Loving Your Friends Through Difficult Times

A friend loves at all times, a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17

On Monday, I took my sixth chemo out of a total of eight. Chemo doesn’t get any easier, even though I know more about what to expect and how to manage the side effects. Although fear of the unknown is not as great, there is also the fear of the known. I now know what the next week or 10 days will hold – all-over body pain and bone pain, nausea, mouth sores, and other unpleasant side effects that combine to make some hard days.

That’s why I really appreciate friends who have walked closely with me on this journey. We all have different pain limits when it comes to physical pain, and I think the same is true of emotional pain when we have a friend who is in a season of suffering. But walking with others through pain is exactly what God calls us to do in our relationships.

If you have a friend who is dealing with a chronic or serious illness, who is in a difficult marriage or a messy divorce, who has a prodigal child, or who is struggling in some area of life, the truth is that they will most likely struggle in this area for a while. Issues like this don’t usually go away in a week, they will last for a season – months, maybe years.

And they, like me, need people who will walk with them for the duration.

So even if watching suffering scares you, lean in for your friend. The first few weeks after a crisis begins are often filled with people calling, texting, bringing food, and sharing love. But as time passes, people forget. I am extremely fortunate to have friends and family who have not forgotten us. Our church family has continued to care for our physical needs throughout chemo. I have friends who text me weekly.

But I do know that everyone does not have this kind of support group. My journey will likely last into the summer. Others often face years of cancer treatments. If you have a friend in a long and difficult season, don’t forget her after a few weeks. Continue to call, continue to text, continue to take food, continue to offer help.

Just because the season of suffering is long doesn’t mean it gets easier. Brothers and sisters in Christ are given to us to walk with us through adversity. Be that kind of friend.

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My friend Rachel Lundy has written a free 30-day devotional called Hope for the Hard Days. Rachel asked me to write an endorsement for her, which I was thrilled to do. This is a great resource for anyone in a difficult season. You can read more about the book and download your free copy here.

I have an article over at The Kingdom Life Now about how the message of Easter impacts our lives in 2015. You can find it here.

A 39th Birthday

Drink your wine. Laugh from your gut. Burden your moments with thankfulness. Be as empty as you can be when that clock winds down. Spend your life. And if time is a river, may you leave a wake.― N.D. Wilson

Today is my 39th birthday. The truth is, I really don’t mind getting older. In fact, while I don’t think I’ve “found myself” (What does that mean, anyway?), I definitely feel more settled than I did in my younger adult years.

Don’t get me wrong – I have a lot of growing left to do. I still have days when I feel quite sorry for myself (thanks, cancer), not feeling well most of the time causes me to struggle with patience, and there are a whole host of other areas where I need to give some serious prayer and attention.

I often think about life after chemo, and believe me, I am very thankful that such a thought is a real possibility. I have plans, and I am ready to get about them. And that’s why I loved the N.D. Wilson quote when I came across it last week.

God has given me one life to spend for Him – just one life. And I believe that He calls me to live it with abandon. Life is not safe, so why should I live as if I can protect myself from everything that might harm me? I want to live for Him, and to spend my life in such a way that I can serve God with all I am, leave my mark, and enjoy this amazingly complex world that He has graciously created.

Hug your people, call your friends, laugh hard, and sing loudly. Spend your life today for Him, and give thanks for all His good gifts.

Perspective and Priorities

11022928_10155240674755244_1431069854_n[1]I wrote the article in the picture for Missions Mosaic several months ago – actually long enough ago that I had almost forgotten about it. I sat down to read the article and wondered where I had read it before – and then realized that I wrote it. Can we agree that it must be related to all this chemo fog?

But the timing was great because I’ve been thinking a lot about my priorities versus the priorities that are imposed on us (and that we then impose on ourselves – because let’s lay the blame where it actually lies).

In the magazine article, which I wrote last July, a full five months before my cancer diagnosis and eight months before it was published, I listed my priorities in this order:

  • My relationship with God.
  • My family and home.
  • My writing.
  • Ministry opportunities.

Reading the article and reflecting over the past few months, I had to ask myself, has anything about this changed for this season, and what might change about this list in the future?

Here’s the thing, the world – and even the little evangelical Christian section of the world in which I reside – values advancement. Advance yourself, advance your ministry, put yourself out there, the world needs what you have to say/do/think. And while I certainly believe that if God is genuinely calling you to a big task you should answer Him with a resounding “yes,” I have to wonder if God is really calling every single one of us to a bigger ministry, a bigger platform, a bigger outlet.

