Monday, December 2, 2013

Finally Speaking

  Do you ever find that sometimes the hardest thing to do is to accept help?  I do.  It's probably a pride issue, but I just have such a hard time asking for help.  I even have a hard time letting people help.  That's probably why I'm having such a difficult time writing this blog.  It just feels...uncomfortable.  I don't want to come across wrong.
  So, first off, I'm not asking for help.  :-)  We are not in dire need for anything right now.  But I am willing to accept help.  I am often asked, "Is there anything you need?"  Or, "Is there anything I can do for you?"  And many conversations end with, "If you need anything, let me know!"  It makes me feel good to know that people care and want to do something nice or helpful for me and my family.  But it rarely goes further than conversation, because it feels so awkward to actually take anyone up on their offer.  As a matter of fact, I have had this blog in my "drafts" section for over 2 months.  My mom recently called and asked what types of things she could do for me.  It made me ashamed of myself that I would keep so quiet that those who really love me have no idea how to best show that love.  So now I'm posting, whether I like it or not.
  Since my most recent test results, I have been thinking a lot about the future.  I feel like I cannot take anything for granted, and that it would be unwise to not prepare for serious difficulties.  So I am just going to give you a list of things that could be beneficial to myself and my household...and if you have a desire to use any of these suggestions, it will be a blessing.
  • Send a card, an email, a text, a note on facebook, a comment on my blog; these thing encourage me so much, and they often come exactly when I am feeling down.  It doesn't take much time, but it really can make my entire day better.
  • Visit.  I know you're busy.  And I know many of you live a ways off.  But if you can visit me, please do.  I have friends and family states away...people I haven't seen in years, that I love dearly.  I cannot make a trip to see each of you.  But if you're planning a family vacation to Florida, stop in TN and have dinner with me.  Or swing by on your way to a weekend in Gatlinburg or Nashville.  For those of you who are a bit closer, try to plan a Sunday afternoon meal with us, or call me to have lunch with you.  I just want to see you, give you a hug, make another memory.  I'm not trying to sound morbid; I don't expect to die any time soon.  But dealing with this does make death very real, and I have stopped assuming that I'll have time to spend with my loved ones out in the vast, unplanned future.
  • Make a family meal.  Several people have cooked for us over the past year and a half, and it is a blessing every time.  Now that I am working second shift, it is especially sweet when someone prepares a meal, because then I know that my daughter doesn't have to.  She feels like she is getting a special gift as well, which makes it mean even more to me.
  • Make a freezer meal/dish.  If you have a crazy schedule and can't bring something hot to the house, freeze something that we can reheat later.  It is just as much of a blessing, and it works on your timetable!
  • Make a low-iodine freezer meal/dish.  The low-iodine diet I have had to be on will probably be in my future quite a few times.  I know for sure that I will need to go back on it for at least a week in March for more test results.  If I had dishes in the freezer that I could just pull out as needed, that would be incredible.  I did fine the first time I was on the diet, but that was before I was working.  The last time, it was much harder.  I think part of the reason was because I had no desire to plan a meal for my family AND a meal for myself while I was working every day.  You can download a low-iodine cookbook for free here.  Remember that any time it says, "salt," that means non-iodized salt (and also, not sea salt).
  • Clean something.  I think it sounds horrible to say because I know everyone gets busy and houses get messy and women take care of it even when they don't seem to have time or energy.  So to tell someone it would be a blessing if they helped me in this's hard.  But if this is your gift, I will swallow my pride and accept it.  I am not a natural housekeeper.  I am good at picking up, but detail cleaning is few and far between.  I have times when I get into cleaning mode, but...even then, one room about kills it.  So if you are a "cleaner" and you just can't help but want to do something nice for myself and my family, you can come clean a room!  Detailed cleaning in any part of the house really would be a blessing.  Not only to me, but to my entire family.
  • Plan something for my kids.  Life right now is pretty normal (our new normal, that is).  But when I have to have a treatment, that normal is seriously disrupted.  After my tests in March, we will know if/when I am doing another radiation treatment.  Anything you can think of to make a time when I'm away from my family for 3-4 days easier would be awesome.  Planning to come help them with a "welcome home" project, dropping off a new movie or game, teaching Trin to cook a new meal, planning a day at the park (if it's warm enough by then)...this isn't something to be done right now, but my main concern while I'm away is always my children.  I hate being away from Brad, but it's different because he's an adult.  I don't want these times to color the memories my kids have of their childhood with dread or fear.  This is something that I absolutely cannot do for them.  Any show of love and support at these times goes into my most cherished memories.
  • Send cash.  Again, I want to make sure you know I'm not asking for this.  We are managing well right now.  But there are things we are trying to take care of quickly because we don't know what the future holds.  I am not working because we cannot get by without that extra income.  I'm working to pay things off quickly and not be in a pinch over doctor bills.  So when someone sends money or a gift card, it is a very practical, extremely appreciated gift.
  Ok, that's all I can think of right now.  If you are one of the many, many people who have offered help, or have helped in any way in the past, I want you to know how much I appreciate you.  Your show of love wraps around me and comforts me when days are difficult.  Right now, I am doing very well.  I feel great, our household is running smoothly, and I don't have to think about test results for a few months.  But I should have posted this a long time ago, and only my fear of how it would come across has held me back.  I love you all, and look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Many Faces of Family

