Interesting Anniversary

Okay, so…this weekend marked an interesting anniversary for me.  It was a year ago on Saturday, that Dr. Lawrence Einhorn came into Keith’s room at the IU hospital in Indianapolis and announced that the stem cell transplant had worked, and Keith was cancer-free.  Here’s the entry from that day from my book, The Journey:

 

So, Keith had the CT scan at 9 am today.  At 11 am I was out getting him some ice and saw Dr. Einhorn in the hall.  That is unusual, as he usually isn’t on the unit except on Mondays.  As I was going back to the room, I saw him coming toward Keith’s room, and my blood went a little cold.  He came into the room, smiled, and said, “I’ve got good news for you.  The CT scan came out completely normal!”  We all cheered and jumped up and down (okay, I jumped up and down, Dr. Einhorn didn’t.)  He said that the scan was so clear that Keith didn’t even need a followup PET scan, and that he could do follow up visits at home.  He doesn’t need to see Keith back here for 6 months!  Then I said, “So you are saying that it worked?”  He smiled and said, “Yes, it did.  I told you that the cure rate for this was 90%.”  Keith said, “Yes but up til now I’ve fallen into that 10%!”  Not this time, woo-hoo!  We were thrilled that he came to tell us himself.  To get that news from Dr. Einhorn was the best gift we could have received!

His counts are still low, but starting to move a little.  His white count is at .5 (was at .3 yesterday).  Since he didn’t take a big jump, it looks like he will be in the hospital through the weekend.  We’ll get to watch the super bowl on the little hospital TV.  That’s okay, though.  The news from today certainly made up for that!  Then SOMETIME next week we will be headed south!  And we are ready!!

I have to tell you, there is no way in the world we could ever thank all of you for your prayers, emails and support.  I am completely in awe of the number of people who are praying for Keith around the country and even around the world.  We got a letter yesterday from a church in Gulfport, Mississippi.  It was a letter from their prayer ministry letting us know that they had prayed for Keith last Wednesday night, and then had the signatures of all the people that prayed for him.  I have no idea how they got Keith’s name or if we even know anyone at that church, but they took the time to pray for Keith, and that is so incredible.  This particular segment of our journey has really taught me a lot about prayer. 

This time around, the passages of scripture that I have clung to are Jeremiah 29:11 and Isaiah 43:1-2.  The other night I was reading the full 43rd chapter, and the last verse has been what I have carried with me the past few days: “Yes, and from ancient days I am he.  No one can deliver out of my hand.  When I act, who can reverse it?”  We are blessed and thankful.

 

I have often had people ask how I deal with the fact that Keith was pronounced “cured” by the medical community three times during his cancer journey.  When I look back on it, I realize that it was those glimpses of hope that kept us moving through the rough, rough treatments.  I think that’s what you do through any illness.  You keep moving and trusting God as He lights up the next step.

However, I guess if I am honest, the mere fact that I remember this anniversary means that it bothers me a little.  But when I look back on it, and the events that have transpired since then, I know that God was working all things together.  At the time, all I could see was the illness and the potential healing.  But God was at work doing other things, and one of those things has been in the works and came to fruition this past week.

One of the men that Keith met as he was going through treatment in Indy was a young man named Doug Franklin.  Doug was going through the BEP chemo, and several days he and Keith were in the “chairs” together receiving the treatment. Doug’s cancer was similar to Keith’s, in that it started with a large abdominal mass.  He was still facing the RPLND surgery that Keith had already had, so they talked a lot about that.

Then the conversation turned to their faith and ministry.  Doug is an architect, and a volunteer youth minister at his church.  He is responsible for organizing and planning the mission trips for their youth group every year.  He and Keith talked about mission trips, Keith’s love of the Navajo people, and our Samoset Mission Center here in Bradenton.

Well, to shorten a long story,  Doug is now cancer free, and is bringing a group of 40 students and adults this July to work in Samoset.  It is amazing how God has worked out all of the details, and I believe that God is at work within the story to bring life change to a lot of students.  It helps me make sense of all those difficult days last winter.

There are a lot of things going on in my life right now.  I wish desperately that Keith was here to be a part of them all, but the one thing I know is that just as Is. 43 says, “No one can deliver out of my hand.” I am in God’s hand, and He is orchestrating the details of my life.  It is a wonderful, safe place to be, and my goal is to keep my eyes on Him and keep walking through the doors that He is opening.

I love the book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  A recent entry said this: “I am with you and for you. You face nothing alone-nothing!  When you feel anxious, you are focusing on the visible world and leaving me out of the picture.  The remedy is simple: fix your eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen.”

2 Corinthians 4 :18 says “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  Keith was able to focus during those days of illness on the eternal things that God was doing.  He did not focus on his circumstances, but looked for ways to serve God through them. Because he did, I believe a lot of lives will be affected for the kingdom this summer!

May we do the same…don’t focus on circumstances, but on the power and the love of our Father who is at work in you!

Blessings, my friends!

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First Holidays

Okay, so…I am beginning to understand that there is quite a large sorority of young widows out there. (okay, I’m not young, but I’m too young to be a widow, thank you!)   While I certainly can’t offer a great amount of wisdom, I am happy to try and be as transparent as possible as I navigate this first year of widowhood.

