Lessons from Nana…Keep your sense of humor

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My mom always said, “You can laugh or cry so you mind as well laugh.” Mom and my MIL share this perspective.

Nana calls herself Silly Salli for a reason. She CHOOSES to stay silly. Fun. Lighthearted. She CHOOSES to laugh instead of cry. In fact, since the angiosarcoma struck in June of 2018, I have yet to see her cry about it. She’s gotten teary over the prospect of leaving family and friends, but not over having this disease.

People process life in different ways. The other night, my family had a great convo about cathartic vices. Some of our tribe cry, some listen to music, some go for a run and others veg in front of the tv. Processing is different for everyone because we are uniquely made…and that’s okay as long as the measures are healthy and safe.

So for Nana, on a bleak winter day, when it took mustering a lot of strength for her doctor’s appt, she still CHOSE to have some fun with it as seen in the pic below. I call it her “Elfie,” lol.

She didn’t want to be there. She didn’t want to have to talk at nauseam again about the angio and show yet another doctor its devastation. But she did, and she did so without complaint.

She CHOSE to smile through her weariness. She’s not of the mindset to “fake it till you make it.” She really does believe humor is her superpower. I agree.

I truly admire her ability to frame the bad and sadness with a spirit of gladness. She looks at her cup half full and believes in her core that no matter what happens to her body, humor is a CHOICE which nothing can take from her.

As she scooted her walker toward the exit, doing a little two-step soft-shoe along the way, she caught the eyes of a few nurses watching her with quizzical glances. Nana smiled at them and said, “Hey! I’m Silly Salli! It’s who I am!” Then they all started laughing with Nana’s contagious cheer.

If Nana can hang onto her humor in the battle for her life, I am challenged to unearth my sense of humor that layers of stress and hurt, emotion and angst have slowly buried in my heart over far less critical matters.

In this new year, let’s CHOOSE to find joy and happiness, laughter and lightheartedness, which are the fibers of our heart that God wove together to hold life’s ups and downs.
Let optimism and positivity shine through the darkness just like Nana did on that grey, cold day.

Even when the issue isn’t happy, we can be joyful. As believers, we’re not faking it either. After all, it’s not in our humanness that we find this power. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). It’s our CHOICE to look for and welcome the sunshine.

I pray that today, where God is shining a smile into the dark things of life, you will have eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to process and a heart to accept that even in the midst of the hard, we can lean on humor to lend us a hand out of the pit.

Lessons from Nana…Hope & Perseverance

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It was a gray, cold day as we sat in silence in the doctor’s office.
Nana wasn’t feeling well. She had a headache and was dizzy; two chronic issues with which she’s suffered her entire life.

Searching for conversation, I noted as I stared out the window how cozy the cloudy skies looked. Trying to spark a positive thought, I remarked how they make me feel blissfully sleepy and how wonderful it would be to curl up on the couch with a fuzzy blanket.

She replied, “Bleck.”

Oops, I forgot for a minute that she can’t stand overcast, cold days. My bad. And my fail as that didn’t work to uplift her spirits.

The doctor entered and we discussed her current health topics. But the overlying topic is her cancer, and it was why we were there. There’s just no good news. This type of cancer has one end. She knows it and I highly admire her strength to face it head-on.

The cancer has progressed. She’s living on borrowed time. As we sat together and the doctor did his thing, the only words I found hiding in my heart which peeked out merely as a weak whisper, overcome with empathy and enough panic for the both of us are, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

There is nothing else to say. There is nothing else we can do. For someone who likes to git ‘er done, I can’t do anything to heal her.

It’s then, as the doctor filled out paperwork and I stared awkwardly down at my shoes, she said with melancholy, “Just get me to Christmas.”

There was palatable silence in the room. A moment when the doctor paused his busyness and I gazed at the bare trees enveloped by ominous clouds. No one spoke.

But I prayed in my heart, “Amen, Lord. Let it be so. Please get Nana to Christmas.”

Her words haunt me. They won’t let me go. They’ve gripped my heart for days and I haven’t understood why. Then, God reminded me it is because they sound familiar. They feel familiar.

He led me to think about Joseph and Mary on their trek to Bethlehem. There were a couple of different routes they could have taken. Most speculate the distance was 70-100 miles which is anywhere from a 7-10 days walk. They mostly likely chose their route based on the terrain for her pregnant sake as well as the regional and social climate towards Jews where they had to pass.

It’s common thought that Mary rode on the back of a donkey. Nine months pregnant, riding on the back of a donkey, can we even begin to imagine what that was like?

I’ve ridden a mule. They are slow, but you also feel every move they make. Every bump and dip in the ground. Every shift of their weight to each of their four legs with each step. The jostling of the rider when the beast shakes the bugs from its face. The rider thrusting forward when the beast stops to eat or to itch its foot. The abrupt halts for reason or no reason at all. And the rider continually shifts their weight to counterbalance. There is constant movement between person and beast to maintain their cohesive center like a gyroscope.

It’s not a smooth ride. And to take that ride nine months pregnant, with a bladder bouncing up and down, the back and its vertebrae continually stretching and compressing, tense neck and shoulders working hard to coordinate with the legs and back, and leg muscles flexed tight to hold their grip, with the baby kicking and moving, not to mention hormones and all that comes with them – as woman who’s carried three children, I give total creds to Mary.

