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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Unpacking a Year

As I sit and unpack the past year, I shake my head. How can I even begin to lay out the most emotional year of my life?

I started the year by telling God I wouldn’t let fear rule me. I labeled 2010 The Year of No Fear. The first three weeks of January brought sickness, accidents and lice and if that wasn’t enough, a biopsy.

The rest is history. Cancer history. And while those two words feel  great to write side by side, the cancer care lifestyle is anything but history. Maintenance is my new best friend.

And that’s okay. Actually that’s miraculous.

I sit here each day at my kitchen table and ask God what I need for 2011. I keep getting one word: Survival.

I don’t like that word. I didn’t appreciate it earlier this year when survival brought adrenalin pumping, tear jerking, life altering decisions in a weird calmness soldiers in Iraq must surely understand.

And I don’t welcome that word now when it brings back memories of all those years of changing diapers, early morning feedings and nary a night’s sleep. Today it means getting the kids off each morning, preparing for their return, homework, dinner and bedtime at which point I fall into my own bed for a few hours and repeat. Hate that way of life.

If cancer is a teacher it teaches one to slow down, enjoy each moment escaping a stressful life’s cheating embrace.

The truth is even the power cancer possesses is not enough to give me the strength to live this way.  I must tap into the power of the One who created life and took my cancer.

Sometimes tapping that power seems elusive. Y’all, I’m tired and that is where I sit again today. Tired.

I don’t know about you but when I’m tired, I’m forgetful. All I can seem to remember when my brain shuts down from exhaustion are the things at the top of my to do list and that usually reads, “wash underwear and fill drawers” or “feed and bathe dirty, hungry children,” not “tap into God’s miraculous power.”

But God.

He set some things into motion long ago when others struggled with the same issues. I will soon start Backpacking Through Joshua with Amber.

In Exodus 17, Moses sends Joshua and some strong men out to battle per God’s orders. Then Moses and two of his friends climb to the top of a mountain.

They soon realized that when Moses holds his staff in the air, the Israelites are winning the battle but when he lowers his arms, the Israelites begin losing.

When Moses gets tired, his friends give him a rock to sit on and they each hold an arm in the air so the battle can be won.

I unpack some great truths for my own tired self here.

1.     The battle is won by a position of praise. I will raise my hands and praise God even when I’m tired.
2.     Don’t climb the mountain alone. I need to take some girlfriends with me. (If you don’t have some besties to hold you up when you get tired, pray. God is faithful.)
3.     Remember the ultimate Helper. The Holy Spirit’s job is to be ever-present and helping us each day.

After the battle was won, God instructs Moses to write the story down as a reminder to Joshua. This tells me even the most Godly of leaders are prone to get tired and forget. We are no different.

So I think I’ll print these truths at the top of today’s to do list!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Unsent







One of the things on my list of "perfect family" attributes is sending out the perfect Christmas card each year. You know the ones. They arrive in the mail sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day displaying the perfect, polished, professional pictures of smiling, happy children and an adoring husband.


I got several this year. I wishfully gazed at them all and wondered why I didn't get some of the great family shots we took this year onto a card and in the mail. I found the answer in two words: I'm tired. Instead of feeling guilty and depressed and overwhelmed with it all, I'm feeling eco-friendly and efficient and frugal as I simply post it here--The card that was never sent.


Our Christmas was a wonderful celebration of family, life and love. Our celebration was blessedly "normal" in a new sort of way that was really anything but normal. 


Standing in line at the local Walmart for the umpteenth time, I teared up as I thought about how special this holiday really is. Finding a new normal is a long, hard and good road it seems.


Again, I'm so thankful you are all here to explore new normals with me.



Sing to God a brand-new song. He's made a world of wonders!
   He rolled up his sleeves, 
   He set things right. Psalm 98:1 The Msg


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Name Above All Names

This has been quite a year! So much has happened I can't even remember last Christmas. Not at all. Not the gifts. Not the tree. Not the travels. Not the traditions. Not much at all.