So here is the first big hurdle…the holidays.

I really didn’t know what to expect during the first set of holidays without Keith.  You have to understand, Keith was really a lot of fun to live with!  He was funny (sometimes when he meant to be, and a LOT of times by accident), and he brightened up every day.  So I wasn’t sure if when that Keith element was removed from the holiday equation if I would find myself curled up in a ball somewhere!

I am pleased to tell you that so far, so good as far as the whole curling up in a ball thing. As you can imagine, decorating the tree brought back a flood of memories.  Keith and I bought a Christmas ornament from every trip and every place that we traveled, so the ornaments on the tree are like a travel guide to our life.  So, I guess one would think that the experience of looking at each of them would be painful.  Actually, the opposite was true.  I remembered the trips and the fun and thanked God that we took the time and the money throughout our marriage to take trips like that in order the have these memories.

I get asked at least once a week, “How are you?”  I truly don’t mind people asking me that, because it is another reason why I am doing okay during this time.  I am surrounded both locally and around the country by loving, wonderful people who are genuinely concerned about me.  It’s hard to explain, but the warmth and love that I feel is truly amazing.  I even have a group of ladies in my church who have taken on being secret sisters to me throughout this year.  They have done wonderful things for me…sent gifts and encouraging notes…so precious!  And by the way, December secret sister, whoever you are…the flowers are beautiful!

Finally, I knew the holidays would be a challenge for us, so I decided to create a distraction.  As you may remember, Keith and I were supposed to go to Hawaii last June for our 30th anniversary. We were flying on frequent flyer miles and staying on hotel points.  When we had to cancel the trip all of those points/miles went back into the account.  So, next week Josh, Bethany, and I are going to New York to experience New York at Christmas!  We are flying free, and staying free using the Hawaii points/miles, and we have some wonderful things planned.  We are going to the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show and the Rockefeller Center Tree.  We are also going to see David Letterman next Thursday, so look for us in the audience (you never know!)  We are also seeing several plays and doing lots of shopping!  All in all, it should be a great trip and the biggest thing is that I know Keith would be very happy that we are taking it!

When I look back on this, one of the most difficult years of my life, I see how God orchestrated each event, and absolutely walked through each twist and turn with us.  Please don’t misunderstand.  I am not trivializing the horror of disease and cancer.  It was horrible.  My stomach churns each time I hear of a friend who is facing it and I plead for God’s mercies for them.

But the bottom line is…it is what it is and it will not defeat me, nor will it take my joy.  I believe that I am part of a much bigger plan.  I believe that whatever that bigger plan is, Keith is already doing it and I am a little envious.

I have to share with you one of my new favorite scriptures.  This is Psalm 103:6-18 from The Message:

God makes everything come out right;he puts victims back on their feet.
He showed Moses how he went about his work, opened up his plans to all Israel.
God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he’s rich in love.
He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever.
He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.
As high as heaven is over the earth, so strong is his love to those who fear him.
And as far as sunrise is from sunset, he has separated us from our sins.
As parents feel for their children, God feels for those who fear him.
He knows us inside and out, keeps in mind that we’re made of mud.
Men and women don’t live very long; like wildflowers they spring up and blossom,
But a storm snuffs them out just as quickly, leaving nothing to show they were here.
God’s love, though, is ever and always, eternally present to all who fear him,
Making everything right for them and their children as they follow his Covenant ways
and remember to do whatever he said.

I love the phrase that “God’s love is ever and always eternally present to all who fear him.”  I overwhelmingly feel that love.

So for now I will thank God for every day that I had with Keith and will bless God in every day that I have remaining here.

I will celebrate the season of His son and offer a “Merry Christmas” to everyone I can!

Blessings, my friends!

A Life of Gratitude

Okay, so…it’s Thanksgiving week, and I wanted to first let you all know that I am doing okay as we approach the holidays.  I have had a few weepy days, but starting today I will have a house full of people and 2 dogs, so I know my week will be eventful and wonderful!

As we approach Thanksgiving, I wanted to carry on a tradition that Keith did every year.  If you have ever been a member of one of his choirs, I know you are familiar with this.  It is a tradition that he learned from Bob Burroughs many years ago.  Every year on Thanksgiving, Keith picked out one or two people and sent them thank you notes for the impact that they had on his life.  Last year, among the notes that he sent were two to Josh and Bethany.  What treasures those notes are now!

So, I want to challenge you to sit down and write a thank you to a couple of people that have touched your life and left their fingerprints on you.  You know, it’s those people that have taught you, affirmed you, or in some way made you who you are.

I want to remind you that last Thanksgiving, Keith didn’t know that it was his last.  However, because he had written all of these notes over the years, he told people along the way what they meant to him. And, through this exercise, he received a lot of thank yous along the way from people whose life he had touched.

Anyway, today I am writing my notes to honor Keith.  I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I will tell you later in the week who I wrote to and why.  One in particular is a note that I have wanted to write for many years.