  Social media has changed so many things in our lives.  In addition to the benefits of picture sending and status updates, we also receive and onslaught of new traditions.  Like "30 Days of Thankfulness."  I'm not knocking it, because it's been neat to read the hearts of my friends.  I, however, have rebelled against joining in.  Instead, this year I am going to share the blessings of the various forms of family that I have been given.  People are the most precious thing in my life.  I don't always know how to tell them I love them, I don't always spend enough time with them or call as often as I should.  But I understand the value of an individual.  I have been shaped and pruned and protected by these people throughout my life.  If one of them had not been there, the person I am today could be very different.  Many are "official" family, and others have been adopted over the years.  This is not an exhaustive list, but it is the list on my heart today.  There is no way to list them in order of importance, so I will do my best to list them in rough order of appearance.  :-)
  The first I have to mention would be my grandparents.  Grandma and Grandpa Eavey are part of my earliest memories.  They are in some of the most precious and also some of the most painful moments of my life.  We have not always agreed, but I have never felt unloved by them.  Grandpa's hug and Grandma's smile immediately take me back to a time before I knew there were problems in the world, when every hurt could be smoothed away by a kiss.  To these incredible people, I have this to say:  When I have been angry at you, I have still been influenced by your steady hold on your convictions.  When I have expected resentment and coolness from you, I have received acceptance (if not always agreement).  I have come to realize that you are not as perfect as I thought when I was five...but you are still my grandparents.  You still love me as you did when I was little, you still want the best for me, you still pray for me, you still encourage me, you still make me smile, you still make me feel loved.  There are parts of my personality, the unshakable parts, that can be traced back to your influence on my life.  I am, and have always been, blessed to have you as grandparents.  I have loved you even when we haven't been close, and I hope you never doubt that.
  Next, obviously, would be my mom.  My mom is...there just is no one word to describe her.  She is the thing that has held our family together.  Her stubborn love (as best as I can say it) has endured much pain and difficulty for the sake of her children and husband.  Her reasoning behind each rule and consequence left no room for argument or escape.  And yet her personal sacrifice never allowed us to doubt her love.  I cannot remember a time when my mom wasn't actively pursuing a way to benefit our family.  She rarely worked outside the home, but she was never idle.  Foster care, babysitting, bagging little plastic parts for a factory up the road...there was always something she was doing to supplement my dad's income while still being available to us whenever we needed her.  She pinched pennies and sewed clothes and never complained openly (if at all) about anything we didn't have.  Looking back, I can see that I grew up with little (financially speaking), but she never allowed our home to feel like it was missing something.  I never felt deprived.  She always did what she had to do, and she did it for us.  It may have taken me a while to realize what a deep expression of love this is, but as I have grown up, I have come to truly appreciate my mom for all that she did (and does).
  My dad did not come into my life in the normal way.  Somewhere out in the world, there is another man who gave me his DNA.  I have never met that man, and I probably never will.  Very early in my childhood, I didn't realize there was a difference in my family.  My grandpa filled the "man role" well in my life.  But there came a day when a very special man entered the scene.  I still get emotional when I think about how I was given a daddy.  In our world today, single moms are not uncommon.  And these single moms fall in love, and that's not uncommon either.  We see kids with mom and step-dad, dad and step-mom...that's just how it is.  But this was different.  This man wasn't content to be step-dad.  He wasn't OK with a family full of different last names, to be viewed as a "mixed family."  He did not just marry my mom, he joined our family.  I was at the wedding.  And I was there when the adoption papers were signed and I legally became his daughter.  I still remember the judge looking at me and saying, "young lady, you have a daddy."  If you have not been that person, you cannot know what that moment was like for me.  And as I have gotten older, it has become even more precious to me.  I know that he didn't have to adopt me.  But he did.  Because of the way my dad showed he loved me, I have a very tangible picture of God's love for us.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard my dad say, "You will always be my daughter, nothing can change that."  When I read in the Bible about how God has adopted us and made us co-heirs with Christ, I hear my daddy say, "You will always be my daughter.  Nothing can change that."  He has always worked hard for us.  He has never just wanted to "get by," but always wanted to be able to give us more.  He has always been quick to forgive.  He obviously isn't perfect, but he is smart and loving and generous; I am more than blessed to call him Daddy.
  I will not forget to mention my siblings.  Being the oldest child, I was often responsible for them in one form or another.  I am thankful for that experience.  It taught me to love different personalities.  It taught me patience.  It taught me to be proud of the accomplishments of another person.  It prepared me for motherhood on many levels.  And now that we are adults, our relationships have changed.  I'm not "the boss" anymore.  But I still feel responsible, I still try to set an example.  And I dearly cherish friendships with them.  Each one is unique.  I have precious memories of our childhood together, and I am amazed that those little ones are the adults I see before me today.  I have great hopes for them and their children.  I am so proud when one of them accomplishes something.  We have times when we are frustrated with each other, but I am thankful that we always have tried to work it out.  I am so thankful that I was not an only child!
  I will take a moment to mention extended family here.  The list can get so long that I dare not begin mentioning individuals!  I will say that my aunts and uncles made me excited to BE an aunt.  To have a niece or nephew think my house was the best place in the world, to watch my kids play with their cousins...those impressions came from my own childhood, and the blessings I had in that type of family.  And my cousins...I loved how we were always friends, no matter how much time had passed since we'd been together.  It taught me (though I didn't know what I was learning at the time) that love reaches past time and distance and simply loves.
  Here along with siblings and cousins, I have a few very dear friends.  Again, I won't list them by name because 1) they know who they are 2) not all of them are still with us and 3) I could never do credit to the individual reasons why they mean so much to me.  These friends have known me for years.  They have laughed with me, cried with me, been happy for me, and even been upset at me.  They have been dependable.  They have listened when I've vented, they have called and sent cards when I've been sick.  They are also the type of people who will still love me even if years and states are between us.  I am thankful for these few who are more than acquaintances.  Who will pray for me, who will chastise me, who will hug me, who know me and love me still.
  And now for Brad.  My husband, my best friend, my leader, my provider, my protector...that one man can be all of these things amazes me.  I will be brief to spare my readers.  :-)  My husband is exactly what I need.  He is steady and strong.  He is compassionate.  He is honest.  He probably knows me better than anyone, and he has seen me at my very worst.  And instead of walking away from me, he has helped me become better than I ever was before.  I could be the first to tell you that he's not perfect, but I didn't need perfection (perfection wouldn't have known what to do with me!).  God knew what He was doing when He put us together.  If it weren't for Brad, I don't know what type of woman I would have grown into.  I am thankful for his steadfastness.  I am thankful for his partnership.  I am thankful for his love.
  And now for kids.
  Trinity is my princess.  Smart, sassy, funny, beautiful.  She thrives on order and desires to create beauty.  She is my right hand in so many ways.  I have never wanted to be my kids' friend.  I am a mom, and that's my job.  But even though I have not set out to make friends with my kids, Trinity and I do have a very special friendship.  Maybe it's due to us being the only girls in the house.  Maybe it's because she's so like her dad that I am already friends with her personality.  No matter why, I am thankful for the relationship that we have, and I pray it only grows stronger as the years go by.
  Andrew, my firstborn son.  Andrew is a genius in his own way, but if you don't know him, you'll never see it.  I am thankful for Andrew because he makes me slow down and take individual time with him.  It's so easy as a mom to get into a routine and just do what you have to do that day.  One day slips into the next and the kids are cared for, but you're so busy you forget to have a relationship with them.  Andrew slows me down.  He reminds me that the same thing doesn't work for each kid.  That my family is made up of individuals and they need individual love and attention.  When that time is taken, I see the beauty of  each moment and creative thinking.  Some days he is my greatest frustration...but he is just as often my greatest source of wonder.
  Johnathan is my cool kid.  Smart, but a bit lazy.  Handsome and fun, imaginative and energetic.  He is comfortable talking with adults, and sweet enough to play with toddlers.  He does everything in slow motion, but generally with a good attitude.  He is easy-going and fiercely loyal.  He is sensitive and genuinely repentant when he's done something wrong.  If all of my children were Johnathans, we would have a very easy time being parents...but we would always be late to everything!  I am thankful for his sweet spirit.  He reminds me to look for opportunities to make others happy, and to enjoy simple things.
  Michael is the one who makes us laugh the most.  He is growing and changing so quickly!  At four years old, he claims the same rights that all the big kids have (he insists he IS a big kid).  He is nick-named "Monster," and there are moments when it is a very fitting title.  He is determined to accomplish whatever he sets out to do.  He is articulate and opinionated.  He is both stubborn and spontaneous.  He has taught me to be thankful for unexpected relationships.  He has stretched my patience and tested my consistency.  I am thankful for his bursts of love and the joy of watching a new life grow and a new personality develop.
  You thought I was done, didn't you?  Nope.  You see, these are the children that were born to me...but there are more that my heart has claimed.
  Dalton is the oldest (as in, with us the longest) "extra" son in our family.  He is fun and loving, and the kids always look forward to his visits.  He is smart and well-read.  The type of person you can have deep discussions with about everything from theology to the most recent super hero movie.  The type of guy who has influenced my daughter's idea of what a man aught to be, and who has given my sons someone to look up to.  He gives me hope that there are still young people who are passionate about the Word of God.
  Gordon came to me by way of Brad.  Dalton brought him to men's Bible study, and Brad adopted him.  There are times when he annoys me, and I never cease to be amazed that Brad (the impatient one) has such an easy time being with him and mentoring him when I (the "patient, nice" one) just want him to stay out of my kitchen!  Gordon is a picture of the power of God to change a person completely.  He is a miracle.  He reminds me to never write someone off because of the way they look, or where they come from.
  Jazzy (most of the world calls her Jessica) is the blonde daughter that Brad always wished for.  We were not looking for her, but she needed us.  I have grown to love this small package of emotions wrapped in a tough-looking shell.  As she matures, she is becoming a beautiful young lady.  The stubborn child is falling away and a soft, strong, loving woman is emerging.  She has taught me the importance of always being available, of always being willing to reach out, even if it's not convenient.  The rewards of this relationship far outweigh the small sacrifice we made when it began.
  Josh is my first son-in-law, by way of marrying Jazzy.  He is another wonder to watch as he takes on the role of husband and leader.  Seeing him listen to wisdom, accept responsibility, prepare to shoulder the weight that a Godly man needs to carry is exciting and encouraging.  Here I see a young man who will one day be a strong leader in our church.  I am so thankful to be a part of his life as he matures and seeks God's will for himself and his young family.
  Can I mention someone I have not met yet?  My heart is flooded with love for a precious little boy named Konner, though he is not even born.  He is Josh and Jazzy's son, due to arrive in late March.  I have heard his hearbeat, I have seen him move, I have seen him stretch his mama's tummy as he grows.  I have seen Jazzy's face glow as she feels him move or hears his quick heartbeat.  He is the promise and wonder of new life.  I am honored that I will get to be a part of his life.  He makes me realize that my influence can reach years and generations down the road.  I am thankful for this reminder to live as the best example of a Godly life that I possibly can.
  My family continues to grow.  There are others that have come into my life, and more who will come into my life.  Each precious person is unique and stretches me in ways I didn't know I needed to be stretched.  I am thankful for the influence they have had on me, and the ways they continue to help me mature.  I pray I am always an example and encouragement to them.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I Did Not Marry My Best Friend