However, she could have also walked and used the donkey to carry their things. Given a donkey’s stubborn nature, they don’t make the best transportation. They are temperamental and unpredictable. They walk when they want, stop when they want, and let you think you’re leading. Given that, it could’ve been safer for Mary to walk. But walk all that way in her condition? Bless.
Who knows if she walked or rode? The Bible doesn’t give us those details, but we can look at cultural life at the time…and even today where donkeys are used as the baggage carrier, not the vehicle.

Either way, walking or riding 70-100 miles in one trip, fully pregnant, how many times she must have prayed under her breath, or even out loud, “God, just get me there. Get me to Bethlehem.”

Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because of a government-required census. The birth of Christ that we celebrate had yet to happen. And this is what Nana is hoping for…to live long enough to celebrate Christmas, the birth of her Savior, one more time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…”

How hard the heart struggles to juggle the two; joyfully celebrating the birth of our Savior while feeling the tangible weight of eminent death of a loved one.
I’ve been here before, caught in a paradox of eternal life colliding with earthly death.

It was 1994 and Granddad had been suffering from lung cancer for the past three months. (It was actually the past five years, but the medical world kept reading his x-rays wrong and finally caught it…too late.) He was taken by ambulance to the ICU on December 23rd. My grandmother, husband, sister and her husband spent Christmas Eve in the ICU family waiting room taking turns to see him while obeying the hospital’s one-visitor-at-a-time rule.
We slept on the pleathor sofas and only went home to let out our dog, Molly, and feed her and our cats.

I brought Christmas paper plates and napkins, the banana bread baked for Christmas morning, and a cassette player with a cassette tape of Christmas music with me so we could somehow salvage a teeny bit of the feeling of Christmas at the hospital.

On Christmas Eve, I prayed one prayer as Granddad’s death was near. I prayed, “God, please don’t let him die on Christmas day. I don’t want his death to overshadow Christ’s birth for the rest of our lives. Please, not on Christmas.”

God answered that prayer. It was the morning after Christmas, December 26th, when the nurses rushed all of us into his room. It was time.

Suddenly, God commanded something utterly audacious of me. He told me to ask Granddad if he wanted to recommit his life to Christ, a deathbed confession of sorts. My Granddad was a good man. Giving, caring, kind. He attended church every Sunday. He tithed. He read The Upper Room devotional every single day. He blessed our meals and was an honest man.
However, I never heard him profess Christ as his Savior. Tho this wouldn’t be rare as he was a man of few words.

I deeply wrestled God with this request.
I said, “Who am I to question his faith?”
God said, “Do it.”
I pleaded, “I am the baby of the family. It’s not my place.”
God said, “Do it.”
I begged, “Please don’t ask me to do this. I’m not comfortable with this.”
He said, “You have to do it, and do it now.”
“Okay.”

So, I did.

Physically shaking and feeling like I was going to throw up, I gathered all the courage I could find in my 24 year-old self and stuttered as I searched for the words that would be both dignified and respectful to Granddad, the patriarch of our family, as he laid there unable to move or speak.

I leaned in close to him and looked into his crystal blue eyes, and with a quivering lip I asked, “Granddad, would you like to recommit your life to Christ?”
I choked back the lump in my throat and gripped my neck which was stinging with pain and stress. I said to him, “I know you can’t talk, so if you want to, just nod your head.” Then I waited with bated breath for his response. Afterall, this was God’s idea, not mine.

Shockingly, he stared back at me and nodded yes. I was stunned and speechless!

“Okay. I will pray the prayer for you out loud, and you nod your head in agreement at the end, okay?”

He nodded yes.

I gently rested my hand on his arm and prayed. I wasn’t eloquent or wordy. A simple prayer owning sin and asking for God’s grace and forgiveness through Christ’s bloodshed and death on the cross and resurrection – all confessing he is our Lord. Amen.

Granddad nodded in agreement and within moments…he died.

I felt sick to my stomach and relieved at the same time. My insecurities almost made me refuse to do what God was asking. But thankfully God chases after us and won’t let us go like the Good Father he is when he draws his children close.

The emotions of that Christmas bring back mixed memories. But they also remind me that God answered my prayer of waiting until the day after Christmas to call Granddad home.

I’m thinking about Mary and how she must have prayed to make it to Bethlehem so her baby could be born in a proper place – though little did she know there’d be nothing proper about a stable for animals as Christ’s first nursery.

Yet, who defines proper? We can’t understand how our King could be allowed to be born among the animals and their waste. However, if that is the starting point to his life on this earth, then with whom can’t Jesus relate? Who is beyond his understanding? For whom would he not have compassion?

And as only God can orchestrate, Mary, Granddad and my mother-in-law are woven together in the salvation trifecta of life, death, and death after life.

Only God can create a way for life and death to coexist and give Hope a voice amidst the longest journeys, scariest moments and darkest hours.

Hope fuels Perseverance. It gave strength to Mary mile-after-mile. It gave Granddad the will to wait for one last prayer. It gives my mother-in-law the courage to suffer until Christmas so she can participate in the joy of the One who makes everyday worth living. The One for whom we would give our lives. The One who will raise us to eternal life at our last earthly breath.

Christ is our eternal hope. He is the reason for perseverance. He was these for Mary, he is for us, and he is for my mother-in-law.

Where the doctors give us no good news for Nana’s prognosis, we hang on to the Good News that cannot be governed by the laws of nature.

Read Luke 2:8-11 with me. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD NEWS that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (emphasis mine).

Mary cradled the Good News in her arms. Grandad clung to the Good News in his last breaths. Nana fights to celebrate the Good News one more time on earth before seeing Jesus in eternity.

What are you hoping for this Christmas? Why are you persevering through the days leading up to it?

