Which stage are you?


Helping-hands

About 6 months ago, we learned of a very close family member diagnosed with cancer. Not just any cancer, but a rare form of incurable cancer, stage 4. After a recent hospital stay and surgical procedures – the rays of hope dwindled as we learned that there is no surgery nor even one clinical trial that is available to try to help with this disease as it advances. In essence, we wait, we watch, we strive to comfort – and we grieve.

Oh, we grieve.

The life we have lived, the moments we missed, the time we cannot reclaim. We deeply grieve and we learn. What a process this is! You cannot force someone to deal with their own mortality. Whether they accept their fate or not, it effects all in the family unit. The ripples of denial of the current reality leak out – crushing  hopes and dreams of reconciliation and forgiveness.

How do we  face a prognosis you aren’t allowed to discuss? In what ways do you deal with loss in an environment that says over and over again, “this is not happening.” I’m sorry, so sorry, but it is happening. It’s happening all around us as we all grapple to cope with the days ahead. The cancer keeps moving along whether we accept it or not, changing lives and generations to come with how we choose to handle our final days.

We die, as we have lived.

Not facing the reality that stares us in the face. Refusing to admit the days to come, avoiding any discussion of what lies ahead. Denial has deep, deep roots entrenched in familial relationships that will forever be touched by it’s tentacles. In denial, we move through life, often feeling alone, desiring deep relationships but not knowing how to have one. Afraid to ask questions, for when we do, it rocks the boat and puts the truth out there for all to see. It’s a hard way to live, and evenmoreso, a terrifying way to die.

I remember heading back and forth to the hospital, over and over again. Problems needing hospitalization and care. Getting you settled in and pray with you, over you – trusting God in His provision for you.  You’d heal from that setback, but the disease continued to raise havoc in your body. Accepting the truth or not, here we are.

I don’t want to see you go. I don’t look forward to that day. No. NO. Not at all. I do however, yearn to be able to talk about what’s happening, to be able to walk together and forward in this journey. We don’t need to walk alone, we really don’t.

So, why are we?

Refusing to accept our terminal illness touches all those effected by this disease. When denial continues to be the way we handle difficulties then it’s highly likely we will walk alone. Be alone, grieve alone and perhaps die, alone. Alone. Oh my heart just aches, who wants to be alone? Ever.

How will we choose to live our days? If we think we have many years ahead of us or even a few weeks remaining – how will we choose to live it? We all have 24 hours in a day and every single day we choose how we will spend the precious time we will never get back. The harder we fight against the truth, the less we get to live in it.

Live.

Yes, live! Even in our dying, we are still living. Even in our moments of fear and great loss, we live. In moments of deep pain and hard realities, ripping at the core of who we are, we continue to live. Regardless of the stage of life we are living, or the stage that cancer has advanced to. We have choices. We can live out our days towards eternity, growing, healing, hoping and deeply present in love. We can!

We must choose.

Today I offer you no solution, no quick answer to this eternal question. I humbly point to Jesus Christ and offer His live as the way to live. Emulating His love, His grace, His mercy and His patience with one another, as we grieve, as we mourn and as we live. Jesus did not live in denial. He did not hide behind misunderstanding about what was going in the world or in the lives of those He loved. Jesus was present – He was authentic. He was real. He loved. I remember when Jesus’s close friend Larazus  died.

“Mary approached Jesus, saw Him, and fell at His feet.

Lord, if only You had been here, my brother would still be alive.

When Jesus saw Mary’s profound grief and the moaning and weeping of her companions, He was deeply moved by their pain in His spirit and was intensely troubled.

Where have you laid his body?

Come and see, Lord.

As they walked, Jesus wept; and everyone noticed how much Jesus must have loved Lazarus. ” John 11:32-36

Even Jesus, the One who raised Himself from the dead, mourned and cried at the death of someone He loved. Just like we too, mourn the loss of those we love as well. Jesus loved, loves and continues to love by His Presence in our present moments, even those filled with grief and denial.

We all will die – but how will we live?

