We each have a life story, penned without ink, read by the people around us. Who's writing your story?

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Cancer, Covid, and the Grace of God

Strange symptoms. Unanswered questions. Multiple appointments. More tests. Inconclusive results. Endless waiting . . .

It's been over a year since my health journey began and I was told to see an oncologist.

Wait! See an oncologist? But the abdominal biopsy and PET scan shouted the diagnosis: Stage 3 Lymphoma.

"But this can't be happening to me! I eat healthy. I exercise. I've worked hard to steward my body. And besides, haven't I been through enough with my husband's death in 2015 and leftover limitations from a 2003 car crash? And what about my daughters who already lost one parent . . . and my elderly dad . . . and my job . . . and . . ." 

It was too much. My world crumbled. My anxiety sky-rocketed. And truth be told, I felt angry.

Last August, during those confusing weeks, I shared:

If you're like me, life's surprise trials can "throw you for a loop," as my mom used to say. We feel blindsided, panicky even - and find ourselves wondering, "Is this my fault? What could I have done differently? What about the others this will affect? Where is God in all this?" We just want to get back to normal, after all. We want to be healthy, stable, predictable . . . fine. 

But maybe "perpetually fine" is unrealistic. Jesus said, "In this world you will have tribulation" (John 6:33), but He doesn't leave us alone. Can we trust His sovereign yet loving hand? Will we choose to express gratefulness to Him and to the people around us? Will faithfulness characterize our daily walk? Can we learn contentment, regardless? 

A brochure came in the mail this week with these settling words: "Because God loves us so much, He never allows pain without purpose. He longs for us to run to Him and find shelter, courage, strength, and help in our times of distress. In these moments, we are drawn closer to Him, and we begin to understand His working in our lives."

The concept of trusting God to write your story isn't new to me, yet during the past year God has lovingly led me to trust Him more. Thinking and believing truth revealed through God's Word reminds me that His ways are higher and His thoughts more accurate than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9). 

Even in my darkest moments, when I find myself wringing my hands with tears streaming down my cheeks, I'm learning that God's promises stand regardless of my circumstances. The world often harms us, "but God intends it for good to accomplish what is now being done" (Genesis 50:20). Perhaps He is using my illness to heal my heart.

At this point in my journey, God has supplied a team of doctors and practitioners whose help has been invaluable. When I contracted COVID just before Christmas, He graciously directed me to a health coach whose protocol brought healing at a vulnerable time. My family has been supportive, and many have been praying.

Eleven months after my diagnosis, I still have cancer. I'm still uncertain of what's ahead. I still have multiple appointments and unanswered questions and periods of waiting. I slip back into times of tearful worry and anxiety. All this, but I'm in a different place. A place of acceptance (most of the time) with a deeper trust in the One who works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). 

Mine is a story of grace . . . penned without ink.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Three Words to Live By

You've heard the old saying, "It's good to go, and it's good to come home." 

Last week I returned from a road trip of over 1670 miles. I wound my way through the misty mountains of Pennsylvania, passed rows of giant windmills with outstretched arms, and tunneled my way through fields of corn and beans. Family in two mid-western states drew me like a magnet . . . every mile a little closer, every hour an accomplishment. 

My trip was everything I hoped for. 

Barry's siblings, their families, and I all gathered for a long-overdue rendez-vous over lunch. I enjoyed my sister and brother-in-law's warm hospitality where we picked green beans and zucchini from their garden, reminisced over breakfast, and chatted before bed. My youngest daughter and I laughed and talked, visited her workplace and church, and savored the sun at Silver Beach on Lake Michigan. I saw where she rents a room and rides her bike. We walked her trails together. On my last full day, she, my sister, and I picked blueberries in a large dewey patch in the country.

For me, the best parts of any reunion are the conversations. Seems we start out by catching up on the news and seeing whatever is new since last time. Yet, it's the sharing of thoughts and hopes and fears and dreams . . . the sharing of souls . . . that I treasure. 

