First and Third Wednesdays

I joined Bible study and worried I wouldn’t fit in. I was intimidated by all these women who had it all figured out. Then, through sharing, I learned that what they had was God’s peace. In time, with their help, I found that too.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

My pastor’s wife invited me to join the Wednesday evening Women’s Bible Study soon after I began attending my church. I was very busy at the time. I was a wife and mother, overwhelmed with running two child care centers and taking care of my family. I recently finished treatment for stage 2 breast cancer, and was putting my life back together after chemo, surgery, and radiation. My priorities changed with my diagnosis, and I worked to get my life in balance. I cleared my overbooked schedule, and tried to focus on what mattered. I was ashamed to say that at first, I hesitated about joining the group.

Continue reading “First and Third Wednesdays”

I Find Peace in the Open Spaces

“The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

Psalm 29:11

 

The last day of 2018.  New Year’s Eve.

I put away the Christmas decorations yesterday. In the past, I was always sad when the trees were gone, the garland was removed from the staircase, and the Christmas decor was put back in boxes.

This year was different.

Continue reading “I Find Peace in the Open Spaces”

…But Now I’m Seen

Do you ever feel invisible?
Do you feel like no one sees all you do?
Know that God sees you, even when the world does not.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)

My kitchen garbage can is one of the most overlooked things in my home. It does its job; collecting all the extra, all the unnecessary, all the stuff nobody wants. Day in and day out, filled to the top, and then to overflowing. As its contents reach the top of the can, family members will cram more in, pushing down the waste to fit more inside. For some reason, emptying the garbage can and relieving its load is not something my family thinks to do.  

Don’t worry, family … I got it!

Continue reading “…But Now I’m Seen”

Dear Dad, …

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

(Psalm 73:26)

 

Dear Dad,

I don’t come here often. It is a pretty peaceful place; but, honestly, I don’t like it here. I don’t believe you are here. I don’t have to come here to visit you. I feel you all around me, all the time.  I know you are in heaven. Coming here makes me sad. Coming here brings back memories I tucked away and don’t want to revisit. I remember that frigid day in February, when I shivered next to that gaping hole in the earth that was as dark and empty as the one in my heart. As I sat there, still and quiet, my heart broken, my soul crushed; I wanted to yell and scream and make it all stop. I wanted to wake up.

But it was real, Dad. You were gone.

Continue reading “Dear Dad, …”

A Little Sunshine on a Rainy Day

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Looking out the window, I saw the trees darkened by the soaking rain.  The remnants of snow clung to the fallen leaves that collected on the ground over the long winter.  Not the view I typically enjoyed but I drank my morning tea and took it all in just the same. I noticed the birds searching for cover. The pop of color and the movement grabbed my attention. I saw flashes of blue and red, and even the robins’ amber bellies stuck out in contrast with the stark backdrop of leafless trees. A few evergreens stood majestically among the bare trunks, showing strength and promise; their clothed branches foretelling what was to come.

On a wooden stand in my morning room sat a yellow pitcher with white polka dots.  I found it for $3 at a local department store. The cheerful pitcher sat in the clearance section like a lone flower in the middle of a grassy field. It had an “AS IS” sticker so I examined it for scratches or chips, but it was perfect. Excited by my find, I brought it home and filled it with fresh flowers. That next day, it snowed; but that pitcher filled my home with a bit of sunshine; and on this rainy day, it was a welcome sight.

I curled up on the couch with my tea and a blanket and watched the rain and the birds for a while longer.  The phrase, “April Showers Bring May Flowers” came to mind. In Pennsylvania, spring was always slow to start; and this year, it was no different. A snowstorm hit just as spring finally arrived. Snow lingered on the ground and the rain was cold and biting. At first glance, no signs of spring were visible, but you could imagine the leaves growing inside the branches and the grass growing under the soggy, dead leaves. In all its glory, spring was coming … we just had to wait a little while longer.  

It was always at the end of a very long winter that we got restless and impatient.  We grew tired of the snow, the cold, the barren forest, and the cloudy days. We wanted leaves to cover the trees’ branches, the green grass to carpet the ground, the flowers to bloom in glorious color, and the sun to warm our faces.  We knew it was coming, but we grew tired of waiting.

