Sunday, December 21, 2014

As it begins...so it ends...

November 6, 2013 was the day our world changed.  It was the day we heard the words no one ever wants to hear.  Those words started a chain reaction that should never be forged.  

That day started me on a path I never wanted to take, and lead me to a place I never wanted to go.  But much like a mountain trail to be hiked, once you climb the boulders and cross the streams, your pathway ends at a beautiful waterfall, high above the tree line where you can see for miles.  

My pathway has taken me to places I never thought I'd go and I've seen sights I never thought I'd see.  My vision is clearer and my thoughts are free from fog.

Like every journey we begin, there is an end.  This week I had the surgery to remove my mediport. All the doctors agree I won't need it anymore.  Surgery went well, recovery is even better!  Another scar, but that's okay.

I'm starting to see my scars more as battle wounds.  I have fought a hard fight and like any warrior, I will have the wounds to show for it.  Each scar I see, from the one on my back where this whole show started, to the 7 inch scar on my belly and the 3 assisting scars, to the 2 inch scar near my collar bone where my port was, to the emotional scars and mental bruises that come with something like this, each one has served a purpose, each one has played a part in the life I live today.  Each one was part of my rescue.  Each one is a blessing and each one was designed to set me free.

Having my port removed was my last and final chapter.  Oh, I'll still have PET scans once a year.  I'll see my doctors once a year, but overall, this chapter in my life is coming to a close.  Even now, as I pen these words, I feel the overwhelming release of it all.  As if a year's worth of worry, fear, hope, grace and tiny mustard seeds of faith is finally coming uncorked.  For the first time, I'm beginning to exhale.  

What an amazing God to lead to me to this place.  I'm so thankful he allowed me to walk this path.  I'm thankful every day for the hard lessons.  I'm thankful for the fear because I learned to trust Him.  I'm thankful for the uncertainty because I learned to believe His word.  I'm thankful for the unrest because I learned to rest in Him.  I'm thankful for those who used bitter words against me because it taught me that He is always faithful...and to forgive.  I am thankful for friends who stood by my side.  

I am thankful for my sweet family.  No husband, no child should ever see their loved one go through this... no one... but God has been so faithful to show us His mercy and His grace through every step.  He has spoken words of kindness to us, he has provided scripture to carry us when our faith was weak and he has blessed us by revealing truth upon truth.  I am thankful for my husband who never left my side.  I am thankful for my children who loved me and feared for me.  I'm forever thankful for every day I am allowed to spend with them.

Life is hard, but God is good.  This journey took me to a place I never wanted to go, but it has lead me to a place I never want to leave.  

Only By His Grace,

Billie

Friday, December 12, 2014

Applying grace...


Romans 5:20, "But where sin increased, grace increased all the more..."
I am grateful for grace.  Not only the grace that is applied to my life daily, in that His mercies are renewed every morning.  But also for the grace to apply grace. 

What does that mean, exactly?  When my husband and I were training to counsel young couples, one of the things we learned was, "when in doubt, apply grace."

Something else I've learned in my short unimportant life is this:  hurting people say hurtful things.  Often, the people who are the rudest, have the shortest tempers, say the most hurtful things are really the ones who are hurting the deepest.

I must admit, my heart is prone to retaliation.  I want to throw hurtful words back at those who say hurtful things to me.  I want to point out faults and I want to have the last word.

But those behaviors don't exhibit grace.  Sometimes we have to choose grace.  We have to choose grace over resentment.  We choose forgiveness over hurt.  We choose peace over pain.

Sometimes exhibiting grace means that we leave a situation alone instead of adding fuel to the fire.  Sometimes being silent, staying quiet, refraining from speaking is applying grace.  Proverbs 29:11 gives us good advice.  "A fool uttereth all his mind; but a wise man keepeth it until afterward."  Beth Moore once said, "Having the last word doesn't make you right. It just makes you last."

In my own life, today has been difficult.  I wanted to retaliate.  I wanted to spout off.  I wanted to be a fool and utter all of my mind. But I will use wisdom and keep it to myself.  Today, sin increased...but today grace will increase all the more.

Only By His Grace,

Billie

Thursday, December 11, 2014

And then I trust...


"28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her."  Luke 1:28-38

Every Christmas my heart always finds it's way back to Mary.  The birth of Christ is easily the most remarkable event in human history.  God became man in order to reconcile us to himself.  What great lengths, heights and depths is the Father's love for us.

