Sabbatical

My sabbatical begins today.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines sabbatical as, “a period of time during which someone does not work at his or her regular job and is able to rest, travel, do research, etc.” My definition for what I am doing is: “the need to step aside. To recenter. To write. To read. To pray.”

It’s not really a break from work, as I will be checking in with my work clients while I am away. That’s the beauty and the curse of owning your own business…You can work from anywhere…and you HAVE to work from anywhere! But I am definitely stepping aside to reevaluate a lot of things.

In March of last year I decided to book this cruise. An Italian Transatlantic. 13 days from Ft. Lauderdale to Rome. Sounded exotic. It was a good sale. And those of you that know me well know that I am all in with a fun time and a good sale! I cruise a lot, but have never taken one by myself. I almost cancelled it a few times, but it was as though the Lord kept pushing me toward this. He could see down the road. He knew the timing was going to be perfect.

This past year has involved a lot of change for me. At the Lord’s instruction, I welcomed a family of 6 into my home. When I bought the house, my realtor and friend asked me what I planned to do with all of the space. I said, “I don’t know, but when I’m supposed to know the Lord will tell me.” In January of 2014 He told me. I tried to tell Him that I must have misheard, but then He took me to Romans 12:9-13-

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically] 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Verse 13 was my answer. So on January 28 one of the sweetest families in the world moved into my life and my home. 2-35 year olds, 1- 8 yr old, 1-5 yr old, 1-4 yr old, and a 13 month old. As I prayed about it, the Lord confirmed to me that they would be with me a year. The story of why and how and all that happened in a year is more than I could write here, but it was a wonderful time of living in community. I count these friends as family now. I love them dearly.

It’s interesting that while I am away they will be closing on their home and moving. God’s timing is perfect.

In March of last year things began to shift some with my business. I had been dreaming of a different business model. A way that I could work with churches and help them with their marketing. Helping churches share their message to their communities has been my passion since Keith and I were in seminary. I can go back to the day when I believe the Lord put this calling on my life. It didn’t exist back then, but again, in His anticipatory love, the Father started me down the road that would take 35 years to travel!

So, in March, with the help and encouragement of my roommates, I stepped out to see if this was going to work. It has been amazing! The Lord has opened every door and has grown Design 373 beyond what I could have imagined. In a year I have added 4 fulltime clients and many part time clients. I am able to help small churches and large churches all over the country. I have worked with ministry groups and small businesses. I have designed book covers, web sites and so much more. I have hired 2 employees, one whose job is social media marketing, which is a great tool for churches. It has been an amazing journey, and one I am so thankful for.

So, in June of last year I left my full time job at the church that I had worked at for 8 years and stepped out on faith with this new venture. It has been amazingly wonderful and delightfully exhausting!

I have learned a whole lot of things about myself this year. But I need time and space to recenter and determine which path at this current crossroad is mine to take. I plan on writing each day during this time away this week, so I will share some of my revelations as I journal this amazing journey across the Atlantic.

For now…I am sitting on the balcony of a large ocean liner. Alone. Nothing on the horizon except water. We are like a little cork bobbing in the middle of the Atlantic. And I am so thankful.

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever! Ps. 30:11-12

Blessings, my friends!

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When Intent Replaces Action

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I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day about how often we allow our good intentions to replace actions in our lives. So often we say to someone, “I intended to write you a note, but I just never did it. I am sorry.” The interesting thing is that person would have never known that I had intended to write a note or call or whatever, but by telling them I am allowing my intent to replace the action of reaching out. I am hoping they will take the fact that I thought of them and intended to do something as an adequate replacement for actually doing it.

Writing notes and making phone calls is one thing, but there is an area that is much more critical, and I think much more often misused. That is the area of offering prayer support. All too often I think the intent to pray for someone replaces the action of actually doing it. We tell someone, “I will be praying for you,” but then allow our schedules and lives to keep us from following through on the promise. It’s as if we say in our hearts, “Oh, the Lord knows I intended to pray for them, so that’s good enough.” Please hear me. The message here is not to stop promising prayer support. If God places someone in front of you that you know you are to pray for, tell them, but then DO IT!

I have been on a pretty amazing faith journey over the past 6 months. One of the major areas in which the Lord has dealt with me is the area of prayer. I don’t for a minute claim to understand or even have enough knowledge to speak to the discipline of prayer. In fact, if I am completely transparent, I have to say that I don’t get it. I don’t understand why the Creator of the Universe desires to converse with me about things that are happening in my life and the lives of people around me. But He does. Time and again I awake in the middle of the night (usually around 3 am) with specific people on my mind and heart and I know it is the Lord’s prodding for me to pray for them. Not for a minute do I believe that the Lord needs my fragile words to open doors for Him to act, but I am absolutely amazed that he loves me enough to take me along on the journey.

Something I have learned over the past months is that this prayer journey is extremely personal. During the first few months, I was so amazed that it was happening, that I talked about it a lot. And as God would answer prayers, I wanted people to know about it. I thought it was cool. I wanted other people to think I was cool and spiritual because God was answering my prayers. It’s like I was saying, “I prayed about it, then it happened. You’re welcome, world!” Then, on one of my more intense middle of the night prayer journeys, I realized that this prayer time was extremely personal, and God was using it to grow my faith, not the faith of those around me. All I had to do was commit to walk the road with Him and just DO IT.

If you are like me, you are often completely overwhelmed by the needs of people around you. If you took time daily to pray for everyone around you that needs some type of prayer support, you would be praying for hours each day. I think this is especially true for those in ministry. At the beginning of this journey the Lord birthed a concept in me that has truly been amazing, and I want to share it with you.

