Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cast aside...

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending one of the most precious birthday parties I've ever experienced. My little Godson is turning 3. His party was at one of my favorite locations, Chuck E. Cheese. At 3, he's just catching on to what birthday parties are all about. He didn't quite understand waiting to open his presents. His cake was set in front of him, but he had to wait to blow his 3 candles out. He blew them out 1 at a time. The kind hostess relit them, & again, he blew them out 1 at a time.

He preferred not to wear his birthday crown. In fact, he refused. He didn't think being adorned with a birthday medal was a necessity either. Being the good sport that his mom is, she let him open a few presents early, wore the birthday crown herself, & even sported the cute Chuck E. Cheese birthday medal around her neck.

The funniest part had to be the Ticket Blast. It's like a simulated hurricane. You put on safety glasses & step in the space shuttle (so to speak). Air starts blowing all around you while you try to grab tickets. What a blast! The birthday boy held on for dear life. He kept screaming "All done.... all done!"  Thankfully, it only took a few minutes, & the wind stopped. He & his momma stepped out with wind blown hair, a few tickets, & 2 great big smiles. We had to applaud them!

Aside from all the fun, & just being in the presence of my adorable Godson, this party had an extra sweet element. 3 of the little boys (my Godson included) are all adopted from Russia. Their lives have been redeemed. From orphans to dearly loved little boys with the hope of a bright future. As much as their lives have changed, they have changed the lives of their parents.

I was honored to witness such a precious birthday party. I am in awe of these parents who have gone to the ends of the earth for these little boys. Their story is redemption. Out of hurt, sadness, desperation, or for whatever reason, these 3 little boys were cast aside, left as orphans. For other unknown reasons, these parents found a way to find these beautiful little boys. Yes... what a precious gathering!

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Unspeakable

Yesterday, the unspeakable happened. A young mother left her sweet 3 week old defenseless baby on the side of the road. To make matters worse, she notified the police that her baby had been abducted. The Amber Alert was put into action, endless prayers were offered up to God, & roughly 12 hours later, 2 volunteers heard the baby cry, & delivered her to safety. This little sweetie was actually found during a prayer vigil. I believe God answered our prayers.

So... we have a choice. We can lash out on FB, share our disgust, & make this family feel even smaller than they do, or we can pray for them. If I were in their shoes, it would be the greatest nightmare of my life. Yes... even bigger than my dad falling off a roof & dying from cancer. It beats my own cancer. It beats all of my heartaches in life put together.

I can't imagine the sickness they must have all felt when the baby's mommy went from being the victim to the criminal. In the blink of an eye, their worst nightmare (an abducted baby) became even worse (the mommy abandoned her). The day was long. It was beyond draining. It was excruciating. They were so grateful the baby was found before dark. She was alive. There was hope. She would likely recover. She's a fighter!

On the flip side... their world was turned upside down & inside out. If that isn't enough, all eyes are on them. People sit in judgement sickened by this mother's unconscionable act. They simply can't wait to voice their 2 cents.... I would never do that. Of course, they are freely giving their opinion on what kind of sentence the mother deserves. They are disturbed, disgusted. You name it, they are feeling it, & voicing it.

I'd like to challenge the people who have made cruel statements via FB to reconsider & delete their cruel comments. This family is sick. Obviously, the mother is not well. There aren't even words to describe this act. Their main concern is the care of this little baby & her infant sister. These 2 little treasures mean the world to them. We don't always get what we deserve in life, & sometimes we do. Some tragedies elicit sympathy. Others elicit cruelty. Either way, it's tragic.

We are not better because we have avoided such an atrocity in our own family. Let's face it... we all need to clean up our own hearts & stop throwing stones. There by the grace of God go I. What's the next tragedy my family will face? Will it elicit comfort or cruelty from my fellow human beings? Either way, I will be at my lowest. Will you lift me up or pound me further into the ground?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

That was the best part of all!

If you are my FB friend, then you know I just had the celebration of a lifetime at Disney World. My husband is my personal "make-a-wish" foundation. As you know, he went to China on a mission trip. Originally, I was going with him. Then... my diagnosis came, & our plans changed. So... while he was in China, a long time friend & I went to Disney World. This trip was my end of treatment celebration.

