Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Most Dreaded Thing

**to prevent any suspense, I'll tell you now that I am still cancer-free**

Three weeks ago, I started feeling really great. I have no idea what changed, but my energy levels are now relatively normal for a mom of three. Around the same time, I admitted defeat and gave up on homeschooling. I found a small, affordable private school which I LOVE. The boys started last week. They love it too.

My house is clean and peaceful.

I've had wonderful one-on-one time with my daughter.

My boys actually like me again, and they seem really, really happy.

It has made me remember how much I love being a parent. The feelings of failure that overwhelmed me the last couple of years took from me all the joy of parenting. Today, my joy has been restored.

My euphoria was abruptly interrupted when I visited my doctor last Friday. I have experienced neck pain on and off for a while now, and it has gotten worse the last three weeks. I wasn't concerned, but I knew I needed to tell my doctor. At which point, I knew he would want to run some tests.

I hate tests and even worse, waiting for the results. There is nothing I dread more. Absolutely nothing.

Damie was with me at the doctor's appointment, and he made me confess to my neck pain. Recurrence is most common in the spine and in the brain (which inevitably lead to death), so neck pain is not a good sign. The doctor examined me. As expected, he immediately ordered scans.

My worst nightmare.
The thing I've dreaded the most.
Days of wondering and waiting and imagining every possibility.
The process of finding out you have a horrible disease is, by far, the most difficult part of having a horrible disease.

I was happily distracted over the weekend, staying busy with loving friends and fun activities. I resolved to ignore my neck pain (which was persistent in trying to remind me of my upcoming tests).
Monday morning I dropped the boys off at school. I dropped Eva off at Damie's office. Then I drove to the hospital to get x-rays.

First mistake: going alone.

I was trying to be rational and not overly dramatic. I thought it would be a quick and simple process, which it was. But after the technician was done taking pictures, she asked why I was getting the x-ray. I told her. She asked if I had ever injured the area. I answered no. Then she went to check the x-rays and make sure she didn't need to take any more.
When she returned, she wanted to take another, at a completely different angle. I panicked. Memories from my first ultrasound and mammogram came flooding back: the way they kept leaving the room to talk to the doctor and coming back and taking more pictures; checking over and over as their faces communicated the horror that they wouldn't yet tell me.

I left the x-ray area and returned to my car. Emotionally, I completely lost it. I knew for sure she must have taken that extra picture because she saw something on the first ones.

I picked up Eva and returned home. And the waiting began...

Second mistake: thinking I could wait alone.

Damie called my mom (he is much smarter than me). She immediately came over, bringing gifts and food and flowers, to spend the day with me.
Every time the phone rang, my heart started racing, my hands started shaking, and I couldn't breathe.
I was relieved when it was time to get the boys from school and I knew I wouldn't be near the phone for a while. I aimlessly drove around after, avoiding the house.
The call didn't come.

I slept well and by the next morning, things were peaceful. I wasn't that worried anymore. The call came first thing in the morning. It was my doctor's nurse. Feelings of relief swept over me. If the news was bad, the doctor would have called himself.
She said, "I have the results of your x-rays here...and they are showing... (breathe)

Arthritis."

Huh? I did not expect that.

I asked, "No cancer?"
"Definitely not cancer. But you do have degenerative arthritis in your neck."

Huh. I just kept saying to myself, "huh" and mixing it with an occasional, "hmm."
I once again felt about 30 years older than I am.

I'll meet with a doctor later to discuss the details of my arthritis. But I'm ecstatic it's not cancer. I can deal with arthritis, even if it does make me feel old.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Sovereignty of God

Last night I got a call from a woman who recently started attending my church. She is one of these amazingly joyful people with an ever-contagious smile. She's a second-grade teacher...you know the type: extremely likable. I don't know her all that well and so it surprised me to hear from her.

She told me that we lived near each other. She asked about my house and cars to make sure she was correct. Then she told me this story:

"About two years ago, I was walking in my neighborhood. I passed a house and saw a man getting out of a van. He walked around and helped his wife out of their car. She was hunched over and looked weak. The woman had a scarf on her head and I realized that she had cancer. A minute later I saw their small children get out of the car. I cried as I realized that she was a mom with little ones. For the past two years I have been praying for that woman and her family.
Yesterday at church, someone told me that I was your neighbor. Then she asked, "Did you know Stephanie had cancer?" 

