Friday, June 24, 2016

My Story- Co-written by My God

I've been asked to share this in a format other than Facebook.  Several people have asked for another way to view it and Rich has asked me to make it available to the church.  I'll start in the blog world and go from there!

I'm finally getting back to rewriting my post from earlier in the week. We've been on the road so I'm just now getting a chance to put my thoughts together. This is a very long narrative and may be more for me than anyone else. Feel free to ignore it or share it with someone who may be traveling a similar road. 
Six-and-a-half years ago, I found out I had Stage 4 Head and Neck Cancer with an unknown Primary. That, basically, means that it spread into my lymphatic system, but they were unable to pinpoint the source. Two exploratory biopsies and a tonsillectomy later, that was still the case. 
I was referred to Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center and my "team" developed a plan of treatment that consisted of 9 weeks of Chemotherapy followed by 7 weeks of radiation combined with Chemo. Fortunately, I was able to get treatments in East Tennessee. 
During my 9th Chemo treatment, my body apparently decided it had had enough. I had an anaphylactic reaction to the Chemo and was rushed to the hospital. A bolus of Benadryl, 2 shots of epinephrine in the ambulance and 1 more in the ER left me with the worst headache of my life and a new appreciation for paramedics!
We, obviously, had to rethink the chemo I would receive during radiation. Once I had recovered, we went to begin the radiation process. Since my cancer wasn't localized & we didn't know where the Primary was, the best course of action was to radiate the entire area in hopes of treating all possible affected areas. This meant that I received radiation, basically, from the middle of my ears to the bottom of my collar bones.
In order to make sure that the radiation covers the desired areas, they create a mesh form that conforms to your upper body shape. Then, when you go in for treatments, they fasten you to the table using the mask to hold you in place. I'm slightly claustrophobic. Being pinned down for a significant period of time is nerve-wracking to say the least! I spent my time praying! I had a significant prayer list at the time and I worked my way through it each day. Janie's nephew, Zach, was undergoing treatments at the same time as I was. I spent a lot of time lifting his name up as I imagined what a young man and his family must be going through.
I had 2 chemo treatments during radiation. After the second, I noticed an incredible amount of tinnitus (ringing in my ears) and significant loss of sensation in my extremities. I reported these to the Oncologist and she, along with my team, decided to discontinue chemo altogether rather than risk more substantial damage. I still have a constant, very loud, ringing in my ears. I try to keep background noise to make it less distracting. My fine motor skills have been impacted by the peripheral neuropathy caused by the chemo. I'm thankful they discontinued, because the effects were, obviously, irreversible! 
Stating the obvious-- radiation cooks you. After about 2 weeks, the pain & swelling were significant. My salivary glands quit functioning completely about week 3. Since my throat was a primary area being radiated swallowing was difficult. I had a PEG tube inserted to allow for liquid food to go straight into my stomach. This tube literally saved my life! I was able to get a pump which slowly fed me at night while I slept (in my recliner). Even with supplemental feedings, I dropped 50 pounds from my pre-cancer weight. I never stopped trying to eat. I had been told that if you quit swallowing it is hard to retrain yourself. Ramen noodles were my friend! There's as much sliding as swallowing when you eat them!
After about 6 weeks (30 treatments) of radiation, my skin had broken down to the point that they made me stop treatments for 10 days to let my body recover a little. When we restarted, they added a few more treatments. I ended up having a total of 42 before I was finished. I drove myself to every treatment and had the road to Morristown Hamblen memorized forward and backward! I met many incredible people in that waiting room and was reminded again of how many people we know who are battling cancer.
I continued to fight the effects of my treatment for a significant amount of time after it was over. My first milestone came when I ate meat at my Niece's wedding in New Hampshire in May. Flying with a feeding tube and accompanying apparatus is an interesting experience! I also went to the beach that summer and invented a saran wrap and tape system to seal my tube so I could play in the ocean.
I had to wait until late Summer to find out how successful our treatment had been. We knew the lymph node had shrunk, but had to wait for the inflammation caused by the radiation to diminish before we could have scans done. When we finally got them done, we heard the words we had been praying for: No Evidence of Disease (NED)! I had been told that this was as good as it would get because physicians hesitate to say, "cured," because they fear a relapse could occur and don't want to be held responsible for getting hopes up.
In late October, I got my feeding tube out and we started an every-3-month schedule of CTs and scopes. After the 1st year, we still saw Drs every 3 months but alternated scans and scopes so that we had both every 6 months. After 3 years, we moved to Drs and scans every 6 months. After 4, we moved to an annual visit.
That brings me to last Thursday, April 14th, 2016. We went for our 1 year follow-up with my medical oncologist and my ENT oncologist. We got great reports from both regarding my condition and then heard something I really wasn't expected to hear: "As far as we and Vanderbilt are concerned, you are CURED!" Any further follow-up will simply be for peace of mind! Praise God!
So, why this incredibly long narrative? From Day One until today, I could not have made it through this journey without my family, friends, church, and faith. I went into this experience pretty fresh off of losing my mother to non-small cell lung cancer. I had watched her battle and I had no delusions that my faith would guarantee my healing. However, having watched my mother faithfully battle, I knew firsthand the peace that can only come through belief.
To put it simply: My faith in God allowed me to face whatever came my way without having the need for answers hanging over me all of the time. I believe that God is sovereign. I believe that He is loving. I believe that He, most certainly, can heal. I know that healing doesn't always occur. I could stress over the whys or I could bask in the knowledge that I was in His care. I chose the latter. Some would say that I was operating out of willful ignorance. I say that I acknowledge my ignorance of His ways and choose to trust Him to guide my paths!
Today, you or someone in your circle of friends is facing a huge battle: physical, emotional, relational, fiscal, or many other things the world throws at us. I pray that you will seek the face of God and the comfort and peace that comes with laying our cares on Him. 
The most important commandment, according to Christ, is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. I believe that this commandment equips us for the second most important commandment: Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. When I have given all I am to my God, I am no longer living in the world of ME. Knowing that he has me covered, I am able to see more clearly where I need to be loving my neighbor more. I firmly believe that God helped me dwell less on my situation and developed a much more keen sense of empathy to those who were fighting battles of their own.
I close by simply encouraging you to share your stories of faith and triumph. We are not made solely of our successes or our failures. Our lives are a story that is being written minute by minute. I encourage you to choose your co-authors carefully. I am glad to say that I have chosen God as my co-author and He has surrounded me with an incredible "Cast of Characters" who have made my life a joy, even through the trials. I still can't spit. I'm missing teeth. I have tinnitus and peripheral neuropathy. But, I am here and I HAVE to tell my story. I love you, my friends and family, and I pray that the Spirit of God guides you as you journey!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Call to Prayer

