I Get To

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Welcome to the holiday blitz. Are you ready? I’m not asking if your tree is already up and your shopping started and your cookies baked… I’m wondering if you are ready inside. I am, by the grace of God, more ready than I’ve ever been, because this year I’ve looked at Christmas, Easter, and every other big moment in life and realized they aren’t as important to me as the little moments in life. I’ve asked myself a dozen times what is important to me. Trees and shopping and cookies are nice, but they don’t really make the cut. Family, friends, worship, rest, health, noticing life—those things make the cut.

Last year, we didn’t put up a tree. Christmas happened anyway. This year, I only put up half of our decorations. The other half can have its turn next year. I will shop, but I’ll remember that, during my last visit with 6 month old Nick, his favorite toys were an empty shampoo bottle and a red Solo cup. ‘Sorta wish I’d learned all these lessons when my children were small.

There will be moments in this holiday season, and in all the seasons thereafter, when life outpaces me, when it will seem that the demands to serve are greater than my time and energy allow. Then I will try to remember what my pastor taught me last week. “I get to” is an attitude that will trump “I have to” every time.

Do you have to do the dishes or run a bunch of errands? I have a wheelchair-bound friend who would love to get to do that.

Do you have to read a stack of papers or pay a stack of bills? My nearly sightless friend would gladly trade places with you for a day.

Do you have to rise in the wee hours, yet again, to care for a sleepless child? My sweet daughter-in-law calls her midnight vigils “bonus time” with her baby. She gets it. She gets to.

This year, I will think first before diving into what I once thought was required of me at Christmas.  If it isn’t important, I just might skip it. And when my list looks long anyway, I’ll remember that, regarding all that life requires of me both now and as the new year begins, I get to.

 

 

Thank You, God.

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Today I’d like to share two great Thanksgiving memories with you.

The first: Watching the Macy’s Day Parade as my mom’s turkey, dressing, and homemade pecan pie filled our house with a mouthwatering aroma. I’ve given you Kermit. You will have to come up with your own turkey and pie.

The second: Attending Thanksgiving services at St. Andrews  Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, Florida. We always sang these wonderful lyrics, published by Theodore Baker in 1894.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

We also had an open mike session, a time when all who were present were given an opportunity to proclaim God’s goodness and describe that for which they were thankful. I will begin. I am thankful to be healthy and to be surrounded by a family who loves me. (Of course, that’s just the beginning of my list.)

Now it’s your turn. What’s on the top of your “Thank you, God” list this year?

And to all of you, may this be a very Happy Thanksgiving!!

 

Lessons from Anthony Hopkins

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After five blogs about illness and recovery, I thought it might be time to take a lighter approach this week, so I’m writing about video entertainment. Perhaps this isn’t a “spiritual” topic, yet the Bible has plenty to say about where we allow our thoughts to go. Because our thoughts can be so very quickly shaped or directed by what is on the screen in front of us, I always welcome positive suggestions.

One of my favorite movies is “Meet Joe Black.” I must begin with a disclaimer, though. The film includes one short but definitely inappropriate scene. You’ll know it when it begins. Just push “fast forward.” Otherwise the movie is delightful—beautiful in scenery, writing, and acting. It is a celebration of true love, healthy marriage, life in its brevity, and death in its eventuality. It teaches that a married man and woman should take care of one another, that their love should be exciting, thrilling, obsessive, and passionate. It suggests that death should be faced without fear, and that life should be lived without regret. Here are two of my favorite quotes.

  • “65 years. Don’t they go by in a blink?”
  • “I love you so much and no matter what, I don’t want you to worry. Everything will be okay.”

While the movie does not speak of God directly, I see Him in the story. The same is true of another favorite, “A Good Year.” I’ve been told by one of a younger generation that the movie is slow. I find it to be a wonderful tale of discovering what is important in life, of valuing the people around us. It takes an opportunistic Russell Crowe on a journey back to his roots, where he is forced to reconsider the life he has made for himself. Every time I watch “A Good Year,” I find myself asking myself once again if my priorities lie where they belong.

And how about you? Do you have a film in mind that entertains you while provoking you to love or good works or a fresh perspective? If so, I’d love for you to share the title here. Thanks for reading! Brenda

And one more thing: I’ve received a few emails that make me think I have not been clear enough about my current state of health. I’m about 95% recovered from the surgery itself. The other 5% is sure to come with time. I do not need any chemotherapy or radiation. So, once again, let me thank you for your generous prayer support!

Care More

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When Steve and I drive to Galveston, one route takes us across a rather imposing bridge. That bridge looks overwhelmingly difficult and frightening as we approach it. Yard by yard, though, as we ascend it, it turns out to be quite manageable. Before too long, we are on the other side. This is how life’s difficulties look to me now. They seem impossible as we approach them, but in the moment by moment reality of facing them, they are doable. It was moment by moment reliance on our Lord that took me through this journey.

There are a few things I’d like to share with you, and remember myself, in order to better help any friends who walk this road in the future.

