The Secret to Joy

Hey all!  I know it’s been quite a while since I’ve updated but God still has me on the mission of face-to-face ministry and I’m trying to be obedient there and I must say I’m in a really good place as far as that goes.  To be honest, I started to feel quite guilty when people knew who I was, knew my struggles, knew my heart but I didn’t know theirs!  I’m not limiting how much I may or may not blog in the future, but for the past few months, I’ve felt God saying that this was becoming too distant of a ministry and that I needed to be more present and intentional in the lives of individuals rather than the masses, so to speak.  So that’s what I’ve been doing!  And it’s been amazing, rewarding, God-honoring, and truly very refreshing.

But with all that said, I have been mulling over a few things lately that I felt have really helped me keep perspective in servanthood.  We know God wants us to live with a servant’s heart but in our day and age that can quickly lead to burnout or even just confusion over where to start.  If I can help with that for even one person, then I will be really glad to break my streak of not blogging.

My husband is one of the members of the teaching team at our church plant (another blog just waiting to be written!), and on Sunday he preached about something near and dear to my heart, which is serving.  He based his message off of Galatians 5:13-14, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge in the flesh; rather, serve one another in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  Looking at our faith through this lens is so invigorating and empowering.  What an honor to serve in Christ’s name!

But here’s what I really wanted to share.  I wanted to share what I’ve found to be my secret for keeping a positive attitude and a desire to continue serving, regardless of the circumstance and here it is:

Express gratitude and give appreciation whenever possible, but never, ever expect it.

This may sound simple enough but if you really take it in and apply it to your own life you can see that it may just be the key to serving joyfully in all circumstances and if you’re looking for opportunities to encourage others and that becomes your heart’s desire, it really won’t phase you if your efforts go unnoticed.  This philosophy has kept me humble in ministry and kept me from ending up doing acts of service where there’s recognition of some sort.  Not that recognition is horrible, but it sure shouldn’t be the goal, right?!

Maybe everyone already knows this and I’m late to the party, but I really wanted to share this because it has helped me so much.

And if you haven’t found a means of serving that seems to quite fit yet, I encourage you to apply this to that area.  Don’t limit yourself only to opportunities that your local church offers, though that is of course a great place to start.  But when you find a means of serving that energizes you and doesn’t drain and to where you would continue to serve even if no one ever knew you were there, then in my humble opinion, that’s the one for you.  Disclaimer, of course we can all have more than one important ministry in our lives.

Hopefully this all makes sense, give me a little grace, it’s been a while!

And hey if you’ve made it this far, I’ll give a little life update.  Cancer-wise, everything is steady and stable and besides little things here and there, I’m feeling great.  So a deep, heartfelt “thank you” to those who have prayed for me over the years, it is much appreciated!  And I very much miss interacting with those of you I’ve “met” through blogging.

A few little updates, our family has grown by 7 chickens, 1 duck, and a kitten.  Buck and Mater, Eric, and the kids are all doing well, and I hope this message finds you well, too!

 

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“How are you?”

“Hey! How are you?”

Do they just mean in general or, like, cancer-wise? How deep are they looking to go? How long has it been since I’ve seen or talked to this person? Have they heard the latest update that I’m fine? Am I fine? I think I’m fine…

“Fine! How are you?”

This often leaves someone looking a little bewildered that I hadn’t answered them fully.

Crap. They wanted to know more…ok where are we at here….

“Yup, scans have been good so I can’t complain!”

“But how are you feeling?”

Now this is the question that really gets me. How am I feeling? I realize people ask because they care just like that’s why I ask them the same question. I just quite never know how deep to go.

Technically, I’m ok! I’m still here and comparatively, way better than I was a few years ago. But I’ve got some issues.

I get asked about the things that still affect me pretty often so I’ll try to give a full answer here. It’s not complaining or trying to garner sympathy, I think it’s just interesting to see where cancer is still affecting day to day life. These are all things I can adjust to, it’s just that this is life now.

Although cancer is not an immediate looming threat on my life at this moment, that’s not to say I can really ever get away from it. All throughout the day every single day I’m reminded, one way or another, that my life and my body are just different than they were 5 years ago.