I'll go ahead and preface this post with an acknowledgement that I may be overstepping here.  However, I literally have not been able to get these thoughts off of my mind for days.  As usual, that ends up in a new blog post.

For more than a week now, I have been overwhelmed with the conviction that our community needs to be on its collective face before God, crying out for His strength, wisdom, and general intervention as we seek to find ways to bring hope into the lives of a people who are, as a whole, feeling overwhelmed by the struggles around them.

I look around me and see so many people battling addiction, family struggles, money problems, work problems- conflict that is tearing at their very souls.  My heart breaks.  I try to find answers and offer hope and usually end up feeling like I've fallen short. I have.  All to often, I walk away from the conversation and realize that I didn't begin to stress effectively the need for the Holy Spirit and His strengthening hand in their search for hope!

I realize that many of my friends don't share my faith and probably find me a bit "preachy" as I share scripture and the stories of how God has worked in my life. I'm sorry if I make you uncomfortable, but the fact is: The only story I have a right to tell is mine and my story is so tightly woven with the Gospel that it would be impossible to tell one without the other.  I am ashamed of who I used to be. I was completely self-centered and very rarely had a second thought about anyone else. As I have grown in faith and grown closer to God, I find that I am much more concerned about helping others avoid the traps I've already been lifted out of! Sometimes, silence isn't an option.

