PREPARED, Part 1

Stella: our feathered Easter Bunny

 

It was a sad time for all of us.

Within two weeks, we lost three of our favorite hens.  Sickness took Stella, a fun and gentle hen.   Ginger, our matriarch, left us shortly thereafter.  She, nearly twelve, rested on a nest of hay covered with flower petals until it was her time to go. (Read her story by scrolling down to ( Not Trampled, Part 1, March 2, 2018)

Celeste, Ginger’s best friend and constant companion, died a few days later.  She, too, was advanced in years.  It’s the girls’ unrelenting belief that Celeste hung on simply for Ginger’s sake.

Our flock was then diminished to 13 hens and one feisty roo, still more than enough for our family of four.

My youngest, however, had been asking for more chickens, even before the loss of the three.  Her desire was to allow a hen to hatch eggs.

“We have too many,“ I told her, multiple times.  “No more chickens.”

Olivia is persistent in a subtle and creative way.  She stopped asking and started building.  Beneath her 13 year old hands, an elaborate chick coop took shape.  She amazed us with her construction project.

Years ago, she built a birdhouse for me with her dad.  She’d also made a shelf for her room and, as a small child, used every found thing she could obtain to create some fantastical invention.  This project, however, required bigger skills: framing, cutting, using power tools and following the blueprint she visualized in her mind.

After we saw her determination, my husband, Brian, showed her how to use a jig saw and gave her a couple of tips, but she built the coop herself, using recycled fence boards and pallet wood.  As the project neared the end, he taught her how to lay shingles on the roof of the nest box.  She stretched chicken wire over the coop and we both watched our girl in amazement as she painted the finished project.  Complete with a mini courtyard and a separate room for the nest box, it looked like a coop one would buy at the feed store. Prepared with love from recycled materials, it was beautiful.

We praised her effort and skill; waiting for the question we assumed would come.  But, it didn’t.  We moved the coop to the side of the existing hen courtyard. It sat empty, prepared with hope, prepared for a dream.

Even though she didn’t ask THE question, my mind was whirling.

“Brian,” I finally said, “how can I say no to baby chicks again after all the creative energy and hard work Olivia has put into making that coop?” He agreed that a reward was in order.

Shortly thereafter, the three hens died.  Olivia’s sadness hung around her like a gray cloud. Our chickens are not just egg layers.  They are pets, each with a unique personality.  On the night Celeste, the last of the three, passed away, I sat on the edge of Olivia’s bed.  I knew I couldn’t take away the grief, but I could offer hope.

“If a hen goes broody,” I said, “you can set some eggs.”  Her face lit up.  Hope ignited, hard work rewarded. She immediately started talking about which hen was her preferred choice.

“Zulilly went broody last year (we did not give her eggs to set), so she will probably go broody again this year; but, I’m not sure I want her to be a mother,” Olivia said, “She’s very pecky, and I’m afraid she will pass those behaviors on to her chicks.  Bumpkin would be my first choice, because she is such a sweet, fluffy hen.  She would be the best mama.”  The words kept tumbling out and we talked about various hen characteristics and motherhood qualities until it was time for lights out.

I went to bed thinking about the profound lessons playing out in my home: the benefit of patience, the rewards of quiet determination and hard work, taking risk by preparing for something you hope for that might not materialize.  After an incredibly difficult year in the life of our family, the simple joy of seeing hope spring up in the midst of my daughter’s grief and the fun of planning for something I knew would give her pleasure was worth savoring.

Olivia had prepared a place.  Now, all we needed was for a hen to go broody…

Jesus prepared a place  for us to be with His  Father now and  in the future.

Before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms, if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me that you may also be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas (one of Jesus’ disciples) said to Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

– John 14:1-6 (NIV), Italics, mine

We are bound by space and time.  God, having created both, is not.  In those verses, Jesus wove time and place together with His words. We do have a place in heaven to look forward to – a future, eternal residence with the God of the universe, and Jesus will return to usher in the new heaven, but scripture is clear that once someone becomes a believer, they become God’s home here on earth, in the present.  Believers have the Spirit of God living in them; a profound and life changing truth.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.  You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies”

– 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” – John 14:23 (NIV)

(see also: 1 Corinthians 3:16, 2 Corinthians 6:16)

Everyone who believes in Jesus becomes a unique dwelling place, a room, so to speak, for the Spirit of God, a presence that stretches out through eternity.  Collectively, all the individual believers, or “rooms” for the Spirit, become God’s house here on earth: His church. His house does have many rooms:  all those who believe, mortared together by the Spirit of God.

God designed the way for this to happen with a redemptive blueprint, laid out in perfect detail for the craftsman who would prepare the finished work.  Jesus was that Craftsman.   Every stroke of God’s plan was fulfilled through Him. He is the Way. 

Jesus took our sins, crafting holiness out of unholy material.  Prepared with love, we are spiritually recycled.  Our old natures are made new, our spirits able, in Christ, to co-exist with the spirit of God.  We are made beautiful and designed for new purposes by the Architect of our existence.

