Same war, new battle

This may not seem like a normal Thankful Thursday post, but bear with me. You’ll understand in the end.

As some of you know, Entrepreneur was granted a 90-day chemo holiday last October. This allowed him to enjoy the holidays and our family vacay to Mexico last December.

Last week, he went in for his 6-month brain MRI and 3-month CT scan. And, the news was not what we wanted to hear.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ~John 16:33

Cancer cells have begun ringing the initial tumor site in his brain. How long they’ve been there is anyone’s guess. Renal cell is a slow growing cancer so it’s feasible they were there prior to the drug holiday. One spot on his lungs is slightly larger than it was three months ago. More surgery is not recommended at this time. I agree.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. ~Josh. 1:9

Not excited about going back on oral chemotherapy, Entrepreneur and his oncologist looked at a new immunotherapy treatment for renal cell cancer. While there is no cure or remission for this type of cancer, trials for Opdivo have shown success in prolonging life.

So buckle up, Buttercup, we’re gearing up for another battle in the overall war. Once a month, he’ll be hooked up to an IV, reclining in the chair of his choice in the infusion room and receiving the immunotherapy drug to try and boost his own immune system to fight the good fight.

This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. ~2 Chron. 20:15

Looking back, we both believe the drug holiday was instrumental in allowing his system to strengthen in preparation for this next step. His body simply could not have undergone immunotherapy in its weakened state. Now, he’s gained back  much of the weight he lost and is physically and mentally stronger to endure the side effects.

Today I’m thankful for every extra day we’re given together. I’m thankful there is an alternative to chemotherapy with this type of cancer. I’m thankful for the loving, caring people who are circling the wagons around us while we continue the fight. I’m thankful for a God who understands pain, grief and loss, and is sending strength, comfort and reassurance in the face of the storm. I’m thankful there are music artists who so eloquently write songs that personify the struggle and challenges of this world.

Blog hopping today with Brian’s Home for Thankful Thursday.

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2018 One Word Wrap Up

My post today is doing double duty. My Awwww Monday photo is so cute and you’ll surely think it’s an awwww-worthy selection for today.

The second is because it’s New Year’s Eve. For quite a few years, I’ve ditched the New Year’s resolutions in favor or picking one word to focus on for the year. Some years are successful, some…not so much. Here’s a recap since 2015 when our lives were thrown a major curve ball.

One Word for 2015: Fearless: In late 2014, Entrepreneur was diagnosed with renal cell cancer. I believe I’m stronger now by focusing on trying to be less fearful of the future.

One Word for 2016: Present:  I wanted to focus on being present without the distraction of social media. Despite mixed results, I’m more conscious now of how much time my eyes are focused downward instead of outward or upward.

One Word for 2017: Joy:  This one was a spectacular FAIL. Joy was elusive to me. Entrepreneur’s cancer revisited us as a brain tumor in February, so setting the tone for the rest of the year. Post surgery physical and mental deficits, radiation, a 9-month bout with Bells Palsy, and oral chemotherapy pretty much sucked the joy out of life. While 2017 did have some happy moments, I’m afraid I lost my Joy in the middle of the muck.

One Word for 2018: Shalom: A word I desperately needed to focus upon given Joy’s disappearance in 2017. Daily, oral chemo was still a regime for Entrepreneur and I watched my husband of 38 years lose 20+ pounds and continue to suffer chemo fog and related, devastating side effects. But, in the middle of it all, beautiful, loving, caring prayer partners came alongside us both physically and emotionally to help navigate the challenges. The result was a sense of calm that enveloped me in the middle of the chaos. I did a couple of women’s bible studies and read two especially helpful books. I highly recommend both of these books for anyone facing the hostilities of life.
1. Not by Sight by Jon Bloom: a book about trusting in the promises of Jesus, and following him into the unseen and unknown.
2. Be Still My Soul by Nancy Guthrie: a book with short commentaries exploring the age old question of why God allows pain in our lives. And, how to trust the promises of Jesus in the middle of pain and suffering.

Peace is dependent on the absence of something and is always fragmented. Shalom is more all-encompassing. It’s a positive force, not dependent on the absence of anything. It’s the gold standard of contentment in the middle of chaos, anger and despair. This kind of lasting peace, or shalom…wholeness, completeness and harmony…can only come from Jesus.

While I’m not completely there yet, I think my state of mind has more shalom than before. I still get anxious about what the future holds, but can feel a sense of calm in my soul. Am I giving up and giving in? Hardly. We will fight the good fight, but realize the outcome is ultimately up to God’s plan for our lives. I have a specific scenario of what that outcome should be, but surrender the final decision to the One to whose life I belong.