So here’s the breakdown:

Brain. My brain just does not work the way it used to. Surely part of it is aging and part of it is having kids (….because they age you…), but most of it is due to my brain tumor, the radiation I had to my tumor, the radiation I had on the right side of my head that hit the lower side of my brain, and part of it is residual effects of oxygen loss during grand mal seizures. These side effects are mostly memory loss, difficulty thinking of the right words for things (very common things, like “cup”), and in general a slower processing time.

Sinuses. I never had sinus issues before all of this, but my oncologist seems to think my chemo amped up my immune system in my sinuses so that any bug I get ends up turning into a sinus infection. I don’t quite understand how that all works but I’ll believe him because I’ve seen the PET scans that always always show my sinuses lit up like a Christmas tree but it’s not cancer. Strange things are afoot…

Hearing. Radiation is not over once it’s over. It continues to degrade the area that was radiated more and more over time. Since I had radiation on the right side of my face and neck, this has affected my hearing on the right side to the point where I have lost probably 80% of the hearing on that side so far (the expectation is complete loss on that side eventually).

Hearing loss has actually affected me way more than I thought it would. It’s extremely disorienting and I cannot make out where sounds are coming from. If I’m in a crowded area, I cannot hold a conversation because I can’t make anything out. It just sounds like a swarm of bees or something. Beyond the hearing, my right ear is always uncomfortable and feels “full”. All the time. I can’t get water in it or I’ll get an ear infection and those aren’t all that fun.

My face. Ohhhh, my face. I know it’s a vast improvement from where it was, but it’s still hard for me to look in the mirror for any longer than absolutely necessary. I despise doing my hair or makeup because I have to look at myself for longer and the huge scar and transplant site in my face are just not what I want to see. So I usually just don’t. I may give off a “low maintenance” vibe, and that’s not completely inaccurate, but it’s really just because I can’t stand to look at myself. It is what it is.

Thyroid. Since radiation went down into my neck, I’ve began to lose thyroid function. This comes with a whole list of not awesome side effects. Weight gain and fatigue mostly. Fuunnnn….

Voice. I love singing, I always have. I used to be able to rock a Mariah song but because of, you guessed it, radiation, I’ve lost my high range.

Port. I still have my port in my chest and as I’ve tried in recent months to get back into great shape, this thing is a pain in the butt. It doesn’t hurt it just is sorta weird feeling and can be uncomfortable especially during physical exercise.

Thigh. In case you didn’t know, I had a large transplant of muscle placed into my face and neck and that muscle came from my left thigh. I have a huge scar down the front of it and it has a huge indent down the middle from where the muscle was taken. This has become really uncomfortable since I’ve started running again and trying to get stronger physically. It really aches as I’m building muscle there and the muscles are trying to figure out how to work properly. There are still some leg exercises that my leg just won’t do.

Emotional. This one is definitely the most sneaky but the hardest to deal with. I struggle now with anxiety which I never had before. It’s unmedicated and undiagnosed but ohhh, it’s there. It’s mostly separation anxiety with the kids and it’s a real struggle most days.

I don’t like to give off the impression that life is back to complete normal after cancer. I can’t imagine that to be true for anyone who has had to deal with it. We just have a new normal and we adjust the sails and move forward regardless.

So, seriously, I’m fine! 🤗

Guilty

A few years ago, I received some odd texts. Texts from someone I was sitting right next to but seemed to be ignoring me. Why would someone text me when sitting right next to me? Well, as it turns out, this person was trying to text someone else about me and accidentally sent them to me. As you can imagine, they weren’t the kindest words ever said.

Awkward.

Now look, I’m human. In those moments, I felt really really hurt. This person was someone I really respected in the church and was actively trying to befriend. And apparently I wasn’t doing such a great job at it haha! In that moment, surrounded by this person and about 20 others who were clueless to what was happening, I struggled to hold back tears. (Good news was, I was visibly pregnant so I could blame hormones for any strays that escaped my tear ducts.)