  Yep, I'll admit it:  I didn't marry my best friend.  Fourteen years ago I pledged myself to a wonderful man.  He was funny and smart and talented and decisive...and, for some strange reason, he loved me.  It was so easy to love him back!  We had fun together, and I knew he was a good man.  I was so honored to become his wife.
  But somehow I isolated his role in my life.  Here is "husband," there is "friend."  I didn't trust him with all of me like I should have.  I didn't share my hurts and fears and concerns with him.  I loved being his wife, being mother to his children...
  Yet there is so much more to be had than just living in the same house together.  Even more than raising a family together.  I have learned so much over the years!  God has broken me in ways that have allowed my husband to learn who I am more completely than anyone else I have ever known.  And the miracle is that he still is by my side, that he still loves me.
  He is faithful and honest and gentle and firm.  He loves to have fun but knows when to be serious.  He is a provider and a playmate.  He is a leader and also my support.
  There was a time when he was only my husband.  But slowly over the years, he has become so many other things to me.  My strong shoulder when I need to cry.  My wisdom when I am confused.  My coach when I am unmotivated.  My pastor, teaching me from the Word.  My comedian, making me laugh when I want to be mad.  My authority when the kids are difficult.  My wardrobe consultant.  My movie partner.  My dinner date.  My best memories and my greatest future dreams.
  Our marriage is not always smooth and full of laughter.  Sometimes we disagree or even fight.  But every storm brings us closer together and shows me the treasure I have been given in this man.  No, I didn't marry my best friend.  But, by the grace of God, my husband is my friend today.  He is the first one I think of when I wake up, and the comforting warmth as I fall asleep.  He is in my thoughts throughout the day and the one I desire most to please.  He is, now and forever, my best friend.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Not Beaten

  The past few days have been difficult for me.  I have been easily irritated, very quiet, and often near tears.  I can't even tell you exactly what I wrote the other day, and my emotions are too sensitive for me to want to re-read it.  I already know the facts...I don't need to see them written out again.
  Having said all of that, let me assure you that I have come to grips with my test results.  I have had some very good emotions mixed into my days.  An overpowering sense of love for my family, especially my husband.  A determination to make my experiences count for something, to help others by sharing what I am learning.  Knowledge of being surrounded by love and prayers, of so many people caring for me; it is amazing.  And in the quiet moments, peace.  Peace that has never left, even though I have wept.  Even joy.  Joy that God is taking me on this journey for His purposes.
  Maybe you want to know how I know that God plans to use my cancer for His glory.  I'll tell you how:  I've seen the opportunities already.  First and foremost, God has changed me.  Changed me so totally; softened me, broken me, rooted out my pride and tempered my selfishness.  God has changed my family.  My mom tells me she prays more.  My husband is more gentle.  My daughter is more caring.  And these are just a few of the many family members who have been affected.  God is creating a ministry opportunity for myself, along with some Godly friends, to help others through life-changing events.  And He also gives me appointment after appointment with random people who I would have never spoken to.  These appointments happen at the bank, at the grocery store, at the gas station, at work, everywhere I go.  I am able to speak of my cancer and the power my Lord has to carry me through it.  Just last night, I had to stop at the store before coming home.  I just wanted to be home.  It's been a long week.  I wanted to sit with my family and just enjoy being together.  With nothing else on my mind, but weariness in my heart and body, I ran into another divine appointment.  In the parking lot at Kroger, a conversation begun by a stray cart headed my way...
  I am amazed and encouraged.  I had no desire to talk to anyone.  But this woman needed to talk to someone.  She is headed to the doctor today, and she has issues that may be thyroid related.  She is scared and doesn't know what to expect.  Her daughter and grandchild were with her.  I know that fear.  The fear of leaving those you love.  The fear of making them care for you when it's always been your job to care for them.  The fear of pain that might come, the fear of overwhelming medical expenses.  Fear so powerful that you will cry in front of a woman you've never met until just now in a grocery store parking lot.
  So to that precious woman, who I hope is reading this now, I give you this comfort:  You have today.  Make the most of it.  We don't know what tomorrow holds, but we have today.  Sometimes that's all we have the strength to face.  When the overwhelming news comes, I deal with one day.

Sometimes one hour.

One moment.

One breath.

And in that one breath, I find peace.  That one breath is given to me by God Himself.  As is the next.  And the next.  And the very last breath that I take will be the last one that He chooses to give me.  For a child of God, that is an unending source of comfort.

Thank you, Lord, for this breath.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Writing What No One Wants to Hear

  I had an appointment today that not many people knew about.  Even those who knew about it didn't know much about it.  It was one of those things I just didn't want to talk about.  First, there was no reason it should be a big deal.  I was just getting results for the same two tests I had done in June.  They were redone when I had my most recent radiation treatment in August.  Less than two full months apart, there was no reason for there to be a lot of difference.  Even though I like to keep people informed, I don't like to be a drama queen, so I really didn't mention it.
  On the other hand, there were some things that bothered me.  First, when I had the scan done in June, I had to have my abdomen scanned a second time.  Then in August, they again scanned extra shots of my abdomen.  It gave me an uneasy feeling...but no one acted like it was unusual, so I did my best not to dwell on it.  Secondly, the nurse in my oncologist's office mentioned (twice) that the doctor might just call me with the test results.  So when, instead of being called with test results, I was told that he would "love for you to come in," I had a few seconds of panic.  On top of that, the nurse said she would "squeeze me in" between appointments instead of having me wait until the next week to get them.  None of these things bring comfort.  As soon as I hung up from that phone call, I dialed my dear friend, Kim.  I have often turned to her for wisdom and comfort and Godly counsel, and she seemed to be the only right person to call.  I asked her to come with me to the appointment, "just in case."

  Prov. 16:9 A man’s heart plans his waybut the LORD determines his steps.