I encourage you today, if you are living in denial, face it. If you are filled with remorse over time lost together, make time. If you are grieving the loss of relationships and yearn for something more, reach for it. It’s not the time to lose hope, but rather to gain hope.

No matter what stage of life you are in, or stage of cancer you face. Whatever  serious disease you battle. No matter the prognosis. Regardless of the difficulties. Free yourself from denial and learn to live.

For we die, as we have lived.

Encaged…

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It’s just some sticks, some wood. Nothing, really.  I pick them up and use them to make a fence, a wall.

Piece by piece.

Sometimes we encircle our hearts thinking we are protecting ourselves. We try to ease our pain and calm our fears. We build these walls stick by stick, tying them together with fishing line, or rubber bands that snap, as we desperately piece them together. We do it as quick as we can – thinking perhaps the faster they go up, the less pain we might feel.

Uh huh.

We erect them to keep out painful memories, hurtful times, difficult moments. All the while we build thinking we are helping ourselves, when we are in fact encaging our very own heart. It’s not a fence or a wall, it’s a cage. Isn’t that what it feels like?

It does to me.

We sit inside these boundary walls which are meant to help as we peer out at the world. We gaze across meadows, pastures, see the sun rise and fall, squirreled away in our nests along the fence. For a while we look inside and tend to the garden of our hearts. We weed what’s inside, we plant new seed, we till the soil. Yet, we remain, trapped inside. The very thing that was meant to protect us, made us a prisoner.

It’s time we choose to set ourselves free.

See, we can point the finger and talk about what others have done to us. We can examine our circumstances and ignite sympathy and compassion. We can seek comfort in the arms of those we love. But the only one who can release us from the cage, is us. We built it, we must demolish it. Funny thing is, as we try to do so, we find the cage  door has rusted shut, the key has been lost, the way out isn’t the way you thought was out. See, you don’t have control after all.

When Jesus Christ first stood up in the Temple and read from the scrolls of God’s Word, these are the words he spoke.

“The Spirit of the Lord, the Eternal, is on me.
The Lord has appointed me for a special purpose.
He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to repair broken hearts,
And to declare to those who are held captive and bound in prison,
“Be free from your imprisonment!”” Isa 61:1 The Voice

As much as I try to pry open the door, it is Christ I need. As often as I think I can handle it myself, it is Christ I need. As I pound on the doors of my cage trying to rip it open, it is Christ I need. He says to me, “be still.” For He is the gatekeeper. He’s been appointed for a special purpose, for just this time. He’s here to release you, release me, and declare freedom for those enslaved. He’s been doing it since the very 1st century, and He wants to do it now, today, for you.

So those sticks you picked up and thought you could master. Those walls you built to protect your precious heart. That cage you now sit in. Stop rattling the walls, stop pounding on the door, stop fighting it, stop – just stop. For there is good news! Jesus has the key.

Let Him open the door of your heart and release you.

Mowing Season

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It was just grass.

Fall was upon us and the grass needed mowing. The mower had been broken for a few months and so it was extraordinary long and in need of cutting. Our yard began to look more like an unkempt field rather than a yard in a neighborhood! Add on top of all that, well, it’s Fall.

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The leaves, they fall upon the ground, and although they sure look pretty – if we left them to sit there through the winter – well then, it’s not so pretty! Underneath all that snow melt will be wet, soggy, leaves. We were due, it was way past time, to mow.

So off I went, saddling up our riding lawn mower. Because it was so long, I made more than one pass to cut it down. In fact, I was driving in circles! Round and round, over and over, I passed over the same patch of grass again and again. As I encircled the yard, I found the presence of God began to encircle my heart. Pressing in. Hard.

I was watching that grass and those leaves being cut and shred into smaller pieces. Tossed around, torn up and spit out of that mower. Settling down on top of the freshly cut grass as mulch for the spring. Preparing it for new growth.

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It was then that it hit me.

Like grass and leaves waiting to be cut down and laid out for new soil, so too are our hearts in the hands of our Maker. I can’t speak for your heart, but I sure can for mine. I’ve got grass growing in my heart everywhere, everywhere!

