Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pulling over at the rest stop- A 6 month pause

In this household, June 16th is a mighty important day.  Todd and I entered the world of parenthood with the birth of our firstborn, Ethan Porter Miller, 10 years ago.  Our son is 10! And Mama thinks that's just crazy!  He's the age of the kids she loved teaching before he was born.  Again, that's just crazy!

I suppose a lot of moms reflect a bit on their kids' birthdays.  As I decorated his cake, my thoughts also traveled to the cake I decorated for Lydia this year.  Her birthday is January 16th.  Wasn't that convenient?  I thought about her birthday and how it was that week that things took a turn in our lives.  That was the beginning of the bend of the road.  And now it is six months later.

I would like to pull into the rest stop so to speak and take a few minutes to share where we are in the journey.  Since we've already mentioned crazy things, the fact that life can be so normal again is a bit crazy when I pause now and think about it.  We have just kind of kept moving through life.  I suppose that's what one does, because there really isn't a choice.  It's funny though because what was so big back in January, now seems deceptively small.  I say deceptively, because I know that cancer is different than the flu, but really for the most part we've just accepted that this is life for now and we will live it in gratitude to God and with joy in Christ and as much normalcy as possible.

So our weeks have taken on a strange rhythm.  Sunday is filled with service and opportunities to give and share with our church family.  We take a breath at some point on Sunday too!  Monday I clean up the clutter of the weekend and regroup for the week ahead.  I like Mondays a LOT!  Tuesday Todd watches the kids, and I head for chemo.  I drink my coffee, listen to music, and try to prepare Sunday School lessons while Benadryl scrambles my thoughts.  We regather later in the day, and it's usually a good day.  For many of our Wednesdays I would head with Lydia to her school and listen to kids practice their reading.  This week, however, Ethan finishes up school and summer vacation begins.  We'll see what fun we can have on Wednesdays before Todd heads into work for the evening.  Thursday and Fridays I am "Parent on Duty".  I might be a little tired, but we pull through.  Saturdays are the hardest days I am finding.  Something seems to mess up my spirit, and it's all just a bit harder that day.  But Todd comes home from work and Sunday comes again.  Somehow or other, by God's grace, most of life gets taken care of.

I can hardly believe this is number 12 out of 16 treatments.  Many of you know how I love change, so you may not find it hard to believe that I was already thinking ahead to changes.  I think I will be happy to be done with chemo.  But you know what, I have been asking God to use me in the lives of those I meet while I get chemo, and I'm not sure I'm ready to see that window of time come to a close.  I sure would appreciate you all praying that God speaks through me some way so that He is made known in that little room.  I so want to share the reason for my joy and hope. I want them to know that God is great, awesome, and worthy of all praise and worship.  I want them to know that God loves them with a crazy love: a love that gave His perfect Son to die on a cross so that we could be made holy and blameless in His sight and adopted into His family.  I want them to know that He has the cure for their eternal sin sickness.  So, will you pray right now that God's Spirit would work in their hearts and mine?  He's already given me a love for them, but would you ask that He would guide my words and give me boldness? I would love to see God do something crazy in the four remaining weeks.  Guess I better put the rest stop behind me and get traveling!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Do you trust me?

April 22nd was a dreary, cold, spring day in Maine.  EXACTLY not the kind that I was hoping for since it was also my birthday.  It was the weekend after a chemo treatment so I wasn't sure how much celebrating I would feel up to.  My thoughtful husband kept my wishes, and so it was quiet.  Truthfully, most of it was miserable due to my own making.  The weather and my mood matched.  Here's a picture of the day:

In the morning we had a special breakfast with a friend.  Everyone sang, and I received sweet gifts of chocolate and tea from the kids, thanks to that special friend.  (I also had gone out the night before with my husband and had a great dinner together without the kids!  We crashed a jam session with some of the Alabama Singing Men who were on a mission trip to our area.  Before we had to leave to be back by curfew, we were able to worship with them and enjoy some good music.)  So why did I say it was miserable?  After reading all that it sounds pretty great!  I think it was just that after I did a craft with Lydia and spent some time with Ethan and his Legos, I was restless and wondering how we were going to fill the long day ahead of us.  I resented the cold, the gray, the not feeling 100% well, and the nagging in my heart that wanted me to reflect on past birthdays and question future ones.  Somehow we muddled through.  Ethan headed off to a friend's birthday party and so Todd, Lydia and I broke out a movie and watched Aladdin.