One of the things that precipitated this spiritual awakening for me back in November was that I found myself walking through times of crisis with several friends who are very close to me. One involved a job loss, one a cancer diagnosis, one a failed marriage, one an inappropriate relationship, and one who was dealing with the fallout of another’s actions. They were all very close friends of mine who were hurting deeply. I began praying for these people day and night, and began to realize that God was birthing a new ministry concept in my life. I think of it as a table for 5. Basically these are my 5 to minister to, to love completely, and to pray for relentlessly.  It is so intense that there is no way I could be involved with more than 5 at a time. It has been an amazing, exciting adventure, and one that I can do in this stage of my life. All of these people are in some type of crisis, or have a great spiritual need in their lives. As healing comes, they move off of my “table list,” and on to my regular prayer list, but God always provides someone to move into the open seat.

This concept has helped me so much in praying for people I love. At night, when I awake, I first pray for each of these 5. You may be asking why my table is not a table for 6, since I am part of it. But I don’t ever sit. In my mind I move around the table, placing my hands on each of them as I pray for them. I pray for these people several times during the day. I see it as an absolute blessing to be able to take these friends to the Father, and I am in it for the duration until God moves them off of the list.

Certainly I pray for others with needs and for ministries and ministers in my life. I pray for my family and my church, and I am extremely aware when God lays someone specific on my heart. But the intensity for the 5 comes first.

I know I was supposed to share this on this beautiful Sunday morning. I hope that you will consider examining your life and your heart before the Lord and see if maybe He is leading you to some people to sit at your table. It is a blessed journey.

So, maybe there are notes that you need to write. Or maybe there is a phone call that you need to make. Or maybe there is a prayer journey that you need to begin for someone. Whatever God has placed on your heart as you have read these words, please don’t ignore it. We are His hands and feet. He uses us to touch others with His love. Just DO IT.

Romans 12 has been a place that I have often found myself during this season of my life. Here is how vs. 9-13 read in The Message:

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Blessings, my friends!

Anticipatory Love

This week a friend of mine sent a devotional that spoke of the anticipatory love of God toward us.  That is, he looks down the road and sees what we are going to need and then actively puts those things in place to meet those needs.  It is an amazing concept and one that keeps coming back to me each morning as I reflect on the events of the previous day and look toward the future.

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.

Here’s the thing. In order for God to use us in his great works of art, we must be walking hand in hand with him. That’s when he can whisper the gentle instructions to us about the direction he wants us to go.  Too often our focus turns inward – our needs, our wants, what we think we are entitled to – and we turn away from the Father and close our ears to his words.  He still accomplishes his tasks, but is forced to use others to complete what he had hoped we would do. May is never be that God comes to me with an opportunity for service or sacrifice and I say, “Yeah…not today. I think that’s going to be too hard.” I want to always be a part of his creative, redemptive work! What a privilege!

I love Isaiah 43:19 – “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”  Usually in this verse we focus on the new thing that God is doing.  But I think also of significance is the question, “Do you not perceive it?” So many days we plow through our lives and completely miss the great work that God is doing around us. Open your eyes, my friends! Join him in this masterpiece!

Blessings, my friends!

Christmas Funeral

Yesterday I attended the funeral of my beautiful cousin, Melanie.  On December 17 she stepped into Heaven after a journey of 15 months with cancer.  She was 50 years old, and leaves here a 13 yr old daughter and her husband of 27 years. She was beautiful inside and out and shared the love of Christ with anyone she encountered.

I know what you are thinking: “How horrible that they have to go through this right here at Christmas.” Please know that I agree, but it also brings to the surface to me the reality of God’s redeeming work through Christ.  We love the merriment of Christmas: the smells, the food, the gifts, family, and friends.  How precious are all of these, but even more precious is the reality that because of God’s great love for us he sent Emmanuel, which means “God with Us.” Emmanuel was Melanie’s hope, it’s is where she anchored her life, and He did not fail her.

Can you grasp that, my friends? God is with us. He’s not out there somewhere, distant and unconcerned.  Because of the work of Christ, which began with a baby in a manger, we have the privilege of walking through life with God. The redeeming work of Christ not only means that I will one day see my cousin and Keith again, but it means that DAILY we can face whatever life hands us.

It’s been a rough month for me.  I have a lot of very close friends who are really suffering. As I journey with them through the present difficulties of life, how precious it is to me that while I feel their pain so deeply, Christ feels it even more. Because he is Emmanuel.  He is here.  He is with us.

Jesus takes brokenness and makes it beautiful. He heals and he restores. He forgives and redeems for His work. On this Christmas Eve morning I am once again amazed at His love for us.

I’ve been reading a devotion series recently that talks about having audacious faith.  On the surface that may sound odd, but when you really look at the word, it means “bold, daring, and willing to take risks.” How awesome to have a faith that is willing to travel this life hand in hand with the One who created us, no matter where the journey takes us. The scripture says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet.” We tend to want to see previews on the big screen before we will make the decision to travel with Him.  He, however, knows we couldn’t handle that, so He lights the way one step at a time, through the twists and turns of life, all the while keeping close to our side.

That’s what my cousin did.  She traveled the path set out for her. She touched lives and she helped people along the way. She loved God and she loved her family. And tomorrow she will spend Christmas celebrating with the Heavenly hosts. How glorious!

How odd that so much beauty could come from a Christmas funeral. But that is our hope. God is with us. He sent Jesus to show us how to live and to become a sacrifice for us.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Blessings, my friends, and Merry Christmas!

