Welcome to my blog...

Green trees, cool water, a gentle breeze...the perfect place to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. Jesus taught so often on the shoreline, and He's still speaking today.

This is where I share the lessons He teaches me, often during the time I spend on the shores of a local lake. I don't have all the answers...and some days I don't have any. But I go here when I need to draw near to Him in a tangible way. Come with me...

Monday, June 11, 2018

How Much Can You Handle?

We've all heard it said "God won't give you more than you can handle."

Someone may have even shared that sentiment with you during a difficult time.

They meant to encourage you, I'm sure.

God won't give you more than you can handle?

But what about when...

a loved one dies?

you lose all your worldly possessions to a natural disaster?

the doctor says "it's terminal."

When your world is crashing in and your heart feels like it will explode, does it really help to think, "well, at least God knew I could handle it or I wouldn't be going through this?"

If you unpack what's being said, it's not at all comforting and I don't really think it's accurate.

As my friend Pam said "If God never gives us more than we can handle, why would we need His Presence and His help? Our faith, like muscles never given a workout, would become atrophied."

But it's not just the "more than we can handle" part that I take issue with.

Do you believe a loving and gracious God sits on His throne deciding which hardship to bestow on us, only to watch us struggle under its weight?

That's not the God I know.

When these Job-sized trials - or any problem for that matter - hit, trying to handle them under our own power is futile. And unbiblical.

Proverbs 3:5 tells us to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."

And Psalm 55:22 instructs "Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken."

But I would also argue those trials aren't delivered directly from the hand of God. He hasn't "given" us the difficulties.

We live in an imperfect, fallen world. We may belong to God but that doesn't stop the father of lies from trying his best to trip us up, make us miserable, and get us to take our eyes off the One can get us through the storm.

John 16:33 reminds us "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."

That's why I so appreciate the perspective twist in the pictured quote.

God helps us handle what we've been given.

It's not our own gritted teeth, pull ourselves up by the boot straps, inner strength and dogged determination that allows us to handle the difficult times with inexplicable peace.

It is God being true to His promise to never leave or forsake us, to walk with us each step of the way. Psalm 46:1-3 puts it this way "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging."

As I return to work after a 3 month absence due to a breast cancer diagnosis, I can tell you that if I believed for an instant that God gave me cancer because He knew I could handle it, I'd be rethinking our relationship.

With the same amount of certainty, I can assure you that the only way I was able to get through hearing the diagnosis, go through the litany of tests, an outpatient and inpatient surgery and weeks of grueling recovery is because He was there beside me, offering a refuge to run to when the fears threatened to overtake me and the tears wouldn't stop; when the pain was crushing and sleep wouldn't come; when I saw the scars for the first time and my patience was severely tested by a drain that was with me 6 weeks longer than the "norm."

His grace and mercy, love and peace were what made handling it all possible.

So my friend, the next time a hardship comes your way, remember that God isn't standing by at a distance watching to see if you can handle it, He's in the midst of it all, waiting for your to put your faith and trust in Him so He can help you through it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

If You Died Tomorrow...

As a group of us sat around soaking up rays on the beach, the conversation suddenly turned heavy.

"Do you believe there's an afterlife?"

I'm not sure who posed the question, but one woman shared she didn't think her belief system thought there was.

The first thing that struck me about her statement was that she wasn't owning an opinion. Her belief system didn't think there was a heaven or hell. No mention of her personal feelings or convictions. And no real understanding of her "faith." I would think where a belief system comes down on afterlife would be a pretty big deal. Like the crux of why you chose to believe the way they do.

Perhaps she was afraid to engage the thought. Like me, she has breast cancer. But hers was far more advanced, and she had made a comment earlier that if all she read was to be believed, she only had about 2 1/2 years to live.

Often times it seems when a person gets a potentially deadly disease such as cancer, the human default is to look at how much time remains...as if a "healthy" life is given some sort of guarantee.

The truth is we're all dying a little each day, and no one knows how or when their end will come. Forget the natural aging process, we need only turn on the television to see the daily dangers of this world that befall young and old alike.