So... (Finally!) the reason for this post:  On the traditional church calendar, this Sunday, May 24th, is Pentecost Sunday.  It's also Memorial Day.  I know that most churches will take a moment and remember those who've given their lives in service to our country- as well we should!  I am asking all of my friends to consider adding another component to their service.  On this Pentecost Sunday, set aside a few moments and challenge your churches to pray earnestly for a move of the Holy Spirit in our churches and community.  Pray that God will empower us with the boldness to step into the fray and proclaim His love and the power it gives to break the chains of spiritual bondage.  Pray that the Spirit will move ahead of us and make people receptive to the word of God we proclaim.  Pray that we will remember that we serve a sovereign God who is able to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine!

I am convinced that we are living in a time when the power of God can be made manifest by a complete turnaround of this community.  I am convicted that the body of Christ needs to put aside the differences that divide us into smaller factions and simply take up the cross which should unify us against all enemies!  I claim the promise that His people, joined together, crying out in humility will be heard and that healing is possible!

At the last supper, Jesus prayed:
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me."

Let us be "one" with each other and our God carrying His love into world that so desperately needs it!
Please join me in praying, now and especially on Sunday, for a movement of God and for true healing in our community.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Lead Me in the Paths of Righteousness

This past Wednesday night, we had a joint youth event with three churches from our community.  We played "Underground Church" which, in a fun setting, tends to highlight the ignorance of many of us in the American church when it comes to the idea of religious persecution and "counting the cost."  We have it so easy!  Perhaps, at times, too easy!  We are free to gather together and worship without fear.  Proclaiming the name of Christ may, occasionally, bring some ridicule on us but, usually, only in the form of criticism for our "unenlightened" views.  We have generations of church-goers who have been told that, if they'll only say a simple prayer, eternity in paradise is theirs.  We give lip-service to "taking up our cross" but rarely think about the implications of actually doing it. In short, we can't truly imagine what it would be like to face death every day simply because we believe in Christ, crucified and raised, as our redeemer. Jon Walton, spoke to the youth and reminded them of the importance of regularly praying for the persecuted church and challenged them to start each day in prayer for other Christians around the world.

On Thursday morning, I woke up and turned on the news.  A college in Kenya had been attacked and more than 100 people were dead.  Christians were singled-out for killing. The events of our "game" had taken place in real life. Only, in reality, instead of being taken to jail, these believers were killed on the spot!  I really couldn't even wrap my mind around the reality and brutality of the story I was watching.  I prayed, I grieved, and then... I started another day of real-world living for me: Breakfast? Check- although the drive-through line was too long at my usual stop so I had to settle for another one; Early Education? Check- VCR problems for the Easter Story movie, VeggieTales retelling on DVD instead; Help with Egg Hunt? Check- 800 candy-filled eggs for 30 kids; Paperwork for State? Check- at least the first packet; Easter Sunrise Service planning? Check- Sound system laid out & generator tested; Supper? Check- steak cooked perfectly and good salad. 


I woke up in the middle of the night with tears in my eyes.  How can I stay so insulated from the tragedy in this world? How can I settle into my comfort when so many are in need?  How can I take my faith so lightly when, for so many, faith, communicated, is a death sentence? How can my heart remain so hard when I claim to follow Christ who wept with compassion when he looked at a broken world? I say I desire to follow Christ but fall so very short of his example!

Today is Good Friday.  We remember the suffering and anguish of the Cross.  We remember the compassion Christ had even to the condemned man hanging next to him.  We remember his death and burial and the heartbreak of those who followed him.  We remember that he cried out with a loud voice, "IT IS FINISHED!" We remember and we celebrate because we know what comes next in the narrative: HE IS RISEN! We claim the promise of salvation: Sins forgiven, past wiped clean, strength to face what stands before us, eternity with our God.  We claim these things yet we often don't live as if we believe them.

I have been struck recently with an illustration that won't let me go.  I was reading a novel set in medieval Wales.  The author describes watching a field being plowed by a yoke of oxen. Behind them in the plow and the man who is steadying it. In front is the ox caller.  This young man stays always in front: encouraging, calling, directing.  There is no whip. There is no punishment from the man in the back.  There is the constant presence of the one calling them forward to accomplish more that they believe they can.  The one who keeps them from getting distracted by their surroundings. The one who will greet them at the end of the day with a reward and his physical touch. The one who believes in them and their abilities.