I was that woman she has been praying for these past two years. As she shared all this with me, she was crying and I was crying. I was able to tell her how God answered her prayers. 

I am so amazed by the sovereignty of God. I am overwhelmed by the love of God. Isn't it incredible that the God who created the universe, would see me and that he would orchestrate this and send someone who doesn't even know me, but would be faithful to pray for me? I know there are many more whom I will probably never meet in this lifetime.

I think it is rare to get the opportunity to see the influence we have in people's lives and to be able to see the fruit of our prayers. God so often uses us as agents of his grace, and we minimize it, thinking it is insignificant. Sometimes it is the unseen things, the seemingly little things, that are the most powerful. And often times we never know the effect they have.

Thanks Michelle!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Doctors

***NOTE: to prevent any more of my friends and family from almost having a heart attack from the unintended suspense of this post, I will tell you up front that I am still cancer-free and healthy as can be. This post was a bad attempt at making fun of myself. ***

I'm looking forward to the day when doctor's appointments don't keep me up all night the night before. I go in for check-ups with my oncologists every few months. Yesterday was my appointment with my radiation oncologist. There were no particular possible-cancer-recurrence symptoms bugging me, so I wasn't worried about it...until the night before, when the panic started and I found myself staying up late, looking for ways to distract myself.

Once you have experienced receiving a bad report from a doctor, it is difficult to not relive that experience with each appointment. I find myself doing anything I can to avoid doctor appointments, no matter how trivial. And any medical test causes intense anxiety.

Yesterday, my doctor asked detailed questions about how I was feeling. We discussed my fatigue and all the possible causes. She decided to do a blood panel (breathe Stephanie!).
Then she asked, "Have you had any headaches?"
My heart started pounding. I hesitantly forced out a whisper, "Yeeesss." Then quickly added, "But I try really hard to not think every headache is a brain tumor and every back ache is bone cancer."
She said, "Describe your headaches."
My mind started racing, searching for the "correct" answer. The correct answer being the type of headache that isn't caused by cancer. Unfortunately, I didn't know the "correct" answer, so I had no choice but to tell her the truth. I was as vague as possible.
She said, "Well, that doesn't sound like a brain tumor, but we can do an MRI if that would give you peace of mind."
What! Another test?!? As long as I don't think or know that I have cancer, then I don't...right? (intentional self-delusion)
My rational self stepped in. I asked, "What are the symptoms of a brain tumor or metastasis to the bone?"
She described them and, all of the sudden, I felt all of those symptoms. Psychosomatic, I know.
But truthfully, they weren't consistent with anything I've been feeling. We all concluded that my headaches are due to tension and bad posture, and a bit of stretching would solve the problem (that and regular massages...if only I could afford them!).

My blood work came back normal, except for my thyroid, which I suspected. It accounts for my fatigue and many other random symptoms I've been experiencing, and it is easy to fix.

So, I got a clean bill of health and can live in happy, cancer-free bliss for another few months.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Gift of Listening

I have a friend who is easily one of my very favorite people in the whole world. I admire her beyond measure. When I first met her (12 years ago), I was struck by her ability to listen. What a gift it was! Although my friend has many amazing things that I love about her, her unique ability to listen stands out. She engages. She asks questions. She draws me out. It makes me feel valued. It makes me feel loved. Before I met her, I didn't realize that I spoke very fast, quickly trying to say what I wanted to say before someone else started speaking. I didn't think anyone really wanted to hear me. And the truth is, most people don't listen. I still struggle with verbally expressing myself and it is a bit unnerving when people really listen. 

I recently met a man who also has this gift and offers it unselfishly to complete strangers. He is a photojournalist who travels around finding everyday people with remarkable stories of suffering and overcoming. 