As I close, please know that although this has been a terribly difficult year, I am thankful for :

  1. Thirty years with the most wonderful husband and father in the world.  As I continue to hear stories about widows, young and old, I am reminded that Keith and I were able to raise our children and serve in ministry together for  30 years. My children had time with him, and bear the image of him in their lives.  This is a gift.
  2. Two very loving, smart, hard-working children.  Josh and Bethany are the best!  Josh is amazing working with children, and they all love him.  He has really found his niche, and I am so glad.  His ministry contains so many of  the things that were important to Keith in ministry, and I am so glad he learned from the best!  Bethany is beautiful, inside and out, and is so smart!  She is a senior at Auburn, and is working so hard to prepare for her future and to go to med school.  She is a Teaching Assistant in the College of Math and Science.  Okay…sorry for the gushing, but I am one proud momma!
  3. God’s provision and comfort during the darkest of days.  I have now experienced what I anticipate will be the worst thing that could ever happen to me in the loss of Keith, and God is faithful, and His promises are true.  I hope you realize that those are not just pretty “church” words to me.  I have lived them.

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope you will take a few moments out of your busy week to write your notes and tell those special folks in your life what they mean to you.

Gotta go write my notes!

Blessings, my friends!

Fellowship of Suffering

Okay, so…sometimes I worry a little that those of you out there that are so faithful to read my feeble attempts at blog writing may begin to cringe when you see the titles that have been surfacing over the past few weeks.  It’s really not my fault.  Really.  You see, I had my next blog all planned out in my mind and it was going to be a wonderful theological treatise on prayer (or the lack thereof) in our lives.  But, that will have to wait.  It seems that God and His inspiration had other plans!  I need to write about the happy topic of suffering!

Yesterday I spoke to a very good friend of mine that is in the middle of battling a very difficult, very rare auto-immune disease.  He is in tremendous pain, and the condition is so rare that the doctors are not able to give him a prognosis that can really be counted on.  So, he is moving through each day, some of them better than others, doing what he can.  I said to him, “My friend, I am SO sorry you are having to experience this life of illness.”  His response stunned me.  He said, “Lee Ann, I am a stronger Christian because of this disease.  I am bolder in my faith, and I am much more concerned about people and the condition of their souls.”  For those of you that followed my blog when Keith was sick, that statement probably has a note of familiarity to it, as that was the same sentiment that Keith expressed.

Then, Sunday night I ran into a lady at church that told me that her brother-in law, a pastor in his 40s, has been diagnosed with leukemia and the prognosis is not good.  She shared with great faith about their walk with God and the knowledge that this just meant that he would be arriving in Heaven a little before the rest of us.

Or one of my best friends who is struggling with a child that has overwhelming challenges and problems.  Yet because of her suffering she was given an opportunity to share her story and tell of God’s faithfulness to a conference of 1500 women.

Then there is another precious woman of God who suffers with a disease that causes her chronic pain.  You absolutely would never know it because she has made it her task to lift up all of the rest of us who are going through difficult times.  She is always smiling, always laughing, and believing God that she is exactly where she need to be.

As I thought about suffering, Philippians 3:10 came to mind, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;”

I can remember in the spring before Keith was diagnosed with cancer, he sang the song, “Send the Rain” in our services. As he was speaking about the song, he said, “All of us are either just coming through a storm, right in the middle of one, or have one just around the corner.”  I can remember thinking about those words and thinking, “Not me.  I’m not in any of those categories.”   Boy…I had no idea what was lurking on the horizon!

I think I really thought that I was one of God’s favorites, and he wasn’t going to allow any bad stuff to happen to me.  And certainly not to Keith because, after all, he was a MINISTER.  Ah, but what I am realizing is that because he loves us like he does, he allowed us to join in the fellowship of his suffering.  It is a great paradox that we won’t fully understand in this life, but it really helps me realize that sometimes, as Laura Story sings, “His blessings come through raindrops.”

In closing, I have to share with you again a portion of a letter that Keith and I received from a dear friend about halfway through our journey.  She lost her husband, a pastor, in a car accident.  Her words are inspired and when I posted it before I had numerous requests for copies of it.  I know it will make this blog extremely long, but go pour yourself a cup of coffee and settle in.  You will be blessed.

2 Corinthians 1:4 “ He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

The most obvious thing that will come from your experience is that you will be more attuned to another’s suffering. The apostle Paul was right on when he wrote in 2 Corinthians that we comfort others with the comfort which we ourselves have received. You will understand that every person you meet, whether in Wal-Mart or church, is suffering, has suffered or will suffer on some level.

You will hear more stories of cancer and death, loss and hurt than you ever realized were out there. They have always been there, but you have new ears to hear and understand and a new perspective from which to speak and minister. Speak freely. People want truth. They need to know that cancer sucks, chemo is hell, fear is real, and God is sometimes silent. They will need for you to tell them the good things too: friends matter, prayer helps, family is imperative. Yet in the midst of speaking the truth you will also have to tell them things that we as Christians don’t like to grapple with.

It has been four years since Dana was killed and still there are some deep shadows of hurt in my life-especially at church. For four years, I have heard people give testimonies of miraculous healing, divine intervention, deliverance from dangerous situations and even being snatched from the perils of death.  In those same testimonies, people will praise the Lord for His protection and declare that their experience is proof that the Lord protects His own. When I hear that, something inside of me aches and grieves all over again and a thousand questions dig into my heart. If God protected them, why not Dana? Why did my boys have to suffer such loss? Why did Dana experience an agonizing nine hour death? Why are we still so wounded? Where was God’s protection when death and peril and brokenness attacked us?