Perhaps you are hoping to make it TO Christmas. But perhaps you’re hoping to make it THROUGH Christmas. Perhaps you are at peace with either, if you can only persevere in the meantime.

Is your prayer for life like Mary’s, or regarding death like mine? Is it somewhere in the vast myriad between the two?

In this season of hope, I encourage you to persevere. No matter the journey you’re asked to travel, circumstances beyond your control, or news you must accept, may the hope of Christ sustain your heart. May perseverance breathe life into your soul.
May both refocus our attention on why we are celebrating the News that is GOOD All. The. Time. 

 

Lessons from Nana…Christmas expectations

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Bruce and I helped Nana put up her tree yesterday. As she looked through her bag of ornaments, and we scurried around setting up decorations at exhausting warp speed, she stopped and said, “You know, it’s okay not to put everything out. Let’s just do the sentimental ones.”

Nana wasn’t feeling great. The pain from her cancer was strong. She loves Christmas, and crazy as it sounds to me, they’ve been known to leave their Christmas tree up in NY until March!!!!!!!

This day she was tired. And she ponders her grim prognosis more.
But what I love is she has the wisdom to know when to say when. Tucking some decorations and ornaments back in their boxes doesn’t mean she has any less Christmas spirit. This season she knows her limits and is okay to listen to them.

She said, “When I sleep I just want to feel the quiet.” To her, that means less is more this year.

Like Nana, let’s embrace the permission to say when. Whether it’s decorating, cooking, shopping, or social commitments – of which this beautiful season brings many – let’s keep our lists simple so that when we rest we can feel the quiet of the sacred Silent Night.

And instead of diminishing Christmas with less bells & whistles, it can actually make the season mean even more. More time to reflect. More energy to spend with loved ones. More sentimental moments. More of our focus on the One for whom this giant birthday party is all about.
Nana is more than good with less. Let’s follow her example and simply enjoy the true meaning of Christmas. 

Lessons from Nana…The Plan

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So thankful for Nana’s dermatologist! She caught a squamous cell carcinoma this week. That makes two cancers now for her.
BUT, I love that even though Nana has been through the ringer with her health the past two years, she keeps fighting. Her battle plan is:
* Trusting the Lord will take care of her
* Prayer, prayer and more prayer
* A positive attitude
* Choosing to take action when she can
* Enjoying the moment
* Staying flexible
* Choosing to stay strong
* Knowing her limits
* Rest & sleep
* Finding humor in the situation
* Working the plan
* Choosing to be happy everyday
* And of course, chocolate 
I like her strategy! Combine this with our weapons of faith (Ephesians 6:10-18) and she’s unstoppable!
I can learn a lot from her. 

Lessons from Nana…Stay positive

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While at the dermatologist today, she said “Block negativity. Don’t let it in!”
Yes ma’am! Let’s run with this on a cold, rainy day. Lean in to the cozy places and spaces. Embrace the clouds that are dust of God’s feet. Rest in His presence. Feel the rain nurture. Put on your favorite music and blast it!! Enjoy this day God has made and the fact you are here to live it.👊🏻💪🏻💝

Lessons from Nana…The decision

Image may contain: 2 people, including Kristi Buttles, people smiling, eyeglasses and closeupAs anyone knows who has traveled a health journey, things can change on a dime.
Nana will not be having surgery nor radiation. She knows she is dying and she is finding peace with it.
Today in the radiation oncologist’s office, the NICEST doctor spoke softly and slowly to her. His amazing nurse stood behind him, quiet and caring. Truly healthcare professionals are real live superheroes.

He listened to Nana talk about having a terminal illness. All three of us hung on her every word.
She said, “The key is to not feel sorry for yourself. That’s it. It’s that simple. I trust God to take care of me. And with the days I have left I’m going to enjoy them.”
The doctor replied, sitting motionless on his stool, captivated by her words, attitude and outlook, “I wish you could talk to other patients. They could really hear this.”
To which she said smiling, “I’d be happy to.”

I swallowed down hard the lump welling in my throat. This wasn’t the time or place for that. Then I counted my blessings that I was there today. Sitting in a small exam room under grey skies and a chill in the wind outside. Sitting among other families who have no joy, no peace. They snap at each other in the waiting room…as we all wait for our names to be called.
An appointment that made me weak in my knees, as it is the last time to finalize a plan with all doctors on board. An appointment I wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend, or had the strength to attend.

But to hear her talk so openly about living and dying, I tried to let every word, every smile of hers seer itself into my memory. This is, in fact, her legacy.
Every time she said with a smirky grin, “I’m a tough old broad, I can take it,” flashed a timeline of 30+ years with her, and I sat in amazement that yes, yes she is a tough old broad.

She’s the last of the matriarchs and patriarchs of the family. She’s buried her husband, parents, brother and SIL – who was her best friend, and her niece. She’s moved and moved again trying to keep up with the undertow of life pulling her into its current.
There’s so much. Just so much water under that bridge that could’ve made her drown.
But she kept swimming and smiling.

Just yesterday, as we left Waffle House, she literally danced her way out the door with her walker as the music played overhead. I laughed and she said laughing back, “Hey! I’m never gonna get old!”

She is so right. Nana, you are so right. You will never get old. God has planned a day when you will push that walker to the side and two-step right into heaven.

And when you’ve finished your Father/Daughter dance with Abba, our Father who is in heaven, there’s going to be a very familiar man, who has waited 15 years to dance with you, asking you to dance again.
You two danced together for more than 40 years. I have no doubt he’ll que up the choir of angels and you guys will dance again.

