Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you.
For my power is made perfect in weakness in you."

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. 

For when I am weak, then I am strong.   

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Listen...Do You Want to Know A Secret?

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, the oncologist suggested we wait to administer chemotherapy. "We have only one bullet to shoot at it with," he said, "and we don't want to use it too early." 

I left with a schedule of recurring appointments, a little concerned but very relieved.

My husband and I walked through the halls of the multi-story downtown office, emerged into the bright sunlight, and paused. Beside bustling traffic, we stopped and offered a prayer of thanks.

We were so relieved. We'd been prepared for the worst, so when the doctor told us we didn't need to do anything right now, it felt like we'd been sprung free.

Before we got in the car, my husband looked at me.

"That's good," he said. "Now we don't have to tell anybody."


If there's one thing I learned from my brother's death, it was this: In God's economy, we are meant to be in community.

God reaches us through others. He nourishes us through others. He is the vine and we are the branches. We've got to be in community.

I'd learned that lesson following my brother's death.

I never told anyone about Jim. Since he'd moved here recently and suffered from mental illness, none of my friends knew him anyway. I didn't want me or him to be judged, so I never talked about him. Most people didn't even know I had a brother here.

Then he died.

I still kept it to myself, fearing they'd wonder why I never told them about my brother. And they'd ask questions. And they'd find out he wasn't a successful engineer, or salesman or anybody important. I just didn't want to go there.

Keep it to yourself, the devil suggested. And I did.

The wall of isolation grew bolder. Inwardly, however, I was crumbling.

Not telling anybody only made things worse.

Healing began to take place only after I opened up, admitting my shortcomings, his weaknesses, and my fears. It was only in my brokenness that I could become whole.

God wants us to be connected. We must be willing to be give, but we also must be willing to receive.

So I learned.

There's no cover-up with me. What you see is what you get.

Joe opened the car door, I slipped into my seat and looked him in the eye. "Oh no," I said. "I'm telling everyone. I need the prayers. I need the support. I am not hiding anything."

I don't regret that decision.

You, many of my friends reading this, have been such a tremendous support, each in your own unique way. And even in my debilitated state, there are things I can do for you. I can pray. I can listen. I can write this blog. It wouldn't be the same without you. I thank you and I thank God for you.

So, what's the chink in your armor? What are you hiding?  Will you talk to someone about it today? Someone who can point you to the healing power of Christ?

Let your weakness show. Share it. Don't keep hiding it. Be honest.

Besides, at the end of the day, God is the one we answer to, and He already knows everything anyway.

I promise, He'll set you free.

For everything that is hidden or secret will eventually be brought to light and made plain to all. 
Luke 8:18

Monday, March 27, 2017

Can You Believe It?

There were other pebbles in the sands of recovery as I dealt with the grief that consumed me after my brother Jim's death.

Rooting out the weeds of guilt and remorse didn't occur overnight. In my search, it's like each 'ah-ha' moment just kept pointing the way to Christ.

On one occasion, I remember visiting a friend who had been a former neighbor. Jan lived across town now and didn't attend our church, so I felt somewhat safe in opening up to her about my inner struggles with grief.

As we spoke, Jan offered words of consolation and faith, but I shrugged her comments off.  I'd heard all that before; it was meaningless. She didn't know how really unworthy I was of God's love.

Finally, she stopped.

"You believe in Jesus, don't you?" she asked.

I nodded slowly and stared at her. Where was she going with this?

"You remind me of an illustration I saw during a sermon at church one day," she said. "There were two people on the altar. One was holding a bright, beautifully wrapped present, complete with a colorful bow. She was offering it to another person."

Jan paused, then looked me in the eye.

"The receiver had his arms folded and his back turned to the giver," she said. "He edged himself further away, wouldn't look at the giver, and shook his head every time the gift was offered."

Jan studied me, then spoke.

"God's gift of salvation is a free gift," she said. "You don't have to earn it. You need to accept it."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

Come to me all you who labor
and are heavy burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Facing Changes? Hang On and Carry On!