That's when again I was confronted by THE QUESTION.  Back when this movie came out I was a senior in high school.  I had lots of questions about the future at that time. THE QUESTION caught me off guard then, and it caught me off guard again.  I bet you will recognize THE QUESTION.  It is, "Do you trust me?"

 To my ears it wasn't Aladdin asking Jasmine to grab his hand and jump to their escape or leap onto a magic carpet.  To my ears it was God asking me, "Do you trust me to be who I say I am and to do what I say I can do?  Do you trust that my plans for you are good and that I will faithfully carry out all I have promised?"

Have you heard THE QUESTION?  What has your response been?  Saturday I ended up going to bed with THE QUESTION rattling in my heart.  Do I trust God?  Do I trust Him today when life is cloudy, cold, and life seems more like the dead of winter than the lush green of summer?  I wanted to say, "Yes, even now I trust you," but I wasn't joyful about it.  So many days I had hopefully kept my eyes on Him as we started this journey on the bend in the road.  But today it all seemed different.  I didn't like it.  I wanted it to be different.  I was full of grumbles.

The next day dawned and the sun broke through the clouds.  It warmed, and I got outside.  The weather had changed.  I still didn't feel 100%, but it was better to handle with nicer weather.  Although the clouds were out of the sky, they were still not out of my heart.  Do I trust you, God, even when the skies are NOT what I desire?  Even when I had determined to go listing gifts and looking for your good in the hard things?  Where had all that determination gone?  And even though I wanted to grit my teeth and say I trusted Him, did I really?  I continued to ponder and roll that question around in my heart.

The next day also dawned bright.  As I sat on the porch in the sun reading from the Word, God challenged me with a story of His people in Deuteronomy 1.  Moses is retelling the people their history.  He is reminding them that when they came to their Promised Land they let their eyes focus on the size of the inhabitants instead of the size of their God.

In vs 29 Moses says, "Don't be shocked or afraid of them! The Lord your God is going ahead of you.  He will fight for you, just as you saw him do in Egypt.  And you saw how the Lord your God cared for you all along the way as you traveled through the wilderness, just as a father cares for his child.  Now He has bought you to this place.

But even after all he did, you refused to trust the Lord your God, who goes before you looking for the best places to camp, guiding you with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day.

When the Lord heard your complaining, he became very angry.  So he solemnly swore, 'Not one of you from this wicked generation will live to see the good land I swore to give to your ancestors except Caleb son of Jephunneh.  He will live to see this land because he has followed the Lord completely...'"

My attention was grabbed by the words, "But even after all he did, you refused to trust the Lord your God, who goes before you looking for the best places to camp, guiding you with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day." This should be a comforting verse, and it is.  But I scratched my head a bit and turned back in my Bible to a few places.  When God lead them to the Red Sea he delivered them in a mighty way, but if my recollection was right, He then took them into the desert and they traveled for three days without water.  When they did find water, it was bitter water.  Uh-huh. There is the story in Exodus 15.  And I seemed to remember another story in which they were thirsty once again, a rock was struck, and water came out of it.  Yup.  Exodus 17.  But this verse says that God went before them looking for the best places to camp.  So were these the best places?  They didn't look like the best places from my observation.  How could all those Israelites survive without good drinking water?  But what if the best place was a thirsty place that gave them an opportunity to call out for God in faith?  What if they would have come before God and said, "We know who you are God.  We've seen you work.  You've turned water to blood.  You've parted water so we could walk on dry land.  You've overcome our enemies by waves of water.  Surely you will faithfully care for us and provide water for us to drink.  We are thirsty.  Help us by your loving, faithful, mighty hand."  I wonder what might happened if they grateful remembered and asked instead of grumbled and mumbled?

And what would happen in my life if I did the same?  When THE QUESTION looms before me because circumstances seem to speak contrary to God's nature, what will I do?  Will I keep my eye on the circumstances and grumble?  Or will I remember who God is and what He says He will do and then ask for the help I need.  God is my Father.  He gave His Son so that my life could be redeemed.  He has promised that He will be with me at all times.  He has promised that He will transform me into His image.  He has promised that He will receive glory from my life.

