Sunday, May 31, 2015

Amazing Grace

"I can't do this anymore..." I cried out to God with a good, solid ugly cry.

"I want it to be over. I don't want the obvious ending. I don't Ryan to quit chemo. I just want the Cancer to go away," I sobbed.

Someone was listening.

"You know, I have nothing to say, right?" he said. "There are no words for you."

"I know," I continued sobbing, the tears flowing freely. "That's the worst part for Ryan and I... there are no words."

"But here's what God's word says," he continued. "It says in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.


"That's not the escape you're thinking of, though. God gives you a way to bear it," he said.

"I just saw a sermon on Why, Trials? from Pastor James MacDonald. I learned about James 1, that the word 'steadfast' in the Greek (Hupo Mene), means to 'remain under.' And that the only way to gain the benefit of becoming perfect and complete, lacking nothing, is if I remain under the trial."

"But I don't want to remain under this..." I started crying again.

You have to trust God, he reminded me.

Then he quoted Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.


How many reminders would it take for this to sink down deep? I asked myself.

This was my third reminder in as many days.

The conversation shifted to the life of Job.

"His life sucked more than mine," I said through my sadness.

"He despaired of even the day he was born," he said. "He wished he'd been born a stillborn."

At least I wasn't that despairing of my situation, but I found myself drowning in sorrow and couldn't help but be even more sad for Job who lost his entire family (except his wife) and all of his possessions in one terrible day, without warning.

"Then God questioned him with 70 questions," the man continued. "And that man was a righteous man. He even petitioned for his family."

I had few words after thinking of the righteousness of Job and the terribleness of his situation - even though I was still sad about my lesser righteousness and circumstances.

"But why me?" I questioned loudly, with another big, ugly cry.

"Because God loves you," he responded, tenderly. "This was never about you and Ryan. This is all to shine the glory of God so it can help me in my walk with Him."

As I sobbed into my hands and the tears fell quickly down my hands as they covered my face, Talitha said:

"Mommy, you're drooling."

I cried at the same time I was laughing, hard.

"What's all the black on your eyes, Mommy?" she innocently asked. My mascara, having been re-applied this morning, was now a set of black lines running quickly down my cheeks.

The pastor left to get me some tissues, and as I continued to sob, Talitha persisted.

"Mommy, what is all that darkness?" she questioned.

Oh, Hunny, 

I wanted to say.

You're seeing my sadness and despair. 

I wish Daddy wasn't dying from Cancer.

I want it all to go away. 

Not him, but all of this.

"We've had dreams about drowning, both Ryan and I," I told him when he returned with a tissue box.

"It's a good thing we don't trust our feelings, and we trust God," he said.

"It's all going downhill," I said, "It's not getting better, it's getting worse."

"You may feel like God isn't with you, but that's not true. And God is still in control of all of it. He's never been more with you than right now, " he said, like a gentle father would say to a hurting daughter.

"This is what He has been working on in me, lately," he continued. "In the book of Genesis 50: 19-21, it says:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

"They were with God, just as you and Ryan are with God. And God means it to shine His glory."

"I am done being refined!" I almost shouted at him. "I can't handle it," I said, still crying big tears.

"You just keep telling him that," he said, laughing. "I know -- I've been there, many times."

"God doesn't ask for our permission about these things, does He?" he said, as he laughed again.

It caused me to laugh and cry at the same time for the second time in 10 minutes. It seemed ridiculous that I wanted to be more in control than the Creator of the universe who can see the big picture.

"And when you've said it over and over again, He will ask you 'Are done yet?' And He will wait until you are, then tell you, through His Holy Spirit, to get up and keep handling it. He isn't done refining you, yet."

I told him that's how I got out of bed in the morning, these days.

Then he quoted 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10:

...a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

"He loves you, Anna," he said.

"He loves you and He wants what's best for you."

"He knows what you need in your life and He allowed this to happen."

"He knows what He's doing."

"And He is never going to tell you why."

And before he began to pray and I lamented about how hard this all is, he reminded me of God's sovereignty.

"He's still on the throne."

I had almost stopped crying by this point and I quieted myself to listen as he began to pray.

My mind drifted to thinking about how the circumstances in my life seemed unfair, how I longed for Ryan to feel normal and join me in everyday activities with the full vigor and energy he once had instead of lying in bed ill, and how all of this was challenging me to lean on God's promises in a way I have never had to before.

I started to see how God had answered Ryan's recent prayer for me to begin grieving his death now, even before his body has left the earth.

I am grieving, I thought to myself.

As I drove home from church later, I was stuck in my thoughts.

I don't know how much time I have left with Ryan.

It could be only five short months or five challenging but sweet years.

But I do know this:

God loves me.