Coping with cancer treatments has presented a new set of challenges...a new lifestyle. I resisted the thought, but let's face it...I'm living a 'new normal.'

But, really, my situation is no different than yours.

Aren't we all constantly facing a 'new normal'?  The changes can be sudden or slow, obvious or subtle, wanted or unwanted, but life never sits still. And aren't we blessed by that?

The 'new normal' always presents an opportunity to once again confess that we are not in control of our lives. 

Rather, we are held by a loving God who turns everything, no matter how dreadful it may seem, into something beautiful.

So let the 'new normal' begin.

Jesus, I trust in you.

This song's for you!  Click here for Let My Words Be Few by Matt Redman

Monday, March 20, 2017

Part X Where Can You Lay That Burden Down?

In my trudge through the quicksand of grief following my brother's death, I leaned into the church. I hadn't been to confession in years and I had to gather the courage to go, but I saw it as a safe haven, where I'd be protected by anonymity and confidentiality.  This is a story I wrote about that day:

I sat outside the confessional, wringing my hands.  Tiny beads of sweat collected about my forehead as I glanced nervously around the room. 

I had been carrying this sin for years. No matter where I went, what I did, or how much time elapsed, the gnawing guilt persisted.

Nobody knew.

Finally, unable to bear the weight of the cross alone, I approached the confessional. It was the only safe place to voice my inexpressible shortcomings. I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I needed the mercy of God.

Had I known my brother Jim was going to die, I would have handled the situation differently. I would have accepted him, atypical as he was, instead of nagging him to meet my standards.  I would have helped him, knowing that he was fulfilling God’s unique purpose in life.  I would have listened, visited, and loved him more.

His death woke me up to the Gospel message. 

When it came to loving Jim, I fell short.  Horribly short. The pain was so deep, and the realization so excruciating, that I couldn’t admit it to anyone. At least, not until this hot Saturday afternoon, sitting in the confessional.

I chose the seat behind the veil. The priest welcomed me, and I began, explaining it had been years since my last confession. I stumbled over the initial words but, once I got going, the floodgates opened. Racked with sobs, every fear, every shame, and every sorrow gushed forth. The priest listened quietly. 

When I was finally done, I expected the prescribed words of absolution.  Instead, my confessor asked, “Do you think God can forgive you?”

My head snapped to attention. What? I thought. Why was he asking me this? Was he, too, questioning whether I was worthy to receive God’s mercy? Breathless, I wondered why he didn’t just pardon me.

“I don’t know,” I stammered.  “I hope so….I mean, I guess that’s why I’m here….”

“He does,” the priest assured me, “and I absolve you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit….”

It was a confession I’ll never forget. 

That priest helped me to embrace God’s mercy.  Had he simply absolved me, I might have hung onto the guilt and drowned. But he helped me to personalize the forgiveness of God.

In so doing, he freed me to amend my ways. Now, I strive to choose compassion over criticism, helping others over judging them and giving generously of myself.  I still have a long way to go, but knowing God is working with me empowers me to try again and again.

Perhaps you too are clinging to sin that’s weighing you down. Perhaps you think you could have made a better decision, chosen a more loving response, or turned the tide of someone’s life. Perhaps you too harbor regrets.

Come to the source of all mercy. Lay them down at the foot of the cross. Our God is an awesome God. Don’t be afraid to share the unspeakable.  He already knows.

Do you believe He can forgive you?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

Never give up praying.
And when you pray, keep alert and be thankful. 

Colossians 4:2

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Cancer Diagnosis - the Worst Thing in the World?

Sometimes people start talking to me about their fears because they or someone they love is being tested for cancer. They are so afraid... Other times someone will exclaim that the test results were normal...they are cancer-free....and they are so thrilled!

In every instance, somewhere in the middle of their story, they begin to falter, realizing they are talking to someone who is battling cancer. Their expression changes. They soften their emotions. They eliminate the "c" word, switch the topic or try to explain how really scary it was for them.