In the days before blogs and social media made it easy for everyone everywhere to put their ideas on public display, before “platform building” was a common topic, people advanced because they had something of value to say or had a talent worth sharing, not because they had amassed an Internet following for their Twitter account.

It’s easy to get caught up in this way of thinking. You don’t have to spend much time on the Internet to find lots of people encouraging us to think this way, and trying to justify their words with God-talk. It’s especially easy to buy into the idea of platform-building when you do something for public consumption, like blogging.

I have always been uncomfortable with this line of thinking, and the last three months have only solidified my belief that, more often than not, this is not how God would have me steward my life and my time.

Which is a long way around talking about how chemo and cancer have impacted my perspective and my priorities.

My perspective, which is informing my priorities, is this: God is calling me to live my life, the one He has generously given to me in Owensboro, Kentucky. He is calling me to live and witness and serve today within the boundaries that He has graciously placed around me. If He chooses someday to enlarge those boundaries, then He will do it in His time, and not because I am seeking to grow my own audience.

So, right now, my priorities are God, family, health, and then everything else when I have the energy (which is extremely limited). When we get past this cancer diagnosis, I’ll have a chance to sort out the “everything else.”

Limited health and limited ability have been a frustrating struggle. Letting things go, letting others take charge of some parts of my life, has been difficult. But it has reminded me that “success” is a vague notion that shifts and changes as the world does. “Success” should not be my goal, rather living in a way that brings glory to God with the life He is giving me, should be my goal. He will bring everything else about in His own way, and in His own time.

WSM, Cancer, and Old Friends

We got a new-to-us Jeep (to replace an older Jeep that was pretty worn out) as our Christmas present to ourselves, and as much as I love the way I can no longer smell exhaust fumes, an added bonus is that it picks up my favorite Nashville radio station – all the way in Owensboro, KY!

650 AM, WSM radio that broadcasts from the Grand Ole Opry, plays country music that still sounds like country music. Cash, Jennings, Cline, and those who make music in their style are all welcome. If I am out early, I even get to hear Bill Cody, longtime DJ and resident of my hometown, on his morning show.

In recent weeks, I haven’t spent as much time driving around as I usually do. In fact, because of chemo weeks and a snow week (over 10 inches!), I figure that it’s been almost a month since I was last in the car by myself. Being somewhat homebound, and being dependent on others to take me places, is one of the lessons I am learning during this season.

But when I am able to get out by myself, I crank up whatever is on the radio, and the playlist never fails to remind me of high school, growing up in small-town middle Tennessee, listening to the local county radio station, singing along with these old songs when they were a lot less old.

One of the last times I had the opportunity to be by myself in the car, Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” came on, and blame it on the chemo or the joy of being by myself, I shed a few tears thinking about my high school years, my friends from back then, and some happy memories.

I haven’t stayed very close with many of my high school friends. I moved away almost 16 years ago, and in that pre-Facebook time, I wasn’t very good at keeping in touch. But in recent days, several old friends and former teachers have been so kind, giving me words of encouragement when I needed them, letting me know that they are praying for us on difficult days, and being some great cheerleaders from a distance.

So, I just want to take a minute to say “thanks.” Thanks to our little town and small school for being a good place to grown up, thanks for giving me the foundation to go out and spread my wings, and thanks for reminding me that we can still care for one another across the miles.

And when I am finally able to get out and drive around, I’ll crank up the radio and remember.

Lenten Reflections

Last week marked the beginning of Lent – something about which most of my Southern Baptist friends and I don’t have a lot of experience. Weather kept me from getting to the bakery to pick up a king cake, a particularly fun Mardi Gras tradition, and if I had wanted to go to an Ash Wednesday service, they were all cancelled in my city.

Truthfully, given how cancer has taken over our lives right now, I had almost forgotten about all of it anyway.

I don’t usually give up something for Lent. One year I did give up social media – mostly. My problem with this aspect of Lent is that if we are giving up something to commemorate Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, then whatever I fast from should hurt – it should more than inconvenience me. Giving up Diet Cokes or TV or Starbucks just doesn’t seem to fit that bill.

I have been more inclined in recent years to devote more time to Bible study and prayer during this season leading up to Easter, as a way of focusing my heart on the things of Christ, rather than on the worldly aspects of the holiday. But again, this year I’m not even doing that, as I know that I won’t be able to complete anything I set out to begin. (If this sounds like something you might like, my friends at Grace for Moms have a Lenten family devotional that sounds wonderful. Check it out.)

So, while I have watched my friends on Facebook and Instagram share what they are doing during this season of the church year, I feel like a slacker. I don’t have the energy or brain power (chemo brain is a real thing!) to add something else to my to-do list. But my soul craves these things – time to focus on Christ and not my circumstances, ancient church traditions to remind us of our finiteness, something to point me to the coming Cross and resurrection.

