Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The One You Can Never Give Up On

  So many faces line the road of my life.  Most of them have shaped me in one way or another.  There are some gems that I have had beautify my life.  And there are those that I would like to forget.  And there are the few that are always with me, no matter what.
  I had a friend who will always be to me the shining example of honest, open love and friendship.  It was weird to others because this friend was a boy and, at our age, boys and girls weren't just friends.  It was weird to me because he was so cool and so good looking and smart and popular that I didn't have any clue why he would spend a bit of attention on me.  Talking in later years, my mom said once that maybe it was because he felt like he was safe with me.  I didn't want anything from him, while every other girl (or so it seemed) wanted to date him.  Someone asked me once if I would ever go out with him.  That was easy to answer.  "No way!  Are you kidding me?  He breaks up with someone every other week...why would I trade our friendship for something that I know won't last?"  So we ignored his romantic roller coaster and just hung out.  Sunday afternoons climbing trees and catching snakes and riding my dirt bike.  Junior high was a rough time for me, but he made it bearable.  It didn't matter that I didn't dress "right" or care about the latest band or think anyone was "to die for."  It (usually) didn't bother me if I got made fun of for my bookwormishness or lack of interest in sports or parties or whatever else was supposed to be important.  He made it possible for me to not change.  Because he was my friend no matter who was around.  He cared about what I liked.  He never made me feel weird or uncool.  He always smiled at me when he passed me in the hall.  I will never forget the time he was in the middle of a big group of boys, laughing and cutting had been a miserable day for me, and it must have shown.  We were going opposite directions and he simply said, "I'll catch up," to his buddies, turned around and walked down the hall with me, arm draped over my shoulder, just cutting jokes until I smiled.  No big deal for him.  He was just being a friend.  To me, he was a life preserver, tossed into the waters of conformism just as the circling sharks began to smell blood.
  You never know what your kindness may do for someone.  I couldn't have put it into words then.  I just knew I was glad he was my friend.  Now I can see that he showed me hope and gave me strength because he accepted me as I was.  When girls mentioned things I could improve, things that guys would notice, I thought of him.  He noticed me without any improvement.  When a boy I didn't really know asked me out and people pressured me to accept because I'd never had a boyfriend (and how would I ever know what I wanted in a husband if I didn't date), I thought of him.  We were friends and that was enough to show me things I liked and didn't like in a guy.  I looked at him and saw someone who knew me and liked me.  And if there was one in my small school, surely, someday when I was ready, out in that great big world somewhere, there would be another.
  Then came high school.  And things changed.  He made some bad decisions.  He started going down a path that made me afraid for him.  We hung out less and less.  The people he did spend time with changed.  He still was my friend, much more distant.  I tried to talk to him.  Smile, nod, pat my head and laugh off my concerns.  But his eyes were different.  The carefree boy was gone.  Heaviness had settled in.  Sin had taken root and there was nothing I could do to help, especially since he didn't want any help.  Convincing himself that he was having the time of his life, he dug deeper and deeper.  The last time I saw him...I remember...the smile was so familiar, but it didn't come from his heart anymore.  And his eyes were nearly dead.  It broke my heart.
  Nearly 15 years have passed since that day.  I've tried to stay in touch off and on, but (as you can imagine) my efforts have not been returned.  Still, I have prayed.  I did all that I could and nothing could stop my friend from the path he chose.  But with God, all things are possible, and death and judgment have not yet come.  My friend moved hours from his family, led his own life and made more decisions that ended poorly.  Still, I prayed.  Send a note, call on his birthday, pray every time his face comes to mind.  Less and less news about him as the years go by, but enough to keep him in the back of my mind.  Enough that every now and then, I was prompted to pray just for him.
  Not long ago, he moved back home.  Someone in his family is one of my many facebook friends.  Then came the cancer.  And this family member has followed my blog and told him my story.  "...His heart is soft..." was part of what she told me.  And everything fell into place.  I needed it just then.  Another moment when I wanted to ask God why, and He showed me.  He can use all things for His glory and His purpose!  I don't know my friend's spiritual state as I write this.  But that family member will read it.  And this message can be passed on:  I love you, my dear brother.  I pray for you still.  God brought you into my life to shape me, to give me a way to resist the world at a time when it was pushing hard against me.  I am willing to have this disease in exchange for the rescue of your precious soul.  If cancer, treatments, fear, pain, loss...if these things that I am dealing with reach your heart and point you to Christ, it is a battle I am happy to fight.  This time I have the life preserver that you need.  I know the Life Preserver that you need, and He is with me every step of the way.  Won't you run to Him now, cast yourself at His feet and be forgiven?  I pray we meet again.  I pray we will spend eternity as friends.

"Why does a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?"