I often find myself thinking of Mary's response to the angel when he said,  "You will conceive and give birth to a son."  First, imagine what all this meant for her.  She would be ostracized.  She would be labeled.  She would be scorned.  Joseph may not want her.  Her life would no longer be her own.  She would certainly lose friendships.  She would lose her family.  She would probably lose her fiancĂ©.  And yet Mary answered in complete submission to the Lord, "I am the Lord's servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled."

She didn't argue.  She didn't protest because this was going to wreck her life. She didn't assume her life was her own.  She simply submitted herself to the Sovereignty of God and said yes to the work of the Holy Spirit.

How many blessings do we miss because what God may be trying to do in our lives makes us uncomfortable?  How many times do we forfeit God's plan for our own, simply because of our pride and self-approved arrogance?  We think we know what's best for us and can back it up with scripture.  But sometimes what God has planned for us isn't comfortable, it isn't easy, it isn't just and it isn't fair.  But it always brings about His work, in His way, in His time. 

I want my heart to be like Mary's.  When impossible decisions present themselves, when hard choices have to be made, when difficult lines have to be drawn, I want my heart to reflect Mary's heart.  I want my heart to say, "May your word to me be fulfilled.  I am the Lord's servant."

So, what if I make the wrong decision?  What if I make the wrong choice?  Draw the wrong line?  Well, then I rest in the knowledge that God is Sovereign over my mistakes, too, and will make right my wrongs and will cause all things to work together for my good, if I continue to trust him and submit myself to His leading.

Today my heart desires to be like Mary.  I don't want my decisions to be based on my own heart's desires, but rather to be based on what God desires for me.  And then I trust him...

Only By His Grace,

Billie



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Feeling or truth?

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"  Jeremiah 17:9


When I woke up from my surgery in April my left foot was numb. It is still numb today.  If I went solely on my "feelings" I could sometimes be convinced that I may never feel again in that foot.  There are times when that foot feels colder than the other.  If I went solely on my "feelings" I could be convinced that I had bad circulation.  I cannot flex my foot without starting a chain reaction of muscle spasms.  If I went solely on my "feelings" I would probably believe that this is how it was going to be forever.

However, when I look back at how far I've come since April, I realize that I have regained some feeling in my foot, it is not colder than the other, and the muscle spasms are fewer and farther between every week.  The truth is, I am getting better little by little.

Sometimes our hearts overwhelm us.  We go by our "feelings" and refuse to listen to truth because we simply want what we want.  We want to feel loved so we put up with things we shouldn't.  We want to be liked so we go along to get along.  We want to have something we do not have, and so we strive desperately to create it, even if it is fleeting.

But truth is a beautiful thing.  Truth sheds light in dark places.  Truth doesn't make the dark, darker.  Truth heals broken hearts.  It doesn't continue abusive behaviors.  Truth gives hope and new beginnings, it doesn't keep us locked inside of dread.  

Sometimes, we don't want to hear the truth because it isn't what we want to hear.  But one thing is always true.  Truth exposes a lie.  Truth exposes abuse.  Truth exposes those things which strive to keep us tied down.  In short, truth is what sets us free!

Whenever my heart temps to overwhelm me, I listen, instead to truth.  And the truth sets me free every time.

Only By His Grace,

Billie 

Monday, December 8, 2014

When your to do list takes over...

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:13-14

It seems this time of year life moves at break-neck speed.  There are parties to attend, performances to catch, people to cherish.  Meanwhile there is still laundry to do, jobs to complete, doctor appointments to keep and groceries to buy.

If we lose our perspective, these things can begin to weigh us down until we lose the joy and true meaning of Christmas.  James tells us to guard our hearts against this mentality and to remember a simple truth. 

Our lives are but a mist, a vapor that vanishes like the morning fog.  I learned this first hand last year.  Task lists lost their importance, to do items carried little significance in light of time.

Daily, we find ourselves planning and listing all the items that fill our heads.  But the truth of this verse is truth for everyone.  We do not know what will happen tomorrow.  What does our life consist of, really?  We get up, we breathe in and we breathe out.  We go about our days planning the next but barely recognizing the one we have been given.  This shouldn't be.  We miss so much when we fail to see the blessing in every given moment.

I am looking toward so many things this season.  We have Choir concerts and concert band performances.  There is the Christmas concert to attend at St. Brigid.  But I'm working today, in the middle of the hectic chaos to find moments to remember to breathe and to be thankful for the blessing of today!

