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Archive for the ‘Cancer’ Category

Taking one last look in the mirror before settling down for the night, I was taken aback by what I saw.

Breast cancer surgery had disfigured my body.  Two weeks into chemotherapy and I was  bald as an eagle.  “You really are quite a mess,” I said out loud to myself.

“Add to that the loss of your husband only a few months ago and the fact that you are alone in the house as you go to bed.   You really should be quite devastated.”

Continuing this one-person conversation, I replied, “But somehow I am content.”

Content.  What does it mean?  How does one become content?

My dictionary defines it as “happy enough with what one has or is; not desiring something more or different; satisfied.”

Back in my high school days someone once described me as being like a contented cow.  Not taking it as a compliment then, after reading the definition of “contented,” I rather like the word.  It shares the same meaning as content:  “contented ―having or showing no desire for something more or different; satisfied.”

When I am tempted to fall into self-pity and discontent, I am reminded of oft-heard Bible verses written by the Apostle Paul, verses that have taken on new meaning to me in my present circumstances. Paul lauds contentment ― which is “the state, quality, or fact of being contented” ―as a virtue.  He writes in1 Timothy 6:6 (NASB): “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.”

In Philippians 4:11, he states, “Not that I speak in respect of want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”  He goes on to describe in verse 12 the full gamut of his personal experience: “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

I personally have found Paul’s God-given, God-focused secret to contentment to be true and can proclaim with him his words in verse 13:  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

As Paul shares his physical weakness, his “thorn in the flesh,” in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, he credits his contentment to the grace, power, and strength he has in Christ even in the midst of suffering. He summarizes his train of thought in verse 10:  “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The writer of the book of Hebrews shares Paul’s philosophy when he advocates “being content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5). And his reasoning?  “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.  What will man do to me?’”

In addition to the ingredients of God’s grace, power, and strength in the recipe for contentment, God’s constant and abiding presence and help removes discontent, loneliness, and fear.

In his book, The Lord is My Shepherd: Resting in the Peace and Power of Psalm 23, Robert J. Morgan writes: “When the Lord is our Shepherd, that is enough. He is enough.  Enough to meet our needs, calm our nerves, clear our vision, restore our souls, ensure our future, and bless our day” (p.xv).

Continuing in verse 2 of Psalm 23, we learn the source of contentment: “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters.” Morgan says of this verse:  “When our Shepherd is near us, our minds can relax.  Anxious thoughts retreat in the presence of the Lord and His Word and His promises.  Contentment comes as we realize that He is all we need and He meets all our needs.  That knowledge imparts an attitude of quietness of spirit” (p. 54).

Morgan adds, “Contentment is saying, ‘The world may be coming apart at the seams, but I’m holding together because of Jesus.  Though sometimes confused and occasionally confounded, I have a basis for blessed contentment in His compassion and power (p.57).’”  He continues, “Instead of reminding yourself of what you crave, remind yourself of what you have. . . And be thankful” (p.57).

I would never have chosen to lose my husband and be diagnosed with breast cancer all in the same year (or any time for that matter).  I would not particularly want to experience it all over again.  And to be honest, there are days when I struggle a bit.  But I would not change for a minute what I have learned and how I have grown spiritually and as a person through the experience.  I treasure the peace and contentment I find in the midst of my circumstances when I practice God’s principles.

So maybe my friend was wrong.  I am a contented sheep, not a contented cow.    With his grace, strength, power, and presence in my life, I am satisfied with what I have because the Lord is My Shepherd.  I do not desire something more or different.

The Lord is my Shepherd, and that is enough. I am thankful.

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“And they shall call His name Immanuel, which translated means ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23)

It was at this time last year that I became aware of the seriousness of Jim’s illness. “He looks like the life is ebbing out of him,” I thought as I watched him slowly walk to the bedroom to lie down, looking pale, tired, and weak. Quickly brushing aside those thoughts, I focused on scheduling doctor appointments for him.

Nevertheless, we went through the Christmas season with its traditions. We spent an afternoon at Disneyland exactly one year ago today, enjoying a beautiful choral Christmas concert there.  Noticeably weak, Jim managed to keep up the pace.

One week later Jim climbed the ladder to the attic and brought down the Christmas decorations.  Traditionally, we have put the tree lights on together. (I am all thumbs when it comes to hanging lights.) I knew Jim was in pain, but he characteristically did not complain as he lovingly and patiently attached each light to the tree’s branches.  This was his labor of love for me, sacrificially giving of himself for his bride, loving me just as Christ loves His Church and laid down His life for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

As Christmas neared, one day he entered the house after having been gone for awhile, frustrated over his failure to find a Christmas gift for me. I assured him that I was more than happy with the new study Bible (in Spanish) that we had ordered for me, and that the greatest gift was having him with me.