Check back on January 1st to find out what word I’m choosing for 2019. 🙂 Until then,  hope your 2018 was filled with good memories with family and friends.

Blog hopping today (after too long a hiatus) for Awww Monday with Sandee at Comedy Plus.

 

An unlikely hero

Last week, while in Branson, we took in a theatre production at Sight and Sound Theatre. The shows are impeccably produced with special effects and talent that is off the charts. This show was about Samson….you know….the Samson of Samson and Delilah…the Samson with the long locks that gave him superhero strength. But, the story of Samson is so much more than that little biblical snippet.

The story of Samson doesn’t get much press in Sunday School. And when it does, his Herculean strength is what is highlighted. He’s not one the bible’s greatest hits like Abraham, Moses or David. Even though David’s life was full of screw ups, he is revered as a Jewish and Christian patriarch. Samson…..well, he could be the poster child for under achievement and a total lack of self-discipline. But his story is filled with redemption and grace even though there’s no happily-ever-after ending.

Born into slavery, Samson is a Hebrew living under Philistines control. The cultures were at odds with the Israelites trying to live to honor God and the Philistines living to worship pagan idols and indulge in anything that strikes their fancy. And, on top of that, God tells Samson’s mom before he’s born that he must follow the Nazarite Vow, which further separates him because he is not allowed to cut his hair, eat grapes, drink wine or touch a dead body. This makes him the object of much ridicule among the Philistines. Oh, and one more thing, God tells mom Samson is going to free the Hebrews from slavery from the Philistines. In return, God blesses him with strength beyond measure.

Samson doesn’t handle any of this very well. He’s called a girl because of his long hair. That is, until a display of super-human strength causes their jaws to drop to the floor. And, from that point on, the Philistine rulers plot everything from murder to turning him into their greatest weapon of mass destruction.

Samson never seems to embrace his calling…only wanting to live under the radar and do the bare minimum to get by. And he has quite the eye for the ladies….specifically beautiful ladies outside of his faith. Despite superhuman, physical strength, Samson battles temptations and enemies both inside and outside his body. By the time he is middle age, even though he is honored as an Israelite judge and rules for 20 years, he is considered uncontrollable and possibly beyond redemption. Hardly the ideal role model.

Enter Delilah, from the valley of Sorek, which in Hebrew means vineyard valley. Perfect. As a woman without a husband or tribe, she is on her own…making her receptive to opportunities for economic freedom. When approached by the Philistine rulers, she agrees to find out the source of Samson’s superpower strength….in return for monetary compensation, of course.

As every good Sunday Schooler knows, Delilah succeeds and Samson’s hair is cut, his his strength leaves, and he is finally captured by the Philistines. His head is shaved and, just for good measure, his captors gouge out his eyes, compounding his vulnerability by making him blind. He’s chained and forced to push a grain grinder in a circle all day, every until……

The Philistine rulers organize a huge celebration to honor their god of fertility, Dagon. And, as with any good party, the adult beverages flow freely. Three thousand Philistines party and praise their gods for delivering their enemy, Samson, to them. And soon Samson is summoned into the temple for their amusement.

Enter Samson. He’s placed between two main pillars of the temple. He’s blind…but no longer bald. As he takes his place between the pillars, he cries out for God’s mercy to restore his strength one last time. Knowing he will die when he brings down the house, he accepts his destiny and embraces his sacrifice with humility. God complies. Prophesy fulfilled.

Points to ponder with this story:
• God is using each of us in ways that may not be obvious to ourselves or others. Samson’s destiny was to free the Israelites from the Philistines. While I’m sure everyone  thought this would be accomplished differently, God’s plan served more than one purpose. The consequences of Samson’s bad decisions placed him in the temple at the perfect time. If he had not been vanquished and captured, the Philistine rulers would not have been destroyed.
• Like with the Nazarite Vow, those who follow God are called to live within their culture, but to live lives separate from things at odds with what God deems as good. Samson didn’t do this well…and, if we’re being honest, neither do we. Our lives are contradictions between how we’re suppose to live and how we actually live.
• Samson’s disobedience resulted in him trudging in circles, pushing a heavy burden. Much like how giving in to temptations can take over, and our lives become a vicious circle of bad decisions.
• Similarly, we can become blind to our sin in today’s anything-goes culture. Many decisions in Samson’s life were made by what his eyes saw at that moment, overpowering better judgement. In the end, although Samson was blind, he could clearly see what he needed to do.
• Samson’s story explains the phenomena of God’s decisions to use tragically flawed people in powerful ways. Despite his anger issues, selfishness, carnal weakness for women, and out-and-out defiance to observe his Nazarite Vow, God did not abandon him. Instead, God came to him when he was the weakest and, in grace, strengthened him to accomplish what God had intended all along.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
~2 Corinthians 12:9

My One Word for 2018

In 2015, I began choosing My One Word for the year as a replacement for coming up with New Year’s resolutions. The goal is to help my attitude and attention focus on an aspect for my life moving forward into the new year. Doing it this way, instead of focusing on changing past behaviors, allows me to grow as a person and, hopefully, be better for the effort.