My life is but a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  I want my heart to be joyful and glad, not only at this time of year, but every day that I'm given.  Today is a gift.  Don't forget to say "thank you."

Only By His Grace,

Billie

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ramblings...

This time of year there is always so much going on.  School programs, choir performances, band performances, work parties, family gatherings... it used to seem like December was an impossible month.

Today we had orthodontist appointments, and at one time, adding another task to an already hectic December would have stressed me out and sent me over the edge.  But God is so good to have taught me patience.  I actually found it to be a sweet blessing today.

Psalm 119:71 says, "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees."  That has been true for me.  I have learned to be flexible where I wasn't flexible before.  I have learned to give up control where I once held to it so tightly.  I have learned to be patient, not only in my suffering, but just in life.

When I think of David I wonder what his affliction was when he wrote that verse.  I wonder if it was physical, emotional or both.  I wonder what he learned, exactly, from his affliction.

I see so many people around me who have so much going on in their own lives.  I always wonder, what it is that you're going to learn from this?  When we submit ourselves to a sovereign God and allow him the utmost control over our lives, he is able to teach us things we would have never know otherwise.

I can't say I'm happy I was afflicted.  But like David, I agree that "it was good for me to be afflicted."  I have learned so very much!

Only By His Grace,

Billie

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pursuing peace...

 "For God is not a God of disorder but of peace." 
1 Corinthians 14:33


Peace: n.  freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.

I have been thinking so much about peace these past few days.  Really, more like relishing the absolute feeling of peace I feel as of late.  It seems there is always chaos about us, whether in the news or in the workplace, family chaos, let's be honest, church chaos, marital chaos, parental chaos... it just seems there is always something lurking about just waiting to steal our peace.

The definition of peace is "the freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility."  Really?  Is there such a place?  Is there anywhere we can go where we can be completely and totally free from disturbance?  Is there really a place of peace and tranquility?

I think there is.  1 Corinthians tells us that God is not a god of disorder, but of peace.  It just makes me aware that when we have these feelings of chaos and unrest, it is not God's will for our lives.  He is a God of peace. Take that one step further, meaning, He is our place that is free from disturbance.  He is our place of quiet and tranquility.

You know, my life is not free of disturbance.  I am just like everyone else.  I have days when work gets under my skin.  I have moments when my children's bickering gets them sent to bed early.  I have unresolved family issues.

This year alone my husband lost his grandfather.  Five weeks later he lost his grandmother.  A few short months after that, he lost his cousin.  I battled cancer, his mother has been ill for several weeks and work is hectic.  No one is exempt.

But God is not a god of disorder, but of peace.  I remind myself of that every single day.  These past few days, although I have been sick, my kids have been sick, work is crazy and being flexible is an art, I am more at peace that I have been in my life!

This time of year, especially around the holidays, we can find ourselves in a place of serious unrest.  It will eat away at us, if we allow it.  Today I am baking pies.  I have my turkey brine ready.  My house has been cleaned.  I'm taking in the moments that I'm home with my children.  I'm relishing the sound of their voices.  I'm really enjoying the smells floating through my house.

Yes, there is chaos.  Yes, there are areas of disorder.  But my God is a god of peace and I will rest in that alone.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Only By His Grace,

Billie




Monday, November 24, 2014

My grace is sufficient for you...

2 Corinthians 12:8-9 "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."

What powerful words those are: "My grace is sufficient for you."  Meaning, 'my grace is enough."  I used to think, "grace is great, but  I could really use some _________ right about now."  I think I understand more clearly now.

You know, it doesn't have to be cancer that makes you realize what it means for grace to be sufficient for you.  Last week, someone guessed my age to be far older than I am.  Let me tell you, that took a lot of grace.  I choose to believe that it's because my hair is short. At least that's what I'm telling myself.  But in that moment, that insignificant moment, of prideful vanity, it took grace not to cry.  It took grace, not to be wounded.  It took grace not to crawl under my desk and hide.  It took great grace.

This week both of my kids are sick.  We had plans.  We had things we were going to do.  It's Thanksgiving week.  My kids are out of school and here we are, stuck at home, waiting out a fever, missing school programs and performances.  It is taking grace not to be disappointed.  It is taking grace not to feel self-pity.  It is taking grace not to crawl into bed and cover up my head because our plans have been changed. 