Thank you, Nana, for showing me how to be strong in spirit when the body is weak. How to laugh instead of cry. How to rise above instead of being pulled under.
You are dancing your race beautifully. We’ll dance with you until it’s time for you to change partners.
In your words, keep being Silly Salli. We’d expect nothing less and want nothing more. 

Seeing God’s blessing with fresh eyes: Guyana Part 2

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Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow…(Psalm 146: 5-9)

We’ve had the honor and privilege of serving folks in multiple countries in many capacities with several non-profits over the years. However, our recent mission to Guyana’s jungle and remote areas brought a new task for Bruce and me.

It was a joy to fit men and women with reading glasses! Such a small token can change a life. I know because I’ve worn glasses for most of my adulthood. Not only do glasses help make words easier to see, but no more eye strain means no more chronic headaches. Hallelujah! No squinting. More reading!

I love how Psalm 146 describes the mercy and compassion of God our Father. Yes, he is focused our salvation and eternal destination, but he also cares about the here and now. The Bible is full of ways he offers tangible help to meet people’s needs.

We’ve all been the recipient of his gracious heart. The farmer gives thanks for rain. The sailor gives thanks for wind. We give thanks for medicine, help with a broken car on the side of the road, and neighbors who offer to help chainsaw huge branches that fall in the storm (Thanks, Jesse!!). All of us receive blessings every single day from our Creator as said beautifully by the anonymous author of Lamentations.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24)

It’s always exciting to wake up on mission and see what the day will bring. Fitting folks with reading glasses was a tangible way to help better the lives of others. We enjoyed great conversation with them, helping improve their reading vision, and serving them in this personal way in the name of our Lord.

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There’s also a physical exchange that was quite meaningful. The exchange of glasses hand-to-hand; helping gently fit them on their faces; the eye-to-eye contact when asking how they well they worked for them; and cleaning the lenses & straightening the arms of the glasses for them once their perfect pair were found was personal and sweet. It felt intentional. Care-filled. Love-driven. One person at a time. One pair of glasses at a time. It was beautiful.

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The process is remarkably easy. Start with a 1.0 lens and ask them if it makes it easier to read. If it’s too strong, then they don’t need glasses. If it’s not strong enough, keep going up until we find their perfect number. Then they can pick out the frames they like and that’s all there is to it! They leave with a new pair of reading glasses free of charge.

ICA buys the glasses from dollar stores so they’re an affordable, helpful way to bless someone in need. I have no idea how many pairs of reading glasses we gave out on this mission, but a few folks’ smiles stay with me.

One woman only had sight in one eye and that eye was strained. Keeping her only seeing eye is imperative to her quality of life and independence. She owned a pair of glasses, but they were the old, were the wrong strength and were pretty much useless. She was THRILLED to have a new, correct pair. Her smile said it all!

One man, in his late 40’s, never spoke a word. Bruce and I helped him together as we tried pair after pair. We knew we found the perfect ones for him when he did one thing – he gave two thumbs up, way up! His enthusiasm was contagious.

Another man showed up hours early because he was going to be at work when we opened the reading glasses clinic. We were more than happy to fit him with new specs, just in time for his shift. Yay!

Missions is God’s time, not ours. It’s not volunteer tourism – though that in itself is a great thing. Our daughter volunteered in Costa Rica to rehabilitate injured animals for eight weeks. Amazing work!!! We are huge fans!!

Mission work for God is surrendering oneself to the cause of Christ however needed; easy or hard, in our comfort zone or way outside of it, it’s all good. Even a simple conversation can be life-changing, both for us and those we serve. That’s a different blog post. 😉

There is nothing more rewarding than to be a vessel to help heal hearts while meeting tangible needs. This assignment was to give away as many reading glasses as possible. I loved every minute of it and hope to do it again and again.

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One of my favorite quotes is from Schoolhouse Rocks, “Knowledge is power!” The more people can easily read, the more information they will have that can change their lives and others’ in countless ways. This was one of those tasks that you walk away from knowing it will have a lasting effect and that feels GREAT!!!

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Below are photos of some of the recipients. I never grew tired of seeing people walk in with curiosity and leave with new reading glasses and big smiles. We can’t wait to do it again! See below how you can get involved.

Wow! These folks are rockin’ their new specs!!! 🙂

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If you’re inspired to help, there are two easy ways. You can donate to ICA as they continue to ship reading glasses, clothes, shoes, Christian books and cds, and a non-denominational bible study to Guyana on a regular basis. The Guyanese team with this ministry directly receives it, no middle man. They also organize food distribution to those in need all over the country of Guyana. Everything given away is a gift of the ministry with no cost to the recipients.

Another way to help is to choose International Celebration Association as a charity that receives a portion of your Amazon orders. There is no cost to you as Amazon donates a portion of your order. Simply to go AmazonSmile to find out more.

(Disclosure: Bruce and I are volunteers with this ministry and do not receive any compensation of any kind for our time or service. We serve in a volunteer role and do not work in any official capacity for this non-profit.)

 

 

 

 

Tyrique: Guyana Part 1

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We were serving a village deep in the jungle. It was our fourth mission to Guyana and Bruce and I were thrilled to back. However, this was our first time in the jungle. We came by ourselves from America, representing this ministry, and partnered with three of the ministry’s Guyanese team for this mission.

We were guests in a small, wooden, hand-built church where we worked and slept. It was nestled between the dirt road before us, the river they call “black water” behind us, and the warm spring sun above us.

It had been a couple of hours since we climbed out from under the mosquito net and began another day in the “interior” (locally known as the jungle).