  This story is one I should have shared weeks and weeks ago.  But, as I said the other night, now seems to be "the time," and I'm sure there's some good reason that everything is pouring out of me at once.
  Let me begin by telling you about a friend of mine...well, he started out as a friend of my husband's.  Today, I'm going to call him Dan.  Here is a young man raised in a Godless home.  He has had learning issues and attention issues his whole life.  Dan is put on medication for ADHD at a young age.  Later, he takes medication for schizophrenia. He sees things that aren't really there.  He often cannot complete a thought without being distracted by another.  He rocks back and forth when he sits, he paces when he stands.  He is ostracized by his schoolmates.  He is told he will never reach above a 6th grade level.  He doesn't shower as often as he should.  He is overweight.  No one wants to bother with him.
  But he has one good friend.  One young man who loves Christ has sympathy on this wreck of a boy.  One kind voice invites him to church.  So Dan starts attending a men's Bible study.
  It's been a year and a half since Brad met Dan.  If you had known him before, you wouldn't know him now.  He has gone from someone who was lost in every way possible to someone I love to have in my home.  As the men of the church studied together, this young man who seemed so worthless to the world wormed his way into my husband's heart.   As he has turned his life over to Christ, God has been faithful.  Dan's mind truly has been renewed by the Word of God.  He doesn't take his medicines anymore.  And against all "knowledge" that the doctors have, his symptoms are gone.  Brad has encouraged him and challenged him and taught him as they have spent more and more time together.  He doesn't see things anymore.  He can not only keep his own train of thought, but he can hold entire conversations with groups of people.   He laughs, he jokes, he asks good questions, he even has good answers.  He rarely rocks or paces.  He takes care of himself.  He has lost weight.  He even is looking for a job.  God has made this old, worthless soul new and beautiful!  If that alone weren't enough, God has rewarded Dan's simple, pure, childlike faith with a pure understanding that others often overlook.
  As I have mentioned, Brad and I have struggled with the loss of my voice.  I will write more about this later in the week, but for now it's only a background for the particular conversation I want to tell you about.  Someone, ages ago, had recorded a band practice...or maybe it was a worship service, I'm not sure which.  Either way, there was a CD with about 5 songs with the full band, Brad singing lead and me singing harmony.  Dan doesn't have much that he can call his own, and the movies and music that are in his home are not generally Godly.  So when a friend (probably the same young man who invited him to church) lent him that CD, he went home and played it.  Out loud.  For his whole family to hear.  This happened just a few weeks after my surgery.  Dan had told his family all about the cancer and the surgery and the loss of my voice.  His mom heard the CD and asked who it was.  Dan told her it was the church praise band.  She was impressed by the twist Brad had put on a hymn and she kept listening.  Then she asked, "who is that girl singing with him?"  Dan answered, "Mama, that's Miss Rachel, Brad's wife."  And then came the question.  It has been asked over and over and over throughout time in different forms.  "Why?" she asked "Why would God let her have cancer that would take away her voice?"
  When Dan was telling me the story later, I was asking the same thing.  It was the first time I had heard a recording of us together since all of this happened.  I was hurting, and so was Brad.  It was one of those times when sorrow was blocking out everything else in my view.  But Dan told me the answer, and it brings tears to my eyes even today.  "Well, Mama, see, Miss Rachel's daddy and Mr. Brad don't get along.  At all.  But ever since Miss Rachel had surgery, they do."
  Yes, God used my cancer to heal a greater that has been in my family for years.  There have been other relationships restored because of this sickness as well.  And there has been a softening all around me.  Something as serious as cancer throws out the stupid, petty differences that we let get wedged between us.  In the grand scheme of things, there are some that just aren't important.  My entire family has felt this, and changed.  I am so thankful.  Thank You, Lord, for giving me this small illness to heal the larger one.  Thank You for chastening my body in order to correct many hearts.  Help me remember this lesson and never doubt Your plan!

