Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Respite and A Walk In the Sand

For the last 6 years, our family has had the awesome opportunity to vacation in Bradenton, Florida each year on a shoe string budget. My husband's parents bought a second home here around that time and have not yet become true snow birds. They come and go throughout the year and graciously open the home to their children when they aren't here.

In the earlier years, when we had fewer children and frequent flier points stacking up due to my husband's business travels, we would fly down, rent a car and spend about 10 days or so, relaxing, soaking up the son, visiting different beaches....Anna Maria Island, Lido Beach in Sarasota and Siesta Key....we would play mini-golf, maybe drive to Disney for the Day....but mostly, we would just enjoy being together as a family without the daily pulls on our time when at home. To say I look forward to this time each year, is an understatement....I long for it. It has become truly a respite for me and my family.

As a homeschooling family, we don't have to travel around the school holidays (a perk to teaching your children at home!) We've been here from late March to early April, from late April to early May and in May. About 3 years ago, we began driving down....7 plane tickets became too much for this pocketbook....and that in itself became an adventure for us. It is quite a sight. We drive through the night, two sport pods on top of the Suburban, an air mattress in the back two seats, and the third row for the last two children still requiring car seats. As the boys are getting bigger, it has become a little more cramped, but there is something so adventurous about a road trip and the whole family being confined to four car doors. Call me crazy!

Well, this year, it looked like a family vacation wasn't going to make the calendar. After 12 years in orthopedic spinal development, my husband just couldn't shake God's leading to inquire about the sales end of the business. It was a huge leap of faith for him as it meant trading product development and management....the safety of the "inside," for the uncertainty that comes from working from home and managing his own set of doctors in his own territory of hospitals. No more scheduled vacation days, no more constant paycheck (although God took care of this detail, as well), no more getting up and going into the office. And as God always does when you are walking in His will in obedience, He opened one door after another and in the blink of an eye....a territory in our backyard with many benefits and perks. So this past January, my husband no longer got up each morning and headed into the office. A longtime prayer of mine was answered, and my hubby now worked from home.

This took a lot of getting used to. But as a family, we all love having daddy with us. In light of my current health situation and all the appointments I've had to go to, I have often fallen to my knees in overwhelming gratitude to my heavenly Father, who knows the end from the beginning. He knew and he lightened my husband's workload, stress and time before we even understood all the pieces. And that is where God's plans are so much bigger than our own. He only needs us looking to the next step, because looking too far ahead overwhelms and often brings confusion. But He already has our whole life story written. And so, with the new job, his previous 5 weeks of vacation time looked a whole lot different. Now, if one of his doctor's was in surgery....so was my husband. And this year, as we tried to plan our family vacation, it just didn't seem to come together in the usual fashion.

Back in late winter/early spring, my older sister, Heather, who also is in the midst of one of her biggest trials ever...a husband who has left after 20 years of marriage....called me and asked if we were going to Florida this year? Heather lives in Texas and has 3 children, all of which are around the ages of my children. As you can imagine, the cousins don't get to see each other too much. Heather and I, well we have become quite close this past year as I have had the privilege to walk hand in hand and heart in heart with her from a distance: crying together, praying together, encouraging each other, rejoicing together at God's provisons and just being. My dad and stepmother had bought a second home last year about 2 hours south of Bradenton, in Cape Coral, FL. Heather and her 3 children were planning a trip in June to Cape Coral for 2 and a half weeks. She asked if we would think about coming at the same time.

We had never been to Florida in June. It is hurricane season, for Pete's sake! By that time, it is actually hot in our neck of the woods....it wasn't exactly what I had in mind, nor even thought would work based on my husband's new job. But again, God knows and put the pieces together.

"My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways." says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

And here we are.....2 weeks after I received my breast cancer diagnosis....God gave us a respite.

My husband had to fly home for a bit, but Heather and I and our kids nestled in at my dad's and again, just enjoyed being together. The cousins had a ball! And then, we went our separate ways for some family time alone.

