Do You Doubt? Part 1

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Brick Wall Build

For a few years now I’ve considered my faith like a brick wall.  Not that it shuts out the world … although it may also do that … but it helps me stand firm in my conviction of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  Each time I witness something of God – a word of knowledge, his voice coming through loud and clear from the Bible, a divine appointment, a miracle, His faithfulness – each instance is a brick that I mortar on to the existing wall making it stronger, wider, higher.

It’s kinda like my modern day Ebenezer.

In (1 Samuel 7:8–11) the Israelites were victorious in a fight against the Philistines but only because God intervened.

Afterward, Samuel took a stone and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, explaining, “The LORD has helped us to this point.” (1 Samuel 7:12)

The Blue Letter Bible identifies the Ebenezer as a “stone of help.” In the Old Testament, people would set up an Ebenezer to remember what God had done for them.  It was usually a rock or a pile of rocks.  This marker in history would remind the generations of God’s faithfulness, goodness, provision, love … whatever He had given to sustain His people at that time.

Joshua also erected a memorial of twelve stones (one to signify each tribe of Israel) on the west bank of the Jordan River when the Israelites crossed to take the town of Jericho (Joshua 4:6-7).

Even though it’s not named as such in the Bible, I believe that group of stones to be an Ebenezer.  Joshua said, “Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.” But he could have just as truthfully said, “The LORD has helped up to this point.”

I love the idea of setting an Ebenezer to remember God’s faithfulness. To make a physical representation of a time when God has shown off one of His many attributes.  How often we are treated to God’s working in our lives only to run into trouble down the line and completely forget that we serve an awesome, omnipotent, and faithful God?

The fact that Jesus said we will face rejection (Luke 10:16), persecution (John 15:20), and suffering (John 16:33) is enough to know that hard times are going to hit us.  If we forget the goodness of God and waiver in our faith every time we are subject to some trial … where would we be?  Swaying in the wind and never clinging to the Lord who loves us and has already proven Himself to us time and time again.  Constructing an Ebenezer of some sort can help remind us that He is close.

When I came to live in Florida from Arizona six years ago, I was none too happy.  I didn’t have a job (and couldn’t find one in the economic downturn) so I was forced to move in with my parents.  Not having lived with my parents for over 30 years, I prayed every day that God would change my situation.  If I remember correctly it was something like, “Lord, get me outta here.”  Out of my parent’s house.  Out of the State of Florida. It didn’t matter. Over and over. It became my mantra.

I wound myself up in knots praying that prayer even though God had already told me my future.  If you’ve been reading me for a while you’ll remember that in a particularly intense prayer session in Arizona God told me that I would move to Florida.  Unfortunately I hadn’t been building my brick wall and had forgotten that what I thought of as my horrible situation was actually part of His plan.

Even after three weeks when I came to grips with the fact that I might have to stay in Florida for a while … wait a minute … do you like the fact that I succumbed to my “fate” after three weeks?  I really gave God a lot of time to change my situation, eh?  Oy Vey! That’s an eye-opener!  Well, after three whole weeks I yielded and finally decided to find a church to attend while I worked out my sentence in Florida.

My Mom had gone around to her friends asking for a church that might match my style.  “I told them you liked to put your hands in the air when you sang.” She said.

Grinning, because it was true and I knew my mom really thought that was kinda kookie, I took her list of three local churches where, presumably, they sang with their hands in the air.

Now I see I’ve really gone on much too long.  Please come back on Wednesday when I’ll wrap up the story and perhaps add another brick to the wall.

 

On Writing a Memoir

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On Writing a Memoir

The hardest thing about writing a memoir is discovering things about yourself that you’d really rather not know.  Case in point:  Back in the day (almost 20 years ago now) I had an umbilical hernia that was strangulating my colon.  I didn’t know it at first.  I figured I had a severe case of food poisoning.  I’d just started a new job and one Monday the whole office had gone out to eat at Red Robin.  By that afternoon I felt so sick that I headed home early to crawl into bed and proceeded to throw everything up from the day.

The next day I felt no better.  I called in sick and continued to lay in bed.  At some point in the afternoon I tried a cup of tea and dry toast.  Nope.  That quickly came up.  I spent the rest of the day in bed sipping water for sustenance.  The third day I was still ill and didn’t even attempt to eat.  I spent more time worrying if my new job was in jeopardy due this ill-timed outage.  The fourth day dawned and once I began to throw up the water I was sipping,  I knew I was in trouble.  I called my office and told the admin that I was going to drag myself to the hospital.  Luckily, she offered to come get me.