Sometimes multiple conversations blend together to give us a takeaway that rides the miles home with us, taking root in our hearts and giving us courage to face whatever's next. This time I've come away with three words. Three words to take with me through these next weeks of uncertainty and challenge.

Gratefulness          Faithfulness          Contentment

If you're like me, life's surprise trials  can "throw you for a loop," as my mom used to say. We feel blindsided, panicky even - and find ourselves wondering, "Is this my fault? What could I have done differently to avoid this circumstance? What about the others this will affect? Where is God in all this?" We just want to get back to normal, after all. We want to be healthy, stable, predictable . . . fine. 

But maybe "perpetually fine" is unrealistic. Jesus said, "In this world you will have tribulation" (John 6:33), but He doesn't leave us alone. Can we trust His sovereign yet loving hand? Will we choose to express gratefulness to Him and to the people around us? Will faithfulness characterize our daily walk? Can we learn contentment, regardless? 

These are some of the questions I've been contemplating since coming home. A brochure came in the mail this week with these settling words: "Because God loves us so much, He never allows pain without purpose. He longs for us to run to Him and find shelter, courage, strength, and help in our times of distress. In these moments, we are drawn closer to Him and we begin to understand His working in our lives."

Gratefulness, faithfulness, and contentment. Three words to live by in troubling times.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Blooming Where We're Planted

What's growing in your garden this summer? Are you enjoying perennials like daisies, back-eyed susans, and day-lilies? Did you plant annuals? Impatiens, geraniums, or begonias? Any pots or raised beds sprouting tomatoes, basil, or lettuce?

I love this time of year even if it is hot and humid! Seems we've waited a long time for the warmth of July. As I write, it's raining . . . a blessing to cheer up our brown lawns and thirsty plants.

I'm not a landscaper by any means, yet so far this seems to be a good season. At least I'm enjoying the process. I haven't done anything out of the ordinary . . . just the usual weed-pulling and a little watering here and there. The blooms are opening up right on time, including my late husband's fragrant pink roses. The edibles have given me a special pleasure: rhubarb, raspberries, blueberries, tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage . . . all in different stages, all offering their own textures and flavors. After a brisk walk, I putter around my yard every morning. breathing in the freshness (and batting away the gnats).

My gardener friend, Susan, says good soil produces healthy plants and nutrient-dense fruit. That's what I'm after. I weed and water, tend and prune, watch and wait. This week, as I worked, I thought about how God places us in the good soil of His grace. The heat, the storms, the pruning, and the waiting may lead us to doubt His divine green thumb, but the Master Gardener has a plan and a purpose for each one of us. Have you noticed how He pulls the weeds of self-reliance and pride? How He trims the suckers that take away our fruitfulness, all the while whispering words of hope?

The Seeking Heart by Francois Fenelon has touched my heart over the past few weeks. I found it in my husband's books and have been reading one short selection each morning when I come in from the garden. The other day, I underlined these words, "[God] trains you to fulfill His noble plans amidst the petty annoyances and aggravations of life. . . . [He] uses the disappointments, disillusionments, and failures of your life to take your trust away from yourself and help you put your trust in Him. . . . Nothing happens without His consent."

These words encourage me to see things from a higher perspective. Just as I often peer over the fence to check on my garden, so God has His eye on us, no matter where we find ourselves growing. Let's not shrivel up in doubt, discontentment, and self-pity. With confidence in His careful tending, let's bloom where He plants us.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Perspective in the Pandemic

The words jumped off the page! 

At any other time, I probably would've skimmed right over them, but during the Covid-19 culture they became the very essence of hope.

Perhaps I should back up a bit. Careful to follow the protocols handed down by governors and health advisors alike, I found myself with a scratchy throat and a hoarse voice. I lined up my usual beat-the-bug potions on the counter, fully expecting to be fine after a day or two. Just to be sure I took my temperature. Days turned into weeks with symptoms coming and going (none of which were on the C-19 list, I might add). Finally, I made an appointment, which turned into several more. I think we're finally almost to the end of this road.