As the gray days of life press in I am challenged to look at them differently and ask God for help even as I trust Him.  I hope you will do the same.  I am so grateful though that He gives us bright, sunshine days as well.  Guess I need to trust Him to be the keeper of all my days, both rainy and sunny!

P.S.  Thanks to the many who wished me a happy birthday.  I really am blessed and looking back now it really wasn't a miserable day- I just felt the circumstances that day.  I am looking forward to my NEXT birthday!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Good gifts

For a while I've been pondering God's good gifts.  Daily we receive so many good gifts from God.  If you aren't in the practice, I challenge you to take time to list some of those gifts everyday.  They may be great or small- from God providing a new job or the birth of a long awaited child to the tip of bulbs popping out of the brown earth or a bed with fresh smelling sheets. If we take the time to count them we will be amazed and our hearts will overflow with praise to the Giver of those gifts.  (I can say that is a soul adjusting practice.  This round of chemo, I slipped in counting gifts. As I've picked up the pen and notebook it has been so good for my soul!)

But what happens when something happens in life, and it doesn't look like a good gift?  I mean what happens when you are handed a dented up box?  The wrapping paper is a strange color.  It looks a bit worn. You open the gift and inside is something that you weren't expecting.  It's not bright and cheery.  It's not comforting or something that brings a smile to your face.  What are your thoughts about God then?

God has been working on my heart for a number of years to challenge me to trust Him as a giver of good gifts even when the gift doesn't look so good at first.  I find that a great gift in itself!  So when we began this unexpected adventure into the realm of cancer, I knew God was going to also be teaching me more about His gift giving abilities.

And I can say He is the giver of good gifts.  Even with the brokenness of our sin cursed world, He gives us good gifts.

Here are some of the gifts I have received in the past few months:

1.  Bible passages that speak truth to my heart and call out faith deep inside.  They whisper to me who He is and His work for me.

2.  Songs which settle into deep places to fill my heart and mind with words that carry me and strengthen Biblical truths.

3. Relationships that are treasured to a new degree. I have shared words with people that are more clear and reveal more of the heart.

4.  I have met some amazing ladies in the oncology department where I go for treatment.  These nurses daily pour into people who are experiencing some pretty tough things.  They give and serve faithfully.

5.  Kindness and love flow in the form of words, gifts, helping hands to remind me that we are made in the image of one who loves and gives good gifts.  Since beginning the draft of this post I have been overwhelmed by the physical gifts sent my way.  A basket of thoughtful treats for the entire family from Todd's kind co-workers.  An early birthday gift that brought Spring's colors and scents to a soul that was starving for spring.  A bag of scarves given in loving memory of a dear friend who wore them during her battle with cancer.  Two books, one of which I have just begun, that is already speaking to parts of my soul I didn't know needed to hear these words. The thoughtfulness is overwhelming!

These are just a few of the gifts I can count.  They are also the easy to recognize gifts of this experience.  But this week, as I was already thinking along the lines of this post, God was asking me to open my thinking to include some harder to recognize gifts.  Dare I even count the brokenness as a gift?

This week I struggled a bit more with the physical side affects of the chemo.  Several times I told God that I wish this didn't have to be part of my life.  It was harder to see the good.  I disliked that I didn't feel like myself as quickly as I wanted.  I struggled with a smell that turned my stomach.  I had heartburn and a taste in my mouth that wasn't awful, but wasn't right.  They were little things compared to what some face when doing chemo, but I didn't like them and wanted them gone.  And so I have had to turn to my Father and ask Him for help.  I have asked Him to change my attitude and to give me hope that will look past these physical things so that I can endure them.  And I can tell you that He is faithful and He is at work changing me.

One of the hardest parts the past few weeks has been each week when I get chemo my mind kind of loses focus for a while.  I can read the words on a page, but they slip off my heart like it is coated with Teflon.  This affects my quiet time with God in particular, and the distance seems greater between us.  I find that my quiet time is also impacted because when the kids are occupied instead of having time to think and process I am needing to rest.  The end result leaves my soul feeling a mess.

