The Talk

Author’s note: Last evening I was given the privilege of being one of four speakers at the Ladies’ Night Out Advent dinner at our new church. (Well, we’ve been here for several months now, so maybe it isn’t really new anymore.) Anyway! We each had a topic assigned to us that fit in with the Advent theme. I was given the topic of Hope. Because the majority of my friends and family live elsewhere and were unable to attend, I was asked to share here what I shared last night. Those who have walked this journey with us and prayed so diligently for us will recognize that this is very much the pared-down, bare-bones version of our story…but seriously, I only had about 10 minutes, so I tried to fit in as much of it as I could. God is SO good, so very faithful, and regardless of whether or not those of you who will hear/read this for the first time understand this, I am STILL the most blessed person I know–mainly because I’ve been blessed to know my God in such personal ways. I don’t wish our story on anyone else, but I certainly would wish what we’ve learned about our God and His faithfulness for each of you. I hope that this will encourage you to seek to know Him more intimately and that it will spark an Advent-attitude that will stay with you throughout the coming of the season and celebration of the Coming of the Christ.

SONY DSCHOPE

My topic is Hope. I’m telling you that up front because some of what I will share later doesn’t sound very hopeful at times.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord and He was high and lifted up and the train of His robe filled the temple…” That’s the start of the 6th chapter of Isaiah. While those first 7 words sound pretty mild when you just read through them, Isaiah’s words had a far different story to tell.  It was a time of loss, shock, and grief; a time of unknown outcomes, a time of chaos and changed plans. Things had been going so well for God’s people…and then disaster struck.

It is safe to assume that almost everyone in this room has had at least one such experience. For us—my husband Mike and I—it started in October of 1997. It had already been a big year for us. I had changed jobs, we had moved and he had required surgery. We got that out of the way and proceeded with our plans.

You see, I’m a planner. I’m generally well-organized and I tend to think ahead. Up to that point in my life, things had pretty much gone according to the schedule I’d set for myself when I was just about 12 or 13. My plan was “simple”:  High school, college, grad school, leave MS and find a job in Atlanta, find the man I would love forever, get married, settle down and make sure the careers were established so that by the time we’d be married for 5 years, we would have a stable home and be ready to have children. Easy, right?! So far, so good.  Everything was on schedule…until we were about 5 months away from our 5th anniversary.

Too many details to go into led up to a quick and slightly panicked Thursday night trip to our local ER with the possibility of heart symptoms where they declared Mike’s heart to be “functioning just fine…but there’s something near it on the x-rays that we need you to get checked out.” Four days later, he was told that it was almost 90% certain that he had cancer…and our normal suddenly vanished.

They weren’t wrong. It was cancer, wrapped around his heart and extremely aggressive.  According to x-rays , it had more than doubled within the past 5 months…and it had been missed on the x-rays prior to his earlier surgery. Because of the location of the tumor, he was told that with treatment, his chances for survival were less than 30%; without treatment—less than 15%.

We did everything right that was within our power. We had great Drs. We had the elders of our church anoint him with oil and pray. He was on prayer lists literally around the world and so we began the adventure God had chosen for us instead of the plans we had made. There were many extremely difficult days. It was during this time that I managed to have the absolute worst day of my entire life.

At the end of what had been an ugly-long and beyond-challenging day, I stood in my living room and I felt that on that day, I had not managed to do a single thing to make a positive difference on any front. I was so tired I hurt. I wasn’t a good wife. I wasn’t a good employee. I couldn’t fix my husband and I couldn’t make anyone (including me!) do what they were supposed to do with the great attitude that I just knew that God expected us to have. Looking back on it now, I realize that I was exhausted because I had taken on God’s job to “fix things”. I was trying to make things as perfect as I could for everyone else in my life so that they wouldn’t be inconvenienced by what was happening to my plans…and quite frankly, for perhaps the first time in my life, my best just wasn’t going to be good enough.

