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,


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,


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,


Thursday, September 11, 2014


September 11, 2001.  I'm betting you can remember exactly where you were, and exactly what you were doing on that fateful day twelve years ago.

John and I, along with Baby Girl, were on vacation in Virginia.  Our plan that day was to drive out to the coast and see the Naval ship yards.  Only our plans changed while watching the news at breakfast.  Our country had been attacked and all ports were being evacuated.  The Navy ships and all extra personnel were being sent to New York to help those who desperately needed it.

We couldn't believe what we were seeing.  We changed our plans and went to Colonial Williamsburg instead.  If you've ever been there you know they try to keep it as authentic as possible, so there weren't televisions and radios reporting the day's events.  It was peaceful and "normal."

Baby girl was seven months old and I was expecting.  I was about 14 weeks along.  But later that evening, in a town we knew nothing about, I started having contractions.  When we arrived at the hospital, they were on a skeleton staff because all additional medical personnel had been sent to New York. After several hours in the emergency room and finally being placed in a private room, I lost the baby that night.

Our little one would have been twelve years old this year.  I don't know what he or she would have been like.  I can imagine that he or she would have had blonde hair and blue eyes.  I can imagine that he or she would have been a pleasure to our family.  I can imagine that he or she would have had talents and dreams and a bright future.

On a day when we remember so many lives that were tragically lost it is a bittersweet moment for me.  The loss we suffered pales in comparison when you look at the bigger picture of what happened that day.  But my heart still remembers what could have been and what will never be. 

To those who remember loved ones lost on this day, my heart is with you.  And we go on.  We go on for them. We go on for ourselves.  We go on for our fellow countrymen.  We go on because we survive.  We go on...

Only By His Grace,


Saturday, September 6, 2014

When your heart cries...

I've wanted to write this post for a while now but I haven't really been able to form my thoughts well enough to put pen to paper - or so to speak.

My heart has been heavy but I haven't been able to communicate the depth of the weight.  Maybe it's because I haven't really been able to understand all I want to say; maybe because my heart understands it, but in my head it is incomprehensible. 

Some days I think I finally have the words I want to share, other days I sit and stare at my keyboard unable to say what I need to say.  When your heart cries, there aren't visible tears.  When your heart cries, the sobs are inaudible.  When your heart cries, others don't know you're crying.  When your heart cries, sometimes there just are no words.

What I'm going to say could so easily be misconstrued as judgment, and I don't mean it to be.  That is why it's been so hard to write this post.  It's not a judgment.  It's more of a sadness, a heart cry.

Do you know how you feel when someone deeply hurts your feelings?  That is how this feels, only it's not my feelings that have been hurt.  I feel as if my spirit has been wounded.

The whole time I was fighting cancer I kept one very important thought in mind.  "The attacks we face are not attacks against us, but rather they are attacks on God's glory."  Every time I faced a new obstacle, a questionable scan, a negative report, my soul would say, "whether I live or die, please do not let this go in vain."

From November to April, five very long months, I prayed not only for God to heal me, but moreover for his will to be done.  It is the hardest prayer in the world to pray.  When faced with a very real foe, one you know has the power to take your very life, to utter the words, "Not my will but thine be done."  It is the hardest prayer to pray when watching your children open their gifts on Christmas morning, "Lord let me stay, not my will but thine be done."  It is the hardest prayer to pray while watching your husband do the best he can do to hold it all together, "Lord, don't let me leave him, not my will but thine be done."  As sad and as difficult as those prayers were, and still are, the underlying outcry of my heart was that all of this would be for His glory.  

Recently I was at a large gathering of people, many of them I knew on a personal level, many of them only in passing.  Most of them either knew about my cancer because they know our family, or they knew by way of this blog.  A few, however, didn't know at all.  

One sweet lady I've known casually for a number of years stopped my and said, "I love your short haircut!  It's adorable."  I should have said "thank you" and moved on.  But as we chatted for a few more minutes, I told her of the journey our family has been on this past year.  You could see the shock and surprise on her face.  The reactions are always the same, "But you're so young," or "But you're so healthy," or "But that's not a women's cancer."

As the event continued four more people stopped to comment about my hair, if I knew them well I could share with them, if I didn't I would smile and say thank you.  

Over the last three weeks this has continued to happen to me.  People will say, "You look like you've lost weight," or "I love your hair cut, I wish I could pull that off."  At first I was willing to share our story with them, but something shifted inside of me starting at the back to school event that I've carried with me since then.

You see, during my cancer treatment, the response was always, always, "I'll pray for you."  But the response somehow changed after I was cancer free - and here's where all of this is leading -- the response shifted and people weren't Godward anymore.  People began to say things like, "So the chemotherapy worked," or "You must had had a great team of doctors."  

I didn't recognize it at the time, but it was soul-crushing to me, it is soul-crushing to me, that every day of our journey was fashioned by our Heavenly Father, every day we were held in his loving hand, every day we were carried because we could not possibly walk this road on our own, and now people were saying "Oh it was the medication," "oh it was the treatment," or "oh it was your team of doctors."

Don't get me wrong, I am thankful for the medications.  I am ever-thankful for the chemotherapy, that God-aweful drug that kills your body in order to save it.  I am forever indebted to the doctors and surgeons that worked so diligently to find a solution to my problem.  

But my heart cries, weeps, at the thought that people, Christian people, are so eager to give credit to modern medicine rather than to the creator of our very lives.  When my friend said to me, "So the chemotherapy worked," it wasn't that it hurt my feelings, it was my soul that was wounded.  If all of this was for God's glory, why wasn't he receiving the glory?  

If this wasn't about me, wasn't about a life-stealing disease called cancer, wasn't about fear of death, wasn't about sickness, but rather about the one who bore our sins and wore stripes for our healing, why isn't He getting the glory?  

I've carried this with me for weeks because I honestly do not know how to respond well to these reactions.  I don't know how to politely, "No.  It wasn't just the chemotherapy.  God touched my body!"  I want them to desperately know that I had a 22-33% chance of survival.  I want them to know that the tumor inside of me was black and oozing to the point the doctors couldn't even take a biopsy of it.  I want them to know that it took 2/3 - 3/4 of my bladder and that it had started to invade muscle wall.  I want them to know the look on my doctor's face and see the tears streaming down his cheeks as he told us that this cancer was "aggressive" and "high grade," meaning "your chances of beating this are slim."

I want them to see his face five months later when we walked back into my hospital room, tears filling his eyes again.  I want them to see the look of wonder and lack of understanding as he delivered the pathology reports to us.  I want them to hear him as he kissed me on the top of the head and said, "Honey, this is nothing short of a miracle."

I know that my God spared my life.  I know the mountain I faced; the mountain God so graciously removed.  I know the probability of certain death; the life-saving grace He bestowed upon me and my family.

Yes, I am thankful for modern medicine, but I know that none of it would have worked without the merciful touch of my Heavenly Father.  And my heart cries to know that people are overlooking His hand in this.

I heard someone say recently, "I'm so sick of hearing about grace."  My heart wept within me, because I now understand the meaning of His grace.  Once you experience grace in this way you can never go back to the former ways of thinking.  

I guess I just want to say for the record that I give God all the glory for my recovery.  I know there were many human hands involved to get me where I am today.  But I also know that my chances were slim, my options were few and my human hope was minimal.  When I sign off each post I say, "Only by His Grace."  Please understand that I mean those words desperately.  Every day, every moment, every second of my life, every diagnosis, every cure, every blessing is and will always be...

Only By His Grace,