He ran across "The Scar Project" and had this reaction:
"This got me thinking about the different scars we carry as individuals and how much more powerful they could be if we could gracefully expose them. My hope is that through my writing and my photography that I can help people put a voice to their stories when they may not have been able to find the words or images on their own."

A few months ago, he contacted me because he wanted to hear my story. And when we met, he didn't offer advice. He didn't judge. He didn't try to solve my problems. He just listened.

Through his silence, he offers hope and healing.

Take some time to explore his blog and read the stories. Some might offend you. Some you might identify with. You will find some amazing people who have been able to share their stories, because someone listened.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Home School

Since I complained so much last year about putting my son in public school, I should mention that I am homeschooling this year. My oldest is in second grade and my other son is in kindergarten. So far, it is going really well. My standards for education are much lower than they once were, and I've learned to let go of the things that aren't that important. I'm keeping it very simple.
The kids are thriving on the one-on-one time they get with me. I can't believe the change in their behavior and their responsiveness to me. Discipline must always be balanced in love, and I have been lacking in demonstrating my love for them by neglecting quality one-on-one time. Homeschooling has given me the opportunity and structure to fill that void.
It is so much fun and brings me SO MUCH joy!

I also have the opportunity to be involved in a homeschool co-op once a week. Today was the first day. It is a co-op that some of my closest friends are also involved in. As I walked up, one of my friends saw me and got emotional at the prospect of being able to see me and my kids every week. She said, "Something has been missing, and now it feels complete." It was wonderful to see them, but seeing them is also a painful reminder of what once was. I cried all the way home.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Forgiveness

A philosopher (my dad) once asked me, "How can God forgive me for a sin I committed against another person?"
Or, another way to put it: "If someone sins against me, shouldn't I be the one in the position to grant forgiveness rather than God?"
I won't attempt to answer that question here (although it makes for a very interesting philosophical/theological debate), but it did make an important distinction in my mind.

I know that God loves me beyond measure. I know that He is kind and compassionate and merciful. I know there is nothing I need to do to earn His favor. I know that He forgives me and removes my sins as far as the east is from the west. I know Jesus died for all of my sins and the price was paid. But what about the people I hurt when I sin? What about the consequences of sin...not just for myself, but for those I hurt?

In my weakness, I hurt those I love - through neglect, through impatience and irritability, through my continual inability to balance my time and energy, through wrong thought patterns. It isn't intentional, of course. But I have witnessed plenty the depth of pain I can cause through unintentional offense. For my young children, who don't understand the implications of cancer, what pain have I caused them? What damage have I done?

I hate being weak. I hate not having control. Now the big test comes: Do I trust God in my weakness? Of course, I think that I do. I say that I do. But in this area, with the tender hearts of the ones I love, do I really trust God? Do I trust that He is able to overcome my weaknesses in their lives?

Probably the biggest lesson we all have to learn is forgiveness. It is not until we truly realize our own great need for forgiveness and experience that forgiveness, that we are free to forgive others. My kids have their own journey. God will use both my strengths and my weaknesses to shape them. And they will have to learn to forgive and to have a soft heart even in the midst of mistreatment (hopefully I won't be the primary tool for them to learn that lesson).

It is easy for me to forgive, for I have been forgiven much. And once more, through my failures, I learn the lesson of forgiveness. I desire forgiveness from both God and man. I'm so thankful that God has forgiven me, and that His mercies are new every morning. It is because of His great love for me that I can trust Him, even in my weakness. Especially in my weakness.

"Those who know your name trust in you,
  for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you."  ~Psalm 9:10

"But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation."  ~Psalm 13:5

"The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us." ~Psalm 103:8-12


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Resistance

"Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper, the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven."  ~Psalm 107:28-30

Lord, calm my storm. Lead me to my desired haven. Heal my body. Fill me with power and strength.

I think God is trying to refine me - and I keep resisting. I thought two years of cancer treatment and recovery was enough. But God's refining process takes time. More time that we expect, and certainly more time than we desire. I've learned from experience that trials take us beyond our ability to endure. When we feel we have hit our limit, the trial is rarely near an end. It is when we hit that point that we begin to understand the grace of God and how to completely depend on him. Unless we get angry and resist.

