Tuesday, March 26, 2013

v24 Don't Push

"You get out and push because I need to try to pop start it," Ryan told me, while huffing and puffing. Our car battery died while Ryan was being treated for chemo and our hopes of going home quickly were being dashed with every fruitless turn of the ignition switch.

Ryan had just pushed our silver 2007 Honda Civic SI a fair distance in the parking lot of City of Hope before giving up so that we could switch places.

I am head down, pushing this approximately 2,750 pound mechanical paper weight down the parking lot at twilight and the thought occurs to me that this is what it's like to live life without trusting God. I don't know all the ins and outs of the intricate nuances that make a car function properly, but I do know that if my life is like a car and my God's strength is the battery then I am simply forcing any issue if I get out to push and try to "make things happen" my way. And yes, I've been accused of being pushy more than once in my lifetime - how fitting.

Neither of us could get it pop started and we had to decide how to get it jump started. Before Ryan could call AAA, the City of Hope parking lot bus driver stopped to help us and used his walkie talkie to call a security guard who came within a few short minutes. But before he could help us, a patient's father asked if he could help us.

God provided - immediately and abundantly!

Talking to this man about his son being in the hospital for the past three weeks made me think back to the  numerous people I met who were touched by cancer in one way or another today. One woman shared the story of a woman with Stage 4 stomach cancer who lived 50 years past her diagnosis and died at age 96! I met another woman who was declared cancer free TODAY! I met a researcher, nurse, and biologist too.

But if someone told me when I was doing my own medical sociology research in hospice care in another lifetime that I wouldn't ever leave my ties to the medical world, I would have laughed at them. I switched gears 10 years ago and dropped out of a top tier doctorate program to become a teacher and get hands on experience, helping people in a tangible manner. Besides, I couldn't really handle being in the medical field in my career because blood and vomit aren't my thing.

I was pushing my career "car" my own direction when I met God in 2000. I was too busy chasing after a childhood dream to realize that it wasn't really who God made me to be. He helped me stop the doing things my way and get back into the car to rely on his power to get me to my destination. I also learned along the way that God has a sense of humor because my first years of teaching were filled with students who had bloody noses and those who didn't always make it to the garbage can when they got sick.

I know that God is using all of it for His glory because I see His fingerprints all over Ryan's cancer journey. Recently, people who know me well have noted that my interest in hospice should come in handy throughout this trial with Ryan, and yes, it's true. But God has taught me so much more walking alongside Ryan this past year than what I learned in the classroom discussing cutting edge hospice research for twelve months.

My brief years of volunteering to read stories and spend time with my two hospice patients taught me a thing or two, but it was so different to watch two older people at the end of their lives dying than to hear "I feel like I'm dying slowly" from the lips of your 37 year old husband.

Much like pushing a car with a dead battery is difficult and strenuous, walking next to another human being whose body isn't functioning as designed is much the same. I cannot make the car or my husband's human body do what I want it to when something is wrong. They both must be fixed by someone, and sometimes those fixes are out of my control.

But even without the fix, just like earlier today, I realized I can always ask for help and the Creator of the universe will gladly stop to give me a "jump start" in  life. I must trust the One who is in charge of it all (pun intended). He will put people in my life to help get me going, back in the right direction.

Ryan has been getting such encouragement in his life from reading a lot of literature about suffering and when he shares the nuggets of wisdom he learns, it brings both of us to the foot of the cross, as discussed in Matthew 16:25-27:

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 

I never would have envisioned that my "career" would involve being a full time Mom and part-time caregiver to my husband. I never would have foreseen my ministry to be bringing encouragement to the brokenhearted out of the pain of my own broken heart from the tragedy unfolding in my life. But God had to wait for me to lose my life for His sake to show me His plans for my future. And He will reward what I do with the jobs He has given me.

I know it will be a relief when we get a new battery in our car and fix the simple problem that caused our car to become inert. And I desperately pray for the same "quick fix" to happen to Ryan's body and that his next scan would show he is Cancer free so he can live another 40 years with us. While I wait to find out what the Master Mechanic will do to fix Ryan, I can tell you one thing. I know that I won't need to get out and push because His plan will be perfect.

How have you gotten out to push your life in a direction that wasn't God's original plan -- only to become exhausted until you surrendered? Share in a comment below.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Camels in Corona

"Oh my gosh, NO WAY!" I yelled when I was looking out the window, driving home on Green River Road. I just couldn't believe my eyes. There were two HUGE camels walking around right next to the pasture of grazing horses near the 91 freeway.

I asked Ryan to pull the car over. We had our dog Bean in the backseat and I thought what a fun adventure we had taking him to the doggy park in Laguna Beach for a few hours. He played with a pure breed Great Dane that weighed almost 200 pounds and made Bean (who weighs 115 pounds) look like a miniature poodle. He was tired from his adventures, but curious about the animals he saw out the car window.

I jumped out of the car after Ryan came to a stop at the end of the dirt driveway, near the camels. He warned me to be careful.