So what is the gift in the mess?  First, I have deeper compassion for those who regularly live in the mess and don't know the God who gives true life.  I want to reach out to get to know people and to share how much God loves them and wants to give them His good gifts.   Second, I am once again more aware that although I must make choices and obey Him, His grace provides for me.  Just as I needed Him to open the way for a relationship with Him, I also need Him just as much to live each day.  I am more aware that I am not as strong as I think I am.  I am reminded that I rely on Him for everything.  And with these thoughts comes thanks and praise to Him.  And He receives glory.

I am suspicious that God has more gifts for me along the way.  And so like a child on a scavenger hunt, I am on the lookout.  I have my pen and my notebook, and I am counting away.  And as I head into a week that in some ways I was dreading, my heart takes courage because He has been so good and given me so many good gifts.  Why don't you find your own pen and notebook?

P.S.  This thinking in this post has been influenced by Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare  to Live Fully Right Where You Are.  If you are looking for something to read, I highly recommend it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Pondering Prayer

I am so thankful for the many people who are praying for my family and me.  It's a little overwhelming to think that people would lift up little ol' me before our Mighty God and ask Him to use His power to accomplish His will in our lives.  The other day Ethan saw something new in our house and asked where it came from.  I told him that it was from someone who heard about us from a friend who lives far away and that they and their church are praying for us.  Ethan asked me if someone in California is praying for us.  I shared some of the places from which I did know people were praying and I said that it was quite possible.  He was amazed, and I was thankful that he was having an opportunity to experience the bigger church body at work.

But all this has also opened the door for me to do some pondering about prayer.  I mean as I talk with the kids about prayer the first question that comes up is, "Doesn't God already know what we need?  Why do we pray?"  Followed by, "He loves us, so he's going to take care of us, right?  Why do we have to ask Him to take care of us?"  Have you pondered these questions recently?

My pondering and sharing with the kids has filled me with gratitude that God invites us to intimately share and be in relationship with Him.  Yes, He does know what we need.  But it is in the asking that the relationship becomes two sided.  I already know that my kids "need" a snack each afternoon.  But it is in the asking that we share.  I hear their preferences and sometimes they hear my heart that they pick foods that are better for their bodies.  In time this Mama hopes that they will also independently pick healthy snacks throughout their life.  I think this might be a shadow of what God desires in prayer.  I come to Him asking for healing.  He says to me, "Uh huh.  I know you need healing.  But you know it may not just be cancer you need healing from.  Maybe you need healing of idolatry of self and worshipping of independence.  How about we try this and I will take care of you."

Another aspect of prayer I have been pondering is the type of things we pray about when we gather to share requests in a group.  When I look at our Sunday School classes prayer list, I see LOTS of health issues each week.  There will also be job issues, moving/housing issues, and things connected to physical needs.  I'm glad those things are on our list.  We should be praying about them.  But I've been wondering why we so easily request and volunteer to pray about things in those realms, but so infrequently we really apply all the words of James 5:16 and pray about sins we confess.  What would happen if I confessed my sin of not loving my neighbor and asked you to pray that I would have a heart moved for them with God's love?  What if I confessed my self-centeredness in my marriage and asked you to pray that I would put my husband before myself?  What if I confessed that I struggle to pray in the way I think God would have me, and that I would like to learn the self-discipline it takes to make the same requests known every day to God?   If you prayed for these things like you prayed for my health needs, what might the impact be?  How might our relationship change?  How might my life change?

At the same time,  I think our Father delights in our dependency and when we come to Him with these big issues on behalf of another we are crying out that this is too big and we need Him.  I can't help but be reminded of the story in Mark 2:1-12 of the paralytic who was brought to Jesus by his four friends.  Jesus is in a house that is jam packed with people wanting to hear him, as well as those wanting to test him.  Four men have loaded a friend onto a pallet and brought him to the house in the hopes that Jesus will heal their friend's lame legs.  There is no way for them to get near Jesus. In their desperation they have an idea.  They climb up onto the roof, locate where they think Jesus is standing, and start tearing apart the roof.  When the hole is big enough, they lower their friend down so he is in Jesus' presence.  I think prayer might be a little like four friends carrying a pallet for a paralyzed friend.  It brings the needy into God's very presence.  What a privilege!

