This Side of Surgery

What an interesting week it has been! I remember last weekend wondering how the week would go…wondering what my thoughts would be when I got to this weekend.

So, here I am. I made it through. The girls are gone. My front looks just like my back. It’s a little tricky to figure out if I am coming or going by just glancing at my torso!

The lymph nodes are clear. There is still one more lymph node hoop to jump through. That will be the final report that we will get in a couple of weeks. The fact that the sentinel node was clear is huge, but we will not be completely positive until the final report. My sweet little friend Lucy cried tears of joy when she got the news. Her dad sent a video of him telling them about the surgery. So precious.

I am doing great! The recovery has not been at all what I expected. I assumed I would be bedridden for at least a week, and would require help to get in and out of the bed. It hasn’t been that way at all. I was up the first day, and have not had any issues getting around. I am very sore, but no pain. And any pain that I have had has been quite adequately managed by the lovely pain meds that my doctor prescribed!

I even went to a movie yesterday! Yep…wouldn’t have thought that would have happened a week ago.

For those of you furrowing your brows afraid that I am overdoing, please know that I have several really good (and sometimes fierce) watchdogs taking care of me.🙂 I am being smart. Resting when I need to. I am doing what I feel like, which is what the doctor instructed.

This post will be a brief compared to most of my posts, because sitting and typing is still a little challenging. I do, however, want to take a moment thank you for your prayers for me over the past week. The strength and the peace that I have felt through every step has been amazing. I felt your love and concern and I am blessed beyond words by it.

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of Keith’s death. Yesterday morning I sat in the quiet and pondered that day. I also thought about where I find myself now. Life is tricky sometimes. As I leave you today, I want to share a scripture that I keep by my desk.

“We who have fled to Him for refuge can have a great confidence as we hold to hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” Hebrews 6:18-19

I am so thankful for that anchor.

Blessings, my friends!

Prayer Primer

Webster defines “primer” as “a short informative piece of writing.” That’s what this is. A chat about prayer. However it could be titled, “Things I learned about prayer from an 8 year old.”

Over the past few weeks (since the news of my cancer has hit the big screen), I have had literally hundreds of people contact me pledging their prayer support. I am thankful and blessed by each person, and overwhelmed that I am surrounded by such a great community of faith.

When I started this journey I promised to write about things I notice along the way. This week I learned something about prayer that I want to chat about. And I learned it from an 8 year old.

I think a lot of times we church folks have used the term, “I’m praying for you,” as a substitute phrase for “Bless your heart,” or “You are special to me.” I know I have been guilty of this. We say the words with every good intent, but then it never seems to happen. The intent replaces the action. The needs around us are so great, and to take every one of them to the throne of the Father is overwhelming. I hope that doesn’t sound cynical, and I don’t want you all to start sending me messages of , “I REALLY AM praying for you!” That’s not the point of this. This has nothing to do with your pledge to pray for me. It’s about what I learned about ME this week.

I have several young families in my life right now. This week two of these fun families were at my house swimming and eating pizza. We had 4 adults and 8 kids laughing and playing and swimming. We were nearing the end of the day when I found myself on the lanai with one of the little girls and her dad. Lucy is the 3rd of 6 kids, so their house is always full of life. This was a quiet moment among an otherwise activity filled day!

Lucy’s dad was asking about my plans and the surgery. Lucy was just sitting and listening. Her dad is a pastor, and he always asks how I am doing. My heart. You know, the scary stuff. The “how-you-doing-since-you-have-cancer-and-your-husband-died-from-cancer” stuff. Those are my words, not his. But it is always just below the surface for me.

At some point in the conversation I used the words, “breast cancer.” At that moment, Lucy gasped and said, “You have breast cancer?” I panicked a little because I wasn’t sure what her history with cancer was. Her dad reminded her that her grandmother had been through the same thing and is doing well.

Here’s where it gets good.

She looked at me and said, “I will pray for you.” I smiled and thanked her. Then she frowned a little and said, “But what’s a ‘breast?’”

Her dad explained.

“Okay,” she said. “I will pray for you.”

“Thank you, Lucy,” I replied. “And I will pray for you.”

“Why?” she said, “I don’t have anything wrong right now.”

It was at that point I knew we had moved from the casual phrase of “I’m prayin’ for ya” to a genuine conversation about things we were going to talk with the Father about. I told her that I wanted to pray for her as she was growing up and as she chose her friends. I told her that I wanted to pray for the friends that she would have in high school, as those friends would be some of the most influential in her life.

“Oh,” she said “okay.”

“Lucy,” I said, “Here’s something I want you to pray about. Pray for my lymph nodes that they will be clear when they do the surgery.”

“Lymph nodes,” she repeated. “I will.”

