The weight of expectations

Ecclesiastes. I will venture a bet it’s not a book in the Old Testament too many of you have read. I know I haven’t. But, it’s quickly moving up the list. And, believe it or not, it does tie into Thankful Thursday.

The Old Testament book doesn’t dance around the hard questions of life, but doesn’t provide easy answers either. In many ways, the author (believed to be King Solomon) takes on a viewpoint about the meaninglessness of life. The author of the book believes life is temporary and fleeting like a breath, smoke or vapor….and it’s meaningless in the end to spend our time in search of the temporary. That the pleasures of this world are not supposed to be the “it” that fills our lives with meaning or purpose.

His point? In the end, everything in life vanishes when the dust of death blows through our lives. We need to learn how to appreciate the NOW of our lives NOW because it will all be taken from us in the end.

Life is unpredictable. Entrepreneur and I are keenly aware of this. The pressures we put on ourselves in this life, like the heavy snow we had in January, can weigh us down to the point where it’s hard to appreciate and enjoy our temporary and fleeting life. Like heavy snow, we pile on expectation after expectation of what we think life should be like….what we want life to be like…what we think we need in order to make us happy. All the time chasing after the next shiny new thing  in hopes IT will make a difference in our how happy and content we are with life.

And then, when we least expect it, a storm blows in, we’re flung into a snowbank, and everything changes.

We break. Our expectation that the universe owes us a happy life, filled with all things wonderful is suddenly shattered. Those tertiary things we were chasing after, thinking we were somehow owed them, disappear in a vapor of disappointment. And what’s left is the wreckage. Sometimes major wreckage.

We all have our breaking point. Many of our trees found their breaking point under the heavy snow layered on their branches. And the extent of the damage was really only seen in full after the initial assault had passed. When we try to carry the weight of unrealistic expectations, there will be a point in time where we break as well. Whether it’s expectations about relationships, job success, accomplishments or finances, we all fall into the trap of comparing our lives to others and wishing for more. And when it doesn’t happen, we break just like that weakened tree limb heavy-laden with snow.

Depressing stuff, huh?  But the author of Ecclesiastes doesn’t let us wallow in despair for long. He offers wisdom that encourages us to understand the temperance of this human life, and not obsess over unrealistic expectations. We should accept our human condition has its limitations, but fully enjoy the gifts given to us while we’re here. To be content with gratitude for what we have; tasting, seeing and feeling the good things of life…understanding the things of this world are temporary.

Ecclesiastes teaches us how to live meaningfully, purposefully and joyfully, thanking God for the gifts he’s given us while we’re on this earth….knowing there is so much more waiting for us after this life. We should stop chasing the wind for our happiness and be content in God’s providence. What is does not mean is we shouldn’t explore and discover new things about ourselves and our world. This is not a blind acceptance of the status quo or an excuse not to be good stewards of what we’ve been given. It’s a heart issue about realizing this life is not the IT we’re yearning for.

Interwoven through the book is a balance between our expectations of this unpredictable life and God’s promise of life eternal for those who put their faith in him.

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. ~Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

Blog hopping with Thankful Thursday, hosted by Brian’s Home and a late link up with Pictorial Tuesday, hosted by Peabea Scribbles. 

 

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Thankful Thursday: An anniversary

Happy Heart Day. Valentine’s Day. Appropriate for me that it lands on a day to play along with Thankful Thursday at Brian’s Home.

But not for the usual reasons. It was two years ago this morning that Entrepreneur was wheeled into an operating room for brain surgery. On Valentine’s Day.

We’ve come a long way in two years, but not without the scars…both physical and emotional. The surgery successfully removed an almost 2 inch tumor. But renal cell cancer is a relentless adversary. Even after a year and half of oral chemo, it’s trying to reclaim territory. Same war, new battle. 

But today we celebrate. Celebrate two years post surgery, thanking God for the tender mercies of the past and for extending his life. We have gratitude for experiencing the good and bad that intertwines itself throughout our story. Our faith has grown deeper despite the uncertainty of the future. Relationships have grown deeper despite past differences. The keen realization of how fleeting this life is on earth has grown painfully sharp.

But today we celebrate love and caring for special people in our lives. Whether you buy into the Hallmark hype of the holiday or not, I’m sure there are special people in your life. Be sure to share with them how much you care….don’t wait for a specially designated day to show your appreciation for them. You may not be offered another chance.

Today we celebrate.

Blog hopping today with Thankful Thursday hosted by Brian’s Home.

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.

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.

 

Photo Challenge: Feliz Navidad!

I missed PJ’s photo challenge last month so I wasn’t about to miss this one. After all, the theme is Feliz Navidad! And, there’s no shortage of photos for this time of year. Shortage of time. Yes. Shortage of photos. No.

December is always a mixed bag of activities. This year, along with gift shopping, we also were getting ready for a much-needed family vacay to Mexico. Add to that, the usual Christmas season activities, and you get a very. busy. month.

So, here’s my Feliz Navidad five.