In the first few moments, I was hurt. Then I was angry! How dare they say those things about me?! I’ll admit, when I’m fired up, I tend to speak and act rashly. I blame my passionate nature for this, and while that nature works great for ministry and teaching about Christ, it’s not so great when there’s an offense against you.

But then something happened a few weeks later. I went to text my husband something because I was worked up about someone and what they had done. And right before I sent it, I caught myself checking who I was sending it to to make sure I wasn’t about to do the same thing.

Then it really hit me. What good is it to even send this? Who is helped by this? How is this going to build the kingdom? The text I was sending about someone would have been something I never would have sent to them. Ouch. I was learning a lesson here. A tough one.

When those texts got accidentally sent to me, it was in frustration and there’s a really good chance everything said in them about me was true from that person’s perspective. I can be annoying and whatever else it would have said. And this person was trying to vent to someone they loved and trusted. Like we all do! I began to feel deep forgiveness in my heart towards this person because I thought about how easily the table could have been turned and it could have been me in the hot seat, so to speak.

Look, I’m not perfect. I react strongly when I’m hurt and it’s not always fair. I’ll own up to that. But that experience (and one I’m still fighting to get out of today) has set some ground rules for me that I’m breaking less and less as I see the fruit from it.

1. Always give people the benefit of the doubt.

2. Never assume someone’s motives.

3. If you hear something, even if it looks like it could be true, if you haven’t heard it directly from that person, it’s unfair to believe it and act as if it were true.

4. Do not throw around labels!! Labels divide us quicker than anything else. I’ve had some really hurtful ones attached to my name recently and all it does is divide.

The Spirit has been revealing to me the grief He feels when the body of Christ cannot seek unity. We really need to up our game at living by the “golden rule”. It seems so simple but we fall into breaking it all the time – myself included, obviously!

Don’t send that text. Don’t let your tongue fall prey to gossip. Don’t tear each other down and label each other, Church. We have got to do better because the world is watching and they piece together what Christ looks like by our actions and words. Yikes.

It’s a really good thing God judges us by His standards and not our own.

Guilty

A few years ago, I received some odd texts. Texts from someone I was sitting right next to but seemed to be ignoring me. Why would someone text me when sitting right next to me? Well, as it turns out, this person was trying to text someone else about me and accidentally sent them to me.

Awkward.

Now look, I’m human. In those moments, i felt really really hurt. This person was someone I really respected in the church and was actively trying to befriend. And apparently I wasn’t doing such a great job at it haha! In that moment, surrounded by this person and about 20 others who were clueless to what was happening, I struggled to hold back tears. (Good news was, I was visibly pregnant so I could blame hormones for any strays that escaped my tear ducts.)

In the first few moments, I was hurt. Then I was angry! How dare they say those things about me?! I’ll admit, when I’m fired up, I tend to speak and act rashly. I blame my passionate nature for this, and while that nature works great for ministry and teaching about Christ, it’s not so great when there’s an offense against you.

But then something happened a few weeks later. I went to text my husband something because I was worked up about someone and what they had done. And right before I sent it, I caught myself checking who I was sending it to to make sure I wasn’t about to do the same thing.

Then it really hit me. What good is it to even send this? Who is helped by this? How is this going to build the kingdom? The text I was sending about someone would have been something I never would have sent to them. Ouch. I was learning a lesson here. A tough one.

When those texts got accidentally sent to me, it was in frustration and there’s a really good chance everything said in them about me was true from that person’s perspective. I can be annoying and whatever else it would have said. And this person was trying to vent to someone they loved and trusted. Like we all do! I began to feel deep forgiveness in my heart towards this person because I thought about how easily the table could have been turned and it could have been me in the hot seat, so to speak.

Look, I’m not perfect. I react strongly when I’m hurt and it’s not always fair. I’ll own up to that. But that experience (and one I’m still fighting to get out of today) has set some ground rules for me that I’m breaking less and less as I see the fruit from it.

1. Always give people the benefit of the doubt.

2. Never assume someone’s motives.

3. If you hear something, even if it looks like it could be true, if you haven’t heard it directly from that person, it’s unfair to believe it and act as if it were true.

4. Do not throw around labels!! Labels divide us quicker than anything else. I’ve had some really hurtful ones attached to my name recently and all it does is divide.

