What’s On Your Mind?

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“You have cancer.” What comes to mind when you think of a cancer diagnosis? In 2011, this question was no longer a hypothetical. I’m sure my response was normal as I began to wrap my mind around cancer and my name in the same sentence.

I dealt with many different emotions in the beginning.

Denial: I remember telling the doctor that I didn’t have any pain. “How can it be cancer?” (This was my first lesson about breast cancer. Pain is not necessarily a symptom.)

Fear: Would I be around for my younger son’s high school graduation in six months/ We had a diagnosis with no further details. What did my future look like?

Grasping for Control: Immediately I began to network with friends and friends of friends who were in the medical profession or knew breast cancer survivors. I wanted to be informed and ask the right questions so I could get answers. If I could articulate the issues, perhaps I could grasp control and rein in this cancer invading my body.

Going to a Dark Place: Learning and discovering more information introduced me to the sad stories and sadder endings with breast cancer. I began to ponder the new realities in regards to my body, my life, and ultimately, my mortality. Would I feel the same if I had a mastectomy? Would I look like me if I needed chemotherapy and lost my hair? Would there be a future? Would I be there to celebrate my sons’ weddings and dote on grandkids someday?

One evening, my husband and I sat at the kitchen table discussing my cancer as it was a too common conversation topic in those days. The burdens of all my thoughts, fears, and anxieties spilled out as tears falling down my cheeks. I asked my husband, “Will you still love me if…?” and filled in the blanks with the very personal feelings I hadn’t been able to express up to that point.

I desperately needed my husband to scoop me into his arms, reassure me with the strength of his love and answer with a loud “YES!” My husband did and said something that caught me off-guard. It was even better than what I thought I needed from him. He looked me directly in the eyes with an intensity I am not used to and responded, “I am in it for the long haul!” That moment was a turning point in my cancer journey.

We were going to get through “this,” whatever it looked like because I had his heart and he had mine. I have no doubts that God used that conversation around the kitchen table to personally demonstrate His love for me.

As we face crises, we need something, really someone, to lean into and know that we are never alone. We can look into God’s word in the Bible and sense His intense love and unending compassion for us. We can keep on keeping on with confidence because God has promised to never leave nor forsake us.

God wraps us in His hedge of protection and whispers into our hearts, “You are loved. I have always loved you.” Jesus’ death on the cross is the purest evidence for the depth of God’s love for you and for me.

Almost seven years later, I am healthy and remain cancer-free. I still lean into God for His hugs and to hear Him say, “I love you!” My heart responds with gratitude and devotion as I tell God, “I’m in this life for the long haul with you!”

Isaiah 42:16

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

 

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What I Do Have!

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The request came in as an e-mail to our cancer ministry. The cancer survivor was an out-of-state resident with no personal connection to us. She must have googled cancer and our name popped up. She wanted support. We offer support. The only problem was that we don’t offer the type of support she was most interested in.

The person took the time to fill out our enrollment form. I admit that it was the most creative application I have seen to date. Her answers to varying questions revolved around money. Her specific prayer requests included a gift basket with gas and food gift cards from our church. Under favorite color, she replied “blue” tagged along with “quilt.”

I am a six year cancer survivor and a one year leader for a cancer ministry. Without fail, the top two prayer requests are for healing and for the family members that accompany the survivor on his/her cancer journey. Gift cards and pretty things fall much further down the list of prayer necessities. Nonetheless, I get it. Cancer is expensive even with good health insurance. People going through cancer oftentimes experience financial hardships.

I replied to the person’s e-mail and acknowledged her financial need. Sharing our mission statement, I explained that we are not able to financially support her. Rather, we “provide hope, encouragement and love through a community of support so no one battles cancer alone.” In my mind, I patted myself on the back. I took her request seriously and responded appropriately. With an extra dose of mercy, I decided to reach out to her with a personal phone call if I heard anything back via e-mail. All I needed was a brief response like, “Okay” or “Thanks.”

I didn’t hold my breath and I wasn’t surprised that my e-mail sent was the end of our interaction. Only it wasn’t the end of it. I should have filed away the paper application, but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. Her form sat on my desk for a over a week. God kept bringing this woman to mind. The more I tried to find closure, the more I thought about this woman and her situation. Specifically, God kept bringing me back to Acts 3 in the Bible.

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:1-6)

That’s when I knew that I didn’t do all that I was supposed to do. I had already said a prayer on the woman’s behalf. What was the next step? A clue was on her application. Under activities and interests, she mentioned something that tied in perfectly with a gift we send to those served through our ministry.

I called the volunteer who mails that particular gift and explained the situation, including the God nudges I felt. I had to smile at the volunteer’s confirmation. She replied that her mother had a saying, “It doesn’t matter what is in their heart. What matters is what is in your heart!” We sent the gift.

We expressed the love of Jesus Christ to a stranger. The name of Jesus was shared with someone who needed to hear His sweet name.  I don’t know the response or the result because we never heard from the person again. Nonetheless, I knew that I could finally file the application. We  had offered the very best of what we do have: the name of Jesus.

 

 

 

When The Imperfect Becomes Perfect

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After my small country church shut its doors, I tried to make church fit my expectations. I must be a slow learner because I spent two years trying to fit in where God hadn’t placed me. It didn’t work out well for me as I felt lost for a long time.