I've never seen Disney World as I did on this trip. There are probably no 2 travelers on this earth who are more compatible than my friend & me. We really didn't do rides (unless you consider It's a Small World a ride). We browsed & shopped a lot. We saw fireworks almost every night. We dined with characters & even ate in the castle. The last night we splurged & went to the Halloween Party. Oh what a party!

Halfway through our stay, we swam with a dolphin named Lester. What a hoot! We had the most beautiful day of the week & enjoyed every minute. The lazy river was amazing. We attempted to snorkel & even swam with spotted sea rays. We visited a bird aviary, & I stepped out of my box & fed a bird while he sat on my wrist.

As we boarded our plane to come home, my friend asked me what my favorite part of the trip was. Truthfully, I had so much fun, it's hard to say... But, as I've pondered this question over the last few days, I can honestly say, the time spent with my friend was definitely the best part. We laughed so hard we cried a few times.

I became very sick half way through the trip. My friend took care of me & hiked miles to get me something to soothe my stomach. I felt so bad putting a damper on our trip, however she never batted an eye. I had a few limitations. She acted as if they were not limits at all. She carried my bags when my shoulder hurt. She waited on me time & again, as I became queasy. She checked on me in the night when I was feverish. She ate when I was hungary (even if she wasn't). And... she made sure I had plenty of water.

My friend defines what it means to have a servant heart. She's been my friend for 25 years, so this fact is not new to me. However, being the recipient of her servant heart for 7 straight days was something I'd not yet experienced. She serves with such grace, you could almost take her for granted (as I'm sure many people do). I know I'm a grown woman, but after this past year, I'm not quite as resilient, sharp, & confident as I once was. Having a friend like this is nothing to take for granted.

At the end of the trip, I asked her if she learned anything new about me. She said no. I questioned her thoroughly. I asked her if she had realized the extent of some of my quirks before this trip. Apparently she had, because she said no. As for me, I don't know why I'm surprised, but the depth of her goodness left me in awe. I've always known her to be kind, but somehow it had new meaning after this trip. I felt like God took me & put me in the best possible hands (as if she were family), & gave me a week full of treasured memories. That was the best part of all!


Yesterday was bittersweet. I had my last treatment. Wow! To think how far I've come in a year! When I think back, I am so thankful to be in the place I am now. I still have a few surgeries left, but nothing major. A year ago, we were planning a wedding, looking forward to Christmas, having chemo, trying to make an overwhelming decision about surgery, & awaiting many unanswered questions.

I felt like a ballon without any air. I tolerated chemo very well for the most part, just got a bit weak. It was about this time, we shaved my head. I remember it distinctly & always will. I remember the relief that followed when my family told me I had a pretty head. We didn't really shed any tears. We just got the job done.

I think I lived in shock for most of the year. I just couldn't believe what had happened to me, kind of an outer body experience. In a strange sense, I feel very honored to have walked this walk. As I said, it's a journey no one would chose, not me, not even now. But... God has given me depth through it all, & for that, I am thankful. Now... I have to remind myself to pick up the pace. I am well & striving for a full recovery.

Today is bittersweet because as I finish my treatments, one of my heroes has been admitted to the hospital. Her cancer has spread, & she is in pain. She is young & beautiful. She is faithful. She has a husband & 2 young children. It just doesn't seem fair. I know she has pondered such news for years, but still, I think she must be in shock.

I have never taken news like this well, & I've only found it harder as I've survived this past year. It weighs heavily on my heart, & I dwell on it. I pray for her constantly. I pray for a miracle. I pray that she will know God's presence. That's the only thing I am sure of. I pray that she will be relieved of her suffering. I pray for her beloved husband & her 2 sweet children. It isn't fair. I pray for her parents & her sisters. They are all on this journey together. It isn't fair.

There are no earthly answers to my questions. I've only known her a short time. Yet, she stole my heart from the start. She came to minister to me, to tell me that this would just be a chapter in my life (even though she knew her's was more). It isn't fair.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I've sunk to a new low...

Today, I sunk to a new low. I was in a dressing room when I couldn't help but overhear a conversation between a mother & her teen daughter. The only way I could not have heard this conversation would have been if I had earplugs (which I do not carry in my purse). The daughter wanted her mother to buy her an item of clothing that the mother did not find appropriate.

The teen started berating her mother by using a substitute cuss word in every sentence. She was angry with her mother for refusing to buy her this much needed item that her best friend already owned. Her mother calmly told her that it must fit her best friend differently, but it wasn't right for her. The daughter insisted that she & her friend were the same size. She then told her mother that she was only hurting her  (that is the daughter) by not buying her what she wanted.