Our trip has been shall I say, "just what the doctor ordered!" From the hand of the great physician Himself. We've taken in the white sand beaches and crystal clear ocean water, we've rented a boat and cruised the gulf, as the kid's fished and caught baby sharks (yes.....it was amazing and something the kids will never forget!) We've had dinner on the beach. We traveled to West Palm Beach and went to an amazing Waterpark. We've rented waverunners at Ft. Myers beach and jumped the gulf waves at high speeds only to stop and enjoy a school of dolphins within hands reach of the waverunner....truly an amazing experience! We've played in the pool, scoured the sand for beautiful shells, and enjoyed lazy days playing games and cards.

And for me....on top of all that.....I've had time alone with my Savior and deep communion with Him. There is something about coming here that allows me to hear so clearly from God. Maybe it is my heart's posture, maybe it is fewer distractions...I'm not sure....but I look forward to hearing from God's heart and the quiet time that He blesses me with while here. A couple years ago, I had been asked to speak for the first time about our son, Joshua and the testimony of his life and death. It was here that God put those words onto paper. It was here, that God gave me a verse to begin praying over my husband. It was here that I read "Gentle Ways of the Beautiful Woman" by Anne Ortlund (highly recommend this book), which God impressed upon my heart to lead as a summer book study for the ladies in our church. Not to mention how He spoke to my heart about spiritual disciplines and things that needed changing in my own life through that book. And the list goes on and on......

Well this year, it has been no different. It has been a respite in many ways the same, but in other ways different. As the reality of my life right now tends to creep into my quiet thoughts, I am constantly aware of what lies ahead of me upon returning home. It is like this cloud that can swoop in and block the sun. Since the day of diagnosis, this is what I have been facing. This dark and looming cloud that some mornings I wake up with, some nights I go to sleep with and other days it moves in quickly as does a black storm cloud right before a big storm. And my saying to my husband has been, "the clouds are looming today." But God gave me a verse the other day as I was feeling wrapped in this cloud....

"And he shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises, A morning without clouds, like the tender grass springing out of the earth, by clear shining after rain." 2 Samuel 23:4

As the sun shines after the rain and brings forth new fruit and vegetation, so shall I be after this storm passes. God will bring me through this cancer and I will forever be changed. The clouds will give way to the morning sun.

And as I walked on the beach on Sunday....I was feeling a heaviness, a sadness...feeling alone even though I was surrounded by my family. I started walking down a stretch of the beach, alone, that became unmanicured. There were dunes that lined the beaches' shoreline, very few people, and seaweed that had been dragged in from sea. All you could hear were the waves lapping against the shoreline. As I walked I began talking with God....

You know throughout these last 6 weeks, I haven't been angry or bitter. I haven't questioned God or even asked "why me?" It doesn't make me special. It has just been my journey to the heart of God. We all go on our own journey and down paths God has appointed for us. But after walking through the death of a child.....nothing else really compares. I learned 8 years ago, that God's love is everlasting and that our posture is to stand with open hands. I have learned to accept the blessings and the hardships. It was a really tough lesson to learn. One I fought and fought until finally God brought me to the end of myself and said, "Do you really trust me and will you accept all that I have for you....my way, not ours?" I answered yes to that question.
God gave me the victory I desperately needed as I surrendered all to Him. It has been a blessed walk. But one that has had pain.

And so on Sunday, I began walking in that pain. As the clouds descended upon my heart and sadness crept in....and as I looked at the shells randomly scattered beneath my feet....I saw a beautiful, yet broken conch shell. I knelt down and picked it up and immediately wanted to find one that was untouched by the seas force. I wanted to find one that was without holes or cracks. You know the ones that you find in the tourist shops. The ones that aren't real. And the more I walked the more desperately I wanted to find the perfect shell. The prized possession. But all I kept finding were broken ones. Oh they were still beautiful, some shiny, some dull and almost whitewashed and speckled....and I asked God to show Himself to me in that moment.

And there was silence.

I continued walking.....and found another broken and cracked conch shell.

The silence from God became ever more real.

And the more silence, the more my heart cried out for His hand to reach down and touch me and His Holy Spirit to speak to me.