He enables us to fulfill those purposes by decorating the rooms of our lives with the gifts of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfullness, gentleness and self-control.  The Spirit that bestows those gifts also provides us with bravery and  power, helping us choose to use those gifts instead of the burdens that came with our old, fallen nature: anger, regret, anxiety,  impatience, selfishness and fear.

Too often, believers focus on what used to be instead of what is.  The day to day clutter and trouble of the world makes them lose sight of how they have been recyled into new construction, designed for new purposes.  I am guilty of this, are you?

When I find myself caught in the clutter, I purposefully ask God to sweep it away, so that His Spirit can permeate every nook and cranny of the “room”  of my life  that Jesus prepared for Him to fill.

If you are feeling “cluttered,” ask God to sweep away the fears, anxieties and remnants of human nature that get in the way of fulfilling His purposes for your life.  Those purposes are consistent for us all: to glorify God despite what the world brings, to praise Him, especially in times of trouble, to share the Truth of God with our  words and our lives so that others can have eternal life. How we fulfill those purposes are powered by the Spirit and are unique to each of us.

You are the dwelling place of the Most High God!  Consistently ask Him to clear the clutter. Then, stand prepared, ready, hopeful for what He will bring.

Prepared. Ready. Will Bumpkin go broody?

 

 

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JOURNEY

A high crag near Lake Odessa, Colorado Rockies

 

Last year around this time I was about to step foot across the threshold of one of the most difficult times in my life.  Then, it wasn’t possible to imagine the challenges that a journey through breast cancer would involve.

The emotional stress of a diagnosis, the fear of outcomes, the ravages of chemo and the exhausted steps of moving through life were not just things I experienced.  My family experienced them, too.  At one point, family tragedy compounded the difficulties of sickness. Jagged edges of grief sliced us all to the core.

Families are families because they intimately share life.  Joys, celebrations, laughter and success are celebrations that weave like golden strands through families.  Sickness, fear and tragedy weave strands as well.  I am fully convinced that without God as the Master Weaver, my family would have slipped over the precipice before this journey was fully underway.  At times, we clung with a fingertip grip along an impossibly sheer rock face, knowing there was no way to hold on or move forward.  Letting go of our tenuous hold and crying out to God for His merciful grip was the only way to survive.

God is the One who wove faith into our picture of fear, calm into our fabric of panic, and hope into the garment of dread that satan wanted to shroud us in. Only God can turn devastation into development and panic into peace.  Only He can bring healing from hurt and hope from hopelessness.

As satan did with Job, I believe he asks God, here and now, for permission to inject difficulty into the lives of believers, which he obviously intends for harm.  Only the Sovereign Lord can work that which is intended for destruction into good.

Good, however, is usually defined differently in God’s vocabulary.  Good, to Him, may sometimes mean spiritual and character development, a re-fabrication of our fallen selves into a new creation that looks more like the character of Jesus.  It comes at a price we would not willingly pay; but He knows that the sharpest tools we run from: pain, tragedy, illness and suffering, are often the tools which are most effective in the refinement process.

Do I feel refined?  I wish I could say, “YES!!” Perhaps better questions are these: Is God able? Is He merciful? Is He in control? Can He work good out of tragedy? Does He love as a father, with compassion and sensitivity to what is truly in the best, eternal interest of His child?

YES!! To all those questions, and more.  That answer isn’t just a coined response.  It’s an answer forged in the fire of tribulation.

God has been with my family and I every single step of this journey.  He will continue to be with us as I walk through remaining treatment and continue to regain physical strength.  He will be with all of us as we move forward, past one of the rockiest stretches of life we have ever encountered.

He has comforted, blessed, healed, taught, guided, restored and provided.  He has strengthened our family ties with the knots of sickness, heartache, loss and grief.  He has been intimately involved in the detail of our lives, and we are thankful, for He is good, and He has been our refuge.

In a morning devotion with my girls, we talked about trouble. “What can it do in someone’s life?” I asked.  “Make people run to God or away from God?”

“It depends,” my 13 year old said.  “Some people get angry at God, and run away.”

“That’s true,” I replied.  “What have you seen your mom and dad do?”

“Run to Him,” she said, without hesitation.

That’s not to our credit.  It just shows our weakness and God’s strength.

If the troubles we have endured served only as an example to our teens of where to run when trouble comes, then that would be enough; but God has done so much more than that.

Do you need to know which way to run? Has the global pandemic forced you onto a treacherous trail of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty?  Has it added to the normal, daily troubles that already exist, so that you’re clinging only with a fingertip grip? Run to the God of all Creation who wants to be intimately involved in the detail of your life.

Seek Him.  Read the Word.  Confess your mistakes and weaknesses.  (We all have them!) Realize that you are not in control. Relinquish your life, your will, your fears, your problems, to the Lord.  Ask Him to move you forward in the way He wants you to go.

Psalm 18:1-2 (MSG)

“I love you, God – You make me strong.  God is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight.  My God – the high crag where I run for dear life, hiding behind the boulders, safe in the granite hideout.”