I immediately took this image to heart.  Too often, we get caught up in the image of a God who beats us into line or doesn't care what happens to us.  We get distracted by the things of this world or caught up in the comparison game- "As long as I'm better than so-and-so, I'm ok." We take our eyes off of the one who has laid the groundwork before us and will direct our paths if we just follow! He is there. Encouraging us.  Leading us. Rewarding us when we reach our goal. He is there having walked every step before us. As his children, we should know his voice and follow!

Today, I choose to follow Christ: to love the unloved, to minister to the heartbroken, to sit in the company of children and embrace their simple joy, to step into an "unclean" world and point people to the hope I've found- with compassion not judgement.  I choose to carry my faith with me every step of the way never forgetting the love and sacrifice that has borne me to this point. I choose to be God's every minute of every day. I choose to focus only on my relationship with Him and to avoid the temptation to compare myself to others.  I choose to be God's child.

Psalm 23: 3 says:
"He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
Father, restore me and lead me as I carry your name. Amen

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Avoid This Dangerous Article!

I have been struggling with a thought for quite a while now as I have watched the social media response to many things going on in the world. I am not sure I can articulate it clearly and, because of this, I have been hesitant to add my own noise to the mix.  However, I can no longer bear to have it roll around in my mind without some sort of sounding board. I am talking about a very dangerous article.  Not an article as in a publication, but an article as in parts of speech.  That article is the word, "the."

Every day, I am overwhelmed by posts online or opinion pieces cloaked as reporting that use this article to generalize things that simply cannot be understood through generalizations.  My mental wrestling began with the events in Ferguson, Missouri and all of the things that have come after them.  I cannot begin to list the number of reports and opinions I read that started with a generalized "the" that effectively minimized whole groups of people in order to make a point.  The black people, the white people. the police, the poor, the rich, the Democrats, the Republicans, the social activists, the right-wingers: Each of these thrown out with a scathing (or glowing) analysis of the role of that group in the activities of the day.  Every time I read one of these pieces, I wanted to ask, "Have you REALLY talked to those involved?" There is no way that we can truly understand what is happening until we look through the eyes of those who are in the midst of the events at hand.

This past Sunday, Pastor Samuel Dzobo gave the message at our church.  We had a joint service with our church and the members of three of our local African American churches.  One of the stories he told was truly the motivation for me putting these words on the screen.  He is from Zimbabwe.  Now he pastors a church in rural East Tennessee.  Culture shock for sure! He said he was amazed at some of the questions he had been asked about Zimbabwe: "Do they have houses there?"; "Did you wear clothes?"; "How did you get here? Did you drive?" His response was amazement.  How could they not know more about the world than that?  Then he told us this: "The only answer to ignorance is conversation. If you want to know me, ask me!"  I walked away knowing that this truth is one we need to embrace if we are to survive as a nation.  We need to get to know each other. We need to get away from lumping people into faceless "the" groups.  We need to sit down and dialogue.  At the end of the day, we may still disagree about many things but, hopefully, we'll at least be able to see more clearly from other perspectives.

