helped me take the next one. I trusted that he could see something I could not and I became BRAVE.

I have been that person to my own children. I remember their first rollercoasters. They were scared to death as we waited in line. Their chins would quiver and they would get to the front of the line and want to go back. As they would look over their shoulders they’d see a hundred people behind them and realize they couldn’t go backwards. Forward was the only way through. As parents we knew that if they would just get on the ride they would be okay. We’d encourage them, promise to sit close to them, double and triple check their seatbelts and then ride the ride. There were scary parts, quick turns, big drops, but we knew they’d be okay. Their fear didn’t go away when they stepped on the ride, but they depended on us and in doing so discovered their bravery.  They trusted we could see something they could not. As they road the ride they became BRAVE.

When we faced the first round of The Nuisance I was scared out of my wits, but along the way I found blessings I could not have anticipated. I found just-in-time help every time I thought I couldn’t go on. We found love in the most unexpected places, peace in the most turbulent circumstances, and joy where there should have been only sadness and we trusted in what we couldn’t see and we became BRAVE, not because we were fearless, but because we became fearlessly dependent.

We will be traveling back to Houston. We will go (probably next Monday) for a "simulation" where they will mark the spot and do a CT to get everything lined up. I will then go back the following week to begin radiation (probably proton radiation) on the spot that cannot stay.  I am stuck. I can’t go backwards and I can’t stay where I am. The only way direction is forward. I would be lying if I said I am fearless, but I am fearlessly dependent on the one who makes me brave. I have witnessed his strength. I have seen his provision. I have felt the peace that passes understanding and because of that I can trust that he can see something I cannot see and I will be BRAVE (even if my knees are shaking).

We would love your prayers as we move through the next weeks. Pray for my boys and Rod. Pray for my healing. Pray that God works out all the logistical things that seem really huge right this minute.  And do me another favor. The Nuisance is the thing that I am facing, but you have your own variation of that. You have things that make your knees shake, too. When you can't go backwards and you can't be still, be Fearlessly Dependent on the One Who Makes You Brave.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The (Not So) Great Unknown

"You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown, only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.”— so says, James T. Kirk in a Star Trek movie. While he is a fictional character, 
the statement is thought provoking. I have to say that I have been the victims of my own irrational fear. I don't know about you, but the unknown drives me crazy! I am not comfortable with the things I do not understand. What does the future hold? How will things work out? How can this possibly turn out good? The waiting, the wondering and the not knowing often bring anxiety, fear, and frustration, but I love the thought that the unknown is only temporarily hidden— that someday the thing I do not currently understand will suddenly become abundantly clear. 

This week Rodney and I will travel to MD Anderson to explore the (not so) great unknown.  I am scheduled for scans, bloodwork, a biopsy, and multiple consultations with doctors. We are looking for answers that are currently hidden. As we wait and wonder it is easy to let anxiety creep in. There is a battle of the mind in moments like these. You feel it, too. It may come in the form of uncertainty about your job or what you want to do with your future. Maybe you are unsure about the future of a relationship or a problem you are facing as a family. Some of us have no idea how we're going to make ends meet this month or how we help our kids through problems they are facing. Some are dealing with loss and have absolutely are completely unsure how things will ever be okay again. None of us are exempt from the unknown so the question becomes how do we have faith in moments like these?

I once heard it said that faith and fear both grow from a place of anticipation. We anticipate bad news - it powers our fear. We anticipate loss, rejection, defeat, and pain and the fear-meter climbs.  Fear stems from the anticipation of the terrible happpening. Yet there is another side to the coin; anticipation is also the fuel for faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (YET) Did you see it? Faith is the anticipation that the unknown will become unhidden. And greater yet, there is a promise that it  will  somehow come together to work for our good. How can we trust that? Well, Romans 8:28 says so: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." It is a promise and time and time again I have seen it played out in my life. The things that I thought I couldn’t survive, the things that seemed completely overwhelming, have all somehow made me better.  So then a choice is to be made — do we focus on the unknown or the soon to be revealed? Do we choose faith or fear? When I ask myself that question it is like the Rocky soundtrack starts playing in the back of my mind and I get fired up. I won’t live my life in fear. 