CONTRAST

Griffin, my sole companion on many trips, surveys the view from McAfee Knob. I miss her even more than I miss backpacking.  (1997)

In the attic of my memories, backpacking trips taken years ago are nestled in a special treasure box.  I’ve pulled the mental pictures from some of those trips out in the last few months and carefully tried to recall the specific details of the beauty.  Craggy mountains, hidden lakes the color of sky, waterfalls roaring with snow melt and valleys carpeted with rhododendron blossoms are keepsakes from some of my favorite places.  Nights the color of black velvet, miles away from light pollution, studded with brilliant stars, were one of the reasons I wanted to be as far away from civilization as I could get.

There is a truth  we don’t often think about: stars are in the sky all the time.  The light of the sun obscures the brilliance of the stars in daytime, so the truth of their consistent light is hidden, except in the darkest times of night. When all else is dark, their light can take your breath away.

So it is with our trials.  When situations in our lives create darkness that surrounds us, the light of our Lord, given to us, by Him dwelling in us, shines the brightest.  He is in us always, so His light is ever present.  Yet, the daylight of happy circumstances and easy roads often don’t provide the contrast that others need to have in order to see that the joy of Christ is real and true, and that peace is dependent on Him, not on circumstance.

I remember looking forward to crawling out of my tent at night to watch the stars.  Darkness was welcome.  Dark times in my life, not so much, but I clearly see the benefit of going through trials.  I wish it didn’t need to be that way.  What would it be like to have daylight and brilliant stars at the same time??  I really can’t imagine that.  God knows we need contrast, perspective and opportunities to shine in dark situations that make the world see the light and question how it can be.

Questions asked can lead the way to Him, the True Light that brings salvation.

Light is most beautiful in the darkness.  Remember that truth.

John 8:12 (NIV)

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ “

Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

“You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and set it under a bowl.  Instead, they set it on a stand so that it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Note: Many thanks to all of you who prayed for me specifically about the potential cuticle melanoma in my fingernail, mentioned in the last post.  The biopsy came back benign!  I know God answered prayers!   He gave me peace while I waited for the results.  I know that, too, is an answer to prayer and a display of His goodness and mercy during a waiting time that could have otherwise been gloomy.  God is so good!!

SEEKING EDEN

Happy Birthday, Jesus.  This is from you and to you. I love you.

Chemo, finished.  Two surgeries, behind me.  Lab reports, received.  Some surprises, but mostly good news.  First infusion of biologic drugs, meant to keep the cancer from recurring, underway.  Side effects, not supposed to be devastating.  Thankful.  Sitting in the chair while the drugs infused my body, I noticed a streak under the fingernail of my right ring finger.  Having had a cuticle melanoma in 2007, which required the amputation of half of my right great toe, I remembered what that looked like, starting out.  I felt dread shoot through me like a poisoned arrow, hitting its mark, just when I thought things were smoothing out.

Appointments with my dermatologist and a hand surgeon, confirmed that it was better safe than sorry, especially with my history:  biopsy scheduled the Friday after Christmas.

That first night worry, tears and discouragement swept in on me with black wings. I felt as if my family and I were re-enacting the trials of Job on a somewhat different scale: disease, tragedy, loss, grief, hurt, betrayal – we had experienced it all within the last year and a half.  But God’s word is true: His mercies are new every morning.  While I sat with my Bible and my coffee in the quiet after restless sleep, I found refuge in the shelter of His wings.   He brought peace, comfort and a complete awareness that perfection is only found in Him, not in a world contaminated by sin.

We seek smooth paths.  We want disease free lives, unbroken relationships, days that are glitch free, life events that blend together just as we’ve planned.  We want our children to be without heartache and worry and live with success.  We seek careers, homes and surroundings as close to perfection as we can get.  Even those not labeled “perfectionists” want carefree, beautiful lives.  In a way, we seek to re-create our own personal Eden.  Yet, Eden is elusive: unattainable in our world and the source of our frustration when we wear ourselves out chasing it.  So, why do we seek something that no one can truly have on or of this earth?

We are created in God’s image; perhaps our quest for Eden stems from that.  Because He is perfect, maybe He put in each of us a desire for perfection; a thirst that gets twisted by the world and sends us off in pursuit of things we think will satisfy.  It’s only by His grace that people see their failures, sins and their complete inability to re-create Eden.  It’s only by His grace that people are able to see the One, His Son, who came to make the way back to a perfect place with the Creator.

God reached down into the world broken by sin and planted Perfection in the womb of a young Jewish girl.  In due time,  He, who was Creator of the world, entered the sin infused world as a tiny baby, swaddled in mystery and born to fulfill a rescue mission that only He could fulfill.

Some would hate Him, some would seek Him.  The Prince of Peace came to make things right, not to bring peace on earth and  mend the destruction left by sin, but to make right the relationship between God and man; to make the way back to Eden, where a true relationship with God could be enjoyed, even within the shambles of a broken world.