The mother sweetly responded that she was not hurting her. She then told her daughter that when they had time, they could go to another store to look for a more suitable fit. At this, the daughter went on a tirade about if her mother hadn't insisted on going to the department store first, they would have had time to go today.

I don't know if it was the substitute "F" word that got to me or just the downright lack of gratefulness in this teenager's heart. But... as the conversation continued, my blood began to boil. Maybe it was the fact that my oldest daughter & I had just been discussing the toll my cancer had taken on her & her sisters. I've raised 3 daughters to young adulthood, & we've had some ugly moments. I don't think it's possible to survive the teen years without manipulation & at least a few hurtful words now & then.

The mother finally left the fitting room & went to look at clothing. The daughter took her time & finished putting herself back together. I ran into the mother outside the fitting room. She was calm & smiling. I, on the other hand, was visibly shaken. The mother asked me if her daughter was still talking. I quietly said no.

Then... I crossed the line. I asked her if she'd like me to speak to her daughter. This sweet woman shook her head no. I told her that I'd spent this past year fighting cancer, & that her daughter's ungratefulness really bothered me. I told her she was being so kind, & her daughter needed to appreciate her. I looked her in the eye & told her she could share whatever part of our conversation she wanted to with her daughter. The woman reached out, patted my shoulder, & thanked me.

I'm sure she was thinking... That poor soul. I'm sorry she's suffered this past year, but she really needs to mind her own business. She's right. I believe I was out of line. I shook inside for the next 20 minutes. I wish I could apologize to this woman for sticking my 2 cents in her business. That wasn't my place.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

the least of these

Today we packed my husband up for China, a mission trip that originally included me. However, early on in the planning, we realized it would be risky to take me with all of my health issues. Newly diagnosed with cancer, we agonized over what to do, & sadly pulled my name from the list.

I have been at peace with this decision ever since it was made. However, I feel bad about not being there with & for my husband. This just isn't quite how it was supposed to be (at least in our eyes). But... as I've said so many times, God has the whole picture, not me.

The team will be loving on Orphans at Maria's Big House of Hope. I've read books about the founding of this ministry, & my heart will be with them. Little orphans who are left in dumpsters to die, abandoned on front steps, & found in many other places are given a safe haven at Maria's Big House of Hope.

Most of these orphans have life threatening illnesses or disabilities.  Sadly, some of them don't make it (even with the loving care of Maria's Big House of Hope). However, they are nurtured until the day they pass into the loving arms of Jesus. Each one is treated as if he/she belongs to his/her nanny. Disabilities & illnesses range from cleft pallets, heart issues, spina bifida, kidney problems, & blindness, to all sorts of unimaginable conditions.

Each child comes with a list of special needs, all of which take detailed attention. Logistics are constantly being worked out for surgeries, care, & the like. The original founder of this organization suffers herself from severe headaches & is limited in what she can do. Steven Curtis Chapman & his wife, Mary Beth, partnered with the original missionaries & dedicated Maria's Big House of Hope in loving memory of their little Maria who died at 5 years old. She too began as an orphan & was adopted by the Chapman family.

As my husband's co worker says, adoption is such a story of redemption. It's a beautiful story! The Bible commands us to care for orphans, to be the hands & feet of Jesus. As the days count down to the mission team's departure (5 left), each team member is filling his/her suitcase, doing a special Bible Study, & deep in prayer. Mission trips are sacred. God uses them to change hearts (both of those being served & those serving). Thanks to each of you who are joining me in prayer to lift up this team & the little ones, the very least of these, whom they will serve.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

a lil bit o' fun!

Today we did something we've never done. We took our Yellow Lab, Otis, Dock Diving! It was so. much. fun. We didn't know how he would do but decided it would be worth whatever humiliation we would endure. We were a wee bit nervous with anticipation. Otis, of course, was oblivious to what was in store for him.

We had a sneaking suspicion he would love it because he lives to play ball. We haven't taken him swimming in a few years so we weren't sure how he would take to the water. Also, as the groomer said recently, he's a bit skiddish. He had to wait about an hour for his turn.

Each dog was given 2 minutes to give it a try. First, they were introduced to the ramp & then progressed to the dock. Otis was a willing participant & gave it his all. It took him a few tries to catch on, but he progressed quickly. By the end of his 2 minutes, he was almost jumping in ahead of the ball.