When things weren’t going our way, we looked ahead to better days.  We used phrases like, “when I finish school’, “when I get my promotion”, “when the kids start kindergarten”, or “when I retire”.  We pushed off doing something scary… or that made us happy. We pushed off doing something risky… or fulfilling. We justified our inaction based on our circumstances ‘right now’. We allowed our mood to be determined by our circumstances ‘right now’. We surrendered that things were always going to be a certain way because that was how they were ‘right now’.

Imagine if the trees felt that way, if they gave up because all their leaves fell off in the fall and it was taking them too long to grow back? Imagine if the grass felt that way, if the grass decided not to grow again because the leaves and sticks piled on top of the ground made the grass unsure it could grow again? What if the flowers felt that way, if they refused to bloom because the ground was too hard and the warm weather took too long to arrive. Thankfully, the leaves, the grass, and the flowers knew to hold on and to wait a little while longer; because winter would one day be over.  

In its time, spring would arrive.

The leaves, the grass, and the flowers knew that while they endured the long winter and then waited for spring, they had work to do.  They didn’t complain and they didn’t give up. The leaves, the grass and the flowers weren’t visible yet but they were growing on the inside. The leaves formed inside those branches, the grass grew under the earth, and the flowers sprouted from their bulbs. They rested and grew and prepared for their springtime emergence. They worked hard and became stronger to survive the early spring frosts. They worked hard so the leaves and grass sprouted a brilliant green and the flowers bloomed in an earthly rainbow of colors. For without that careful preparation and internal work, they would not persist to enjoy the rebirth of spring.

We suffered through the long winters of life. We endured the floods of adversity, the droughts of understanding, and the storms of grief.  We sought shelter when the pain rained down upon us. We kept our heads down when the winds of despair left us battered and beaten. We searched for something to hold on to when the river of trouble overflowed its banks.

We prayed for the storm to pass.  We prayed for the sun to shine.

But sometimes, that didn’t happen as quickly as we hoped.

Sometimes, we endured suffering far longer than expected. Sometimes, we waited for relief that never came. Sometimes we absorbed yet another blow when we hadn’t yet recovered from the first one.

In desperation, we called out to God.

We asked for help. We questioned our circumstances.

In those times of suffering, God worked on us from the inside out.  Like the leaves growing inside the branches, He prepared us for the storms sure to find us.  Like the grass growing under the earth, He prepared us for the trampling sure to wound our hearts.  Like the flowers sprouting from their bulbs, He prepared us to endure the harsh conditions that sought to destroy our spirit.

In those times of suffering, God built our strength and fortified our endurance. In those times, God taught us patience and built upon our faith. The trials we suffered ‘right now’ prepared us for the future. The trials we suffered ‘right now’ allowed us to be a witness to others, an inspiration in times to come.  Like the leaves and the grass and the flowers, God prepared them to do exactly what they needed to do … grow.

And just like the leaves and the grass and the flowers, God prepared us to grow too, in different ways, but in the exact ways we needed.

I drank my last sip of tea and looked at the plaque hanging on the wall above that cheerful pitcher filled with flowers.

It was one of my favorite Bible verses.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.

For this is God’s Will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This verse is often a difficult one …

“Give thanks in all circumstances”  

It was hard to give thanks when we suffered, to give thanks during a difficult time. The leaves, the grass, and the flowers, after enduring a long, hard winter, taught us that those hard times were necessary to strengthen us, that our situation was preparation for our own springtime. If we remembered the leaves, grass, and flowers when our patience was thin and our relief was nowhere in sight, we could better understand that we should rejoice always, and give thanks in all circumstances. For we should be thankful in times of sorrow, just as in times of happiness. 

Although I was not necessarily thankful that I had cancer, I was truly thankful for the lessons I learned through this journey. I was truly thankful for the love and support I was given from family and friends.  I was truly thankful for the grace God gave me throughout my medical treatment. I was truly grateful for the faith that strengthened me through my experience. I was truly grateful for the sharpening I received during my long, cold winters.

For if not for the winters of life, how could we truly appreciate the arrival of spring?

For When That Day Comes…

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NOTE:

This post is different.  Very different and very personal.  It is not one of my typical posts.  It is a poem. I haven’t written poetry in years, but I was inspired to do it. Although a somber subject, I believe it has a positive message. This message was put on my heart and as hard as it was to share something so personal, I felt called to do so.  As someone who has been forced to face my own mortality, I wanted to share some lessons I learned from my experience.  I learned to focus on what really matters … and I am learning to let go of what doesn’t.  Always a work in progress, but with God’s help, I am getting better at it.