That Prince would live a perfect life in an imperfect world.  He would walk, untainted by sin, along a path through the jagged pieces that would take Him to the cross.  There, He would die a brutal death, separated from the love of His Father, endured to bring peace between God and us, His created.

As He walked the path to complete His mission, He would teach, love, heal and amaze. His fingerprints on the lives of those He touched would magnify His life through generations of others who would eventually come to call Him “Lord.”

His death on the cross, the perfect sacrifice, ordained by the Ancient of Days, and foretold, even as Eden was destroyed by sin in the beginning, would pay our sin debt. His resurrection would prove His victory over death.   Jesus gave us perfection.

Not the perfection of a day or a life that holds no trouble, mistakes, worry or pain. Not perfection that is earned or deserved, or even fully understood, but the perfection of a relationship with our Creator that allows us to be in His presence because those who believe in Jesus are made perfect in God’s sight.  This is a perfection that allows us a relationship with God, our refuge in times of heartache, sorrow and fear, a perfection that makes us a new creation and grants us the right to be called children of God, and treated as such: loved, cared for, disciplined, guided, blessed.

It is a perfection that will one day carry us into eternity, a forever Eden, where scars and heartaches will fall away like a tattered cloak.

The Eden we seek on earth will always be elusive.  But, the relationship we have with God, through Christ, is our spiritual Eden that cannot be snatched away.   satan would have us forget this.  He tries to obscure it by bombarding us with shrapnel: disease, tragedy, busyness, misplaced priorities, worry.

Ask your Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you, to guard your hearts and your minds, and fill you with the awareness of your spiritual Eden: perfect peace with your Father, gifted you by Jesus Christ.  In Him, you are made perfect! Creep into a quiet place this Christmas to thank and worship Him! Love Him for all He is and all He has done!

If you haven’t claimed the gift of salvation from Jesus; Confess an imperfect life to Him and embrace the belief that He died for you. Find Eden in the perfect salvation offered by Jesus Christ!

Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mightly God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

1 Peter 2:24 (NIV) – Italics – mine

He Himself (Jesus) bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.”

Happy Birthday, Jesus, my Lord.

PHOTO CREDITS: M. D.

 

Footsteps Counted

My reputation as the family “Jack Russell” personality is temporarily on hold.  High energy, bouncing off wall behaviors were wiped out by chemo and surgery.

I’ve had to rest and nap.  My front porch has been used for what it was designed for: sitting.   Never one for hot baths, I’ve now chosen long soaks in Epsom salts.  I’ve sat, just sat, beside my husband and held his hand, knowing there was no energy for anything else. Because the girls and I have done fewer things, we’ve talked more and been on the go a little less.

My footsteps are fewer and easier to count.  Busyness has lessened.  The corners of my dining room hold clusters of ladybugs (how do they get in??) that need to be cleaned away.  The mums that graced the front walkway are brown, and the pots ache to spill over with the smiling faces of pansies.   Many other tasks have gone undone.  We’ve tried to keep up with school co-ops and the girls’ favorite activities, but some things have had to go on “pause.”

There have been times when my footsteps faltered to the point where lying down was the only option, and my mind could muster nothing but a prayer for endurance.  But, there have been other times, such as this week, on the upswing of surgery, where my mind, instead of my footsteps, wanders into unknown territory.

For example, I’ve contemplated how moving air is able to compose music in the chimes hanging from the corner of my roof.  Surely the wind is trained by the breath of God, swirling through the trees and setting the metal of the chimes to ring in harmony with the leaves.

With the stillness of my feet, sentences from God’s Word that might have gone unnoticed before whisper music into my ears:

Job 31:4  NIV

“Does He not see my ways and count my every step?”

How DOES He do this? Not just for me, but for every one of His children? Are there celestial trail cams set up around us, monitored in a heavenly command module, where God sits in a plush office chair, zooming in on lives that need extra attention?

The Word teaches that the truth is so much more than anything we can imagine or truly understand.

Galatians 4:6 NIV  (Italics, mine)

“Because you are His sons (or daughters), God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out “Abba, Father (Daddy).”

God counts our steps not from a remote distance, but from inside us!  At the moment of belief, when we become a child of God, Jesus comes to live in our hearts, as the Holy Spirit, walking with us on our life path, no matter where it goes, not as an impersonal trail guide, but as our loving, personal DADDY.

He knows the number and cadence of our steps.  He knows if they falter or waiver. Not because He is watching from afar, but because He is inside us, taking the steps WITH us.  He can count every one, because He takes every one.  He is part of us and we are part of Him.  (Read John Chapter 17 for more on that…)

Rest your feet in a favorite spot sometime today and ponder that thought.  Every step you take is one He takes WITH you.  If you truly hold on to that truth, what will  change…the direction of your steps, the scope of your worry, your fear of the unknown?

He who is Creator, Healer, Savior, Master, steps WITH you.  Allow that truth to generate change in you.

Header and story photo credit: M. D.

 

ALTERED SENSE

 

A priceless commodity.
photo credit: M.D.

Perhaps the cruelest side effect of chemotherapy has to do with one of a human being’s most comforting pleasures: eating.