When the Cancer is Terminal

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Okay, so…I know this is a less than cheery topic, but one that I feel like needs to be talked about.  When I wrote the last blog entry, “When Your Friend Has Cancer,” the response was overwhelming.  I have realized from the many messages, comments, and calls that this is a topic that affects so many people, and one that few people know how to address.

First of all, let me say that I in no way assume to be an expert on the topic of dealing with the horrific news of terminal cancer, but I have walked the path.  I have done a lot of soul searching on this topic and a LOT of praying about it. Keith was a great man.  He was doing great things for God and His Kingdom. I really thought it would be a much better plan for God to miraculously heal him than to take him through death.  But, you know, that didn’t happen.  Keith died. And I, like so many of you out there, was left to try and make sense of it all.

I actually wrote this as an email to a friend earlier this week , as she is walking with a friend through a bad cancer report. She encouraged me to post it in the blog, so I am going to give it a try. I have also just learned of another friend that is traveling this path as well.  I know how raw and devastating news like this is.  In no way would I try to minimize that.  I just want to remind you of the hope we have in Christ.

We as a society have assigned ages to “they are just too young to die,” when it is not really ours to assign. Anything above 70 seems like an okay time, over 80 is even better. I’m not sure why that is, except that maybe it is assumed that someone has been able to live a full live if they live for more than 8 decades.  Psalm 90:10 says, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,  for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”  There is a school of thought that says this verse means that it is God’s plan for us all to live to at least 70. If we die earlier than that it means that some external force has been involved.  I have a hard time with that.  I believe if God wanted us all to live to 70, then we would all live to 70.  Sometimes that’s not how it happens, so does that mean God wasn’t powerful or strong enough to make a difference?  I don’t think so. He knows our days. He lovingly leads us along and then wraps His arms around us when that last day dawns.

Keith and I had an epiphany about this right after we found out that his cancer was back and was incurable.  We were sitting in a booth at Chili’s and I was crying.  It was one of those cries where you gasp for breath every so often.  I finally regained my composure, and in an attempt to change the subject, I told Keith that we needed to pray for Trey (Bethany’s boyfriend), because one of his best friends had died the day before from brain cancer.  He was 22 years old and left a wife and young child. I will never, ever forget what happened next. Keith looked at me and said, “I’ll bet that young man would have given anything to have lived to be 53.”  It was at that moment that my bitterness turned to blessing God for all the wonderful, wonderful years we had together.  I still wasn’t prepared to accept the news, but I began to understand how blessed I was to have shared my life with this man.

I still asked for healing, but I also remember the day when God said, “He will not be healed, but he’s not dead yet.”  I was spending all of my time refusing to think about what would happen if he died, (especially because it seemed like a lack of faith). That epiphany led me to say, “Okay, if I really am going to lose him, what are the most important things for me to do while he is still here.”

There comes a point in a crisis like this that a person of faith (even if they have been a believer most of their lives) comes to the point of saying, “I am either going to believe God and trust Him, or I am not.”  I know if you asked anybody involved right now, they would say, “Of course we trust God.”

But right now they are trusting God for something that they want to happen. What if it doesn’t?

In the quietness of their heart, when they are alone, there will come a face to face time of belief.  That is, even if God chooses not to heal, it’s okay. They decide that they really do believe that there is something better beyond this life and they are ready to go there!

I’ll never forget something that happened the day Keith died. We were sitting by the pool and our sweet Roman Catholic neighbor (Leo) came over. He was speechless. He was a man of faith, and he and Keith had spoken often of spiritual things. On this day, though, all he could say was, “I am so sorry.”  As he left, he bent over to hug Keith, and Keith whispered in his ear, “Leo, I’m excited!”  Leo told me later that was a moment he will never forget, and that he has told anyone that will listen to him about it.

My friend Jennifer Speer said something to me not long ago that I have thought about a lot.  She said, “If we really believe what is waiting for us, then why do we fight so hard to hang on to these old shells?”

This is not a topic that I planned to write about, because on the surface it sounds like I don’t believe God can or will heal people, or that we shouldn’t fight illness with all our might.  Nothing is farther from the truth!  I have seen God perform miracles and heal people that medical science has given up on.  We also fought Keith’s illness with every possible medical means available.  There comes a point, however, when you begin to realize, “Hmmmm…all my life I have wondered how I would die, and it looks like this may be it.” I believe God gave Keith an end of life platform that he was exemplary in using. Even in his death he gave a lot of people (including me and the kids) a glimpse into God’s faithfulness to the very end.

Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

I have reached the point that I believe that Keith had accomplished all that God had for him to do here and God allowed him to come on home.  I have an image of Jesus standing at the edge of Heaven saying, “Hey, Keith!  Today’s the day!  C’mon!!!”

I honestly don’t know who I am writing to today, I just know I was supposed to write.  Usually when I sit down to do this it is because I have a thought that I want to explore.  Today, though, I felt compelled to write this.  I don’t know why.  All I know to do is share our story and what meant the most to us.

If you are a friend of someone who is dying of cancer, I would say to take some time and write down what they mean to you, and why. Recall funny and endearing times that you have had with them and tell them. Don’t put it off. When a doctor says someone has a month to live, that may be a week. Or it may be 6 months. You don’t know, so don’t wait.