Our team lead, Jai, was cooking lunch while we fitted folks for reading glasses as part of our ministry when a man with a long, desperate face walked into the church through the back doors propped open for ventilation. His eyes were swollen and glassy. His clothes disheveled. His countenance down and body utterly depleted.

We will call him Tyrique for privacy. He came for prayer.

The service we planned to hold did not start for several hours, but his body raged with malaria and spiked a high fever, nausea and joints screaming in pain.

Bruce, Wayne and I gathered around his body slumped on the wooden bench, one arm slung over the back holding him up. I stood next to him, and for a moment we caught eyes. His eyes were bloodshot and tired. As he wearily looked up at me, they pierced my soul and told me he wasn’t only struggling with malaria.

Bruce gently placed his hand on Tyrique’s back. Wayne clasped his hands together in reverence, and I rested my hand on Bruce’s back, agreeing in prayer.

The prayer was simple and to the point. We asked God to heal his body and for relief from the symptoms of the illness.

Tyrique softly muttered, thank you, and slowed peeled himself off the bench. A young guy, he walked hunched over in pain and weakness like an old man. Slowly, he shuffled through the doors and down the steps of the little church built on stilts.

He disappeared into the bright sunlight, and I left him in the Lord’s hands and went back to the people waiting for reading glasses.

Hours later, our evening service began. Music played and I could feel the thin boards beneath me rumble with vibrations of enthusiastic kids and adults singing to the worship.

I was alone at the back of the church photographing the service because one of my primary assignments of going on this mission was to photograph and videography the jungle part of this ministry.

Behind me in the dark night air, I heard a horrific screeching howl and chills ran down my spine. I thought it was a child. I quickly turned around to see one of the feral dogs who had been sitting on the steps of the church being attacked by a much larger feral dog. It was awful. Bruce ran past me and chased them off. My heart raced as they reminded me, I was in their element; a guest of the jungle.

Focusing back on the task at hand, photography, I caught a glimpse of someone on the back row through my lens. I lowered the camera and took a closer look.

It was Tyrique!

He wore the same dirty white undershirt and black jeans. His dreads were wrapped in black cloth. Something about him was different, but I couldn’t figure it out. He was standing for one thing. He clapped his hands to the beat of the worship music as his body swayed back and forth.

I thought to myself, “Wow! He looks totally different from this afternoon.”

His body had strength again. He participated in the worship. His face was no longer drawn and depressed.

And just like that, my job as photographer turned to speaker as Jai opened in prayer and I stepped up to the mic to give my testimony. I’ve had the privilege of sharing my story all over the world. Each time, God gives me the pieces of it to share for that particular audience. This night was no different.

Before speaking, I always pray that God will put his words in my mouth for that moment. Indeed, He did. God pulled out parts of my story that were right for these folks. As I spoke, I gazed into the faces looking back at me. No one even blinked. They sat silent, captured in the moment. I knew God was doing something.

I caught eyes with Tyrique more than once. His body leaned to the left, so he had an unobstructed view from the person sitting in front of him. He stared at me the entire time I spoke. This time his eyes gave a different message. They looked like my dry plants at home in that, when I remember to water them, their dehydrated soil soaks up the water faster than I can pour it.

His eyes absorbed every word. I knew for a fact God was doing something in Tyrique’s heart.

The service continued and then we concluded and said warm goodnights to everyone and the little church on stilts was once again quiet.

Bruce and I pulled out our air mattress and mosquito net while the Guyanese team hung their hammocks for another day’s job done.

The next morning, while packing up to leave for another village, Tyrique came back. He told the team that the day before, when he came for prayer, he was completely healed! He said that on his way home after praying with us his fever broke and malaria symptoms simply vanished.

He. Was. Healed.

God’s healing he experienced was why he came back for the service that evening. And what happened at the service was why he came back the next day.

Turns out, Tyrique is a drug dealer, and at the end of the service he prayed to accept Christ.

He came back the next day for counseling and sat with Jai, Bruce and Wayne for a while.

He has amazing potential for change and we are thrilled to know a local pastor will follow up with him for discipleship.

God surely had his hand on Tyrique’s heart. He was calling Tyrique and he answered the call.

Just think, if Tyrique had never caught malaria, he would have never wandered into this church for prayer which led to him accepting Christ as his Savior. It’s all about perspective.

This was the first time this ministry has witnessed a healing in its 12 years.

His miracle was water to my thirsty soul. In the excitement of it all, I’m glad I didn’t know what was coming next…

Stay tuned for more posts about our Guyana mission.

If you’d like to know more about the ministry, check out InternationalCelebration.org.

 

 

Seasons

Have you ever had a season of life that tries, hard as it may, to shake the core of your very foundation?

Pulled in every direction – not with busyness we create for ourselves and allow into our families’ schedules, rather life that takes its hardest swings at our most vulnerable places.

Sometimes we see the hits coming and we duck. Other times we are broad-sided and its strength and surprise steal our breath and all we can do is grab our gut, double over, eyes tightly shut, and wait for the pain to pass.

A season filled with thoughts that turn into toxic worry and torment the dark hours made for rest. With days ending at daybreak, going through the motions moment-by-moment like wading through quicksand.

Life passes in slow motion and stalls overhead, like a thunderstorm, letting its cold rain pelt and bruise all it pierces.

A season when you lie down knowing your best wasn’t good enough, feeling every ounce of your failures despite your entire being thrust into your efforts.

A season where you stand at the crossroads and wonder why it had to be this direction instead of that one. Time pushing its hand in your back, shoving you forward down the path no matter how much you struggle to go back. You can’t.