But this is what I have discovered. Even though those testimonies are spoken in good faith, they do not rightly represent God. In this life, we are never, not once, promised the protection of God. We are never told to trust in His protection. (Of course we have eternal protection-our salvation is secure. And there is certainly nothing wrong with asking for protection.) We are, however, always promised the presence of God. The Bible says, When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” But if I am trusting primarily in the protection of God, in times of death and sickness and sorrow, my faith will crumble.  Instead, I am to trust in God Himself. I am to trust His wisdom and love and sovereignty- the very nature and character of God. In this, I will not be disappointed. Neither will you.

You will find that in difficult times-even in the aftermath of a difficult journey-some folks will be like Job’s friends. They don’t mean to be ignorant but they always feel a need to say something. Usually it is the wrong thing. Most of the time they want to help explain why you have been through what you have been through and most of the time they assume God had some great thing to teach you through it all.

I sat with a young widow whose husband of 6 months had been killed in a car accident. She said these profound words to me. “People say that God will teach me so much through all of this. But am I so stupid that this is what God had to use to teach me?”  I was speechless. I knew exactly how she felt though I had never verbalized it so plainly.

The Shack is one of my favorite books. I know it has been controversial in some circles, but I think you can never fully appreciate it unless you have wrestled with the issue of a good God allowing really bad circumstances into your life. To me, the most eye-opening part of the book is the conversation Mac has with Wisdom.  Wisdom tells him that God does not cause or allow bad things to happen SO THAT He can teach us. Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world and in the midst of them God reveals Himself to us. So it is not great lessons we are to learn through our pain. It is a great Presence whom we are to experience and trust through our pain. This is true for my young widow friend and for me and for you as well.

You will also find in the years ahead that God redeems the pain. He redeems the pain of feeling rejected by Him. He redeems the pain of loss and sorrow and sickness. Certainly redeem does not mean He makes it all go away. He instead buys it back and refines it into something new. Somehow He makes all the pain coexist with the joy of His presence and His grace. He reshapes the brokenness into His image-and you will shine differently than ever before.

A benefit of difficult circumstances is the way you will live from day to day. You will never leave relationships unresolved or broken. Life is too short and too precious. You will love deeper, grieve harder, laugh louder, hold tighter. The unimportant things of life will become glaringly unimportant.

Finally, be careful around ungrateful people-especially church folks. You will find that you are more impatient and less tolerant of people who whine and complain-you know the type. The kind of person that gripes because the building is too hot or cold; or they didn’t get the solo, or their child was overlooked, or their feelings got hurt, or the sermon was too long and the music too loud. You will want to scream at them, “Try having cancer!” Restrain yourself. They won’t ever get it. At least not until God blesses them with something really worth complaining about.

In the end, you are different. I have cried many times for the privilege of having my life back the way it was before death and suffering invaded. But it won’t ever be the same. Consequently, I now know that anything can happen to anybody. I always knew that in my head but because I had never experienced something so personally horrible, I could not know that truth completely. In light of this knowledge, there is a tendency to always be waiting for the next bad thing to happen to you or to those you love; waiting for the next proverbial shoe to fall.  There will be the tendency to let fear rule.  Don’t let it. It is destructive and will lead you into terrible bondage. I know that from experience. Yes, something terrible might happen again in the future, but the Lord has been with you in the past and will give grace to face whatever comes in the future. Live in His presence one moment at a time.

So, if you are suffering today, please know that you are in great company, including Christ himself.  But above all, keep moving through it, knowing that God is with you every step of the way.

Blessings, my friends!

One Size Fits All Grief

Okay, so…one thing I am learning as I have been walking through this whole grieving thing now for almost 3 months is that grief is a very, very personal emotion.  I think it is even more personal and more unpredictable than love.  Ah, but here’s the problem…so many people feel like you have to follow a pattern, or go through certain stages, or act in a certain way, or don’t act in a certain way, in order to be grieving healthily.

There are some in my life who think I am doing great with my grief.  To those I would say that you don’t see me alone as I cry to the Father and ache for Keith.  There are others who think that I am in some stage of denial and will one day fall to pieces.  To those I would say that maybe you are right, but I think I am okay as long as I continue to cry to the Father and seek Him for guidance.

My quiet time today was about self sufficiency…about striving to be adequate without God’s help.  That is a big danger for me as I walk through this new life.  In my reading I was challenged to trust God enough to let things happen without striving to predict or control them.  I am sort of the queen of “striving.”  The definition of striving is to “make great efforts to achieve or obtain something.” Yep, that’s me. So my challenge is to stop striving and learn to wait and trust.

Often I have divided my life into things I can control and the things that require God’s help.  While I like it when all of you talk about what a strong woman I am, the fact is that in this new life I am daily putting one foot in front of the other, and seeking God with every step.  Most days I don’t feel very strong, but I feel safe in God’s plan.  It’s a good place to be, as I have come to realize through the pain of living that there is very little that I can control!!