At that point the rest of the crew joined on the lanai and the moment of quiet was filled with laughing and energy.

I was talking with her father the next day about how sweet that exchange was and what a special young lady she is. “Yeah,” he said, “She’s pretty wonderful. So heartfelt and sincere. She came out of her bed last night to ask me about the word lymph node because she wanted to pray for the right thing.”

It brought me to tears. This sweet little girl wanted to get the right words to talk with the Creator of the Universe about me.

And I am sure the He listened.

I have learned so much from this simple little encounter with my young friend. She really takes the privilege of prayer seriously. When she promises prayer, she means it. And she wants to ask for the right thing. Sure, she could have just said, “that thing Lee Ann said,” and I’m sure God would have understood, but she was attentive to the detail of my needs. So precious.

I want to pray like Lucy does. When I promise prayer for a friend, I want to do what I’ve promised. I want to hit my knees and take their specific needs to the Father.

I am so thankful that so many of you out there reading this are that kind of prayer warrior. I know you are praying for me and that means more to me than anything.

Surgery is 2 weeks from Monday. Right now it is scheduled for 10:45 am on July 11. Please join Lucy in praying about those lymph nodes!!

Blessings, my friends!

Anticipatory Love 2

As I continue to walk this cancer road, I am amazed to see the way God has moved ahead of me, working out details and moving people into my life for such a time as this. I wrote a post on this two years ago. And as weird as it is, I’m going to quote myself here. Stay with me, because I think you will see quite clearly where I am headed with this.

So…I’m not sure…when you quote yourself are you supposed to use quotation marks? That’s a weird one. Ha! Well, as awkward as it is, here’s what I wrote about the anticipatory love of God in January 2014:

I guess some would call it provision, but to me it is more than that. He pulls people and events in to partner with Him in such an artful, creative, magnificent way. So many times we merely look at the tapestry from the underside, seeing all the strings and disorder.  But on those days, those marvelous days, when we have a glimpse of the beautiful tapestry that He is weaving of our lives we find it amazing and breathtaking.  All of those colorful, random strings of people and events come together to form a masterpiece.  His masterpiece. You. Me.

If you look at the definition of anticipation, there is always excitement involved. How incredible is it that God works with excited anticipation of the things ahead for us, putting people and plans together so it will come together at just the right moment.  Here’s the thing. If I am hungry, God could provide a loaf of bread. I would eat it and no longer be hungry. Done. Provision given. Hunger removed. Sometimes that’s what he does. But my experience has been that more often than that He uses His people to move in and out of each other’s lives to meet needs – providing bread, providing comfort, providing laughter and beauty along the way.  He carefully orchestrates each step. But here’s the amazing part – He begins that plan way before the event happens, putting the players in place and filling them with His power and anointing.

I have an image of a great artist bending over his canvas putting swaths of color here and there – working in what appears to be randomness until finally, at one awesome moment, the colors come together and form the thing of beauty that he imagined it to be. Friends, how awesome it is that he allows us to be a part of his palate! A life yielded to him absolutely becomes a thing of beauty in his hands.

I have several friends that are walking through difficult days right now. While the circumstances and events of their lives are challenging – illness, job loss, depression – what is amazing to me is the way God is using these people in the midst of their pain to accomplish his work. One of these friends is facing a cancer battle. This sweet friend absolutely walked me through my first two years of widowhood after losing Keith. She prayed for me and held me up when I couldn’t take another step. Now, I have been given the precious task of gently walking with her on this cancer road.  And here’s the amazing thing: she and I became friends 35 years ago when we were both college students. That is amazing to me that even 35 years ago God was looking at us and saying, ‘These gals are gonna need each other in a few years. I need to be sure they find each other now.’ That’s the anticipatory love of God.”

So, here I am. One of those people now walking through difficult days. The friend that I mentioned with cancer? Yep. It was breast cancer. So now she is walking with me through this. God’s anticipatory love.

I am seeing the tapestry from the top these days. I am seeing how God has been at work in the background moving people into my life for such a time as this. And it is awesome.

I have been completely overwhelmed by the texts and notes and emails from everyone. As we have done life together all of these years God was preparing us to walk this together. I recognize that and I am so thankful.

We have a surgery date. The surgery will be on July 11 at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. Right now the surgery is scheduled for 10:45 am. Prayer request right now would be for the lymph nodes to be clear. As long as that’s the case, the surgery should take care of the cancer.

I find it a little interesting that 5 years after Keith’s last week of life I will be having cancer surgery. That’s the ebb and flow of life, though. And my friends, I can assure you that God is there through each step.

I am spending a lot of time with this passage right now. It is my anchor. I want to leave it with you tonight.

I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:9-10

Blessings, my friends!