I'm still trying to do things in my strength and have yet to learn how to depend on his. I still love so much of this world and am clinging on to things that I am unwilling to let go of.

A friend recently told me that I need to accept my new normal, that I have to stop comparing my life now to what it was before cancer. She's right. But, I don't want to. I want my life back. However, I can no longer do things by sheer determination. I always thought I could do whatever I set my mind to. That just isn't the case anymore.

So Lord, I yield. What are you trying to teach me?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Endings

I hesitate to write. Most of my thoughts these past months have been dark and hopeless, and probably not beneficial to share with anyone.
A friend recently challenged me to continue to share my journey, to be real, to portray cancer for what it is, even at this point when many think it is over...and that I have had my happy ending.

Let me try to explain life after cancer...

I have this friend. She is one of the best friends to have when you are facing cancer. She is compassionate and encouraging. She validates your pain and at the same time, lifts you out of it. She gathers an army of people around to fight with you.
Even her face radiates encouragement. Her smile is so big I sometimes wonder if her face can contain it. Best of all, she is really, really funny. Anyone battling cancer needs someone who can make them laugh...since laughter comes with much difficulty.
God has gifted her with the grace and ability to come alongside those with cancer, to encourage them, to carry their burdens, and to relieve their loneliness. She has had many friends (too many), whom she has walked this journey with. Some with happy endings. Some without.

The funny thing about this amazing friend of mine is that she is terrified of cancer. Paralyzingly horrified. I once asked her why and she told me this story.

"When I was a little girl, my cousin Matt, that I was very, very close to, got cancer.
Hodgekin's Disease.
We were 10. He was more of my brother than a cousin. We were always together.
One minute we were swimming, walking to Hucks to get candy, lighting fireworks on his bed (yes, we started a fire:), and playing kickball and the next thing you know, he is losing his hair in my kitchen sink, throwing up constantly, and laying in bed for days on end.
He lived, but, he was never the same after that.
It changed him forever.
He was this super outgoing, fun loving, silly boy and then cancer came, and he became this withdrawn, insecure shell of himself.
We went to school together in highschool, and everyone would ask me where he moved to.
He never moved, he went to our school, but he was so withdrawn, no one even knew he was there.
Stephanie, I hate cancer. I hate it because, even when you survive it, it still has the power to steal your life.
I know that Jesus can even overcome cancer, And He can overcome the fear of cancer.
But, sometimes it just seems so, so big..."

I understand what she means now. I am but a shell of my former self. 
And I often wonder: What is the point? Why am I alive? 
So I can barely scrape by, doing the absolute minimum to survive?
Once a driven, ambitious, perfectionist, now a mediocre (if that) wife, mother, friend.
I accomplish the bare minimum, with no energy remaining to invest in the relationships that make life matter. I waste away the time finding meaningless ways to escape these tormenting thoughts.

People often ask me how I am and I long to be able to honestly say, "I'm doing great!"
I want to give them hope.
I want to give them a happy ending.
But I can't. 

With cancer there are no happy endings.
Some live and some die.
Those who live keep fighting, battling to get back what they have lost physically and emotionally. They try to move on and, at times, can even trick themselves into thinking they have. But the person they were before is gone. Even though I live, so much of me has already died. Yet the battle goes on...day, after day, after day.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I didn't know

I didn't realize.
The pain they carry around.
The struggles from past failure and sin that holds on and won't release its grip,
continually coming back to haunt.

I didn't see.
The burden they bear.
From grief and loss, and the struggles they face;
their daily battles, unspoken, yet constant.

I never knew.
The abuse they endured, that prevents them from functioning.
That keeps them from giving and receiving love, even from the One who loves perfectly.

All around me, people in pain, in varying degrees. And I didn't know.
But having cancer gave me a glimpse. People removing their masks and telling me their stories, relating to my pain.