And then as He began parting the clouds over my heart. He spoke ever so softly to me...."Stacy, look around you. I am here. I've never left."

And my heart immediately was humbled before the Lord as I gazed out over the expanse of the sea knowing that God's hand created that sea. And as I watched the waves hit the sand knowing that God told those waves how far to go and set the earth in the sky amongst the sun and the moon and dictated the seas coming and going.

"Do not fear Me?" says the Lord.
"Will you not tremble at My presence,
Who have placed the sand as the bound of the sea,
By a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass beyond it?
And though its waves toss to and fro,
Yet they cannot prevail;
Though they roar, yet they cannot pass over it?" Jeremiah 5:22

"How precious are your thoughts to me, O God!"
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would be more
in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You." Psalm 139:17-18

And He wrapped me with His love as I said, "forgive me, Lord." You never leave. It is I who turns away.

And as I looked down and saw yet another shell lying in the sand.....He quickly reminded me that these shells are more beautiful than those manufactured. They are real. They've weathered the waves, they've weathered life growing inside of them as they offered that life protection. They are the prized possession....a life lived in Christ and beauty is there amidst the brokenness.

Those shells will sit on my desk at home as a reminder again, of the faithfulness of my Father. And the day I walked in the sand.

Later that day, I sat in my favorite spot.....in a beach chair just touching the oceans edge. I looked into the sky and again, God spoke so quietly to my heart.

"Stacy, the truth is, when the clouds descend, the sun is always still in the sky." "It is what you choose to focus on...the clouds or the SON."

Last night we sat at once again, my favorite restaurant at the beach. It sits at the point of Anna Maria Island right on the beaches edge. It is casual, laid back and so friendly.....and dinner is served under canopied tables right in the sand overlooking the ocean. We go there every year. As we ordered dinner, storm clouds began rolling in....really black clouds being pushed out to sea. The wind picked up, a cool breeze took away the evening humidity, we were ushered up onto a deck table just next to the sand and watched the rain come and the clouds descend upon us. The storm passed quickly and we were covered and protected underneath that umbrella. Still enjoying the breathtaking view. And this is what I saw appear....

....the sun begin to peak through the darkest clouds and I grabbed my camera not wanting to ever forget that beautiful sight.

This cancer thing....it is another storm, another cloud, amidst the sun. I pray it passes quickly and God makes my physical body whole and well. I'm sure there will be more cloudy days ahead....but I pray that on those days, my heart and my head will choose to look up and see the SON.

Much love,

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Psalm 27

As God always does, He never disappoints me and always meets me right where my heart cries the loudest.....as I sat before the Lord this morning with my Bible.....I often end my quiet time with a Psalm. I sometimes to to the Psalm reflecting the date. Since today is the 27th...that is the Psalm I read and continue to mediate on. May it encourage your heart this morning, too

The Psalm is entitled:

"An Exuberant Declaration of Faith"

"The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked came against me
to eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
they stumbled and fell.

Though an army may encamp against me, (for me-that army is cancer)
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident.

One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life

To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.
For in the time of trouble.
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock
And now my head shall be lifted up above
my enemies all around me;

Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord when I cry with my voice!
Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
When you said, "Seek My face,"
My heart said to You, "Your face, Lord, I will seek."
Do not hide Your face from me;
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not leave me nor forsake me,
O God of my salvation.
When my father and my mother forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me.

Teach me Your way, O Lord,
And lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies.
Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries;
For false witnesses have risen against me,
And such as breathe out violence.
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!

We are currently in Florida on a family vacation (again God's timing was perfect!!) We are off to the beach....I think possibly my most favorite place on the earth. Have a wonderful day!