Back on a Familiar Road

I really can’t believe it has been over a year since I have written here. Life has been moving at warp speed in the past year. My business, Design373, has exploded. I have added several employees, including a full time Art Director. We are a team of 9 working with 10 different churches now doing web work and external marketing for them. You can see what we do at http://www.design373.com. The Lord has blessed beyond measure. I am truly living a call that I experienced when Keith and I were in seminary 30 years ago, and loving every minute of it!

I am sure you are wondering what has pulled me out of blog retirement. I wish I could say it was a fabulous trip that I wanted to journey with you on. This time, however, it is a little less glamorous, and a lot less fun.

I chose the title, “Back on a Familiar Road,” because that’s where I find myself these days. The familiar road is that of cancer.

A little over a month ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Wow. I heard that collective gasp. Hang with me here. While this is very serious, it has been discovered very early. I am a textbook case for why women should have mammograms. But, of course, I am also an anomaly, because I have cancer in both breasts, and each one is different. I have been told that this is rare, and I told my doctor, “Yeah. That’s how we do cancer at my house!”

So here’s what it is…on the left side I have a cancerous lesion that is completely contained (or in situ). For a little while it was thought that was all we were dealing with. We all cheered and were talking about a lumpectomy that was going to be just a little more than scooping it out with an ice cream scoop. THEN the doctors saw an “area” on the right side that concerned them. After an MRI guided biopsy (which was no fun until they gave me Valium), they found out that the right side has invasive cancer. That changed everything.

Last week I began my journey with Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. I have a great surgeon and wonderful people walking me along. It looks like I’m going to have a double mastectomy. I am not sure when, but because the cancer on the right side is Stage 2 and moderately aggressive, it will probably be pretty soon. So, I’m gonna be saying good bye to the girls, which is fine since they have turned on me.

The surgeon is not sure if there will be chemo after the surgery. That will depend on the lymph nodes, from what I understand.

So…as I begin this journey, there are a few things that I want to share. First, I am aware of and very comfortable with the fact that this is part of God’s plan for me.

In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus says this, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

I read a devotional that a friend sent to me shortly after they found the first cancer that used this verse. In it, the writer noted that our heavenly Father is the giver of all good gifts. Everything that comes our way, comes from the loving and protective hands of our Father who has preordained it for our good and His glory. If this is true, then the next logical question will be, “Are you saying that your cancer is good?” and I would say, “Yes and no.”

He said, “If we define ‘good’ as only the things that we want and desire, we will miss out on the beauty of the gospel and live lives devoid of the “joy” we see in Jesus, as He approaches the cross. (Hebrews 12:2).”

I want to keep the perspective of God’s goodness at work, even in sufferings. I think by doing that the joy will be tangible and there will be many opportunities to share with those around why there is joy in the midst of something seemingly so “bad.”

So here’s the thing…I want to walk this well. I want to look for the places of ministry that are mine and be sensitive to what God has for me to do. I’m pretty sure the only way to get into the inner workings of a cancer hospital is to have cancer, and I think there is work for the Kingdom to be done there. There are a lot of hopeless people in the halls of cancer hospitals. So here I go!

It is going to be painful and difficult, but exciting and interesting, too. I know I’m a little warped. There’s nothing about cancer that is exciting. Unless you truly grasp that it is God’s plan for me. That means we are in it together.

Perhaps the most difficult part of this has been walking it without Keith. It’s like running a marathon with one leg. I have a host of people gathered around me holding me up, but that leg is still missing. Somehow I think he is close, though. My kids are also doing okay with this, and have already started planning my life after surgery. I had to remind them the other day that I would sort of like a vote!

I would love for you to walk this with me. I will be writing here each week about things that I notice along the way, and stories of my journey. I will share the post on Facebook, but if you want to be sure you don’t miss any, please subscribe to the blog in the upper left corner, and you will receive a notification when I write. Feel free to share the posts with anyone you like.

In closing, I have a few thoughts:

  1. This cancer is very survivable, and that’s exactly what I plan to do.
  1. I want to ask for your prayers. Of course I want you to pray for healing, but that’s not the most important thing. Pray for me to complete whatever plan this is that God has for me. As I move forward I will put specific requests here and for sure would like you all to be praying during the surgery.
  1. Design373 is moving full speed ahead. My leadership team is stepping in and will pick up any slack that my absence will cause. I am grateful beyond words for Doug Reid, Jennifer Speer and Nathan Gaddis.
  1. I’ll try not to be this verbose on future posts, but those who have followed my blog before know there is no guarantee, especially if I meet interesting people!

We sang this at church yesterday. I wanted to share it in closing.

I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased and that I’m never alone

You’re a Good, Good Father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are

And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we’re all searching for answers only you provide
Cause you know just what we need before we say a word

Oh, it’s love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think

You’re a Good, Good Father

 

Thanks for your interest and concern.