Upon arriving at my door, her face told me I didn’t look very good.  Reaching the ER they discovered the hernia, scheduled emergency surgery, and set me up on a saline drip due to the severe dehydration.  Before she left, my admin asked me if I wanted her to call my parents.  I thought briefly – they were in Florida, I was in Denver – I was in a state-of-the-art hospital, and the doctor had already explained the procedure.  (My biggest fear was that the hernia had caused some of my colon to die and I’d wake up with a bag that I’d have to wear the rest of my life.)  I told her that I didn’t want them called.

Even though she did call them and by the time I was out of surgery they were on their way; I wondered for years afterward why didn’t I want them called?  I mean.  Who does that?  Who goes through major surgery and doesn’t contact the only people in their life who truly love them?

I’ve thought about this for years without really coming to an answer.

Until now.

God brought me into my parent’s home a few years before I was diagnosed with cancer.  My parents have been absolute troopers throughout the diagnosis, surgery, and treatments and there is absolutely no way I could have gotten through it all without them.  But I’ve also witnessed the emotional stress they’re under.  It occurred to me the other day.  The reason I didn’t call them 20 years ago and the reason I wish they didn’t have to go through this now.

I’m a burden.

I don’t know how much of that is actually true, but for some reason it is how I feel.  I didn’t want to burden them back in Denver and I hate that I’m burdening them now.  They are retired and should be living days that are wild and carefree.  But I see the stress on their faces.  I hear their fighting over nothing at all.  And I know I’m to blame.  Not me, really, but my situation.  Without me however, my situation wouldn’t exist.  So where do I end and my situation begin?  And how can I ever get over this feeling?

This probably won’t make the book unless I hear from God on the matter.  Writing the memoir shines a light onto my psyche and in most cases I can illustrate an encouraging message that has developed from my past.  Otherwise, what’s the point of writing it at all?

PS:  My admin apologized later for calling my parents against my wishes but when she’d picked me up, she said she was so scared because I was gray.  I don’t hold it against her.  Anyone in the right mind would have wanted their parents called.  Maybe they’re right (whoever they are) – writers are crazy.

That Indescribable Peace

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That Indescribable Peace

I’ve just finished a book by Pastor Kyle Idleman called The End of Me.  He’s also the author of the wildly popular Not a Fan (revised and expanded in 2016) which I also loved.  As He usually does when I read good Christian material, God spoke to me throughout the book.

Pastor Kyle starts out discussing the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5) and how Jesus’ advice is contradictory to our culture.  “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” (Mt. 5:4)  Those who mourn will be blessed?  Everyone wants a blessing but who wants to mourn to be blessed?

Let’s look at it through Jesus’ eyes.  To paraphrase Idleman: when we suffer, we mourn.  Our suffering opens up a huge cavity in our hearts with whatever we’ve lost – it could be a relationship, our health, a person, anything that means something to us.  But this is where God can fill us up with Himself.  If we allow Him, we will be blessed by His presence … by His comfort … by the peace that transcends understanding.

I, and certainly anyone else who is fighting a terminal disease and loves Christ, has experienced that sorrow – that hole that gapes open like a cavern when you hear the words, “You have _________.”  Fill in the blank, for me it was cancer.

But it wasn’t long before I experienced Jesus’ presence … His comfort … His peace.  It settled on me in the midst of the battle and poured down into that hollow filling me full of Him.  It’s probably the main thing that leads me to glorify God in this whole mess.  The reason I can smile.  The reason I can praise and worship Him in the midst of cancer.

When I meet others who know what’s going on inside me, they usually start to look all sorrowful and sad.  They come up, arms open wide, hug and kiss me and step back saying, “How are you?”  I love these people – and I’m not being sarcastic.  Anyone who takes an interest in my condition (or loves on my parents through this journey) I seriously adore.  There just aren’t enough people in the world today who care about anyone other than themselves.

“I’m great!” I say, beaming a bright smile.  Even those who know I follow Jesus seem surprised at my answer.  Oh I may have some fatigue or nausea but I am great despite those side effects.  Jesus is my Savior and whatever happens I know where I’m going.

I recently remarked in a small church group that I may be answering a lesson question a certain way because I had what was essentially a terminal disease.  The group agreed but one woman piped up and said, “You know, we all have a terminal disease.”

We all laughed, but she was right.  We’re all dying – just some faster than others.

While I intend to go out on a slow boil, we all should live this life like we’re dying … because we are.

Why?  Because God is sovereign.  Only He knows when our last day will be.  And in the meantime, you too can experience life in a cocoon of His presence – thick and warm like your favorite blanket on a snowy winter morning.  Only this Comforter brings that peace that I can never really adequately describe.