A sweet friend sent me a text this morning with a quote from Puritan Prayers that read, “Prayers arising from my needs are preparations for future mercies” . I LOVE THAT!!! When struggles arise we can pour out our needs to a God who loves us and ANTICIPATE future mercies. Faith. We can know that while a struggle may exist, the outcome will be for our good. Faith. We may face unknowns, but mercy will show up. Just in time. Faith. 

We are all facing the great unknown, every single one of us. We choose to let the anticipation power our faith or our fear. If we do no make a conscious choice we will make an unconscious one and human nature will choose fear. Don’t settle for that. Fight Fear! Choose Faith! 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Back Float

I love to back float, to lay in a pool of blue water with my eyes closed feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. My arms and legs are relaxed and my breathing is slow and steady as I allow the water to make me weightless. As a lifeguard, I taught others how to back float. I would teach them to lean their heads back, breath deep and steady, and trust the water. I would place my hand lightly under their back for support as I encouraged them. As they relaxed I would gradually move my hand away. They had to make a choice at that moment. They could either continue to trust the water or they could begin to flail around and become afraid. If they remained relaxed and continued to breathe, they could float. The water did all the work. If they began to panic their worst fear would come true and they would sink. To stay afloat one must lean back, breathe, and trust the water.

One summer I was approached by a woman who wanted me to teach her to swim, but first I would have to teach her how to float. She had grown up around the water. She would spend summers at the lake and loved to water ski. Floating and swimming had never been a problem. One particular summer she was water skiing. As the boat approached the shoreline she skied outside the wake intending to glide to the dock. She released the rope. Her speed began to slow, she began to sink, and at that moment she realized that the water around her was writhing with water snakes. Panic took over and she flailed around trying to move to safety. From that moment on she had lost the ability to float. Intense fear of the water overwhelmed her. In reality she was not asking me to teach her to swim. What she really wanted was for me to teach her how to trust. She didn't truly need someone to teach her how to float, but someone to teach her not to fear.

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have visualized floating in the past week. We went to MD Anderson last week for my check-ups. We followed the usual routine of bloodwork, CT scans and doctor visits. We have done that many times in the past five years. We have celebrated and praised as we have gotten reports of being unremarkable. Overtime, although it is always a little nerve-racking, we have learned to float. As we sat in the doctors office this past week though, the reports were not that clear. There is a spot that appears to be growing and they want to do more tests. I felt myself back in my own version of water with snakes. My body tensed up, my breathing grew unsteady, and I began to flail. You cannot float and flail at the same time. I had a flashback to swimming lessons. How do you float? You lean your head back, breathe deep and steady and trust the water. Let the lessons begin.

Psalm 121:1-8 says, 'I lift up my eyes to the mountains-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip-- he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you -- the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm -- he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore." Staying afloat requires us to lean our head back and lift our eyes to the only one who can help us. Things are not always easy and life is not always smooth. Sometimes we find ourselves in snake infested water and it is a scary place to be. Sometime memories of prior struggles bring our eyes down to the proverbial water and keep us from looking up to find our help. Looking down will cause us to sink. Lesson one to floating - lean your head back and look up!

Breath is a fundamental element of life. We draw in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. It is a process required to live. In times when we feel like we are drowning, we have to remember to breathe. We draw in hope and exhale fear. We breathe in God's word and we exhale our prayers and concerns. We inhale encouragement and force out anxiety.  That can require focus. Have you ever noticed how we tend to hold our breath when we are are afraid and anxious? When we do that blood stops flowing to our brains and we literally become incapacitated. When we are drowning in doubt and fear we do the same thing. We stop drawing in life and can easily become immobilized. So how do we keep breathing? Philippians 4:6-7 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Lesson two to floating- in order to enjoy floating in peace, even in rough waters, we have to breathe out our requests to God and draw in the peace and comfort that only he can provide. 