Blessings, my friends!

Land Ho!

Today is our last day at sea before we arrive in Europe. As I told you the first day, this has been my sabbatical. It has been a precious time of thinking, writing, praying and reading. There were several days that I didn’t even venture out of my room (except for coffee) until late afternoon. It has been marvelous and I thank you for journeying with me.

The sea is like glass today. So smooth. I’m fighting sadness that this part of my journey is over. I have loved the sea days!

Tomorrow starts the vacation part of the trip. We dock in Portugal at 10 am. I’m taking a shore excursion, but I couldn’t tell you right now what we are doing! Anyway, I won’t be writing as much. But probably will have to post at least one more time to give you a trip update!

Thank you so much for all the kind messages and emails about yesterday’s post. I absolutely loved hearing from those who are traveling this road. Some that contacted me I have never met, but they were referred to the blog by a friend.

I have a couple of interesting ship stories as I get into today’s post. First of all…an update on the knitting club. As I walked through today, I realized that the elderly gent that was knitting with the hot pick yarn had finished his project….a hot pink beer cozy! Shows that some things aren’t always what they seem!

I had an interesting encounter yesterday with Aisha in the spa. She is the nail tech that gave me a manicure. She is a beautiful young woman from Jamaica. When she found out I was traveling alone she said, “I need to learn to be comfortable being alone.” Sort of a theme for me from yesterday, right? This opened the door for her to share her story with me. When she found out I was a Christian, she told me she was, too, and asked me to pray for her. “I will,” I said. “What will you pray?” she asked. I said, “I will pray for wisdom and guidance for you.” She smiled and thanked me. As I left I gave her the name of the blog and told her to read the post on aloneness. I encouraged her to realize that by having Christ in her heart she was never alone. It was definitely a divine appointment. And Aisha…if you are reading this today, I did pray for you about the things we talked about!

Okay. To the main story of the day. This is how I know the Lord has a sense of humor with me.

Somehow because of the time change I managed to miss all the eating times yesterday. There was food available, but I decided to just wait and go to dinner. It was formal night and they always have good food on formal night in the dining room. I am doing the select dining, which means I can show up whenever and eat, just will have a different table each time. I told the Maitre’d that I was fine sharing a table. I assumed I would be at a large table with several couples. But when he seated me, I was seated at a table for two with a woman named Kathleen.

Kathleen is 68 years old and has been a widow for 14 years. She is from Texas. Makes wedding cakes. She travels a lot, always by herself. All was going well with our dinner. Conversation was light. I hadn’t brought up anything about my faith. Then she started telling me the story of her inner god that directs her and speaks to her. She is a member of the Unity church, and is a hypnotherapist and herbalist. She told me that when her husband died (an oil man in Texas) she knew he had money hidden, and her inner god had told her that she needed to write the Pope for papal intervention. She did. She didn’t hear back from the Pope. Then she told me that her inner god told her to take this trip on this ship and she would find her husband’s money in Venice. So she’s taking a train around Italy , ending up in Venice with the belief that when she gets there her inner god will instruct her as to what to do. She also told me that she had a dream about a white book with gold letters, and was told that the contents of the book were going to be dispersed to her over the next few years. Sort of a cosmic download.

She talked about conversations that she has had with her dead husband.

You need to realize that Kathleen is a very attractive, well spoken, intelligent woman. She doesn’t come across as some sort of weirdo.

This was my first experience with someone who is truly immersed in New Age thinking. She spoke of Jesus, but only in the context that he taught what the prophets of all the other religions taught. To love people. (Yes. I see the irony from my earlier post this week). She told me that her instruction to come on this trip had come from Romans 23. I thought, hmmm…I need to read that. Yeah. Romans only has 16 chapters.

Of course I spoke of my faith, and she completely agreed with it. Acted as though we were talking about the same thing. Remember this is a formal dinner. 5 courses. Lasted 2 hours. A very LONG 2 hours. She tried to talk me into staying in Rome and going on the train trip with her. I politely declined.

She told me she believed it was ordained that we sit together last night. Me too, but for probably different reasons than her.

Here’s the thing…as I have thought about the Kathleen conversation, I was reminded how important it is that we know what we believe. So many of the things that she said were just slightly off. Many of them were way off, but she said them with such fervor that it made you want to hear more.

I thought about my own life. I have had some intense encounters with the Lord. Intense prayer times where I know I heard his voice. I have had dreams that I believe came from him. But last night’s dinner reminded me that these things are very, very personal to the believer. If I try to tell them to someone else it would come across as craziness. And could hurt the cause of the Kingdom.