It was with these thoughts in my mind that I approached my Bible reading for today, and read this:

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. Hebrews 3:1

This is the answer to my Lenten longings – making Jesus the center of my thoughts. Whether or not I can do anything else – whether I spend days at a time in bed, whether I can manage to focus on a single scripture passage today, whether or not I can write a complete sentence – I can make Christ the centerpiece of my thoughts.

Do you observe Lent in some way? If so, I’d love to hear what you are doing!

**I have an article in the February issue of The Kingdom Life Now about embracing the ever-changing seasons of motherhood. Click here to join the conversation!

Pray for One Another

Through this season of cancer, I am asking God to show me very clearly the lessons that He would have me learn. I firmly believe that He will bring us through to the other side of this with something new to share.

One of those lessons struck home last week as I was recovering from chemo #3. On the hardest days, the days when I feel the worst, when the nausea and the chemo brain take over, it is hard to pray, to have faith for myself.

As I struggled through this last week, I realized how very, very, very important it is that I have friends who are praying for me on those days, who have faith on the days that I do not. I cannot emphasize enough how much that thought lifted me up and carried me through some difficult hours and days.

On those days, I got messages like this,

Thinking of you today, my dear friend and kindred spirit. You are so strong! Love you.

even though I didn’t feel strong at all. Or this,

I definitely have faith for God to sustain during this season and heal you completely. Never for a second when praying have I not felt that very distinctly.

at a time when I really needed to hear it.

We know we are to pray for one another. Our church, possibly like yours, has a weekly prayer list and a weekly prayer meeting. But if a friend is going through a difficult season, how often do we realize that our prayers and our faith may be what carries them through the hardest days?

“As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset” (Exodus 17:11-12, NIV).

Much like Aaron and Hur, my friends hold up my hands when I can’t do it for myself. Like Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, they can’t carry my burden for me, but they do carry me.

Pray for your friends who are going through difficult seasons, and then let them know that you are praying for them, believing in faith that God has heard and will answer. You never know how your faith may encourage them.

Do You Really Want To Know?

We have had many sweet friends from our church provide meals for us over the last several weeks – something that has been an enormous help (especially to Chris, because he would be doing all the cooking otherwise) and a special blessing because I get a visitor every few days when I am stuck at home for several days in a row.

One of these friends brought a meal this week, and while here she shared a story of an overhead conversation at church. She was walking upstairs to her Sunday School class as someone was asking Chris how I was doing. He responded that I was doing “okay,” but the person asking interpreted this as I was doing “good.” Chris then reemphasized, “No, she’s okay, but not good.”

My friend said that this little bit of eavesdropping reminded her that too often we don’t really want to hear that someone is not doing great. We want to believe that although trials come, suffering is not necessarily a part of the trials.

The truth is, suffering will come to everyone at some point in life. It comes in various ways and at various levels of intensity, but it does come.

Before I started chemo, we knew from experience with family members who have had cancer that everyone responds to chemo differently. We also knew that there are several different drugs used for chemo, and each has its own set of side effects. Of course, we wanted to believe that I could sail through this with a minimum of difficulties.

And, truthfully, things could be much worse. I do have side effects, and after each treatment there are a few days that I cannot function with the rest of the world. I am nauseous, weak, my legs ache, and I just don’t get out of bed on those days. It’s basically like having the flu (without the fever and chills) every other week. But at the end of the two weeks before my next treatment, I rebound a little and feel much better – only to do it all over again every other Monday morning.

I think we want to believe that suffering doesn’t happen to others because we are afraid – afraid for our friends, and afraid for ourselves should we ever be in their position. We want to believe that God would spare us because we live a good life, we try to serve Him faithfully, or whatever other reason we can come up with.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

God builds our character in times of trouble. We mature, and grow up in Him, when we suffer. I pray daily that I will learn whatever lessons He has for me in this season. I don’t want to squander this time, but I want it to be used for my sanctification and to bring glory to God.

But it is still suffering. There is nothing pleasant about having cancer. So I want to challenge you this week to be brave. Find a friend who needs you, and ask how she is. Really mean it when you ask, and take the time to listen to the answer. You will bless your friend with your compassion. Pray with her, and then follow up the next time you see her. Let her know you really want to know.

Make the Most of Your Time

This is a non-chemo week for me, which means that, hopefully, I will have a few days when I feel well enough to do things. I want to play with Henry, spend time talking with Chris, and tackle a few items on my to-do list (apparently not even cancer can take away my list-making tendencies).