Looking back at pictures I remember it was a great Christmas. Glancing over the calendar I remember it has been a year I would rather forget.


One word sums up my last year. Believe.


Throughout it all, I choose to continue to believe. God is good. God is sovereign. God is in control.


The good of the year has outweighed the bad. One of my favorite things from 2010 has been getting to know so many of you. Your comments have carried me on many days and being part of such a wonderful and supportive group is something for which I am so grateful. 


I pray this season finds you believing.



And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins...
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
      and gave him the name above all other names,
  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.

Matthew 1:21 & Philippians 2:9-11 NLT

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Enjoying Christmas Presence

As God whispers, “Presence.” I feel the invitation to a deeper awareness of his presence because he is ever-present, always with me, always moving and never leaving. I want to live my life even more conscious of his presence not just “in my life,” but in my all-day-everyday. Without his presence I have no life.

Especially during the holidays, his presence is something I want, I need, I desire. Christmastime is certainly not the time to take his presence for granted in an effort to mark chores off a list. One of the reasons I love Christmas because it’s when Jesus is most commonly referred to Immanuel,God with us, a constant reminder of his sweet presence permeating our stinky world and individual lives.

And then he reminded me that his ever-present presence is His everyday Christmas gift to us.

Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him! Acts 17:27-29


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One Tradition


I have a special nativity that my mother and her best friend purchased at an after Christmas sale in January 1971. That would've been just days after my first Christmas. It was made in Denmark and the little characters are so beautiful. Of course, when we were younger the beautiful and charming little characters were strictly off limits of our little chubby hands. My mom's friend has eight children and hers weren't so off limits. When she recently moved and downsized, she gave me her nativity. Me! She reasoned my mom had me and my sister-in-law and we could each have a sweet Danish nativity. What a special blessing!

This has become my hands on nativity that my children can play with. They can carry baby Jesus in the tiny pockets of their purses or have him drive a race car. This is just part of what makes Christmas time special. Immanuel. God with us. In a dump truck or in a bicycle basket. God with us. I think this is a great object lesson for a young child. Maybe even for a child at any age. God goes with us. Anywhere. Everywhere.

On Christmas Day I wrap up that precious tiny baby Jesus and place him under the tree. Christmas morning all our gifts are wrapped and waiting. 
Before we tear into our gifts or uncover treasure in our stockings, we read the Christmas story. I give the children the box with the nativity in it and ask them to put it together as I read. Of course, they almost immediately begin interrupting with, "Where's Jesus?" and "Where's baby Jesus hiding?"





I stop reading as they search under everything for baby Jesus and ask them, "Do you think this is how the Jewish people felt before Jesus was born?" We talk about how they knew a king was coming but had no idea where to look or what to expect. We talk about the baby, the barn and the prophecies. It is a wonderful discussion. At the end of the Christmas story, I pull out the tiny present and give it to Palmer. We call it "The First Gift of Christmas."
As he places Jesus in the manger, the children cheer. We finish reading the Bible and pray thanking Jesus for being the ultimate gift of Christmas. The largest of gifts in the smallest of packages. The most costly of gifts in the most humble of packages. Immanuel. God with us.

In the beginning was the Word...and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...and we saw his glory...full of grace and truth. John 1:1 & 14


Friday, December 17, 2010

A Funky Christmas


December arrived and Christmas settled around me like a funk. In order to shake it, I hauled the tree down from the attic and let my kids decorate it, I read different gospel accounts of the Christmas story every morning, played Christmas music at full volume in the car and the house and then I begged God to help me make it through the day.

Then I decided that I needed to do something to shake the blues because it was “the most wonderful time of the year.” I’d already had a funky year. I did not want a funky Christmas. So I decided a plan was in order.