How about you?  When have you experienced God’s indescribable peace?

 

The End of Me

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Don’t you love when God hits you sideways with something He’s probably been trying to get through to you for a while and you finally get it?

I admit, I have to laugh.  Because when I do get it, I can look back and see how long He’s been after me to learn something.  I laugh because God knows I’m a dolt sometimes and loves me anyway!  He’s so good to give us space to laugh at ourselves.

In Bible Study Fellowship this week we’re studying John 16 and one of the questions asks, “What circumstances in your life test your commitment to follow Jesus?”  I thought and thought about this question because over the past 9 years the Lord has brought me to a place where I can no longer imagine not following Him.

So I considered my previous life … a time when I backslid … and answered with the situations that tested (and won over) my commitment to follow Jesus.  Namely – success in my career (which gave me prestige and popularity), health (which wasn’t that good, but wasn’t bad enough to worry about), and finances (which were so that I was frivolous and spent buying possessions to fill up the ache in my heart).

As we answered the question in leader’s group on Saturday, I looked at the words on the page: career, health, finances …

The three were the world’s interpretation of success.  I spent my time focusing on those things that were going to help me live the “good life.”  I was doing good.  I had everything I needed and then some.  I … I … I … what I didn’t see was the gulf between God and I getting wider and wider until … I lost it all.

That’s when it hit me.  I’d answered the question a couple of days prior but right in the middle of leader’s group I had an epiphany.

God had brought me to the end of myself.

Ten years ago I was ignoring God and doing my own thing – great career, decent health, super finances.  But now …

Now I have no career, no health, and no finances!!!

Why do I sound so happy?

Because I’m closer to Jesus than I’ve ever been in my whole life!  That alone fills me with so much hope and joy I’m busting at the seams.  At the end of myself my thirst was quenched, my pain was comforted, and my sorrow turned to joy.

So no, nothing can get me to go back to the world’s system.  I’m following Jesus as closely as I can and when I get a little ahead of Him … or perhaps lag too far behind … I know that He’ll pull me close to Him again.

Have you come to the end of yourself yet?

The Wait

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It’s weird … this waiting.

This Neverland of Infinite Possibilities.

Well, no.  There really are only two possibilities.  Do I still have active cancer or am I back in remission?

And will this be my life going forward?  Do I or don’t I?  Holding my breath at every doctor’s visit awaiting the word?

I finished radiation treatments three weeks ago but can’t get a PET scan for another five weeks.

In the meantime I wait.  Everyone waits.

Like beached sailboats.  No water.  No movement.

Family.  Friends.  Everyone on hold.

We pray.

We wait.

It’s weird … this waiting.

The Interloper’s Homecoming

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This is the third in a series.  If you’ve not yet read The Demise of the Interloper, please travel here for Part One and here for Part Two to be brought up to date.

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It was one of those autumn days in Florida.  The kind where you walk outside and instead of being hit with the usual warm, wet washrag of humidity; you come instantly to a standstill noticing the change.  The air is drier and the temperature reduced a few degrees.  A day that instantly puts a smile on your face and changes your outlook.

Standing in the middle of the driveway I took a deep breath of the crisp air before walking gleefully to the mailbox at the end of the drive.  There was a spring in my step and a large smile plastered across my face.  I had every right to feel a sense of bliss as the seasons changed.  I’d been free of the Interloper for six months and had re-discovered independence inside my own home.

I found my friend Herman at the mailbox.  A little lizard who enjoyed sunning himself on the black metal.  “Isn’t this a glorious day, Herman?” I sang out.  He scampered, as he always did, to the very back of the box as if I was going to hurt him.  We’d only been performing this ritual for months.  I laughed and pulled down the door grabbing at the bills and circulars that threatened to fall out of the open box.  Closing the door I looked for Herman to say good-bye but he’d already moved off and onto some other adventure.  Turning on my heel I headed back to the house but stopped quickly.  What was that?  I thought I heard something in the bushes behind me and it was much too big to be Herman.  At once the hackles on the back of my neck stood up as I turned slowly, needing to see what was there but not really wanting face what it might be.

The sound seemed slightly familiar.  Like a noise you heard once, years ago, and swore you’d never forget it … but now maybe you had forgotten and my mind raced … trying to recall.  I sucked in my breath, at once very afraid, turned and walked quickly toward the safety of my home.  My fear grew quickly in intensity as I all but expected to be jumped from behind by some wild animal or deranged person with mayhem on their mind.  Inside the house I slammed shut the door, locked it, and leaned against it trying to calm my shaking.