One Word for 2015: Fearless: This was the year after Entrepreneur was diagnosed with renal cell cancer. Overall, I think I’m stronger in the face of this challenge by focusing on trying to be less fearful of the future.

One Word for 2016: Present:  This was the year I wanted to focus more on being present with my grandbabykins and family without the distraction of social media. There were mixed results, but I’m more conscious now of how much time my eyes are focused downward instead of outward.

One Word for 2017: Joy:  I would have to chalk this one up to a FAIL. I tried. I really did. But Joy was elusive to me last year. Similar to 2014, Entrepreneur’s cancer manifested itself as a brain tumor in February. After surgery on Valentine’s Day, the rest of the year was spent trying to overcome the deficits that come along with brain surgery. Bells Palsy set in around April after radiation treatments. He started oral chemotherapy and the side effects have been rough. I did try to be open to moments where I felt a sense of Joy but they were few and far between…and maybe somewhat nonexistent. While 2017 did have some happy moments, I’m afraid I lost my Joy in the middle of the muck.

So, here I am…going into 2018 ready to focus my attention and attitude on another word. It’s a word I desperately need to focus upon in order to find last year’s lost Joy. And that word is:

Shalom

To many, Shalom simply means peace….or an absence of hostility. Honestly, I’d be good with less life hostilities.

But, what is peace? To those governing countries, it’s no other country trying to wage war against them. To parents, it’s the quiet that happens when children are not actively destroying the house. To others, it’s an absence of anxiety and worry. And still to others, it’s simply having peace of mind about a situation or circumstance.

Lasting peace is fleeting. There will always be war between countries somewhere in the world, The quiet, family household will always, once again, erupt in the noises of children. Worry and anxiety will always creep into our minds, destroying any “peace” of mind that might have been present.

True peace is fleeting when it’s dependent on us. Shalom has a much deeper meaning. Biblical Shalom is a deep sense of completeness or wholeness that settles our souls. It’s a feeling of contentment and harmony that transcends the circumstances of our lives. This kind of lasting peace, or shalom…wholeness, completeness and harmony…can only come from God.

The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: “The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.” ‘
~Numbers 6:22-26

When God spoke these words to Moses, he wanted him to understand there would be an inner peace and completeness only when they trusted in God’s protection, and had an understanding that He was in control, regardless of the circumstances.

Peace is dependent on the absence of something and is always fragmented. Shalom is more all-encompassing and lasting. It’s a positive force, not dependent on the absence of anything. It’s the gold standard of contentment in the middle of chaos, anger and despair.

For me, there is only one way to true shalom in my life. And, sadly, I tend to forget to trust in the One who is able to provide that for me. I tend to worry and be anxious about situations beyond my control. I run worst-case scenarios in my head when circumstances get dicey. My state of mind is as far from shalom as one can get.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
~Isaiah 26:3-4

This is my focus for 2018. Shalom is my goal through trust in the Prince of Peace, Jesus.

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation…
~Ephesians 2:14

I wish nothing but the best for each and every one of you in 2018. Prosperity, good fortune and blessings, but most of all….Shalom!

The reality of Christmas

We Christians do Christmas extremely well. We’re all about the decorating, shopping, family gatherings, singing carols. In fact, we’ve romanticized Christmas to the point where the reality of it may be a little unrecognizable.

Let me take you back….waaaay back. Back to about 3-4 BC (around the actual date of Christ’s birth) and let’s look at reality.

Meet Mary; a young woman betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter. Probably an arranged marriage between this young woman and an older man of means. In the middle of wedding preparations, God sends an angel to tell her she is going to have a baby….before the wedding….and Joseph will not be the biological father. Engaged, unwed and pregnant during this time would have been a death sentence for adultery. Even though an angel eventually revealed God’s plan to Joseph, the damage would have been done to both their reputations as well as their families. Ridicule and scorn would have followed during the pregnancy and after the birth. Their life plans derailed. Their futures uncertain. But, Mary and Joseph believed in God’s prophesy to bring the promised Messiah. Their faith in God’s promise and trust in his plan over their own plans sustained them during this time of crisis and chaos.