Lesson three to floating - trust the water. The physics of buoyancy allows water to support the weight of the body. Spiritually speaking trusting the water means that we must have faith in the one who can support the weight of our burdens. I have to be honest, I am not Bill Nye the Science Guy. I am not the best person to teach a science lesson. I do not understand all the physics of the universe, yet I still believe in it. Likewise, I cannot explain everything God does and doesn't do, but I believe in him to sustain me-- because he always does. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, 'Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight." Swimming students do not usually do very well the first time they try to float, but over time they begin to see that the water will not let them down. Trusting God is not always easy, but as we have more opportunities to see his faithfulness we begin know that we can count on him to work things out. Often in swimming lessons, students will be floating and suddenly panic and begin to sink again. When that happens the lifeguard slips their hand back under their back to support them until they are able to relax again. God does that, too. Isaiah 41:10 says, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

In a week we will return to Houston. As of right now I will have more scans, a biopsy, and appointments with several doctors. I am in water that is so deep that my feet cannot touch the bottom and I have a history of being in snake infested water. There are definite moments when I feel that anxiety slithering up beside me. I have to make a choice to believe the snakes or believe the lifeguard. Maybe you are in deep water right now, too. Let's lean our heads back, keep breathing, and trust the water!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Forest in a Wasteland

Lately I have looked at the world around me and been overwhelmed by the erosion of the society around me. Hate, fear, anger, frustration, sadness, negativity and evil seem to whittle away at our country and world. Today I saw a video that touched my heart and spoke to my soul. The video is of a man named Jadev Payeng. He is from an island in India called Manjuli. This island has been impacted by flooding that has eroded much of the area and left a vast emptiness in its path. Man has cut down trees and brought destruction causing the erosion to be even worse. Man seems to have a way of doing that. Jadev Payeng saw the destruction and determined to make a difference. In 1979 he began to plant one tree a day in the middle of this desert like environment. Day after day, tree after tree, Jadev has grown a forest that is now larger than central park. Jadev's story reminds me of many lessons.

Good deeds produce fruit.
When Jadev began planting trees he shares that the work was very difficult, but over time the trees began to produce their own seeds making the process much easier. Can you imagine the overwhelming impossibility that must have confronted Jadev in the beginning as he walked to a barren area and planted seedlings? He planted one, and stood up to see the vast emptiness around him. He returned for a whole year and yet when he looked around the impact must have seemed minuscule. The thought of giving up had to have crossed his mind many times and yet over and over he returned. One small seedling at a time he began to make a difference. The seeds he planted began to bear fruit and multiply.  A single seedling became a "dense forest in a barren wasteland".

You and I may be feel paralyzed by the barrenness around us. It may seem overwhelmingly impossible to change the chaotic world we live in, but if each day we will persistently plant one good seed then over time we begin to see those seeds produce their own fruit. If I plant my seeds in the vicinity of your seeds then the work progresses even more quickly. In the beginning the change may barely seem noticeable. Giving up will be tempting, but if we persist our good deeds WILL produce fruit. A treeline of good deeds will begin to form and even transform the community around us. More seeds will be planted, we will slow the erosion of the society around us, and the forest we create will begin to cast shadow on the desert around us.  That shadow has the ability to bring a coolness to an otherwise hot "climate". Change begins.

Good deeds bring life.
As Jadev's forest continued to grow, birds and animals that had left the area began to return. Elephants, birds, tigers and deer now inhabit the trees and roam the area. Planting the trees brought back life.

Sometimes it seems as though the negativity that surrounds us is driving away the good. People retreat to their cellphones, computers, and social media. They post things online that they would never say face-to-face. We talk more and hear less. We seek to be understood and stop seeking to understand. Families break up, friendships are destroyed, erosion continues and the desert grows, but it doesn't have to be that way.  If, like Jadev, we plant seeds of goodness in the world around us we begin to notice that life returns. Families gather at the dinner table, friends reconnect, people begin to listen. The phones and texts stop and conversations begin. Life returns. I want to see our children thrive. I want to see families rebuilt. I want to see people begin to turn towards one another and stop turning on each other. We can influence that. We must influence that.

