I’m not making any of this up

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I have a huge admiration for humorist Dave Barry who writes for the Miami Herald and has also written quite a few books.  One theme that has carried through his books is “I’m not making this up”  People write to him and enclose bizarre or funny news items like the town that had a dead beached whale and so they decided to get rid of it using dynamite.  It rained bloody chunks of whale for miles.  You can’t make stuff like that up.

.This week has been something I could not make up.

You may remember me saying that I decided to start writing this blog again on Tuesday, expecting to simply tell the story of Sam’s journey with his lung cancer, and also back up through my primary optic lymphoma and tell that story, of all the miracles God has done for me. And I will still do that. But, as I said, I decided to start writing this blog again after a 6 year hiatus, on Tuesday.

I had been told, for the third time, that I was in remission.  Less than three weeks after I was told that I was in remission, we got the news of Sam’s lung cancer.

Wednesday, I got the news that I was no longer in remission.  The cancer has returned to my eyes, and I will be starting shots on Monday.

Friday, I met with a neurologist, who diagnosed me with Parkinson’s disease.  I have been having symptoms for a long time, but never put them together to figure out that I have Parkinson’s.  The most recent thing was falling – I started falling somewhat often.  Sam encouraged me to go online and see what I could learn about the falling.  As I searched multiple websites, I realized I was seeing a pattern – many of my symptoms were being repeated over and over – hand and leg tremors, handwriting deteriorating, voice getting softer, mask-like face.  I came to suspect that my problem was actually Parkinson’s, and when I went to the neurologist on Friday he agreed and gave me medication to help control the symptoms.   It is treatable but not curable (where have I heard that before?)  I am hopeful that this medication will be helpful.  If not, there are other options.

As I said earlier, this has been quite a week.  I’m not making any of this up – I wish I was, it would be a great April Fool joke.  But I’m not.  What I am doing is very deliberately putting all of this into the hands of Jesus, where it is gently held and lovingly cared for.  I choose to believe that.  His Word is true.  I know that we will face trouble  – Jesus told us so.  But he had a wonderful addition to that warning.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

Getting back to the middle

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I told you previously that I had been told three times that I was in remission.

I returned to writing this blog two days ago.

Ironically, I learned that I am no longer in that third remission  – yesterday.

This is an exercise in trust in God that I’m not sure I’m prepared for.  I read over some of the entries in my original blog and thought “Where did that come from?”  Those thoughts, those ideas, they weren’t mine.  Not all of them, anyway,  And whatever it was that happened, when I faced the first diagnosis, the total  peace and assurance that God was in control and this was all for His glory – it wasn’t there the next time.  I wanted it.  I prayed for it, and I begged for it.  I cried over it and I sulked over it.  But what I needed to understand was that it was a gift, for that specific time.  I finally sat down with a trusted friend, who told me “It might just be that God knows that some people won’t be able to relate to your easy peace.  It might mean more to them to know that you struggled.”  I heard him.  And I did say from the beginning that I was going to be bottom-line honest with this blog.  I just didn’t have to like it.

So, I am scared, once again.  And I am facing a truth that I had been in denial over – this isn’t going away.  I might make it into remission again, and even again.  But there are no guarantees, and apart from God working a miracle, the end could be much closer than I had thought.

So, where do i go from here?  There are only two real choices.  I can worry and make myself crazy, look up everything i can find about primary ophthalmic lymphoma (not a good idea, by the way), or I can make a clear choice to trust God with my life.  A real choice, like I have been claiming to do and trying to do for a long time – but now stuff’s gotten real.  My life is truly in his hands.  And Sam’s too.  And I have to tell you,  going back to that brutal honesty thing again, that right now I feel a whole lot more like crying than like singing or praising God or giving thanks.  But those are the instructions – and it doesn’t work to go by our feelings, now does it?  So going back to something I started this whole journey off with:

Philippians 4:16 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

That’s pretty self-explanatory.  Don’t be anxious about ANYTHING.  Easier said than done, but I’ll do my best.  Oh, wait, my best isn’t good enough.  In fact, I seem to remember it’s called garbage, refuse, even dung,   So then what am I supposed to do?

When I finally realize that I truly can’t do anything that pleases God, that is the very beginning of understanding grace. And believe me, i am just at that very beginning.  Just trying to wrap  my mind around it, after all the years of feeling not-good-enough, feeling less-than, feeling like if I didn’t try my hardest I would be disappointing God.  And all this time, he has just been waiting patiently for me to accept what he has done for me.  Period.  Am I the only one who gets completely dazzled by that?