The chemo drugs kill cancer cells like heat seeking missiles, leaving the body with destructive side effects, just like the aftermath of a bomb.

I’m told everyone who endures chemo experiences it differently. For me, it feels as if a giant grabbed my heel and slammed me into a wall, repeatedly.  Add into that nausea, other intestinal issues and a plethora of annoying but less major symptoms like burning, watery eyes, throat sores, loss of appetite and forgetfulness, and you begin to see the total picture.

After those effects begin to fade and appetite returns, the “altered sense” side effect makes itself known.

I was warned that the taste and texture of food would change.  It was a simple sentence uttered by my oncologist, combined with a long list of other potential effects.  I had no idea how that one thing would become my biggest source of discouragement.

Something about the drugs completely changes how food tastes and feels in my mouth.  After hearing about others’ chemo journeys, I’ve come to believe that while this is common, my experience has been on the extreme end of the spectrum.

My family is fascinated by the altered sense concept.  Not in a sadistic way, but with an engaging curiosity.  When I try a food, make a horrid face and spit it out, their first question is “What does it taste like?”  To me, the taste is indescribable: totally alien and disgusting, depending on the food, but usually like something you shouldn’t be eating. The partner to that is a texture change which creates a gag reflex for most things, including water.

There is a little game on the market called “BeanBoozled,” by Jelly Belly. It provides a great parallel.  The game consists of a number of sets of jelly beans, several of each color.  Spin an arrow and eat the jelly bean color the arrow points at.  If you’re lucky, you get a jelly bean that tastes as it should: lemon, strawberry or peach, for example.  If you’re the unlucky sort, you might end up with a jelly bean that LOOKS like it’s going to taste good but actually tastes noxious, like skunk, diapers, dog food or grass clippings.

“ChemoBoozled” does the same thing, except the stakes are higher.  Combine an altered sense of taste with a hollow belly, an intense desire for comfort and flavor and you have an equation that equals discouragement and anxiety.

I’ve begun to tense up before I eat.  The fear that the food, which I desperately want to taste good, will instead be disgusting, makes me dread eating.  That sounds extreme, but right now, it’s my reality.

The other reality is that I’ve lost the ability to taste salt.  Even Ramen noodles do not taste salty.  Never a “salt- food junky,” now, I crave salty things.

I have one more chemo treatment to go.  Prayerfully, that will be it. Over time, I’m told that the altered sense and texture issues will fade away.  I’m already daydreaming about the things I will eat, cook and bake.  The list of restaurants I want to go to increases daily.  I can’t wait to eat a thick, juicy burger, loaded with bacon and cheese, along with a heap of salty French fries. But, I’d settle, right now, for a can of Pringles, if I could just taste the salt and get past the texture.

In the Word, Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth.

Matthew 5:13 (NIV)

“You are the salt of the earth. But, if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

As believers, filled by God’s Holy Spirit, we are to be as salt, flavoring the world with the character of Christ.  Never before has this verse meant as much to me as it does now.

What do others experience when they cross paths with me?  Is the flavor of my character that of Christ or is it one that turns people away, leaving them with a bad taste in their mouth?  I’d like to think that most of the time people see the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, (from Galatians 5:22, NIV), but I know sometimes I fail.

As Christ followers, we are all still at war with our humanity. God does, however, expect us, enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit, to adhere to a higher standard of behavior.  Thank goodness our salvation doesn’t depend on how well we do that, but someone else’s salvation might.  If they meet us, and are drawn to our character, they may want to know the source of that character. Then, we get to share the other quality of salt: preservation and the gift of life eternal, through Jesus Christ.

I challenge you to be thankful for every bite of food that goes in your mouth.  Genuinely, passionately thankful that you can taste, relish and enjoy the food God has provided you.  In addition, I encourage you to consider salt.  What would meat be without it? Salt is one of the most important seasonings.  Food is bland without salt!  Are you striving (not in your own power, but the power of the Holy Spirit) to bring the flavor of Christ to a world that craves it?  Craves it, in fact, without sometimes knowing what they crave.

Be thankful.

Be salt.

LOVED

Rainbow colors for my head.

Chemotherapy drugs work by targeting cells that divide quickly.  Unfortunately, they can’t distinguish between cancer cells and other, beneficial, fast dividing cells, such as white blood cells and hair cells.

Chemists have developed a drug, given to cancer patients 24 hours after chemo, which helps re-build the white blood cells, so the bodies’ immunity system is not overly compromised.

However, there is no drug that helps re-build hair cells. That’s why most chemo patients lose their hair two to three weeks after chemo starts. Generally, it re-grows when chemo is over.

Knowing that side effect would come, I went from chin length to pixie to buzz cut for transition, and had determined I would shave my head as soon as the fall out started.  I’d always tried to teach the girls true beauty came from a woman’s spirit, character and heart; but I certainly wasn’t looking forward to the most obvious side effect of chemo.

My husband, Brian, told me he was going to shave his head too.

“Please don’t,” I asked.  “I love your hair.”