If you are the one with the diagnosis, I have to tell you I am a little jealous. I know that may seem morbid or crazy, but if you are a follower of Christ, knowing that you are close to entering the glory of Heaven has to be breathtaking. I asked Keith on the way home from the doctor’s office the day we found out he had 2 weeks to live if he was afraid to die. “No,” he responded quickly. “I am just nervous about the process. I don’t want to linger and I don’t want to die in a way that it will be difficult for our children to see. But I am not afraid of death.”

A dear, godly friend of mine, Esther Burroughs, called me shortly after Keith’s death. We talked for a while and then she asked me to tell her about Keith’s passing from this life to the next. I did, and I will never forget her response. Her voice went to a whisper, and she said, “How marvelous. I can’t wait!”

If you are the spouse of someone who has received this news, I want you to know that I feel and know your pain.  Just the memory of it makes me somewhat nauseous. My only words to you would be to try and not focus on what is ahead, rather focus on the time that you have left together. Block out the world. Talk about your life together. If there are children, talk about dreams that you both have for them. Let them tell you the things that are important to them.  I promise you will want to know this later. You might also encourage them to make a video or write a note to their children or grandchildren to be read on a special day or event.  Your spouse has been given an opportunity to leave a legacy that can one day be life changing. Keith had wanted to write a blessing that would be read at each of our children’s weddings, but he ran out of time.  Instead, he asked his best friend to step in for him at both weddings, which he has done.

I can honestly say that this has been the toughest blog post I have yet to write. I am writing with tears in my eyes as I know some of the ones who are reading are facing some of the most difficult days of their lives. I don’t know why God allows some to be miraculously healed and some to die. I can tell you from experience, however, that the peace that He can provide is real and is available to you if you will open yourself up to it.

As I wipe away tears today, I wish you blessings, my friends!

When Your Friend Has Cancer

Okay, so…I’m not an expert on this subject, but I have definitely walked the cancer road.  It seems like every few weeks I hear of someone else that I know and love that is fighting this dreaded disease.  The explosion in the life of someone who has just been told they have cancer is similar to the horrific explosion that was experienced in Boston this week. A life that was normal the day before, has just been changed forever.

This week I have added three names to my “friends with cancer” list.  It sickens me to hear the news, yet causes me to want to spring to action. Sometimes, though, we are not sure which way to spring!

Since most of you that are reading this knew my husband, Keith, I wanted to share again his words about someone going through this journey.  I shared this in our book, The Journey, but I think these words bear repeating.

This was written just after Keith had been told he was cancer free for the second time.  We had no idea that the absolute worst part of the cancer ride was still ahead of us.

Keith was a musician, not a writer, but he shares openly and honestly about what he had experienced. Here is what he wrote:

 

Am I a different man today – yes.  How – I can’t really verbalize it all, but here are some insights I’ve realized.  First, the fact of mortality is very sobering.  I was in complete shock when I first heard the findings of a tumor and thought to myself – no family history, I wasn’t a smoker or alcoholic, didn’t live next to a chemical plant.  So what did I do wrong?  I’ve pondered this question over and over again.  The answer…… nothing.  If that question had another conclusion, it means that cancer is a punishment for bad people who’ve done bad things.  We all know that is not the truth.  Cancer hits anyone.  All of us have cancer cells in our body.  They are just dormant.  What is it that causes them to “awaken” and spread – that’s one that may have to wait till heaven to get answered. 

Second, my walk with the Lord must be real and ongoing.  The saying is true: crisis doesn’t build character, it reveals character.  If you wait till you’re in the middle of a crisis and try to negotiate a deal with God; that just does not work.  Even for me (and I’ve got a Rev. in front of my name), my faith, beliefs and walk was stretched to the very limits.  When your blood count is screwed up: hemoglobin count below 7, white count below 1, and platelets below 15K (I set a record in that area with my doctor… a new LOW record), you don’t have the human strength or desire to grow or pursue anything.  Today I am so committed to a daily time with the Lord and long to see growth in others.  You see, I know their “shock of life” may be just around the corner and I want desperately to do my part to help them be prepared now.

Third, I am totally convinced that the only thing that matters in life is the time you invest in other people.  Possessions, titles, fame, recognition… it’s all so temporary.  Literally here today – gone tomorrow.  When I lead worship now, I look into the eyes of the people in front of me.  Not to see if they are singing loud or clapping on beats 2 & 4, but sensing where they are in life that day.  Are they coming out of a struggle, facing a crisis today and losing the battle, or needing the tools to face the uncertainties of tomorrow.  Everyone in that audience is in some kind of pain, and they’ve come to church seeking hope.  Not music, style, or a verbal slam, but words and an example letting them know – they are going to make it!  Today I spend my time and efforts in the office and home encouraging, investing, listening, and impacting the lives God has put in my life.  When I die, I want my values and impact to be lived out through my family and friends around me.  I want them to be stronger and more purposeful than I ever was.

As a pastor, I’ve counseled and prayed with many a cancer patient and family member, but never really knew the specifics of what they were going through.  I knew the words to say, but I did not identify fully with the situation they were facing and how it consumes every part of you.  Today, I am much wiser (and humble too).  Here are some of the things I have walked away from this journey with.  I want you to read and embrace these truths from a cancer survivor.

1 – The day a person hears they have cancer; that is the worst day of their life!  Don’t just say “I’ll pray for you”, try to feel their pain as they deal with denial, anger, and the sadness that many people with cancer…die.

 2 – The second worst day for most cancer patients is the day a biopsy is taken.  For me, it was horrible.  I was not “put under”, just deadened as I lay on my stomach and the procedure was performed.  Think about it: feeling the sensation of the apparatus going into my back, finding the tumor, and literally yanking out a piece – four times.  Just hearing the whispers and groans of the medical personnel-that was the day attitude turned from denial to reality …… I have cancer.