  My plans weren't my plans at all, come to find out.  Kim was the perfect person to take with me.  God brought her to mind, and I had no idea that things that were going on in her life would be exactly what I needed on the day of my appointment.
  Forgive me if you know some of this already.  Sometimes I feel the need to repeat information for those of my readers who may have missed some posts.  The first time I had these tests done was in November, when I had my first radiation treatment.  There is a number referred to as a tumor marker.  It's a thyro-globulin count, and basically it is a measurement of how much cancer is in my body.  The number that the doctors want to see is four or less...though (in my case) they would be satisfied if it were less than ten.  In November, that number was 86.  A lot higher than four, and higher than the doctors expected.  After the radiation had time to do it's work, they ran that blood test again.  Some of you may remember that I had to have shots to flush my system for that (as well as a full body scan that they did at the same time).  That was in June.  The number that came back from that round was 33.  Still too high to ignore or go without treating, but much lower than it had been.  While most thyroid cancer patients only need to have one treatment, this meant I would need another.  Still, the 60% drop was encouraging.  I had my treatment in August, as well as another blood draw, followed by another full body scan.  Today (yesterday, by the time I get this posted), I received the results from those tests.
  Apparently, the levothyroxine (my thyroid medication) in my system suppressed the thyro-globulin levels and gave a skewed result.  It still gave an accurate body scan result, which was what they were looking at most intently.  All of that to say that today, with an accurate tumor marker reading, my thyro-globulin level is 76, not 33.  That's still lower than 86, which is great.  It does show that the radiation made a difference.'s a bit discouraging for it to be more than double what I thought it was.  Especially when the goal is 4!
  Kim had some really encouraging news in her life, so I was so thankful that she was there.  It gave me something positive to focus on, and a constant reminder that God is in control.
  Hours later, I am handling it much better than I was.  There is still so much to process, and I have not begun to speak of emotions or where we go from here.  I can only manage to tell facts this evening.  This post is not to encourage or challenge or enlighten.  Only to inform.  I know prayers and love surround me, and I thank you for every show of friendship and every prayer for myself and my family.  You will hear from me again soon, as I deal with this disappointment.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Little Mirrors

     Most weekends, we have several young people in our home for fellowship...ok, they come for the cool video game system hook-up.  The fellowship is probably just a byproduct!  This is something we really enjoy doing.  A big pot of nacho dip and a ton of tortilla chips are proper sustenance for hard-core gaming.  One recent weekend, there were ripe avocados at a great price.  As I browned hamburger and added all the "extras" in my special mix to the nacho sauce, Trinity sat at the table and mixed up a huge batch of guacamole.  We cooked and talked and laughed and shooed the boys out of the kitchen when they came sniffing around.  The picture of Amish kitchens came to mind.  This is what I should be doing with my daughter.  Teaching by doing, working together for the benefit of the entire family.  The thought stuck with me; seeing how the things I cook, the way I handle the kids, my speech patterns,  even faces I make get passed on to my children.
     It wasn't long after that moment that I was in the kitchen at church while the praise band practiced for Sunday morning worship.  I have gotten used to not singing on stage with my husband, but the music is always in my heart.  As Brad started a favorite song, I began singing my part along.  It comes out quiet, and not always in tune.  Then, unexpectedly, I heard my notes from the stage, but strong and sure instead of wispy and wobbly.  I almost began to cry as Mary Grace sang the harmony that she had learned by listening to me.  I was so amazed, so blessed by the impact of her perfect imitation of the music I used to be able to make.  The lesson was so clear to me.  I had a little church service right there in the kitchen, just me thanking God for teaching me once again.

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. - 1 Cor. 11:1

     Paul urged the church at Corinth to look to his example to know how to live a Godly life.  As he followed Christ, so they could follow him.  Laying down footprints, leaving a path, marking a trail.  As parents, we are to do the same for our children.  They WILL imitate us, whether we imitate God or not.  Just as Trinity will tend to cook the same dishes she grows up cooking with me, so she will tend  to follow in my spiritual footsteps.  This goes beyond attending church and reading the Bible daily devotional.  I teach her how to season foods, I teach her how to handle stressful situations.  And it's not just my household that I'm leading.  Mary Grace memorizes the notes I used to sing, but she also listens to my testimony of finding joy through my trials.
     People are watching.  Am I living so that I am reflecting Christ?  Not just in word, but in how I actually respond to people and situations.  Do I allow the world to pollute my mind?  Do I get upset at insignificant events or hold grudges?  Do I love in a sacrificial way?  Christ did.  I am called to be a reflection of Him.  And even though in my head I have known this my entire life, it took these few events to point it out to me again.  To refocus me, to remind me how important it is to not just skate by in my life.
     It is so easy to get into the habit of going through the same motions.  Go to church, sing the songs, smile, go home, read a little Bible every day, spout off a verse now and then.  But there is so much more to reflecting Christ.  I am so thankful that my savior reminds me to be passionate about Him!

Monday, July 22, 2013

I'll be done procrastinating in a little while...

  So I know it's been a couple weeks since I went to talk to my surgeon, and I haven't posted any updates for you.  I'm sorry.  I could say I've been busy (which I have), but that's not really all of it.  Deep down, I just haven't wanted to talk about it much.
  I'm not being fair at all, I know.  I brush things off like they're no big deal, then snap at my husband because he really isn't in the mood for chicken alfredo, which my mouth is watering over but I'm not allowed to have right now.  And I don't want to make a big announcement about everything, but sometimes I get annoyed that people go on like nothing has changed.  I guess I don't really know what I want, which is frustrating too.  So let me just tell you where I am, and you can pray for me.
  I went to my surgeon for a second opinion on going through with the RAI (radioactive iodine) treatment.  This is the same treatment I had in November, and it did have an effect on the cancer, but (unlike for most thyroid patients) it did not kill off all of the thyroid cancer in my body.  There is a blood test that they do (forgive me if I repeat things I've already told you).  The number they look at should be 4 or less, and in November, my number was 86.  After the RAI had time to do it's thing, I took another blood test (about a month ago).  Now that number is down to 33.  That's good, but not good enough.  I was concerned that this might mean there is something else going on in my body.  Perhaps another type of cancer.  My surgeon assured me that it is not.  We are still dealing with thyroid cancer, which is good.  Then came the difficult part.  He told me that, considering both my young age and the aggressiveness of the cancer in my body, I will probably be dealing with this for the rest of my life.  He was quick to assure me that, even in my circumstances, very few people actually die of thyroid cancer.  And those that do usually live with it for a very long time.
  I can't say that I was surprised or depressed or overwhelmed by the news.  I've said from the beginning that I felt as though God was telling me to be prepared, and I've always taken that to mean I should be prepared for something big and difficult.  Even so, I've been annoyed at my own back-and-forth emotions over it.  I think I'm just dealing with the fact that everyone else can go on as usual, but I will never be done with this.
  I am both amazed and frustrated that it seems as though God hand picked trials that I consciously thought about and hoped to never face.  I am amazed and honored and humbled because at every step, He is teaching me that I can face my deepest fears in confidence if I lean on Him.  I am frustrated because...well, let's face it, no one REALLY wants to learn that lesson.
  It's been ages ago (we're talking high school, which is 20 years back, believe it or not) that I heard of a female Christian artist who prayed that if the music, the show, or her voice ever became more important than singing for Him, that God would take her voice from her.  I remember it because it terrified me.  I loved music, I loved to sing, and I did not want to tempt God to take that from me.  And now here I am, with no voice.  One of the first things I wondered was if this was because I had enjoyed the music more than the worship.  I'm not saying I did...I guess I don't really know.  Worship and music are so wrapped up together for me...not that it really matters now, but I wondered.  I guess maybe I still do.
  Then there's the "long-term" factor.  There are so many stories of people who have suffered and/or died for Christ.  I remember thinking, "Lord, I have no problem dying for you.  But I don't know if I could suffer."  Dying is quick.  Suffering...not so much.  Shallow, I know.  And here I am, looking at years and years of dealing with a disease that will attack my body over and over again.  Not knowing if there will come a time when it will stop responding to treatment, not knowing if it will eventually spread to another area of my body or become a different type of cancer altogether.
  Most recently (in one of my rare melt-down moments), I told a friend that I just didn't want to be "the girl with cancer."  That identity, that label...I don't want it.  At the same time, I DO want to talk about it, to share how God has grown me, all of the good things that have come of it, even to share the hard times.  But I don't want that to be who I am, if that makes sense.  And now I know that instead of being someone who dealt with cancer, now I will always be someone who is dealing with cancer.
  So there's this weight, this sobriety, that has settled on me.  It happened before, when I was first dealing with this.  I had to grow up a bit and face reality in a way that I normally avoid.  I still have joy.  I would even say that I am now able to feel a deeper, more rich happiness than I ever had before.  But I don't want to give the impression that this is easy.  Some days it is very, very hard.  Mainly I want you to know that because I don't want you to have a false picture of who I am as I go through this.  I have been given such peace and strength through all of this that sometimes my blogs come off as though I'm just breezing through every trial.  I am not.  I am choosing to have joy, I am praying for God to be glorified through it all.  But I am so very human and so very weak on my own.  It would be so easy to wallow in self-pity.  This is why I am so very thankful for your prayers and all of the other forms of love that have been showered on me.  And thank you for your patience with me.  I hope to soon be much closer to my normal optimistic self...but it might not come until I'm allowed to have chocolate again!  ;-)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Normal is so Relative