I could list the requirements for my perfect church. It started with a smaller congregation where everyone knows each other on a Sunday morning. Worship is not too loud and includes both hymns and contemporary Christian music. The sermons are relevant to imperfect real life.

I finally found the perfect church that met all my requirements. It was time to sit down with the pastor and hear his heart and vision in his own words for my perfect church. That meeting was where I discovered that the perfect church of my mind was the not the perfect church God had in mind for me.

The pastor didn’t say anything wrong. It was just the opposite as I was engaged by his straightforward and God-honoring vision for the church’s future. Rather, it was a nugget of wisdom he inserted into our conversation that changed my focus. He talked about the “community” the church was trying to reach.

Something resonated in my heart. My “community” was serving cancer survivors along with others who are passionate about “providing hope, support, service and love to those struggling with cancer by being the hands and feet of Jesus.” (The mission statement for Cancer Hope.) That moment was the turning point where I finally recognized my perfect church. Afterwards, I thanked God for imparting His truth deep inside of me. Then, I mailed an apology and explanation to the pastor for changing my mind about his church.

In reality, God had revealed the answer to my church search two years earlier. However, at that time, this particular church did not meet my requirements. It was too big and the music was too loud. I had attended one of three weekend services and did not recognize a single smile. I didn’t stay because I was intimidated by what I saw on the surface. God wanted me to dig deeper. That process took me two years to work through and finally accept.

The second time around, I returned to the church with a different attitude. In the first few weeks back, the pastor addressed those of us uncomfortable with a big church. Paraphrasing his words to the congregation, “The early church was big. Three thousand people were added in one day. In heaven, there will be lots of people worshiping together. You might want to get used to it now.” I just knew the pastor was speaking directly to me!

As for “my community,” I am now the leader of a cancer ministry that has supported over 380 survivors in 25 states since its beginning in 2011. I thank God that He made my “perfect” church “imperfect” so I could experience His perfect plans for my life. I am finally home and it is the perfect place to rest.

Proverbs 16:9

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

Psalm 25:4-5

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

 

 

God Moments Can Become God Stories

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I knew it was going to be a busy week. I was still learning the ropes in my new volunteer position. The ministry had finished their annual fundraiser and there was a flurry of activity to follow up on. In addition, we were headed out-of-town to visit my in-laws.

That day I was a woman on a mission with a long to-do list. If I adhered to my schedule, I would cross everything off my list and be home to make a nice dinner for my husband. I was on-time with my self-declared agenda until I dropped off information at the church’s welcome desk.

That’s when my plans abruptly changed. The person behind the desk commented, “Oh good, I was looking for those ministry forms because my friend is battling cancer.” As a cancer survivor and the administrative leader of a ministry that supports cancer survivors, I recognized the lead-in to a lengthy and emotional cancer story.

I am not proud to admit that in my mind, the flesh reaction was, “I don’t have time for this. I am on a schedule with my things to accomplish.” Immediately, I heard the Holy Spirit’s rebuttal in my soul, “This is why you are here today. Take a breath, slow down, and be present for this person.”

I recognized my God moment. The Holy Spirit only gives perfect advice. There was no doubt about what was at the top of my to-do list. I listened intently to the person’s cancer story, offered encouragement, and gave tips for enrolling her friend in the ministry.

Once I had shared the practical, I turned to the most important aspect of my God moment. I offered to pray. We prayed for her friend, for her, their friendship, and the circumstances of this particular cancer story. I walked away from that God moment encouraged by God’s blessings in my day.

God provides the opportunities to remind us that our God moments can become our God stories. In reality, it is even bigger than that in God’s kingdom. Obedience to the Holy Spirit’s nudges opens the floodgates for blessings to flow. God’s beautiful intervention insures that our God moments can become part of someone else’s God story!

Psalm 42:10

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Isaiah 66:14

When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the LORD will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes.

 

And I Pray!

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I volunteer with a ministry that serves patients and their families throughout the cancer journey. I am one of many that pray. Texts are electronically transmitted. Spoken prayers transcend time and space. Cards are mailed. And I pray.

But it is not for the faint-hearted. For the names keep coming. Week after week, more cancer diagnoses are heard, more families are affected by cancer, and the list of people to minister to gets longer. And I pray. How do you share hope with someone receiving hospice care? How do you comfort someone feeling miserable from the side effects of treatment? How do you encourage someone who discovers that the cancer has returned? And I pray.

I have lost two prayer partners, cancer patients that I prayed for daily and corresponded with weekly. Their physical bodies succumbed to the cancer. Sometimes, my prayers seem to go unanswered. And still I pray. Prayers for healing. Prayers for peace. Prayers for salvation. Prayers for miracles. For people I may never meet, talk with, or give a hug to on this side of heaven. Yet, I pray for God has given us the privilege to ask in Jesus’s name. And I pray because I can.

Note: The wonderful ministry I referred to in this post is Cancer Hope, a ministry of SouthBrook Christian Church in Miamisburg, Ohio. Cancer Hope knows no bounds in sharing Christ’s love with individuals and their families going through cancer. Cancer Hope’s blessings are available for anyone regardless of residence or church affiliation. More information can be found at: http://www.southbrook.org/ministries/. Once there, click on Cancer Hope.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 

2 Corinthians 1:10-11

He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.  Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.