I don't mean to sound morbid or depressing, but as the saying goes, there are only two sure things in this life - death and taxes.

Another woman spoke up. "Well, we (she mentioned her denomination) believe that there is an afterlife and our soul...or is it our spirit?...might go on to heaven, but we don't really know for sure how that happens."

With that, the first woman's phone rang and she queried the person on the other end about the afterlife question.

"My friend says 'it's too complicated for her to explain.'"

Now she was on a mission. She decided to text the wife of her religious leader. Unfortunately, his wife was also unable to give her an answer.

My heart was breaking for this woman who was dealing with death daily but had no hope of anything more than the grave. I spoke up. "I do believe there's life after this one, and" I looked toward the other woman, "I do think we can have certainty about it."

"The thief on the cross was told by Christ 'Today you will be with me in paradise.' Christ is clearly stating that after death there is a place we can go that is akin to paradise and that going there is immediate."

I pressed on "and it's not complicated either. God told us that all we had to do was believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and that He died to save us from our sins. Accept the free gift of salvation and get into heaven. The minute you pass from this life."

The last thing I did was recount a conversation I had with a friend years earlier. She was Jewish by birth, but practiced Buddhism. She had made the comment that our beliefs - my Christianity and her Buddhism - were pretty much alike because we both believed in good deeds and loving people. I knew there was more to Christianity, but I didn't know much about her beliefs, so I asked her to enlighten me.

She explained that she believed people were born perfect, messed up along the way, then spent the rest of their time through reincarnation trying to get back to that perfection. With that explanation, I now had the ability to formulate a better answer to her earlier statement.

"Yes, we love people and believe in doing good deeds, but our beliefs aren't the same. I believe that people aren't born perfect, they are born flawed because of sin. There is only one way to rectify that - by accepting that Christ is perfect and died as a sacrifice for my sins. When I believe that, I don't have to spend the rest of my life trying to do things to earn perfection. Salvation is a free gift, and I'd much rather get it free and know I'm going to heaven then spend eternity hoping that I do just the right thing to earn a spot in Nirvana."

The ladies nodded seeming to understand the explanation, but then things got quiet and the subject was changed to where to have dinner that evening. Jesus will make people uncomfortable. In 1 Peter 2:7 Peter describes Christ as the stone the builders rejected that has become the cornerstone. He goes on in verse 8 to say "and, 'A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.' They stumble because they disobey the message - which is also what they were destined for."

One thing I didn't mention was that just as sure as there's a heaven, there's a hell. The Bible talks of a lake of fire, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, ever lasting destruction shut off from the presence of the Lord.

The group didn't revisit the discussion again, but I hope what I said planted a seed of discontent for the non-answers the one woman was receiving from her belief system and teachers. And I hope it gave the woman without certainty of what happens to gain entrance to heaven, a place to begin asking questions.

As I said, none of us know the hour or day our life will end, but we can know beyond the shadow of a doubt where we will be the moment it happens. I can't imagine not living with that surety, especially in light of a life-threatening disease.

It would have been easy to sit silently and listen to the conversation around me. To not "rock the boat," or risk the political incorrectness of challenging someone's beliefs, especially people I barely knew.

But I couldn't hold back information that could save a life even if I only had time to plant the seed. I pray for these women and that God would use others who cross their path to water and harvest.

If you have a personal relationship with Christ, are you letting others in on the Good News? People are dying - literally and figuratively - not having what you have.

And if you don't yet know Jesus personally, there is no better time than right now to accept Him as your Savior and Lord so you can share in the certainty of an eternal life in heaven.

Don't know how? Romans 10:9-10 explains it simply: "If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in  your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved."

Life is too hard and too short not to have hope of more...and better.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Draining My Patience

If there's a Christian "inside joke," it's that you never pray for patience.

You don't ask for the "p" word because the only way to gain it is to be put in situations where you're challenged to learn it!

It's a discipline, and no one ever learned a healthy habit without putting it into practice over and over.

