You’ve Just Got To…

Encouragement

I’m tired of writing about cancer.

I decided that when I was laying flat on my back in a fresh cut field a few weeks ago. There’s nothing quite like that smell. Earth. Grass. Saddle leather. Horse. Sunshine. One arm was cradled gently across my chest. Puffy white clouds floated across the blue sky. I thought about how sometimes we’re lulled into silly assumptions about life always staying as we know it. As we like it. Which leads to conversations with God. Like the one I was having there on the soft ground.

“You know, God, I’ve been through a lot. And you’ve been really faithful. Amazingly so. I try not to take it for granted. But sometimes, I guess I do.”

Wispy clouds crept across the vibrant  blue stage high above. It seemed a bit hazy. It may have been the sun, or tears in my eyes. The situation had completely taken my breath away.

“You’ve restored my health. And you threw in horses for me to enjoy riding. That was clearly a gift from You – that special thing you’ve provided all through my life through family and friends at different times.”

It was true. When I was six or seven, I prayed in my aunt’s living room on Canisteo Street and asked God to give me a red barn with horses in it. We lived on the outskirts of town and my dad was a hard working auto parts guy by day and gifted musician by night. Horses were a dream on Spencer Avenue. A few years later, God gave my aunt a husband and me an uncle. And he came with a barn, and horses. And more cousins. Blessings all.

Eventually I got bucked off enough to have a healthy fear of riding. “You’ve got to get back on,” my uncle would say. I was afraid. But love of riding outweighed the fear.

Love does that, doesn’t it? Draws us past the fear of life’s hurts to climb back on and finish the ride?

“So, Father God,” I continued. “You certainly wouldn’t let my horse spook today, lurch violently to the side, and leave me in mid-air, only to crash to the ground and break a bone, right?”

Silence and blue skies all around. It had been 27 years since I was separated involuntarily from a saddle. I was trying to remember where my, “You’ve-Been-Through-Enough-You-Can-Pass-Go” card was; instead all I could come up with was, “Be-Glad-You’re-Alive-to-Realize-You’re-Old-Enough-to-Be-More-Careful-What-Were-You-Thinking”. saddle

Moments before my conversation with God began, my friend and I rode happily out of the corral. I was relaxed and had just settled into the Australian saddle. It’s really comfy and has these great leg guard things that sit you down good in the seat. I’m always on high alert when riding. Careful. Good at staying on even when the horse jumps sometimes, and…. well, then. I was in mid-air watching my horse lunge to the right, taking my comfy saddle with him. He had spooked and was in a dead run, over a ditch, up a bank and into the field. He passed my friend. She was on another spooked horse, but masterfully stayed in the saddle.

In between painful gasps for air I noticed my wrist had an awkward lump. Weeks later I’m told the broken wrist is healing nicely. I’ve graduated to a short cast and can put a waterproof sleeve over it to swim. It’s awkward. But I can get in the pool and cruise around slowly. That makes me happy.

One day last week a co-worker stopped in my office doorway. She had kindly asked me about the wrist and about the horse. I looked up from paperwork and spreadsheets.

“You’ve got to get back on, Sharon; you’ve just got to.”

I know. I’m not quite ready to; but I know. For me, today, it’s about getting back on a horse. For you it may be climbing back into life after cancer. Or coping with the loss of a loved one from cancer. Or choosing how you want to deal with cancer.  Or some other life bruise that has thrown you and left you broken.

I don’t want to write about cancer anymore. But I do want to write about life.

You’ve got to get back on. john 10:10 life more abundantly

 

 

 

Letting Go: When Wish Dreams for “Normal” Go South

Encouragement

Sustain Me: Notes on Cancer, encouragement for cancer patients, stage four cancer, stage three cancer

Living with cancer introduces survivors to the “new normal” reality of losing many trusted life anchors. Too many of us are on the journey with cancer, or healing after treatment, or coping with the loss of a loved one from this disease. Today, another storyteller, my friend Tamara Hill Murphy, shares thoughts about life changes that play havoc with our dreams and the definition of an ideal life. Sometimes, letting go of our dreams for normal sets us free to embrace God’s surprising plans for blessing.