3 – The third worst day for me was the day my hair fell out.  I was in the shower and felt something strange on my face… and it was my hair falling out.  I turned off the water, dried off, and yelled out to LeeAnn to go buy a set of clippers – NOW.  I wanted it off!  Afterwards, I looked in the mirror at the newly bald head coupled with the “cancer” skin tone now covering my body and got very depressed.

4 – Know that a cancer patient’s time during treatments is horrible.  The nausea and tiredness was uncontrollable. For me, I only ate soups for almost 4 months straight – that’s all I could keep down.  Remember, the cards, emails, voice mails are what keep us going – even when we can’t even lift our head off the bed.  The notes didn’t need to be long or spiritually deep – it just helped to know they cared.

 5 – Know that even after a cancer patient hears the words “chemo is done”, “remission”, or “cancer free”, the fact is always in the back of our minds that cancer could return at any moment and we could die.  That’s not a lack of faith; it’s just the reality of cancer.  A cancer patient has a keen sense of mortality and quickly re-arranges priorities and schedules.

 6 – Most cancer patients feel less of a person when all is done – the treatments just take a huge toll, and sometimes permanent toll, on the body.  The self esteem issue is at the forefront of their mind.  If you have cancer survivors in your ministry, I suspect they will be some of your best volunteers – use them!

7 – Cancer patients are very open and sensitive to spiritual matters – share Christ with them.  They need a real sense that God allowed this to happen, not that He caused it!  All cancer patients are open to prayer at any moment.  Pray with them – it re-connects them to God when they don’t have the strength (or desire) to voice it themselves.  For me, the countless hours in bed or on the couch gave me the opportunity to deepen my faith and ignite my passion.  Derric Johnson sent me a card that summed it up:  Keith, you’ve always known what you believe; now it’s time to see if you believe what you know!

 8 –When offering to assist your friend or family member, it is important to know what to say.  Be specific!  Don’t just say “if there is anything I can do, just call”.  We won’t – we can’t even process what’s happening today.  The entire process it so overwhelming.  Offer or tell them something specific you ARE going to do unless they tell you no.  For us, it was these offers that meant so much: I’m going to take care of all your pool chemicals and cleaning for the rest of the year, or I’m going to mow your yard every Friday – don’t worry about it, or I’m going to arrange meals for you Monday – Friday for the next two weeks.  These specific tasks were awesome and we didn’t have to organize anything.  If you are physically limited, gift cards to restaurants were wonderful for ordering take out.  I had one dear friend who called every day.  Yes, every single day for almost 13 months.  Another sent me a card every week – I knew it was coming.  Find something and DO IT. 

9 – Even though the cancer patient is the one experiencing the illness, cancer affects everyone in the family.  One problem may be getting them to realize it and dealing with what they are feeling.  Example: now the family medical history is changed.  Cancer is now a permanent part of the list.  Did my experience affect my wife and children – greatly!  Each member of the family needs that one person who they can open up to… or the friend who will not stop till they do open up and face their own fears and questions.  You may be that one or can make that one friend aware of their responsibility.  It has to be someone who already has that family member’s trust and one who knows that person’s make up and personality.  There are no blanket responses – each person is unique in their response and path to dealing with this new reality. 

10 – You can’t make it through cancer as a patient without two earthly things: good insurance and a great care giver.  Yes, we had wonderful insurance and still the out of pocket expenses were in the multiple thousands of dollars.  Remember that a care giver’s job is just that, a job.  Plus it is on top of their ongoing job and responsibilities.  LeeAnn had to balance her job, home chores, and now add the time demands for countless appointments for doctors and tests, transportation to these every week, dealing with a spouse with no strength or functionality, do my chores and family responsibilities, assist both children in their ongoing challenges, and try to find time to deal with her own feelings.  Oh yes, and find time to rest and refresh her own spirit and heart.  I do not know how she did it, but LeeAnn was incredible!  She quickly experienced the “for better or worse” part of our vows.  But that’s what we said – vows!  Marriage for us isn’t a contract but a covenant.  It’s not optional when circumstances don’t fit your agenda, it’s for a lifetime!  Bottom line – she stuck with me and I’ll never forget it.  She is the best!

 

The responsibility of being the friend to someone who is going through this is huge. My challenge to you would be to guard against becoming overwhelmed with the enormity of the situation, and look for ways you can help. Ask God for guidance.  He will help you know what to do.

Keith had a keen sense of things that were eternal.  He loved people very deeply.  I had lunch with a friend yesterday, and when she prayed for our food she said, “Lord we know that you are enjoying Keith. Thank you that his ministry here lives on.” I hadn’t really thought about the fact that the Lord would be enjoying getting to hang out with Keith, but I like that thought.

I miss him terribly, but I am so thankful to have lived 30 years with such an awesome man. I hope his words will again minister to you.

Christ told us to love and minister to the ones in need in Matthew 25:34-40:

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Share His love today.

Blessings, my friends!

Words

As you may have noticed, I have taken a blogging break.  The reasons are varied. First of all, my life has been overwhelmingly busy. My mother has just recently moved from Tennessee to Florida. I am an only child, so most of the ins and outs of the move fell to me.  She had lived in her current house for over 30 years, and let’s just say that there was a LOT of stuff! Anyway, I got her in her new home (that is relatively close to me) last weekend. Huge ordeal finally over!

