Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Weakness and Strength

I reviewed a wonderful passage in my morning reading today:

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ~ "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Now, this is a passage that I've known and held dear for a long time... but, of course, it meant that much more to me as I read it today. I was reminded that Paul's difficulty, or "thorn", not only kept him from pride; it also was a means by which God's power was displayed... and not just to Paul himself, but to those around him, too.

Paul begged God to take his "thorn" away. Can you imagine him going before the Lord in prayer time and time again asking to be done with his difficulty? Hmm... sounds like someone else I know! Yet, God's firm and repeated answer was no. Why? You'd think that the apostle Paul of all people deserved some relief... but God had other plans. He had a purpose in Paul's trial... and if he keeps saying no to me, then he's got a purpose in my trial, too. Certainly, I would love to have my "thorn" removed (don't think I haven't asked)! However, I know that God is working through it in many ways.

There's something else I remembered when I read this passage today. God's power is made perfect in my weakness. I can't even begin to express how tired I am and I still have such a long way to go through treatment. I just don't think I have the strength to do it... no, I know I don't have the strength to do it. But I think if Jesus was sitting next to me in the flesh right now, he would say it's OK for me to not be strong enough. He would take me in his arms and say it's OK for me to feel weak because that's when I can rest fully on his strength. He will be strong for me!

So, my prayer for today is not only that I will learn what I need to learn through this time; it's also that God's power will be revealed in my weakness both to me and those around me; and that I would have enough faith to simply accept being weak and rest on him to get me through. I know he can!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Still Struggling with a Funk

I've once again found myself at the end of my emotional rope. Thank God his rope has always proven to be way longer than mine!

The past few days have unexpectedly been really difficult for me... not because of the cancer or even the treatment (though I did push myself way too far physically yesterday, which didn't help matters). A totally random thing surprisingly spun me into a funk and I'm just really having a difficult time emotionally again. Certainly, I know the perspective I should have (just read my last blog)... but yet even after that, I still find my heart breaking within my chest anyway.

It seems that going through this time of trial has kicked up some things in my mind that I think I always pushed to the background before. I'm sure it has to do with the whole priority shift that happens when you receive a major diagnosis like this. I'm sure that it's all part of the emotional roller coaster, too, just the typical ups and downs. In fact, I'm sure that it's all stuff I'll learn and grow from in time... but it's still hard to go through in the moment. I want a break. I want a rest. I want all of this to finally be done and over already!

But, for today, it's not over. For today, I'm still smack in the middle of this whole thing, so I can only assume that God still has some things for me to learn through this trial. He's just not done with me yet!

When I'm down like this, I'm glad that the Lord always seems to speak to my heart in some way. He always comes through with what I need to hear - maybe not in my desired timing, but he always comes through. Today, I found a precious invitation to find my comfort in him through a song, whose lyrics were written in a book I'm reading:

I Am
by Jill Phillips

Oh gently lay your head
Upon My chest
And I will comfort you like a Mother while you rest.
The tide can change so fast
But I will stay
The same through Past, the same in Future,
Same Today.

Oh weary, tired and worn
Let out your sighs
And drop that heavy load you hold
'Cause Mine is light.
I know you through and through
There's no need to hide.
I want to show you love that is deep and high and wide.

For I am constant.
I am near.
I am peace that shatters all your secret fears.
I am holy.
I am wise.
I'm the only One, who knows your heart's desires.

Oh gently lay your head upon My chest
And I will comfort you like a Mother
While you rest.

Thank you, God, that you know the secret pains and yearnings of my heart - those things I can't even bring myself to write down or speak out loud. Thank you that you still love me deeply. Thank you that you long to be my comfort and my healer, even when I struggle to turn to you first... and thank you for pursuing me still.

Psalm 62:5 ~ "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Remember Rwanda

Seems like an odd title for a blog written by a girl with cancer, but God uses all sorts of things to speak to our hearts.