A season when spontaneous tears burst forth in the little things like at red lights, feeding the dog and taking a shower.

A season when you can scream all you want, but no one’s listening to hear it.

A season when your blood pressure pounds in your ears like a drum and your heart skips beats – you wonder if it’s checking to see if it’s still alive.

A season when you don’t have the right answers – or any answer. Life gets in your face, slams it fist and demands answers you don’t know how to give.

So many voices asking questions, needing something, demanding attention you spin and spin trying to figure out which one to listen to first until you’re so dizzy you fall down into a heap on the ground and lose the feelings in your legs to stand again.

So you sit and do nothing.

A season when all you want to do is help, but you know the problems are too big and you have no power to solve them. They threaten. Mock. Taunt. Bully. No amount of sleep or mindless media drowns them out.

A season when in a symphony of stress and depression and anxiety play their instruments insanely, deafeningly loud, and time laughs, and hearts break, and you run out of positive thoughts to lean on.

A season when you begin to wonder if it’s only a season. Maybe this is my new normal, you ask yourself.

Maybe this is all it’s ever going to be.

Shards of broken dreams cut deep.

Wandering through the dessert of dried up hope and expectations, blinded by the heat of lost opportunity.

No direction. Just endless wandering dragging one foot in front of the other and you don’t even know why.

A season when you don’t answer the phone, or you walk down a different aisle, or sit hiding in your car when you see a friend because you can’t fake one more smile or trivial conversation.

Because the thing is, you’re still waking up. Your love for your beloveds overrides all of this. Faith that whispers you’re not forgotten keeps your heart beating.

Knowing somewhere deep inside there must be purpose for your life with every inhale and exhale of your lungs who refuse to stop breathing.

There’s this push and pull of self-hate and caring for your body in spite of wanting to reject it. To show up when you know there’s no one else who can take your place. To offer encouragement to others as though it were your last piece of bread – you give it away hoping it will help them more than it helped you. To rise above your own thoughts and emotions and share your crumbs of inspiration as a tiny, flickering ember that could either ignite into a roaring fire or extinguish itself in an instant of hopelessness.

Love. It’s a funny thing. It believes the best in us even when we look in the mirror and see the worst. It has tenacity to heal the sick, raise the dead and mend a broken heart.

True love thinks of itself last and that is why we keep waking up. It’s not for ourselves, but for others. It’s why we stay up at night worrying about our beloveds, turning each anxiety-ridden thought into a prayer and casting it upward, heavenward like releasing a balloon into the big blue sky.

It’s why we fight for those we call ours. Because in a world where there is every temptation to pull back, love presses on.

It’s strength never fails. It’s authenticity never waivers.

It’s why time seems to stand still because true love is eternal.

When the big rocks of life are hurled at us and fill up our cracked jars we call our flesh, we choose love. We choose to receive it and share it. A gentle motion that dances in step with life no matter how hard or easy.

In the moments when we quote Isaiah 46:10, Ecclesiastes 3:11, Philippians 1:6, Isaiah 61:3, Psalm 27:13-14, 1 Corinthians 2:3, Joshua 1:9 and Jude 24-25 we remember this is a season.

A season that has already been traversed by the Creator of the universe who bends time in his favor. He’s lived each moment and knows how to prepare us and be with us having suffered every emotion we could possibly feel.

He’s walked the road of loneliness, abandonment and grief. He sees the broken, the innocent blood and in his anger does not sin.

Nor does he sit idly by.

He’s summoning the stars, the sun and moon; lightning bolts and hail. He’s preparing them for battle on our behalf. He inventories his storehouses of snow and speaks to the wild beasts who obey his commands.

He readies his angels for war. War over us. War because of us. A war he has already won, yet still he thrusts his force from the heavenlies into our atmosphere to intercept the curses, the hits, and the targets on our backs of which we aren’t even aware.

The angels, they march in force and ride their chariots of fire and wage a battle no eye can see or mind comprehend – all for our souls.

In hand-to-hand combat they war for us, over us, in front of us, behind us, beneath us and beside us.

We catch a glimpse of their presence and cold chills run down our arms as angry ants.

Like raging seas is God’s passion and compassion for us. He steps down onto the waves as if they were stones.

They hold his weight out of holy fear.

He lifts the hem of his robe, and with water splashing against his ankles his steps turn to a racing stride as if our life depends on it – and it does.

Fear and fury swirl in the tornado, storms screaming, our giants mocking, and all of hell has come to watch.

They climb over each other for a better view of our destruction. They bet on how long it takes until we fall.

All the while God is running, racing, with the wind and rain and thunder exploding around him.

The water holds his weight out of holy fear.

Black clouds part the way for him in humble obedience. Lightening bolts illuminate the path straight from his heart to ours.

The war rages. Hell watches and all of heaven races behind the Alpha and Omega on horses, on foot and in chariots only our spirits can see. All of heaven is coming.

All of heaven is coming for us.

We stand on the battlefield wishing we were more. Wishing we could do more. Wishing for rescue.

In the moment when hell has us by the throat, hair pulled and heel on our neck, while God races on the waves there is one word bubbling quietly in our hearts.

It multiplies in strength and size every time we think it in our heads. It rises up in our throat and with a gulp of air we speak the word. One name. JESUS.

And as though the eye of the storm shines the sun and stills the wind, we feel the embrace of the goodness of God.

We realize God wasn’t running to us because he is always with us. We see he is running ahead of us, into the heart of the battle for our hearts.

We stand on the water that holds us out of holy fear because we are his and he calls us by name.