Paul said, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me..."  Sometimes we have one thing that just lingers and we plead that it will be lifted from us.  Other times it's a hundred niggling little things that pile up into one disappointment after another, and we plead that it will lift.  

But His answer to us is always the same: "My grace is sufficient for you."  Why?  Because his power is made perfect in weakness.  When we persevere under pressure, when we stand and face the mighty trials, when we muster the strength to keep going day after day, when we choose joy, when we cling to hope, when we wait for our rescue, His power is made perfect in our weakness.

As I look in the mirror, I see a few more wrinkles than I did this time last year.  I see a woman with shorter hair.  I don't have the legs of a runner or the toned abdominal muscles I had a year ago, but by His grace I'm still here.  

I have said from the beginning, "if this is the path God has chosen for me I will walk it with as much grace as I possibly can."  I'm still learning about walking gracefully.  I don't have to just walk gracefully through the trials of cancer.  I am called to walk gracefully through the sicknesses of my children.  I am called to walk gracefully when people injure my pride.  I am called to walk gracefully when my plans get changed.  Why?  Because it points others to Christ.  When he is our strength others see him through us.  

So, I won't hide under my covers today.  I won't look for another remedy for wrinkled skin.  I won't allow myself to feel disappointment and self-pity over plans that change.  Instead, I will remember that, "My grace is sufficient for you."

Only by His Grace,

Billie

Friday, November 21, 2014

"If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!"  Job 23:3 NIV

You know what amazes me about Job?  It's his heart toward the Father.  It makes me want to examine my own heart as I think of the every day trials I face.

Think back to what Job went through.  He was stricken with festering leprosy, he lost all of his children, and yet in his absolute distress his heart's cry was, "If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling."  

My heart would cry out for healing.  My heart would cry out for restoration.  But Job did not cry out to be healed of his disease, nor did he cry out to see his children restored.  His cry was first and foremost that he could find his savior; that he could be near him in his dwelling.

When we suffer trials of many kinds we often find ourselves resentful, or discouraged because we have been stricken.  But Job, even in his suffering, turned toward the father and longed to be where he could be found.

I learned the hard way.  When every hope was stripped from me I learned to press into the Father first.  And you know what I found when I did?  I found that nothing else mattered other than his presence.  I found that no other hope offered to me even came close to comparing to the presence of the one and only who could rescue me.

Oh, that my heart would remember this lesson.  Oh that I wouldn't fall back into selfish thinking and cry out for whatever I deem best, but rather that I would press into my Lord and let him minister to me as I wait in quiet submission.

Only By His Grace,

Billie

Thursday, November 6, 2014

One Year Ago Today...

1 Peter 5:10 NIV says, "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."

One year ago today I was diagnosed with aggressive, high grade bladder cancer.  PET scans showed questionable lymph nodes and to be perfectly honest, survival percentages were slim.  One year ago today I started planning my funeral.  One year ago today I started thinking forward to all I would miss as my family continued on without me.  One year ago today I was given the worst news of my life.

But, true to His word and faithful to His promises, God of all grace, after allowing me to suffer for a little while has himself restored me.  This week my CT scans came in clear.  Everything they saw three months ago was shrinking, everything they worried about three months ago is resolving itself.  Everything is clear.  My doctors are pleased with my outcome and my prognosis. 

I have been restored.  My faith is firm.  My heart is steadfast.

I am thankful He keeps His promises!

Only By His Grace,

Billie

Into the Wilderness...


I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought.  Hosea 13:5

Charles Spurgeon wrote, "Yes, Lord, thou didst indeed know me in my fallen state, and thou didst even then choose me for thyself. When I was loathsome and self-abhorred, thou didst receive me as thy child, and thou didst satisfy my craving wants. Blessed for ever be thy name for this free, rich, abounding mercy. Since then, my inward experience has often been a wilderness; but thou hast owned me still as thy beloved, and poured streams of love and grace into me to gladden me, and make me fruitful. Yea, when my outward circumstances have been at the worst, and I have wandered in a land of drought, thy sweet presence has solaced me. Men have not known me when scorn has awaited me, but thou hast known my soul in adversities, for no affliction dims the lustre of thy love. Most gracious Lord, I magnify thee for all thy faithfulness to me in trying circumstances, and I deplore that I should at any time have forgotten thee and been exalted in heart, when I have owed all to thy gentleness and love. Have mercy upon thy servant in this thing!"