As I stood there with tears rolling down my face in utter defeat, I remembered a verse I’d read long ago. I was so tired that I couldn’t begin to think about where the verse could be found, but deep within my soul, I heard it out loud…just a thread (maybe from the Psalms?) that reminded me that God inhabits the praises of His people. I needed Him more than I ever had before, but I couldn’t begin to think where to start on a praise list, so I just stood there and sang. I started with a song we’d learned at our previous church home: “We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord!”

In the beginning, my version wasn’t very loud and it wasn’t joyous and it wasn’t even very pretty, but all of a sudden I understood that song in a brand new way. Sometimes praising God IS a sacrifice. Sometimes praising Him doesn’t feel natural. Sometimes it isn’t even fun, but when you do what God says even when it doesn’t make any sense, He still honors the obedience. Standing there, I made the deliberate choice to praise Him even though…no matter what…because I needed Him and I needed Him to show up. And you know what?  He did. He showed up and gave me comfort.  He gave me strength. He reminded me that I was His and that I was not alone. He reminded me that HE was in charge and that He had a plan…and it was for my good whether it looked or felt like it right then or not. In short, He gave me hope.

Over the next year, we became the poster children for hope to people we didn’t even know. God used our Drs to send us to places we had never seen…ostensibly for treatments, but in fact, because God knew there were people there who were hurting and they needed some hope. Sometimes, they called or came looking for us—even at work! Sometimes God’s Name was never even spoken, but we were both given opportunities to share our story and our peace and help fellow patients, spouses and family members find better or more practical ways to handle their own similar news.

This past August, we celebrated Mike’s 15th year of being completely cancer-free! He is living proof that God is able to do whatever He chooses. So, why am I sharing something that happened all those years ago with you tonight? I do so because our battles didn’t end there. In fact, they had just begun. Within 6 months of his being declared cancer free, Mike was part of an economic downsizing at his company and we lost his job. God—in evidence of His never-ending humor sent us back to MS–to my very own home town I’d been so determined to leave, and where there were no jobs in my field! He kept us in place there for almost 15 years. Again, not part of my plan at all, but definitely part of His.

While the treatments were successful, they also meant the end of our ability to have children naturally and because of Mike’s medical history, we were not considered as viable candidates for adoption.  Additionally, within the past year and a half, he has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure which we are told is the much-delayed, but direct result of the very treatments that God used to keep him here. We will go this coming Friday for another surgical procedure to help him manage some of the possible side effects of our current challenge.

Through it all, God has remained faithful and allowed us to use our faith and our experiences to help others and point them to Him. While it is often tempting to ask “WHY ME?” in times of difficulty, we’ve chosen to ask a different question: “Why NOT us? Who better to show the world that God is real, in control and that He is still on the throne–that Joy and HOPE are more than possibilities, they are a REALITIES!–than two of His children going through whatever He chooses to send their way?

You see, we already have the Hope of Christ inside of us! We get to CHOOSE to access it, CHOOSE to display it, and CHOOSE to share it! No matter what else we face, no one can take that away from us! We get to have HOPE no matter what we face because HE is our hope.

Isaiah said, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord and He was high and lifted up and the train of His robe filled the temple…”

I say, “In the times of shock and pain and trauma and through the death of many dreams—in the changing of all my plans—on the good days and on the bad ones and on the in-between days, too—EVERY SINGLE DAY–I SEE the Lord and He is high and lifted up and the train of His robe fills the temple…and He gives me hope.”

It used to be

It used to be…

  • fast-paced
  • energetic
  • often frenetic
  • louder
  • sure
  • driven
  • more selfish
  • harder
  • less expensive
  • entertaining
  • scarier
  • known and yet, unknown
  • more determined
  • challenging
  • fill in your own _____ here

And now it is

  • simpler
  • quieter
  • more intriguing
  • lighter
  • more creative
  • slower
  • more generous
  • bolder
  • more fun
  • deeper
  • known and yet, still unknown
  • more confident
  • still challenging
  • better

than it used to be. How is it where you are?

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Eclesiastes 3: 1-8

One object, two lessons…

Leaves

My husband and I traded trucks yesterday. His heater wasn’t working and he left early enough to need heat.