Galatians 3:12 msg The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him.  Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you.

OK – stop.  Read that again.  “Doing things FOR God is the opposite of entering into what God does FOR YOU”

That’s about enough for today.  I’m going to ask for your prayers, for me and for Sam.  I didn’t expect to be back here, and certainly not when he was going through this himself.  My heart hurts for  him – but he is handling it so well.  I have much to learn from him.

 

 

So, how have you been doing?

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Great to be back, even though I didn’t really anticipate it.  We have a lot to catch up on, and I will be doing the movie-style flashback for a while, until we’re up to date.  Some of you know some, a few know all.

But right now, I  want to start in the present and go from there.  If anyone remembers my last p0st from 2011,  (yes, it’s really been that long),  I was planning to write a book based on this blog. And I did.  And I added to it.  I’m wondering if the reason that God hasn’t opened a door for it yet is because the story isn’t over.  Not by a long shot.

The short version – I promise to go deeper later – is that in November 2016 I was told for the third time that I was in remission, and that it looked like my oral chemo medication was all that was going to be needed to keep me there.  “Overjoyed” is way too bland of a word for how we felt.  We were ecstatic – Sam and I, my family, Sam’s family, our friends, our church…

Less than three weeks later, my amazing and wonderful husband Sam was seeing an orthopedic for a frozen shoulder.  Physical therapy was prescribed and an X-ray was taken.  The next day, Sam got a call from the doctor’s office. There were some shadows showing on the lungs in the X-rays. They wanted a CT scan, which showed suspicious nodules.  A lung biopsy was ordered.

After a much longer wait (that I was ok with, going on the theory that no news is good news), we had an answer.  Stage 4 lung cancer.  The doctor said it’s Stage  4 because it is in both lungs.  He said it isn’t curable, but it is treatable.  So we are going to treat it and trust God.

The really incredible thing is, it’s a glandular cancer that has nothing to do with smoking.  Sam was a smoker who quit 18 years ago, and here he is with lung cancer.  Of course, those of you who know his sense of humor won’t be surprised to know his response to learning that was “Oh, so I can start smoking again?”

So here we are, starting over again, again, again.  Sam just finished his second round of chemotherapy.  He has lost all his hair (including his beard and at this point, most of his eyebrows) and I sometimes fail to recognize him right away.

But how we got here is a whole story in itself.

procrastination or disobedience?

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Yesterday my wise and dearly loved husband asked me something profound.  We were having a conversation in which I confessed to being a bit bored with my life in general – I love my job but am finding life outside of work somewhat less than exhilarating.  Sam said to me, “Did not the holy God, Creator of the Universe tell you to write a book?”  I said, “Well… yes…”  He said, “Then I don’t think he’s going to give you anything else to get involved with until you obey him about that.”

Huh.

The thing is, God has been telling me pretty much the same thing for a while now, and I’ve been making excuses.  The main one is that I work on a computer from 8:30 – 5:00 every day and the last thing I want to do is get back on one when I get home.  (That’s also why my posts have been, well, pretty non-existent lately).   I tell myself that I’m going to do it, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.  But I will.  Soon.

As has been so wisely said, delayed obedience is disobedience.  I do believe that God has a purpose and calling for me, and I need to get moving and do my part.  So – I’m once again saying at least a temporary goodbye, as I am going to put my time and effort into what God has told me to do.  Please don’t unsubscribe, however, as I hope to come back one day in the not terribly distant future and say “It’s done!”

Pray for me if  you will.  Much love in Jesus to all…

 (Jesus said)“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’  The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway.  Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.   “Which of the two obeyed his father?”  They replied, “The first.”  Matthew 21:28-32

putting verbs in those cliches

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My last couple of posts, about love being a commandment, have been pretty timely for me.  When I write my posts, I’m hearing as much or more than I’m sharing, and I had much I needed and still need to hear on this subject.

There are people who are just hard for me to love.  It’s easy to sit here, with my laptop on my lap (as the name implies) and write nice little sentences about loving the unlovable and showing the heart of Jesus.  But there are people who just plain aggravate me.  I don’t like people who think that their opinion is the only one that can possibly be right, and try to make others who don’t think the same way feel somehow less intelligent or less informed.  Especially when I’m one of the others.  I don’t like people who think that saying “I’m just being honest” justifies their rudeness.  I don’t like people who are all about themselves, who talk only about the details of their lives, without even asking how you’re doing.  I don’t like people who have a sense of entitlement, who are never satisfied and are always being wronged in any situation, without ever having any responsibility.  I don’t like people who are critical and intolerant of other people’s shortcomings.