As I think about Kathleen and her piecemealed, cafeteria style, pseudo religion, I am reminded of the words of Christ in Matthew 7:13-15:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

Guard your heart. Know what you believe and why. Always be ready to give an account for the cause of Christ. Study everyday. Seek out truth. As Paul says in Ephesians 6 –

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Ephesians 6:13-18 (NLT)

Blessings, my friends!

Aloneness

One more day until we arrive in Europe. The weather is still pretty, but there is a definite chill in the air. They have added blankets to the beach towels on deck for those that want to bundle up and read. It’s nice. Like going from mid summer back to early spring. You can tell the passengers are getting a little restless. I am seeing lots of card playing and there’s even an impromptu knitting group that meets in one of the lounges. I see them every morning when I walk through to get coffee. I especially love the 70+ man who is knitting something with hot pink yarn. I want to cheer for him every morning when I walk through but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t appreciate it. It’s interesting to me how people tend to build community wherever they are.

Okay. Today I think this post is going to be a tough one. I have really argued with the Lord about it, but he has gracefully reminded me that the subject of my post on Monday was authenticity, so I think there is no getting around it. I’ve got to talk with you a little about my life as a widow.

So here you go. Authentic me.

Since Keith’s death in 2011, I have found myself with a ministry and a voice that I never wanted. That of cancer and widowhood. I didn’t fill out the card for this one. Didn’t take the spiritual gifts test and get assigned it. Nope. I fought it for a long while, because I really didn’t want that ministry. I was sure the Lord would find something a little more suitable for me to do. But then I realized that whether I liked it or not, this ministry was one I was perfectly suited for.

As I have worked with and talked with widows and widowers across the country, there is one thing that we all have to deal with. Aloneness. I’m not talking about loneliness. I am rarely, if ever, lonely. I have a group of fabulous friends and family who love me, pray for me, check on me, have lunch with me, go on trips with me and genuinely do life with me.

Nope. This is aloneness. It’s knowing that ultimately I am traveling this road by myself, without a partner.

With each person that I talk with, when I mention this they say, “Yes! That’s it!” Even when the pain of the death and loss has eased, and the memories make us smile instead of cry, the aloneness is still there.

Okay…see? Here’s why I didn’t want to write about this. I hear you. That collective, “Awww. That makes me sad.” I see your furrowed brows. Please know that I am not writing this for you to feel sorry for me or to fix it. And I am certainly not writing for you to find me a boyfriend! Heavens no!

I just want you to understand. This widow thing is sort of my thing now, and I want to speak for us.

My being a widow has opened up a lot of doors for ministry for me. One of these is with a young woman who lost her husband tragically last year. We have had many discussions about people and how they want to be the ones to say just the right thing to fix it. To make the pain go away. But you can’t. As much as you love us, and as much as you want to help, you can’t fix this one. Because the reality is that we ARE alone.

I know people who couldn’t handle this part and jumped into another relationship quickly. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. I am determined to walk the path that the Lord has for me today. And today I am alone. And it is good.

There is a vast difference between depression and aloneness. If your friend is depressed, there are things that can be done. Medicines that will help. People to talk to. Aloneness is a state of being. Depression is an overwhelming sadness. A heavy mantle that can’t be lifted without help. As one travels with aloneness they learn to navigate the things of life by themselves. Sometimes it stinks. Other times it’s marvelous.

I am a small business owner. Alone. Sure I have two great employees, an awesome accountant, and a wealth of great business advisors, but this business rises and falls on me. And that’s okay.

I am on a transatlantic cruise by myself. Alone. It’s one of the greatest things I have ever done. But I am alone, and that’s okay. REALLY okay.

So what’s the point?

If you have a friend that has lost their spouse, you can’t fix the aloneness. And that’s probably what you are seeing when they are sad and try to verbalize what they are feeling. Lots of things can set it off…having to check “single” on a form for the first time, a familiar place or activity that they hadn’t thought about in a long time, a smell, a memory. Having to make an important decision about their future.

I have a friend who is walking this path with another friend who lost her husband last year. She told me that her friend had a bad church experience as a young woman, and when her husband died she became bitter and angry toward God. That is a tough one. She will not open her heart to even talk about spiritual things, and her grief is consuming her.

I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago called, “When God is Silent.” It’s still here. You may want to read it. It is about my journey the week after Keith’s death when I questioned the very existence of God. I didn’t just question his love for me. I wondered if it was all a myth and Keith was just gone. I obviously came out of that darkness. I made the decision that I was going to trust God. I was going to move forward. I decided to believe. And I have never looked back.

