Thank You, Outpatient Oncology

On January 12, I walked into the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center, took the elevator to the second floor, and followed the signs around the hallway to the infusion area. I was anxious about starting chemo, but also ready to get going so I could get it over and done with. I have worn my trademark cowboy boots to every appointment (we’re kicking cancer to the curb, y’all). I learned to wear a button-up shirt so that my port could be easily accessed. I have learned how to apply lidocaine properly (three times as much as I did that first week, an hour and a half before my appointment time, with plastic wrap to cover it), so that the giant needle in my chest doesn’t hurt quite as badly.

I’ve lost my hair, and some of my fingernails are starting to come off. I’ve learned to manage various physical side effects from leg pain to nausea to going off coffee for the first eight weeks. (Can you even imagine? Coffee smelled exactly like a skunk. Thank goodness that passed!) I use a pill box to keep my medicines straight on the days when I have chemo fog. I’ve gained several pounds from inactivity and all the goodies people have brought us.

But this week, on April 20, I walked out of my last chemo treatment. The particular chemo drugs that I have taken kept me there for about five hours every two weeks. And let me tell you, if it weren’t for the absolutely exceptional nursing staff at our cancer center, it would have been a miserable four months.

Every single person who works in the infusion area has been kind, encouraging, cheerful, helpful, and just generally fun to be around. We talk a little about our kids, our church, and mostly food. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a bunch that enjoys food just as much as I do!

They move quickly, they deal with people who are angry about their illness and lash out, they keep track of multiple patients with various drug regimens, and they do it all with a smile. They don’t have an easy job – they stare in the face of cancer every day, all day long. But they keep fighting because they love what they do and they care about their patients.

So, thanks ladies. Thanks for being good at what you do, thanks for always being cheerful, thanks for making this a little more bearable. And I hope that they only place I ever see you in the future is Walmart.

Praying with Boldness

Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. Psalm 144:1

Why are those of us who know Christ too often afraid to approach the throne of grace with boldness in our prayers?

I have asked myself this question several times over the past four months. I listen to myself pray, and I listen to the prayers of others, and I have been convicted that, too often, we talk to God as if we believe we are inconveniencing Him, as if we don’t believe our request is really all that important.

And yet, Psalm 144 would teach us a different way. David comes to God with boldness, knowing the mighty power that God has to change his circumstances for the better.

Part your heavens, O Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, so that they smoke. Psalm 144:5

I want to learn to pray like David, with power and authority! Knowing that God owes me nothing, but graciously has given me all I need for life in Christ. Knowing that He is capable of anything and everything, and while I may not know His mind and His intentions, I can know His heart – a heart that gives good gifts to His children.

I will sing a new song to you, O God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you, to the One who gives victory to kings, who delivers his servant David from the deadly sword. Psalm 144:9-10

When Henry, who is four years old, asks me for something, he doesn’t begin with excuses – “if it’s convenient,” “if you aren’t doing something else,” “if you can spare it” – he just asks for what he wants. How much more does God want His children to ask Him boldly for what they need! He is our good and kind Father.

We need to pray knowing, expecting that God will act. He keeps His promises, and He promises to always hear us when we call on Him. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” He may act today, and it may be sometime down the road, but He will always answer. We can come to Him on that authority, and we can boldly ask for all that we need.

Blessed are the people of whom this is true; blessed are the people whose God is the Lord. Psalm 144:15

Psalm 16

ps 16

I have continued to return to Psalm 16 on my cancer journey, both for encouragement and instruction. On most days, I need to be reminded that I serve a good God who has a bigger plan than just my present circumstances. Because he is always beside me, as the psalmist says, I will not be shaken.

I have one more chemo treatment on April 20, after which time I will be referred back to the surgeon to reassess what we need to do next. Please pray that the next few weeks will pass quickly, that we will find that the chemo did exactly what it was supposed to do, and that we can return to some sort of normal family life soon.

The Gospel, Easter, and Cancer

Because I firmly believe that God uses all my circumstances for my good and His glory, I am on the lookout for what He is teaching me through this cancer journey. Believe me, I don’t want to have to repeat this class!

So, with Easter approaching, I’ve been thinking about what the gospel has to say in the face of cancer. We know that Jesus has conquered the grave, that we who know Him will one day reign with Him, and that we no longer need to fear physical death. But is there more? What about the reality of living with cancer, its treatments and side effects, and the fear of the future?

Henry loves The Jesus Storybook Bible, and especially the videos that go with it. Who am I kidding – I love them just as much as he does! He’s been asking to watch the story “where Jesus dies on the cross” a lot this year, and a particular phrase in this story stuck out to me:

Jesus is making all sad things come untrue.

Let that sink in for a few minutes. Because we live in a sinful, fallen world, we are surrounded by sadness. We live with the reality of death, cancer, broken families, hatred, racism, and so many more terrible things.

But because of God’s wonderful “rescue plan” found in the person of Jesus, ALL of these “sad things” will someday be a thing of the past! Because of the events of the first Easter weekend, we have hope for the future, but we also have hope for today! God is working in my present reality – the cancer itself, and the side effects from the chemo.

Illnesses like cancer can cause us to lose hope. It’s a disease that is difficult to beat, eventually taking over every part of the human body if left untreated. We have no natural defenses against it. Chemo can often be worse than the actual diagnosis, killing healthy cells as it tries to kill the cancer cells. Living in that ever-present reality is more than hard.

But God had a plan from the beginning of the world. He knew about cancer when he first formed the earth and placed Adam and Eve in the garden. He knew about all of the other diseases we would fight, about all the evil that would fill the earth. And from that very beginning, Jesus was His perfect plan to give us hope.

So, this Easter, let’s be encouraged with this: God knows all the hurts in the world. He knows about my cancer, and He knows about whatever evil you are facing. And He is weaving the Story together and making all the sad things come untrue.

All of them.

And the King says, ‘Look! God and his children are together again. No more running away. Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying. Because all those things are gone. Yes, they’re gone forever. Everything sad has come untrue.’ ~ Paraphrase from Revelation 21, Sally Lloyd-Jones in The Jesus Storybook Bible

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

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