Wait – I think that last one might be me.

Here’s the thing about what Jesus asked – no, commanded us to do.  He didn’t say anything about feelings.  He didn’t ask us to like people.  He didn’t ask us to be all warm and fuzzy.  He asked us to love.  Not to feel love, but to do love.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.  Ephesians 5:1-2

God is talking about giving here.  Giving of myself.  Doing, pouring out.  Not looking at whether a relationship is equal, if I get as much as I give.  Not paying attention to how much a person annoys me when I decide how to treat them.  And that is SO much easier said than done.  I’m just not so good at handing out warm and loving greetings to a person who often irritates me or, even worse, makes me feel invisible.

Just a few days ago I was discussing with a friend a problem I’m having with another person, and I said that I wished that person would just go away.  Just leave the situation, so I wouldn’t have to deal with them or the problem.  Obviously I have more to learn about really watching and learning about a life of love.

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11

And that is the main purpose of love – to make Jesus Christ attractive to all.  Nothing can show the beauty of a renewed heart more than a kind, loving spirit that treats others with gentle goodness.  Very little can make others lose respect for my witness quicker than harsh words, unkind actions and vindictive attitudes.  Love will draw those who will never listen to a sermon, read a book or open a Bible.

 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.  John 13:34-35

Jesus is pretty clear here.  If I want the world to believe that I really know him, I need to live that life of love.  That’s going to take some work, and some prayer.

did you ever… part 2

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Yesterday my pastor said something that wasn’t what you might expect to hear from most pulpits.  In fact, it was pretty much the opposite of what I hear from a lot of preachers, teachers, Facebook posts, and general “Christian” discussion.  He said, “Accept people.  Love them for who they are.  Let them be themselves.  Let them think differently than you, dress differently than you, hold different political opinions.  Let them be messed up if they’re messed up.  The job of the Holy Spirit is already taken.  You don’t have to fix them.  You just have to love them.”

I wanted to jump up and down for a couple of reasons. One – I totally loved what he was saying.  Two – it fit completely into this post I was planning.  Isn’t God’s timing great!   (In another BTW – my life and those of a few people very important to me would probably be different in some really positive ways if I had learned this twenty years ago.)

So, we’re supposed to accept people, love them even, when they don’t fit our ideas of acceptable?  What if they are pro-choice or strongly behind a candidate that I spent the last several years forwarding emails against? (Ok, that was an editorial “I”, personally I don’t forward any of that stuff…)  What about the ones who show up for church dressed so inappropriately?  Surely it’s ok to speak up about that- it’s respect for God’s house, right?  What about people who don’t believe at all, who live by completely worldly standards?  Am I supposed to accept them with their tattoos and piercings and wild lifestyles?  What about the gays?  What about Christians who do things that I consider worldly?

What about…people?  Every single one in the same boat as me.  Sinful.  Unable to live up to God’s law.  Some of them haven’t had the amazing gift of grace become real in their lives.  Some haven’t chosen (yet?) to receive it.  Some don’t know about it.  But none, not one, is righteous – and neither am I – except for the blood of Christ which gives me HIS righteousness.  I have done nothing – not one single thing – to be considered “good” in God’s eyes, and yet he loves me totally, unconditionally.  And he asks, no – commands, me to do the same for people.  All of them.

At the end of yesterday’s message, Pastor Curt read the lyrics to a Steven Curtis Chapman song that I had never heard before (strangely enough, being a huge SCC fan).  Even without music, it made me cry.  It talked about seeing other people and remembering where we were before Jesus.  Here’s a link to the video.   It’s called “Remember Your Chains” and it’s definitely worth your three minutes.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FRAYGLMjP4

So, how do we do what Jesus commands?  If you remember the last blog, Jesus didn’t ask or suggest that we love each other, he commanded it.  That’s a pretty big deal.  He said he was making a new commandment (incidentally, something only God could do.)  I said we would talk about that in the next blog – but I guess I really meant the “next next blog” 🙂  So, next time.

