Saturday, December 29, 2012

Subtle Blessings

I started out today with a Lifetime movie and a box of kleenex.Yeah, I know, I know. I usually avoid Lifetime movies like the plague, knowing what tear-jerkers they always are, but this one was a special favorite of mine.

"Five." Five separate stories of women who fought breast cancer, each in different ways. I love this movie because it's a reminder that breast cancer can come at us from many different directions and it is no respecter of persons. It might impact you through the loss of a loved one, co-worker, or the lady that greets you at your local Walmart. Old or young, stripper or high-powered attorney. No respecter of status, race, education, nothing. 1 in 8 get it, but nearly all of us are impacted by it in some way.

So I pulled up my kleenex box and enjoyed this favorite movie of mine. Each time I watch it I come away with something different from it. Just like an old book you read over and over, or a favorite Bible passage. You see something you missed the first (or second or 30th) time around. That's the beauty of reading God's Word over and over -- He brings you a new little nugget each time.

At the end of the movie (and I can tell you this without spoiling the ending) the main character's father gives her a gift -- a box of soap. It seemed a little odd and somewhat inappropriate for the occasion and she almost brushed it off, but then he explained that it had been her mother's favorite. She had previously commented on how much she missed the smell of her mother. Her father seemed like a crusty old guy, a man of few words who didn't relate well to others. But in that moment he communicated so much love and compassion to his daughter, and she had come so close to missing it altogether.

It was this touching father-daughter moment that brought out the kleenex for me this time around. It made me think of my own father, often crusty, and wonder how many subtle blessings from him I may have missed over the years. Wish I had paid closer attention.

I wonder how many subtle blessings cross our paths every day that are missed in the hustle and bustle. How many unspoken kindnesses from others -- loved ones or strangers, miracles and blessings from our Heavenly Father, that we don't even notice?

Father, help me to see the subtle blessings You sprinkle in my life today, to appreciate them, and help me to extend those blessings to others.

Keep your eyes open for that bar of soap.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Who's in the Driver's Seat

Reluctantly, I got into the car and sat down on the passenger side. The insurance agent got in on the driver’s side, ready to take my statement. I just couldn’t stop thinking how odd it was that he wanted to take my statement in his car in the parking lot rather than in the office.  Before closing my door, I took in the details of my surroundings. Something was just not right. Then I noticed that he had the engine running.  That told me right away that he was not what he seemed and I needed to get out of there fast, or I may not get another chance.

I bolted from the car and ran off into the parking lot, fake insurance guy right on my heels. I frantically looked around for my car, but couldn’t find it. I think it was at this point I realized that I was dreaming, and if it was just a dream, then I could control what happens next. So since my Honda Pilot was nowhere in sight, I decided that my key would magically work just fine on the sharp little yellow Corvette right in front of me! I jumped in and drove off.  Think I may have even run over fake insurance guy on the way out of the lot.

I wish real life worked like this, but it doesn’t.  Lately it feels like the bad guy (aka: cancer, aka: fake insurance guy) is closing in.

Went to get some test results earlier this week and we got fairly blindsided.  We were expecting either A or B, but instead got XYZ – an outcome we didn’t even know was possible. A long disease name we’ve never heard of – I swear they must be making this stuff up just for me.  A little googling told me that it is a rare condition that affects less than 1% of cancer patients. Wish I was this “lucky” when buying lottery tickets! And I wish that like in my dream I was in control of things so I could ensure a happy ending. I can hear the footsteps of the enemy getting closer. Lord, please send that yellow Corvette!

I learned that the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments are all pretty horrible. I could potentially face loss of mobility, vision, hearing, memory, speech …. what’s left?  I’ve been through a lot in the past 5 years, but this one really took the cake. Medical websites described it as an “ominous” diagnosis. Geez. I thought with tumors in my lung making it gradually more difficult to breathe and another up against my heart, that I really didn’t need to waste time worrying about the cancer making trouble elsewhere in my body. It was getting increasingly hard to smile and be brave. No, I was not at the wheel, and although I still trusted the One in the driver’s seat, I was not at all happy about the way this road was now leading. I turned to my friends and church family who’ve been praying for me and I told them I was done asking for strength, because that always seemed to translate into more challenges for me to face. Enough already. I just need a break. Please pray for God’s mercy.

I prayed, too, for some kind of ending to this blog. Couldn’t just end it here without any conclusion. I could say something nice about trusting the Lord, and although I still did, He just seemed far away and silent at the moment. Father, please help me, or teach me. Show me what the point is. I clicked “save,” prayed, and waited.