  Part of the reason I write is for personal clarification.  It is so much easier to sort out what is going on in my heart and head when I put it on paper.  Another reason is so that my friends and family will be kept up to date with new information and know how best to pray for us.  The last reason I write and post these blogs is so that, in the future, maybe some dear soul who is dealing with the same thing I am dealing with now will know what to expect and will take comfort in knowing that someone has gone through it ahead of them.  This blog is especially for that last group; to let you know that in these situations, feeling out of control is pretty normal.
  It's been a crazy couple of weeks.  Beginning with the week leading up to my scans (I have a friend who calls it "scanxiety,").  On Thursday I went to the Dr. and was told to start the low iodine diet the next day.  Friday through Sunday were ok, but I kept forgetting that I was on that stupid diet.  I didn't eat anything I shouldn't, but I would be cooking and thinking, "Oh, this is going to taste so good!" and then suddenly remember that no matter how good it turned out, I couldn't eat it.  I think mostly this was because I didn't expect to jump into diets and scans so immediately after my appointment.  I thought I would have a couple weeks to prepare and plan my meals, but I didn't.  I am thankful that I had already found a staple meal that I enjoyed (when I was on the diet the first time), so I just went back to that for the week.  There was also a lot of explaining how my appointment went to tons of people.  And telling everyone that you've had an appointment and you're doing something new, but there really isn't any news yet is kind of frustrating.  Friends and family want progress, and the waiting can be as hard on them (though in a different way) as it is on me.  It's been almost a year since my surgeries, and that's a long time to have few "real" answers.
  By Monday I thought I had everything under control.  I had decided I was just going to get this week over and be done, and that I would be fine.  Funny thing is, you can't just decide stuff like that.  I still had anxiety. I just refused to think about it!  So I had to go get a shot on Monday.  I didn't think it would be a big deal, as often as I have had blood draws and IVs over the past year.  In my mind, I would sit in the little chair, lay my arm on the flat armrest and have it done.  I was a little nervous that the medicine might burn going in, but other than that, I was ok.  Then the nurse came in and told me the shot had to go in my backside.  Don't ask me why this freaked me out, but it did.  I don't think I've had a shot back there since I was a little girl getting tubes put in my ears.  I think mostly it was just that, once again, I was unprepared for what I had to do.  But I'm a big girl, and a little needle isn't  going to get the best of me!  So I forced my body to relax as I awkwardly waited for the shot.  The medicine didn't burn a bit.  And that's about the only thing I had time to think before I started to black out.  The room was spinning, everything was black, and, even though I could hear the nurse talking, I could not understand what she was saying, much less follow her instructions.  I was holding onto the table I had been leaning over for dear life.  She had to pull a chair up behind me and force me back into it.  Finally my head started to clear.  I felt foolish and weak and (as is normal for me when I pass out), I was very emotional.  I cried a little bit to the nurse.  Then on my way home I called my husband, my mom, and a couple of my closest friends and I cried then too.  Poor Caryn got the full deluge of my emotions.  Fears I didn't even know I had came pouring out and I cried and cried.
  I learned that day (once again) that it's ok to fear.  I know I cannot live in fear, but fear is very real, and needs to be faced.  I cannot overcome it on my own...but if I don't acknowledge it, then I cannot even allow the peace of God to cover it.  I found things I didn't know were hiding in my heart, and I'm thankful for that day.  I also had to promise everyone that I wouldn't go alone to the rest of my appointments that week!
  Tuesday, I had to get another shot and my sister-in-law went with me.  It was very uneventful (I knew what to expect this time!), but she and I had a very nice trip to Murfreesboro and back.  It gave us rare, kid-free conversation!  That night, I left work early.  I had started feeling dizzy after the second shot, and I was too weak to keep up with production.  I was hoping I would be able to come back after my scan Friday morning, since I would be able to take my medicine and eat "real food" once the scan was done.
  Wednesday, I had a few appointments.  I had to get blood drawn, register with the hospital for my scan at the end of the week, and meet with my surgeon for a check-up.  My mom and my daughter went with me.  We stopped to pick up my dad for lunch between appointments.  We went to IHOP and I had a bowl of  mixed fruit.  I don't like honeydew.
  The appointments were mostly, "hurry up and wait."  The actual "doing" didn't take long at all.  I did have an informative visit with my surgeon.  He confirmed that half of my vocal chords still have absolutely no movement, but that the other half is compensating well.  He said singers have the most success in this type of situation, so (once again) I am thankful for all the years of singing that have trained my vocal cords to stretch beyond what they would normally do.
  Thursday, I was able to just stay home.  I still wasn't back to work, and it was nice to have a day with my family where I didn't go anywhere at all.  But the next day I had my scan, and as much as I smiled and loved on my kids and just took time to be close to my family, underneath it all there was a little knot in my stomach over the upcoming scan.
  Friday came soon enough.  A dear friend was able to ride with me to the hospital.  The scan it's self was easy.  Lay on a table for about 20 minutes while you get moved slowly through a huge machine.  I think I dozed off for a few minutes somewhere in there (it's best to keep your eyes closed, since the machine is a very few inches from your face, which can make you feel claustrophobic).  Then they have the radiologist take a preliminary look at the results before they let you go.  Unfortunately for me, the radioactive iodine hadn't moved through my system as completely as they needed it to, so they asked me to come back the next morning for another scan.  So much for going in to work on Friday!
  Saturday came and my sister rode with me this time.  Since it was the weekend, the area of the hospital that we needed to go to was next to empty.  They didn't have to scan the lower third of my body this time, so that knocked a few minutes off of the time I was in the machine.  That day I was more nervous than the day before; having to come back for anther scan wasn't sitting well with me.  But finally we were done, and then my sister and I went out for a wonderful brunch!  I ate an omelet stuffed with all sorts of meat and cheese.  My stomach was upset later from the sudden change in diet after such bland food for a week, but it was SO worth it!
  Now all we had to do was wait for the results.  I went back to work on Monday.  My mom made arrangements to go with me for the results, which would be Thursday.  Brad and I didn't talk about it much that week, but it was weighing on both of us.  He would randomly ask me if I was ok.  And, slowly, I became ok.  As I prepared myself for Thursday, I was given a strength and peace that had been missing.  On Thursday I was ready for anything.  Brad called me before I left the house to pray with me.  We both began to cry, but I was able to honestly pray, "not my will, but Yours."  I cannot say that at that moment I knew that the cancer wasn't totally gone, but I can say that I was completely prepared for bad news.  There is a reason it's called, "peace that passes understanding."  I still don't understand how I can face this illness and not have constant worry or pain or anger or fear or sorrow.  But the peace is there.  I'm not saying the other feelings are never around, of course.  Just that...God wins.  I trust Him and whatever He has planned for me.
  So now we just have to decide what we're going to do about the remaining cancer.  I'm still up in the air about it.  At first, it made sense to go through with another round of radiation.  And maybe that IS the best course.  I'm just not as sure about it as I was.  The oncologist suggested that course, and it is the easiest, fasted route to take.  But I scheduled an appointment with my surgeon for the same day as I meet with my general practitioner, early next month.  I feel like I need perspectives from both of them before I decide for sure what to do.  My other option would be to have more scans done before we proceed with any treatment, just to be sure we know exactly where the cancer is, how big it is, and anything else that is currently unknown.  So please pray for wisdom in this area.
  After my results on Thursday, I wanted to be close to my family.  And my birthday was on Saturday.  So we went to a matinee showing of Man of Steel, then came home to a huge birthday party with my entire family at my house.  On Sunday we went to my parents' house after church for lunch and didn't end up coming home until around 10.  I loved spending time with everyone, but it made for a very busy weekend.  Monday was a more physical day at work than usual, and on Tuesday I finally crashed.  The heat and emotional roller coaster of the last two weeks, topped by the (wonderful, yet) busy weekend all finally caught up to me.  I didn't do much of anything yesterday, and the rest was very good for me.  Even now, I'm worn out, but I'm much better than I was yesterday.  Brad is in a very similar state.  This is another way you can pray for us; that we would get the rest we need and that we would recover quickly from this draining experience.
  I hope reading this is helpful to someone.  Even if what you're facing isn't cancer, there is a natural process to dealing with trauma, and it's fine to go through that process.  It's normal, and it doesn't mean you're weak or have no faith.  You need to mourn loss, you need to acknowledge fear.  But remember not to live in those low spots.  Pray for strength and peace, and share your concerns with someone who will pray for you and with you.  Then lean on the One who gives you every breath and know that He is in control.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Why we're ok