So, back to grief.  If you have someone in your life that is going through the “grieving process,” be careful not to superimpose on them your ideas of how they should be acting or what they should be doing.  We all seem to work through this process differently.  Instead, I would challenge you to love and support them, brag on them, and cheer for them with each milestone that they set and pass.

I recently saw the movie, “Courageous,” and loved Ed Litton’s words as the pastor in the counseling session when he said (I am paraphrasing), “Losing someone you love is like having one of your limbs amputated.  You recover from it, but you are never the same.”  Ed is a friend of ours from First Baptist North Mobile, and for those that don’t know, he lost his wife in a car accident several years ago.  I know he has lived the words that he spoke and he voiced it for all of us “limbless” multitudes out here in life!

I am grieving. In my own polka dotted, flower infused laughing/crying sort of way, I am grieving.  Yep. It’s Lee Ann Martin grief, and it won’t fit anyone else.  But with God’s help every minute of the day, I am moving forward, and little by little the rough pangs are becoming happy stuff, and I know that’s how Keith would want it.

Blessings, my friends!

The Journey

The Journey

One of Keith’s great desires was to provide a resource for families, and especially for men going through cancer. In order to fulfill this wish of his, I have created the book, The Journey – Finish Strong, that chronicles each step and phase that we went through as I wrote online each day. Keith went through 3 different rounds of chemotherapy, RPLND surgery, and stem cell transplant. I created this book in 2010, when we thought the journey was complete, but I have rewritten and updated it to include the final stages of the journey. It also includes writings from Keith written on the day he found out he only had a few weeks to live.

This book is a transparent look at the roller coaster ride that comes with a cancer journey, but also chronicles God’s faithfulness through each step.

The book is now available for purchase. The cost is $12 + shipping. Please allow up to 3 weeks for delivery. I am very uncomfortable with self-promotion, but I know that Keith wanted to make this available, so that’s what I am doing. I am thankful for the opportunity to publish it.

Click here to purchase the book.

A Life Well Lived

Okay, so…Last night I was poking around on the web, and I found an online Guest Book that had been attached to Keith’s obituary through our local paper.  I am not sure why I hadn’t seen it before, but it had 6 pages of entries of notes that people had written to me, Josh and Bethany.  What a blessing it was to read these wonderful words of hope and encouragement!

You may also remember that right after the news about Keith’s impending death became public, he received over 500 emails.  While I read them as they came in, there were some that I missed, and some that the true meaning did not sink in until I went back and reread them.  I have been doing that some this week, and it is so overwhelming.

I have entitled today’s post “A Life Well Lived,” and have decided to share a few of these writings.  I haven’t asked permission from these folks to share their words on such a broad stage, so I am not going to use their names, but their stories are significant.

This one is from a High School friend of Keith’s:

When I was exploring whether or not Christianity was “the real deal” or not, Keith was one of the first people I met outside my little group of friends who was a Christian. He and I were 16 years old and living in Montgomery Alabama. Now, many decades later, I live on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. I have a Masters of Divinity, I am ministering in a church, and have a thriving ministry in East Africa. Keith is one of the very important people in my formative years who helped me to realize that Christianity was the real deal. He was able to convince me because, even at the ripe old age of 16, Christ was so very real to him. Your husband had an important impact on my life! I am sure there are hundreds of other people from our growing up years just like me who will not get the chance to write to you about Keith’s godly influence on them, so I speak for those people as well as myself. I’m sure that the quality of life Keith lived was several times more than what most people long to live. (Lord Jesus, comfort this family and fill with your love the tremendous gap left by Keith. Amen)

Here is a great example of how a small act of obedience can have a profound effect:

My family and I are members of Valleydale Church.  My husband (before he was my husband) moved to Birmingham from our small hometown of Albertville, Alabama.  He didn’t have a church and his friends here in Birmingham were not the church type.

David (my husband) started visiting some churches in the area but really wasn’t happy.  One Sunday he visited Valleydale.  He completed the guest card and placed it in the offering plate.  I’m not sure how long after that day it was but he was home one night and his doorbell rang.  It was Keith.  David invited him in and he said they talked for the longest time.  Keith invited him back to Valleydale in which David took him up on the offer and started attending regularly on Sunday mornings.

The first weekend I came to Birmingham to visit David he told me to be sure to bring a dress for church on Sunday.  I had attended church as a small child but then my family stopped going so church wasn’t something I was use to.  I remember feeling scared about going but brought my dress anyways.  Sunday morning came and he brought me to Valleydale.  We sat upstairs and looked down and I can remember thinking WOW.  This is awesome.  I really love this music.  I really love the pastor.  David and I dated for almost a year before we were married.  Every time I started to pack (I still lived in Albertville while we dated) I always packed my church dress and we attended Valleydale.

Shortly after us getting married, I knew this was the place God wanted me to be.  I wanted to teach a worship class for the 3-4 year olds but was so scared.  How could I teach when I have just begun to attend a church?  How could I teach when I wasn’t even a member?  So I was baptized.  I began to teach the 3-4 year olds.  I would study the entire week.  I had to since I didn’t know the stories much myself.  I spent hours and hours reading the scripture I would be teaching and researching it’s meaning.  Of course, I really didn’t need to do all this to be able to read a story to 3 and 4 year olds.  You had to keep it really basic for them.  But I wanted to know.