When I heard about the response to the situation in Ferguson, I was taken back to an incident in my own life:
I spent 3+ years at Scott AFB in Illinois a short distance from St. Louis.  While there, I spent most of my off time with a group of guys who called themselves the "Blacksheep" a group of black guys with a couple of random white guys along for the ride.  I'll preface by saying that I was not living for much of anything but myself at that time. I'm not proud of many of my actions, but God has certainly used that time to shape my worldview.  I grew up in rural Missouri in a town that literally had to import minorities to work at the company there in order to meet affirmative action goals.  I had never been around anyone from an urban, black background until I joined the Air Force.  On my first day at Scott, the shift leader asked me what they called me.  I told him I'd answer to anything.  His response, "OK, I think I'll call you Rahiem."  For the next three years, my name was Rahiem.  I quickly discovered that running with a bunch of black guys took me to a very different place.  In East St. Louis, (East Boogie, according to my friend, Al) I was welcomed, somewhat skeptically but welcomed nonetheless, into a world that was almost exclusively African American.  When we crossed the river, my friends were watched closely and often harassed by reveled at Laclede's Landing and also by the police. This came to a head, when my friend Al was tackled, handcuffed, and thrown in a police car after he hollered back at some white girls who yelled at us from the sunroof of a limousine.  He was held for hours before the police would even acknowledge that they had him.  He wasn't intoxicated and was eventually let go with the strong encouragement to stay away from the Landing. In short, he was arrested for being black.
I realize that the specific circumstances of the case in Ferguson were very different but, I also know that the historical distrust going both ways in St. Louis shaped every response from that point forward. I think it's important to note that the vast majority of those protesting never expressed a violent thought or participated in any rioting.  If we're honest, we'll acknowledge that there is a small number of people who will use any excuse to wreak havoc: Won the championship? Let's burn something and steal some stuff.  Lost? What the heck, let's destroy some things & get a tv.  Pumpkin Festival? Let's tear this thing down! (Yes, that did happen- Keene, NH this fall). However, it's much easier to just say "the protesters" and lump everyone in the anarchist group.  I have family in St. Louis and know that there has been positive dialogue taking place as people from all over the City have come together to highlight changes that need to take place.  Mutual respect can change the face of a city. That can only occur through honest dialogue.

Another area that I see the article "the" cause problems is in a seemingly benign usage.  This problem has been highlighted by the release of "American Sniper" this weekend. We Americans spend a lot of time talking about "the troops."  Pray for the troops.  Remember the troops. Support the troops.  All, certainly, positive sentiments.  Unfortunately, it seems that oftentimes the faces and stories of the individual soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen get lost on the generic, "the troops." Most people I've talked to who left the theater after seeing the movie said they were left speechless as they processed the events portrayed. Most had never, really, thought about how intense war really is!  I fear that most of us, unless we have firsthand experience with someone who has been at war, fail to understand the psychological impact on those called to serve and their families at home.  Nothing is ever the same. We need to stop throwing out generic slogans and begin to identify specific ways we can pray for, remember, and support the individuals who are put in harm's way as well as their families at home. We need to demand appropriate mental health services and make ourselves available as a support system.

There are countless other examples from my life, of late, that point to the potentially false images that come from a generic "the." The nursing home. The elderly. The schools. The church. The gays. The muslims. Preconceived notions often prove to be flawed at best upon personal involvement with any topic.  I pray that, before I form an opinion about anyone, or any circumstance, I make the time to get to know the details and the individuals involved and know their story. We may still disagree, but I will at least be operating from a position of love and respect rather than a position of ignorance and/or arrogance.  I hope there are other who will join me as we shift the article from "the"
to "a" and as we learn more about the individuals with whom we share this earth!

P.s. I wrote this whole piece only to learn that, apparently, "the" is now considered just an adjective. Avoid it anyway if it's being used to vaguely describe a group of people!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sometimes the Journey Stinks!

My Mom, Anne Myers, playing jacks in the midst of her cancer battle.  I miss my Mom!
Nine years ago today, on Mother's Day, my Mother passed away after a valiant battle with cancer. After 9 years, I still have to stop myself from picking up the phone to ask her a question or tell her something. I'm 48 years old and, I'm not ashamed to say it, I miss my Mom!

Today, I'm getting all the details together for Walk a Mile in Their Shoes. Our church has held this event for the past 5 years to raise money for Relay for Life and Celebrate Life. The 1st walk was in memory of my mother. Organized, largely, by Debbie Lloyd. This year, we are walking in Debbie's memory. 

I'm sitting in front of the church watching the world go by. A big group of 1st & 2nd  graders just walked by on a Field Trip. Traffic is flowing (or not) as usual here between lights 7 & 8. Life goes on and the journey continues. Sometimes I just don't like the direction it's going!

I'm getting ready to sort shirts for an event being held in memory of one if my biggest cheerleaders. I'm wearing a "Team Jackie" shirt in honor of another great encourager who is in the midst of her own cancer battle. I just had a conversation with my boss/friend/mentor and had to see the hurt and loss in his eyes as he anticipates having to preach on the first Mother's Day without his precious wife and mother of his children. Moments like this leave me feeling sad & powerless. Sometimes the journey stinks! 

