Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Saving Private Ryan

"I hope that, at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me."

Scenes from the movie Saving Private Ryan have played over and over in my head in the past week. The movie tells the story of 8 soldiers who have been given orders to go behind enemy lines during World War II. Their mission is to find a Private by the name of James Ryan. Three of his brothers have made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives during this war. Their mother will be told of all three deaths on the same day. Seeking to alleviate some of her misery, it has been determined that the fourth brother, Ryan, will be pulled from service and sent home.

The eight men on the mission make many sacrifices, including the lives of some of their own men, in order to save Private Ryan. At one point in the film, Captain Miller says, "He better be worth it. He better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb. “Finally, after much searching, they discover Ryan, but he is unwilling to leave his post.  Duty outweighs the desire to be safe at home. As a battle ensues, Captain Miller is ultimately injured.  In his last words, he says to Ryan, "Earn this...earn it."

The scene shifts and we see an elderly Ryan standing at the grave of Captain Miller.  Among things he says, we hear these words, "Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me."

That is the scene that has resonated with me. Through our battle with The Nuisance, so many people have sought us out and made sacrifices to improve our situation. There have been gifts of prayer, time, cards, food, encouragement, flowers, visits, money and love. We have been so overwhelmed by them and have been humbled to see how people have been so willing to save our family. We have thought over and over that we can never repay all the kindness that has been shown, but we are so eager to try. We want to live our lives, like Private Ryan, in a way that earns all you have done for us. We want to be worth it. I don't know that I will cure a disease, or create a longer lasting light bulb, but I do intend to live my life in a way that makes it all worthwhile. We are so grateful!

On an even grander scale, I realize that someday I will stand before another that I desperately want to please. I will face my "Captain", one who paid a high price for my healing and my salvation.  Isaiah 53:5 has been a verse I have thought of repeatedly through my battle. It says, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed."  Jesus, like Captain Miller in the movie, made a sacrifice of his life for me. Captain Miller may have helped save Ryan's life, but Jesus' sacrifice has saved my soul.  When it is all said and done, and I stand before Him in heaven, I would like to be able to say that I have done the best I can to earn what He has done for me. Unfortunately, I can never do enough to earn it. Gratefully, His grace covers my shortcomings! I hope, that at least in God's eyes, that in the end He can say I have lived my life in a way that shows I was grateful for all He has done for me.

Friday, May 24, 2013

From One Ned to Another

NED- No Evidence of Disease. What a beautiful classification. Yesterday when I received that description, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it. I felt as if I were seeing a glimpse of heaven. It is just a small sample of what we will feel when we stand before the Father and all sin and sickness is erased. We know there will be no tears in heaven, but that is hard for me to believe since yesterday tears flowed so freely as I absorbed the enormity of the gift of healing!
It got me to thinking on a larger scale. Do you realize that through forgiveness, we are all allowed to be Ned not only a physical level, but on a spiritual level as well? It is so beautiful to me that when I mess up and sin enters my life, God's forgiveness washes all that away. No matter how far I go from Him, no matter how badly I have behaved, God can forgive me and when He does, I am left with No Evidence of Disease.
The same is true for you! Maybe you are in a place where you feel you have been gone too long, you have strayed too far, you have done too much... You may feel like you can never be healed. I am living proof that God, the Great Physician, can heal all hurts. We only have to ask! When we do, He gladly nicknames us Ned! 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A New Identity

There are moments in life when you know that from this point forward, life will never be the same. Some of my biggest moments included these phrases:
"Will you marry me? "
 "Surprise! You are having twins! "
"We're sorry Mrs Jackson, it is stage 4 Thymoma."
In each of these moments, my life changed and I took on a new identity. My name changed from Miss Masten to Mrs. Jackson.  I became Mommy instead of Anna. I went from healthy to cancer patient. In each instance, life would never the same.

 Last week I had a second surgery to remove more tumors from my chest. The surgery went far better than expected. The tumors had responded well to Power Aide (chemo). The area on my diaghram that had been described as having tumors that made it feel like cobblestones, now had only a thin film across it. Two other tumors we had been watching had been reduced dramatically. The doctor discovered very little scarring from my previous surgery. This greatly reduced complications. The team  was able to do surgery without injury to my lungs or the nerve on my diaghram. I had no nausea that had been so challenging in the first surgery. Where we anticipated spending eight days in the hospital, I was released in four. God overwhelmingly showed His goodness. But questions remained. Did we get it all? Would I need more Power Aide? Would we have to spend 4-6 weeks in Houston this summer for radiation treatment? I celebrated the victories of the week, but left Houston as a cancer patient awaiting pathology reports that would direct our next steps.

Today I received a call. Another life changing moment.  I was told that the tumors were resected,  meaning that they were able to remove all visibly observable cancer. At this time there is no need for further chemo or radiation. I will be monitored for the rest of my life as this type of cancer likes to return, but I am classified as NED- No Evidence of Disease.  I have a new name. A new identity. NED. Life will never be the same.

