Monday, June 18, 2012

Hope in the Home Stretch

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  Romans 5: 1-5

36 weeks ago I began an incredible journey.  A journey I felt ill equipped to take.  A journey that would lead me through pain, suffering, periods of extreme loneliness, frustration, hurt, and sorrow.  Equal to the bad came blessings of joy, peace, friendship, prayer, strength, wisdom, perspective, respect, and hope.

Tonight, I will take my final chemo injection.  On Sunday, the 24th at 11:00 pm, a mere 6 days away, I will take my last set of medications.  Praise the Lord.

I have been asked several times over the past few days, "Aren't you so excited?"  Funny how life works.  I am not sure how I feel.  I will try to articulate it.  The short answer is of course I am thrilled to be in the home stretch.  But the emotions of ending a 9 month journey are not easily set into neat lines.  

I am still incredibly tired.  The extreme anemia that has accompanied my treatments, leaves me breathless and exhausted most of the time.  I have a severe sun sensitivity and the heat makes me physically ill.  My tongue and taste buds are swollen and burned making it hard for me to enjoy food and sometimes hard to eat at all.  There is no timeline on the reversal of these affects.  It could be as soon as 12 weeks, it could be years.  While I am concerned about the length of time in which it will take for me to actually feel better, I remain filled with hope.  

My marriage:  There are no words to accurately praise the husband who has taken such good care of me these last nine months.  John has brought me every meal, helped me in and out of bed, taken care of our children, prayed for me, walked beside me and after a couple of rough months in the beginning, devoted his love, time and energy to me and our family, while working a full time job.  In a very backwards way, my illness has been a blessing to our marriage.  John has stepped up in an incredible way, growing as a man, a father, a husband and a son of God.  I want all of those things to continue once my treatment is over and my life starts to return to some sort of normal.  I want that incredible man to continue to be changed and continue to grow, so I remain filled with hope that it will be so.

I am filled with happy tears and emotion as I have been somewhat of a rock these past 9 months.  I have only cried 5 times due to my illness (not counting tears in church, because those don't count!)  Twice the past two weeks, when in the sheer craziness of life, I just couldn't handle it anymore.  But now the tears are tears of, "I did it".  I am almost through.  I did it will little complaint, I did it with a great support system.  I did it with lots of love.  I did it with so many prayers that God surely thought, I had rallied an army of prayer warriors.  I did it with encouraging texts, notes, cards, and food.  Yes, more food than a family can eat, made by so many loving hands.  I did it with friends who picked up my kids, loved them and made them secure.  Yes, I did it with the faithful assurance of a Father who has provided in ways seen and unseen and I did it filled with Hope.  Hope that I would not be disappointed and Hope that Joy would come every morning.

I am filled with gratitude and a heart that can not even begin to thank every single person who has walked with me. There will never be anything I can do or say that will even convey how much I appreciate you, love you and have been encouraged by you.

Am I excited?  Yes, I am.  I will be more excited when I swallow those last disgusting pills on Sunday.  

Hope, it is a funny 4 letter word with a huge impact.  I remain in that hope as I face an uncertain recovery and a few years of testing that will determine if the liver disease is gone forever.  I remain hopeful that those tests will all return negative time and time again.  I remain hopeful that my recovery will be short and my health will rebound quickly.  I remain hopeful that my family will get the mom/wife back that they long to have, sooner rather than later. I remain hopeful that I will be able to put pen to paper and write out my full testimony one day of God's amazing provision in my life.  I remain hopeful that the perspective and lesson's learned during these 9 months will be reflective in my every day life for years to come.  I remain hopeful that as I have changed and others have changed that we can use our newfound joy to impact others.  

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

6 more days and I will be basking in the Glory of a healed body and savoring the Hope of a future that is wide open.  Praise the Lord.

Thank you all for walking with me, God put me in Charlotte when I didn't want to be here.  He surrounded me with love, friendship and an awesome church family.  He built a huge protective barrier around me so that I would be well covered during this storm of life.  