But it doesn't bother me.

Cancer, or any other scary diagnosis, isn't the worst thing in the world that can happen to us.

The worst thing in the world that can happen to us is a lack of faith.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Changing Perspectives - How's This for a Really Good Book?


"Hang onto your faith," Wendy said. "It's the only thing that will get you through."

These words still resonate in my heart. They were spoken long ago in the church parking lot by a friend with whom I confided about the sorrow I still carried with me, long after my brother's death.

And God Himself seemed to deliver that statement.

Back then, I only attended Mass when I felt like it, when it was convenient, when I wanted to get dressed up...I went out of habit, not devotion...After all, I'd been raised going to church every Sunday... 

But after Jim's death I began questioning my faith. Did God really exist? Was God a loving God? If so, then why did my beloved brother have to suffer and die so young? Was there really a heaven? Was Jim really in a better place? 

Despite my doubts, I began to notice something strange...Surprisingly, although I really did feel mad at God for the death of my brother, the only times I felt at peace was during Mass. 

So I kept going to church. I sensed that God was somehow the answer. Since I was unwilling to be miserable forever, I had to find this God.

My search was intentional. It was deliberate. It took effort, it was work. Just going to church wasn't enough. I needed to know this God. I needed answers. I needed peace. 

I'd visit Christian bookstores, scanning the shelves and choosing books that promised to help me find God.  At one point, I bought four small paperbacks containing the Gospels. It was my first jump into God's word.

Then, one desperate and grief-stricken day, I read two passages that changed everything for me. It was like flicking a switch in a dark room, flooding it with light.

The first confirmed I was on the right track, when, in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the disciples that in order to get to heaven you must eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood. Many followers left after hearing that and Jesus turns to the twelve disciples and asks if they are going to leave too.

“Master, to whom shall we go," Peter said. "You alone have the words that give eternal life.”  John 6:68

I leaned back in my chair and sighed.  I'm with you Peter, I thought. After all, I'd been grappling with this grief for too long. I had no answers. I wasn't happy. There was nowhere else for me to go.

The second story changed my perspective.

In the book of Matthew, I read how Jesus and the disciples were walking toward Jerusalem when he starts telling them that there, he would suffer, be killed and rise again. (Mt Chapter 16:21-23)

Peter pulls Jesus aside and says, “Heaven forbid, sir. This is not going to happen to you!”

Peter's response makes sense, I thought. That's exactly how I feel about what happened to my brother. It shouldn't have happened.

But Jesus' reaction shocked me. He turns to Peter and says: "Get away from me Satan. You are a dangerous trap to me. You are thinking merely from a human point of view, and not from God’s." (Matthew 16:23)

I stopped dead in my tracks. What? 

I re-read it. If Jesus saw something divine in his own suffering and death, could it be that maybe something good would come out of my brother’s suffering and death...something I, like Peter, couldn’t see at the moment? 

The thought was liberating.

Maybe life didn’t have to be according to my own agenda. Perhaps there was another perspective…a divine perspective…and maybe, just maybe, everything really was okay.... 

Wendy was right. I was just beginning this journey but God kept giving me something to hang onto...and I kept reaching for it...

** This image is a page I colored from the book Creative Quiet Time: A Coloring Book For Your Soul by Karisse Schilling. It's amazing fun.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

Bless the Lord, who is my rock

He gives me strength for war
and skill for battle

He is my loving ally and my fortress
my  tower of safety, my deliverer

He stands before me as a shield,
and I take refuge in him

He subdues the nations under me

Plalm 144: 1-2

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

This Song's For You

Twenty-one years ago, when my youngest daughter was only 5 years old, I was diagnosed with the cancer I'm battling today-Waldenstroms Macroglobulinemia. At the time, the oncologist chose a watch-and-wait approach.

Yes, it was a little scary.

But, mostly, I leaned into the Lord.  I read my Bible, attended daily Mass, joined a Bible study and cultivated faith-filled friends. God provided just the right support and help along the way.