The plan I came up with: shopping. I would begin my Christmas shopping and that would make me jolly. After returning home from day one, I felt a tiny bit of relief. After a few days, I felt giant relief. After a week, I felt stressed.

Let’s just say I was a little too jolly. I purchased a Santa-sized sled full of gifts. I’m the disorganized woman who just a few years ago ran out of time to bring gifts to my parents when we went to their house for Christmas dinner. I’m the practical voice of reason in this family who let grandparents lavish the kids when they were too young to really care. I'm the practical voice of reason in this family. Sometimes.

I came home yesterday, called a truce with my Christmas list and a moratorium on spending as I perused my heart. I wanted to know why I bought my children a mountain of gifts, stuff they can use but don’t really need. I went overboard in a way I had previously abstained.

I began to wonder if it was a shopping addiction, a crazy release of stress or just plain wrong. I asked God to search my heart.

I confessed I may have gotten a little too caught up in the excitement of blessing my kids this Christmas. I thanked God that I am healthy and able to shop for my kids this Christmas. I asked God’s forgiveness for spending more than was really necessary.

Then I opened my Bible. The gospel I have settled on this Christmas season is John. John’s version of the Christmas story isn’t your typical baby Jesus nativity story. John takes us from creation to resurrection in eighteen verses. John starts at the beginning of chapter one and immediately brings revelation to the mystery of who Jesus Christ is and explains how we can know God.

My heart rested on these words, “We all live off his generous bounty, gift after gift after gift.” (John 1:16 The Msg)

And I knew.

I purchased my children so many gifts because I want to give to them extravagantly. I want them to know Jesus and live off of the bounty He gives. In an effort to demonstrate my great love for my children, I bought them lots. Now, there might  be truth in all the other things I mentioned too, but at the heart of my spending is my unconditional and never-ending love for my kids.

So I started praying that my children will receive these gifts with thankful hearts and that they will give out of their bounty this Christmas and I’m praying that I will be the first in my family to demonstrate this. And when I take in the bounty that He’s given me, the funk seems to just lift itself.

The Word became flesh and blood,
      and moved into the neighborhood.
   We saw the glory with our own eyes,
      the one-of-a-kind glory,
      like Father, like Son,
   Generous inside and out,
      true from start to finish…

We all live off his generous bounty,
      gift after gift after gift.
John 1:14 & 16 The Msg


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Scared Pantless

Have you ever had something so big and so exciting happen to that it scares the pants off you? I'm so excited to announce that my friend Lysa just released her new book Made to Crave.


Remember how almost one year ago I proclaimed 2010 to be my "Year of No Fear?" I courageously dubbed Isaiah 41:10 my verse of the year:


"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."


and then proceeded to get cancer, move to a new city and totally kick fear's booty survive 2010. 


Prior to all that drama, I knew God was also calling me to share parts of my story that have never owned words. When I told Him nothing was off limits, I meant it. In all His grace, He gave me Lysa and her message. This summer I participated in a pilot group of this study. 


So, here I am with my stomach jumping to my throat, my heart pounding out of my chest and palms sweating like a thunderstorm... and all I've done is give you a link to my success story featured on the Made to Crave website. 


I have to admit seeing my picture next to those words makes me feel a little well, pantless. Know what I mean? I'm feeling a little vulnerable and exposed here. But excited. Because God uses those things and that's what I want more than anything. Well, I'd like God and pants too, but you get my point.


Check out the website, visit Lysa's blog where she's giving away a free gift pack today and let's replace all our cravings with God in 2011!



I pulled you in from all over the world, 
   called you in from every dark corner of the earth,
Telling you, 'You're my servant, serving on my side. 
   I've picked you. I haven't dropped you.'
Don't panic. I'm with you. 
   There's no need to fear for I'm your God.
I'll give you strength. I'll help you. 
   I'll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.
Isaiah 41:9-10 The Msg



Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Gift: A Mother's Legacy


Oh my sweet boy...