  • I never said, “my cancer.” Somehow those words, for me, meant owning something I was in the process of getting rid of. I said “my condition” or “I was diagnosed with” instead, somehow distancing myself from the evil within me. So, in the future, I will not say “your cancer” either.
  • A cancer diagnosis begins a surprisingly time consuming process of research, phone calls, and doctors’ appointments. It’s as good a time to bring a meal as the surgery/treatment phase.
  • That same busy process also becomes mentally overwhelming. I came to a point where I needed a week off from talking about my condition at all. I didn’t want it to begin to define me. My dear friends and family seemed to understand my need to change the subject or put off responding to their calls and emails.
  • A remarkable amount of current entertainment deals with death, or at least illness, and often cancer. Steve and I have even joked about the “Disney Death Syndrome.” How many popular kids’ movies begin with the demise of one or both parents, when, in reality, that is a very rare occurrence? How many children have, for years, harbored a fear of losing Mom or Dad because of the skewed perception brought about by even relatively wholesome entertainment? Happy movie recommendations were greatly appreciated both for my sake and for my husband’s. Two friends even brought by bags of carefully curated DVD’s.
  • Healthy food is a big help, and it need not be a complete meal. A few friends brought welcomed snacks and side dishes that were perfect additions to what others had provided.
  • “Let me know if I can do anything” is a great saying. “I’m going to the grocery store. What can I pick up for you?” is a better saying. “Can I run any errands for you, or take you somewhere?” is terrific as well.
  • Cards, texts, and emails work better than calls and visits during those first exhausting days after surgery. Many of those who offered to visit in person or via phone wisely added, “if and when you are up for it,” making me feel more comfortable about turning them down if I needed to be alone.

And there you have it—the short version of my journal entries over the past two months. May you never have to walk this road, but if you do, may my words turn your eyes to the One who will provide all you need.

Next Week: Something lighter this way comes ( I promise).

Careless

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I learned to care less about what didn’t matter. (I hope that lesson sticks!) My list of things that matter is much shorter than it used to be. Past decisions, other people’s choices or opinions, plans that don’t affect me, social intricacies, small inconveniences… This doesn’t mean I care less about others around me, but rather that I am careful to conserve my mental and emotional energy for that which I can affect. My feathers don’t ruffle quite as easily as they once did. Computer problems? They look pretty small now. Traffic? Unexpected chores or needed repairs around the house? They aren’t so irritating any more. My “Type A” has slipped, and nicely so.

At times peace and worry warred within me, but peace won out every time. More than one friend commented that she could hear the peace in my voice. I could neither explain nor take credit for that. I began to journal all the “small” miracles that were sprinkled into my days.

  • A good friend, a nurse with very particular views about local medical options, raved about the doctor who would be doing my surgery, as well as the oncologist who would be assisting.
  • The depth and breadth of care and prayer astonished me. Friends and family near and far encouraged me with gifts, cards, texts, and promises of consistent prayer.
  • Just one hour of shopping and $50 yielded four simple dresses I would need after surgery when my body swelled.
  • More than one “chance encounter” led to times of prayer with someone who cared.
  • I was hit with an intense bout of the flu just two weeks before my surgery. How could that be a blessing? It allowed me to see the gaps in my recovery plan. I learned what to buy and how to prepare for several days of limited mobility.

Then the day of surgery came. It was successful. I had very little pain throughout the entire process, astonishing all my caretakers. Many of the post-surgical discomforts I had been warned to expect simply never materialized. No complications arose. No further treatment was prescribed. I am well, and I am changed.

  • I am living more deliberately. I’m more aware of the blessing of tasty food, a soft pillow, a hug from my husband, time to rest and recover…
  • I am expecting less of myself and of those around me.
  • I asked myself why I wanted to be healthy—to keep living—and I’m acting on my answers.

I don’t take my healing as the promise of an easy future. On any day, life can turn in either direction. The gift of getting to stay alive will not be without its moments of pain. And so, joy can only come from trust every single day. Circumstances, no matter what they are, just don’t cut it. Life changed in a moment last July. That may happen again. I have no promise of a similar outcome. I do have the promise of similar peace. So do you:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

Next Week: Care More

And Then We Danced

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Just 24 hours after “the call,” we were on a plane to my niece’s wedding in South Florida. What a gamut of emotions assailed me as we traveled! Sometimes I felt out of breath, as if my body just couldn’t acclimate to the news of pending change. I called my brother and sister-in-law to tell them the news. Their response was, as expected, loving and compassionate. The surprise was my brother’s closing words, “I feel led to say this to you. Allow yourself to have human emotions as you go through this.” My siblings and I don’t often say, “I feel led to say…” Yet that was just what I needed to hear. How easy it is to think that a life of faith means a life of stoicism. Untrue!

Two days later, I realized I was breathing normally and, most of the time, keeping in tune with the activities and conversations around me. Then came one of many shining moments. Steve and I were on a dance floor crowded with other wedding well-wishers, and I realized I wasn’t worried. I was happy. Now, truth be told, when first hit with the news of cancer, I was in a place of “Don’t Worry. Be at peace.” Happiness was still a bit out of reach. But here I was, just a few days later, truly back in a place of joy. This was a miracle, God’s grace in action, another reminder that the One who loves me most was and would continue to be carrying me through the hard times ahead.

Soon thereafter, I called my sister. Sympathy and compassion flowed through the phone. Then she, like my brother before her, ended her call by saying, “I think I am supposed to say this to you.” Her message was a different one, though, “Stop taking care of anyone else. Take this time to take care of yourself and to let other people take care of you.” Those of you who know my personality know that these words were spot on. They replayed in my head many times during the days of preparation, treatment, and recovery. But on that day those words also reminded me that we serve a supernatural God, one who gave both of my siblings words of advice that I needed to hear. I received them as a precious gift.

Then I told my parents. Dad, now 82, is a two-time cancer survivor. The first time, half a century ago, the doctors told him to get his affairs in order. They told my mom to take comfort in the fact that the disease would progress quickly. When they heard my news, they were well qualified to offer encouragement, “God wastes nothing. You are dearly loved. This can turn out well.”

Next Week: Careless