Four days later, He answered me. He always does if I listen and am patient. It started in the morning when I picked up my devotional book which I hadn’t read in a while (“Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young). As it often does, it seemed to speak directly to my present need: “Sometimes the road you are traveling seems blocked .... [but] My plan for your life is unfolding before you…. Do not fear your weakness, for it is the stage on which My Power and Glory perform most brilliantly. As you persevere along the path I have prepared for you, depending on My strength to sustain you, expect to see miracles – and you will.”  The verse was 2 Corinthians 5:7:

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

I didn’t have to wait long for the miracles. The phone rang that afternoon and it was an intern working on my case. She told me that my case had been reviewed by their team of experts and they disagreed with the other doctor! They felt that the information did not necessarily indicate disease. Although I was not for sure in the clear, things were sounding WAY more hopeful!

I’ll continue to trust the One in the driver’s seat of my little yellow Corvette!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Morticia's Roses

Having stage 4 cancer puts you in a whole different state of mind. I know, I've said that before. It's been 2 years now since we discovered that my cancer had spread to my lung and brain. It seems that we are working our way down the list of various treatments and chemo medicines, and they are less and less effective. We now seem to be just holding back the monster, rather than wiping him out. I follow the news closely to listen for any hopeful new development. I recently started taking a chemo pill that previously was used for treating kidney cancer and has now been found to also work for my type of breast cancer. It seems to be helping and I am cautiously optimistic, but won't know for sure until my next scan. I do find it discouraging that such a small percentage (5%, I'm told) of research funds for breast cancer go toward developing treatments for metasticized cancer.

Because of all this, I seem to approach a lot of things in my life with a certain amount of melancholy. I remember when I first heard of Prince William & Kate's engagement -- I wasn't sure I'd be around to watch the wedding -- I was. When I planted asparagus a few years ago, I knew it would be 2 or 3 years before it could be harvested, and I wondered if I'd get to enjoy it -- I did. I put away my summer clothes and wonder if I'll wear them again -- I have. When I pack up the Christmas decorations, I wonder if I'll unpack them next year -- here I am! I have a long list of books I want to read, but wonder how many I'll have time to finish.-- we'll see, I'm a slow reader. I don't mean to sound morbid -- I am at peace and do look forward to my home in heaven some day, but I am still melancholy about the things I would miss or leave unfinished in this life.

In front of our house, we have a long row of white rose bushes. I have seen the same kind of roses many places and they are loaded with beautiful white blooms. Ours, however, not so much. My husband is determined to "train" them to bloom at a lower height, so they don't get too tall and wild, and he regularly chops them down. I have repeatedly reasoned with him, explaining that his training attempts are futile and it is just natural for the plant to bloom at a certain height. Okay, okay, he promises not to cut them any more, then does it again a month later. I know he sneaks in a few snips here and there, thinking I won't notice. However, I really thought I'd finally convinced him to stop when we got a new gardener who promised to lovingly and expertly care for them for us.

Early one morning last month,, I walked to the front window and pulled open the drapes, only to discover him red-handed, scissors in hand and about a third of the way across my row of finally-blooming roses. Like Morticia Addams (Addams Family), who chopped the heads off all her roses and left nothing but stems in her vases. I yelled and cried and retreated to another room.

A little while later, John & I talked about it and I told him exactly why I was so upset. I really loved those roses (you know me & my garden!) and looked forward to seeing them loaded with blooms, like so many others I've seen. But every time they started to blossom, John would chop them off. Then I would wait what seemed like months for them to bloom again. As soon as they did, he would chop them again. I cried and confessed to him that I was always afraid I wouldn't live to see them bloom again. There, I said it. That was the underlying reason for so fiercely protecting my roses. My sweet John would never do anything to deliberately hurt me -- he just hadn't understood my perspective. I was only now starting to understand it myself.

I recently had the privilege of talking with a wonderful and courageous woman who is a little further down the path than I am. Her cancer has widely spread and her doctors have stopped her chemo. She is home, enjoying the love and support of precious friends and family. She is thrilled to be done with chemo and the awful side effects. She has gotten her affairs in order and is joyfully looking forward to meeting her Savior. She is not looking back, but looking ahead! She told me that she's never been so happy. She really is an inspiration to me! I so admire her for her faith, strength, and courage. I haven't quite reached that level of peace, peace that surpasses understanding, but hope I will when the time comes!