Upon hearing of Andrew’s death I was speechless and numb. As I began to weep, I started to pray.
“Lord, you know I love you. You know I trust you. You know I believe you are good. But, Lord, you know I have to ask ‘Why?’”
“Why now? At Christmastime?”
“I hate that I am preparing to go buy my children Christmas presents and Melanie is preparing to bury her son.”
“Why?”
And quietly, in my questioning, He spoke.
Lisa, why are you buying your children gifts?
“Because I love them, Lord and I want to shower them with affection. I want them to celebrate an outward expression of my love.”
And what will you do with the gifts that you buy?
“I’ll wrap them and place them under the tree for my children on Christmas Day, Lord.”
What will your children do with the gifts?
“Why they’ll take delight in them and enjoy them and use them.”
Even quieter…
What will Melanie do with Andrew?
Me, softly, “She’ll place him in a box and present him to you, Lord.”
And I will take great delight in him and enjoy him and use him.
You may not see it yet, but Melanie is blessed among women. She has the opportunity to give me a very precious, rare and costly gift that most can never give. She knows I will use his story.



This is the tribute I wrote entitled "The Gift" upon hearing that my sweet friend Melanie's son, Andrew passed away last year. Andrew fought brain cancer  with courage bravery and dignity.


I read these words every day for awhile as I prayed for Melanie and her family. These words and the feelings they invoke caused me to thank God for my own children and hug them a little closer each day.


I read it the very day I was diagnosed with cancer myself and I read it many times as I was going through the endless tests associated with a cancer diagnosis and I wondered how Melanie did it with her child.


Although it's been awhile since I last read these words, I've been praying extra hard for Melanie this week. As I read the words again this morning, I felt all the emotions of this season last year. I felt the questions again, the grief, the hurt for my friend.


This Christmas, Melanie prepares to give the same gift she gave to Jesus last year, her son--the same gift she's given each day, each hour since last year and the same gift she will be giving each Christmas until she too enters heaven's gates. 


Today marks the one-year anniversary of Andrew's death. Would you please take a minute to go leave a word of encouragement and support for Melanie?



No one has ever seen God,
      not so much as a glimpse.
   This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
      who exists at the very heart of the Father,
      has made him plain as day. John 1:18 The Msg

Monday, December 13, 2010

The B Team


As an eighteen-year-old college co-ed, I was disillusioned with life and people and most importantly, I was disillusioned with God. The Christian life had failed me. I had come to college and decided to find my own way. God had constantly let me down.

I grew up in the church excited about Jesus and His promises. At the tender age of six, I asked Jesus in my heart. I knew I would be in heaven with Him one day and I told all my friends about it. I even got in trouble a few months later in kindergarten for talking about my faith too much. Using words like heaven, hell, only, always and forever sparks controversy no matter what age.

But just a few months after Jesus and I became intimately acquainted, my daddy left our home. My parents announced they would be divorcing. My world collapsed and with it my precious little girl heart broke into a million jagged pieces.

I reasoned that if God loved me, He would send my daddy home. My daddy never came back to our home and in my faulty little girl thinking I lost the hope found in God’s perfect love.

It was obvious to me that God didn’t care about me quite as much as His more “special” girls and I began living my life of second best. I never doubted my salvation and I knew that God still loved me, just not quite as much as everybody else. I was second rate to Him, a benchwarmer, a B team player.

The eighteen-year-old college girl was tired of life on the B list. Disillusioned with rules I couldn’t follow well enough, promises that rang hollow in my heart and all the grown up worldly knowledge I could muster, I stepped outside of God’s promises with two feet. Now I had played dangerously close to the line and even poked a toe outside of His best but never had I decided to walk a different direction. As a freshman in college, I did.

After only a few short months, I knew this wasn’t working either. The world was just as hollow as God said it was. I felt like a total failure. I wasn’t a good Christian and I could never fully walk away from the truths that were buried deep in my heart. I decided I was destined to live a miserable existence.