My daughter, Bethany is getting married this summer. The wedding will be in North Georgia. That’s right. North Georgia.  Bethany wanted a mountain wedding. It will be beautiful…the setting is gorgeous. You may remember that Josh and his wife married last spring. Two weddings in two years…whew!

If you by chance are keeping a tally of my life, (I know there is no one out there who is, but humor me), you realize that since Keith’s death, I have had the following life events: 1. I bought a house. 2. I moved to the new house. 3. I sold the old house. 4. I helped plan Josh and Lauren’s wedding. 5. I hosted Josh and Lauren’s wedding. 6. I started a new business. 7. I helped my mom buy a house. 8. I moved Mom to Florida. 9. I am now in the process of helping plan Bethany’s wedding. None of these things are bad things, but all of them are pretty major life events.  Okay, there’s my rather lengthy excuse as to the busyness side on my dereliction of blog duty.

In reality, though, something happened last summer that caused me to put up my pen. As you may remember, Dan Cathy of Chick Fil A  made a statement that caused an absolute furor in the “how do we define marriage” debate. His words were few. I don’t know the actual quote, but it was as simple as stating that his company believed in the Biblical teaching of marriage.  That’s it. I am sure there were lots of other things said in the interview, but it was those words that turned white hot in the media. Some people boycotted and some people supported. In the end, Chick Fil A was overwhelmed by the support and turnout of people across the country supporting their stand. I guess to all concerned, it looked like they won.

I have known the Cathy family for many years.  We don’t swap Christmas cards or anything, but I have known them enough to know what they stand for and what the business was built on.   I hated that Dan’s words had been used to fuel a current hot button debate in our country, and I am sure he hated it as well. He merely answered the question, and suddenly he and his company were flung into the heart of the debate.

The craziness that surrounded those words caused me to rethink my view on blogging. I know I am not a great theological writer and I was suddenly overwhelmed with the idea that something I might put in cyber space could be twisted and blow up into something I never intended. So, busyness combined with fear caused me to stop.

But here I am…back at the blogging machine even with all the aforementioned profundity. Why? Well, something happened about a month ago that really got my attention.

I read an article.

I read an article in, of all places, The Huffington Post.  Yep, not a place you would usually find a conservative Christian poking around. But this article shed a new light on the Chick Fil A marriage controversy for me.  It was written by Shane Windmeyer, LGBT activist and author.  In that article he told the story of Dan Cathy calling him on August 10 of last year, during the height of the controversy. He was shocked, and almost didn’t take the call. He did take it, however, and what transpired over the next few months was a series of conversations where Dan sought to understand. He listened. He cared.

Windmeyer writes, ” It is not often that people with deeply held and completely opposing viewpoints actually risk sitting down and listening to one another. We see this failure to listen and learn in our government, in our communities and in our own families. Dan Cathy and I would, together, try to do better than each of us had experienced before.”

In Matthew 22:36, Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment. 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

There has been lots of discussion this week on news outlets and social media. Lots of equal signs and opposing illustrations.  Lots of people offering opinions about their views and why yours is wrong.  This post is not about any of that.  It is about noticing that two men from opposing sides took the time to sit down and get to know each other and to listen to each other.

This morning on the news I saw the new pope washing and kissing the feet of those who had come to see him.  What a beautiful picture of humility and love, especially in contrast to the news photos of the week of the people outside of the Supreme Court.

Jesus focused on people and their needs.  He sought to understand them.  He loved them.

So what does all of this have to do with my spewing my thoughts on a blog?  I don’t know.  I guess I have realized that sometimes we get so afraid of being misunderstood that we stop moving forward.  I guess I’m not going to worry about that anymore. Just gonna write what I notice.

Today is Good Friday. Today we celebrate the overwhelming love that we have experienced through the sacrifice of Christ. This Easter may we again be reminded that the sacrifice of Christ was for all people.  Love God. Love your neighbor.

Whose feet should you be washing today?

Blessings, my friends, and Happy Easter.

Hospital Elevators

Okay, so….this week I went to the hospital to visit a friend who has just begun a cancer journey.  The mere reason that I was at the hospital brought up a lot of memories and it should be noted that this was my first visit to a hospital since Keith’s death.  I did okay.  I expected the atmosphere to get to me, or the smells, or the nurses station, but I was fine with all of that.  So, you know what bothered me?  The elevator.

That’s right, I almost hyperventilated when I got into the elevator.  I don’t have issues with elevators.  I mean, I am a little bit claustrophobic but that wasn’t it.  When I got in that hospital elevator, suddenly I was back at IU hospital heading up to the bone marrow unit in the middle of January, 2011.

As I evaluated this later, I realized that when you are in the midst of a health crisis, the 30-45 seconds that you have in a hospital elevator are oftentimes the only time that you can pause and reflect on all that is going on.  It is there that you process for the first time the diagnosis, the words that you have just heard from the doctor regarding your loved one, or the overwhelming reality of the fight that you are in.

The good news is that the ride was brief, and the doors opened to a building full of people serving other people and providing help and healing.  I could breathe again, and my visit was great.

So, what’s the point?  I think the elevator ride provided a mental trip back to the events that now allow me to connect with so many people.  I am getting to a point here.  Just stay with me.

I have a new, wonderful friend in my new Minister of Music’s wife, Bethany Gaddis.  She wrote the following to me after we had talked about the illness that my friend is facing.  I didn’t ask her permission to reprint, but if she sues me I’ll pay her in Starbuck’s coffee!!