I want to preface this post by saying that I am doing well.  For my family and friends, there is no reason to worry. My last scans were stable and my treatment is still working.  Still, knowing that I will not have as much time on this earth as I hoped; I often think about when that day comes.  It may be upsetting to some; but, honestly, looking into the future forces me to look at my present.

And that is where our focus should always be.

This is dedicated to all those who are suffering today, and to all those who are rallying around those who are suffering.  This is dedicated to those whose time is uncertain, and to those who are pleading for a little more time with their loved ones.  This is dedicated to those who have lost loved ones, who may not have had the chance to say goodbye, to apologize, or to make peace with their loss. May God’s love and peace surround you.

**********

Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God’s Will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1 Thes 5:16-18)

 **********

 

For when that day comes…

 

Let me remember the days of my childhood,

Before this world set to tear me apart.

Let me remember the joy of those times,

The innocence, and a not-yet broken heart.

 

Let me remember the sun on my face,

Bare feet on the blades of grass.

How big and blue the sky was,

Oh, those days went by so fast.

 

Let me remember the summers of youth,

When my only charge was to play.

The woods, the pond, the corn fields, and creek,

What adventures awaited each day.

 

Sprawled out in the yard, looking up at the sky,

As the birds and bees took flight.

Days of sprinklers, and earthworms, and crab apple wars,

Fireflies and crickets filled the night.

 

A home full of love and laughter,

No softer place could I fall.

A childhood filled with wonder,

Loved by the greatest parents of all.

 

Lazy days on Grandma’s porch,

Sharing that old wooden swing.

Talking and laughing and passing the time,

Oh, what sweet memories bring.

 

For when that day comes…

 

Let me remember the growing years,

Filled with fun and frolic and friends.

Wide-eyed and ready to take on the world,

With no thought how my story would end.

 

Diplomas and dances and a license to drive,

Spilling over with hopes and dreams.

Successes and failures and bumps in the road,

This world not always as it seemed.

 

Broken hearts and broken trust,

Losses and storms, how they came.

Picked up the pieces and still forged ahead,

Still, the heart never beat quite the same.

 

For when that day comes….

 

Let me remember that walk down the aisle,

On that warm September day.

When two hearts became just one,

And together we’d face come what may.

 

We worked in the city and played at the shore,

We built a house and made it a home.

We shared a life that most only dreamed,

But we ached for a child of our own.

 

We prayed and we waited and prayed some more,

In His time, those prayers were answered.

A girl then a boy within the calendar year.

Our hearts forever captured.

 

For when that day comes…

 

Let me remember the lullabies,

The crayons, the bubbles, the joy.

Chaos was constant, the house was a mess,

But what love brought this girl and this boy.

 

Living room forts and trips to the zoo,

Play dates and ball games and more.

Running on empty and meals on the go,

Our schedule could fit no more.

 

The children they grow up so very fast,

It all was a constant blur,

Closing my eyes, I can see it now,

In slow motion, those memories stir.

 

For when that day comes…

 

Careers and ambitions, the pursuit of more,

The workhorse was saddled and ready.

No rest for the weary, keep your eye on the prize,

And hold that bridle steady.

 

Then out of the blue, came a thundering blow,

Life as I knew it slipped from my hand.

But when the ground fell out from under me,

God’s strength taught me once again to stand.

 

God met me in my brokenness,

God worked upon my heart.

My suffering, His Master Plan,

And I was humbled to play my part.

 

For when the day comes…

 

Let me remember the simpler days,

The moments that seemed so ordinary.

The laughs over dinner, the fun times that we shared,

Now, such sweet memories we carry.

 

The days flew by quick and the years flew by quicker,

But snapshots still pressed into mind.

The birthdays and celebrations were special,

But those everyday moments, the best kind.

 

The pancake mornings and meals off the grill,

The homework and trips to the mall.

The chocolate chip cookies, the crumbs and the spills,

Oh, how I remember it all.

 

For when that day comes…

 

I won’t remember the long work days,

Or the difficult times I faced.

I won’t remember the falls and the failure,

For life was not meant to be a race.

 

I won’t remember the fights and squabbles,

The words said in anger and fear.

Only the love and the times that were shared,

With the ones I hold so dear.

 

I won’t remember that day in the office,

When the doctor told me the news.

I won’t remember the hours spent shackled,

Chained to a bag and a bunch of tubes.

 

I won’t remember material things,

Like houses and jewelry and cars,

No need for a suitcase, no need for a bag,

My home is ready and waiting in the stars.