Feliz Navidad One
We hadn’t had a family vacay since 2016 due to Entrepreneur’s brain surgery and chemo regimen. His 90-day chemo holiday was coming to a close and he was very much looking forward to enjoying himself before the next set of scans. I’m conflicted about vacationing during the holidays. It seems to add that much more to an already busy schedule. But, it was now or nothing so we rolled the dice, booked it  and, by the grace of God, were able to all be together for a week of sunshine and fun. We contacted the same photographer who took our family pics in 2015 for an updated one.

Feliz Navidad Two
For the past few years, I’ve taken a photo of Peanut and Twix in Santa hats under our tree. The days drag but the years seem to fly.

Feliz Navidad Three
After returning from the warmth of Mexico, we jumped into Twix’s Christmas program at preschool. Sporting Mexican braids, she fully embraced the performance, singing the loudest and overall enjoying herself, sort of oblivious to what was going on with the other children. I think her eyes were on Papa the entire time.

Feliz Navidad Four
Peanut’s 4th and 5th grade Honor Choir performances hit a week later with caroling visits to two businesses and a veterans home.

Feliz Navidad Five
It was nip and tuck, but we finally visited the jolly elf before he took off for the North Pole for his Christmas Eve ride. Peanut figured out Santa this year, but went along with everything so Josie could enjoy the magic. The look on Twix’s face is a precious reminder of the magic and wonder of the season.

There’s my five for PJ’s December photo challenge. This monthly photo challenge is very easy; PJ selects a theme, we take five pics during the month and post. That’s it! Won’t you join us in 2019?

I hope everyone’s holidays were merry and bright. Don’t forget to visit the others over at A ‘lil HooHaa for more of the month’s festivities.

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

An unconventional Valentine’s Day

Today is our one-year anniversary. Most people speak of this in terms of relationship status. But today marks a very different anniversary for Entrepreneur and me. It was one year ago today, Valentine’s Day, when he went into surgery to remove a cancer mass in his brain.  Not exactly what you would put in a Hallmark card.

One year ago today, we were waiting for him to get out of post-op recovery. With my support system at my side, the minutes drug into hours until I could lay eyes on him.

And then next 10 days in the hospital were spent getting him stable enough to begin the long, hard road to recovery. I can say, without a doubt, these were the scariest days of my life. The cognitive deficit due to post surgery swelling was disturbingly real. And there were very few reassurances those first crucial days.

Looking back, 2017 sucked. This event forever changed our lives and derailed many of the the plans we’d been formulating for our retirement years. The surgery was difficult enough, but the aftermath has presented challenges that have left me with a loss as to how to overcome.

Targeted radiation to the area of his brain affected by the tumor gave way to 6 months of Bell’s Palsy. Oral chemotherapy is taking its toll with the challenge of providing nutrition to combat the fatigue. He left the hospital with high expectations to rehab and regain his strength and abilities. And he was on track for a remarkable recovery. One year later, he most definitely has impressed his physicians and surgeons, but when the oral chemo is actively destroying any gains, being optimistic and proactive becomes harder and harder. It grates on us mentally, psychologically, physically and spiritually.

Our support group is awesome. These people are the shining light in the middle of this dark journey.

I admit, I took for granted this would simply be a bump in the road. I expected him to rally and overcome obstacles like he’s always done in the past. But, nothing is a given anymore.

One year out…..he’s still part of our lives. He’s trying hard to push through the destructive effects of chemo so he can spend as much time as possible with his daughters and granddaughters. There is so much to live for.

But, there’s been a shift in perspectives. Gone are the aspirations of us having an active, retirement lifestyle. Every day is a struggle. Every day is a gift. Many cancers can be put into remission or destroyed completely. Not renal cell cancer. There is treatment, but no cure or remission. His scans have been clear over the past year, which is a blessing and cause for hope.

Entrepreneur would like to engage and live whatever is left of his life to the fullest. I’d like to say we’re not letting this get in the way, but that would be a lie. No matter how much we say this condition is not going to get in the way of living life to the fullest, the reality is….it’s in the way. If fact, it’s set up a roadblock that seems awfully difficult to get around. As long as he’s on oral chemo, his stamina is reduced and the usual effects of the drug are ever present.

The new normal.

Entrepreneur does not like his “new normal.” This type of chronic cancer steals joy and steals hope. And I’m not sure how to deal with these feelings or help him to overcome the feelings of loss of a meaningful life. I would love nothing more than to focus on enjoying whatever life is left….it’s just so much harder to live it to rather than to say it. I pray for an advancement in the treatment of renal cell cancer…..an immunotherapy treatment that would help combat the relentless destruction of the body from oral chemo. Clinical trials are underway for new ways to manage this cancer…but….and this is the cynic in me….when the chemo pills cost the insurance company upwards of $5K per month, where exactly is the incentive to find a cure?

So, today, Valentine’s Day, is especially poignant this year. It not only marks the one-year anniversary of brain surgery (two thoughts that should never, ever be combined), but also serves as a reminder that nothing in life is a given. Stop letting trivial arguments get in the way of spending time with those you love. Put aside those family disagreements and ask yourself….if you were in my shoes…just how important those petty irritations and grudges really are.

Happy Heart Day and may those your love know how much you care about them today and always.