Today, he has bestowed on me a crown of beauty, instead of ashes.  He has given me the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  (Isaiah 61:3)  and always a Hope that will not disappoint.

I will update as the final tests are administered and the end is really the end.  You all remain in my prayers, and I ask to remain in yours as well. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I can do all things....

I want to share my testimony not to convict, condemn or even persuade, but so that if any bit of this might help even one, I pray to the Lord, that it will.

You see, I might know a tiny bit about suffering, joy, peace, and consuming love.

In my "Life" testimony, which I will not share today, I have faced more kinds of suffering than the average human being.  I know that may seem hard to believe but I assure you the things that I have endured in this human body should be enough to cause bitterness, anger, resentment, frustration, and I am not even talking about my current situation faced with illness.

I will start as Paul would start, full of Thanksgiving for each of you (1:3) .  You have remained in my heart and prayers even though I have not been able to be with you.  I am so thankful for the provisions you have provided for me and my family and do not take for granted the time and effort you have spent in sending your love and care.

I sit here and reflect on my life events and my current situation: bed bound, hungry for friendship, lonely for companionship, in a body that is weak and broken and think of how I "should" feel.  According to the world's standards, I should feel disappointment, frustration, anger, pain, and loss.  But assuredly I share with you that I rejoice that I do not live by "this" world's standards but the standards of the one true King and I am content to lay in bed, understanding that even in this, there is an opportunity to learn and share the gospel.

While Paul was in physical chains, I am in chains to my body.  While Paul was suffering because of his belief in Christ, I am suffering because of an illness, but believe that through the suffering, I too can be used.

Paul asks the early church in Philippi to unite, looking after not only your own needs but the needs of others.  You might ask, how am I possibly serving the needs of others, while constantly thinking of my own needs and illness?  

Several months ago, a plea went out through our church.  It was a plea I had heard time and time again, "We need Sunday School teachers".  While selfishly serving my own wants and needs at the time and my complete and utter lack of desire to serve in Sunday School, I turned away.  I made excuses, other's would surely "FEEL" called to step up and out and serve in this area.  After all, I knew I wasn't feeling called.  Not only was I not "feeling" called, I simply didn't want to do it either.  And of course there is always the great excuse, " I already serve in so many other areas, let the children's ministry find those who aren't serving already... I would sure hate to rob someone who IS feeling called of the blessing of working with the children"  No, I wasn't going to do it.

I don't know what happened, or why, perhaps it was Paul's amazing example, but mid summer when the cry and call went out again to our entire congregation, I said yes.  It was small and quiet and honestly, was a bit resentful, but it was still a yes.  Not a joyful, shout out kind of yes, but still a yes. I figured, I could "get through" a year.  What I failed to see at the time was that while "I" was not being specifically called, our church; Weddington United Methodist was calling all of us to unite and help, putting the needs of our children above our own needs.  I tell you, humbling myself so that resentment did not boil over, was hard.  Why couldn't others step up?  Why did I have to do it?  At the time I didn't know that I was going to be going through my treatments.  A few weeks after making this commitment to our Church and our children, I found out I would be undergoing 42-48 weeks of intense liver treatment.  It would have been so easy to walk away.  I wanted to be obedient to our Lord, but the excuses crept in.  I was scared.  I was scared of the unknown.  I was scared of not being able to be who I wanted to be, or do what I want to do.  Thankfully Paul reminds us that we are, "to continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose"  (2:13)

Yes, I was scared but in continuing to work out my salvation, God was working within me to prepare me and equip me to lead these children even with the unknowns of my treatment looming before me.  I decided to stop complaining and arguing with myself and to "hold out the word of life" (2:16) to reach the hearts of the children God was placing in my future.  You see, it was easy to look out for my own interests (was I going to be too sick, was I going to like the kids, was I going to even enjoy being with children in general) but doing the work of Christ was what the church was asking of me. (2:21)

