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.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Eve Before Chemo

It's the eve before chemo.  I had chemo 101 today, and judging from the emotional outburst before supper and the fork thrown across the room (no one was hurt in the process), I'd say the reality of all this is finally sinking in.  Hearing all the possible side effects today affected me. There have been tears tonight.  Tears because although cancer is in my body, I feel good, and hearing what the future weeks might entail was not fun.  The list, which includes fatigue, constipation, loss of hair, loss of appetite, and mouth sores, makes me nauseous.  But I will have three drugs at my disposal to fight the nausea I didn't list, so that is nice.

I've now had some quiet time to think and pray, and that's always good for me after those emotional outbursts.  (I just wish sometimes I 'd be quiet and think and pray before the outburst.) One of the things that crossed my mind is the verse that God keeps putting before me: Exodus 14:14.  "The Lord himself will fight for you.  Just stay calm."  (NLT)  or in the NIV "The Lord himself will fight for you.  You need only to be still."

Let me take a moment to share the story around this verse, because it's one that also has been speaking to my heart.  As God would plan it, it is the story I shared in Sunday School the week we started to pray about the possibility of cancer.  It's always been a dear story, but it is becoming even more so.

The story begins on another eve.  The eve before Israel's victory over Egypt at the Red Sea.  On this eve, Israel is in a panic.  They see the Red Sea before them.  They see wilderness beside them.  They see Pharaoh's army chasing them down.  And they have an emotional outburst.  Forks may have flown as they cry out asking Moses if there weren't enough graves in Egypt and if that isn't why he brought them to the wilderness to die.  They wish they had never left Egypt.

But Moses tells them not to be afraid.  He says if they will stand still and watch, the Lord will rescue them.  The will never again see the Egyptians they see today.  And then he shares the words of Exodus 14:14.  He also tells them that His glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops and that He will then be made known.

The rest of the story is this:  God asks Moses why they are still standing there and tells him to get the people going.  He gives Moses instructions and then His presence, in the form of a cloud, comes between the Egyptians and the Israelites.  To the Israelites it is glowing fire.  To the Egyptians it is darkness.  Moses picks up his staff and raises his hand.  God sends a wind and the waters pile up on either side of dry ground where the Israelites can walk through the Red Sea.  The Egyptians chase them.  Around dawn God causes the Egyptian army to panic and when  the Israelites are safely across,  Moses again raises his hand.  The waters stream back into place drowning the Egyptians.  When the Israelites saw God's mighty power unleashed against the Egyptians, they were in awe.  They put their faith in God and in his servant Moses.

So why am I so caught up with this story?  Well, like you have been at some time or another, I am standing between a rock and hard place or like the Israelites between the Red Sea and Egyptian chariots.  The Red Sea of chemotherapy is before me.  It doesn't look safe.  It looks overwhelming.  It doesn't look doable.  Behind me are the slave holders- the Egyptian death chariots; cancer cells.

And so God says, "Stand still and watch.  I will fight for you."  Hmmm.  Could it be that on this eve before chemo God is reminding me that He is the one fighting for me?  And could it be that His glory will be displayed and He will be made known?

Earlier today I found this video.  I really enjoy Mike Donehey's teaching videos.  He is the lead singer for Tenth Avenue North.  When I saw the title, "Fighting for You," I had to check it out.  I include it here, because although Mike gets his thinking from another favorite story, he takes this fighting thing to a different level, but one that I think still applies.

Maybe the story of the Red Sea and God fighting for us is another story to point us to Jesus, the one who came to fight for us and give us freedom from sin and Satan?  One of my favorite lines in the video is, "Imagine you are not fighting for a victory but from a victory that has already been fought for you."

That's a lot of thinking on the eve before chemo.  But I'll share one last thought.  CHEMO:  Christ Has Eradicated My Opponent

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Build your Kingdom Here

A prayer for myself and my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A month ago

It was about a month ago that I first had an inkling of what this bend in the road might include.  So far it's been a slow journey, and I'm feeling a bit like a frog that was thrown in hot water and has now acclimated to the new temperature.

It's kind of strange how you know something big is happening and yet everything seems much like it was.  So it has been a strange month and before too much time passed I wanted to share with you the devotion from New Morning Mercies by Paul Trip that I read a month ago just after the doctor's visit that suggested some of the physical experiences I might have on this journey.

February 1

Sure you'll face difficulty.  God is prying open your fingers so you let go of your dreams, rest in his comforts, and take up his call.

Think about the words penned by Peter near the beginning of his New Testament letter: "Now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it it tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

As he opens his letter, Peter gives us a past-present-future summary of God's redemptive plan, but his interest is really in what God is doing right here, right now between Christ's first and second comings.  Of all the words that he could use to describe what God is doing now, he selects these three:  grieved, trials, and tested.  These are three words that most of us hope would never describe our lives.  None of us gets up in the morning and prays, "Lord, if you love me, you will send more suffering my way today."  Rather, when we are living in the middle of difficulty, we are tempted to view it as a sign of God's unfaithfulness or inattention.

Peter, however, doesn't see moments of difficulty as objects in the way of God's plan or indication of the failure of God's plan.  No for him, they are an important part of God's plan.  Rather than being signs of his inattention, they are sure signs of the zeal of his redemptive love.  In grace, he leads you where you didn't plan to go in order to produce in you what you couldn't achieve on your own.   In these moments, he works to alter the values of your heart so that you let go of your little kingdom of one and give yourself to his kingdom of glory and grace.  (emphasis mine)

God is working right now, but not so much to give us predictable, comfortable, and pleasurable lives. He isn't so much working to transform our circumstances as he is working through hard circumstances to transform you and me.  Perhaps in hard moments, when we are tempted to wonder where God's grace is, it is grace that we are getting, but not grace in the form of a soft pillow or a cool drink.  Rather, in those moments, we are being blessed with the heart-transforming grace of difficulty because the God who loves us knows that is exactly what grace we need.  

For further study and encouragement:  James 1:2-11

I truly am amazed that at this time God would remind me that the true itinerary of this journey is not things like chemo and surgery, but rather His work to make me like His Son and bring himself praise and glory.  May His will be done and His kingdom come!