This may seem an odd thing to write, but as I read this devotion written by the great Charles Spurgeon, my heart was moved at the thought of how Christ is with us in our sufferings, in our troubles, in the trials.  He is with us in the darkest of nights, in the storms and the worst of the worst circumstances.  He is with us.

I wonder how many times we are allowed to go into the wilderness just because He longs to be near to us.  Isn't it so that when all is well, our hearts wander off, our devotion wanes, our need for him dims?

Do you recall the story of Jesus going with the disciples into the garden to pray?  He asked them to tarry there with him, and they fell asleep.  How often does he go with us into the dark and dismal places, and yet, when we are asked to go into the dark and dismal places we resist?  Could it be that our suffering draws us closer to him and him to us?

We are given the directive to "Be still and know that he is God."  It is a difficult thing to be still when all we want is our suffering to be shortened, our pain to decrease, our sadness to be lifted.  

When has he ever led you into the valley of the shadow of death when he has not gone with you?  When has he ever placed you in the boat tossed about on life's ocean, when he wasn't with you?  When has he ever given you a mountain to climb when he wasn't by your side?  

Yes, He goes into the wilderness with us, he is in the shipwreck, he is on the mountainside, and he is in the valley of the shadow.  Every time we go, he goes with us.  Are you willing to quiet your heart and go with him?  Not every path is clearly lit, not every road is clearly named.  Not every outcome is sure.  

Nothing is promised; not tomorrow, not today, not our next breath.  One thing I know, he will not leave or forsake us.  Wherever his path leads us, he too will go.

Only By His Grace,

Billie

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Grace upon grace; mercy upon mercy






Grace means to get something you do not deserve; unmerited favor.
I have been given a great amount of grace these last few months.  I dare say, probably more grace has been given to me this past year than in all the days given to me in my life.

My outcome was bleak.  But even in the darkest of the darkness, I had hope.  There was always hope because I believe in grace.  I believe in God's unfailing grace, his unmeasurable grace, his unending grace.  Grace has been bestowed upon me in ways I cannot fathom nor explain.

Mercy means you do not get a punishment that you deserve; compassion, forbearance.  God is abundant in grace and mercy.
The thing that was placed on my life, I cannot say that I did not deserve.  When I think of the sinful state of the human soul, I realize that there is no penance, no work, no striving that could ever be great enough to remove the blight that mars my heart.  

But that's the beauty of grace - it does what we cannot do ourselves.  God's great grace grants us unmerited favor and removes the corruption from our hearts.  His mercy offers us what we cannot deserve on our own; a second chance, a new beginning.

Even as recent as yesterday my heart was overwhelmed again at the thought of this scar left on my life and the lives of everyone in my family.  Not only does this week mark the one year mark of my cancer diagnosis, but this was also my 6 month scan.  Every test, every blood workup, every PET scan, every CT scan, every MRI they order I wonder if they'll find something.

And then I remember again, God's grace and his mercy.  I cannot earn these things.  I cannot deserve them.  I cannot buy them or speak them into existence.  I can only trust His unfailing kindness and his merciful heart.  

I am thankful for His grace because it gave to me something I did not deserve, another year, another month, another week, another day.  I am thankful for His mercy because it removed from me the death that was almost certain.  

Every day of my life I am thankful for the grace that has been bestowed upon me.  Every day I am thankful for his mercy because it is what keeps me going.  

Only By His Grace,

Billie

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lead me to the Rock...


"Hear my cry, O God,

    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,

    a strong tower against the enemy."  Psalm 61:1-3

Here it is, the wee hours of the morning, and I find myself sitting at my laptop contemplating...again.  There has been something on my mind for a few days.  It isn't life-changing or earth-changing, it is simply a decision I need to make for myself.  

As I woke this morning around 2:30, my thoughts were "when my heart is faint, lead me to the rock that is higher than I."  My heart isn't actually faint, and the enemy isn't assailing us or pursuing us, but I know that going to the rock that is higher than I will be my refuge.

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus said, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest."  I don't feel weary, nor do I feel like I carry a heavy burden, but at 2:30 in the morning I certainly wouldn't argue over some rest.

It reminds me of all the sleepless nights I spent thinking about my health, my diagnosis, my surgery, my recovery, etc, etc, etc.  All of those nights when my heart was faint, all of those nights when I was weary of carrying such a heavy burden, He was a strong tower for me and he did give me rest.