It wasn’t long after I was baptized that my son (from a previous marriage) wanted to be.  So he and my husband were both baptized together by Pastor Calvin.  I couldn’t believe it.  We were members of a church.  I would walk down the halls of the church and people knew my name (parents of the children mainly at first).  I taught several years there before having to give it up due to us being out of town so many weekends traveling and I felt the children deserved someone who was there for them more than I could be at the time.

We are still members of Valleydale.  The 3 and 4 year olds I taught that first year will be graduating high school this year.  It’s amazing to see them in church now and think wow I had a part in this.  I tell you all this because I’m not sure how our lives would have been had Brother Keith not taken the time to knock on a door one night.  Not only did he touch David’s life but that of mine and my sons.  Tyler (my son) became so involved with Valleydale as he got into middle school and high school.  Helping with VBS and spending time mentoring with younger boys.  He traveled on mission trips with the church and also outside of the church both nationally and international. 

I’m sorry I didn’t know about Keith’s illness prior to today.  I would love to have let him know what he meant in our lives.  How many lives he touched  just by knocking on one door.  I’m sorry for your loss and will be praying for you and your family. 

John 1:7 “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe”

Or this one from a young woman in Mobile:

My heart is so full and overflowing with love for the man who brought me to Jesus. For the man who taught me how to sing. I love you Brother Keith!!! I can remember being a little girl at Chickasaw & FBNM and listening to you sing. I thought you had the most beautiful voice. I wanted to sing like that and Lord knows I tried, but God had another purpose for me. (It wasn’t to sing!!!) Ha-Ha!!! But no matter how I sounded you coached me in my voice lessons and enjoyed every note!! I hope I didn’t hurt your ears too much!!! You were always there with an encouraging word, always a smile on your face and the light of Jesus shining through. Thank you for everything!!! You may not know it, but you have a big part of my heart. In 1995 I was shot in the face with a 22 pistol. I survived that day only by a miracle from God. I wouldn’t know that and wouldn’t appreciate that miracle everyday if it wasn’t for you. I accepted Jesus into my heart from your teachings and your example. From my heart and soul, thank you!!! I love you Brother Keith!!! I can’t be there to do it in person, but I hope you can feel the big hug I am sending you. I am also sending big hugs from Alabama to Lee Ann, Bethany and Josh!! I love all of you and I’m praying for you!!!

And this one is from Carey Dean, one of the Ministers that Keith mentored.  This is what he wrote in his journal after attending Keith’s funeral:

Today marks a Jordan-memorial stone for me. This funeral has forever affected me. I am so glad I decided to go, rent the car and drive the 7 hours….but I wish I would have done so a week earlier. I wish I could have sat at Keith’s bedside and said “thank you” instead of only being able to say it to Lee Ann.

Why do we struggle so with sacrificing temporary time and money for that which goes deeper than our watch or bank account? Thank you Lord, for this day. When Lee Ann asked me to be a pall-bearer I was humbled but I had no idea of how this role would forever change me. Because of Keith’s burial in Montgomery I assumed the role was simply honorary and because of that several, if not many, would be included in the honor.

 As I arrived at Woodland community church with Blake and Tanner we sat in the foyer taking in the place where Keith and Lee Ann served for 6 years. At one  point I got up, signed the guest registry and picked up an order of service. This is when everything changed and the gravity of the day fell upon my heart. I scanned the inside cover seeing each element with a description of each person involved in the service. Then I turned to the outside cover and my heart sank and tears began to flow.. There my name was listed with 5 others as pall-bearer with description, “Carey Dean, Mentored by Keith Martin.” That one statement had many words attached to it with invisible ink yet I could read it clearly. For me it really read, “Carey Dean whom I love and am proud of, who even though time and space has separated us I want him to know I consider him a dear friend.”

I broke. Thankful for a relationship from the Lord with Keith that was a privilege and joy. Thank you Lord for calling me into ministry and then putting me under the safe care of one such as Keith. Gratitude filled my being when I could stand to represent one of the many  in vocational ministry who were affected by Keith’s mentoring. 

His reserving a seat for me as a pall bearer said, “I love you and am proud of you. I want all to know my fingerprints are on you.” My deciding to go to the funeral  said to Keith and Lee Ann, “I love you and I am proud of you. I am so grateful to bear your fingerprints on my life.” 1 Peter 5:5 continues to become more understood in my life with each passing day. Today was a day where I experienced being humbled under the mighty hand of God. In that position of humility I found rest, peace, thanksgiving and sweet correction.

There are many more, but I will stop there.  My purpose in sharing these today is to hopefully encourage you in your walk.  I want to help you realize that the lives that you are touching each day really matter.  God can link things together in ways that we can’t imagine.  It is an amazingly wonderful plan that allows us to be partners with Him in His redemptive work!

I am more convinced than ever that one of the reasons Keith died so young is that he had finished the work God had for him here on earth.  He was just quicker about it than the rest of us, and got to head home early!

Blessings, my friends!

When God is Silent

Okay, so…first of all, thanks to all the many people who sent messages and emails and related accounts of hearing God’s voice.  It was fascinating to read all of your stories and overwhelming to realize how personally God meets us every day.