  Until you're where I am, you just don't know.  You can see how I feel, you can read how I feel, you can even hurt in similar ways.  But you simply cannot KNOW what it's like.  But I will keep trying to explain and do my best to lead by example so that when your trial comes, you do not feel overwhelmed by it.  So that you will be encouraged and lifted up, as I have been by so many people.  This weekend was everything I could ask for, especially following the news that there is still cancer in my body.  I wanted to be surrounded by everything that I love, and I was.  But I get that look from everyone.  The one that wonders if I'm really handling things, or if I'm just covering up so no one will worry about me.  So many of you have read my blogs and followed along with my ups and downs because you really do care how I'm doing.  And you really want to do whatever you can for my family and myself.  And I cannot tell you what that means to me.  In reality, how I'm doing changes from moment to moment.  I do sorrow, I do fear.  I don't want to think about going on the low iodine diet again.  It wasn't horrible, but it's not something I would choose to do on my own.  I don't want to think about being in isolation again.  Being away from my family was rough.  They are the "why" behind everything for me, and without them to take care of, I'm less "me."  I really don't want to think beyond the next treatment, to the tests again and the anxiety of waiting to find out if radiation worked completely this time.
  So I think about other things.  And I am learning a lot.  So are other people.  Here is what my incredible husband had to say this weekend:

  Why am I thankful that my wife still has cancer?  Because I'm so prone to wander.  I'm so prone to get tired.  I'm so prone to get stale and callused.  I'm so prone to run from relationships when it doesn't benefit me.  Because by my wife still having cancer, I'm reminded that I'm utterly hopeless and shipwrecked without my Lord and Savior.  I'm reminded that I'm broken and crooked inside.  I'm reminded that so is everybody else, no matter how they try to dress themselves up.  I'm reminded that I desperately need the Gospel.  The Gospel has saved me, but it's still walking with me and holding my hand and, praise the Lord, the Gospel will one day lead me to a place where there will be no more cancer!  I'm reminded this morning that I haven't communed with my Lord in a long time.  Not just reading and praying; I've done those beautiful things.  But I'm talking about just being quiet and thinking high thoughts of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  You see, cancer brought me to this place this morning.  I'm reminded of my children, who need a daddy that won't give them the world, but will give them Jesus.  I'm reminded that time is precious, and we don't have time to have unresolved conflicts with our brothers and sisters in Christ or our family.  I've come to realize that we only have this moment to reflect the Gospel, because we are not promised tomorrow.  I'm reminded that I love the Lord and need him desperately!  I'm reminded that though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, the for the Lord is with me.  I'm reminded that the Lord gives and takes away; blessed be the the name of the Lord!  Oh yes, my friends  I pray that Mr. Cancer does not come for an extended stay.  I hope and pray that he is just passing through.  But no matter what He decides, I'm so thankful that the Lord has blessed us with his company.  You see, I'm just starting to understand something this morning:  That cancer has been the best pastor and teacher I've ever had.

Love Bradly Allen Swander

  With such a husband to lead me, is it any surprise that I continue to learn and grow?  Though we may weep together at times, we also draw from the same strength.  We place our trust in the Almighty together.  Not just my health, but US.  Our future, how much of it we have together, what we are to do with the time we are given.
  My thoughts have run close to Brad's over the past few days.  Time and relationships are no longer cheap.  The knowledge that we don't have forever is constantly in my mind.  Whoever said, "There's always tomorrow," lied.  Sometimes there's only today.  So use today!  Not only do you not have the promise of tomorrow, those around you don't either.  It could be cancer, or a car wreck, or old age, or a freak heart attack that takes your neighbor, child, brother, parent or cousin.  What regrets would you have?  What have you not said or done that you should?
  If you are close to me, you know that there have been several conflicts in my family over the years.  I will not get into details, but I will use my family as an example for you.  As I was working on Friday night, I was excited about my birthday party that was being planned for Saturday.  And I was thinking about the tension that comes and goes between family members.  I talked to them in my mind, and what I "said," I ask you to apply to your own life:
  What if this were my last birthday?  What if next year, I'm not here?  What would you do June 15th, 2014 if I'm gone?  I can imagine that there would be some sort of day of remembering.  My sister would probably spend months gathering pictures and stories about me and putting it all together.  Then she would start inviting people to come on my birthday to be together, to remember the time we spent together, to tell stories about me that my kids would remember, to watch the slide show that she had made.
  So, my sister, who would you invite?  Would you leave someone out because of a conflict?  Because it would make someone else uncomfortable to have them there?  Of course not.  You would want everyone who loved me to be there.  You would want to honor my memory this way.
  So, those of you who are invited, would you come?  Or would you wait to see who was coming before you decided?  Would you skip this opportunity to laugh and cry with my friends and family just because you might have gotten upset at someone else who would be there?  I would hope not.  I would hope that you could set these insignificant matters to the side, at least for a time.
  And if those things that you're upset about can be put aside for a moment, is it possible that maybe they're not all that important after all?  That maybe the biggest thing in the way of loving relationships is pride?  If you could set aside that pride for a day of peace spent together to love on my family and share the burden of loss, than do you think that maybe you could put things in perspective and do that now?
  Or do I have to die first?
  Because, my loved ones, I am willing to give whatever it takes to heal the hearts of those that I love.  I have seen God use this illness in me to do so much, and the fact that I am not healed yet tells me that He is not done using my sickness for His purposes.
  But if it takes that, then shame on you!  If a loss that great is the only thing that will cut past pride and selfishness, shame on you.  Not because I am not willing to be used, but because Christ has already died to show you how to love one another!  And in comparison to Him, my life is worth nothing.
  I know it's not as easy as just deciding to be done letting things bother you.  And yet, it actually is that easy in many ways.  When you are where I am, it's that easy.  When you really understand in your heart that you are not promised tomorrow, it's simple to forgive completely, to love deeply and to find joy where there was pain.  To allow Christ to change your heart in a way you've always been afraid to before.  To become so new that even if you live through the fire, the person who comes out of it will look totally different from the one who went in.
  This is why I am ok.  Why, even though I mourned and cried, I am fine right now.  It's why I can actually be thankful for cancer.  Because I have learned so much about what love is and how it really looks.  Our words are so insignificant and meaningless.  But God is teaching me to hold the truly precious things close.  And maybe because I am going through this, someone else will learn these lessons through my example instead of by trial.  Maybe it's you, my faithful reader.  Maybe I have cancer so that you will read this and your heart will be softened and you will restore a broken relationship.  Maybe it's so that you will seek the One who gives the peace and incomprehensible love that He is giving me.  I am humbled by the things that have happened around me this past year, and I looking forward to seeing what God will do next.  It makes my trials pale in significance.  He makes me ok.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I know...