Then I was invited to be a counselor at youth camp. Our church had just gotten a new youth pastor. He really understood me for some reason. He and his wife encouraged me like no one else I’d ever met. Just to be around them a little bit more, I said yes.

I sat in my bedroom in the wee hours of the morning the weekend before we were to leave. I told God this, “I’ll give You one week. If you are who You say You are change me. Use me and change me. I am available to You.”

I don’t know if that’s the end of the story of just the beginning but needless to say, I’ve never been the same again. The verse God used that week to show He could and would change things in me is found in John 14:14:

From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I'll do it. That's how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I'll do.

I found it interesting as I read today that later on in the same chapter, Jesus addresses the very fear that was holding me back in my relationship with Him. Being abandoned by my father. (Now for the record, my dad continued to be involved in my life and I saw him regularly but these are the impressions left on a young girl’s heart.)

This is how The Message puts it:

I'm leaving you well and whole. That's my parting gift to you. Peace. I don't leave you the way you're used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don't be upset. Don't be distraught. John 14:27

That’s a message this lonely little girl’s heart never gets tired of hearing. My Father will never leave me.

“be content with what you have, because God has said,
   "Never will I leave you;
      never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5


Friday, December 10, 2010

Finding Christmas Strength


I have been cursing myself for the last ten minutes. Actually, I’ve been cursing myself for the last 35 years.

It all started in kindergarten. The student that answered the phonics question correctly first was rewarded with a piece of candy. I wanted to be the one lucky student, the smart one, the chosen one, the one who got to suck long and hard on a piece of candy during recess. Sticking out a green, blue or purple tongue was the ultimate symbol of five-year-old society.

I still remember clearly the day my hand finally shot up as quickly as I willed it to. I remember staring at the little card the teacher was holding up for eternity. I could taste the sugary sweetness of victory. I blurted out the answer—or at least what I hoped was the answer.

You see, the letters on paper and their sounds just made no sense to me. Alas, that day was no different. I was destined to be a non-reader for my kindergarten year. Today teachers would call me a “pre-reader.”

But no matter what I was labeled by teachers, I knew what I really was and that day it became clearly etched in my mind. A failure.

First grade started. Reading was easier but writing was still a challenge. It was around Christmastime when the teacher put a word on the board: Northpole. The student who could make the most words out of that word would win. Sweet retribution.

She called us to the front of the room one by one where we were to read our words outloud and spell them for the class. It was down to me and one other student.

Again, the sweet taste of victory was within reach. With cotton in my mouth and sweat on my palms I began reading. And spelling.

As she issued her stern verdict of my performance, heat crept up my neck and tears stung my eyes. I finally made the endless three-step journey back to my seat where I could safely slump in my chair until the wave of shame and humiliation passed.

I’m proud to say I moved out of the bluebird group. It took me until third grade but I finally got to be a member of the gold readers.

But then in fourth grade, students became grouped by reading and math skills. I was doomed from day one. A mathematical genius I was not. I found a coping mechanism. I embraced words and shunned all things numeric.

This morning I temporarily forgot I was no counting whiz. I forgot that all sentences containing numbers must be read and proofed a jillion times in my world.

And, I had this momentary feeling of freedom, pride and joy as I hit the “place order” button on my computer. I was taking care of a third of my list at once.

Only after I got the email confirming my order did I realize that delivery “in time for Christmas” would be too late. My calendar said my Christmas would happen the week before the numeric Christmas happened.

I felt like I was in first grade again, or maybe fifth.

I thanked God for grace, hoped for a small Christmas miracle and said a little prayer, sighing my worries of Christmas failure out to Jesus. I wondered if Mary felt the sting of Christmas failure when she wrapped her baby in rags and placed the Son of God in a dirty feeding trough.