So here I am again. Putting it down in words. The very act of expressing my sadness is cathartic. Everything is not ok. Pain is real and we're surrounded by it. Today, especially today, I am thankful for my faith. While I'm sad or angry about the situations I see, I get comfort from knowing I'm loved and that God is in control. As I kneel at the cross, I'm thankful that God can bring me peace and comfort even at the most painful times. 

My Mom taught me that. 
Debbie taught me that. 
My own cancer battle taught me that. 

Sometimes the journey stinks. But, I guess if it was all easy, we'd be a pretty soft bunch of people.  Thank you God for my pain. Use it to make me stronger. Let my experiences, good and bad, be used to bring glory to You!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thank God for Nature's Beauty in an Ugly World

*Note: I wrote this several weeks ago and decided it was too wordy.  However, I can't get the imagery out of my mind so I'll post it anyway.

Today I did something I haven't done in years.  Literally.  It's been a very conscious decision on my part to avoid it and I really didn't want to change that today.  But, I did. It was emotionally painful and definitely uncomfortable. Isn't it strange how often those things end up being learning experiences?

What did I dread so much? It will seem minor to most of you but, I can assure you that for my family and me, it wasn't.  I went to my Grandparents' place in Dutch Bottoms.

After my brother's family moved to Denver, Daddy & I worked to keep things in order. But it didn't take long for the scavenging segment of our society to figure out that it was unoccupied. First, they stripped all of the wire they could get to. Then they began to remove anything they might be able to sell, a little bit at a time.  I never went back after finding that someone had ripped up a section of the pine flooring in the living room.  I get angry, frustrated, and very sad when I see how little regard people have for the property and memories of others. My answer has been avoidance and denial.  Probably NOT the solution the average therapist or pastor would recommend!  I look the other way when I go to Morristown and pretend that it's not as sad as it is.

Anyway, today I got a call from a concerned neighbor saying that it looked like someone was at the house and it looked like they had tools with them.  My first inclination, honestly, was to ignore it.  They've done so much damage already that I couldn't imagine it was worth the effort to check on it.  But, I had a few minutes and it was a beautiful day so I went.  They were gone before I got there but I looked around since I was already there.  What I saw, in my opinion, was a testament to the brokenness of humanity.  The idea that you can go into a house that isn't yours and destroy things just for fun blows my mind!  I can honestly understand the theft of things of potential value more than generic vandalism.  As I stood there and seethed, I came to the realization that these actions are the epitome of the culture we live in.  They come from the need to be in control, to be noticed, to be important. I was angry, so I did what I've always done- headed for the woods.

I walked up the hollow to the pond. Amazed by the growth of the privet that has almost hidden the road and blessed by the sight of wildflowers beyond imagination.  The deeper I got into the woods, the calmer I got.  I lay on my stomach amongst the flowers to frame a picture and looked up at the incredibly blue sky.  As I took a deep breath, I revelled in the glory of creation and the knowledge that I am loved by the Creator.

Then it happened.  That blow to my "righteous indignation" that brought me back to my knees in acknowledgement of my humility.  I remembered that I have been that thoughtless person who angers me so much on more than one occasion in my life! When I was about 9, they poured curbs along my street in preparation for paving our street.  In typical 9-year-old fashion, I wanted to make my mark on the project.  I did handprints, then footprints, then.... I ran through the curing concrete for about 30 feet!  The workmen came back in the morning and thought, at first glance, a dog had gotten in the concrete. Then they saw the other handprints and footprints.  Needless to say, my parents had a long talk with me about using the brain God gave me and respecting the property of others.  I'd like to pretend that was a major turning point for me but I visited my own collection of abandoned farmhouses across rural Missouri and I'm sure things were broken for the sake of breaking them on almost every occasion.  I can assure you, I didn't give a passing thought to the emotional pain that could cause family members who came back later!  I WAS that "sorry specimen" of a human that destroyed other people's things!

By the time I made it out of the woods and back to the house, I was thanking God for opening my eyes and softening my heart.  I was praying for those whose insecurities led them to vandalize our homeplace and got into my car reminded of how truly blessed I am to have a family tradition of which to be proud!