Some of my struggles I can leave behind me. Others I will deal with for the rest of my life. Most left unspoken because people don't understand.
But they give me the ability to understand and have compassion for others, and more importantly, to give them hope. For I know that my Redeemer lives! (Job 19:25)

He came to make us whole, to heal our broken hearts, to restore what's been stolen, to bring freedom from the bondage of slavery. He came to replace our fears and frustrations with peace and joy. We are not meant to live broken. The price was already paid.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;" ~Luke 4:18

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Hero

She stays in the background, unnoticed
as others around her get the glory.
She gives her time, energy, and resources, unselfishly.
Her gentle strength empowers others.

A life of hardship, but no bitterness.
Some call her "Pollyanna."
She can find good in any circumstance,
and always encourages others.

She is compassionate, but never allows me to feel sorry for myself.
She is always on my side, but never lets me be a victim.

For almost a year, she came to my house, early in the morning, before Damie left for work.
She stayed all day, and often overnight, never leaving until Damie returned.
Neglecting her own home, to take care of mine.
Trading in her role as "fun Grandma," she became the parent.
A baby girl and two young boys, needing her to fill the void.

And she took care of her sick little girl, no longer so little.

She fought a battle of her own, on her knees, in the quiet of her room.
Yielding her will, and surrendering that which is most precious to her.
Confronting her own fears and struggles, and overcoming.
So that she could give hope to the family who depended on her,
who watched her reactions, as she set the tone:
Faith in the face of fear. Hope instead of hopelessness. Joy replacing sorrow.
Her own life a testimony of God's faithfulness.
And the home was made whole. There is joy and laughter.
Because of this remarkable woman. Who laid her life down. For me.

Me & My Mom, Feb 1975

Happy Birthday Mom! You are, and always have been, my hero!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chemo Brain

Some of you have asked about my sister Tracey, who was diagnosed with breast cancer while I was going through treatment. She finished up her treatment before me, and is doing really well. She caught her cancer earlier than I did and hers was slightly different than mine, so she had much less treatment. Praise the Lord!!!

I got to talk to her on the phone this past weekend and we laughed as we compared notes. One thing I haven't mentioned before is "chemo brain." Or perhaps I have mentioned it before and just can't remember. It is like "mommy brain" on steroids. We can laugh about it now and make fun of ourselves, since we've mostly recovered. But it did make life quite frustrating.

These things were constant, unlike the occasional memory loss and distraction that people commonly experience. It was really embarrassing and caused me to avoid people and conversations. It was like this:

  • I would concentrate as hard as I could when people were speaking to me and STILL forget mid-sentence what they were talking about. Then I'd look like I wasn't listening when I asked questions to find out things they had just told me.
  • I'd see someone I had known for years and completely forget their name. 
  • I couldn't remember details of people's lives...obvious ones, like, "Are they married? Do they have kids? Do they work? They just shared their life story with me yesterday!"
  • I'd see people and know that I was supposed to know them but had no idea who they were. "Do I know that person? Should I introduce myself or pretend I know them and hopefully I'll be able to figure it out by our conversation?" Then I'd be reminded by my husband that they had come to our house and brought us dinner the night before.
  • I would forget details of my own life. I couldn't remember what I had said, what I had done, or what I was about to do. I would strain to remember, with no success.
  • I couldn't remember words. Nothing sounded right when I spoke. I would mix things up. I couldn't keep a thought in my head long enough to communicate anything to anyone. At times I would go completely blank and stumble foolishly over my words.
  • I became really, really stupid. I got many strange looks because of my obvious lack of intelligence and odd behavior.
  • I was unable to focus, was constantly distracted, and probably shouldn't have even been driving. Fortunately I wasn't cooking or I might have burnt the house down.
  • I know it caused conflict in my family, I just can't quite remember how (see what I mean!). I'm pretty sure it was frustrating for them when I constantly failed to follow through on things I said I would do, then completely forget.

It was pretty funny at first. Damie would tease me, until it got so bad and I became so insecure about it that it just wasn't funny anymore. If I told him something repeatedly, instead of pointing it out to me, I asked him to just pretend it was the first time I said it. The fact that I had already told him something and didn't remember just made me want to cry.

I wanted to scream to the world, "YES, YOU ARE VERY IMPORTANT TO ME, EVEN IF I CAN'T REMEMBER YOUR NAME OR WHAT YOU JUST SAID TO ME OR THAT YOU SENT ME THAT FABULOUS BOUQUET OF FLOWERS LAST WEEK!" Instead I stared blankly and smiled awkwardly. I wonder how many peoples' feelings I hurt.