I wandered onto the property and looked for the owner. I had seen her frequently on horseback, feeding her horses, skin weathered by the sun's rays, and a radiant wisdom that comes from working with your hands all your life. I introduced myself and asked if I could take pictures of her camels.

"Oh, those aren't my camels, they belong to a friend," she said, politely. I mentioned that I'd seen her out frequently tending carefully to her horses because I passed by daily when commuting to work as a teacher in Orange County. I think it made her uncomfortable that I saw her hard work over the few years I'd been passing by but I wanted to pay her a compliment because none of it looked easy.

Then I asked if she had llamas and she said yes. I was thrilled! Ryan and I once spent our anniversary visiting an alpaca farm near Santa Barbara where they had a few llamas too. We have dreamed of owning llamas someday because they are such fun creatures. I was given permission to photograph the llamas as well, but she warned me as she walked away to do the evening chores, "Beware of the dogs."

I felt a quick jolt of fear run through my body and quickly dismissed it with prayer. I headed to the camels first, took a few quick pictures, then headed over to the llama pen. There were flies everywhere, but I got some great shots.

Ryan's and the ranch owner's warnings rang in my mind and I felt the tug on my heart to return to the car. Just as I got in the car and shut the door, I had this overwhelming feeling of relief, but I wasn't sure why. I told Ryan about the camels and llamas, and he told me I just barely made it.

I was puzzled by what he said, and he pointed outside the front window of the car. There was a pack of dogs that were not friendly looking, by any means, walking towards the car quickly. They surrounded the car, snarling and snapping at Bean. Bean anxiously shook in the back seat, whining and wagging his tail.

We backed out carefully, and left the property. The dogs stayed at the gate but there were a few tense moments as we drove out, surrounded by the dogs.

I think about the Scripture reference for people to "beware of the dogs" -- referring to the people who don't believe you can come to Jesus Christ except through works, which simply isn't true. Yet, I hear those people's voices whispering in my ears, surrounding me all the time.

"Why didn't you clean your house thoroughly lastweek?" the dogs ask.

"Why aren't you doing enough to raise Talitha in the ways of the Lord?" they question.

"How come you aren't being a good enough wife and researching the internet and published journal articles day and night to find a cure for Ryan's Stomach Cancer?" they inquire.

"How about taking care of your dog better and walking him twice a day like you should?"

They want to know why I am not doing enough. I fight them, even when they surround all of my thoughts, with this in Psalm 46:10a:

"Be still, and know that I am God..."

I have decided to listen to the voice of truth, like the song says. Just like when I got into the car and couldn't hear the dogs barking at me as loudly as if I was outside of the car next to them, I have decided to spend my time reading my Bible and hanging out with Ryan and Talitha. We spend limited amounts of time with family and friends when Ryan feels up for it and all the rest gets done when I have the time or energy to do it.

Oh yes, they want me to pay attention to them. But I drive away from them every time I choose to ignore the hurtful and cutting words they use to try to get me to feel bad about what I'm not doing "correctly." I measure their advice against the Bible and ask other students of the Bible if these taunting voices are telling the truth.

It's difficult but I am determined to change my focus to the One who wants what is best for me, and will help me become a better wife for Ryan in his time of need, and a better mother for Talitha.

What dogs are surrounding you and how do you escape their incessant barking? Please share in a comment below.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pride Comes Before a Fall

"I don't need to hold onto the raiiiii....." I said to myself, in my mind, and with that, I fell. It wasn't pretty. I fell hard onto my right ankle, and heard the snap of the ligament as it tore from my full weight resting upon it.

I was running down the stairs at the Anaheim Duck Pond, from our seats at the very top of the stadium. I observed other women as they carefully held onto the railing, walking at a safe snail's pace, watching their steps as they descended slowly down the steep grade.

I was so proud of myself for not needing to hold the railing, and picked up speed towards the bottom, near the place where I needed to go. Just as I thought about how much better I was than them, I fell. I embodied Proverbs 16:18, which says:

"Pride precedes a disaster, and an arrogant attitude precedes a fall."

I laid in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, pain ripping through my right ankle all the way up my leg after I heard the pop of my ligament. I instantly started crying and two women rushed to my aid. I was thankful to be at the Women of Faith conference and prayed for solutions to the problems that arose in my mind.

"How would I drive myself and my friends home?"

"How would I even get to my car?"

"How would I explain myself to Ryan?"

"What about work on Monday?"

One of the helpful women instantly put her arm around me, praying for me, hugging me and offering me her handkerchief to wipe away my tears. The other went and got me a glass of water and asked for someone to bring me a wheelchair. Mary and Martha.

I ended up driving home that day, stick shift and all. Cruise control was my best friend. I even went to work on Monday, and attended a meeting after work. Then my boss called me and told me I couldn't teach while on crutches. I had to plan two weeks of work that night and make arrangements for a substitute.

This was long before Talitha, and it was one of the many times Ryan came to my rescue. He took me to a fabulous fancy restaurant in Old Town Orange so we could spend some time talking about our day before heading back to my classroom. We stayed there until 11 p.m., but I got everything done.