I told you last week that this blog was in two parts.  Last week was “When God Speaks,” and if you haven’t read it, you need to, in order to really keep what I am about to write in context.  As you may remember, two weeks before Keith died, even before we got the terrible news that he only had weeks to live, I felt closer to God than I had my entire life.  I don’t know how to describe it, and I won’t even begin to try, as it was such a personal thing that to ascribe words to it would somehow trivialize it.

That is important to note, because 3 days after Keith died, I entered probably the darkest place I have ever been in my 44 years of serving Christ.  This was a large, black hole that no one around me was even aware that I was in.  I tried to keep this part of my journey quiet.  I really like that all of you out there think I am such a strong woman of faith!  But there is no doubt that the Father wants this story told, and I think it is for one of you reading right now.

Keith died early on a Friday morning, and it was his desire that his memorial service be on a Friday and the graveside on Saturday, so we had several days where nothing really was happening.  Even the hustle and bustle of people arriving didn’t begin until mid week the next week.  It was a time of quiet and a time of reflection.

That was when I entered the hole.

I think it was Sunday night that I really started to question.  Now, I need to be sure you understand…I wasn’t questioning God’s actions, nor was I mad at God.  I was questioning the very existence of God.  The foundation of my faith was beginning to crumble, and I was terrified.  What if Keith was just gone?  Ceased to exist?  What if there really was nothing out there?  I was really questioning if God was something I had created in my own mind.

Before you start sending emails describing depression to me, I know that was at play here.  I was depressed, I was sad, I was alone, I had just experienced a major trauma, and now I was turning away from the God who had walked with me through every step of it.

I begged God to do something supernatural.  I begged him to give me some sign that Keith was with Him, but there was nothing but silence.  In looking back on it, I can almost picture God looking down at me and saying, “Are you kidding me? After the journey we have been on, you wonder if I am here?”  But in the darkness I had explained him away.

It was the darkest place I had ever been.

It is interesting that to begin my journey out of the pit, I went back to a message that I heard some 20 years ago in Mobile. In that message, the pastor talked of when you are facing storms to look back at the proven dependability of God in your life.  I looked back over the past two years and beyond, at all the ways God has been at work in my life since my teens and in the lives of those I love.  There is absolutely too much to explain away.  Once again I begged God to speak, but there was still silence.

Then I looked to scripture, and the first image that came to mind was Jesus in the Garden asking for the cup to pass from him, and then on the cross asking the Father why he had forsaken him.  Jesus in his finite body was reaching out to understand the infinite plan of God.  He was questioning, which helped me know it was okay to question.

Then I read again the story of Elijah 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.  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

A gentle whisper.  That’s what I heard.  I think I had really wanted God to move things around in my room, speak in a bass voice in the darkness, or write something mysteriously on my breakfast toast (I know…really?). But it was hearing the gentle whisper that reminded me of his love, and that even in those dark, dark days of questioning, He was sitting right beside me, his arm around me…whispering.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.     Romans 8:38

You may be in a place where you are questioning the very existence of God.  I am here to tell you that is okay…God is big enough to handle your doubts.  Please remember that your lack of belief does not cause God to cease to exist.  He is still there…waiting to speak to you in a whisper.

For those of you out there struggling today, I want to leave you with this scripture:

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!

When God Speaks

Okay, so…I have thought a long time about the next two articles that I am writing for this blog.  I don’t want to appear mystical or make you think that my faith is a little weird, but I feel strongly that I need to share these topics with you.  For the past two years I have been totally transparent, and I promise that is how it is now.  Today’s blog is entitled, “When God Speaks.”  The next one that I will post is entitled, “When God is Silent,” and will outline a very difficult time that I had a few days after Keith died.

There have been 5 distinct times in my life where I felt God was speaking directly to me.  His voice, while not directly audible to the human ear, was absolutely audible to my heart and I really believe just below human earshot.  I am not talking about those times when I have felt led by God, or encouraged through scripture.  No, what I am talking about today is a true one on one, God talking to me specifically about something specific.

In my first 51 years of life, it happened to me twice.  The first time was in 1979, when I was in the 3rd floor study room of Smith dorm at Samford.  I had really been studying and seeking God about my future and the decisions that were ahead of me.  I had just come out of a relationship, and was not looking to get into another any time soon.  It was during that time of intense praying and seeking God that God told me that I was going to marry Keith Martin.  It was really odd to me, as I hadn’t seen Keith all semester.  We were friends, but that was it.  I found out later that he had been student teaching that semester which was why I hadn’t seen him.

So, here I am in the middle of the night in Smith study room, and God says to me… “You are going to marry Keith Martin.”  I chuckled, as it seemed like such a random thing at the time.  The next day, however, I was in the student center and turned to find myself face to face with Keith (who I hadn’t seen all semester), and he said, “Hey, you have been on my mind recently and I was wondering what you are doing Friday night?”  All I could do was say… “Oh, my!”  Then I finally regained my composure enough to accept his dinner date, and the rest, as they say, is history.  It was the beginning of a beautiful love story!