So why is it that now, when I'm thinking of this uncertainty, why is it that I don't run full speed ahead to the rock that is higher than I rather than lying awake in my bed?  Why is it that I find myself questioning "next steps" rather than resting in His goodness?

I think it's because I think myself capable of handling my everyday decisions on my own.  When faced with cancer my only hope was to let him carry me through it all.  I couldn't carry the burden myself.  But "this thing" that consumes my mind, I think I can carry alone.  "This thing" threatens my peace of mind and steals my rest, why would I try to carry it alone?  

Why is it that we choose to carry our burdens when He's offered, no promised, to give us rest?  He doesn't care what our burdens consist of, how big they seem in our own eyes, or how insignificant they may really be.  He only wants us to trust him with them all.  He wants to give us rest.  

Only a crazy person awake in the wee hours of the morning would refuse rest.  I am going to the rock that is higher than I for even in this new thing he will be my refuge and my strong tower.

Only By His Grace,

Billie




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What was intended...

Today is my idea of the perfect fall day.  It's cooler, but not so cool as to be uncomfortable.  It's rainy, but little more than a drizzle.  The leaves have changed colors, but haven't yet faded to brown.  

It occurred to me this morning that I am approaching my one year anniversary of the worst day of my life.  Last year, the week of Halloween I was in so much pain but none of my doctors could find a reason.  I had been on multiple antibiotics and was beginning to treat my pain with narcotic pain medicine.  Still, no one knew why.

Little less than two weeks later I woke up in a recovery room with my husband by my side, rubbing my hand, and a doctor whom I do not know and can barely remember saying to him, "I don't know if they'll want to do Chemotherapy or not."  Although I was in a dense fog of anesthesia I remember the incredible sinking feeling I had.  My thoughts ranged from, "It must be bad if they don't know if they'll want to do chemotherapy or not," to "I am not going out like this!"  That is the moment I look back on fondly because I realized my "fighting' side" was coming out.  I may go down, but by goodness not without a fight!



I think of Joseph, who's brothers sold him into slavery.  He said to them, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done."  Genesis 50:20

This is how I feel about my cancer.  It was intended to harm me, but God intended to use it for my good.  And I believe that He has. I believe I see things more clearly now.  I definitely live life more freely now.  And I have learned to let go of things that do not matter.

The thing is, each of us has an opportunity every single day to find something that was meant to harm us; words spoken, actions taken, opportunities wasted.  All of these things can be meant to cause us hurt or harm, but if we choose to, we can allow these things to be used for our good.  

We are approaching the start of November and the Thanksgiving season.  I am so thankful I can look back at this past year with gratitude and grace instead of regret and remorse. 

The memories aren't always easy or fond.  Somedays they still bring me to tears.  To be truthful, there are even moments when I fear the cancer will return.  It's in those moments I remind myself of Joseph's words, "What was intended for my harm, God used for my good."  

Only By His Grace,


Billie

Friday, October 17, 2014

Where morning dawns and evening fades


The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; 
where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.  
Psalm 65:8 NIV

Early morning is my favorite time of day. The house is quiet and even the dog just wants to lie in her bed and catch five more minutes of uninterrupted sleep. There is something spectacular to me about getting up while the house is still dark, turning on the fireplace, lighting a couple of candles and tuning into my favorite Pandora station...one of instrumental soothing music. It starts my day in a peaceful, calm, relaxed way and I love it!

Early morning is when everything begins again anew.  Yesterday's failures are behind, incomplete tasks have been put to bed, the body and mind are given a fresh, clean slate with which to start again.  That brings me great comfort.

Outside my back windows I can see the sunrise.  We've lived here going on eight years, now, and only last year did I really notice how beautiful the sunrise was outside my own back door.  One morning, after a particularly long chemo treatment, I sat in my chair looking out the window at the sunrise and was overcome by it's beauty.  How could I have missed it all of these years?  How many gorgeous sunrises had I missed?  How many fuchsia skies?  How many autumn trees?  How much had gone unnoticed?  How many more beautiful sunrises would I not see if I died?

Psalms 65 says, "The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy."  How many opportunities to bring a song of joy did I miss?  The whole earth is filled with awe at God's wonders, why had I been I too busy to notice them?

This was the scene that unfolded outside my back window this morning.


From dawn's first glimmer of daybreak the sky began it's metamorphosis from black to blue and pink.  Within five minutes it had absolutely come to life with color.


This is the sunrise I can experience almost every morning...if I take the time to notice.

