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.

 

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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.

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!

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!

Dear Granddaughter…..

In September, we celebrated Peanut’s 9th birthday. NINE! It’s hard to comprehend it was nine years ago I was promoted to being a Nana. A lot has been packed into those nine years…sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago she was placed in my arms, but at other times, nine years seems to have flown by at warp speed.

I put together Peanut’s school photos from Pre-K to her current 3rd grade shot. While they are not drastically different, the person behind the face has transformed in hundreds of ways in just nine short years.

Since time is a fleeting illusion, I want to take a few moments and pass on some Nana wisdom to my first grandbabykin.

Dear Peanut,

You have always been and always will be loved. I loved you before you were even put in my arms as a swaddled baby burrito. That is not to say you don’t do unloveable things….and I may not like you at times….but I always love you and will always be here for you. You can bet on that and be sure to win every time.

To steal a line from the 2016 Cinderella remake, Be kind and have courage. Both are difficult to do. Kindness may be becoming a lost art in our “me first” culture. It takes a lot of work to be kind to people, especially when you don’t like them, are mad at them, or see them as different from you. Extending kindness to family members is sometimes especially hard because there are times we make more of an effort to be nice to people outside our family and save the worst for those closest to us…who love us always!

Have courage. It’s scary to try new things. It’s scary to step out of our comfort zones in the way we think and act. I know this from experience. it was scary moving to a new house and school when I was in 3rd grade. It was scary to move to a new town after Papa and I got married….a town where I didn’t know anyone. It was scary when Papa and I moved to Columbia…a town where I didn’t know anyone either. It was really scary when Papa was told he had cancer. It’s also scary to do the right thing when you think others will look at you differently or not like you anymore. This is especially hard when your friends are doing things you know aren’t right, but you want them to like you so you’re tempted to do those things anyway. Don’t. Have the courage to stand up for what’s right.

Keep your faith strong. So many people walk away from their beliefs when they get older, thinking faith is something only for children. Our culture doesn’t encourage strong faith in God. It does encourage strong faith in doing whatever we think will make us happy…or is convenient…or easy. Being an authentic Christian is hard work. It requires we believe and do the right things even when we don’t understand or see the reason. Many times you will be tempted to not make your faith a priority in your life. But, dearest Peanut, your faith will sustain you in those scary moments when the storms of life roll in and tear your life to pieces.

Trust. Trust those of us who love you that the things we do are to help grow you into someone others will respect; someone YOU can respect. Growing up is hard, and there are many times when you’ll think you know what’s best….but you won’t. I ask you trust even when you don’t agree; even when you don’t understand. It’s related to believing and trusting God has a plan for your life….a good plan….even though many times you’ll feel like you don’t agree or don’t understand why things are happening the way they are.

Love yourself. Not in a narcissistic way, but love yourself as a person of worth. It’s easy to feel like we can never measure up to our culture’s ideas and expectations. I want you to always love who you are, flaws and all. That is NOT to say you shouldn’t try to change areas of your life that need improvement. And, this is not reason to excuse bad attitudes or behavior. You are a child of the King….who loves you unconditionally. If you can love your imperfect self, you can love others despite their imperfections too.

Peanut, you are strong-willed and incredibly talented in many areas. I encourage you to use that strong will and those talents in positive, constructive ways…and never be ashamed of the things you have accomplished and will accomplish in the future.

In the years to come, you will face many challenges and ride the roller coaster of emotions. I hope by keeping these things in mind, life will be a bit smoother….for everyone involved!

Love always,
Nana