Remember Your Chains – Steven Curtis Chapman

I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking
As he stared out the window through the sky
It seemed he was taking his last look at freedom
From the hopeless, longing look in his eyes
There were chains on his hands and chains on his feet
And as I passed him by the thought came to me

[Chorus:]
Remember your chains
Remember the prison that once held you
Before the love of God broke through
Remember the place you were without grace
When you see where you are now
Remember your chains
And remember your chains are gone

There’s no one more thankful to sit at the table
Than the one who best remembers hunger’s pain
And no heart loves greater than the one that is able
To recall the time when all it knew was the shame
The wings of forgiveness can take us to heights never seen
But the wisest ones, they will never lose sight of where they were set free
Love set them free

[Chorus:]
So remember your chains
Remember the prison that once held you
Before the love of God broke through
Remember the place you were without grace
When you see where you are now
Remember your chains
And remember your chains are gone

[Bridge:]
And in the light of all that we’ve been forgiven of
We will find our hearts fuller and freer
To give and receive God’s love

[Chorus:]
So remember your chains
Remember the prison that once held you
Before the love of God broke through
Remember the place you were without grace
When you see where you are now
Remember your chains
Oh, remember your chains
When you remember your chains
Remember your chains are gone

Imagine what your life would be
If Jesus had not set you free
Remember your chains are gone
Remember all that once help you
Before the love of God broke through
Remember your chains
And remember your chains are gone

did you ever stop to think?

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You know how sometimes you hear something so much it loses all meaning?  How many times have you heard that you need sunscreen?  Last week my stepson Bryan was here visiting, and before he and his friend left with my husband for the College World Series, I offered sunscreen.  Bryan didn’t quite roll his eyes, but he said, “Yeah, no thanks” in the tone that meant, “You’re doing that old-person unnecessary worrying thing again.”  He comes by that naturally – my husband used to give me the same attitude when I tried to get him to wear sunscreen.  He’d say “I need a little color”.  Then he got skin cancer.  Thank God it was the kind that was not dangerous and could be treated easily, but still… now he is very good about the sunscreen.

Or how about good things?  Nice sayings?  Things become cliches because they’re true, but because they’re true, they get said until they’re cliches and we don’t really hear them.  For instance, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”.  I’ll tell you, when I was getting toward the end of chemo and felt like I could barely sit up, I never once thought about my checkbook balance or going shopping for new cute clothes, or getting some fun electronic gadget.  A new car wouldn’t have meant a thing. Or  “Treat people the way you want them to treat you”.  It works, and even when it doesn’t change the way people treat you, it’s the right thing to do.  But sayings like that are just so tired and even kind of corny.  It’s hard to pay attention to the truth they contain.

Today I was thinking about a section of scripture that is so familiar that it can just slide in and out of my ears without really touching my brain, or my heart.

 What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others.What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others. I Corinthinans 13: 1-3

Those are some pretty big “what if’s”.  What if there really was an evangelist who was supernaturally able to preach to any nation, any tribe, no matter how remote, without an interpreter.  China one day, Zimbabwe the next, newly discovered tribe a week later.  He would be world-famous, at the very least.  But without genuine love for people, not only those to whom he preached, but those around him, in his life, his home, his ministry, God says he would just be making noise.  So what about those of us with smaller (much smaller) ministries?

What if I was able to tell you spot on what God wanted you to do and what he had in store?  What he was thinking about your life?  What you needed to change, accomplish, learn?  What was going to happen in the country, in the world?  What if I could go on television and make 100% accurate predictions about politics, or natural disasters in time to save thousands of lives?  What if I had the kind of faith that was literally unstoppable – that I could pray for anything and see it happen?  That would probably be pretty impressive.  Could it influence people, bring them to faith?  I would think so.  Would it count for anything in God’s eyes?  Not unless I lived in love.

Even if I gave everything I owned to charity – everything, even my Donny Osmond blanket – and lived on the street, or went to a country where Christians are persecuted and preached the gospel until I was executed for doing so, God says that I gain nothing.  Not if I don’t love others.

When Jesus knew that the time was near for the end of his ministry and he was telling the twelve the last things he wanted them to know, he didn’t say “Here’s how to run an efficient megachurch”, or “Make sure that you don’t let these sins become rampant in society, whatever you do.  Keep people in line.”  He didn’t even say “Before I go I need to teach you the Sinner’s Prayer and the 4 Spiritual Laws”.  He said “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples..” (John 13:34-35)

A new commandment?  (That’s another verse that’s way too familiar.)  Can you imagine what the idea of a NEW commandment meant to those good Jewish men?  Jesus didn’t tell them “It would be really great if you could get along.” No, he made a new commandment – up there with “Thou shalt not commit murder” – “Love each other”.

It’s harder than it sounds.  But more on that next time.