Saturday, June 26, 2010

The School of Life - A New Chapter

"The school of life offers some difficult courses,
but it is in the difficult class that one learns the most -
especially when your teacher is the Lord Jesus Himself."
(Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp For the Lord)

Many years ago (oh about 16 or so), as a college student at the University of Pittsburgh, I would have argued with this statement....that in the difficult class one learns the most...it was in the difficult classes that I struggled spending hours pouring over the facts and material being taught, trying so hard to make my brain grasp concepts that were foreign to me. Psychological statistics was one of those classes. It just didn't make sense to my English and Communication driven brain. Numbers and theories, patterns and probability....., but then again my teacher at the time wasn't the Lord Himself. It was a gentleman whose passion was all that mine wasn't and I had to work intensely to just get a C. I passed, but sighed a big sigh when that math requirement was long gone and a part of my past and I could gravitate toward the classes I enjoyed. Do I remember learning anything from that class....pretty much No! But I remember the feeling of desperation and frustration as I plowed through that class. Just praying the semester would be over soon and that class behind me.

But the school of life is so much different, or is it? I think so much depends on who or what you put your faith and hope into. We all have faith in something. It can be either ourselves, others or the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible says in Hebrews 11:1-3,

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith, we understand that the whole worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible"

By faith, Abel offered God an excellent sacrifice: the firstborn of his flock. Cain, his brother, approached God on his own terms and eventually turned his back on the Lord. And if you know the story, Cain killed Abel. By faith, Noah built an ark, "moved with Godly fear," and was obedient to God, thereby saving his family and all animals from the flood. By faith, Abraham believing God's promise that through his son would come many generations, offered his son Isaac upon the altar knowing that God would either save his son, or bring him back to life. And if you read Chapter 11 the list of those who believed in God through faith and were found righteous by their faith continues. But this came through a testing of their faith, difficult classes if you will, as they looked to the reward and believed God's promises to be true, not in walking by sight and what they knew in their head. I believe this with every fiber of my being. And it is this faith in God that is the premise of my education in the school of life. The love I have for God far exceeds the love I have for anything or anyone else. He never disappoints and His plans for me are good. It is for this reason, that I can now accept the difficult classes of life instead of trying to plow through them as quickly as possible and just get to the other side.

I've tried the other routes early in life and through different trials and hardships....faith in me is futile. I don't have the strength or the wisdom to fight most battles. I went through much of my early life this way and became tired, weary and the joy was mustered and temporary and instead of learning, just questioned. And then faith in others.....Faith in others always disappointed me and motives were not always pure or trusted.

At the age of 6, I put my faith in God. I prayed to receive Him into my heart. I believed in Him, confessed my sinful heart to Him, but I didn't choose to surrender fully my will to Him alone until the age of 23.....and then my first big difficult class began at the age of 24. My faith was being tried and tested, but from the loving hand of my heavenly Father. I was pregnant with our first son, Benjamin, and early in pregnancy had complications requiring many tests and specialist visits. No one could figure out what was going on. I felt great, but all my tests showed a very sick pregnant woman. Around 29 weeks pregnant, I developed HELPP Syndrome. At 30 weeks, was admitted to the hospital, and 4 days later as my kidneys and liver began shutting down, as my blood pressure soared and my blood platelets plummeted to a point where I should have been spontaneously bleeding from my nose and under my skin, Ben was delivered by c-section 10 weeks early at 2lbs 12 oz. And my faith was being tested. Do I believe God is good? Do I believe He loves me? Do I believe He loves my son? Do I believe there is a purpose for this difficult course? And whereas I was confused, sad, tired and weak. God's grace was sufficient and I began to learn about surrendering, submitting and relying on my Heavenly Father, not in words alone, but in actions and in my heart. My schooling was well underway. Today, Ben is 13, strong, healthy and loves the Lord. His life has purpose as do God's ways.

A lot can be filled in the blanks from age 23 to the present....financial hardship, marriage discord, broken relationships, death of a child, miscarriage....The school of life is like that. Classes that come and go. Classes I received "well done" from my heavenly Father and classes that have needed to be retaught but in a different manner. Because one thing that holds true is that God loves us so much, He wants us learning, understanding and gaining wisdom from each class. His love is that deep. The more we run through our trials just trying to get to the other side, the more He says....slow down....I have so much more for you to learn. Be still. Wait for me. Don't take control. Don't worry. This trial has passed before the throne and I have approved of it. I will equip you for the trial, if you let me. I will never leave you or forsake you. I will lead you and guide you. I will teach you. I love you with an everlasting love.