Christmas Eve came.  He encouraged me to attend the Christmas Eve service alone, as he did not have the energy to attend and still be able to preach the next morning.  Of course, I was worried.

The following day, Sunday, was Christmas Day. Jim preached a beautiful sermon.  It was to be his last.  On the way home he confessed that he had thought he was not going to be able to finish the sermon and then greet the people afterward, so great was his weakness and pain.

Our family celebrated together the next day. Jim could not assume his usual role of reading the Christmas story and joyfully distributing the family gifts from under the tree.  Not this year.  He sat in the recliner, pale, weak, and in pain, leaving in the middle of the festivities in order to lie down.  Not one of us in the family could have imagined that the following days would find Jim in the hospital, culminating in a diagnosis of incurable, untreatable cancer that was blocking his intestinal track. This would be his last Christmas with us.

I kept the tree up well into January. Upon returning home from the hospital each night, I sat in the stillness of the living room, the only lights in the room those that twinkled on the Christmas tree. It was hard for me to remove that tangible reminder of those last happy moments hanging the lights on the tree together– Jim’s sacrificial gift of love to me. I could almost feel his presence.

Jim is not with me this Christmas. In the midst of loss, life still goes on.  Tonight my son, Steve,  helped me put the lights on the tree.  Did I miss Jim?  Of course. . I spoke of him constantly while we worked.  “Dad did the lights like this,” I would tell Steve.

I have shed a few tears today. But mixed with the tears of sadness were tears of gratitude.  Thankful because I know I am not alone.  God is with me! He has shown me time and time again in the year since last Christmas that He is my Immanuel – my “God with me.”  In the good times and in the bad time.  In happy family holiday times, in lonely moments.  My Immanuel is with me –  today and every day!

Immanuel. God with us. this is the beauty of Christmas.

 

Questions to ponder:

Do you know this Emmanuel personally?

Can you think of a time when it was especially meaning to you to know that God is with you?

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The Oops File

An “Oops File.”  Not exactly what you want to see at a hospital desk when your precious loved one is in surgery. But there it was.

I said good-bye to my husband with a kiss and a prayer as he was wheeled off to surgery. He would be having the Whipple Procedure, a delicate surgery that not all patients survive, Jim’s only human hope for overcoming bile duct cancer.  While the doctor had prepared us for the worst possible outcome from this potentially six-hour-long surgery, we had peace that God was in control.

A bit disconcerted when I saw the sign, I discovered upon further investigation that it was a file in which hospital volunteers reported errors in their record of number of hours served. It had nothing to do with surgery. I breathed a sigh of relief, just as I did when the doctor came to speak with my family after only four-and-one-half hours.  Surgery had been successful and Jim was doing very well. There were no surgical “oops” to report.

Often I have reflected upon that sign, especially when things don’t go as planned, when I wonder if something has gone drastically wrong. I have wanted to say “Oops,” rectify the mistake, and get life back to normal. It would have been easy to wonder if God had made a mistake when almost two years later my husband’s time on earth came to an end and he was promoted to Heaven. But I rested in the truth that in God there are no mistakes, that He has everything under control, that He has a perfect purpose and plan in everything.  He has no “Oops File.”

Now I am the one with the diagnosis of cancer.  When the biopsy revealed breast cancer, it would have been easy to have said, “Pardon me, Lord, but did I hear correctly?  Is this the ‘future and the hope’ that you have for me? I was expecting something more exciting. . . new ministry opportunities, perhaps travel, extended time with my children and grandchildren, time with friends.  But cancer?  Really?”

But there are no “oops” in God’s economy and I have peace that this truly is part of His good and perfect plan for my life.

My recovery from surgery has far exceeded expectations, for which I praise the Lord. I entered my follow-up appointment with the oncologist full of prayerful hope and expectation, ready to learn what the pathology report had revealed and what my future treatment would be.

With four out of thirteen lymph nodes testing positive, my cancer is considered to be at Stage 2.  Four to six cycles of chemotherapy at three week intervals will be followed by five years of the hormonal therapy of Tamoxifen    Radiation after chemo is an option we will explore when we see how I do with the chemotherapy.  I first must have a PET Scan/CT Scan to be sure there is no cancer elsewhere in my body.