My grass it’s so overgrown in areas – I try to shade the light from getting in there and making it grow longer. Yet do I yield to the source of all light? Where I thought the grass had been cut down – I realize it was my own selfish self not accepting truth and allowing the grass to grow stronger.  Where pockets of growth had been shaved off – new growth was shooting out, rooting and sprouting new life elsewhere.

It was time for my heart to be mowed over.

Cut down. Tossed. Shredded. Torn. Thrown about all over the soil of my heart. Some things, must be cut off and left to rot. Yet others, need to be mowed down and their roots extracted so that they never see the light of day. Ever again.

This, THIS, was my threshing floor. A place where the sheaves of thoughts that scurry around in my head can be laid out bare upon the floor, and beat upon and crushed. Like the lawn mover cutting grass down to it’s roots, so too is the Word of God as it pierces our very thoughts and mind.

God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.So that piece of truth could emerge. Hebrews 4:12 – 13 

My heart had been thrown open and trampled upon. The Hands of the Almighty picked up my heart and cut it open, laid bare, for the ugly truth to be seen. Like the Master Surgeon He is, He was gentle, He was skilled, but He was truthful. I couldn’t get away from it, it was time to listen and obey. This heart surgery extracted kernels of truth, His truth, which I didn’t know even existed. I was past due, to be mowed over- so that new life, found in Him, could be restored.

No matter what I might doubt, what my defense could be or whatever the explanation. He knows. He knows what’s growing in my heart. He knows what’s growing in your heart too, dear one. That is what’s so beautiful. He knows. Oh, how He knows!

He’s seen your doubts as they drop like freshly fallen leaves. The moment you rake them up, more scurry to the ground anew. He’s seen your overgrown field of fears.  It’s time to saddle up to face them. He’s felt your pain and what you’ve endured. He wants to perform heart surgery so the pain is gone, for good.

He’s seen your precious heart – oh your heart! Will you grant Him access? Will you allow Him to come inside, cut down your grass and lay you bare on the threshing floor?

After all, it’s just grass.

Suffering

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“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Suffering.  It knows no bounds – people of all ages, all races, all sexes – endure physical pain, undergo emotional trauma and combat spiritual darkness.

I mean, really, let’s be honest. Who wants to admit, or face the fact, that suffering not only happens, but thrives at times? We fight against it with all we are. We exercise our bodies, our minds, our decision making so that we overcome, move on, let go – yet in the end. That which we strive to overcome, can swallow us up.

We tend to think about what  we are suffering, how we are suffering and why we are suffering. Our very focus is on how to end our suffering. To stop the pain, ebb the flow and remove the ache. Our feelings are constant reminders of our failure – guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, anger, insecurities, despair. These keep us grounded in our suffering, they become our friends as we suffer. Friends which don’t challenge us to rethink our minds or walk us through the pain.  Rather than help us lift our eyes off the suffering ~ we become consumed.

There we are, caught in the mire of our suffering. We shake our very fists as we are awash again in anxiety. We lift up our feet to step out of the muck of depression and anger. We twist and turn, trying to get the shackles of guilt and shame off our backs.  Hurting, aching, longing to end this constant suffering.  All these ways we hope, we plead and we want ~ to overcome. Yet, here we are.

Again…

All we desire is to be free! We seek out forgiveness, we search out hope and we want redemption.  How many times do we yearn for a taste of freedom but our hearts remain darkened? So, we suffer.

Freedom.

Ah, just the sound of it. Freedom!  The shackles on our back become unbound,  our feet are firmly planted on the ground and our fists loosen their grip on our hearts. Rather than shaking in despair, they open in anticipation. Rather than held tight in anger, they fold in prayer. Somehow the act of contrition on our physical body transforms our emotional and spiritual self.

We yield.

See, suffering will not cease. Yes, I should repeat that. Suffering will not cease. But our hope is not in what we do, how we behave or how others treat us. Oh no. Far from it! Our hope, is freedom. Freedom is found as we face our suffering. Freedom is found in walking through the suffering. Freedom is found opening our hearts to love.

Love.