The truth is, at least for today, I still have to pace myself. I cleaned out the toy boxes this morning, and that was just about all the energy I had. But that’s better than yesterday, when my greatest accomplishment was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

So, to order my priorities this week, I am turning to one of my favorite Bible passages:

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

I want to make sure that my good days count, and the only way to do that is to submit those days and my list to the Lord and ask for His help in ordering my day. Next week I’ll be back in bed for several days, and I want to look back on this week knowing I made the most of every moment I had.

The People Who Are Helping Me Through

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When the doctor says the word “cancer,” it feels as if the world has stopped and you’ll never be able to get back on it properly again. And then some time passes, and you realize you really can, and frankly, you must, carry on with some semblance of a life, especially if you have children at home. Moms are the heartbeat of their homes, sick or not.

So, if you’re like me, you have to figure out how to continue on with some things while letting other things go. We have a wonderful church family that has stepped up to help us. The past two weeks, people have cleaned our house. We’ve had lots of food appear at our door, filling our refrigerator and our freezer. We’ve been given gift cards to restaurants and, ahem, Starbucks. Not having to clean my house or cook has been an enormous blessing.

If you have a friend who has been diagnosed with any kind of serious or chronic disease, even a small gesture of help and encouragement is very much appreciated. I’ve gotten notes from the teachers at Henry’s school telling me they are looking after him. They have no idea what that means to me.

I am still playing the piano, although there may be weeks I have to miss a rehearsal. I am still leading my Kidz Choir, although there will definitely be weeks that my assistants have to take over for me. On the weeks I feel good, Henry doesn’t go to daycare or the babysitter, and I try to plan some fun things we can do together.

I am still keeping up with my Hello Mornings Bible study group, although some days I don’t have enough mental energy to do more than just read through the Scripture passage for the day. Chemo brain is a real thing, and I’m thankful for this blog, my music, and my Bible study group for keeping me active and thinking.

The thing is, this is a marathon, not a sprint. We are trusting God for a full and complete recovery, and I am already planning for the day when we hear those magic words from Dr. Ridenhour – cancer free. But there are a lot of steps on this journey before we get to that place. If you want to continue the marathon illustration, we are only a couple of miles in this race.

So, to our real-life friends, thank you for everything you have done to take care of our physical needs. You are enabling me to use my limited energy to do the things that I really enjoy. To my online friends, thank you for your encouragement and prayers. Every email, every Facebook message, every text has been sent at just the right time.

If you know of a person or a family going through a crisis, I can’t say strongly enough how important it is to reach out and offer encouragement and help. Offers of, “Call me if I can help” are nice and appreciated, but the truth is it’s hard to pick up the phone and ask someone to help with something you used to be able to do yourself. The most helpful people offer something specific – “I will clean your house this week,” “Would Henry like to go to a movie with us?”, “Can I bring supper to you tonight?”

So, this is a very poorly written thank you to everyone who is carrying a bit of our load for us. We appreciate you.

Brave

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it really means to be brave. I’m a word nerd, so the first thing I did was turn to the dictionary. Merriam-Webster says that brave means “feeling or showing no fear, not afraid.”

And while it pains me to say this, I don’t think that the trusty ole’ M-W has it right this time. (But I’m sure it’s just this one time, and the next time my dictionary will get it right.)

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How many brave actions throughout history have been accompanied by an incredible amount of fear? Consider the storming of the beaches of Normandy, the sitting still on a bus of Rosa Parks, the call to action in NYC on September 11, 2001. I dare say that all of the people involved in these actions were afraid – very afraid and very aware that their lives were at risk.

Any of them could have walked away from the fight. They could have said this is too much. Let someone else do it.

But they didn’t.

They (and a whole host of people throughout history) took the next step, made the next move, did the next right thing – even though they were afraid.

I may have mentioned that we watch a lot of Thomas and Friends around here. In the most recent Thomas movie, Tale of the Brave, we hear these wise words:

‘Being brave is not the same as not being scared, it’s about what you do even when you do feel scared.

God is asking me to be brave this year – and truthfully, I don’t want to. I don’t feel up to the task. As I write this, I am coming off of my first week after treatment, and it was most definitely not fun. I am on the upswing now, but on January 26 I get to go back to the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center and do it all again. And then I get to do it six more times after that. And then there will most likely be some more stuff after all that.

Being brave right now means facing each one of my eight treatments and the side-effects head-on. I most definitely do not want to go back and do it again, but that’s what our friend Percy the little green engine is talking about.

Being brave is about what you do even when you are afraid.

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