Some of you have heard me tell of my experience as a piano player. I took piano lessons for many years. Every week I went for my lesson. You would think that with years worth of classes, I would be a fairly good pianist. The problem is that I didn't practice much. In fact, I would pay my sisters to practice for me. We would practice as my mother cooked dinner in the kitchen around the corner. She listened to see if we were playing, but couldn't see who was actually striking the keys.  My sister got richer and I didn't get much better. I "know" how to play the piano. I can read music. I know where the keys are, but I don't REALLY know how to play the piano because I didn't practice what I learned. Head knowledge and application of skill are two different things!

As I have been reflecting on the last six months I have realized that my spiritual life is sometimes like my piano career. I have "known" God my whole life, but this experience has led me to REALLY know God in ways I never fully imagined. I thought I knew what "peace that passes understanding" meant. I realize now that I had no clue. It was not until my chest was cracked, my hair was gone, and I could still find comfort in God that I fully understood that phrase. I thought I trusted God. I have learned now that it was easy to say I trusted Him when life was going my way. I have learned a whole new level of trust since I realized my life depends on it. I now know better what it means to give God control. Before, I liked to believe I had control of my life. Now I know I control nothing except how I respond to life and even that requires a dependance on God. I have had to put into practice what I have "known" all along. As a result, my faith has grown. I have grown. I would never have chosen this path, but God has revealed such amazing things along the way that I can honestly say I don't regret it. I don't want to do it again, but I don't regret it.

Upon receiving my new identity, I sat on my porch and wept as I repeated, "Thank you, Lord, Thank you." I couldn't wait to share the news!  You have prayed with us, cried with us, ministered to us, loved us.  We are so grateful for your role in this miracle. You have faithfully walked around the walls of Jericho and today we saw the walls fall!  Now comes the most important part, making sure that He receives all the glory that is due Him! God is good. He has answered our prayers. Any good that has come from this, comes from Him.  Do you remember me telling you about my survivor bracelet? On the outside it says "Survivor Mark 5:36". That scripture says "Don't be afraid. Just believe."  It was an outward reminder that God could do this. What I didn't tell you was that on the inside I had a secret message, just for me. I had them inscribe Psalm 117:18. That scripture says, "I will not die, but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done."

God has fulfilled His promises to me. Today I begin to fulfill mine to Him. I will live and I will proclaim what He has done. God has heard our prayers. He has healed me. He has met every need my family has had. He is real. He is powerful. He is faithful. His love is beyond measure. His eyes are on His children. He is able to mend brokenness. He still does miracles!! I know, I am one!!


Monday, May 20, 2013

A Cinderella Tale

Remember the story of Cinderella? She was a girl, deeply loved by her father. By all accounts she was privileged and well cared for until her mother died and her father remarried. Her new step-mother and wicked step-sisters were eaten alive by jealously towards towards Cinderella. They did everything in their power to put her down and steal what was rightfully hers. Ever known someone who couldn't stand to see things go right for others? They are willing to lie, cheat, even steal, to ruin something they are jealous of. Boy, do I know someone like that.

These past twelve days have been filled with answered prayer, miracles and kindness.  I have been Cinderella--privileged and cared for. My  surgery went better than anyone, especially the doctors, anticipated. My recovery in the hospital was described as phenomenal. I came  home earlier than we dreamed. Our needs were met in every way! I have seen the hand of God and experienced His love, but there is a jealous  little liar trying to spoil my ball. Like the wicked step-mother, Satan has tried to create doubt, fear, and anxiety to steal the joy, peace and confidence that I have been given by my Father. He is whispering lies about the size of my problems. He is casting shadows on my future. He seeks to make me worry over my family, my finances, my feelings, my health.  He is so jealous of my Father's love  for me that he is willing to do most anything to make me doubt it, to cast a cloud over my sunshine in order to make me forget the blessings I have received. He wants me to doubt the very love of my Father even though it has been so clearly demonstrated. 

Have you ever wondered what happened to Cinderella's father? I don't remember reading his fate. He is just absent.  Did he die? Leave on business? Go for milk and never come home? Most versions do not say. What we know is that most likely he wasn't present or he wouldn't have allowed his daughter to be mistreated like she was. This is where my story, and yours, is very different from that of Cinderella. Our Father never leaves us, but sometimes we get so distracted by the lies of the wicked one that we forget who our Father is and what He has done. It seems we are especially susceptible to this attack following a close encounter with God. 

That is where I found myself today. I have so much to be grateful for, but the wicked liar distracted me with problems, doubts and fears. I have to reclaim my heritage. Regardless of what the wicked little liar wishes me to believe, my Father loves me and is just as in control of my life this week as He was last week. He never leaves me and works all things for my good. Just as the wicked step-sisters were unsuccessful in keeping Cinderella from her prince, this wicked liar will be unsuccessful at keeping me from my King. I will not be distracted by the tedious reality of everyday life.  I will dance at this ball! I will live happily ever after-- and that is no fairy tale.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Hardest Prayer of All Time

Sometimes in life you come to a place where what is required of you to reach the next level means doing something that doesn't make sense to you; something that goes against your nature and desires. If you don't let go, you can't move on, but letting go seems so frightening. Imagine yourself having fallen over a cliff and hanging over a ravine. You are suspended only by a vine protruding from a rocky crag. Someone above you is extending their hand to pull you up, but you have to release the vine. Every cell in your body is screaming, "Don't let go!!!", but the only way to truly be saved is to grab the hand. How do you find the strength to let go?