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Countdown of Reflections

  This time next week, I will have been in isolation for about 12 hours.  I'm told I probably won't feel well at all (some accounts are very encouraging...they use words like "miserable" and "wished I could puke.").  On top of that, I will be away from my family, which in it's self is enough to worry me sick.  And in the middle of my preparations for the upcoming "vacation," I realize that I have been woefully neglectful of my dear friends.  I have not posted any progress reports or updates for ages.
  Yet, you still pray for me.  I know you do, because I've met so many of you in stores and had cards and emails and notes and phone calls and friends who you run into who you ask about me.  Thank you.  Those moments of pure love have been used by God to sustain me.  I'm doing really well, and I know I have your prayers to thank for it.
  There is a reason I haven't written recently.  One is, there's simply not a lot to say.  It's been a waiting game.  A long, emotion-filled wait.  Nothing big has happened, but a thousand tiny things have flooded me with emotions.  Most of them are negative.  Fear keeps trying to creep in.  Anger, anxiety, confusion...they all take their turn.  I don't deal well with reality, as some of you may know.  I hibernate.  Much reading has been accomplished in the past couple months (my most effective form of hibernation).  I also don't want to be discouraging to anyone who may be about to travel in my footsteps down this same path of cancer...on top of all of that, I am tired.  In preparation for the radiation treatment I'm going to take next Monday, I am starving my body of iodine.  It's not a fun process, and each day I have less energy than the day before.  In the past, I have used my smart phone to post (not a simple task)...the thought of "swyping" all my emotions has just been too much.  But here we are, one week away from the day that has been looming as a dark spot on my horizon since July.  And while I try to straighten my house so the babysitter will be able to find everything, I also need to straighten my emotions and priorities so that I go in as sound as possible; in spirit and mind, if not in body.  Plus, we just had "real" internet hooked to our computer, and my feelings come out so much smoother on a keyboard than the tiny screen of that phone.  :-D
  If I've painted a gloomy picture of me over the last couple months, you only have part of the picture.  Mostly, things have been good.  And those good moments have been providentially timed to raise me from the bad ones.  I have had a lot of time with my family.  It has been so good for me.  Holding my kids, cuddling with my husband, laughing with my sisters and talking (I mean really talking) with my mom for the first time in ages.  I have lost a ton of weight.  27 lbs since July.  Enough that someone sympathetically told me, "I can tell you've been sick!"  The weight loss in someone else might have been scary, but for me it's been thrilling.  I have struggled with losing my "baby weight" for a long time.  I have been careful what I eat...until I give up in frustration because it doesn't seem to matter anyway.  I have had spurts of exercise, but never the energy to stick with it.  All of that can be traced back to the thyroid issue.  I think it was working well enough sometimes, and not well enough others.  Or maybe only half was working, and that half could only give enough for my whole body part of the time, but not most of the time.  This would account for me losing weight and then gaining it back with no apparent change in lifestyle at all.  Also, there have been all of those dear people who have taken time to stay in touch with me.  Personal messages in one form or another that say they care.  I'm not fighting alone.  The faces that flash through my mind as I write this are enough to make me weep for joy.  I do that a lot...the weeping part.  Mostly for thankfulness, joy, love...when it hits me, it is so tangible that my only response is tears.  The other tears, they come when I hold my children, or see pain in my husband's eyes.  This is not an easy road for me, and even so, I often feel that my part in this story is so much more simple to play than his.  I can feel the good changes, while he only sees me going through the hard things.  The weight loss is hard for him to take, because it's happened so fast that I do look ill.  My thyroid medicine helped my energy levels so much, and now I have gone these past few weeks without it, and he sees me getting worn out easier again.  And maybe it's worse now, because I know the cause.  I don't just push myself through like I did before I was diagnosed.  Now I know I'm not going to have the energy, so I don't do as much.  For him, I'm sure it's like watching me get sicker instead of better.
  I'm trying not to be negative, but to still be honest and open with you.  I have so many things to be thankful for.  I really am thankful.  But even while I'm thankful, I have a hard time dealing with some of this.  It is so hard to have no control at all of your future.  Do I trust God?  Absolutely.  Do I have to remind myself every single day that I believe He holds me perfectly in His hand?  Yes, and often several times a day.  The emotions hit me like waves.  I rock and sway violently and get dunked in icy water as they come at me.  I don't just hold onto God as my anchor; I cling to Him desperately, knowing not much more than that He holds me exactly where He wants me.  I don't always have time to recover from one wave before the next one hits.  The sea doesn't always calm between each dunk.  Sometimes the sun stays mostly hidden for days.  And then I feel guilty.  Where is that perfect peace that I had early on?  Has my faith grown weak?  How can it have, when God is the only thing I know is sure?  And just when I think I must be failing Him in my emotionalism, I remember that even Jesus knew sorrow.  He knew anxiety.  The very God-man sweat drops of blood because of His extreme distress.  What a blessed savior!  To endure such agony of mind and spirit as well as body.  To be sure it was recorded so that one day I would read and know that He understands.  Again a wave comes, but this one is warm and soothing and healing as I cling to my anchor.  There are more cold, dark days to come.  But I am not alone.  He has given me people who love me, to cheer me, to hold me, to comfort me, to cry with me, to pray for me.  And He himself has endured much so that I would be encouraged.  And I am.  I will try to post every night between now and when I go in to the hospital next Monday.  I am going to count down this week with reflections of encouragements God has sent my way.  Things I haven't had the emotional stamina to share with all of you until now.  Now seems to be the time.  Now He gives me more calm, more peace, more joy.  I pray these posts will do the same for you.