I just finished my fifth treatment this week and only have one more scheduled to go before surgery and then... more treatment. I've gotten to the point now where I've been pretty beaten down emotionally by this whole process. I'm just sick of being sick and I'm tired of constantly feeling like garbage. Right now, it feels like it's is never going to end. I was pretty bummed out about it yesterday until I happened to catch a short TV show on the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Boy, it's amazing what a little perspective will do for you! Until last night, I was your typical ignorant American (and I'm sure I'm not much better today). Other than being familiar with the country's name, I was virtually unaware of the travesties that have gone on over the years in Rwanda. As I watched the screen, my jaw dropped aghast. I saw images of churches where thousands upon thousands of people were brutally slaughtered. Blood and bullet holes still litter the meager buildings... and bones are not just scattered - they're piled up feet thick, so you can't even see the floor. Mass graves dot the landscape and many today are still reeling from the horrific event. People were not just assassinated; they were brutally tortured. In a matter of 100 days, upwards of 100,000 people were killed... simply for being part of a particular ethnic or political group. That's somewhere near 20% of the country's total population!

Unbelievable! It deadens the senses to hear something like that. It's just unimaginable that such evil could be wrought by the hands of man. But it was... and I am no fool. I know the heart of man and I know that Rwanda was not the only place where this kind of evil occurred. Worse yet, I know that things like this continue throughout the world today.

Yet, there is beauty in the story of Rwanda. There are believers. There are believers who, even in the aftermath of such tremendous loss and suffering, choose to lift their hands up to the God of heaven and praise his name. They choose to trust that he loves them, cares for them, and has a plan for them even now. What a beautiful display of the work of the Holy Spirit... that life and joy can still flow where death once ruled.

I've never been to Rwanda, but I've been to Ecuador and Haiti. I've seen and smelled poverty first hand. I care deeply for real people who live in a world where just one year of school or a simple pig costs a full year's wages... where the kind of medical technology I take for granted is unheard of. Yet, I still found myself sitting in my comfortable home yesterday, whining about how I feel.

What if I had been born in a country like Haiti or Rwanda instead of America? Where would I be today? I know a few things: I would still be in debilitating pain and I would have no means of even providing food for myself because of it. I would have no hope for the future and I would be waiting around for death to take me.

But I'm not in that position. I live in a country where freedom and medical technology abound. I have the opportunity to see a wonderful doctor who has taken the best care of me... and though the medicines make me feel sicker than I've ever felt in my life - they're working! I have hope for today and for the future. God has provided for my every need during this trial! How dare I take his blessings for granted? Shame on me...

...And shame on you, too. So many of us sit in our pristine ivory towers thinking our world is so "difficult". Is it really? Absolutely not! We forget that there is a very fine line that separates us from those tragic stories we hear about on TV - and that line is not guaranteed to us. We in America are blessed beyond imagination and we don't deserve it any more than anyone else. So, the next time you feel like complaining about having to work hard or dealing with some kind of stress or difficulty in your life, I implore you... Remember Rwanda!

A little shift in perspective would do us all a lot of good.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Life vs. Death

There’s something I’ve been wanting to get off my chest:

An interesting, yet disturbing thing seems to happen when you’re diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Death suddenly becomes a very real thing and everyone around you seems to be acutely aware of it.

Now, as I’ve learned, everyone responds to this reality in a different way. For example, some people hear the phrase “stage 4 cancer” and immediately urge family members to be sure that I have a will and funeral plans in place (as if I already have one foot firmly panted in the grave and the other on a banana peel). Others fear that their time with me may be limited and they try to cherish every passing moment. Yet others pity me and look at me like I’m a poor lost puppy with a broken leg. Still, there are those precious few friends who treat me like… me (and, oh, how thankful I am for them)!

Here’s the thing: I’m tired of focusing on cancer and death. It’s depressing! I already spend enough time feeling horrible from the medications. When I’m feeling better, all I want to do is live my life.

Besides, I’ve been thinking: Death belongs to Satan. Life belongs to Christ.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~ John 10:10

Satan would love for me to get myopic in my vision and become depressed about my circumstances. He’d love for me to stop living my life and only think about the possibility of death. Really, his end goal is for me to become purposeless and stop making an impact in this world for Christ.