Accepting the aloneness is key. Understanding that the God of the Universe walks beside you is paramount. As I shared in the other blog post, one of my favorite scripture stories is that of Elijah found in I Kings 18 & 19.  He had witnessed the power of God displayed in a miraculous way before the prophets of Baal.  In fact, he had witnessed many of these great works of God as recorded in I Kings.  But I Kings 19 finds him hiding in a cave, fearing for his life, whining that he is the only believer left and feeling REALLY sorry for himself that he is alone. This is the scripture that I love:

But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.     I Kings 19:9-12

I know that gentle whisper. It dispels the aloneness. It provides strength and guidance and joy. It provides companionship.

I love this path that I am on. I trust the One who set me on this path and walks with me on it. Aloneness is okay. In fact, for me it is good.

Thanks for listening. For all you widows and widowers and divorcees and singles and even those just feeling alone today, this is what I want to leave with you:

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.  Ephesians 3:16-21

Blessings, my friends!

Cooperation

Today is a beautiful day at sea! The Atlantic is calm. There is a light breeze, and the sky is full of huge puffy clouds. The only negative to this whole crossing the world voyage is how they do the time change. Apparently Europe is 6 hrs different in time from my beloved Eastern time zone, so we have been adding an hour per night. We are at 4 now. So, as I write this it is 11:30 am ship time, but 7:30 am where most of you (and my body clock) are. I’m trying to adjust!

Today I am going to write about a theme that has been recurring in my life in one way or another over the past year or so. Cooperation. You know…working together to accomplish a goal. In the past I have not been that great at it. I mean, yeah…I’ve served on teams where we worked together to accomplish something. But I was happiest when they all worked together to accomplish MY goal.

But this year I have been challenged with the concept of cooperating with God. The pastor of my “adopted” church, Mark Alt, spoke on this a couple of months ago, and it has really stayed with me. God invites us to cooperate with him in the work that he is doing here. And the funny thing is that we sometimes have no idea what it is that he is working to accomplish.

Let me explain. If we are walking with the Lord, there are times when he asks us to do things. Sometimes little things. Sometimes big things. Sometimes things that seem to make no sense at all. But my experience over the past year has been that by cooperating with him and doing what he asks, the most amazing things can happen. But usually not immediately. You have to journey down the road a little before the pieces start coming together. And the really cool thing is that he is also working in the lives of other people at the same time, inviting them to take part in this great masterpiece that he is creating. By us all cooperating together in what he is asking his task is accomplished.

It’s happened to me through my life and ministry. People respond to God’s prompting. They cooperate with him and my life is affected. It is an amazing, wonderful journey of grace.

Oh, sure…he doesn’t have to include us in his creation process. He could snap his fingers and make it all happen. But he chooses to involve us, if we are willing to walk with him.

I read Isaiah 40 today. Such a powerful chapter. But I saw something new today. I usually really want to focus on the last part of the chapter that talks about mounting up on the wings of eagles. But today I noticed something in the last part of v. 28 and v. 29:  No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.

I think one of the ways that he gives strength to the powerless is by allowing us to cooperate in his great redemptive work. He sees all the puzzle pieces laid out before him, and says, “I think Lee Ann should pick up this one.” It may take awhile before the puzzle is complete, but by us all being obedient to pick up the pieces, his work is accomplished and we have grown.

And sometimes we never see the completed puzzle.

I hope all of this makes sense. There’s no Jesus in flowered swim trunks in this one, but my thoughts for today are definitely a continuation of my thoughts from yesterday…being obedient in the things that God says are ours to do can make a difference in the Kingdom.

What is it that God is asking you to do today? Trust him. Do it. Join him in his creative process!

Blessings, my friends!

Authenticity

As you can imagine, I’ve had a lot of time to think on the trip. I guess that’s good and bad. Sometimes my mind can be a scary place to be. As you are about to find out. This latest offering started forming yesterday, and I tried to squelch it, but that’s not happening, so bear with me. The original working title of this post was going to be “If Jesus Wore Flowered Swim Trunks,” but I decided that might be a little too sensational. I’m not really sure where all we are headed, but stay with me till the end!

It all started when I read a post that a friend of mine had written to another friend. This was in a private group. The purpose of the post is not important here, but what she said really stayed with me. She said, It occurred to me one evening that if Jesus walked the Earth right now, He might prefer hanging with my lesbian sister and her authentic, loyal, God-fearing, friends than me and my Bible Study women…I’m not saying he would support their life choices but He would certainly enjoy His time. I would love to be a fly on the wall so I could learn how to navigate these cultural and familial waters.”

You know, Jesus wasn’t real big on religious types. He went to those who needed His message, not to the rule followers. When asked about the greatest commandment, he said in Matthew 22: 37-40 – “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Please notice that the verses leading up to this statement show us that the person asking the question was not someone interested in the teaching of Jesus. Nope. It was a religious type. An “expert” in religious law who was trying to trap him. (v. 35) A rule follower.