5. Conflict is natural and, because we are human, inevitable. How we try to bring about resolution is the important thing. Conflict doesn’t have to be associated negatively, I believe there are lots of direct and healthy was to resolve issues.

The Spirit has been revealing to me the grief He feels when the body of Christ cannot seek unity. We really need to up our game at living by the “golden rule”. It seems so simple but we fall into breaking it all the time – myself included, obviously!

Don’t send that text. Don’t let your tongue fall prey to gossip. Don’t tear each other down and label each other, Church. We have got to do better because the world is watching and they piece together what Christ looks like by our actions and words. Yikes.

It’s a really good thing God judges us by His standards and not our own because we are fickle and petty creatures.

A Season of “No.”

Imagine if God gave us everything we wanted right when we wanted it starting as soon as we repented and accepted Christ. At first, this sort of sounds awesome, right?

But what would we ask for?

We would, no doubt, destroy ourselves with indulgences and whims and would turn from Him to live in our selfishness, glorifying only ourselves.

I think back on things I’ve prayed for and can see where His unwillingness to yield to the foolish whims of my heart were ultimately in my best interest. I also see clearly where seasons of suffering, that I prayed to be delivered from, were painfully drawn out and have brought much fruit that otherwise wouldn’t have flourished if left to my own will.

This is why I will trust His “No.” or His “Wait.” Whatever it might be. It is most certainly for my own good.

The problem is I’ve grown impulsive in my faith, all because of cancer. I no longer see any need to sit around and wait, I want to be shown where to go and I want go. So being told “No” or “wait” is most definitely bothering me more than I’d like to admit.

But just as these two pictures of our lane show, clarity will come. It won’t be foggy forever. And so I’ll seek Him in prayer and scripture. I will continue to serve Him the best I know how.

And I will wait.

.

Cancer, a Birthday, and a Secret Prayer

I was dying.  And I knew it.  I was under no delusions that healing was on the table for me and I had accepted my lot in life.  Or death, I suppose, as it were.  Cancer was “exploding” all over my body, in the words of my oncologist, and I had a few good months left – at best.  My brain tumor was wreaking havoc in the way of grand mal seizures that left me for minutes on end without oxygen, leaving me to try to regain my body functions and memory after each one.  And after each one it got increasingly harder and had more long term effects that didn’t dissipate.  I had tumors in my lungs that were so inflamed that any exertion left me in a coughing fit and I found myself night after night sleeping upright on the couch because laying down in bed next to my husband, where I longed to be, would result in painful coughing fits.  My hip and back ached constantly, crying out in pain, and reminding me that the cancer was eating my bones.  Little by little.

Each day I had to relinquish more and more control of my life and the life of my family over to family and friends.  I thank God endlessly for the selfless love we received, but there is no 30 year old mother on earth who wants this for her family.  And so I struggled mentally with my lack of involvement with my kids at the level I had wanted for myself.

My body and my mind were both betraying me more and more each day.  And there was no hope in healing.  And so we faced each day as we had to.

I watched my kids, then 2 and 4, living a seemingly normal life.  At least, as normal as we could provide in the midst of all my treatments, scans, and appointments.  We tried to build a sense of normalcy around the fact that Mommy was dying and we treated it as a fact of life rather than a scary and sad event.  I bought them a book called “A Kid’s Travel Guide to Heaven” and we read it every day.  And while it’s certainly not scripture based, it did help open the discussion and help the kids to see that that was where Mommy would be.  Waiting for them to come.

I needed them to know that if they understood the gospel of Jesus Christ and that if they accepted the gift of salvation that we would be together again.  And I needed them to know that although Mommy was happy to go to heaven, that it would never be my choice to leave them.  Never.  I was desperate for them to understand this.  And the tears would fall.  Rolling down my cheeks in silent protest.  Just as they are right now as I write this.

A sibling squabble was a reminder that I wouldn’t be there to help them bond as they grew up.   Setting the kids in front of a Veggietales so I could get a break because I was in too much pain was a reminder that I wouldn’t be a spiritual influence for them for very much longer.  A sweet hug goodnight and even the frustration of trying to put young kids to bed were all too painful reminders of all I would be missing out on.  And selfishly, this tore me up inside.  Everything in me longed to be there for them as they grew up, and so the tears fell.