Yet at the same time, my heavenly Father knows very well what my circumstances are. He’s the one who allowed them in the first place. In fact, I believe this cancer was ordained by God to accomplish his will. To that end, he is always desiring that I would be focused on life and living it to the full as he designed it! God has a plan for me… and I’m positive it doesn’t include giving in, pitying myself, and sitting around waiting to die. There are far better things I can be doing with my time.

Still, I can understand that it’s very easy to get focused on disease and death in the midst of such a major diagnosis. It would be easy to let cancer define my life and define me, but I do not believe that this is how God defines me… and if God doesn’t define me in that manner, then I certainly shouldn’t either! Sure, I’m a cancer patient. From the moment I was diagnosed, my life unalterably changed and will never be the same again. That is a fact...

…But every single day, I have a choice to make. Will I focus on my illness or will I focus on my life? Will I get self-absorbed or will I seek to bless others around me? Will I give in, give up, pity myself, and wait for death or will I choose to live life to the fullest and seek to fulfill God’s plan for my life in the midst of whatever circumstances I may be facing at the time?

That’s easy… I choose life! How about you?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Considering the Birds

As I sit in the hospital contemplating the past three weeks, I've come to realize that this past treatment cycle was the worst physically. It was also the worst emotionally... but God is good and his promise to be close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) is ever true!

After feeling horribly sick and dealing with some pretty scary symptoms during the week, I finally started to feel better by last weekend and was hopeful that this past week would be better... that is until I walked to the mailbox!

I had been told that my application for Medical Assistance was as good as approved; they just needed me and my gynecologist to complete one form. I handed that form in on Friday and on Saturday, I received a declination letter in the mail. It said I was declined for Medical Assistance due to an excess of income and and excess of resources (even though the medical bills I have already accrued far exceed my annual gross salary combined with my little bit of savings)!

Needless to say, it was the last straw for me last week. I knew that there were other options I could pursue. I knew that God knows my needs, has a plan, and wants to provide for me. Yet, so much of this journey has been so difficult! I just wanted so badly for this one thing to work out the easy way, but it seemed that would not be the case.

I decided to go sit in my new favorite location at the parsonage... the front deck. I cried for a while (I am a woman, you know), but when I finally calmed myself down and just sat there soaking in the sun and enjoying the beautiful blue sky and the tall, unusually green trees, God began to speak to my heart.

A couple of birds flew across the sky from one tree to another...

"Consider the birds," he reminded me. "They do not sow or reap. They have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them! And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?" ~ Luke 12:24-26

I looked down at my little vegetable garden...

"Consider how the lilies grow," he continued. "They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!" ~ Luke 12:27-28

My heart melted. O me of little faith! It wasn't that I had been angry at God. It wasn't that I didn't think it was going to eventually work out somehow. It was just that I wanted it to work out my way and in my timing. I was upset that it wasn't happening the way I wanted it. I was immediately convicted of my selfish and short-sighted attitude.

I know God has a purpose in all the difficulties I face. I know he wants to teach me, shape me, and reveal himself to me. My faith... my obedience was being tested in a real way. Would I trust God or would I worry and be upset?

By a sheer force of my will, I determined one thing: Every time I started to get upset, I would simply choose to consider the birds of the air instead.

- Post Script -

The ironic thing is that by this past Tuesday, I got a call saying that I actually was approved for Medical Assistance! It all hinged on that one form. I just didn't get it in soon enough because I was so sick the week before. Once my case worker had that form in hand, she was able to go back and approve my application!

I don't know yet what my coverage will be, but what a wonderful answer to prayer! What a wonderful God we serve! All along, he knew exactly what his plan was. All along, he was allowing that temporarily bad news by his sovereign plan, so he could work something even greater in me! Can you imagine what a fool I would have felt like if I had spent the weekend upset about something that only days later worked itself out with no effort on my part?!?

So, I ask you this... what is going on in your life that has you worried or upset? Remember, it all comes down to trust and obedience. Will you choose to consider the birds of the air?