Hail and lightning and thunder and angels and their horses and chariots rush past us and the wind of their forces nearly blows us away.

We stand with eyes shut and palms open as God’s army stampedes onward like wildebeests on the African plain. King of Glory leading the way.

When the last of the angels and shooting stars have flown past we whip our bodies around to see something we cannot explain.

The fight, the war over our souls!

God’s heavenlies doing his bidding. He speaks and the world shakes and splits. He commands and hell quivers. Hell’s minions clamor over each other to escape God’s wrath because they dared to harass one of his beloveds.

He drives them like wild pigs off the cliff back to the pit from where they came.

We stand and stare at this phenomenon. How can our carnal selves comprehend what we see?

We forget to breath, being raptured in the moment of watching the Yahweh fight for us, that we would be worthy?

We are loved. And love never fails.

We lie our weary heads on our pillows to rest before it all resets and starts again at the sound of the alarm.

We wonder if we can make it through another day. A day filled with a list too long, problems too big, people so broken, we who are ourselves are so broken – framed with feelings of inadequacies, weakness and sin.

As we close our eyes, the thunder of the mighty battle echoes in our heads reverberating the promises of God to never leave us. To never give up on us. And to always fight for us.

With that, we drift to sleep, placing our very souls in the hands of God and knowing that because Jesus lives so we also live.

We hear the whispers of Philippians 4:13 and Hebrews 12:1 and their peace seeps into the deepest parts of our thirsty souls like streams in the desert.

And we know that whatever happens tomorrow on this earth, there is a battle in heaven declared on our behalf. And we will win because Christ has already won.

Love had the first word and will have the last word. And when that last word is spoken, this season will end. And that will be just the beginning for us, his beloveds.

 

The Mammogram

Today was my yearly mammogram. However, the doctor was concerned about something and ordered a 3D diagnostic test plus an ultrasound.

I’ve had a mammogram every year since I was 26. Believe me when I say I’ve gone through every emotion possible over the years. But this time, I was full of angst. I had not seen a doctor’s concerned expression like that since my first test. And because she was concerned, so was I. I haven’t slept well for days and have had terrible dreams.

On the way there, a familiar song came on the radio. “I lift my hands to believe again. You are my refuge, You are my strength. As I pour out my heart, these things I remember, You are faithful, God, forever.” I often lift my hand in the van (safely) in worship. Today was no different and I gave Him this appointment all over again.

However, worry unlocks the gate in my mind and lets my imagination run wild! I thought about the worst-case scenario. So, what WOULD I change if I was told I hadn’t much time? Evidently a lot according to my rambling thoughts. Hmmm….

While waiting in the office, I caught a friend’s smile from across the room. She is a special friend to me; someone with whom conversation is always thoughtful and deep. She is a tender soul and is a compassionate and kind woman. She is Chinese and noticed my necklace that I often wear. She said, “Your necklace. It is the Chinese symbol for faith.” “Yes,” I told her. “I bought it in China and wear it almost every day.”

It began a conversation where we talked all about faith, her family in China and her home country’s lack of faith in God. She talked about faith and trust and how we are called to live it every day. I smiled and listened. She had no idea that I had this same exact conversation with God mere moments before walking through the heavy, wooden doors.

While she talked, I noticed a woman walk in with her husband. He was gentle with her and protective of her. He waited in line with her. He wrapped his arm around her tight while she filled out her forms on the couch. They sat close, folded into each other…and waited. When her name was called, she slowly stood up. He still held her hand. He held her hand until the steps she took toward the technician pulled their tender hands apart. His back was to me, but after the door closed behind her, I saw him wipe his eyes and nose.

I thought about their journey. Was she in the beginning, middle or post cancer? Was it cancer or just a horrific scare? Was this her first mammogram? Her tenth? Had she lost a loved one to cancer? What made this appointment so hard for them? I don’t know them, but I deeply cared about them because, without a spoken word, they told a beautiful love story.

Still listening to my friend, we talked about faith. I wondered if this man, who sat directly behind her, could hear – and if so, what did he think about our conversation?

My name was called. I hugged my sweet friend and we parted. I know exactly how this goes. No deodorant, no perfumes or powders. Use baby wipes just to make sure. Undress from the waist up and put on the disposable blue half robe with white snaps, open in the front. Then wait for the tech to come get me. Yep, got it. This was my twenty-first time.

It took a little while for the tech to come back, and Fixer Upper played on a small tv monitor in the tiny room with well-worn magazines and sugar cookies under a glass dome for patients. I thought, “I can worry or I can relax and watch tv. Either choice doesn’t affect the outcome of the test.” So I watched tv, ignoring the pit in my stomach and lump in my throat as I kept seeing the doctor’s concerned expression play in a loop in my mind.

Every year I forget to take Motrin first. Shoot. Mammograms hurt. They really do! Not gonna lie. But, it’s short. As the tech worked through the process, I gritted my teeth and held my breath, squeezing my eyes tight, she said, “Now place your hand here.” I had to raise my arm to the spot she wanted.

Just then, I sang to myself, “I lift my hands to believe again. You are my refuge, you are my strength. As I pour out my heart, these things I remember, You are faithful, God, forever.” It was not a coincidence that song played on the radio as I pulled into the office.

See here’s the thing. I believe God and I trust God. Period. Walking into the office I quoted Psalm 139 in my mind over and over. “Every one of my days were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Walking out I quoted the same verse.