People often ask me how I did it.  How could I face this?  How could I cope?  There is truly no good answer to that.  I know we did what we had to do but looking back it seems so impossible.  It really was too much.  How did we do it?

There was a profound acceptance on my part that this was the end.  Mind you, acceptance certainly did not mean gladness.  I was tired and I was sad.  But I was ready.

I remember one sleepless night very clearly.  I had propped myself up on lots of pillows so that I could stay in bed with Eric, and as was so often the case when I could manage to stay in bed, I would listen to him rhythmically breathing as he slept and I would be soothed by the fact that he, at least for a few hours each day, had calmness and rest.  On this particular night, just like I had on so many others, I would pray.

But tonight would be a little bit different.

I lay there with my eyes closed tight, silent tears falling faster each second, cascading down my cheeks only to puddle up onto the sheets.  And in my desperation I reached my hand up to heaven.  And I begged God with all I had in me, to give me until I was 34.

34 years old.

Please God!  It would be about 3.5 years at that point and I felt like I was asking for the moon.  I felt like I was asking God to turn me into a unicorn or something equally as impossible.  I felt like I knew I was asking for too much, that it wasn’t possible, that it was absolutely ridiculous.  But that for some reason in my head that was the perfect amount of time.  That if He just allowed me that window of time that the kids would be old enough to have some good, solid memories of me.  At that time, this was the number one tug on my heart.  Selfishly, I wanted nothing more than for the kids to remember me.  That’s just the way it was.  Eric and I would have been married 10 years when I was 34, and that was just an astonishing feat to me.  It sounded so glorious.  Perfect.  The perfect amount of time!  I kept apologizing to God because I knew my request was so silly and so selfish.  But as I continued to pray, my desperation simply grew as I begged and begged God to please just give me until I was 34!

I write this today.  On my 34th birthday.  I can honestly say I never thought this day would come.  I know God isn’t a genie up in heaven granting wishes, but I believe He heard my heart on that night.  I’m not sure I’ll ever know for sure how all of this has worked or why it has worked out this way, surviving this long isn’t something I believe I deserve or have earned.  It just simply is.  And as I sit here now with clean scans as of last week, I’ll accept it as the beautiful gift it is.

I didn’t want to tell this story.  In fact, I could count on one hand the number of people I ever told this prayer to.  Why?  Because it felt like a childish prayer.  Like a lack of faith on my part, and maybe it was.

But I wanted to tell it now because God is good and deserves all praise.  Always.  He has given me more than I could ever ask or imagine.  Think about those words, more than I could ask or imagine.  All glory to God!  And I give Him glory for this urgency He has placed in my heart for spreading the gospel.  It can feel like a burden sometimes because it was so much easier to live a lukewarm life, but I pray He never lets this passion for praising Him and spreading the Good News fade.  Christ has reconciled this sinner with a Holy God through His righteousness alone.  I’ll always be grateful and I want to only praise him forever.  Thank you, Jesus!

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!  Amen.”  ~Ephesians 3:20-21

Gun Violence and The Church

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Of course when I hear of a tragedy like the one that happened yesterday, my heart breaks for the victims’ families and friends and for the ones who witnessed it and must deal with the emotional scars from this forever.  I’m unable to comprehend in any form the grief and weight that they will carry now forever.  These tragedies instill in us fear and distrust and it’s easy to jump to our go-to talking points on these incidents.  But that doesn’t seem to be helping, does it?  Maybe we need to take a step back, look at the whole picture, and see if there isn’t another possible approach.

To be perfectly clear:  I am not anti-gun nor am I a pacifist.  I have tried to look at this issue from all sides and I feel like there is an element from a Christian perspective that maybe we are missing.  Is an ultimate solution to add money into the budget for armed personnel at every school?  Maybe.  Is it a solution to restrict access?  I don’t know.  I just know that it’s time we all start listening to each other instead of fighting.  Church, please hear me out.