This past year and a half, has been a year of preparation for my current class, as have many of the previous trails I have endured. You know how you have first "college prep" classes in high school and then your first year of college are all of your "prerequisites." Well it all gives a foundation for the higher level, more difficult classes. I think God operates much the same way. He takes us deeper into our faith and our reliance upon Him alone.

In November 2008, on Thanksgiving Day, my mother (who in 1975 had a brain aneurysm leaving her a left-sided hemipalegic) was taking a walk in late-afternoon following dinner. She was struck from behind by a car and had another traumatic brain injury and her skull quickly filled with blood. In God's unique way, the blood filled her brain cavity where her frontal lobe had been removed years previously. Without this space, she would have needed immediate surgery due to the swelling and may have died. She spent 2 months in both hospital and then rehab hospital. She was transported to the Pennsylvania area (where I live) and upon discharge, moved into our guest room in January 2009. This is where she spent the last year as we waited for her house to sell in Virginia and for our garage to be converted into a full apartment. She moved into her new apartment in early January 2010. It has been a year of leaning heavily on the Lord for strength, patience, wisdom, provision, healing. A year where He has taught me much about being a servant....His servant. A year of trusting Him with my mother's life and how it is now defined differently with new limitations. It has been a year of faithfully watching God's hand on each detail and constantly in awe of His plans and faithfulness. It has been a hard year where some of the lessons weren't immediately grasped or learned.

It has been a year of deep study of God's Word. I teach a women's Bible Study every Thursday at my church. This past year we began going verse by verse and God laid on my heart the books of James and 1 Peter. Books of the Bible on trials, God's grace, God's gift of salvation and endurance...books on Spiritual maturity in Christ and the walk of a believer. As I taught the final chapter and verses of 1 Peter on May 13th, I didn't know that I had just entered what could possibly be one of the biggest trials and school of life classes I've ever participated in.....breast cancer. The previous day, I had a needle biopsy done on two masses found in my right breast in early April. I would receive those results the next day and then would proceed through the beginnings of this class, surgical biopsy next and then waiting pathology results. On my 16thwedding anniversary, my husband I sat in my breast surgeon's office to hear the words....stage 1 invasive ductile breast cancer. Words that would be forever etched on my life, the life of my husband and 5 children and His testimony He is creating in us.

And so the new chapter begins. The breast cancer chapter. But I know this difficult class will be so much more than just breast cancer. As I ended 1 Peter 5, here are the words God imprinted on my heart....

"But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. AMEN (so let it be!)....I have written exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand."

And so I stand. I stand still in this class that will test my faith, that will strengthen my relationship with Jesus Christ, that will be a testimony of His faithfulness. I stand a little scared at what may be before me knowing the physical testing that will come as I undergo a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery on July 15th. I stand with my shield of faith in Christ so firmly gripped for Satan is desiring to bring fear and worry into my thought process and I won't let him play with my thoughts. I've stood in that place many times before and praise God for the victory He has given me. I am not worried. My faith is so firmly rooted in Christ and my eyes right now are steadily fixed on Him. I stand in the victory of Christ. This battle is not mine. God has already won the battle. I stand on Christ and pray that He will teach me, establish me, strengthen, and settle me. The class is underway....not sure how long it will last....but pray that when it is over....I will be changed forever to reflect the love and grace of my heavenly Father. May my physical alterations be an altar of remembrance upon which I praise Jesus Christ. Thank you to each of you who will stand arm and arm with me, as I step slowing, yet confidently in Christ through this new "school of life."

This blog will be my journal. It will be a place I can update each of you as the updating part can be a bit overwhelming on a more personal level. It will be a place I can share my thoughts, emotions, and my faith. May my life be an open book and a testimony to the glory of God.

Please join me in praying over my surgery on July 15th. During that surgery, I will also have my lymph nodes checked for cancer. May I ask that you petition our Heavenly Father for clear and cancer free lymph nodes? God tells us in Hebrews 4:16 "we can come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Thank you for praying.

Much love,