The Myers homeplace in Cade's Cove is recognizable only by the lay of the land and the daffodils in the spring.  It may be easier when that it true of the Farmer place.  Long after the remnants of man-made structures have disappeared, God's beauty continues to manifest itself.  Thanks be to God for the reminder!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Saturday Blues

It's Saturday.  The Sabbath.  The followers of Christ sit stunned, disheartened, broken, and even- in the case of Peter- full of self-loathing.  The man they've invested their lives in lies in a grave.
"How did this happen?"
"Were we foolish to believe in him?"
"But we saw him do amazing things!"
"He healed!"
"He turned away the Pharisees!"
"He raised Lazarus from the grave!"
"Why did God allow this to happen?"
"How could the world win?"
"Surely he was the Messiah!"
"But now he's dead. Our hope is dead!"

As I sit here on this overcast Saturday, I think of the emotions the disciples must have been feeling.  They had to have felt defeated. Robbed of the very hope they'd given their very livelihoods to follow. Perhaps they watched the new day dawn in hopes that the events of Friday were just a nightmare.  Jesus would walk into the room at any minute and tell them again how much they were loved. "Please, God, let it be a nightmare!"

I can relate to this on a small scale because there have been days in my life when I truly felt that things couldn't be happening the way they were.  When my Grandmother died, I yelled at God: "How could You let this happen? For one of the first times in my life, I listened to Your call.  I walked away from the Air Force to help here.  For what?! So I could sit and see the pain in Granddaddy's eyes?"  When I watched my Mother battled the cancer that had metastasized into her brain and spinal column, I was often bitter and cried out regularly, "Why her?  Why a woman who's devoted herself to You and others my whole life?!  How is this fair? It makes no sense!" When I heard my diagnosis of Stage 4 head and neck cancer I was floored. This time I was more worried about Lisa and her fears than my own. Again it was, "Why? How is this fair?"  Finally I've watched more friends than I care to think of battle disease and illness.  Debbie Lloyd's battle with breast cancer was deeply personal to me as I watched how it affected Rich and the kids. When I recently heard of Jackie Depew's recurrence, I was angry to the point of being speechless.

Every day we can look around us and see pain, injustice, selfishness, self-destructive behavior, and illness.  It is easy to think, "The world has won!" or, "There is no hope for humanity."  We find ourselves in that Saturday funk.

But, the story doesn't end there. The tomb doesn't stay sealed. Jesus doesn't stay in the grave. The world most certainly doesn't win! Hope is here and we must grab hold of it. My Granddaddy, with that pain in his eyes, looked at me and said, "We may hurt today, but I believe God will give us the strength to face tomorrow. I KNOW I'll see your Grandmother again!" My Mother looked me in the eye and said, "Remember what Job said, 'the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' God is in control and we must always be ready to praise His Name." I turned the radio on when Lisa and I sat in the car following my diagnosis, "Praise You in the Storm" by Casting Crowns came on.  Mother's words hit me again and we turned it over to Him. Debbie told me on several occasions that she fell back onto the words of "Great is Thy Faithfulness" as she battled.  She also embraced, "Lord, I Need You" in the FUEL services as a confession. Lamentations 3: 22-23 says, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness."

It's Saturday. The sky is cloudy. The world seems to be winning. But I DO have hope. Tomorrow morning, as the sun rises, I'll be standing in Union Cemetery praising God because I know that death has been defeated! I know that suffering is temporary!  I know that when I am broken and don't know where to turn, God is there to pick up the pieces and hold me together!  Great is Thy faithfulness! 

The Lord is risen! He is Risen, indeed!

Father God, I revel in the majesty of Your grace!  I fall on my face in awe of the love you've shown me and the strength You continue to give me.  I lift up to You this broken world in which we live.  Shower Your grace on those who need to feel Your presence so greatly.  I lift up those who battle illness, those who have lost loved ones, those whose life situations seem completely out of control. Father, let them feel Your presence and let those of us who bear Your name take up the cross and carry the truth of Your love into our communities.  Use us for Your glory! In Jesus Name, Amen!