All that to say this: Between the ever-darkening newscasts and my own fear of somehow infecting my 84-year-old dad, I felt anxious . . . really anxious . . . and even guilty. What was wrong with me? Why didn't God intervene? I couldn't bear it if I gave something to my father. And what if this was something serious? 

My usual take-what-comes manner flew right out the window, and fear and frustration began to take root in my heart. And that's when I read these words:
"And no inhabitant will say, 'I am sick';
the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity" (Isaiah 33:24).
Can you imagine a day when not one person will say "I am sick"? Isaiah wrote about judgment and captivity to a nation who forsook God's ways, but he also penned poetry about God's promise to bring about the messianic kingdom, a kingdom the redeemed will one day enjoy.

Even in the the midst of a worldwide pandemic, herein lies our hope. Sickness will be banished. Sin will be forgiven. And the LORD will be our judge, lawgiver, and king. He will save us (33:22).
"Say to those who have an anxious heart,
Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God . . ." (35:4).

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Season of Remembering

Could we ever have imagined the realities of the past couple of months? Like it or not, we've learned a whole new vocabulary. We've limited our travels, our work, and our shopping. We've also reached out to others in new ways, using our compassionate and creative energy to cross the barriers to lend support and help.  

For me, it's been a season of recovery . . . and remembering. Last time (April 5th), I wrote about the 17th anniversary of our family's car crash. In addition, as I sat in my recliner with ice on my new hip, I read through some of my late husband's journals. Some pages brought tears to my eyes. Others made me laugh, but every paragraph reminded me of the grace of God in spite of our humanness.

This is also the month to remember my mom (May 1936-August 2013), my parents'  wedding anniversary (63 years today), and the five-year anniversary of Barry's passing (5-15-2015). Made me wonder what I've been doing the past five years! Writing a couple of books, seeing Elisabeth through college, keeping up with my grandsons and their five-star moms (and dads), simplifying, maintaining my home, nurturing relationships . . . and learning, learning, learning all the way. I'm so grateful for God's tried-and-true promises.

I completed a project this past week that brought back multiple memories. I made Elisabeth a quilt (i.e. picnic blanket) from a stack of her saved T-shirts. I cut the shirts apart and squared up each block, then ironed fusible interfacing onto the backs and squared them up once more. The stack of squares and rectangles boasted logos and slogans from elementary school, high school, college, places of employment, our church, a 5K run, and her favorite vacation spot. What stories they told!  

As I stitched, I remembered praying her through many of those chapters, usually coupled with motherly concern and a sense of pride as I cheered her on. The process reminded me of the promise in Philippians 1:6 . . . the promise that we can be confident that He who began a good work will continue . . . developing and perfecting and bringing it to full completion (AMPC). 

I'm learning that when we remember God's intimate involvement in our lives, we can better place our faith in Him when we peer into the fog of an uncertain future . . .  humanly speaking, a future with no guarantees. We can make decisions based on what is and Who is rather than on the fear of the what-ifs

I invite you to brew a cup a tea, and take some time to remember. How has God blessed you? In what ways has He given you grace in the past? What promises from His Word will you claim? Let's make this season of remembering a time to also ask God to give us the courage to move forward into the "new normal" of tomorrow.

"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."
Psalm 102:2

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Remembering the Miracles

Do you remember what you were doing seventeen years ago today?

April 5, 2003 will forever be embedded into my heart - and the hearts of my family. It started out so normal, yet in a matter of minutes our lives changed forever.

Dense fog engulfed us as we strained to see past the front end of our car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The unexpected, eerie haze on a fair day spiked my pulse and revved up my every nerve. … I turned to check on five-year-old Elisabeth in the back seat. In that instant, a crushing blow from behind convulsed us back and forth like rag dolls. … Sickening terror seized me as the life-shattering impact snuffed out hope . . .
Fire. Explosions. Screams. Scraping metal. These were the terrifying sounds that pierced the murky mist around us. Only one thought beat like a drum in my mind: We have to get out of the cr. Out of the car. Out . . . *

This past week I found the box of cards so many caring friends sent our way in the weeks and months following the twenty-three care pile-up. Hundreds of cards. I opened every one, compelled to savor each loving, encouraging message once again. 