Good deeds will be attacked.
As Jadev's forest grew and the animals returned so did a new threat. Man. Man poaches the animals. Man cuts down the trees. Man can destroy a forest much faster than one can be planted. Jadev has to be watchful and care for what has been planted. He needs others to help in that process.

There are those in our world, as sad as it is, who actively attack what is good and right. Their words kill as effectively as a poacher. They are destructive and consider the good of themselves over the good of the whole.  The refuse to put down their weapons. You and I, the planters, have to protect what is planted. We must guard the precious life around us. We must speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, protect those who are defenseless and not be hampered when the task seems daunting. Good deeds will be attacked. DO THEM ANYWAY!!! There will always be opposition, but the benefits outweigh the cost of doing good.

I can't help but wonder if Jadev knew in 1979 that he was planting a forest. I have a feeling he thought he was just planting a tree. You and I have no idea the impact that will be made when we plant a seed. We can save a metaphorical environmental, change a society's climate, and bring life to a barren world. Let's plant a tree!

The Forest Man

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Fountains of Blessing

Yesterday Rodney and I were passing time after appointments at MD Anderson. If you have followed my story with The Nuisance (aka Thymoma) then you know I cannot stand to hole up in the hotel on these days. I need air!  We decided to explore a part of Hermann Park (one of my favorite places) that we had not seen before. As we entered the McGovern Centennial Gardens we saw the beautiful fountain above. This fountain is unique. It was created on a mound with a spiraling walkway winding to the top of it. The walkway leads you past levels of the fountain which have their final resting place in a pool at the bottom. Each level of the fountain becomes a little more narrow than the last until finally you reach the top of the fountain. When you arrive at the top it is amazing to see what initiates this massive fountain.

That's it. Just a tiny little overflow of water, similar to something you might create in your own backyard. It was a surprise to see that a beautiful fountain came from something so small. It made me think about how small things truly can have a big impact. Sometimes we may underestimate the impact something small can make. We don't realize the value of a small gesture, a kind word, a brief encounter, or a single voice. A small thing makes a difference. You make a difference. I make a difference. It also reminded me of the calm days when life is easy and days are good. It just sort of flows and we may even take it for granted. We just bubble along in the fountain of life.

While this little portion of the fountain was pretty, what truly makes this feature dynamic are the larger portions of the fountain below.

As you look closer at these sections it becomes evident that what creates their beauty is the water coming in contact with an obstacle. Without the obstacles the water would smoothly guide over the surface. while calming it would not create the same effect. Life is like that. Sometimes the obstacles we encounter are the very things that ultimately bring about beauty and add dimension. 

It may seem sometimes that the rough patches outnumber the easy calm days, but in reality that is an illusion. The fountain has the same amount of water flowing through all the sections. The surface area is what changes creating a different effect. It is an illusion. Life's obstacles can easily overshadow the calm flow of life, we have to remember it is only a segment of a greater picture. When you combine the small fountain (us and daily life) with the obstacles (life's hiccups) it ultimately leads to a pool at the base (a full life). It is wonderful to have those moments of still calmness and we should never EVER take those for granted. We should also strive to see the value of obstacles when they come. They can be totally irritating, frustrating, scary, and often overwhelming. They may seem unfair, undeserved, and undesirable. But here is the thing, if we (I) can learn to see beyond the obstacle to the pool then we (I) can learn to appreciate the beauty of the obstacle and life, in spite of obstacles, can be full.

It all comes together to make something beautiful!   
Life is a fountain of blessings!!

MD Anderson update:
We leave with more questions than answers today. The doctor ordered some additional tests that were not on our original plan so we will leave town not knowing much more than we did when we came. They will review the results and then get back with us. What we know is that it is just another little obstacle in our fountain. We are going to go with the flow!