Afterwards, we treated him to a doggie sundae at our special ice-cream get-away. He came home & slept like a baby for hours. All tired out from too much fun! The weather was perfect. The food was delish! Doing something special for our boy was a hoot. Priceless.

Friday, September 7, 2012

1. fell. swoop.

Today I am grateful, but I must ask Why? I went to see my surgeon & received good news... I don't have to go back to her for a year. On the inside, my heart is smiling. Yes, I still have 4 other doctors to see, one more treatment, & possibly some more reconstruction, but I've been released for a year from my surgeon.

The reason I must ask why is because I know so many people right now who have not received good news. I know I've not been released from cancer & told it will never return. Only God has that answer, & I will live each day trusting in His will for me & trying to follow it. However, I have many dear friends & acquaintances who are suffering, both physically & emotionally.

Cancer is so random. It seemingly comes out of nowhere, & in one fell swoop, your life is forever changed. Even when you receive good news, things have changed (in my case, I think... for the better). My perspective will never be the same. I believe I have more depth as a human & am more serious than ever about loving others & wanting them to know my security, Christ.

So, here's the thing... Randomness at it's best. Some people have finished their fight & gone to be with the Lord.  Others (like myself) are still fighting. Some are forced to fight harder than others. It might even be round 2 or 3 for them. Then, there are those who have had scares, but everything turned out okay. False alarm.

As far as I can tell... there is no earthly explanation for this randomness. I trust that none of it is random to God. Perhaps my heartache will be someone else's salvation. That would make it all worthwhile. I wouldn't trade this past year (regardless if today's news had been different).

It's why or is it why not me? I don't have that answer. I only have a small part of the whole picture. Maybe some day, when I cross the Pearly Gates, I'll understand. Maybe I won't. Until than, I plan to take this past year & use it to good.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What keeps you awake at night?

What keeps you awake at night? What I really mean is... What are the things in life that trouble you? I have a list. There is a song that asks God to break my heart for the things that break His heart. Those are the things that should keep me up at night.

One thing that troubles me is that people have to suffer. When someone's suffered all the treatments of cancer & then, the cancer returns, why does that person have to live with pain that can only be relieved by morphine, only to end in death? Why can't God just quietly, peacefully call that person home?

Why do things happen in this world that place one person in authority over another, only to abuse the power of his/her position. Why are children born into homes only to suffer abuse & neglect? Why do such cycles repeat themselves?

Why do people get caught up in the shortcomings of other people & forget their own weaknesses? I am sure Jesus hung out with the outcasts, the hurting, the sickly, the sinners... I believe he met people where they were, & their stories changed from that very moment.

What keeps people from coming to Christ? Is it fear, pride, ignorance, hurt, their upbringing, their spouse, a traumatic experience from their childhood, having Christianity shoved down their throat? Maybe it's the hypocrisy of the Christians they've observed.

Why does prejudism (not a real word) still exist in 2012? Why do people stereotype others & treat them as lesser human beings? Have people not realized that in Heaven there will be all races & all denominations? Why don't people treat others how they would like to be treated?

Why do people try to fill their emptiness with all the wrong things? Materialism only increases one's appetite for more. People will always let you down. That's a guarantee. Being popular creates terrible pressure. Being perfect repels others. Even health is fleeting. Addictions only mask our pain for a short time leading us further down a path of destruction.

Really... the only lasting security & fulfillment we find in life comes through Christ. Truly, the only difference between a person that has a relationship with Christ & a person without Christ, is hope. Those who follow Christ, & those who don't, both experience hardship. Both sin. Both think bad thoughts. Both suffer in their relationships. Both have accidents. Both get cancer. Both have voids. Both hurt. Both fear. Both have anxiety & mental illness.

Christ is not a cure all for our earthly life. No... He is so much more. When we come to Christ, we do not become exempt to any of the temptations of this world. We are not exempt to sickness, financial problems, or mistreatment from family members. Hardship is a reality with or without Christ.