 Today I have had contradictory emotions. Disappointed that the cancer has metastasized in the lymph nodes and further treatment is required?  Yes.  Sobered by the reality of cancer?  Definitely. Concerned about the effects of chemo and radiation?  Of course.  Wondering if my cancer will go into remission and I will enjoy many more years of life?  It would be hard not to. But doubting? No.  Cast down? Only for occasional passing moments.  Distraught?  Not as long as I keep my eyes on my Sovereign God who is in control of my life.  I continue to trust God and His perfect plan. I rest in the fact that God has no “Oops File.”

Jeremiah 29:11 (NASB)

11 For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASB)

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts
.

Psalm 93:1-2 (NASB)

93 The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty;
The Lord has clothed and girded Himself with strength;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.
Your throne is established from of old;
You are from everlasting.

This Is My Father’s WorldMaltbie D. Babcock

This is my Father’s world.

O let me ne’er forget

That thought the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world;

Why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King; let the heavers ring!

God reigns; let the earth be glad.

(verse 3)

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My Source of Hope

Last Tuesday I had my surgery for breast cancer.  Apart from the normal pre-operative nervousness, I entered surgery fully trusting in the Lord. While not finding any metastasized cancer in the lymph nodes would have been the ideal outcome, that was not the case.  With cancer found in the surgically removed sentinel node, ten other nodes were removed for analysis.  My oncologist will share the results at my Thursday appointment.

I accept the results as God’s perfect plan for my life and do not doubt His power to get me through this next phase of treatment.  But I still daily have small struggles with fear.  My gracious and loving heavenly Father has gently reminded me of the hope I have in Him and that my future is in His hands. I would like to share with you today something I wrote last Easter, shortly after Jim’s promotion to Heaven, that has helped guide my thinking today.

*********

A little more than five weeks have passed since Jim’s death. While I believe I am doing well, each day I learn a bit more about the grieving process.  Actually, I think I have grieved more in this past week than in the first four. On Easter Sunday, especially, a whole gamut of emotions flooded the gaping hole in my heart.

Resurrection Sunday, as we refer to it in Spanish, was Jim’s favorite holiday.  For me, as well, the victory and hope associated with the resurrection of Christ have always been at the core of my belief system and are my daily source of strength. Just as I attended the Good Friday service in order to thank God for sending Jesus to die in my place, I anticipated the Sunday services as a time to thank Him for Christ’s resurrection.

Attending Easter service without Jim was a new experience for me, and I must admit made me more vulnerable.  I first attended the English service. By the end of the last verse of the closing song, “Because He Lives,” the tears were streaming down my cheeks.  “And then one day I’ll cross that river, I’ll fight life’s final war with pain; And then as death gives way to victory, I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives.”

I mentally reviewed Jim’s valiant battle with pain, and I wept as I wondered what he must have felt knowing he was facing his final battle. It hurt me that he had to suffer so.  What had he thought and felt in those final moments of life?  What was it like for him when he actually breathed his last breath and then saw his Savior face to face?

My emotions wavered between sorrow ― sorrow for all Jim had suffered and that he was not there by my side to share the celebration of the resurrection ― and joy in knowing the victory he continues to celebrate in Jesus’ presence. Through falling tears I sang the victorious chorus:  “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future.  And life is worth the living just because He lives.”*  The hope expressed in these words enables me to face each day.

Drying my tears, I began greeting those who arrived for the Spanish service.  As part of the meaningful Easter service, I had been asked to sing a solo.  I did not know if I could get through a song.  At the same time, I knew that affirming my own faith in the victory of the resurrection would be therapeutic. And that it was.

For many Easters I have sung “They Could Not,” but never with the feeling and meaning of this year.  I missed seeing Jim sitting in the front row, with his proud smile of approval and his exuberant “Amen!” at the end.  Thinking about Jim’s victory over death now as he is in the presence of his Savior empowered me.  When I translated the song into Spanish years ago, the only way I could fit the meaning into the music was to end the song with “¡Gloria a Dios, Resucitó!  ¡Resucitó!”  “Praise the Lord! He arose! He arose!”  ”  And, oh, the victory I felt as the song soared to its climax!  The entire congregation fairly exploded with joy at that beautiful thought!  I sat down and sobbed when I finished, thanking God for the reality of our hope and for enabling me to sing glorious praises to our risen Lord now and for all eternity!

*Song by Gloria and William J. Gaither©1971

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