Romans 5:3-4 puts it this way "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience and experience, hope:" (KJV).

Those same verses in the NIV read "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."

Now, I don't know about you, but whether they're called tribulations or sufferings, I tend not to "glory" in them.

In fact, quite the opposite.

I've often said "okay God, take away this trial. I've learned all about patience, so hurry up and move on to the next lesson!"

All kidding aside, the Bible mentions patience often as an attribute we should strive to attain.

Proverbs 14:29 reminds us "Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly."

Patience is also one of the ways we are identified as God's children. Colossians 3:12 says "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."

So why all this talk of patience today? Because mine is being tested. 

Or more appropriately, as the title suggests, drained.

If you've followed this blog at all over the past 2 months, you know I had major surgery April 2nd. Miraculous surgery actually. A number of medical professionals came in to view the end result curious because they'd never seen it before.

I agreed that I would find it fascinating too if it were only someone else.

Well, that's not entirely true.

It really is fascinating and I'm a walking testament to God's handiwork in the human body.

At the same time my breast surgeon was performing a double mastectomy, my plastic surgeon was removing tissue from my lower abdomen to use in the breast reconstruction. Because it's a long, complex surgery - 8 hours on average although mine was 9 1/2 due to the discovery of a second vascular system on one side - not many doctors and hospitals perform it.

There are many upsides with the DIEP flap procedure - it doesn't mess with stomach muscles like similar surgeries; the breasts, made with my own tissue, will behave like a "body part" changing in size with weight gain or loss and never need to be replaced like implants; my body could have more easily fought off infection if it had been necessary with no threat of having to remove a foreign body; and since the tissue was taken from the abdomen, a tummy tuck was the silver lining in the grey cloud of a cancer diagnosis.

Truly, God gifted whoever conceived of such an intricate surgery with all the cutting and reattaching of blood vessels and tissue, as well as those skilled enough to perform it.

But back to patience.

At the conclusion of this surgery, 6 drains were inserted into my body to remove excess fluids that if left inside could lead to infection. Two were removed after a week, another two after the second week, and one after the third week.

I was a little bummed that both hip drains weren't removed that third week, but I had every reason to assume the last would come out the following visit.

Except it didn't.

Nor the week after that, or the week after that.

I am 7 weeks post surgery and I'm still "tethered" as I've come to call it.

And my patience is draining along with everything else.

It's uncomfortable. The pinch can stop me dead in my tracks if I move the wrong way or tug at it by mistake.

Advance planning is necessary in order to use the bathroom or to take a shower.

And "sleeping," aka catnaps/dozing continues on my back because I have to favor that side.

I'm literally and figuratively tired. Tired of the inconvenience, tired of the annoyance and occasional pain, just. plain. TIRED!

My emotions have swung from disappointment to depression to resignation.

I know it's what's best for my health. I know it's removing stuff that has potential for infection.

So why is it so hard to be patient?

Let me stop right here for a second to say I wrote all this on Monday, but then something else happened.

Monday evening, quite by accident, I somehow tugged on that tube a little too hard. By the following morning I knew a trip to the doctor was in order and I called the emergency number. They told me to come in right away.

Suddenly, all I wanted was for that tube to stay in. To do its job. I was concerned about what a premature removal might mean to my health.

Please God, let them be able to do what needs to be done to leave it there!

Funny how one small incident can change our perspective.

I read something today that said "Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting."

I was given a situation in which to learn patience and I was blowing the attitude big time. I had prayed for it to be gone, but God said "not yet" and that wasn't good enough for me. And so He changed the circumstances to work on my character building a little more.

My friend, your patience-draining situation probably looks very different from mine, but it's still a trial and attitude is everything. I wish I could say learning patience is a lesson you don't have to relearn, but too often we have short memories and need a refresher.

May God grant each of us the ability to live out Romans 12:12 each day. "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Known by the Lamb

This little fluffy guy was a gift from a friend during my recent hospitalization.