It doesn't go away over night. It's more of a process. My brain becomes clearer everyday. I still use the dictionary constantly, making sure that I'm using the right word and that it means what I think it means (not just the hard words, but often times the simple, obvious ones). I can remember past events of my life, but the details are gone. I feel like I have to relearn everything I once learned. When I read books I have read in the past, it is almost like reading them for the first time.
It's actually nice to get a fresh new look at life, and to be able to learn things without some of the bias generated by my past perceptions and experiences. Things become a bit clearer.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hymns

A blogger at Wordwise Hymns ran across my blog the other day. So I decided to check his out. What an amazing site! He blogs about old hymns, including the history of the hymns and their creators. The stories behind the hymns are as amazing as the hymns themselves.

I love old hymns. I listen to them often. What encouragement and comfort they bring! There have been so many nights that listening to these words brought calm to my storm...

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is sad to me how many churches have turned solely to modern choruses and have completely neglected old hymns. I suppose it is an attempt to be relevant to a younger generation. But in the process, an older generation, along with all of their gifting and wisdom, has been devalued and alienated. And we miss out on the richness and depth of worship that comes from these songs.

Robert at Wordwise Hymns recently blogged about the hymn Day By Day. Of course, that hymn is close to my heart. It is the title of this blog. The words are listed in my sidebar. And this lesson of trusting the Lord, one day at a time, knowing that He will give me everything I need to make it through each day, is one that I was required to learn very quickly.
Robert's post is worth reading, especially if you struggle with worry or fear. He quoted John Newton, and I just loved this illustration and had to steal the quote and post it below. But please, check out the entire post HERE. If you have time, click on the link to the hymn's author Lina Sandell.

“Sometimes I compare the troubles which we have to undergo in the course of the year to a great bundle of fagots [sticks gathered for firewood], far too large for us to lift. But God does not require us to carry the whole at once; He mercifully unties the bundle, and gives us first one stick, which we are to carry today, and then another which we are to carry tomorrow, and so on. This we might easily manage, if we would only take the burden appointed for us each day; but we chose to increase our troubles by carrying yesterday’s stick over again today, and adding tomorrow’s burden to our load, before we are required to bear it” (from Out of the Depths, Newton’s autobiography, p. 159).

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Secret

I have a secret! And I'm about to share it with you.

When I first started this blog, I committed to myself to be completely honest. I didn't want to paint an unrealistic picture. I like how my friend expressed this idea to me in an email (when I was feeling bad for being whiney):

"Making things that are really rotten look like roses doesn't do you or anyone else any favors. Sometimes, life is hard. Really really hard."

I also committed to myself years ago, to be transparent. I committed to be open and honest about my sins and my struggles. I fervently avoid the temptation to make myself look better than I am (although who can completely remove self-bias??).
In my attempts at being transparent, I often err on the side of being too open, and too blunt, as my close friends can attest.

Because of these commitments, you have seen my struggles. You have seen the hard times and the joyous times. You have seen me stumble, and you have seen me overcome.

[Of course, transparent honesty must be balanced with obedience and faith, especially regarding my words. The Bible has much to say about the fruit of our lips...but that's not what this post is about.]

Now back to my secret. I'm going to tell you my secret for getting back up when I fall down. Prayer and encouragement from friends is a huge help which should not be underrated. But friends don't (and shouldn't be required to) sustain me.
So, do you want to know how I go from the depths of depression to the heights of joy? It has very little to do with my circumstances, or emotions, or hormones, or side-effects of drugs. It is very simple.

I praise the Lord.

I praise Him with all of my heart, with all of my strength, with all that is within me.
It is very different from being thankful. There are times when it is difficult to find things to be thankful for. And even thankfulness entails a self-focus.
When I praise the Lord, I focus on who He is.
On His character.
On how amazing and awesome and powerful and loving and kind and good and merciful and beautiful He is.
On how much I love and adore Him.
I focus on the beauty of His presence. I focus on His countenance.