He has thick hair, the color of ripe wheat with the sun on it.

No amount of persuasion would change his mind.  He was determined, even when the girls found out and begged him not to.

“It’s bad enough when one parent has to go bald,” said my eldest daughter. “Not two.”

About a week before my hair had even started to fall out, he did it.  I was in the bathroom, completely miserable after my first rough week of chemo mess, trying to brush my teeth, so I could crawl back into bed for the night.

His 6’5” frame blocked the light coming in the doorway.  I turned my head and saw the shine on his.

“Oh, no.  I wish you hadn’t,” I blurted out.  “I loved looking at your hair.”  I was totally sick, discouraged, blurred by chemo fog and completely unable to appreciate what he had done.

“I did it for you,” he said.

“But that just makes it all seem so much more REAL,”  I whimpered.

He turned and walked away.  Even in misery, I knew that my response was not the one he had wanted.

I hobbled down the stairs.  I knew where I’d find him: the front porch swing.  Our spot.

I sat down beside him and put my hand on his knee. Rain was falling softly, bringing freshness and relief from the heat.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“You have to understand how I feel,” he replied. “All I can do is stand by and watch you suffer.”

“But you support me in so many other ways and take care of me.” I offered.  “You didn’t have to do this, too.”

“It isn’t enough, he said.  “I would take every needle prick, every scary procedure, every drug that makes you sick, every hurt, every side effect, times 100.  If I could suck all the cancer cells out of your body and put them into mine, I would. But, I can’t. I feel so helpless.”

“It’s also not going to feel good,” he continued, “when I wake up in the morning and wash and comb my hair, knowing that you are dealing with losing yours.”

“Besides,” he added, “I want all the men at work to know that I love you, support you completely and am standing by you every step of the way through this.”

My eyes filled with tears at how loved by him I was, finally able to accept his gift.

We sat in silence for awhile, just listening to the rain.

“Thank you,” I said, gazing up at his precious, bald head.  “Please explain that to the girls, so they understand, too.”

Later that night, he did, and reported back that they were quiet for a minute, then immediately started calling him “Egghead” and “Baldy.”

I think that was a good sign.

When it comes time for them to choose a spouse for life, I pray they accept nothing less than the complete devotion their daddy has for their mama.

In Ephesians, chapter 5, Paul writes this:

Ephesians 5:25-27 (NIV)

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle, or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

If you love Jesus, and believe in Him, then you are part of His church. The church isn’t a building, it’s all who call Jesus “Lord.”

As His church, we are His bride.

Jesus didn’t want to stand by and watch us suffer. Being fully man, and yet still fully God, He WAS able to take all the sin cells out of our bodies and put them into His.  The death that was ours to die because of sin became His.  He carried it to the cross, died our death and was raised to life; giving us life in Him.

1 Peter 2:22-24 (NIV)

“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled insults at Him, He did not retaliate, when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.  He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live for righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.”

Jesus took your place: He became sick with sin, so you would be well, miserable, so you could be free, blamed, so you could be blameless. He chose death so you could live.

You are LOVED by Him. 

INDELIBLY STAMPED

My first born just turned 16!  I remember holding her tiny hand as if it were yesterday.

Scientists estimate that the distance between the earth and the sun is 92.96 million miles.  If all the molecules that make up one human’s DNA were placed end to end, the strand would reach to the sun and BACK, over 600 times!  I don’t need to do the math to be amazed by those numbers!

The study of DNA and genetics is one of the many reasons why the Theory of Evolution doesn’t make sense to me.  That and many other physiological wonders point to an intelligent Designer, not a random happening where life began out of primordial slime and took on order and extreme complexity.

One of the tests my doctors scheduled for me was a genetics test to determine if I carried the breast cancer gene mutation.  Although breast cancer isn’t in my family history, there was still a chance I had that gene.  If the test was positive, they recommended that I have  a double mastectomy and my ovaries removed.

Clearly, God was giving me another chance to place fear into His hands.  The potential for that extensive surgery was scary.  Another, darker fear lurked there as well: if I carried the mutated gene, I could have passed it on to my girls.  The fear of that was more intense then the fear of personal pain and suffering.

The first genetics test I took was early on in my diagnosis; I thought I would have an answer in two weeks.  Time stretched by slowly.  There was a snafu at the lab, and I had to retake the test. More opportunities to trust!

The night before the second test results were scheduled to come back (10 + weeks after the first test), I stretched out on the floor of my closet. Anxiety crept into my heart. I was more worried about my girls than I was about myself.  A downward spiral tugged at me, and I couldn’t stop the tears.

After a moment, I breathed deep in the dark space and made myself think about the amazing way God formed my body inside my mother’s womb. I thought about how He formed my precious babies inside me.

Psalm 139:15-16 (NIV)

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

I told the Lord, “You have known my genetics from the beginning.  You know every gene in my body.  You know the genes that make up my daughters.  I trust You.  “Whatever the result.  I trust YOU.  Help me always to choose trust.”

I pictured my beautiful girls in God’s big hand and I curled His fingers around them in my mind.