The temperature had risen quite a bit before it was time for me to leave the house. The sun was shining and as I walked toward his truck, I noticed that it was completely covered in beautiful golden maple leaves. They looked so pretty against the navy blue paint with the sun shining down on them that I took a moment to marvel at the beauty of what God does just for the fun of it sometimes.

I drove carefully down my drive and began to pick up speed once I entered the highway. That’s when I noticed something else: I was leaving a trail of gold behind me. There were plenty of leaves to shed and share, and as I sped along the Georgia highway on my way to Bible study (because I was just a few minutes late!–all that admiring of God’s handiwork, you know!–NOT! I was running late before I stopped to do that! Honesty is always the best policy!), I was reminded of these verses from Isaiah:


“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” Isaiah 58:8

and

 “…and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim…and they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;the whole earth is full of his glory. ” Isaiah 6:1b-3

Right there in the everyday task of riding down the road, God showed up and was just as beautiful as you’d ever expect Him to be.

Lesson 1—Look for God everywhere. He’s already there, but sometimes He likes for us to seek Him out on purpose…especially in the little things…and, by the way, it doesn’t hurt to leave a trail of beauty behind you as you go through life. It’s a choice. Make the right one.

 

After Bible study and lunch at the house, I took the truck in to have the repairman fix the heater. It wasn’t very long before he stuck his head back in the waiting room door to inform me that at least part of the problem was that “there’s about a 55 gallon drum full of leaves clogging your filter, ma’am!”

Leaves, again. This time quite a bit less glorious and quite a bit more problematic and costly.

Oh, God was still there and He was just as beautiful as He’s ever been, but the problem was due to neglect on our part. We’d bought the truck used and it had been garaged the whole time we’ve owned it up until about a year ago, so I know that all of that didn’t really happen on our watch, but the result was still the same.

It got me to thinking about all the other beautiful gifts that God shares with us and how we can get so busy that we fail to take proper care of them or use them for the benefit of others. Marriages, friendships, families…relationships are meant to bring us joy and comfort, but when we take them for granted and neglect to build or maintain them properly, they become problematic and costly, as well.

The same can be said of finances, house maintenance and septic systems. (grin)

Lesson 2—Stewardship is critical. Keep a watch on the blessings in your life. Even beautiful things can decline into decay and cause stress when they aren’t properly maintained. God is still there, even then, but the work of maintenance is meant to be just as much a blessing as the object or relationship. Be intentional in noticing, appreciating, and maintaining your blessings!

(I don’t have a Scripture reference that just pops into mind to back that one up, it’s just something I know to be true…and I’m sharing it for free, so I guess you’re free to do with it what you will! Ha.)

Grace & Peace!

The Mississippi Road Trip Brain Dump

MS Road trip Brain dump (in no particular order)