A relationship with Christ never leaves us empty when we turn to Him. He might not answer our cry how we we hope, but  He answers it for His ultimate good (which is for our ultimate good), even though it makes no sense to us. It's hard to reconcile a loving Father with the evils of the world but that is because our understanding of loving is through our earthly eyes. Through Christ, we have a hope which cannot be destroyed. Heaven is a certainty for those who love Him, truly our only guarantee in this earthly life.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

...ask Jimmy Fallon

On Friday night, in his monologue, Jimmy Fallon said something like this: 30% of the world is sensitive to gluten, & the other 70% is sick of hearing about it. I'm not sure I got the percentages right, but you get the idea. I had to laugh because what he said is true. People who don't care about gluten really don't want to hear about it.

So if you are in that 70%, you might not want to read any further. However, I've had a few people ask me for an update on how my gluten free thing is working. Here's the truth: I'm not losing any more weight, but I am losing inches. Hmmnnn... I swear I'm doing this for my health, but it sure would be nice to lose 10 more pounds.

I have been assured that this is perfectly normal, & I will begin to lose again. A strange phenomenon to be sure. It has to do with your body turning fat into muscle, being more dense, etc. I don't exactly get it, but I'm willing to hang in there. In fact, I have no desire to go back to my old habits. It could also be a result of having been sick for a year, & my body trying to protect itself.

My cholesterol is coming down. My husbands been able to have his cholesterol medication reduced, & he is slowly losing weight. I have more energy, & I feel better (for basically the whole day). When I follow the diet without any mess ups, I have more stamina than I've had in a long time. I've gotten rid of some of my puffiness (mainly in the face & gut). That can only help how I feel about myself.

The best part: once you give up gluten &/or sugar, you pretty much stop craving food that isn't good for you. You eat more because you are truly hungry, not because you are craving sweets, salts, grease, or whatever. Yes... it takes a lot of work. Some of the ingredients are hard to find. Some of the recipes flop. Eating out is a bit more difficult, however, it too gets easier with time.

In a world where you have little control over lots of things, giving up gluten is a choice (unless you are truly allergic to it). Then it becomes a necessity. In my world, its a choice. As I explained a month ago, I feel I have nothing to lose by giving it a try. Research ties gluten to many of my ailments, even if there's no solid studies yet to prove  it.

So... for me, the proof lies in how I feel. I've never felt better. Even though my weight has plateaued, it's still worth it. I'm thankful my husband is doing it with me. We are both benefiting, & it makes it so much easier for me to cook. It's empowering to make a life change which is healthy, especially after the year I've had. I'm loving life & living it to the fullest. I'm excited to watch & see if my cholesterol continues to drop. I'm hoping my weight will again head in the right direction. It's all refreshing, & I'd highly recommend it even if you aren't gluten intolerant.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

how we wear our scars...

Scars. I think I've written about scares in earlier blogs, so I'm not sure why I feel a need to write about them again. I awoke this morning, & they were the topic of conversation in my head. Yes... I know I'm a bit strange (or quirky to say the least).

Someone recently pointed out to me (through her own blog) that some of us wear our scars for all to see. It's obvious to others what causes us to struggle. My thoughts this morning were in agreement with my friend. However, of course, my brain had to add its own twist. Whether our scars are physical or emotional, we do wear them for all to see. The question is... How do we wear them?

I have observed over the years that people generally don't see scars as beautiful. In fact, most people would do anything they could to erase their scars, both emotionally & from a cosmetic point of view.  I'd like to offer something different to this view of how we see our scars.

For years people have been teased for having scars. It's hard for me to process such cruelties, but it happens on playgrounds, in the lunch room, on the bus, within families, at church, at the workplace, and the list continues... I remember being teased as a little girl for things I couldn't help. I had no coordination & was always picked last for the team. I had anxiety, & I shook terribly if I had to perform in front of the class. I couldn't sing a note in tune. Again... the list continues.

Sad that we tend to remember hurtful words that were said to us... maybe about our intelligence, our weight, our troubles, our physical features (the size of our nose, our big feet, or whatever). Here's the thing... As we begin to overcome our scars, to see them as beautiful because they have brought dimension to our lives that we would otherwise not have known, it changes how we feel about our scars & possibly, how we wear them.

When we begin to use our scars as a tool to reach out to others with similar pain, our scars begin to heal. It's strange that something we once found hideous becomes a treasure. We realize that perhaps God allowed our scarring so that we might be deeper individuals, & more readily accepted by people in a similar boat. I believe this is a miracle that only comes from God. He has a knack for taking the ugly & making it beautiful, for bringing good from evil, for healing us when we least expect it.