The second time God spoke to me was in 1994, and it was during a time I was praying for some dear friends who were really going through some struggles.  At that time the song “God Will Make a Way” by Don Moen was very popular.  God’s word to me at that time was, “I am working in Paul and Mariann’s life in ways you can’t see, and I am planning big things for them.”  At the time they were struggling so much, but were so faithful to God.  As Paul graduated from Fuller Seminary this year and became a Senior Pastor, I had such a sense that the prophecy from 1994 had been fulfilled.

The last three times that God has spoken directly to me have happened in the past two years, since Keith became sick.  I would like to say that I was walking more closely with God than ever, and that’s why it happened, but I really believe that it happened because this was the greatest storm I had ever faced.  And He promised He would be there through the storms.

Keith was admitted to the hospital on July 17, 2009.  On Sunday afternoon, July 19, at 3:15 pm, I heard God speak again.  Keith was asleep, and the room was quiet.  We had no idea at the time what kind of cancer Keith had, but they assumed it was Lymphoma.  At 3:15 pm, I heard God say, “He is going to come through this, but it will be a very long, very difficult journey.”  I guess I interpreted “going to come through this” as meaning “healed,” but I know now that the message was more about the journey than the coming through it.  At each point over the past two years that I would feel completely overwhelmed, I would remember that encounter, and I would know that God could see the big picture.

In March of this year, after a conversation with Dr. Einhorn (his Indiana doctor) about the fact that the cancer had returned yet again, Keith came home to say that Dr. Einhorn had told him that he probably only had 2 years to live.  That news was completely devastating to me, and I stayed curled up in a fetal position for 2 days.  It was during that time that my next encounter happened.  I was pleading with God…begging Him to heal Keith, and I heard God say, “That man has no idea when Keith is going to die.”  It stopped me cold in my tracks.  “What does that mean?” I asked.  But there was nothing more.  No further explanation.  Of course I hoped it meant Keith would live another 10 or 20 years, but I think I knew that God was sending us a message to get ready for whatever was around the corner.  And that is exactly what we did.  That message from God made me realize that in no way did I have any control over Keith’s situation.   God was moving and He had a plan.

The last time (to this point) that God spoke was in May of this year.  Again, I was praying for healing, and I asked God, “Is Keith going to die from this?”  I heard God say, “He is not dead yet.”  Again I asked, “What does that mean?  Are you going to heal him?” But there was no answer.  The profound meaning of that simple statement changed my life, though, as I realized I had let the fear of Keith dying rob me of the days that we had left together.  After that I made sure we laughed and cried and talked.  I asked him questions about things he wanted me to do and made sure he had time with our children.  It completely changed the way I looked at what was to be our last days together, and I am so thankful that we had those.

So, I have use a lot of words today to come to this one simple point.  God loves you.  He wants to communicate with you.  His communication is very intimate and personal.  He may not speak to you in the same way that he does to me, but he will communicate with you.

In the weeks since Keith died, God’s presence has been very real to me.  I don’t know how to explain it, but if you have ever experienced it, you know what I am talking about. I know he is actively involved in my life and I am so thankful.  Every day I see new ways that he is at work.  I may not be getting the audible messages as often, but right now I don’t have to have them.

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 30:21

God is speaking…take time to listen!

Blessings, my friends!

One Singular Sensation

Okay, so…something happened this week that sort of blindsided me.  First, you have to understand that I have tried to really be aware of the things that might give me problems, you know, like being called a “widow” for the first time.  I knew that would be difficult, so I made sure that the first time I heard it, it came from my mouth.  I think I even referred to myself as a “widder woman” in one conversation. (I know…not sure what I was thinking on that one.) There are several other things, as well, that I have looked for and tried to “own” by basically beating my psyche to the punch.

This week, however, I had my legs cut out from in under me by, of all things, a dental insurance form.  It was no big deal…I just had to redo my dental insurance form for work.  I rattled off the first few questions, but then I got to the one that tripped me up: Marital Status.  It had 2 choices…married or single.  My pen automatically went to married, where it has for 30 years.  Then I stopped cold.  I realized that i couldn’t check it.  But I couldn’t bring myself to check single, either.

I wanted to write a little paragraph over in the margin of the form explaining that I was really neither married or single, but for all practical purposes I was still married its just that my husband had died but I still considered myself married and could they PLEASE not force me to check that blasted “single” box because I was really somewhere in between married and single? (For emphasis, please read the previous run on sentence very fast.)

In the end, of course, I had to check single.  That’s what the insurance company wanted to know.  I had to come to grips with the fact that while in my mind I am still very married to Keith, in the eyes of the world I am single.

So that was a very long introduction to bring me to my post for today.  Singleness.  The dictionary defines it as “only one in number; one only; unique; sole; or unmarried.”  The word itself seems cold and lonely.  But the word I really like from that definition is the word “unique.”  God created me and molded me into his unique creation, and he knew that I would be traveling this road.  I know he has prepared me for all that I am facing and will face, even in my singleness.

The reality is that my relationship with the father is not a group thing.  It is not a couple thing.  It is my heart connecting with his heart.  He and I.  As long as I have that relationship, I will never be “only one in number.”  I can boldly call on him for all my needs.  And in my times of loneliness, he is there. I am blessed.

So, yes…I am single…but I am not alone.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Hebrews 4:16

Blessings, my friends!