It doesn't matter how I feel, and it's not a particular method. There is no formula for praising the Lord. It can be in the quiet of my sickness, when all of my strength entails just a tiny whisper. It can be when I feel strong, and worship with dancing and shouts of praise.
Regardless, when I reach the point where I have given all my strength and have nothing left, when I have worshipped God with all of my heart, then I break through. It is in that moment that I overcome, that all the worries and pains and depression and frustrations cease. Then comes that unspeakable joy!

Something supernatural happens when I turn my focus off of myself and my circumstances, and on to God, who is always worthy of my praise. It reminds me of the famous song...

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Complaining


I hesitate to complain, but I've been depressed lately. I want this whole cancer thing to end, but it doesn't. It just goes on and on and on.

I'm still really fatigued, and it frustrates me. I'm so tired, I just want to stay home in bed and watch tv all day. Of course, with three little kids, that's not an option.
My feet hurt like crazy. From what I can tell, it feels a lot like arthritis. I thought is was an injury. But the doctors have concluded that it is a side effect of tamoxifen (the oral meds I have to take for another four years). Although I have avoided the menopause-type side effects, I'm experiencing the common bone and joint pain associated with that drug.
I also recently experienced lymphedema. It has been over a year since my surgery and I thought I was out of the woods. The Saturday after Thanksgiving I woke up with a swollen hand, and sausage fingers. Once again, I hoped it was an injury. But the doctors said it is indeed lymphedema: swelling due to the removal of lymph nodes. It's ugly and uncomfortable.
I try not to let these setbacks get to me, but they do.
I want to feel healthy and be able to function at a normal level. I'm tired of being exhausted and feeling 30 years older than I am.

I find myself giving in to discouragement. With that, my faith is weakened. I feed my flesh with the food of self-pity. And that opens the door to all kinds of evil thoughts and unbelief. My heart grows cold.

[Therefore beware] brethren, take care, lest there be in any one of you a wicked, unbelieving heart [which refuses to cleave to, trust in, and rely on Him], leading you to turn away and desert or stand aloof from the living God...
~Hebrews 3:12 (AMP)

These are the moments when it is important to have friends, to be a part of the beautiful body of Christ.
And it is important to be honest with those friends.
Friends who will come alongside you,
who will encourage and uplift,
who will warn and rebuke,
who will help align your thoughts with the word of God,
and who will "wrestle in prayer for you." (Colossians 4:12)

But instead warn (admonish, urge, and encourage) one another every day, as long as it is called Today, that none of you may be hardened [into settled rebellion] by the deceitfulness of sin [by the fraudulence, the stratagem, the trickery which the delusive glamor of his sin may play on him].  
~Hebrews 3:13 (AMP)

Thankfully, I am blessed with many of those types of friends, who remind me where to put my hope and where to find my strength and joy.
The picture posted above is the most cheerful bouquet of flowers I have ever seen. They arrived at my house today, from a dear friend who knew I was feeling down.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Geared Up


I have never run a marathon. I have never wanted to run a marathon. But when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I foolishly told my running buddy that if I survived, I would run a marathon. My goal is the Portland Marathon in October of 2012. I'm starting to think it may be unrealistic. The times I have tried to exercise, it has been intensely difficult. I am still extremely fatigued. I am prone to injury. At times I feel like an 80-year-old woman, weak and feeble. Regardless, I'm going to give it my best shot. It very possibly may not be this year, or even the next. But I have resolved to do my best to keep my promise.
I'm prepared. And if having all the proper gear indicates success, then I will be successful! I have new shoes, a new Garmin (complete with heart rate monitor) and my ever-so-faithful iPod.
A few days ago, I put on all my running attire and hit the road. I completed my old two-mile neighborhood loop. It was painful! I walked most of it, and came home with sore, arthritic-feeling feet. It was more difficult than I expected, but it's a start!
I invite you to join me. If anyone out there has ever wanted to train for a race, now is the time!! If I can do it, so can you. We all have obstacles to overcome. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. We will face failure. But we will get back up and press on!!
Ready. Set. GO!