 

I won’t remember the trouble life brought me,

The sadness and the despair.

I won’t remember the pain in your face,

For that is just too much to bear.

 

For when that day comes…

 

I won’t remember the breathless gasps, the pain-filled sighs,

or the slumber that went on for days.

I won’t remember the hushed voices, the weeping cries,

Or solemn faces seen through a haze.

 

I won’t remember the sleepless nights, the desperate pleas,

Or the sting of that terrible news.

I won’t remember any less-than-perfect days,

Of this life I was about to lose.

 

For when that day comes….

 

Let me remember the happy times,

The fellowship, the friendship, the love.

Let me remember the blessings given to me,

By my God, in Heaven above.

 

Let me remember a life well-lived,

As I take my final breath.

This will just be goodbye for now,

For new life comes in death.

 

I will close my eyes one last time on earth,

And in Heaven, they will reopen.

I will be free from pain and suffering,

No longer trapped in this body, broken.

 

Oh, when that day comes, will you promise me…

You won’t stay sad for long.

Miss me a little, remember me a lot,

But know I am where I belong.

**********

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me to that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 

(2 Timothy 4:7-8)

 

3 Months

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This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

(Psalm 118:24)

I just had my scans again.  I have them every 3 months.  Because my oncologist has to keep an eye on those cancer cells lying in wait to attack bone, lung, liver, or brain; I have regular scans to check for progression.  So, every 3 months, I prepare myself for a day in the hospital and a day or two of waiting for the results.  The scans aren’t so bad.  A little uncomfortable and capable of bringing back a lot of bad memories, but I get through those alright.  The waiting, though – that is the worst part.

You see, there is no middle ground.  A good scan means that my treatment is still working.  I can go on with my life as is; and although, I deal with the side effects of my treatment, I am pretty used to them by now.  A bad scan means that my treatment has failed. The cancer is growing and attacking a bone or organ. I will face more radiation or surgery, and I will have to start a new treatment, not knowing how bad the side effects will be, what my quality of life will be reduced to, and whether that treatment will even work. Life as I know it will be over, and the odds of living to see my children graduate high school and beyond will be even lower.

Most metastatic breast cancer  patients live about three years past diagnosis. I am going to hit that milestone in about six months.  Only 20% of patients live five years. I fully intend to be part of that 20% and prefer to live well beyond my sad prognosis; but, that is up to God, not me.  We know what to expect when we leave this earth; but God doesn’t tell us when that will happen, although, having a terminal illness seems to narrow that time frame down a bit.

One of the things that people tend to say to me (and many cancer patients) is, “Hey, we could all get hit by a bus tomorrow.” Ugh. Honestly, I hate when people say that and so does every other cancer patient.  It really isn’t the same thing.  Yes, it could happen; but the odds of you getting hit by a bus tomorrow are not quite the same as the odds of me succumbing to my disease in the next 6 months to 2 years.  The other thing people say is, “None of us know how much time we have.” That is also correct; however, it is easy to say that when you have never heard a doctor say you have a terminal disease or how long they expect you to live.  Knowing that information is a game changer, a life changer – and unless you are in that position, you really don’t understand.

You can sympathize, yes.

Understand, no.

And that’s okay. I wouldn’t wish that type of understanding on anyone.

The last couple days after my scan had been a time of prayer and reflection.  I am as positive and faithful a person as they come; but as a way of coping with this disease, I have to mentally prepare for every outcome.  I desperately want to hear my doctor say that my cancer is stable and there are no new lesions; but I need a game plan if the answer is not what I want.  My oncologist and I have this conversation before every scan – the what if’s, the what will be’s. If the cancer has grown, I may have radiation again or surgery, and I will start a new treatment plan with new side effects – and pray that it works. I will do whatever I need to do to prolong my life on this earth, still knowing that God will make that ultimate decision, but it is scary, not knowing what the future will bring.

Thankfully, after a pretty unsettling day and a half, my oncologist called and told me that my scans were ‘as good as it gets’, my cancer was stable, and I was exactly where he wanted me to be. The treatment plan was still working. Praise God!

A big exhale. A huge relief.

But now what?

I now had 3 months before my next scan to continue on, to live this life as I know it.  I had 3 months before I had to schedule, or even think about my next scan … when I would have to go through this all over again.  Knowing that my life could drastically change in as little as 3 short months – that injects a little urgency into my days.