Don’t miss v. 40. My paraphrase… If you love God with all your heart and love your neighbor purely, then the importance of the rules and regulations will fade. It will all fall into place if you are doing the first two. My takeaway from this verse: He was looking for authenticity. True followers and true lovers of people.

Okay, so, yesterday I’m sitting on the deck looking at all the folks around me and wondering where Jesus would be if he were there. (I warned you about my brain.) I pictured him sitting across from me talking with a couple in their mid 60s. He had on his long white robe with the blue sash. Then I decided that didn’t work. He wouldn’t be that obvious. So I erased that and put him in flowered swim trunks and a white tank top. And I pulled his hair back into a ponytail. And he was holding a Corona. (Woah…I heard that collective gasp. Okay…the Corona has been replaced with a glass of wine. C’mon…he changed water into wine!)

Anyway, I watched in my mind’s eye as he talked with these folks. He leaned toward them and listened to them. He laughed with them. He kept eye contact with them as they talked with him. He loved them. You could tell that he loved them even though he had just met them. It wasn’t important if they were gay or straight, married or living together, if they loved him or not, or what baggage from bad church experiences they had. He just loved them.

Then he stood and walked toward me. There was an empty chair next to me and I was pretty sure he would sit and visit with me for awhile. You know, talk about ministry and prayer and my awesome Christian blog and stuff. But no, he sat on the end of the lounge chair, looked at me, then looked out at all the people on deck, and said, “There is a lot to do.” Then he got up and walked away.

I snapped back to reality and chuckled at what a crazy place my imagination is. Jesus in flowered swim trunks. Really. I leaned back to soak up some rays. Then something happened. SPLAT! I looked up and the woman that Jesus had been talking to in my imagination had fallen. I mean in reality had fallen. Flat on her face. Right at the end of my chair. Her husband was trying to help her up. Without thinking I jumped up and grabbed her from the other side. I helped her up and put my arm around her and rubbed her back. “Are you okay?” I asked. “Yes,” she said in a British accent. I could tell she was mortified. I said, “Oh this has happened to me before. I know it hurts our pride, but I’m so glad you are okay.” She smiled and thanked me.

I went back to my chair. For a moment I thought I saw ponytailed, flowered swim trunk Jesus smiling. So I asked, “Okay. I loved that woman…my neighbor. I helped her. But what does that mean? How does that affect the Kingdom? She still has to find you and come to know you and pray the prayer and stuff.” And in my heart I heard him say, “You leave that to me. Today you did what I asked you to do. You loved.”

So…what am I trying to say here today? Don’t follow rules? Accept the lifestyles of everyone? Jesus drinks Coronas? No…none of that.

I am saying that Jesus is looking at our hearts. He is looking for authenticity. For followers who love him with all their “heart, soul, and mind.” That’s a tall order. Cause we can sure paint the outside to look like we love him real good and are following real good, when our hearts are doing anything but that. Trust me.  I know. I’ve done it.

So, I challenge you to authentically love today. Realize that every action that you do is a part of this great Kingdom plan.

Blessings, my friends!

Sanctuary

This is my first Sunday on the cruise. I have found this morning that my balcony makes a nice sanctuary. There is a light breeze and the water is beautiful, and except for the occasional sneeze from my neighbor’s balcony, it is very quiet.

So today, in this quiet place, I am praying for my friends in ministry. I am praying for Tim Passmore, Troy Freeman, Andy Botts, and my son, Josh Martin as they lead at Woodland, my home church. I am praying for Mark Alt, Nathan Gaddis, and Seth White as they lead at my adopted church, The Bridge. I am praying for Don Davidson, Bill Ireland, and Jack Millwood as they speak at the churches that we partner with in Design 373. And I am praying for my friend and pastor Paul Strozier as he speaks at Meadow Park in Ohio.

It is amazing to me to think that across the world Christians are meeting to worship and learn. It is amazing to me that I can have my own church service on the balcony of a cruise ship by listening to Worship Central and reading the Sermon on the Mount from the Message. And God is here.

Here’s the thing. Sitting here this morning I am reminded again of the importance of stepping aside. Pulling away for quietness with the Father.

Ministry is hard. The ministers that I named above are precious friends of mine, and I have seen the battle scars that they carry from doing ministry. They serve, they pray, they cry. They are fathers and husbands and grandfathers. They work long hours and meet the needs of their congregants by being there at their crisis times. They have amazing partners in ministry in their wives, and are surrounded by great congregations.

