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.

The Battle in Your Mind

I am writing this the day after my first chemo treatment. Last week was filled with tests and outpatient surgery (and recovery following surgery). Today, I have been bone-tired from the medicine that was pumped into my veins.

Yes, cancer is most certainly a physical battle. But before the physical battle even began, Satan began to battle for my mind.

I am tempted to doubt, to fear, to be anxious. I have had a range of emotions, faith-filled one moment and tempted to self-pity the next.

The way out of temptation has always been the same – combat the lies in our minds with the Truth. This past Sunday at my church, we sang a favorite song of mine that has new meaning these days (and is on my chemo playlist!).

Some midnight hour if you should find
You’re in a prison in your mind
Reach out and praise, defy those chains
And they will fall in Jesus’ name

We bless Your name, we bless Your name
We give You honor, give You praise
You are the Life, the Truth, the Way
We bless Your name, we bless Your name

Whatever battle you are facing today, combat the lies of the Enemy with the Truth of Christ.

A New Year, a New Word, a New Road

Some time around the beginning of November, I began thinking about my “one word” for 2015 – a word that might inspire me forward, convict me in an area where I need to grow, and be a focus for the next 12 months. My word for 2014 was intention, and it resonated throughout the entire year, cropping up in all sorts of unexpected places.

One word kept coming to my mind, but I wasn’t sure about it.

BRAVE

I didn’t know what I needed to be brave about. Maybe I needed to take more risks in my writing, submit to more sources for publication, maybe even consider writing a book. Maybe I had just watched Thomas and Friends Tale of the Brave one too many times.

Since it was still the beginning of November, I decided to think about it a while, see if that word was going to stick or if something else would come to mind.

What I could not know was that only a couple of weeks later I would find something that would send me to the doctor, that would set off a series of tests, and then I would hear another word that would change the course of 2015.

CANCER

My mother passed away in February 2012 from breast cancer. Hearing that diagnosis hit very, very close to home for us.

But I believe that God placed the word “brave” in my heart and mind before the doctor could deliver that ugly news because I do not believe that cancer is going to define my life.

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God is asking me to be brave this year, but not in the ways that I imagined. Our little family has a long and difficult journey ahead of us, but I am determined that it is not going to be the only story that we will tell from the year 2015. I believe that God has great and wonderful things planned for us in the midst of this hard time.

Right around the time I first found the lump, my friend Jessica at Grace for Moms used Psalm 16 in something that she wrote. I wrote it on an index card to keep with me. This is what I am praying for myself each day, and I would invite you to pray with me throughout this journey.

Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing” … Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will sing praise to the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices, my body also will rest secure … you make known to me the path of life; you fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. – Psalm 16

By the way, while I don’t intend for this to become a “cancer blog,” I’m sure I will talk about it from time to time. If you want to keep up with us, please follow me using the link on the left side of this page.

The Christmas Story, Part 5

Christmas Part 5 (This is the final part of my Christmas series. If you missed the first four weeks, you can find them here – Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.)

We have only heard the beginning of the message of Christmas. That little Baby, born so long ago in a humble stable, grew up. He became a man who spoke God’s Word to all people. He taught us the ways of God. He healed the sick, ate with sinners, and comforted the mistreated.

One day, the people turned against Him. That same little Baby who was worshiped by the Magi was beaten and mocked, and was crucified. Where was God in this? What happened to the joyous message of Christmas on that dark Friday?

The Good News of Christmas is not just that Jesus was born, but that he died, was buried, and then on Easter Sunday morning, He rose again … so that you and I, and all those who lived before us and who will live after us, who believe His Words, repent of sin, and confess Him as Lord will have eternal life!

The message of Christmas is that Jesus was not Plan B for mankind. The message of Christmas is that God loves us so much that He sent His Son to be with us – to be like us. Jesus came to live among us on purpose. He became human on purpose. He died and rose again … on purpose.

God sent Jesus to earth so that we could know Him and love Him – and worship Him. This is the message of Christmas!

John 1:1-14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of dark men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Christmas Story, Part 4

Christmas Part 4 (This is the fourth part of my Christmas series. If you missed the first three parts, you can find them here – Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.)

Matthew 2:1-12 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of may people Israel.'” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Herod and the Magi were confronted with the idea of Who Jesus really was. They had to decide if they believed the story of the stars – the King of the Jews had been born in Bethlehem.

Herod responded with anger. Known for his violent acts and cruel behavior as a jealous man who worried about his position, Herod believed that the claims of the Magi could be true. His response to the message of Christmas was to stamp it out – get rid of the problem.

The Magi were moved to a different response. They sought out the child so that they could worship Him. We do not know that these men believed in Yahweh, the one true God, but they had observed God’s movement in the stars and believed that a King had been born.

Jesus’ birth was as misunderstood then as it is today. He came not as an earthly king who would overthrow Herod’s government, but as a heavenly King who would supersede all earthly governments, one day creating a New Order for all who believe.

How will you respond to Jesus this Christmas? Will you bow and worship, or will you run from the message of Christmas?

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