I’m no expert by any stretch on, well, anything, but I’ve learned a few things in my 11 years of faith and 10 years of youth ministry.  By and large, the kids who act out the most or go on to hurt themselves or others are kids who don’t feel noticed, accepted, loved, or worthy.  They don’t see why they are here and can’t fathom having a purpose.  When your life centers around you and there is seemingly no value to it, it makes some sense why these things can occur.  These kids feel wronged and since life has no meaning apart from themselves, they feel hopeless and trapped because they truly do not believe that things can get better.

As a Christian, I know that every person on this planet is loved, worthy, and has a purpose.  And that there is always hope.  But there are so many people that can look into the mirror and see no hope, no purpose, and can’t imagine ever being loved.  I’ve worked with many troubled teens and can attest that they truly feel this way and the depths of this hopelessness is soul crushing.  So what can we do?  How are we, as individuals, supposed to help any of this?

There’s no way I could fully explain the intricacies and nuance of a life following Christ, at least not in one blog post certainly, but I can fully attest to the fact that it is better.  Even if our circumstances don’t change at all, Christ changes us and refines us and that’s what we need.

Church, imagine the burden of thinking that in your life, all that matters is what you make of yourself through your own effort and achievements.  We are often so far removed from our pre-Christ selves that we don’t see that that is an enormous burden and one that our neighbors are shouldering.  And that that “truth” as they see it does not reconcile well with a sin-sick world that glorifies violent and dangerous behavior.  Add to that the burden teens feel due to social media.  Don’t blow it off just because we don’t understand it as an older generation, it creates pressures that we just cannot fathom.  And if you are growing up outside of the church, you likely don’t have that support system or that place to go to feel loved and cared about.  These kids are hurting so deeply and it tears me up inside.

If we are looking for a cure for this violence, I believe it must go deeper than guns and deeper than saying “they need Jesus” although, of course, I believe that’s true.  I’m not anti-gun by any means but I’m also not crazy enough to believe that a secular society, such as ours, that is taught from day one to look out for #1 and that there is no inherent value in life because there is no God and we are all here by complete random chance, is capable of raising children and teens that have a solid foundation and can be kept from actions like these.  So perhaps reformed gun laws are in order so that we can protect this next group of kids because, truthfully, Church, we aren’t doing enough.  Saying “It’s a heart problem not a gun problem” isn’t good enough.  Is it true?  I believe so, yes.  But we must as a whole take a long and difficult look in the mirror and realize that our faith without actions is dead.  Useless.  Pointless.  Christians do a whole lot more talking than acting these days and there is just no fruit from that.  And Jesus tells us we will be known by our fruit.  No wonder the world takes one look at us and decides it doesn’t want to a part of our stale and complacent faith.

Do I believe law-abiding citizens should have to give up their guns?  No.  But I do believe if every law-abiding, self-proclaimed Christian would step up and get involved in the lives of young people through mentoring or something along those lines, these tragedies would decrease greatly, maybe even disappear.

It’s no secret that America is becoming more and more secular every year as people leave their faith in droves, some stats for a place to start.  These stats should spur us on to do better!  Perhaps it’s time to take our walls down, listen to the other side, and see if there isn’t middle ground somewhere without compromising our faith.   I believe there are issues like abortion that from a faith-based perspective are black and white and there is no middle ground.  That the right to life should always be pursued and protected.  I think it’s important to take a solid and loving stand on these issues.  But is gun control really one of them?  I’m open to hearing other sides and very much invite civil conversation, so let me know if you disagree.  And please know I’m well versed in both sides of the argument and can fully understand both sides.

We know there is a cure for hopelessness, a cure for soul-crushing self hatred, a cure for life without purpose and Jesus really is the cure for this.  We know this, Church!  And God has chosen us as the means to deliver this message!  I believe our idols of safety and comfort have kept quiet and made us complacent.  There are a whole lot of hurting people out there and we aren’t powerless to sit back and do nothing.  For we know the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ because we have been made new because of it!  The first steps toward personal change and progress are always hard and scary and make us vulnerable and we just don’t like that.  But we have so much work to do and with God’s help, it is not impossible.