What a difference five minutes can make. Five minutes standing in awe of a great God can change our skies from dark and bleak to bright and brilliant.  Even now as I peer out the window, dawn has shown it's light on the entire woods behind the house.  They are no longer black and dark, but are alive with autumn colors.  

You know, when our lives are in a very dark place and all things look bleak, five minutes with a great and loving God can change even the worst circumstance into living color.  The darkness doesn't seem as difficult to navigate and we can stand in awe of his wonders and call forth a song of joy.

Cancer is a dreadful disease.  But mine taught me many valuable lessons...one of which was to stand in awe of God's wonders and sing a song of joy!

Only By His Grace,

Billie


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A perfect peace...



I was thinking this weekend about the peace I've felt throughout my cancer journey.  It's funny to me because now, I feel like I'm an outsider, looking back on someone else's memories.  It's as if I just survived a terrible wreck and walked away...the further I get from the wreckage, the more I can see and I find myself saying, "Wait!  What the heck just happened?!?!?!"

God was so gracious to give me a perfect peace throughout it all.  I knew my chances of survival were slim.  I thought there would be a hole in my family forever.  I knew eventually my memory would fade and lives would continue without me.  But throughout the whole thing I had a perfect peace.  Sadness at times, but peace nonetheless.

It's only now that I find myself waking in the night fearing the cancer will return.  What if it comes back and it's inoperable?  Is this headache sinus or brain cancer?  Is this pain in my leg because I walked 4 miles today or is it bone cancer?  Am I tired today because I stayed up too late this weekend or is there cancer lurking about somewhere in my body?  These questions are normal after an ordeal like this.  Still, in it all, when those tiny moments of fear strike, I still feel a great peace.  I know that whatever happens God is still sovereign and I am in his care.  

I realized all of this over the weekend as I was wasting time on Pinterest.  Oh, Pinterest...the great time evaporator :)  I found myself looking at Christmas decor...


A cute garland...

A bundle of logs for the fireplace...

I realized that last year my thoughts were, "If I die before we take down the Christmas decorations I don't want it to be too large a task for my family."  And, "If I put up all my Christmas trees (we have 13 at last count) will I feel like taking them down in January?  These are not the thoughts of this year!  This year I'm planning where my Santa collection will go.  I'm thinking of stocking stuffers and advent calendars.  This year there won't be a dark and dreadful cloud hanging over our holiday!

I saw this graphic recently and thought it was profound...

"It's not the load that breaks you down; it's the way you carry it." ~Lena Horne~

But as I pondered the weight of the load we carried, and at times still carry, I realized that it's not always the way you carry it, but more importantly whom you allow to help you carry it.

I'm thankful that I was, and am, kept in perfect peace... I'm thankful I have one greater than I to help me carry my load :) 

Only By His Grace,

Billie

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sharing Hope...



I have become sadly aware of how hopeless many people in this world are.  Today I saw this graphic and it made me realize that I can do nothing to change the outcome of people's lives.  I cannot change their situations.  I cannot change their finances.  I cannot change their careers. I cannot change their circumstances. 

But what I can do is share hope!

Last week I missed a call from a coordinator from my surgeon's office.  I've been in contact with him for a few weeks trying to resolve one small insurance issue - so naturally, I thought the call was regarding this particular situation.

When I returned her call yesterday, she asked me if I would be willing to share my personal story with a patient who is facing the same surgery I just had completed.  The doctor asked for me specifically for two reasons:  first, because my surgery was so successful, but second, and more importantly, because they thought I could offer him hope.

The staff at the cancer center say that this man is scared, apprehensive about the surgery, anxious about the statistics he's read... boy do I get that. 

So although I cannot tell this man what his outcome will be, although I cannot promise him a cancer-free life, although I cannot change his situation, or his circumstance, what I can do is offer him hope.  I can tell him that my surgery was successful.  I can tell him that my outcome was good.  I can tell him that my personal experience, my choice to have this surgery, changed my life...for the better.

You see, I think I've figured it out. People aren't afraid of the future.  People are afraid of what they cannot control.  If people were afraid of the future they would be terrified every time they planned a vacation. No.  People aren't afraid of the future.  People are afraid of the unknown. 

And so, for me, to help clarify the unknown for this man is to offer him hope. 

I am humbly honored to be asked to do this thing...and I'm privileged to touch the life of someone on the other end of the phone line..  And for one small moment in this man's entire history, maybe I can offer him a glimpse of a better future - maybe I can hold out hope to him.