“You know I always think of the story where Jesus healed the paralytic & tells him to take his mat with him when he leaves. Why would he want to take the mat? The place he has been stuck for so long? The painful reminder of how things used to be? My guess is Jesus knew that 1.It would remind Him of what God can do but also 2. It becomes a large part of his testimony & ministry in the future. You carry the mat of experiencing cancer at such a painful closeness that will bring comfort & healing to others you wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to give otherwise. Doesn’t make it easier I imagine, but it gives your pain purpose.”

Such wise words!  We all carry the mats of the pain and experiences that we have been through.  I promise if we look for ways to share them, God will use them.

At my church, we are going through a message series entitled, “What’s Your Story?” Our pastor is speaking each week about people in the Bible who encountered Christ and walked away changed.  He has challenged our people to go to a website and write their own stories of their encounter with Christ.  I am the one who checks these stories every week and brings them to our creative team. We then choose the ones that will be shared in our services.  It’s a powerful series, and I love being immersed every week in stories about God’s transforming power.

This week one of the most compelling stories was from a woman who had been molested as a child.  The story is so powerful and brought me to tears as she described her point of conversion at the time that she was contemplating taking her own life.

I wrote her to ask her if we could share her story in our service, and this was her response:

“I have prayerfully considered this opportunity to allow my story to heard. It wasn’t easy, as I often wished it wasn’t my story. There is still unnecessary shame tied to it. Yet, 1 in 3 people have a similar story. This fact breaks my heart. So, if you want to share it, you have my permission.” 

This brave woman understands that she has been healed, but Jesus has instructed her to take up her mat and carry it with her.  She is doing that, and God is using her story of pain.

As you have been reading this today, I would bet that you have something in your mind, something in your life that God is prompting you to use, to share, to help the community of Christ.  These are pearls that you don’t want to cast before the masses, but I promise you if you yield your mat to Him that He will provide opportunities for you to use your pain for good.  You will know the time to share.

Oh, and next time you are in a hospital elevator, say a prayer for those who are sharing that cubicle with you.  There is no telling what they are facing.

Blessings, my friends!

Matthew 9: 1-8 (NLT)
1
Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

And the man jumped up and went home! Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for sending a man with such great authority.

Facebook Stunner

Okay, so…after MANY wasted hours on Facebook reading about the restaurants that my friends are visiting or the antics of their pets, I try to force myself to only peek at social media occasionally.  Because of that, I know a lot of “news” slips by me, but I figure that the things that are important I would probably hear from another source.

Yesterday was a different story.  As I opened Facebook, my eyes landed first thing on the following obituary notice:

“MASHBURN, DANIEL JAMES age 28 of Odenville, AL passed away May 22, 2012. Mr. Mashburn was owner of MUP Communications (Mashburn Uniting People). He is survived by his significant other, Shannon Cable, parents, J. C. and Sharon Mashburn, brother, Jason Mashburn and grandmother, Myrtle Mashburn. The family will receive friends from 1 PM until 3 PM on Sunday, May 27, 2012 at Kilgroe Funeral Home in Leeds. Memorial Service will be held at 3 PM at Kilgroe Funeral Home Leeds Chapel.”

Daniel was the young man with testicular cancer that went through the stem cell transplant with Keith in Indiana.  For 8 weeks we were with them and around them for up to 6 hours a day.  They were Alabama folks and we are Alabama folks, and there was an immediate bond. Daniel breezed through the treatments that gave Keith fits, mainly because he was young and strong.  He was a funny guy, who made us laugh daily and gave the nurses fits.  He rarely did what they asked him to do and often would disappear and show up down the hall somewhere (all of this with a platelet count of below 10,000)! My favorite Daniel story was when he tried to put in his own IV one morning.  I really thought the nurse was going to beat him.

All of this to say, that even though we met them through the most difficult of circumstances, Daniel and Shannon became dear to us.  The four of us were soldiers together in a battle that none of us had signed up for.

I really believe that Shannon is an angel. She and Daniel weren’t married, but at the time had been together for a couple of years.  Perhaps they hadn’t stood before a minister, but their souls were united in a way that I have rarely seen even in married couples.  Shannon had every reason to bolt when her young life was infiltrated with this insidious disease.  No one would have blamed her, I mean, there was no commitment, right?  Wrong.  Shannon was totally committed to Daniel.  He was her life love, her soul mate.  The phrase, “Til death do we part” was etched into the fabric of her being.  It was hard.  He was sick.  She didn’t care.  She loved him.

I remember the last time I saw Daniel and Shannon.  It was in their hospital room and they had just received the news that the stem cell transplant had worked, and all the spots where the cancer had metastasized were clear.  We laughed and cried and cheered.  It had been a LONG 2 months.

I am including an excerpt from my book, where I spoke about Keith’s last encounter with Daniel and Shannon:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

“Before I head to the hospital, I thought I would do a Saturday morning edition and update you on some things.  Last night, Keith called me to relate a really cool story that happened after I left, and I wanted to share it with you.  You remember Daniel and Shannon, the young couple that have been going through this treatment alongside us?  Well, Daniel got good news from his CT scan as well.  His cancer is a little different from Keith’s, and he has to take oral chemo for the next few months, but overall the treatment was very successful for him.  And, being a young whipper-snapper, he has bounced back quicker, so his counts came up to the point that he was released yesterday.

Before they left, they stopped by Keith’s room to tell him goodbye and it turned out to be a really special visit.  We realized a few weeks ago that Daniel and Shannon weren’t married, and Keith jokingly kept offering to marry them in the hospital.  Last night Daniel asked him if he would consider coming to Birmingham and marrying them. Of course Keith said he would love to.  That opened the door for Keith to talk to them very seriously about some spiritual things and beginning their marriage on a firm foundation.  He said it was a great conversation.