The diagnosis heightened my appreciation of each day. Every breath was a prayer of gratitude.

During those busy after-school hours, I'd play holy music while the kids were doing homework and I'd be fixing dinner, It was my way of praying while managing the home.

It was so calming. I like to think we all benefitted from it.

Recently, I started following a blog called Sunflower Seeds by Melannie Svoboda SN. She always closes with a link to a song.

Today's song, shared with you here, transported me back decades ago to that kitchen, with my kids, and that little cassette tape player...It delivered me to the beginning...when I didn't know if I'd have five weeks, five months, or five years before I'd have to battle the cancer lurking within.

Oh, God is good.

Click Here for:For the Beauty of the Earth  May this song gladden your heart today.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Part IX - Getting By With A Little Help From My Friends...

The friend who suggested I seek counseling mailed a book to me called the Courage to Grieve by Judy Tatelbaum.

I was convinced I didn't really need it, but, in solitary moments, I began reading it.

The first few chapters bolstered my smug attitude. Sure, some of it made sense, but I couldn't relate to problems addressed here. I wasn't angry at my brother. I wasn't in denial of his death, I'd been at his bedside when he died. I didn't need this book. I had this under control.

But, day after day, something kept drawing me back. 

Then, one afternoon while the kids were napping, I turned to a page that basically said - 'if none of this works for you, picture the deceased person and talk to them, beginning your sentence with, "If only..." or "I wish..."'

Suddenly the floodgates opened...I wish you hadn't died...I wish you hadn't gotten sick...I wish you'd had a career....I wish you'd had a wife...I wish you'd had a family.....I wish you were still alive so we could still wish these things for you...I wish I'd done more for you...

I went on and on. Sobs racked my body. I cried aloud to no one at all, blurting regrets until I was depleted.

I felt like a shaken soda can that someone had finally pulled the ring top, allowing the
explosive contents to escape.

Days later, I finished the book. One of the final chapters advised that you knew you were healing from grief when you could see something good come out of the experience.

My head snapped to attention. What? Really? Was that possible? Something good could come out of Jim's death? It sounded absurd.

That was my challenge.

I couldn't see it...I couldn't understand Jim's death or see anything good about it...but God had more to show me....

And I was about to read another book....a really good book...

(This is part of an ongoing story. Here are Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII and Part VIII.) 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

It's Lent!

Just yesterday I read a Lenten article written by a young mom. In it, she suggested you 'lean into' the desert already given to you...and carry that cross with joy. 

While she was referring to having patience for the endless diaper changes and wailing toddlers, we can all find challenges in our lives...

What's your desert? Can you find ways to be more patient? More forgiving? Can you offer a smile instead of a frown? A helping hand instead of a complaint?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." 

Matthew 16:24

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cancer - the Current Crisis - Got Faith?

Living with cancer is like looking at life under a magnifying glass. It can, as in this case, accentuate basic concepts that are true for all of us.

Since chemotherapy, I feel like there's a mean monster living inside my body.

One day I'm writhing in agony. There's bone pain...crazy head pain...muscle aches. It might last a few days...might last a week...maybe a few hours.

Other days, the agonies simmer just below the surface. Those are the good days.

It's been impossible to predict the relentless spikes in pain. There's no way to guess when the debilitation will occur or how long it will last.

Sometimes I might be fairly functional. Other times, I'm stopped dead in my tracks.

There's no rhyme or reason. It's unpredictable and uncontrollable.

I expected to feel much better by now, but that's not happening.

A friend called recently and asked how I was doing.

"I'm not in control," I complained. "I can't plan anything. I can't predict what's going to happen tomorrow."

Suddenly I paused, pondering what I'd just said.

She's healthy, but really, was my situation any different than hers? Do any of us really know what tomorrow holds?

I laughed. I had no reason to whine. "That's true for all of us, isn't it?"

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money." Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that."     James 4: 13-15

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that he had to go to Jerusalem , and he told them what would happen to him there. He ...