Jesus sees their faith in action and then gives them what they didn't come for.  He tells the paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven.  Isn't that Jesus?  He sees the real problem and give us beyond what we ask for!  Of course this riles up the Pharisees and Jesus uses the opportunity to speak to the objections in their heart.  He reminds them that this man's physical and spiritual states are both hopeless.  He can not walk on his legs.  He can not walk in purity of heart.  But for Jesus, God's Son, the one bearing all authority, nothing is impossible.  And so he heals the man's physical body to give outward testimony of the healing that He can do for the man's inner spirit.  The man, carried by the faith of friends, must now also show faith.  He stretches legs, gets up, takes up the mat, and goes home.  I imagine there are four friends walking down the road with him laughing and retelling the story all the way home.

So my friends, I thank you.  I thank you for praying, for carrying me on a mat to God.  And I thank Him for giving healing- both physical and spiritual.  May we go forth praising Him, continuing to bring our needs- both big and small, physical and spiritual to Him, and may we trust that He will give us what we need most to the glory of His name.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A lesson in Psalm 23

I am hesitant to share this post because I don't want you to think that I am not in a good place.  I am. God is faithful to walk with us through the valley and to set our feet on high places.  As I look back on the first round of chemo I would say I did well.  Yes, I had a time of not feeling well, but in comparison to my fears, it wasn't too bad.  Yes, I was anxious because of the unknown.  But I have been very well this past week.  I have done my normal activities and handled a foot a snow and as I write this I wear a smile and sparkle in my eye.  So as you read, remember I am well.  But I share, because I want to be honest about hard moments in the hope that God may use the words to speak encouragement to other hearts. 

In case you didn't know,  I can be proud at times.  (Shocker, right?)   The other week this not so pretty trait came out, and the Lord dealt with it in a tender and gracious way.  I'd like to share if you have time for a story.

The story begins with the children in our church.  God has been prompting one of the ladies teaching children's church to lead our kids in learning a passage of Scripture.  Psalm 23 was chosen.  So I found myself spending a lot of time the last few weeks thinking about how best to help kids understand Psalm 23 and also how to tuck those precious words in their hearts.

But I must make a confession.  When I think of Psalm 23 my mind calls it by an alternative title I've made up, "The Death Psalm".  My early experiences with relatives passing away always had this Psalm connected to it.  Either it was read in a service.  Or it was printed on the back of a card.  I am sure you know what I am talking about.  And so the Death Psalm rattled in my head, even as the uncertainties of what that first round of chemo would bring rattled in my stomach.  I chuckled to the Lord and thought, "Great.  You sure do have a sense of humor, Lord.  I am facing this and you want me to think about death.  Couldn't you have prompted a different Psalm?  I mean even if you wanted to talk to them about sheep could we have used Psalm 100?  It's happier."  Then the pride became even bolder.  "You aren't going to use this Psalm to speak to me.  Are you?"

Thankfully, God didn't just slap me there or say, "Nope.  I'm not going to talk with you.  Not now.  Not ever."  Instead he helped me organize a disastrous lesson.  I say disastrous only because as I studied the Psalm and facts about sheep and their shepherds there was so much to share with the kids.  So much that spoke to my heart about how needy we as people are for God to care for us, provide for us, and guide us.  And of course when I say we, God was speaking to ME about MY NEED for Him and His promise to provide.  The lesson was a little heavy on facts and less on the movement needed for young bodies.  We took a long time searching for lost sheep that were bearing our facts, so we never got to the cool game that came after sharing our facts and talking about how they might help us understand Psalm 23 better.  But again, God is kind, because the next week their wonderful teacher took another look at the Psalm and started planting the seeds of it in their hearts and minds.  And then I had the opportunity this week for a take two and was able to play the cool game and witness them learning these words and thinking about how they might apply to them.  He is speaking and we are listening.