  • I think I may need one of those Star Trek devices like the Captains always had for their logs. I’d really love it if I could simply speak the words, “Becky’s log” and then begin my brain dump of brilliancy (ha!) without a break or having to stop driving, pull out my computer or anything. (And no, I am not a Trekkie, but that device always intrigued me because I wondered if everyone on the ship had them or if they were simply the province of the Captain…) (Also! I love that when I misspelled Trekkie, the auto-correct gave me an alert to suggest the “true” spelling! How funny! LOL!)
  • I tried to create my own version by choosing the microphone option for dictating things on my phone as I drove home. I’m apparently not as fluent—or as intelligent-sounding!–in my native language as I had previously thought. I sounded pitiful. Pi-ti-ful.
  • Thanks to God and the DOT divisions of Mississippi , Alabama and Georgia, I had reasonably decent roads to travel and some amazing color on the trees that lined the way to and from on this trip. The weather was fantastic and the autumn colors on the trees blending in with the evergreens made me wish to stop and take pictures…but I drive with too much determination to get where I’m going on trips like these, so I just took “mind photos” and it will probably be awhile before they’re ready for publication…especially since I’d really rather work on that Star Trek captain’s log thing before I start on the mind photo printer.
  • I may have the coolest nephews on the planet. No. Actually, I do. (I’m sorry if that was news to any of you.)
  • They (the nephews) may or may not have the cutest dog in the universe. Uh…no, actually, they do. (I know some of you thought that you did. Again, sorry about that.)
  • I have a really entertaining family.
  • My parents have been married for over 50 years now and they are absolutely hysterical to watch—and listen to!–especially when they’re just being themselves.
  • I finally got to have really good Chinese food again! Many thanks to my sweet friend who joined me and let me get all up in her business. (I have really cool people in my life.)
  • The number of Mississippi State signs, tags, clothing and memorabilia in Starkville and Columbus combined has passed the ability to be numerically counted. These people are so excited about this year’s team performance that it might be possible for team members to retire on the public giddiness alone! It is fabulous to see and I wish them well…right up until they play Bama. (grin…but y’all know I’m still serious about that. I will say, however, that if Bama can’t win it all, I certainly hope Mississippi State can.) RTR!
  • My Christmas shopping is pretty much done. Don’t hate me. That’s mainly because I won’t be back in MS for the holiday, so I had to get that portion completed before/during the trip so they would know that we love them when it comes time to open presents. HA!
  • My mother still makes excellent fried chicken. May that talent be ever with her…and her with us.
  • I love that my mother’s brothers and sister still get together regularly and talk on the phone regularly even though they are a bit spread out geographically. I’m sorry I couldn’t have stayed for the fun…and happy that my sister was going to get to go for a little bit.
  • I loved the way it felt to stand in my mother’s kitchen and hug each other while my father prayed over our breakfast yesterday and how he prayed for our safety as we went our separate ways.
  • I love the way my father saves the scraps as he processes deer to feed the just-this-side-of-feral kittens that live out in the yard and how they run up when they hear his voice as he calls his “babies” and how they love to sit on anything that has his scent on it, but still won’t let him pet them.
  • I love that he won’t give up trying to pet them.
  • I love that he prays for people while he processes their deer…and I’m glad that he passed that on to me. (the praying while you work part–definitely not the processing thing.)
  • I have friends whose children are newly married and some who are currently planning weddings. That is really strange to me since these kids live in my mind forever frozen at about age 4.
  • I love having friends who will join up for coffee and hot chocolate and bare their souls for 3 hours so I can stay current and we can pray together when I drop into town for short visits.
  • I think that praying for someone may be one of the most amazing privileges ever.
  • I love that my husband beat me home yesterday and made supper, that we sat to chat over more hot chocolate and watched a sappy Thanksgiving movie afterward. He is the best.
  • I love that my cats ran to greet me upon my return and that Lewis (the youngest one) finally got over his pouting and let me pet him before he had to go to bed.
  • Yes, my cats go to bed when I tell them to do so. (And it makes my friends laugh when they see it.)
  • It’s good to be home.

VOTE!

I wish I had something pithy and profound to post today about all the political hoopla–and I just realized I was alliterating, so we KNOW that’s not going to happen today, right?! (grin!) ANYWAY! Here’s the short version:

If you

  • live in the United States of America
  • are a CITIZEN
  • are a REGISTERED voter
  • are alive and of sound mind (relatively–because I am aware that’s kind of subjective for some of us!)

then you need to get yourself to your local polling place and cast your VOTE TODAY!! 

Responsible citizenship is work and it is worth it! WAY too many lives have been given for you to sit home and not participate in the process!

Remember:  The right to go vote is a serious thing, so make sure you pray before you vote and then give thanks that you had the opportunity–there are SO many people in the world who wish they had this blessing!

And, by the way, if you choose not to cast a ballot and let your voice be heard during the election process, then you need to be prepared to live with what the “others” chose for you and you’ll really, REALLY need to keep quiet when you’re around me and something happens that you don’t like.