Safe now with my anxiety diminishing, I walked into the living room, kicked off my shoes, and settled into a soft couch to read the mail.  A matter of minutes passed as I flipped through junk and bills when I suddenly sat bolt upright.

“The Interloper!”  I practically shouted into the empty house.  My mind reeled.  Could it be?  Hadn’t we gotten rid of him six months ago?  Sweat broke out on my forehead and the mail in my lap slid to the floor as I rushed over to the window and peered down to the foliage at the bottom of the drive.  The leaves moved silently as if blown by wind but I could see nothing else out of order.

Immediately we pulled in the professionals to conference and they put my home through a battery of tests.  While waiting for results I laid silently in bed each night straining to hear any evidence of the Interloper’s evil presence.  I’d already dealt with his malevolence once and truly had no wish to be involved with him again.  I sought out my Guardian but He didn’t speak … or I couldn’t hear Him.  Perhaps my inner turmoil simply drowned out His voice, but the silence was unnerving.

I met with the cutter first.  He was my go-to guy with the ready smile and quirky bounce.  Except this time he wasn’t quite so jovial.  “It’s here,” he said solemnly.  “You may have to live with him for the rest of your life.”

“What?”  I asked quickly, even though I knew I’d heard him the first time.

“This type is hard to completely eradicate.”

I immediately thought about a time in the Bible when the disciples were trying to remove a demon from a young boy but were unable.  After Jesus had removed the demon the disciples asked Him why they hadn’t been able to do the job.  Jesus said, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29 HCSB)  I was already praying but I wondered if I needed to start fasting.

The cutter suggested that I meet with the Brazilian next.  He, with his toxic lotions and potions, almost immediately told me that there was little he could do.  Through testing, part of my home had been found to be lacking suitable internal structure.  The toxins he had to use to eradicate the beast required my home to be stronger than it was.  He looked at me solemnly while taking a bite of his turkey sandwich as if contemplating what he could say.  Clearing his throat, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and suggested I meet with the genius … the Mastermind.  My options were running out.

Approaching the Mastermind’s office I prayed that he would be able to help me.  If not … if not … I couldn’t speak the words.  The alternative was not something I wanted to have to face.

Where was my Guardian?  I knew He hadn’t left me, wouldn’t ever leave me, but why wasn’t He talking?  Why couldn’t I hear Him?  He so readily spoke peace into me the first time I’d encountered this evil presence.  Why not now?  I stopped asking knowing that sometimes we just didn’t get answers.  Feeling resigned, but with a touch of contentment, “Thy will be done,” I whispered.

The Mastermind greeted me warmly.  I’d spent so much time with him and his machines that I’d grown fond of this man.  Aristotle is quoted as having said, “There is no great genius without some touch of madness.”  I’m not sure I could call him ‘mad’ but certainly I enjoy the touch of weirdness that seems to skirt around the edges of his brilliant mind.

I left his office with hope and determination that we were going to be able to exterminate the Interloper once again.  They would build me my special bed the following week and begin shooting the photon torpedoes into my home directly after.

Then, on a Saturday evening before we’d even started the process, a friend said, “You’re the most courageous person I know.”

I sighed.  “If I’m courageous, it’s only because I know the Creator is with me, goes before me, and stands behind me.”

She smiled knowing that what I said was true but still shook her head.  “It helps that He’s working with gold.”

I blushed, “You’re a good friend.”

The next day as I listened to my pastor in church, he seemed to stare directly at me when he uttered the word, “Courage.”  I shivered in my seat thinking about my friend’s comment the day before.

I only had to wait one more day before a family friend met up with me in the grocery and said, “Have courage.”  I could hardly contain my delight realizing that I’d just heard from my Savior.  In the matter of three small days He was successful in getting His message through.

Courage.

Instantly peace settled into my dry bones and filled my heart.

“Thank you,” I whisper into the air, knowing He hears me.

And now.  Now I lay in my special bed while the Mastermind and his minions shoot photons around my house targeting the intruder.  Each strike sends the enemy screeching and running for cover.  I pray that God keeps this professional’s aim true and that every blast weakens the Interloper further.  I imagine he will be reduced to ruins and cease to live no more – and pray the same.  But I draw on the courage given to me by my Maker and smile.  I will be courageous.

Thy will be done.

 

My Word for 2017

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God gave me my word for 2017 early this year.  Do any of you do that?  Ask God for a word to focus on … something to learn as we approach a new year?