But it’s hard. The burden of staying connected to God and sharing His word with His people is challenging. It’s at times overwhelming. And people can be mean. Yep. I’m not a ministry wife any more so I can say it. People can really say mean stupid stuff. They attack. They go to Sunday lunch and evaluate and critique the service. Or my personal favorite is when they war over which songs we should use to worship the Lord. I’m pretty sure there are times we just need to be quiet and let the rocks cry out in praise to Him. Or in my case, the waves.

Okay, stepping off my soapbox now. But here’s the takeaway from this rant. These men need time away. They need time to be alone with the Father. To reconnect.

It doesn’t have to be a cruise. It can be a couple of days. But I believe it should be alone. A personal retreat.

So, I’m challenging each of my ministry friends that read this to plan a personal retreat. Ministers and ministry spouses. Use this blog to say, “Hey, is that something you would want to do? Get away alone?” And follow it by, “I think it’s something you need to do.” We all need this. Minsters, wives of ministers, husbands of ministers. We need times of personal retreat to recenter and recharge. Just do it.

If you are not in ministry, use this as a springboard to talk to your ministry friends and suggest it. Help make it happen. Offer the cabin or the hotel. Offer to help with the children. Do what you can to gift them with this personal time. I have done that with ministry friends before and you will be blessed immeasurably by providing it for them.

In case you missed it…I’m not talking about a couple’s retreat. It’s not a husband and wife thing. This is a retreat for one.

I’m a big ole extravert. Love to laugh, love a party, love to be around people, love to share the burdens of people. But oh…how I am enjoying this solitude.

I love these words of Jesus:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11: 28-30 (MSG)

Blessings my friends, and enjoy the Sabbath!

 

Lou and the Uhaul

One of the things that is really fun about this cruise is that I am one of the kids on the ship. Seriously…I’m pretty sure that there are about 5% of us that are under 65. And at 56, it’s sort of nice to feel like one of the young kids. I have not seen a single child on the cruise. That’s a little weird. I’ve seen maybe 4-5 couples in their 30s, but if there are any younger ones I haven’t seen it. It’s okay, though. It makes for quiet days and even quieter nights, as they all turn in early!

I have met some really interesting people. Most of you know that I chat with anyone who will chat back. I’ve hit a couple of “No speaka Anglish,” but for the most part these are people just enjoying their retirement. I am amazed at the trips they are going on. I met a couple last night that are cruising to Rome, then spending 6 weeks in different parts of Italy, and then cruising home on the QE2. Wow. And they do this every spring. I wanted to ask what they did before they retired, but figured we aren’t that close of friends yet.

But that brings me to today’s story. On Thursday while we were waiting to get into our cabins, I met a couple from New Jersey named Lou and Ev. Lou worked in sales his entire life, and then left that and opened a deli. Lou is a great caricature of a New Jersey deli owner. His accent is thick and he talks loud and a lot. He is so excited about this trip. They are doing back to back cruises, staying on this ship from Rome to cruise Italy and then flying home to New Jersey.

So, Lou is a guy that’s worked hard all his life and is enjoying his retirement. He has grown grandkids that he is very proud of (I have complete info on each of them…he is really proud!) But it’s what he said to me about retirement that really made me think.

He said, “You know, you’ve never seen a hearse pulling a Uhaul. You can’t take it with you, so you might as well enjoy it.”

No, Lou, I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a Uhaul.

But it started me thinking about the analogy. We really do leave here with a Uhaul full of stuff attached to our lives. I’m not talking about cars and homes and boats. I’m talking about our legacy.

Most of you know that my husband’s mantra was “Finish Strong.” I have it tattooed in his handwriting on my wrist to continually remind me of the importance of it. At his death in 2011, he had no idea of the legacy that he had built. I had no idea of the legacy that he had built. Then all the stories started arriving in the form of letters and cards and emails and phone calls. These were not “Sorry for your loss “ stories. These were stories of life change because Keith had taken the time to listen to the Lord and follow his direction to meet people and their needs.

So many of them were stories that I didn’t know…Keith leading people to the Lord, talking someone out of committing suicide, praying with a family at their time of loss, praying with people who were terrified of surgery, counseling broken marriages, crying with grief-stricken parents. Keith wrapped the arms of Jesus around people wherever he went. He watched for opportunities to share Christ’s love and when the door opened he walked through it.

Keith’s Uhaul was full. Not with stuff, but with lives that had been changed because of his obedience.

Hebrews 12:1 says that we are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses. These witnesses are cheering us to the finish line of the race of life. I know there is debate as to who these veterans of the faith are. But I like to picture Keith cheering and encouraging all those many lives that he touched. Encouraging them to finish strong.

And he can cheer…those of you that ever watched an Alabama football game with him know he can cheer!

Cheering for the contents of his Uhaul.

I’m gonna take some time today to think about what all is being stuffed in my Uhaul.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” Matthew 6:19-21

Blessings, my friends!

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