For your weekend…

Today I am grateful. Absolutely My-God-Is-Awesome-and-Amazingly-Great-FULL! I’m grateful for all kinds of things like

  • time spent with my husband
  • peanut-butter and banana sandwiches for lunch (along with a glass of cold milk!)
  • hints of gold peeking through the tree tops as I walked to the shop this morning
  • work to be done
  • hugs
  • the tiny bird nest I found on my way back from the mail box–delicate and strong and empty
  • mail…even the bills today
  • emails from friends far away filled with love and prayers and strength for the battles to be fought
  • silly ring tones on my phone that announce loved ones even before I hear their voices
  • anticipation
  • sunshine through changing leaves on trees in my yard that look like God’s own stained glass up against the sky
  • green pumpkins
  • pomegranates on sale
  • the last of the blue hydrangeas along the back walkway
  • the sound of the screen door as it slams behind me
  • words…to speak and think and write and read and sing
  • colors
  • you…yes, you! (even if I don’t know you, I’m telling God right now what a bang-up job He did creating you and sharing you with the world! And it’s just as I suspected:  He already knows.)1029141353a

1029141355

 

What’s on your gratitude list this weekend? Whatever it is, share it with someone. Share it with me! (grin)

Blessings are too precious to keep all to ourselves.

Grace & Peace!

  “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~William Arthur Ward  

(and it will make you smile a lot more, too!)

Rest, Rescue and Redemption

Well, we did it! We managed to carve time out for our very own Fall Break! In fact, we’re just recently back from it–although that sounds far more high & mighty than it actually was since we did more of a stay-cation on this one. It was an extended (on both ends!) glorified–and glorious!!–weekend of all kinds of fun and relaxation that was even more needed than we had previously realized.

Here’s a little bit of what we found as we explored tiny towns nearby and went down country roads with no traffic and explored “the big city”…(and since I apparently took 505 photos over the break, aren’t you ever so glad I can edit?! HA!–oops! That number didn’t include the ones on my phone!)

SONY DSC china  SONY DSCwhale sharkA dragon fish  SONY DSC  SONY DSC the city of   Angelo's Pizza!SONY DSC

It wasn’t until I was going through all of the photos that I realized that God had given us a “theme vacation” this year:  Rest, Rescue and Redemption. From ancient rescued broken china soon to be gorgeous jewelry to reclaimed lands and rescued creatures, from big city skylines to picnics under the trees in the gardens, from giant whale sharks to tiny dragon fish, and from black bears and white tigers to black sheep–both actually and metaphorically!–we filled our days of break with the knowledge that we are loved by the Creator who makes all things possible…and all things new. And who doesn’t need to be made new again at least once in awhile?

Diva Sue!

The fabulous Diva Sue!

Interspersed among our various outings we also found time for college football, a street party at one of our neighbors’ homes, naps, great food, some light reading and a little painting. In fact, other than running a few loads of laundry, we didn’t do a single thing on the “To Do” chore-list I keep running in my head. It felt good to not be on a set schedule. It also felt ridiculously decadent at times…and we didn’t mind that a bit! (grin)  It gave us some time to slow down and focus on the details. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  We took Matthew 11:28 literally and the reward was exactly what we needed as we head toward the upcoming holiday season and the challenges we already know we’ll face within the next few weeks. Score one for God being right again! (Imagine that!) Rest. In music, as in life, it is the “rest” between the notes that drives the melody.

While we were at the Atlanta Aquarium one of their docents mentioned that the majority of their residents were there because they would be unable to survive and thrive in their natural habitats due to varying defects, damages or naturally occurring physical differences. Additionally, there was a sign at Noah’s Ark that said something along the lines of “all the animals in this area are either physically, emotionally or mentally damaged–pet at your own risk”…and Good Lord, isn’t that all of us at some point? And we wonder why some people react the way they do?  Rescue and Redemption.  We all need this!

A safe place to be and the opportunity to live productive lives…this is Kingdom business whether we’re on vacation or up to our hips in the messy parts of life. God offers all of us the opportunity for Rest, Rescue and Redemption through His Son, Jesus Christ. Seems like the least we can do is share that same grace with those around us.

How will you do that this weekend? this month? today?  It is a choice…and therein lies the challenge.

Grace & Peace!

SONY DSC   Thought I’d share these two just for fun:  We were trying to get a close shot of the blue berries on this tree when we surprised this little one AND is it just me or do the starfish in this photo look like little kids on a playground:  they’re doing a high 5 and climbing up the rock while two more lie out in the middle of the school yard?! HA! I love it when God lets us in on the funny!star fish high five & climbing a rock