Here's one that captured my attention:
April 11, 2003
How can words express what only the heart can speak? Know that you are constantly on our hearts and in our prayers during these difficult days.
"I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; …  Will the Lord reject forever? Will He never show his favor again? Has God forgotten to be merciful?
"Then I thought, 'I will remember the deeds of the Lord, yes I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds . . .'" (Psalm 77).
Today is a day for remembering the miracles! Humanly speaking, we should never have survived. Only God could've protected my spinal cord, preventing paralysis. Only God could've brought Barry back from a coma that lasted for weeks. Only God sustained us through our long and arduous recovery and the new normal we often found overwhelming.

We're all facing many unknowns. In a matter of weeks, life as we knew it has changed in ways we could never have imagined. The future looks foggy and obscure. Economic and physical recovery seem unlikely. Fear lurks around every corner.

The author of Psalm 77 faced similar feelings so many centuries ago. In his despair, he chose to remember the miracles, to meditate on all God's mighty deeds. It made all the difference.

I invite you to read or reread our story told in Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story. Within its pages, you'll find story after story of God's goodness, and you'll share my journey of learning to trust God in the midst of uncertainty. I've also written a Bible study that will draw you into the Scriptures to dig deeper into the themes of trust. I pray it will be a blessing to you and bring you hope in these trying times.

And on this Palm Sunday, how about taking some time with your family to remember the miracles in your own story!? 

*Page 7, Penned Without Ink.
**Resources available on Amazon.com. Click HERE and HERE for more information.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Three Cheers for the "Cane Gang"

Sometimes our experiences bring us face to face with our misconceptions.

Here's one example. When you see a man or woman with a cane or walker, what's the first thought that pops into your mind? Do you pity them? Do you begrudge their slow pace? Do you wonder why it's worth their effort to venture out?

I've always had a certain amount of compassion for our senior brothers and sisters and those with disabilities. Maybe the 2003 car crash that broke my neck, causing me to use a walker for a while, contributed to this mindset. But the last few weeks have heightened my awareness and challenged my thinking.

I was blessed to have a hip replacement three weeks ago. I'm doing well, having hurdled a few bumps in the road and being the recipient of many kindnesses along the way. (Thank you to those who prayed, sent cards, brought meals, and helped in a hundred other ways! I couldn't have managed without you.) Even so, being a member of the "cane gang" is not for the faint of heart.

My brother-in-law first coined the family phrase when my great aunts and uncles gathered at my parents' home for Christmas in the 1980s, bringing their canes with them (which doubled as crooks for little-boy shepherds during the annual Christmas play!).

I'm learning that using a cane is not as easy as it looks . . . walking, climbing and descending stairs, getting in and out of bed, taking a shower, navigating the car. Using a walker can be cumbersome. Then there's the grabber, the sock-aid, the long-handled shoe-horn, the nightlights, and the grab bars, to name a few. 

I'm also learning that every one of those aids brings more independence and more freedom. 

My neighbor inspires me. He doesn't see himself as "confined to a wheelchair." Instead, his chair has allowed him to "take a walk," hold a meaningful job, live independently, and contribute to our community in significant ways. 

In a few weeks, I hope to pack up my walker and put away my cane. Yet, I will have more appreciation for those who require the use of aids. Let's not pity them or become impatient, but cheer them on. They have had to come face to face with the disappointment and loss of youth and agility and are finding ways to preserve their independence and keep their stabilizing routines. A smile, a respectful greeting, a listening ear, and perhaps a helping hand will go a long way toward helping them see their value in a hurried culture that seldom has time.

Three cheers for the Cane Gang!