Back a few weeks ago after Daniel had the bad reaction to the platelets, Keith talked to him pretty bluntly.  He said, “Man, you almost died. Is there anything spiritually that you need to get in order?”  Daniel assured him that his spiritual life was in order, but it was interesting that last night he told Keith that he felt like Keith had been brought here during this time for him.

Of course, all of this made Keith’s day.  I have to say, I have been very, very, very proud of him through all of this.  Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God says, “Find where God is at work and join Him.”  That is absolutely what Keith has done over the past 50 days.  Most people would have curled up and whined (I think this is what I would have done), but Keith has kept his eyes opened every day for the opportunities that were there to share God’s love.  I think of the auto guy at Wal Mart, the Apharesis Nurse, and all the clinic nurses.”

Daniel knew Christ.  Keith made sure to ask.  Are there some folks in your life that you need to ask?  I am not sure what keeps us from asking the question.  Maybe we are afraid of the answer. Of the responsibility of knowing.

Please pray for Shannon, and for the Mashburn family.  He was young in years, but an old soul.  He lived a lot of life in his 28 years.

I am sure Keith was at the front of the line to welcome him to Heaven.

The Merge

Okay, so…first of all…I’M BAAACK! I am sorry for the months of awkward silence, but there has been a lot going on in my life, and I was advised to keep my head down and move toward the finish line.  (In other words, don’t bare my soul and my life through a weekly blog!)  All of that is over, however, as I closed on the short sale of the house that Keith and I owned this past week.  This has been another path in an incredible journey and I am so thankful for God’s faithfulness.  To summarize the past few months…I have moved to a new home, Josh and Lauren got married, and I began developing a new design business.  All daunting tasks by themselves, but somehow I have been able to keep everything juggled!  I am eternally grateful to the people that have come along beside me to help in all of the decisions and steps.

As I thought about my return to the blogging world, I decided to try and focus more on living the life that God has put me in, knowing that everything will be flavored by my circumstances.  I am a widow.  I get that.  I had a friend who described this blog as a “blog for widows.”  That’s fine, except I think that would be a very sad thing if my widowhood was my only point of connection.  I am a fellow traveler, and I am observing things as I go.  So, I don’t intend for this to be a widow’s blog, but rather a blog by someone who happens to be a widow.  There.  Enough about that.

I live in South Florida (I don’t understand that, as there is still a lot of Florida south of me, but that’s what they call it.) Most of the people that call this area home are from somewhere else.  Most of them are older.  Many of them are from the Midwest and the Northeast. A lot of them are tourists. You can draw your own conclusions about all of those factors, but when you put them all together, it makes for some entertaining moments if you open your eyes to watch them.

There is a large intersection close to me that has an interstate onramp that’s a little tricky.  It is one of those that starts out with 2 lanes turning left and then merging into one to approach the interstate.  That’s not so unusual, except this one is a little backward.  Instead of the right lane merging into the left, as most of these tricky merging lanes are, this one has the left lane merging into the right. (Stay with me…I’m going somewhere with this.)

I absolutely love watching the combination of people mentioned above navigating this particular onramp.  First of all, you have the people who thought they were playing it safe, and got into the left hand lane, no matter how long it was, in order to be sure that they did not have the stress of merging with the other lane.  They claimed their spot in the safe lane (so they thought) and all they had to do was hold their ground.  Then there are the rebels (again please keep in mind the demographic that I described) that pull up to the right lane and inch forward to be sure when the light changes that they can squeal to the front of the merge.

Then the light changes.

It’s perfect when I am about 4 cars back so I can watch what happens.  Suddenly the people who thought they were in the safe lane have to figure out a way to merge.  The ones who were trying to be rebels realize that they have control of the road and choose when and where to allow the poor schmucks next to them into “their” lane.  All of this happens in just a few seconds, but I have literally seen traffic come to a stop here because someone decides that they are going to hold their ground and refuse to allow a car to merge.  Sort of helps you understand road rage if it wasn’t so funny.

Of course there are numerous spiritual messages in this little parable.  I think you get it.  My favorite one is thinking you are in the safe lane and realizing that nothing is as you thought it was once the light changes.

Life changes.  Stuff happens.  Sometimes really icky stuff happens, no matter what lane you are in.

This morning when I came to my computer, I had an email from the blog site letting me know that I had a comment on one of my posts. It sort of surprised me, as I haven’t written here in so long and I was surprised that anyone was still reading.  This comment came from the post entitled, “Fellowship of Suffering.”  It was from a young man that found me through Facebook, I guess.  Anyway, he compared me to an ignorant savage who is in bondage to religion like slaves of 100 years ago.  When I first read it, I was a little stunned.  I started to take the comment down, but decided to leave it up. I edited out some of the language, but decided to leave his comment on the post. I am definitely secure enough for someone to disagree with me.  I also understand that there is no possible way someone who does not have a relationship with Christ can understand the meat of that post.

His name is Marvin, my new young blog postee, and the interesting thing is that now that he is on my radar, he will become a part of my prayer life.  His life has “merged” with mine, and he now has a prayer warrior interceding on his behalf.

So, dear ones, enjoy the journey and look for those people whose lives God wants to merge with yours.  Try not to fly right by them with your head in the clouds, and certainly don’t block them from merging.  You really might miss a blessing.

I Corinthians 2:14 says, The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

There are a lot of folks out there watching your life.  Do your best to help them see.

Blessings, my friends!