Immediately after my surgery, I went to ICU and it was during that early part of my stay the lamb was given to me.

Everyone who came into the room was drawn to him and wanted to check him out, including the wonderful nurses who tended to me during my three days in the unit.

Naturally, when I made the move from ICU to the post-surgical 4th floor, the lamb came along. He had a place of honor on the windowsill and his precious smile brought me joy.

One friend who came several days to sit and keep me company had a bit of trouble keeping track of which room was mine.

I had a green "latex allergy" sign on my door, but so did the patient in the next room, which created the confusion. Then she realized if she looked for the lamb sitting on my windowsill, she was assured of entering the correct room.

Six days later, on my last day in the hospital, one of the ICU nurses was working on my floor. She came into the room to say 'hi.'

"I wasn't sure it was you, but then I saw the lamb and I knew it was!"

My friends, did you catch that? I was known by the lamb.

And that started me thinking...am I known by THE Lamb?

Do I live my life in such a way that others are drawn to Him?

Does association with Him set me apart?

Does He have a place of honor on the windowsill of my heart and soul?

My challenge to each of us today is to act in such a way that those who don't have a personal relationship with Christ can see the Lamb in and through us and desire to get to know Him.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29 (NLT)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A Simple Act of Kindness

I slowly exited the bathroom and gingerly made my way to the hospital bed.

A tech walking by my room poked her head inside and asked if I needed any help.

My eyes welled up and the tears spilled over.

"Now I can't finish out my shift knowing one of my patients is upset! What's wrong honey?"

Five days earlier I had been through an assault on my person the likes of which I could never have imagined. Because of God's grace, I was able to experience that part of the journey with Inexplicable Peace.

But although I had endured a nine and a half hour surgery, although I now sported scars across my chest and hips, although I had six drains coming out of my body, although I still didn't know exactly what the cancer diagnosis held, I had not cried.

"I'm filthy" I responded. "It's been five days and my body and my hair haven't seen a drop of water. My gown has not been changed. I just can't stand myself and I can't help myself either."

"No need to cry sweetie. I'll be right back."

It seemed like a silly thing to be upset about given all I'd undergone, but I was exhausted and having seen myself in the bathroom mirror caused all the emotions to bubble over.

My angel of mercy was named Mary and she returned with two tubs of water - one soapy, one clear - and a pile of wash cloths.

She dunked one of the cloths in the clear water and handed it to me.

"Why don't you clean your face and neck and I'll help you with the rest."

She helped me remove the hospital gown and spent the next twenty minutes washing my arms, back and legs taking great care not to get close to all the scars and drains.

Mary gave me one last cloth and asked if I wanted a minute alone to clean my "private areas."

I laughed.

Over the past five days dozens of people had seen more of me than I ever thought I would expose to strangers.

I responded "there's not much private anymore."

Truly nothing was private. For days an endless barrage of doctors, nurses, techs, interns, and PAs had filtered through my room, moving aside my gown to draw blood, take vitals, Doppler my incisions to ensure blood flow, empty drains, and examine surgical sites.

Since the type of reconstruction I had was a fairly new procedure, there were many comments made as "viewers" wondered aloud at how fascinating it all was, forgetting I was there, the recipient of the medical marvel.

It was a humbling experience on many levels.

But this sweet woman had seen past all that and dealt first with my emotional need as she helped with the physical one.

I know sponge baths were part of what she did each day, but she never made me feel I was just a job duty. I was a hurting person who needed comforting.

The last thing she did was help me don a clean gown. What a difference!

I tear up just writing about this simple act of kindness that left me feeling better about myself and gave me strength to face a new day of assaults on my privacy.

Do you feel "filthy"? Has life beaten you up and left you feeling scarred? Does it seem that everyone is talking about you but no one is relating to you?

Express it to God. He sees the need and wants to help you if you'll let Him. He'll painstakingly wash away the dirt, tend to your wounds, and show you how much He cares. He will drape you in clean garments and give you strength to face the day because His mercies are new each morning.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. Psalm 116:1-2