“I trust You, Lord, with them.”

The next morning, the nurse called.  I felt my heart beating faster.  I stepped out on to the porch.  “Lord, this is it,” I thought.

“It’s good news,” she said.  “You don’t have the gene.”

“Praise the Lord,” I yelled. “Hallelujah.”  She probably thought I was crazy.

I told the girls.  They were so relieved, for me and themselves.  Brian and I celebrated all day. In fact, I’m still thanking God.

When Adam and Eve took a bite of the one fruit in the Garden of Eden that God had forbidden, they chose rebellion instead of love.  Their act of disobedience shattered perfection and humanity was impaled by the shards.  Our spiritual DNA was indelibly stamped with sin, mutated by rebellion and disobedience.  That act impacted all of us, shaping a diseased humanity that could not be in the presence of the Holy God.

God is multi-faceted: Fully just, hater of sin and capable of wrath; but also a loving Father whose heart was broken when His children chose to rebel against Him. He could have zapped Adam and Eve after their sin, but instead He killed an animal in their place, symbolizing, first of all, that the consequence of sin is death.

Then, He made Adam and Eve clothes to wear from the skins.  He knew how hard life would become for them.  The perfect garden could no longer be their home. Toil, trouble, hard labor, bitter cold, sweltering heat, sickness, disease, thorns, insects, and wild animals were all part of the broken world which was now theirs.  The Garden where they walked with and talked to the Lord was closed.

Read the whole story in Genesis chapters 1-3. But, look closely at this now, because Genesis 3:21 reveals an amazing look into God’s character:

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve and CLOTHED them.”

God could have thrown the garments at their feet: “PUT THEM ON!” He might have yelled.

But, He did not.  They were His children.  He knew what faced them outside the garden.  He loved them, so He clothed them.

A perfectly just God required consequence for sin, but yet, He was a loving God who cared deeply for His rebellious children.

Can you see it? God, helping Adam and Eve into the garments.  Carefully, tenderly,  clothing them. They hadn’t needed garments in the garden because they were as innocent as young children.  Now, with open eyes, they saw their nakedness and were ashamed. They also hadn’t needed clothes in the Garden because conditions were perfect.  Not too hot or too cold.  No sunburn.  No insects or thorns or sharp rocks. No bad weather. No wild animals.  No need for clothes. No need for protection from anything.

I clothed my babies until they could do it themselves.  If you are a mom or dad, you’ve done it, too.  You helped them because they didn’t know how, and you wanted to protect them and keep them warm.  You did it lovingly and tenderly because they were your precious babies.  You clothed them out of love.

That’s what God did.  He clothed His children.  Lovingly, sadly, tenderly.  Scripture doesn’t use those words, but I believe it because I see those things in God’s heart throughout the Bible where His character is on display.

Maybe you have young children and you clothe them now: onesies and cute sundresses and little, bitty shoes. Treasure every moment; because soon, your child will say, “Me do it! Me do it!”

A bitter sweet sadness comes with those words, because you know that little milestone takes your baby one step away from you, one step closer to independence.  God must have felt that sadness as He watched Adam and Eve walk away from the Garden.  I believe there was a bitter sweetness for God as well.

The bitter came from a broken heart and the sweetness came from the knowledge that He already had a way for His children to come back home.  He had already authored the story that would bring  reunion before the creation of the world.  It’s called the Story of Redemption.  It would come to completion in the person of His own Son, Jesus, who loved us so sweetly and completely, that He would choose to give His life to pay for our sin and rebellion.

Only Jesus, the central figure of God’s plan, can erase the sin mutation that was indelibly stamped on our spiritual genetics by the first children, Adam and Eve.

You can’t re-write your physical genetics, but you can re-write your spiritual genetics.  Write a love letter with the words of your heart to Jesus.  Tell Him you are sorry for rebelling against God.  Admit your sins and  accept that you need a Savior who can indelibly stamp these words on your spirit:      FORGIVEN.

SURVIVAL MODE

 

A fully hydrated mountain stream

In the depths of the chemo aftermath or “chemo abyss” (as one of my new friends who is also going through treatment calls it), food and water are less than appealing.  Loss of appetite, changes of taste, burning mouth, coupled with nausea, (only mildly suppressed by medication), do not make even the thought of eating or drinking imaginable.

Combine all of those symptoms with sore gums and extremely tender mouth tissues, (from Thrush, an overgrowth of yeast in the mouth; another common chemo side effect) and a general feeling of misery and malaise,  the difficult becomes the impossible.

I’d heard how challenging eating and drinking would be after chemo. I assumed I could bully through it – hard headed, determined, strong willed genetics are in every fiber of my DNA.  It was, however, a humbling experience.  Despite my family’s sincere efforts to get me to eat and drink enough, I failed.

Eight days after my first chemo treatment the ER became my preferred destination.  Brian took me late that night.  We both thought I had some weird infection raging through my body.  After tests the doctor found the root of the problem: I was severely dehydrated and calorie deficient.  My body had gone into survival mode: feeding on itself, sucking fluid from less essential organs and cannibalizing tissue, releasing toxins in the process.  Three bags of fluids and some meds made a big difference in how I felt.