It’s fun and scary and interesting all the same.  In 2014 He gave me the word Grace.  From January 1, I was astounded about how much I didn’t know about Grace.  It wasn’t about the grace He poured out on me.  God mainly taught me how to give grace to others.  I had to break down old ways of thinking and breakthrough stereotypical opinions and it was a tough lesson and an extremely rewarding year.

Last year God started me out with Joy.  How could I have known that that word would carry me through multiple trials and tribulations regarding my health?  But God knew.  I needed a whole new outlook on Joy – what it was – how to get it – and how to maintain it through dark and scary times.  It is to God’s glory alone that I was able to find my joy (which was truly HIS joy) and spread that joy to others while suffering through cancer and all the therapy’s to combat it.

While I normally spend the last week of the year grumbling and groveling and praying for God to give me a word – this year – it was just before Christmas when I thought that I oughta start the process so I could hear the word before New Year’s Day.  God decided not to wait.  Over the Christmas weekend I received the same word by three different people.

What is it?

Courage.

Courage.  Said like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz.  Normally here I break into song with one finger vibrating my Adam’s apple … “If I were king of the foreeeeesssssttttt … not queen, not duke, not prince.”

I know why God has given me this word (and you will too very soon) and I’m going to embrace it.  And even though I know I’ve moved miles away from being fearful over the past year and a half; I’m ecstatic that God will teach me more.  That He cares.  That He will take the time to grow me.

So … will you ask God for a word for 2017?  If you do, please circle back here when you’ve received it and let us know in the comments!

Happy New Year everyone!  I’ll see you back here in 2017.

To Our Health!

Felecia

The Fog

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The Fog

When Paula came home from Atlanta the last time – she was in, as they say in Hospice, a very delicate condition.  In fact she came home in a private medical jet because the hospital believed she wouldn’t survive the 10-hour drive.  Her friends rallied together so her husband could continue to work and we took shifts caring for her.

When I initially walked into her home for my first shift and saw my beautiful friend laying on the couch it dawned on me that this might be the end and I bit back the tears that threatened.  You see, Paula has cancer.  If you’ve read me for a while you recognize her name.  She was diagnosed before me but was there for me through every step of my treatment, leading the way, plying me with ginger chews and bible verses and toasty socks and lotions, and a safe, godly ear for me to whisper into.

Walking through her door that first day was shocking. She was flat out on the couch under a pile of blankets and could not speak well, walk, or control the shaking in her hands that were puffy with steroids. She was on oxygen 24/7 and a regimen of oxycodone and other drugs and was only occasionally lucid.  As the weeks went on I continued to take my turns sitting with her, helping her eat, and perform other vital necessities.  Since she slept most of the time I busied myself with reading, writing, working on my book, and dozing off myself every once in a while.

We continued on like this for weeks and even though I prayed for healing a part of me was watching my friend sink further and further away from us and I asked God a few times if this wasn’t the end.

That was, until last week.

My ‘visiting’ day that week was Friday and I walked into Paula’s house to find the morning-shift friend smiling at me and Paula sitting up on the couch, her eyes bright, and a wide smile on her face.  I can tell you now, I was more than a little freaked out.  My friend was back to her perky self.

“It’s so good to see you.” She said.  A weird thing to say when I had just seen her the week before.

But as the day progressed I was to discover that Paula remembered nothing of the past eight weeks.  Nothing – save the constant ringing of the doorbell on Halloween.

She remembered going to Atlanta that last time and then … nothing until last Sunday when she, as she said, “Woke up from my fog.”

I was dumbfounded.  Had God spared her the mental anguish of the last eight weeks by closing her mind to what was happening to her physically?  No one had an answer for it but I wouldn’t put it past Him to do such a thing.  That’s how much He loves us.

But that wasn’t the half of the miracle – here was my lovely friend Paula.  Sitting up – and I mean UP (not propped up!) eating, talking, joking, laughing, with only a small shake in her hands to offer any lasting evidence.  Her legs and arms were still mighty weak but that first day she walked with her walker, crossed her legs on the sofa like any proper lady, and held lasting coherent conversations.  Even though she continued to freak me out as I watched her, I praised God for His miraculous healing.

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It’s been four weeks since that day and Paula’s now moving around without the walker, has been out of the house to shop and dine and go to a Christmas party, and continues to amaze.

God is truly astounding.

Never give up praying.  Never stop praising Him.

Never give up believing that God will intervene.  I know that many times He doesn’t, and we won’t ever know why this side of Heaven, but sometimes He does.  In both times, in all times, we must pray, and believe, and have faith, and praise Him continuously.

I’m learning that now, more than ever.