Letting Go of My Wish Dreams for a Normal Life

by Tamara Hill Murphy

A week after we moved our family from upstate New York to Austin, Texas I dreamed that I was floating untethered in space. It was a nightmare actually. One that occasionally repeats itself even now, two and a half years later — sometimes during the day.

This may sound a bit melodramatic to anyone who’s ever moved away from home — so most people in the history of the world. But for someone who’d lived forty years in the same town as parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, a 1,735 move across the country creates a sense of disconnect from the familiar.

Our family learned a new normal in August 2011 when we moved from upstate New York to Austin, Texas. If you’d asked us two months earlier where we planned to live for the rest of our lives we’d have told you “right here, thank you very much.” Looking back I can see the transition as more gradual, starting with life changes that played havoc with our definition of an ideal life.

For starters my husband was laid off from his job. The job was a place he and I had pinned most of our hopes for job fulfillment.   Not only job security and income, but we expected that particular job to be the place his gifts would be recognized by people we loved and trusted. Since he worked at a church, we pinned our hopes to that job to give him a vocational calling, income, and a community of friends for us and our four children. That’s a lot of weight to hang on a job — even a church job. Probably to someone who didn’t know us it sounds a bit foolish. I prefer to think of us as idealistic.

In his book, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, the Nazi-imprisoned German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes living according to idealized expectations for this sort of life as “wish dreams”. As a ministry leader I’d quoted his exhortation for years: “We must let our wish dreams be shattered by Jesus.”

There’s a firm line between recognizing our needs and desires as good gifts from our Creator and turning those good gifts into idols. Admitting I’d crossed the line between the two snapped me out of my wish dream state. I’d idolized my ideals for our future with friends and family in that city and in that church.

I also learned again that the gap — the untethered space — is the place that Jesus saves us. We have been saved in this surprise journey between New York and Austin. The road from there to here. The life that is our new normal.

When we visited Austin as a family for the first time we discovered, among many wonderful things, that our “new normal” for this season included a family-sized emotional meltdown on a rhythm of approximately every other day. During our first year here, we kept that rhythm pretty strictly.

You can probably imagine what two depleted parents, four emotionally-drained teenagers navigating a new city, new schools, new jobs and new relationships might look like. Every other day — almost like punching a time card — we’d hit a wall where our desire to feel like we were on a great adventure and our desire to curl up in a ball in our old bedrooms and watch Spongebob ran smack dab into each other. It wasn’t pretty.

Along the way God has clearly met our needs — sometimes in bits and pieces and other times like opened floodgates of gift. I wouldn’t even want to try to prove it, but I’ve learned it to be true over the course of our twenty-three years of marriage: Submission of my heart makes room for God to bless us in the most surprising ways.

In our new normal, our Father is writing the most amazing tales in and with our lives. He’s weaving us together with the dearest cast of characters. They are funny and smart and wounded and generous. I’ve learned that idolatry of my wish dreams for a good life created a scarcity mindset. The belief that I could only love living in one place with one group of people and no other. In his forgiveness and healing, Jesus redeems the scarcity of my either/or mindset to the abundance of also. He met us in our old home and old job, also he will meet us here in this new place.

My son — 17 at the time — wrote these words as a reflection on the day we arrived exhausted, scared and very, very sad to our new home in Austin, TX:

“When we were pulling into Austin, I had been envisioning the movies where the hero gets to his destination and it fulfills all of his wildest desires. But those happy endings are really just imitations–and more crudely made–of the happiest ending of all, when we arrive at our true Destination, where no good thing is lost and no distance can keep us from perfect communion with one another and with our Maker. That Place will truly fulfill all of our wildest desires, not the desires of our minds, but deeper, the things which our souls have been longing for since we were made. So I guess this is the end of our journey. For now. We are home, but not Home, and I am content with that. For now.”

I could not say it any better. No matter the circumstances, the Jesus who saves us in the gaps of what we’d hoped for and what is, holding us together until the day we join him in our forever home where all we’ve accepted as normal will be made new.