"When it's dark enough, you can see the stars."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

 
Only By His Grace,

Billie

Monday, September 22, 2014

Recognizing the blessing...

I feel very blessed today.  Let me tell you why I'm blessed.

1)  I'm busy
2)  I'm not taking chemotherapy
3)  My hair is not falling out
4)  My food doesn't make me sick
5)  I am walking most days and jogging some days.
6)  I am wearing heals again.
7)  I am going to cross country meets
8)  I'm picking up from carpool
9)  I'm picking up from Performing Arts camp
10)  I'm over-scheduling my days and it has nothing to do with the oncologist
11)  I have great friends who care about me
12)  I can make dinner for my family
13)  I can wash, dry and fold mountains of laundry
14)  I can weed eat around the house
15)  I can go to the grocery store
16)  I can take my children to historical places and help them write reports about what they've seen
17)  I can suffer through chiggers from collecting bugs for a 4th grade bug collection project
18)  I can get up at 5:30 a.m. to pack lunches 
19)  I am blessed because I'm tired...
20)  I am blessed because I'm alive

I hear people every day complain about life.  They complain because of traffic.  They complain because of the weather.  They complain because of their hectic schedules.  They complain because the grocer only sells Angus beef.  They complain because the grocer doesn't sell fat free yogurt.

I read an article today about some things cancer survivors experience... It said that most feel an overwhelming sense of being blessed.  I can attest.  I do feel blessed.  Every day I realize how much I used to complain about my life - and now I am happy to participate in those same activities that used to drive me nuts.  The business doesn't bother me.  Traffic rarely bothers me.  The weather entices me and exercise challenges me.  

I am blessed and it's Only By His Grace,

Billie

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Finding Life...



Last week I was looking through some photos, wanting to update some pictures in frames, and I came across a few from last year that pierced my heart.  I came across this one and thought, "this is what life would have looked like without me."  As if there was a space once filled that would now be empty; as if a family of four would be reduced to three. Memories would be made without me, photos taken without me; life would go on.

There were pictures taken throughout the year that seemed unfamiliar to me, as if I hadn't lived those moments at all.


This photo was taken at Thanksgiving.  I had just received my port that week, and boy was my body sore.  Still, I woke up at the crack of dawn, rather before it, and stuffed the turkey, put it in the oven to roast, put a few sides together and pretended it was life as usual.  I tried not to think that it would be my last Thanksgiving with my kids and my husband.  I tried desperately to be thankful.


This photo was taken on Austin's birthday.  I know this because I've seen other pictures in the series where I was wearing this sweater - at his birthday dinner.  Things at this point are vague, but I remember thinking I might not see him turn 10, that this might be the last birthday I celebrated with him.


As much as I hate this photo, I didn't know it was being taken, I remember the day very well.  We were celebrating Kayla's 13th birthday and I was caught in a moment of thinking that I was watching a life that I wasn't going to get to be part of.  I was fighting back tears and wanted desperately to run upstairs and hide under the covers.



Kayla took this picture one evening...I didn't know she was taking it.  I remember fighting back tears thinking that it was all coming to an end.  That this life I'd built with the man I loved were vanishing before my eyes.  And I wanted to fight desperately to save it.

Matthew 16:24 talks about saving your life.  Jesus said to Peter, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole words, yet forfeits his soul?"

I had chosen an attitude of submission. I chose to deny myself in the face of almost certain death. If God in his sovereignty had allowed me to walk down this path, then it must be for my good and for his glory.  If this was the path he had allowed me to walk, then I would walk it with as much grace as I possibly could.  And if he chose to take my life, then I would say "nevertheless, not my will but thine be done," even though it pained my soul to the very depths.

For me, taking up my cross meant the possibility of having to lay down my life.  For me, following in faith meant being willing to lose my life for His sake.  For me, fighting to save my physical life but being willing to submit to His greater plan meant that I was willing to forfeit the world but gain my soul.

As sad as the memories are, the outcome is so much greater than I could imagine.  I have learned to find life.  I've learned to let go of things that troubled me and grasp tightly to the things that matter.

I didn't walk away unaltered, but that's ok.  Matthew 18:8 says, "It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire."  If this alteration to my body and to my heart saves me in the end, then it is for my good and for His glory.

In all of this I've learned that gaining a world of peace sometimes means having to surrender your soul. And sometimes losing the world is the best loss of all.  

Only By His Grace,

Billie