That image has played in my mind this week as I find myself being challenged to pray the hardest prayer of all time. It is a prayer that people throughout the ages have struggled with. Jesus himself was distraught as he prayed it. The control freak in me has a really hard time saying it. What is it you ask? "Not my will but yours." There I said it. Do you have a hard time with it, too?

I don't know about you, but I have such definite plans in my mind of what I want God to do. Currently, I want a miracle. I want to be completely healed of  The Nuisance with a certificate of warranty that says it will never come back. I want no more Power Aid or radiation. That is what I am praying every day. The bible encourages me to pray those prayers boldly, which let me tell you, I am! But I also have to recognize that I am hanging over the side of a cliff, holding onto a vine. I may not have the best view of what it takes to get me to the safety. The one who can see most clearly is the one looking down from above with an outstretched hand. So again I am left to wonder, "How do I find the strength to let go?"

It helps to know my rescuer. If I know and trust the character and strength of the person saving me from the cliff, it becomes easier to let go of the vine and reach for the hand. The same is true when it comes to my prayers. If I know and trust the character and strength of God, then I can trust that He is willing and able to save me, that His judgement of what is best for me is sound. He may ask me to do something that doesn't match my desire, but it will have a better long term outcome.

How do I know I can trust His character? Because time after time, he has given me more than I could want for myself. Ephesians 3:20 says, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..." He is able to do immeasurably more. How do I know? Because He has in my life. When Rodney and I decided we wanted to start our family, I began to pray. One night I was at church early. No one else was there. I went to the altar and knelt. I prayed for God to bless us with a baby.  One month later, I knew that He had. Five months later I learned that not only had he given me the desire of my heart, but he doubled it. He gave me twins. I know God can do more than I ask because He has.

But I don't trust His character just because He has given me yes answers. I trust Him because sometimes He has told me no. There have been times I was certain I knew what was best for me--the right guy, the right job, the right solution to a problem.  God said no,  I let go, and down the line I discovered He had something better in store. IF I was willing to let go and trust Him. See, God won't impose His will on me. If I refuse to let go of my vine, He will honor that, but I will miss something better.

So I am at the place once again of following my requests with the hardest prayer of all, "Not my will, but yours, Lord."  Maybe you are on the vine, too.  I say to you what I say to myself. We can trust Him. If He doesn't answer our prayers the way we had in mind, it is because He has double blessings in store. Trust Him. Reach for the hand. Let's get off this vine.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Like the Weather in West Texas...

It is often said that if you don’t like the weather in West Texas stay around a few minutes, it’ll change. Just recently Lubbock was named as the city with the toughest weather. We are accustomed to days that expose us to sun, wind, sand, and chill all within a 24 hour period. Heck, occasionally we even get a little rain thrown in for good measure---ok, I said occasionally!

I’ve been thinking lately how life is just like that West Texas weather. How quickly we can be exposed to all kinds of “weather”.   We have moments of sunshine and happiness, periods of windy pressure, times when we feel beaten down by the sandstorms of busy-ness and seasons of chill caused by fear or disappointment.  Sometimes when we are beaten down by the storms we begin to think, “This isn’t fair”.   We long to live somewhere else—a place of palm trees and soft, warm breezes. We begin to long for utopia and forget that just like the West Texas weather, our moments of storms will pass. They are just seasons in time. Some of the seasons we love and enjoy, others we just tuck our heads to our chest, lean into the wind, and push through.  The lesson I am learning is that even on the bad days, there are rays of sunshine, but I have to raise my eyes to see them.  One summer I worked in a mission center in inner city Houston. I remember a sign in the office that said, “Sometimes God calms the storm. Sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child.”

In my recent stormy season I have prayed constantly that the storm would be calmed. I think it is natural for us to have that desire. What I have discovered is that there have been times that the storm has been calmed, but the more amazing discovery has been that I can find peace even when the storm rages.  And when I am given that gift I can walk through the toughest storms and still feel blessed. My utopia becomes where I am, not where I long to be. It is an amazing lesson.  It is a gift that I don’t believe it is possible to experience on my own. My peace comes not from external forces, but from a much greater power. John 16:33 in the Message says it beautifully. “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”  Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.” If I focus on the weather, I sacrifice my peace. If I focus on God, I find shelter in the storm.

I don’t know what season you’re in, but I know that as humans we all have seasons equivalent to tropical storms.  We face illness, relationship problems, financial pressures, and challenges at work. In those moments of crisis, we begin to feel as though the sunny days will never return.  I want to encourage you to not focus on the storm. The storm brings fear. Focus instead on the one who promises peace. Don’t shift your eyes for a second. That is when you begin to be buffeted by the wind. If you don’t like the current weather of your life, stick around a minute, it will change.  Keep your head up and watch for the SON.