About Tamara Murphy:

Tamara Hill Murphy Living Palm Blog This Sacramental LifeTamara Murphy was born and raised in a cynical, smalltown Northeast still harboring a penchant for hope and big ideas. Tamara now lives in the bright city of Austin, Texas with her audacious and often-homesick family: two daughters, two sons, one husband.

Tamara believes in the power of the written word. She reads and writes words to make friends with the ancient, present and future. She writes to encourage both you and me to see God’s presence through daily practices of art, liturgy and relationship.

Please visit and follow Tamara’s blog over at This Sacramental Life.

 

Quotes by Dietrich Boenhoffer We must let our wish dreams be shattered by Jesus

I am Tamara Murphy: born and raised in a cynical, smalltown Northeast still harboring a penchant for hope and big ideas. Now I live in the bright city of Austin, Texas with my audacious and often-homesick family: two daughters, two sons, one husband.
I believe in the power of the written word. I read and write words to make friends with the ancient, present and future. I write to encourage both you and me to see God’s presence through daily practices of art, liturgy and relationship.

– See more at: http://livingpalm.blogspot.com/p/about.html#sthash.MpoMqw6P.dpuf

I am Tamara Murphy: born and raised in a cynical, smalltown Northeast still harboring a penchant for hope and big ideas. Now I live in the bright city of Austin, Texas with my audacious and often-homesick family: two daughters, two sons, one husband.
I believe in the power of the written word. I read and write words to make friends with the ancient, present and future. I write to encourage both you and me to see God’s presence through daily practices of art, liturgy and relationship.

– See more at: http://livingpalm.blogspot.com/p/about.html#sthash.MpoMqw6P.dpuf

I am Tamara Murphy: born and raised in a cynical, smalltown Northeast still harboring a penchant for hope and big ideas. Now I live in the bright city of Austin, Texas with my audacious and often-homesick family: two daughters, two sons, one husband.
I believe in the power of the written word. I read and write words to make friends with the ancient, present and future. I write to encourage both you and me to see God’s presence through daily practices of art, liturgy and relationship.

– See more at: http://livingpalm.blogspot.com/p/about.html#sthash.MpoMqw6P.dpuf

Holding It All Together

Encouragement

Sustain Me: Notes on Cancer, encouragement for cancer patients, stage four cancer, stage three cancer

I was driving to work today and had to look over my shoulder at the beautiful — I mean lovely — sky. Sunlight streamed through clouds like a calling card from God. Made me think the sky could part any moment. And right then as I flipped around channels between Christian, country, and a favorite Christian CD, the (ahem) perfect song caught my ear…

“I’ve got… two tickets to paradise… pack your bags we’ll leave tonight!” (God, are you having some fun this morning over the radio frequency with our human lyrics? Are you trying to tell me something about the Rapture?); “We’ve waited so long, waited so long, We’ve waited so long, waited so long” (like over 2,000 years); “I’m gonna take you on a trip so far from here” (yes, heaven would qualify); “I’ve got two tickets in my pocket, now baby, we’re gonna disappear” (I’m sure there are lots more than two tickets… but God if you say it’s time, let’s go!).

So, moving on from Mr. Money’s song…. I turned my thoughts from questionable lyrical theology and back to a doctor’s appointment the day before.

“Do some people have to live with stents in their kidneys long term, like, all their lives?”

I asked my quarterly question the other day at the specialist’s office. We were discussing the next stent change. It’s my personal version of a good Spring cleaning. Some people change the oil in their car to keep things running smoothly, I change the tube running from my bladder to my left kidney. Actually I will be unconscious (thank you, God) and the doctor will kindly change the stent.

He walked over to the diagram of the bladder and kidneys posted on the exam room door and pointed.

“This is the area where you have issues internally. Five months ago when we tried to take the stent out, there was still a lot of scar tissue pushing in on that innocent ureter, making it impossible for us to keep the stent out. It wasn’t ready to work properly.” I recalled this from our last visit.

“You also have a number of titanium clips in there from your surgeries. If a surgeon tries to remove both the scar tissue and the lymph node region that had cancer last time, which is the culprit around the stent, it would be very very difficult because of the location and many nerve endings.” I had declined this option after the end of the second round of radiation and chemo because it would mean a permanent colostomy. The strategy of nutrition after treatment seemed to be working just fine at that time. And at this time.