I spent the next two weeks downstairs, right leg up on a chair with wheels, while sitting in another chair with wheels. I felt ridiculous and ashamed. If I had only done the right thing in the first place, I never would have had the consequences I did. The worst part of it all was the fact that everything was preventable.

On a much larger scale, David had consequences for his sin with Bathsheba. King David saw someone he wanted and took her. When she got pregnant, he tried to cover it up by bringing her husband Uriah home from war, but Uriah, being a man of integrity, wouldn't sleep with his wife while all his men were out fighting, so he stayed outside. In order to completely cover it, he had Uriah put out in the front of battle while all the other men withdrew, murdering Uriah by using other men to do his dirty work for him. He made Uriah carry his own note for his death sentence to his superior officers when sent back to war.

David's sin had massive consequences, as Nathan the prophet pointed out to King David in 1 Samuel 12:

The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die!He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for[a] the Lord, the son born to you will die.”

Sin is ugly and has awful consequences. Sometimes sin happens quickly, but more often than not, as James 1:15 says:

"Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."

So, my pride had been growing and growing for more than the 9 months it takes to have a baby, which manifested itself into an arrogant attitude that eventually made me fall, physically and spiritually. I was brought low, but while I was down there, I realized that God has boundaries and asks for obedience for a reason.

The road to recovery for my snapped ligament lasted for about a month, but my battle with pride started many years ago and is far from over. After my fall, I gradually stopped pretending to know everything about a subject or presume superiority because I learned something in school, even if it was the school of hard knocks. My fall taught me the difficult lesson of needing humility.

Walking alongside Ryan in his Cancer journey has also taught me a thing or two about humility. It is truly humbling to have no way to fix our situation, with knowledge, physical prowess or spiritual gymnastics. There is nothing I can do in my own power to fix it. This fact has brought me lower than my fall at the Anaheim Pond.

But God has come alongside me, lifted my lowered chin to look up at His smiling face while wiping my tears with His handkerchief, hand made with love. He knows that Ryan has Cancer, and wants me to trust Him with the outcome. He doesn't want me to continue in my pridefulness, thinking I can somehow figure out the solution on my own. He simply wants me to trust Him.

Trust Him.

When were you broken of your pride, brought low, and raised your eyes to see how much God and Jesus love you? Share in a comment below.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Widows Don't Have Cooties

When I was very young, I used to think that certain people had "cooties." At first, my little mind surmised that boys definitely had cooties, but adults were a close second. As I got older, I realized that boys didn't have cooties, and adults weren't so bad either. Then, when I became a young adult, I thought that older adults had cooties (even thought I'd never admit it). I also felt that way about widows.

The first widow I met was my grandma. When her husband died, she stopped talking. I remember being so frustrated because I remembered the sound of her voice and especially her laugh. I had a fantasy that I would be the one person in the family to make her talk again, but it didn't happen for the nine weeks of her widowhood.

My grandma never had a slurpee in her entire life, so on our last visit to see her alive, we asked her if she'd like to go to 7-Eleven. We asked how many slurpees she ever had and she held up the sign for 0. We were stunned!

I remember studying her dark blue and red stained tongue after she consumed her first slurpee, and laughing really hard. I don't think she even smiled when I showed her mine. The light had gone out of her eyes when her husband of almost 55 years died just weeks before.

The minutes before we left to return home, my parents were frantically running around the house packing our stuff and putting it into the car. I escaped to her bedroom, to find my grandma sitting in front of her really cool sitting table attached to her bedroom wall.  The lights were on and I knew it was where she had put on her make up for years. It reminded me of those lights around mirrors that actresses use before they go on stage. The glow of the soft light bulbs made her look even more beautiful.

I asked her if she would let me brush her hair, and she nodded yes. I remember running the brush through her thin, wispy hair, and studied the grey strands that were left. I knew she was dying.

I chatted about nothing, then got quiet. I knew she was listening to me in a way she never had when she was talking and my grandpa was alive. I told her that I loved her and waited for her response. She said nothing, but I knew she loved me, an absence of words would never change that.

Although she was the first widow I met and I knew her very well, my stereotype persisted. I avoided them at all costs! Then, a few years later when I started to volunteer for hospice, I couldn't avoid them any longer. And I learned they were real people too, who didn't walk around wearing all black and whispering to everyone they speak with.

After switching my career focus to students with special needs, I really didn't run into many widows anymore. But recently, I counted that I know six widows on a personal level, four I see on a regular basis and two I text. 

Now that I'm all grown up, I realize that none of the widows I now know have cooties, but all of them want to speak openly about their husbands who have passed on from this life. I can't help but be grateful for Ryan being alive when I talk to each of them, especially the ones who have lost their husbands to cancer. I can't imagine being in their shoes and my heart aches for each of these ladies, whose ages range from 36 to 86. 

The Bible tells us to take care of widows and the fatherless in many different places and I've made it a point to try to be friendly to these women God has given to me in my life. I also find that they've blessed me beyond measure and I feel like I usually miss the mark when we speak. 

I am still a work in progress, especially when it comes to this area of my life. How can you help a widow in your life? Share in a comment below.