But I want to take you one more layer into the story to where this really applies to me.  See Wednesday night after my chemo, I woke in the middle of the night and I didn't feel well. Fear gripped me.  It gripped me in a way I hadn't experienced before.  I wouldn't go so far to say it was a shadow of death fear, but it was a dark valley fear.  And I cried.  I wish I could say I cried out to the Shepherd and immediately had my fears turned to faith.  I cried feeling my weakness and my need.  I cried feeling the thinness of health.  I cried to my husband for help in managing the physical unwellness and for reassurance that I was not alone and for encouragement that I could handle this.  There's nothing wrong in crying to my husband, but I must confess I wish my first reaction would have been to cry to my Shepherd and to focus on these words and to walk in confidence.  I wish I could have felt as confident about how God was using this to bring glory to His name, to mold me in His image, and for good.  I doubted.  I feared.

With the turning of the night's darkness into light also came the turning of my focus back to the Shepherd.  And in a few days I found myself looking at the words of Psalm 23 with new understanding and a humbled heart.  I resolved to turn to these words next time and to let them carry me to the arms of the Shepherd.  I began to think of them not so much as the Death Psalm, but as the Abundant Life Psalm that goes along with the Good Shepherd of John 10.  And I spent some time worshipping the Good Shepherd who has authority over all things, including this little lamb's life.

If you haven't read Psalm 23 recently, take a moment to do so.  Maybe there is something there that He wants to speak to you about.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Checking In

I am longing to spend some time writing in this little corner of the world.  So many thoughts I want to share and work out as I write.  But I wanted to check in to assure you that I am well.  God is good and life is full!  This week brought another big snow storm.  Oh, the lessons in snowflakes!  So free time has been sparse.  There are posts brewing, so when I get a chance I'll spend some time putting them into words to share.  Again, thank you for the encouragement so many of you have shared, particularly in encouraging me to write here.  I truly believe that God is working and using this bend in the road for things far beyond my imagination!  I leave you with a thought that a friend shared with me.

And because of another friend's experience, I add, "So bloom where you are planted!"

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Some thoughts for when we hear what we didn't really want to hear.

Yesterday I got a phone call with the results to my last biopsy.  It was decided to check out my lymph nodes on the other side to see if any thing was going on over there.  The expectation was that the biopsy was overkill and would be negative.  But I wasn't surprised when the results came back that cancer was also found in this area.  The good news to remember is that the CT Scan did not show cancer anywhere else.  The bad news is that I have cancer affecting both sides of my body in different ways.  The good news is that we have begun an aggressive treatment that will do its best to take out any little cancer cells trying to grow in other places.  It also means that treatment down the road may need to include a bit more, but it's better to know now.

Part of me was calm when hearing the news.  Part of me was sad.  Part of me began to dread what could be waiting down the road for us in a few years.  Part of was at peace.

So, all that being said this morning I asked if God would spend time some time with me and make His words heard in my heart.  It was so kind of him to do so!  I would like to share with you the words that I read when I opened my devotional.  "Yes, your life is messy and hard, but that's not a failure of the plan;  it is the plan.  It's God working to complete what he's begun in you."  (Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies).

There is such comfort in knowing that this isn't a surprise to Him, but rather a method that He has seen fit to allow to bring me into His image and to draw others to Him.  There are things in your life today that are messy and hard.  There are strained relationships.  There are kids that are literally messy and the mess is overwhelming you.  There are fears.  There are broken dreams.  There are schedules that squeeze and threaten to swallow the joy out of us.  There are silences that are unbearable and answers that don't come.  There is loneliness and loss.  There is pain.  And in those things God is so present.  He is at work.  And there is hope.

My reading in that devotion took me to Psalm 66.  I'll include part of it here, but it's well worth the time to check out the entire Psalm.

Come and listen, all you who fear God,
    and I will tell you what he did for me.
17 For I cried out to him for help,
    praising him as I spoke.
18 If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened.
19 But God did listen!
    He paid attention to my prayer.
20 Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer
    or withdraw his unfailing love from me.

Psalm 66:16-20

I hope I don't wear you out telling you what He does for me, because I plan on sharing!  I am also thankful for His BEST answers to our prayers and His unfailing love.

I leave you with another song.  Love, love, love this song!  (Can't wait for my birthday when my husband is going to give me the whole CD- HINT, HINT, HINT, TODD!)  May you find Him in the midst of your circumstances and may we praise Him even when we don't see the cure or even when we don't see His face.  He will carry us.