The blessed event was probably not the sweet baby Jesus, cooing in a manger surrounded by halos of peace and joy. A very pregnant Mary and nervous Joseph arrive in the obscure Judean outpost of Bethlehem for the census to find they have no place to stay. Offered a room or area where animals are housed, Mary begins the very messy process of birthing a baby. In very unsanitary, smelly conditions….surrounded by sheep, goats, maybe a few cows and chickens, the Messiah enters the world. He arrives after 400 years of God’s silence in anything but a silent night.

And we really can’t have Christmas without shepherds and angels, right? But why shepherds? This occupation was considered one of the lowest form of employment. Because they tended the flock 24/7, they probably weren’t frequent temple attendees. They held no value in the culture except to take care of sheep…specifically the lambs used in sacrificial offerings in the temple. And, the very last thing they expected to see while in the field was the sudden, unannounced appearance of beings from another realm in the sky. Startled, terrified and confused might have been words used to describe their reaction. God announced to these men tending the sacrificial lambs the divine message of the birth of the ultimate Lamb to be sacrificed. But, given their social status, who was going to believe them?

The messiness of a livestock shelter and a feeding trough. Wealth and means were nowhere in sight. No, it was dirty and crude. Just the way it was supposed to be.

And now we get to the Magi. We’ve elevated them to “kings,” but in reality, they were men knowledgable in the sciences of that era, astrology and astronomy. Magi were common in the court of kings to interpret dreams and provide “wisdom” based on their knowledge of the stars and universe. Their understanding of prophesy would have been second hand at best, yet there’s the possibility ancient magi were trained under Daniel during his captivity in Babylon. As a prisoner, Daniel came to serve under the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (605–562 B.C.) when he offered to interpret the king’s nightmare. Impressed, the king made him “chief of the magi”….where he would have had opportunity to share the prophesies of Jehovah. And, that training would have been passed down through the centuries within the magi trained by a servant of God. These prophesies would have been coupled with their understanding of the stars and geography of the region. Their arrival may have been days or a couple of years after Jesus’ birth. This is unknown. But they did seek to find him.

Disrespected shepherds and pagan astrologers who may have came to know the God of Israel. These were the Messiah’s first recorded visitors. Not exactly the cream of the crop of nobility and influence.

Don’t get me wrong. I love all things Christmas. I love the sparkly lights, Christmas trees, carols, decorating, gift giving….the whole nine yards!

But, perhaps our love affair with Christmas should be less about sparkly lights and tinsel, and more about the reality that God used the bare minimum of accommodations….the lowest and most disenfranchised of witnesses….unexpected types of “wise” men…to announce to the world that this king would be unlike any they’ve ever seen on every level.

May you have the light and hope of Christmas in your heart today and always.

 

Advent Spark

Annie at McGuffy’s Reader hosts a blog hop every Monday called Sparks. I’m finding that reading everyone’s “Sparks” is one of the highlights of my week. Her philosophy its simple:
The negative energy in the world has become thick and oppressive. Social media has become a part of this dark, negative storm. There is an obvious universal need for more positive energy and peace. And, we can all be part of this affirmative change.

My Spark today is a little long, but I hope you’ll take time to read it. Christians all over the world are in the final week of Advent….the period of waiting preceding the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And, because it’s rather lengthy, there isn’t an accompanying photo today. But, even without a photo, the message still sparkles.

“God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

Also playing along with other awwww-inspiring photos with Sandee’s Awww Mondays at Comedy Plus.

Bridget avoids Cabo if at all possible, but there are times when she braves the consequences and takes her preferred position under the Christmas tree.

May you all have a sparkly holiday and make some awwwsome memories!

Be a Light in Dark Places

May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.
~J.R.R. Tolken, The Fellowship of the Ring

Our church created a Magic Tree from an 85-foot-high sycamore tree in our courtyard. It’s an awwwwsome sight to see in person, and I thought it fit perfectly as one of Anne’s Sparks as well as fitting well with Sandee’s Awwww Monday.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~Matthew 5:16

There are 38 miles of lights on this tree, with 200,000 bulbs…representing each person in our county. The symbolism is each light reminds us of a person in our community that is precious in God’s sight.

As with each bulb on this tree, may we all strive to be points of light in the dark places of this world….especially when it looks like all the other lights are out. Our love can shine in the darkness and light the way.

Annie at McGuffy’s Reader hosts a blog hop every Monday called Sparks. I’m finding that reading everyone’s “Sparks” is one of the highlights of my week. Her philosophy its simple:

The negative energy in the world has become thick and oppressive. Social media has become a part of this dark, negative storm. There is an obvious universal need for more positive energy and peace. And, we can all be part of this affirmative change.

Also playing along with other awwww-inspiring photos with Sandee’s Awww Mondays at Comedy Plus.