Think about it, if you knew that in 3 months, you may be facing surgery that would keep you down for a period of time, or radiation that would burn your skin and make you feel sick and tired; that you may be starting a new treatment that made you want to sleep all day or vomit all day or hurt all day; that you might find out that the cancer had spread to so many places very quickly and there wasn’t anything more they can do…

I ask you…

How would you choose to spend your next 3 months?

I bet your outlook would be a little different.  I bet you would stop worrying about some of the things that keep you up at night. I bet you would stop putting in extra hours at work and start spending more time with the people you love. I bet you would take notice of things you overlooked before – like the sunset, the big puffy clouds in the brilliant blue sky, the first buds of spring and the first burst of color in the fall.  I bet you would spend less time doing the housework and more time playing with your kids. I bet you would spend less time in the evening on the couch watching television and more time on the side of the bed watching your children sleep.

I know what you would do, because that is what I do.

So many people are missing out on right now because they think about what will happen then – when they get that promotion, when they get that new house, when they can finally retire…

Life is what happens in the meantime. 

And so many people don’t get it.

Every day is a gift. Every day is a chance to take notice of God’s Creation.  Every day is an opportunity to love and to be loved.

I spend a lot of time praying and thinking and reflecting on things.  I spend a lot of time deciding what is worth my time and attention. I spend a lot of time focusing on what brings me joy.

And I have a lot of joy.

Even as I wade through the uncertainty of this disease, I find joy. I find joy with God. I find joy with my loved ones. I find joy in the quiet moments and in everyday things.

If you struggle to find joy in your life, your situation, you can make some changes. If that isn’t possible, find joy by passing it along to others. Send a plate of food to an elderly neighbor, or better yet, invite your neighbor over for dinner. Give a simple gift to someone going through a difficult time.  Call a friend that you haven’t talk to in a while.  Compliment  a stranger.  Say ‘hello’. Smile.

There are so many ways to spread joy in this world, and most of them don’t require much effort; but the joy you put out there will come back to you ten-fold.

I promise you that.

I have learned through this process to live life right now, to live the life in front of me instead of looking ahead. I mourn the things I might not live to see. I think about the anniversaries I may not celebrate with my husband, my children’s weddings I may not attend, the grandchildren I may not hold. All of those things make me sad, but I can’t dwell on what is yet to come. I can’t assume that I won’t be here to do all of those things, either. God is a wonderful God and despite what science and medicine say, He could allow me to enjoy all of those things and more. I will not know until the time comes but I refuse to let that take away from what I am here to enjoy … right now.

Often, my scans happen to be on a Thursday or Friday and I am left waiting the weekend to get the results. I have a choice. I can enjoy my weekend, every last drop of it; or, I can worry my weekend away. I can curl up on the couch and cry myself to sleep. When Monday comes, and I find out the results, I will look back on that weekend and think one of two things.  I will have wasted those days worrying for nothing because the scans were stable … or I will have wasted the last two days that I had to enjoy before that bad news came.

So, I won’t spend these 3 months worrying about my next scan. I won’t spend these 3 months worrying that it might be the last 3 months of a somewhat normal life.

I won’t spend these next 3 months crying.

I will spend these next 3 months living, the way God wants me to live. I will spend these next 3 months rejoicing in the day He has made, and not worrying about the days ahead.

It may sound crazy to some, but in a way, I am thankful for my situation.  Of course, I would love to wake up and find out that my diagnosis has gone away; but only if the lessons I have learned could remain.  It isn’t a good feeling to know that this cancer could take me away from this world much sooner than I expected, but knowing, really knowing, that my time is limited – it makes my faith stronger and makes me love harder. I wouldn’t be living my life, the way I am living it; if God hadn’t put this obstacle in my life. My eyes would not be this open and my life would not be as full.

I don’t like having cancer; but I am forever grateful that I know what I know now, that I know what I didn’t know back then.

When the time comes that I no longer have 3 months, 3 days, or even 3 minutes left on this earth, I won’t be someone who looks back with regret.  I won’t look back, knowing that I wasted time on things that didn’t matter. I will look back, knowing that I soaked up every bit of joy that God intended just for me.  I will look back, knowing that I spread joy to others whenever I could.  I will look back, knowing that I loved my family and friends so much while I was on this earth, that they will still be able to feel it even when I am gone.

God has blessed me with 3 more months.

I promise that I will make the most of these next 3 months.

How will you spend yours?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister, for whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3)