As Paul reminds us to not put any confidence in the flesh of this life, and all confidence in Christ Jesus, he reminds us of the intensity of his old way's.  He also reminds us that though his life has been completely altered by being a follower of Christ, he remains imperfect (3:12)

As did Paul, so do I.  Doing my best to forget the past and straining toward what is ahead.  Notice, he doesn't say, "easily and joyfully and without burden running toward what is ahead".  He say's straining, straining toward what is ahead.  Reaching with all of his might to press on toward the goal to win the prize!!!  Yes, that sounds right.  (3:13-14)  Straining, reaching, pressing forward.  On towards the goal and the prize, eternal salvation!!

Paul also calls us to live up to what we have already attained, what do we know to be true?  Unite, serve, love, forgive, bless, be blessed, surrender, press replay and try again.... we all have this option.

My favorite passage from Philippians is 4:4-9 and is my life verse and is a beautiful part of my testimony.  "4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

"We are to Rejoice in all things!  When we are anxious we are to pray and present our requests to God....I am living proof that the Lord does indeed provide a peace that transcends all understanding.  Ok, I may still be working on my fear of flying, but he has provided peace in more situations that I can list in this summary.  Prayer, it works!  Petitioning God for our needs, it works!!

In this relationship, we are to put into practice what is noble, right, pure, lovely, excellent and praiseworthy.  I think this is what I was missing when my still small voice said, Yes.  I wasn't looking at our children's ministry as right, pure, lovely, excellent or praiseworthy.  Yet what could be more pure and lovely than that of our children?  Those we are tasked to raise up and lead from this generation to the next?

I am thankful for the many gifts you have provided to me and my family during this time of need.  I am still learning to be "content, whatever the circumstance" (4:11)  I do however, count on the promise that, "I can do all things through Him who gives me strength" (4:13)

I would like to sit here and tell you how easy suffering through this illness has been.  I would love to tell you that teaching between 25-38 children every week has been a piece of cake.  Let me tell you what I have learned.

Not by my strength but through the Unity of being part of the Body of our Church, I have learned...

1) Every child deserves to have an opportunity to learn about our great Lord.  Growing deep roots now, while they are eager to learn will help them either remain in the faith (as my father taught me) or to return to the faith as so many often do after college.
2) Children want to love you and want to be loved.  It is pretty simple like that.  While I would never consider myself to have a high tolerance for silliness, the wiggles, roaming hands, etc...  I have learned that God grants great patience to those doing his work.  It is rare that I am frustrated with the children in my class.
3) God has given me strength.  It would have been easy to walk away during my treatments, however, God gives me the will, want, and physical strength to stand before those children and teach every week.
4) In the struggles of my illness, I have been forced to be still and quiet.  Can you imagine?  Me?  Still?  Quiet?  It is true my friends.  It sure makes it a lot easier to find peace, patience, understanding, and yes, even a love for children that are not your own, when you can more clearly hear Him.
5) You don't have to feel personally "called" to answer a United "call" from our church.  God has blessed me in so many ways through these children.  I will tell you this, it is easier to preach and teach the word to open and willing children than to try to share the gospel with closed minded adults!

Believe it or not, this is not a plea to jump into children's ministry, this is my testimony and mine alone.  You, however, may have other things that have been heavy on your heart.  I promise you that when you sit in the will of God, you will be blessed beyond measure even if you do so while suffering.

Press on my sweet friends and do so joyfully.  Even if you have to dig deep to find that Jesus joy, it is there, I promise you.  I have always had a healthy dose of Joy, but I am starting more to appreciate a joy that can only come from obedience to our Lord.  While my joy has been altered these last 33 weeks, it has not been stolen.

Finally, a mother of one of the children in my Sunday School class said this to me: " I love that you don't consider it as 38 children to teach, but 38 hearts to reach"  Wow!  There was nothing more powerful than that statement.   I am reaching hearts for Christ, while my body is suffering.  I pray that it will continue to be a fruitful ministry.