I had forgotten about those clips. And about how ugly it must be in there with all those scars. Holding a mess of old physical trauma and misery all together. I began to wonder how my body works around all that hurt being held together every day? What lets me be able to work; ride a horse; jump on a trampoline; swim; pull weeds; get out of bed?

What if there is just too much having to hold me together for the good to last?

Isn’t that what we’re good at trying to do on our own? Worrying about keeping it all together? We push titanium clips of quick fixes down into the trauma of life’s messes. We frantically try and stem the tide of misery before life drains away.

“Thankfully things look very good right now; you’ve had a rather miraculous recovery, so we’ll see if we can leave that stent out this time. Of course…. “, and he went on to list all the possible complications and things we would need to watch for.

But we could plan to try.

You and I can try. One day at a time. Hanging on to hope in the living God who does, truly, hold it all together. Holds us together. Even if everything else threatens to fall apart.

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” Colossians 1:16-18

 

colossians 1:17b in him all things hold together

While It Was Still Dark

Encouragement

Sustain Me: Notes on Cancer, encouragement for cancer patients, stage four cancer, stage three cancer

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb…”

I crept down stairs two nights ago and peered out the window, while it was still dark. I had caught a stomach bug, and on top of that indignity,  Chloe had to do her business at 2:30 AM. Her nails click-click-clicking woke me up from restless misery as she waddled to the bedroom door.

“Chloe! Get back in bed, now!”

I hissed the command quietly so I would not wake Tom. Sometimes the hotdog obeys and crawls back into her doggie bed. Like she just wants the blanket adjusted by her human. This night she ignored my words, stopped at the bedroom door and wouldn’t look back. She wanted out. Ugh.

It was the night of the Blood Moon. I had considered waking up sometime after 2 AM in hopes of seeing the lunar eclipse but knew our area would not have a good view of the sky. Chloe’s summons tipped the balance in favor of at least trying, and down the steps we went. Clouds were thick overhead and the only thing I saw was … nothing. My nausea enforced the gloom. Chloe did her business, proudly trotted to her bed and went sound asleep.

I tossed and turned and thought some more about the dark; of not knowing if your body will ever feel right again; of other nights when I truly wondered if I would be able to even turn over in bed again; and about another woman creeping through the gloom, long ago, searching for a miracle.

Mary left while it was still dark on the silent streets of Jerusalem. The pitch black before dawn. Reeling from the agonizing death of her Lord, Mary crept to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid. How could this be? Multitudes of people had believed in Him and trusted that He was the “Way, the Truth and the Life”. She had watched Jesus work miracles in the lives of ordinary people like you and me. And just when a new political dawn appeared certain after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem (hadn’t the fickle crowds cried, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”?), Mary had watched the Light of the World, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, die a thief’s death on the cross. He was the perfect sacrifice accepted by God and had willingly died to pay for her sin, and mine. And yours.

Darkness brutally snuffed out the Light of the World.

Or did it?

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” John 20:1

The Light of the World arose, and lives to find us in our darkness today. Love keeps piercing the gloom and bringing the hope of the risen Savior to all of us. Have you accepted this Gift that will give you forgiveness from the suffocating weight of sin? That is the only way to gain eternal life with Christ?

“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31

Like Mary’s hurt-bound belief and against-all-odds joy in finding Jesus alive, I’m holding hope for the day He returns. It’s still dark all around. But my heart tells me dawn is near.

He is risen.

This is What Jesus Told Mary at the Tomb …Click Here

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One of the books I love about our hope in Christ is called “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. If you’ve read my blog or heard me speak, you may know this book was a tremendous encouragement to me when I went through surgeries, chemo and radiation for stage III & IV colon cancer. At the time of this writing you can get “Heaven: Biblical Answers to Common Questions” free on Amazon.com for Kindle. It’s a brief booklet that will give you an introduction to what the book is about if you’re interested in learning more.

Heaven is, after all, for real.John 11:26 I am the resurrection and the life