I trust Him because He is trustworthy.

God is on the throne - He is in control.

And His grace is sufficient for me,

just like the words in the hymn Amazing Grace

by John Newton written hundreds of years ago reminded me

when the song came on the radio in my car:

  1. Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
    That saved a wretch like me!
    I once was lost, but now am found;
    Was blind, but now I see.
  2. ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
    And grace my fears relieved;
    How precious did that grace appear
    The hour I first believed.
  3. Through many dangers, toils and snares,
    I have already come;
    ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
    And grace will lead me home.
  4. The Lord has promised good to me,
    His Word my hope secures;
    He will my Shield and Portion be,
    As long as life endures.
  5. Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
    And mortal life shall cease,
    I shall possess, within the veil,
    A life of joy and peace.
  6. The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
    The sun forbear to shine;
    But God, who called me here below,
    Will be forever mine.
  7. When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
    Bright shining as the sun,
    We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
    Than when we’d first begun.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Peaches

As I started slicing peaches, I settled into a comfortable routine. Pick one up from the four Trader Joe's bags full of peaches from our tree, cut off the skin, then cut into pieces.

Repeat.

Ryan was lamenting as he looked at how many peaches we had and how slow the process took. But all the analogies about life being a journey and not a destination came into my mind, straight away.

And I told him so.

He didn't want to hear it.

I reveled in the time we had together, sitting across from each other on our card table, the smell of peaches filling the kitchen. It was a simple and laborious task, time-consuming and mind numbing, but it was sweet time I got to spend with my husband.

I loved every second of it.

Eventually, he had to get to bed to get some sleep before going to work the next day and I just kept plugging along.

For another four hours.

My time of fellowship turned to time with Lord. I started praising Him for all the sweet people He has brought into our lives and I was full of gratitude for the gifts of those beautiful friendships and the ripe fruit it has yielded in our lives.

But then I got to the bottom of the first bag and found my hand sticky and wet from a rotten peach. The one I had grabbed looked perfect, but it was lying up against a rotten peach and the side I couldn't see got stuck to it.

They both came up together, bound to one another.

Admittedly, I've been thinking about sad things lately because of how difficult Ryan's new chemo is on him, and how he's just sick lately. My mind has wandered into dark places. And I've sometimes gotten stuck there.

As I stared at the rotten peach, I thought about how my mind is like the seemingly "perfect" peach. One side looks great but the side that is aligned to negative thoughts, away from God's word, is rotting. And the closer it stays to the rotten thoughts, much like the peach in my hand, the more pervasive the decay became.

Do I want to be bound to these thoughts that threaten to bring me down, or is there something better?

Even the simple act of a daily quiet time has enough of a positive effect on me that my day isn't shrouded by rain clouds, thinking about the "what if's..." concerning the future, but instead is focused on the promises of God and the silver linings that regularly show up during our recent Cancer storms.

I worship the Lord by listening to music that points me in the right direction. That always helps me to praise Him for His goodness and gives me uplifting tunes to hum throughout my day.

And I pray.

I pray for the fruit of the Spirit to fill my life with all the good things that the Bible says will come along with it. That's the fruit I'm interested in becoming filled with!

Galatians 5:22-23New King James Version (NKJV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
I may not always get it right, but my peach adventure definitely taught me to stay away from rotten attitudes in my life and get closer to the sweet people and endeavors that will help me to remain strong when times get tough.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Happy Mother's Day

This weekend was full of unexpected surprises.

I expected to stay home all weekend but Ryan insisted that Talitha and he take me out to celebrate.

I expected Ryan to be in bed all weekend and Ryan insisted on doing projects and helping around the house as part of my Mother's Day presents.

I expected to be overwhelmingly sad as I missed talking to my Mom, and yet I was pleasantly surprised that I had some sweet memories of our times together come to mind, instead of just being sad from my second Mother's Day without her.

I expected to be totally calm and relaxed but I was a stress case about too many little things and needed to work on my unrealistic expectations.

It's been stressful for all of us, adjusting to the new "normal" of weekly chemo and the side effects.

I expected to handle it better when his chemo stopped working and unfortunately, that's not been the case. I've been making everyone miserable with all my worry. And what does the Bible say to do? In the wise words of 'Mater (from the Cars movie)..."Ta not ta." I'm paraphrasing, of course.

My Mother's Day also had an unexpected sliver of hope, come from the mouth of my babe. She said to me, "Mom, there is so much joy inside me. Is there joy inside you?"

"Sometimes, Sweetpea," I responded honestly.

And what does the Bible really say? I will end with this passage from Matthew 6:25-34, a lifeline in the midst of difficult circumstances that aren't getting any better, and an excellent reminder of how to find joy in each day:

Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.