I remembered that it is in weakness He is made strong and I acknowledged my own weak state and invited His great strength. I thanked Jesus for enduring a stinky stable, a hard life of manual labor and a ministry that ended in death—that we might have life.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given...“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ... For when I am weak, then I am strong.
John 1:14a & 16; 2 Corinthians 12:9a & 10b


Friday, December 03, 2010

Guilty Gratitude

The journey to becoming a cancer survivor has been a roller coaster ride with tall swings from high to low and loop-to-loops that have left me feeling exhilarated, joyous, anxious, fearful and deprived all at once.

As I look back over this year I wonder how I ever survived it without an emotional breakdown. And I wonder if maybe I broke down and didn’t realize it.

There have been days over the past few months that find me sitting. I sit and stare at mindless daytime TV, the latest TNT marathon or simply just out the window at nothing. I’ve been frustrated at myself for not writing quality posts but when I try to write the words get all jumbled up with emotions I can’t identify.

I’ve carried tremendous guilt because of all the time I’ve spent just sitting. I've grown weary of feeling guilty for the way things turned out and tired of the hurt I've seen cancer bring to those around me.

I’ve carried a load of guilt for the fatigue. And although it’s getting better there have been nights I have been too tired to get up and comfort my children in their nightmares. Those nights have left me ragged. They come to me at night, sometimes I get up with them and sometimes I hug them in a semi-conscious state, mumble an incoherent prayer and send them on their way.

I was given a new lease on life and I feel there are minutes and days that I’m squandering it by doing nothing but staring at the ticking clock.

But maybe it’s not nothing, maybe it’s something and something important. Maybe it’s a phase of the grief that cancer brought this way because hard times bring grief. Even hard times with happy endings bring loss and emotional weariness.

Maybe the sitting, letting my mind wander without entertaining a heavy thought is therapeutic. Maybe I’m in emotional recovery.

Yesterday I realized what I was feeling was probably normal and that other people who have had stressful years full of hard and shocking circumstances must sit too. And I thought that my emotions weren’t really all that unidentifiable anymore.

Today these crazy unfamiliar emotions I’ve been wrestling with seem more like old friends than new enemies. Today I look forward to what I will learn and uncover in the process. I look forward to those I will meet along the way and I hope to bring comfort to those who are hurting. Today I embrace the freedom to change and the energy to begin. Again.

“let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:22-23 NIV


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Lingering

Life is moving at a break-neck pace over here and doesn't show any sign of slowing. I got the pumpkins put up but the tree is still in the attic. *sigh** I haven't done any shopping and laundry is still in full swing. My sis-in-law did take these fab family photos over Thanksgiving but making a Christmas card is lower on this list (Merry Christmas ya'll!)


Running fast has become a way of life for me and I gotta be honest, I do better with slow. I miss the few minutes of just sitting in my big leather chair in the study, on my back porch listening to the little waterfall we have or on my front porch in new-to-me wicker salvages with a glass of green tea and at my kitchen table drinking coffee. I like slow because lingering is where I hear God's voice.


Slowing down allows His whisper to blow through my soul. When I'm running around, the whisper doesn't really slow me down I'm sad to say. But when I wait and look and listen, I can see God's movement and hear the still, small Voice. In the lingering moments, I am encouraged, enlightened, empowered. And I need those things to obey.


Busyness leads me to say, "Later," to God and when I take the time to really slow down and think about that, it grieves me. Deeply. Brings me to tears. This morning I am setting my resolve to linger a little more this holiday season. I am determined to linger in God's presence because isn't that what we are gearing up to celebrate anyway? Emmanuel, God with us, coming to earth.


So today take the time. Stop right now wherever you are and listen for the whisper. Look for the wind of God's movement in your life. Take the time to be encouraged and step out in faith.


He blesses and protects




   everyone who runs to him...




Our God says, "Calm down,


   and learn that I am God!


   All nations on earth


   will honor me."


 The LORD All-Powerful


   is with us."
Psalm 2:12 & 46:10-11 CEV