  I know a man who is dying of cancer.  He has skin cancer, but it's growing inside his sinuses and there is no way to treat it.  He has a constant headache.  But he never complains about his illness.  He knows that he will be lucky to live another 5 years.  Yet he is at work every day.  He does his job as well as he ever did.  Most people don't have any clue that he is sick.  Once there were tears in his eyes when he talked to me about it, but most days he stops just to ask how I am doing.  He tells me not to worry about him:  "I wouldn't have much time left in this body anyway."
  I know a single mother who is spending this week changing her entire future.  She had the perfect job lined up in another town and was going to move next month.  But her sister passed away over the weekend and everything changed.  Now she won't move, but will change jobs; from an office to a factory for the pay raise.  Not moving because it would put her further from the three children her sister left behind.  Decisions about where she lives and how much money she makes now revolve around how she can help raise these precious, motherless innocents.
  I know men who work 8, 10, 12 hour days 5, 6, 7 days a week at jobs they hate for bosses who are unfair all so that they can provide for their families.  Keep mama home as much as possible.  Be able to put shoes on growing feet, food in young bellies and that special gift next to the birthday cake.
  I know a couple heartbroken over the loss of their unborn child.  But they continue to find ways to bring joy to those around them.
  I know a boy who has lost memory, sight, and the hope of a normal future to illness.  I know two girls who's parents dare not dream for more than seeing their daughter reach 25 years old.  These families will watch as their beautiful babies get older but do not develop properly.  They will watch these diseases cripple and finally kill.  Yet they use their trials to be a witness to others.
  I know a family who longs for a child that they may never be allowed to hold again, because of the actions of a selfish, prideful, greedy, evil person.  Yet they pray for the salvation of that very person.

  I know a God who has put these people in my path to encourage me as I see their grace and strength in the midst of the fire.
  I know He will carry me through whatever the future holds.
  I know His people are praying for me.
  I know He has written my story with the perfect ending, though I do not yet know what that end is.
  I know I am surrounded by His love.
  I know that I can face tomorrow.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

One Perfect Moment

  Tonight I sit on my front porch, with a cold glass of thirst-quenching yumminess beside me, a cloudy night sky above me and the cool summer night air wrapped around me.  The scents of fresh cut lawns and sweet hay drift to me from neighboring acres.  Crickets sing, a dog barks, and I even hear a bat as it searches for it's evening meal.  My children are all clean and tucked safely in bed.  All of their friends have gone home, leaving a cozy peacefulness in our house.  My husband entered the Sandman's arena an hour ago, but I know that (even after over 13 years together) when I come to bed he will reach for me in his sleep and hold me close.  There is a peace and gentleness in my soul that has not come from myself.  I look forward to the praise, worship and teaching that will come tomorrow.  Tonight is a perfect night.
  I am so thankful for this moment.  I am fixing it in my mind to remember.  Something to be thankful for no matter what.  That today, God gave me exactly what my heart desired.  It's not anything spectacular by the world's standards, but it is exactly what I was craving.  Just that moment where everything is still and right in this busy, broken world.
  In one week, I will turn 36.  And before that day, I should know whether my 37th year on this earth will be "normal" or filled with a fight for my life.
  It's a scary thing to think about.  As a matter of fact, I haven't let myself think about it much because of how scary it could be.  Even "normal" will never be the same for me as it was before.  Worse than this new normal is something I don't want to dwell on.
  Statistics say I shouldn't worry.  It's "just" thyroid cancer.  Possibly the most curable cancer we know of.  Nothing to get worked up about.  The Bible says I shouldn't worry.  Because even if I do, it can't cure me of cancer and add even an hour to the life that God has planned for me to live.
  I believe the Bible.  And I even believe the statistics.  So this concern has not wrapped me up and paralyzed me.  But there is a real fear.  Fear of the unknown, mostly.  How can I prepare for whatever the future holds while we wait to know at least what direction that future is headed?
  I am not going to complain.  And I'm not going to go into all of what a bad test result might mean for me.  I have spent this past week dealing with it personally and sharing with a very few close friends.  I didn't deal with it until this week because I didn't have to.  But now (finally), I have had the scans we've been waiting for since my surgery last July.  These scans will tell us if there are still thyroid cancer cells still in my body.  So I was forced to think about it all week long.  For a week, my life was focused on preparing for this scan...and that turned out to be a much more emotional thing than I had expected.
  But tonight...tonight I have a gift.  The gift of enjoying all of the good around me.  To accept the perfect things that God has provided in my life.  Maybe He gave me this moment as a balm for my weary heart after such a difficult week.  Or maybe He gave it to me so that I would have something peaceful to remember through the coming storm.  Either way, I am thankful.  And tomorrow I will join my brothers and sisters in Christ to worship Him and thank Him and glorify Him.  And if next week brings tears and sorrow...well, deep in my heart, anchored more surely than any fear I may have, is a peace that tells me that when the winds blow too strong for me to stand, I will be held.  It's not a promise of joy and ease and healing, but it is (and always will be) enough.  I have walked a different path than most because this is the path that Christ marked out for me.  I hold onto that knowledge.  It's not easy, and I don't want you to think that it's easy for me.  Let me say it again, it is not easy.  But neither is it too hard.  You think you could never endure such a thing...and then it happens, and God says, "I will give you the strength you need for this day.  You do not have enough of your own, but I have unending strength, and I give it to those who are mine."  So you live one day at a time.  And you deal with your illness (or poverty, or loss, or persecution) one event at a time.  And then you know, as you never knew before, that He is everything.  And if He chooses to ask of you everything, it is your honor to give it for His glory.
  This one perfect moment, I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt.  This moment, fear has been banished. It will creep back in, as it always does.  But I have been given a perfect moment and in that moment, I see how His grace abounds.  And there is nothing but gratitude left in me.
  Now as I head to join my faithful, loving husband for the night, I pray that your faith may be grown, as mine continues to be.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

1 Cor. 4:6

  Now that I am working second shift, I am no longer able to lead our women's Bible study.  However, I am writing lessons for them and Kim is using those lessons along with her own to teach on Tuesday nights.  I love listening to my dear sister teach, and I have encouraged her to post her lessons for those of you who are not near enough to attend.  So I've decided to post mine as well.  I hope these lessons encourage and challenge you in your walk with Christ!

     It is amazing to me how we can read the Bible over and over and over again and still find new things in it!  And beyond that, how God brings things into our lives to emphasize the importance of the new thing that He has shown us.  At least, that’s how it is in my life!  Here is a verse that I have read countless times, I’m sure.  But I finally SAW it.  God’s word is so beautiful, and so…good!  Even though this is a little different than what I normally have prepared for our ladies’ study, it felt important…so I’m just going with it, and trusting that this is what God wants me to share.

1 Corinthians 4:6  I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

     That’s it!  Just one little verse.  And at first, it seems like there isn't much there.  It’s in the middle of this huge passage about church leaders, and about not following a man as your spiritual leader, since he is only the servant of Christ who has actually purchased your salvation.  I encourage you to read the whole book, being aware of this setting.  It will change your view of some verses that you have probably heard used out of context.  But that’s not the part I want to focus on right now.  The part that jumped out at me was, “that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written…”  Don’t go beyond what is written.  That really stuck with me.  So often, we “go beyond.”  We want to know more, we want to figure it out.  But that was part of the problem here in Corinth.  They were so focused on what they knew, and what they could figure out, that they were losing sight of the fact that Christ was the one to follow.  Instead, they were following the man they thought most wise or knowledgeable about the things of God.  Right from the first chapter of this book, Paul is reminding these people that human wisdom is foolish, and that true wisdom can only come from God.  Therefore, knowledge of spiritual truths is nothing to be prideful over.  Rather, we are to be thankful that these truths have been revealed to us.  Instead, we look for man after man to lead us.  We want the most knowledgeable, the most experienced, the one who can speak most eloquently.