“There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” 1John 4:18

See that, love – it casts out our fear. It lightens our steps as we walk. It gives us eyes of compassion. It envelopes us in calmness. Grants us hearts growing in mercy. Allows us to see others as someone who suffers. Oh love!

I can’t promise your suffering will ever cease. No, I don’t think it will. But I can certainly acclaim that love conquers fear. Do not fear your suffering, welcome it, invite it in.

As you do, you invite love to reign.

Ah, freedom!

Mountains to climb

Faith move moutains.

Repeat after me –

Our faith can move mountains. Our faith can move mountains. Our faith can move mountains.

Whew, that’s a mouthful. But here’s the question, do you believe it? I mean really, really, believe that faith can move mountains?

Hmmm, me either.

I want to believe it, I yearn to believe, I intellectualize it, I ponder it. But I do I believe it?

Like placing one foot in front of another as we walk along the mountain terrain is the dance of these words as they carve themselves into our hearts. We can lay them out, reading in succession and focus on their flow. Our. Faith. Can. Move. Mountains. Repeating the mantra over and over again and somehow it becomes true, right?

Riiiiiight………..

So often I have found myself, stuck in my circumstances thinking, why? Why do I have to deal with so many physical problems? Why do I have this constant pain in my body?  Why don’t I have the energy to live life the way I desire to? Why do all these medical tests cost so much?  Why do I live so far from devoted friends and family?  Why did this happen? Why? Why? Why?

You see, the questions linger on the tongue, waiting to be asked, but the moment the words are uttered we stare directly into that faith, the one that moves mountains. Yeah, that one.

Somehow the messiness of the trail we are walking on obscures the view. Branches of doubt creep in, thorns of insecurity poke and prod and the rotten fruit of promises broken litter the trail. We focus our eyes are what we see, ponder what could have been and desire dreams that were lost.

We can’t even see the mountain, let alone make it move!

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. Luke 17:5-6                                                       

Faith. That which we believe in, trust, hope for, live in. It can define us, chart our course, change our minds, strengthen our hearts and propel us.

But first, we must find it, and focus it.

No, not grabbing ahold of the newest positive quote to get you through the day. No, not focusing on all the good and letting go of all the bad. No, not journaling all your experiences and processing your thoughts. Oh no! See, these are all good and powerful tools. Wonderful ways that prepare your heart, move within your mind and bring you focus.

Focus.

Ah! The focal point of our vision is not what we do,  but whom we believe. Jesus, the Christ. We gaze squarely on who He is, who He says He is and what He says He will do. This shifts our focus. Our eyes no longer linger on the fallen fruit of the trail. Our newly defined eyesight shakes the doubts right off those branches and takes the thorns out of our vision. Keeping our thoughts totally focused on Jesus Christ allows faith to grow in our hearts and our minds.

When our hearts and mind collide in agreement, well then, we just might envision the trail. That rock we thought was a boulder really was just a pebble after all- just walk on by. That tree smack in the middle of the trail is merely a root upcropping that you just don’t want to trip over -just step on over. You see? Oh how much easier when the vision clears and you focus.

When the road seems long, the trail gets steep, the walk seems endless and the questions emerge. Know this. There’s someone just up ahead, bidding you to come. He was blazing that trail for you to walk long before you were born! Just keep on walking. When the road gets hard, call out to Him. When you can’t see His face, feel His Presence. When the inclines come as you venture higher on up, follow Him.

First He reveals Himself so you see, then He calls you to see the unseen. This is not a game. This is your faith walk.  As you learn more about Him, see more of Him, hear Him more, feel Him. You find that gem of belief, that nugget of truth hidden in your heart. Holding onto you faith, your belief, just WALK.

That mountain you wanted to move?

You turn around in the trail to claim victory over it and it’s then that you realize. You are just about to grab the cusp   of a ledge, so you settle yourself upon it and rest. Wait as you catch your breath. Enjoy the view! Then get back up, and walk. The summit awaits!

There will be more mountains to climb, valleys to bridge, and victories to be had.  And you one you wanted to move will be overcome, and another will take it’s place.The climb is your victory, your belief, that with each step you can claim the truth.

Faith. Can. Move. Mountains.