The massive infusion of fluid was a turning point in re-hydrating my body and setting me up for a better week.  Undoubtedly, the specific prayers of friends engaged God’s mercy as well, and I have been able to eat and drink more since then!

Once the fog had lifted and I felt less like a zombie, a crystalline spiritual application became evident to me.

How many times have I gone around, feeding on myself spiritually?  How often have I looked to myself for wisdom, before seeking God? How many times had I tried to fix the hurts of the past or just stewed about outcomes and circumstances?  How many times had I relied on my strength instead of the Lord’s?

The world teaches us to do this. Think about the slogans and pep talk we hear every day: You can do anything you set your mind to! Feel empowered! Believe in yourself! Nurture the inner woman!  Be self-confident! Just do it!

On the outside, those words seem harmless, even positive, but they all encourage a downward spiral of toxicity that just can’t end well.

Our body isn’t designed to feed on itself physiologically.  We must have an outside source of food and water to survive; If we don’t get enough water and nutrients the result is sickness and malfunction.  In the same way, our spirits need an outside source of truth, power and love: the God of the universe who is able to meet all of our needs, including our greatest survival need: salvation.

We do not possess all we need to survive the storms of life, the miseries of disease, the disappointments, heartaches, fears, troubles and the different variations of abyss that our fallen human condition and broken world opens up for us.

We try, but the result is toxic.  Only God can supply the wisdom, truth, hope, peace and contentment that our spirits need.  Only God can supply salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.  The Great Overcomer became sin, endured death and rose to life, so that we could have eternity.

When we believe that truth, then the Outside Source of all life comes to live inside us.

That’s the mystery that becomes the wonder: God, living in us, meeting our needs, hydrating our spirits, providing hope and comfort where none exists anywhere else.

Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

“And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

A NEW PATH

Breast cancer: two words that can strike fear in a woman’s heart.

When those words sank into my reality, I knew that fear, not cancer, was my biggest enemy.

Fear waited on the threshold of my life to terrify my sweet girls and scare my husband.  Fear was rising up to steal my joy and overshadow my blessings.  Fear wanted to take a front seat and steer me down a path choked with sleepless nights and days that were drained of strength.  Fear, not cancer, would cause the Lord’s light in my life to grow dim.  Instead of seeing God’s glory along the path that was mine to walk, others would see fear.

Fear is one of satan’s most effective weapons, used to suffocate, stifle and poison.

Through the surrealistic haze that swirled around me, God’s words came to my mind, tumbling in their rush to head off the soldiers of fear marching toward me:

Do not fear, for I am with you… Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for YOU are with me…Be strong, do not fear…Don’t be afraid, just believe…

A collage of verses repeated in my head and I gripped on to them.  The Lord’s hand stretched out to me in the truth of His Word; living and real and present.

The devotion I had read to my girls the morning of my first appointment was about choosing faith over fear in a world that rages against our faith.  I didn’t select the devotion, it was simply the one for that day of the week;  definitely not a coincidence! It was the divine hand of an all-knowing God, prepping me for a decision He knew I would be faced with:  faith or fear. God was setting the stage for me before I knew what the next act was.

I chose faith.

I have chosen poorly in times past.  This time, though, I knew there was  too much at stake to make the wrong choice.

I chose faith, not because my faith is strong, but because God is strong. I knew He could stand against the hurricane force winds which would destroy me if I tried to stand alone.

Through this journey that is just beginning, I have chosen faith more than once. Each appointment, procedure and new level of information has required a choice.  satan dangles lures of fear before me, especially when I am tired, but God is gracious, and His hand remains outstretched and firm, even when my grip on Him begins to slide.

I know God has a purpose for the path I’m on.  It is not a derailment. It’s what God will use to fulfill the purposes He has for me, and perhaps others, as well.  Though it’s not the path of my choosing, it’s the path God has allowed me to travel.

This new territory will give me chances to cross paths with people I would not otherwise have encountered. I pray that others will see God in my life, shining with a light that pierces their storms. In spite of my weaknesses, He will do this!

He who commands the ocean waves and sets the boundaries for the waters of the deep is mighty enough for any fear YOU have to face.

Are ominous clouds of fear brewing on the horizon of your life?  Fear can spawn from many places:  disease, financial problems, divorce, relationship issues, addictions, heartache, depression, anger…the list can go on and on.

The world is a fallen place.  Tragedy, sickness and heartache abound.  But, know this: God loved you so much He sent His Son into this broken world to pay for your sins. If you believe that is true and have taken Jesus as Lord of your life, then He stands with His hand stretched out, waiting to comfort you, give you strength and be your refuge when the gale force winds hit.  He wants you to trust Him.  He wants you to choose faith over fear.

Choose Him. Choose faith. God will supply the strength to hold on.

Isaiah 41:9-10 (NIV)

“I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant;’ I have chosen you and not rejected you. So, do not fear, for I am with you.  Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”