     There is a line to walk here, of course.  We know we are to test everything against the scriptures to see if it is true.  So we must study the scriptures and know them, or we will never be able to hold any doctrine up to it for examination.  Then there are commentaries and historical documents that can help us understand what was going on when different passages were written.  Context changes the way people hear things.  To someone who has grown up in the city, it might not make sense that we call Jesus the Good Shepherd.  But once you explain how sheep need to be watched and led to food and water, and guarded against wolves and other predators, the picture of Jesus begins to change.  Now He’s not just a man standing in a field with a staff.  Now He is everything necessary to a safe, healthy life.  So I’m not saying not to study, and study deeply.  But this verse clearly says not to go beyond what is written.  Let me give you an example.

     Last week a friend of mine posted something about the sovereignty of God.  Another guy we both know from college commented this:

     “I think that God likes to roll a die just like some of us do every now and then. I think He likes to see what will randomly happen every now and then. I believe He has all of the parameters put in place purposely and knows what the outcome of the roll will be before He rolls it, but nevertheless, randomness is still interesting. Randomness forces us to adapt and think critically. They are good tests for God to determine if we are willing to follow Him despite any random circumstance.

In addition to that, I also believe that God gives us the choice to make decisions, and lets us live with those decisions. Sure, there are times that He will interfere, but for the most part, I think He leaves a lot of things up to us. Sometimes the "thing that happened for a reason" is that we did it to ourselves - whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.”

     The verse we’re discussing today had been rolling around in my head for about a week when I read this, and his comment just set me on fire.  “I feel,” “I think,” “I believe…” and not a bit of scripture.  I wanted to tear into him and tell him how out of line he was.  But I've found that yelling rarely convinces someone that they’re wrong, so I tried to be nice.  I said, “Nice theory with the dice.  Any scripture to back that up?”  He didn't reply with scripture.  He said, “I’m made in His image, right?  I honestly thing that this is a part of God’s creative spirit that dwells in all of us.” He went on to describe the great variety we find in the world and added, “Do I really need a scripture verse to prove that God enjoys randomness?  Doesn't His creation prove it enough?”

     SO many people have this same idea about God.  They look around at themselves and other people and creation and think they can figure out who God is by that.  It’s like seeing the colors on a painter’s palate and thinking you can know everything about the painter by that small bit of information.  So I said, “Yes (because he asked if he needed scripture).  We don’t have to assume who He is, because He’s told us.  He is a God of order (that’s scripture).  He places the stars and counts the hairs on my head and gathers our tears in bottles.  That’s scripture!  He sets parameters in place…He has plans for me.  That’s the God we see in the Bible…The Bible also tells us that He holds us together.  Actually holds us together!  If He were to take His hands off, the world would fall apart.  He is just so much bigger and so much more than we can ever realize…I know that the Bible doesn't tell us everything about God.  But He gave us what He wanted us to have.  I don’t even understand everything about Him that is IN the Bible.  Until I have studied and digested and lived by THAT, I won’t try to figure out anything more.”

     Maybe this is something that most of you realize already.  But that is just one example of how people go beyond what is written.  Making up a god that they think is there because of random bits of creation that they see.  Thinking they can figure Him out because they have a small bit of knowledge.  Verse four goes on to say, “that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one over another.”  This is the danger.  It’s the sin that was in the garden.  The sin of wanting to know what God knows.  Or at the very least (as we see often in churches today), wanting to follow the man that seems to know the most of what God knows.  Be on your guard when you hear the words, “I think,” or “I feel,” when it comes to spiritual matters.  The heart and mind of man is wicked.  Why would you trust it?  Even hearing someone say what they “believe” needs to be listened to with guarded ears.  Measure everything against scripture.  If you hear someone say what they believe, ask what scripture they've based that belief on!  You don’t have to be rude, especially since they might be absolutely correct.  But study, study, study!
     When you witness, answer questions with scripture.  I know it’s hard to memorize chapter and verse.  But you can memorize at least some.  And even if you don’t know the exact wording or exactly where it is found, you should be reading your Bible enough to at least know what is in there.  If they want to read it for themselves, look it up and give them the reference later.  But don’t tell people what you think, just based off of emotion or personal experience.  God has given us the perfect tool to plant spiritual seeds, water them, and bring in the harvest.
     I used to be the worst offender in this area.  Looking back, I cringe at how many times I offered my opinion instead of the precious Word of God.  This is an area that God has grown me in (He has used my husband to help me so much with this!).  I pray that this verse is both a challenge to you and an encouragement.  A challenge to follow it, because it is what we are commanded to do.  An encouragement because everything you need is IN the Bible, so you will never have to flounder about for the “right” answer again.  Dig in!  Learn!  Grow!  Study and wash yourself with the Word so that when the time comes to give an answer, His words will be on your lips.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

God is...

     "God is love." I have come to roll my eyes and inwardly groan when I hear those words. My thoughts jump to, "Yes, He is love, but He is also justice and holiness and righteousness. Just because He is loving does not mean He will allow you to get away with whatever you want." Cotton-candy theology that paints God as an indulgent grandfather gets under my skin.

     But here's the thing; God IS love. Just because He is just and holy and right does not mean that He is not also loving. This perfect balance between God's love and His justice is so hard for humanity to understand, and even harder to live out. Christians are to be imitators of Christ, which means we are called to balance love and righteousness just as He does.

     There are so many ways I have been stretched over the past six or seven months. So many emotions that I have dealt with. What I'm finding is that God has done a more intense surgery on me than any doctor. Today, He is cutting away things about me that are unloving.

     I have hidden behind justice and righteousness. I have been haughty and prideful. I have judged the lost for being lost. I have been selfish, not willing to suffer a chance of emotional pain, though my Savior suffered so much for me. 1 Peter tells us to be prepared for persecution and suffering, and I have not. In the process of protecting myself from pain, I have become cold and resentful toward those who have hurt me. This is not the spirit of Christ. It is not being a reflection of Him. It is not being a light for the no way will this attitude draw others to Him. Lord, forgive me! Soften my heart, give me wisdom.

(1Co 13:1) If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

      All of the times I have taught the word of God, while bitterness was in my heart...Lord, I confess my useless noise.

(1Co 13:2) And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

      I have proclaimed Your power to heal, but have allowed rifts to remain in relationships around me. Lord, I am so sorry for mocking You in this way.

(1Co 13:3) If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

     I have given time and resources to people around me, opened my home and heart to many strangers but not welcomed family who I felt had personally wronged me. Instead of enduring with meekness and gentleness, I kept away from people. Thank You, Lord, for showing me how wrong I have been!

(1Co 13:4-5) Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

      Resentment has been in my heart for years. Thank You for softening me, for breaking me, for giving me Your love. I know these changes are not from my own desire to be good. My desires have been self-protecting and arrogant. Thank You for Your faithfulness to complete the good works that you begin in me. Thank You for molding me, bringing me closer to You, for chastising me.

(1Co 13:6) it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

      I DO rejoice with truth. I desire to tell others of Your holiness and righteousness and justice. Continue to show me that these things are to be done in a loving way. Not to make others hopeless, but to point them to their need for You.  Those who are lost are condemned already and adding my personal judgement will not save them.  Instead, they need to see that though Your justice demands payment, Your love has provided that payment already.  Make me approachable, not condemning.

(1Co 13:7) Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

     Help me to endure suffering as You did. Remind me of Your sacrifice; compared to that, my disappointments are so small!

(1Co 13:8-10) Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

     The things of this world are so fleeting. Help me to set my heart on the eternal.

(1Co 13:11) When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

     Lord, mature me!

(1Co 13:12-13) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.