I praise God that my results are normal. I felt my knees grow weak from relief on the way to my van and I shed happy tears in the parking garage. I was so ecstatic that after putting back on my bra I turned to leave the dressing room, topless! :O

But, I also carry love for my precious friends who are my age and are also mothers – one is suffering from spinal cancer and the other from lung cancer. So I don’t even want to quote the over-used phrase, “God is good” for me, lest someone think He is bad for my friends.

None of us know the number of our days. I can get a pass on this breast test, but then be killed in a car accident on the way home five minutes later.

The reality is that what we’ve all been given is today. Not tomorrow. Today. How are we going to spend the 86,400 seconds that make up this day?

Wiping the tears away, I recounted the list I had made about what I would change if the tests had rendered a different result. What do I do with that list now?

And on the matter of faith, I need not look farther than Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They had a moment with King Nebuchadnezzar that I have used to define my life in words for the last three decades –

Daniel 3:16-18, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

God can do anything. A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

Why He does some things sometimes and not others other times I have no idea.  But I know He is sovereign. He sees. He knows. He cares. He fights for His children.

I think we get tangled up in our thinking that this life is our happily ever after. It’s not. This is a life where we were born into sin and live in a broken world controlled by the enemy of God. Does it have awesome highs? Yes! I can name many. But with the mountaintop comes the valley in this life.

For children of God, our perfect life still awaits. Our reward awaits. Hebrews 11:39-40 says it best, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

Unless Jesus comes back first, we are all going to die. My pastor said it well once, “We’re not afraid to die. We’re afraid to suffer.”

As a believer, I only have today to make it count for Christ. Do I want to stay on this earth longer for my husband, children, family and friends? Yes! Do I want to complete the work He has called me to (Phil. 1:6)? Yes! Do I have hopes, dreams and goals? Yes! Does it utterly break my heart to hear of people who don’t get that chance? Absolutely!!

I read a story of a married mom with young children. She was dying of cancer. The family photo in the article had all of them piled on Mom & Dad’s bed like a sleepy Saturday morning. They were smiling while playfully knotted in the sheets. She said she wasn’t afraid to die, but she “loved her life and wasn’t ready to leave the party yet.”

My heart BROKE for their sweet family.

Those us of who haven’t been told a time or date still have a time and a date, though we walk around in a hazy stupor as if that were the farthest thing from reality.

Maybe it’s my age that I am acutely aware of how short life is. Nah, it’s not my age. I learned that lesson when my mom died when I was only 16 from breast cancer that spread to her lungs in less than a year. Since June 13th, 1987 I have never lived a day in a euphoric state of ignorant bliss that life should be our Disney princess dream.

No, that life is coming. And because it is, even today I had a brief moment of sadness that I am going to have to wait a little longer to see God face-to-face. The overriding joy is that I get to see my family’s faces tonight, and Lord willing, tomorrow.

Lying on the table during the ultrasound, I stared at the ceiling, trying not to peak at the monitor because I have no idea what I’m looking at. But, every single time she paused the ultrasound gun and snapped a picture I thought, “Is this something? Did she find something?” And I peeked at the screen. With each time, I wrestled with what to do with my emotions. “Is this where I fall apart? Is there where I run to the roar? Is this where I stand strong or emotionally crumble and weep?” I only had one answer.

I said to God, “I did my part. Now you do yours.” Meaning, I came in for the mammogram. What you do with it is up to you.

It is a familiar, though not very eloquent, prayer because I’ve been praying this prayer since I was 14. Not about mammograms, but about our roles in our relationship, His and mine.

I am not a “saved by works” girl (I’d NEVER, ever be able to do enough to save my own soul!!), but we do own the first step. We have the choice to believe. When I made that choice when I was 14, I gave Him my life and I’ve never taken it back.

He’s had every second, minute, hour, day, month and year of mine in His hands. When I chose to follow Christ, I have never looked back. So I see life’s timeline in a continuum of sorts. This life is just a blip on the radar; a piece of a much larger puzzle. There is so much before and after it and so many parts to it.

I accepted the cost of following Christ no matter what back then and still do today. My only prayer is that the suffering I am called to experience (physical, emotional, spiritual or intellectual) for Him draws others to Him so they will know God as their One True God and Christ as their Savior.

So whether that is to succumb to an illness I cannot control; be killed while serving others for Him; or live a long, healthy life and quietly pass in my sleep – I just want my life AND death to bring others to life through His saving grace. Through medical tests, gunfire I recently heard while we were on mission, and dashing to my car in a massive thunder and lightening storm last night, I want every second to count for Christ.

The solar eclipse is coming and people are so excited about it. It makes me wonder how many rotations this ‘ol world has left. How many rotations does this ‘ol girl have left?

I am somberly grateful for my good report today. It makes me pray harder for my friends who are suffering from this wretched disease that I hate with a fiery passion. But I can tell you one thing, these women are running an amazing, magnificent race – one worthy to be called a child of the King.

Whatever may come my way, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, whether God chooses to walk in the fire with me or deliver me from this life through it, either way I will follow Him. I will continue to lift my hands to Him – in the car, during a mammogram and in every moment in between.

I want my life to be seen as a symbol of faith, like the necklace that rests on my chest. I want people to look at me and say, “Your life, it’s a symbol of faith” like my friend said of my pendant.

Whatever has to happen to make this reality, come what may. Because I believe God and I trust Him. We are inseparable, like the couple in the waiting room. He is gentle with me and protective of me. He holds me tight. The difference is that He never lets go. He walked with me into the mammogram. He kept me company in that tiny room. He drove home with me in rush-hour traffic. He sits with me now. Why? Because I asked Him to. Will you?