Sunday, May 19, 2013

It's been a challenging week. After a wonderful weekend including the beautiful wedding of a sweet friend, a movie with David, Angeline and Pierce, and a sweet Mother's Day with extended family I went home last Sunday night feeling pretty good. As I began to wind down and relax I started to notice inflammation and discomfort in my chest. I've been experiencing nighttime inflammation periodically and had discussed it with the oncologist. She adjusted and added some medications the previous week based on educated guesses as to what might be causing the inflammation. In the past, a nights rest has resolved the discomfort. Unfortunately I woke Monday morning with increased discomfort and redness around the port I have had surgically implanted for receiving chemotherapy.

The port is in my chest just below my collar bone. A line from the port runs up under my collar bone and has been inserted into a large vein. The chemo drugs, I'm told, would destroy/harden the small veins in my arms. Additionally one of the drugs is particularly risky to administer in the arm due to it's destructive nature if it leaks onto the skin. The small veins in the arm can blow out and allow the chemo to leak onto the skin. If this were to happen I would be rushed to the emergency room for surgery to cut out ahead of the the flesh eating drug. While the vascular system can "handle" the drugs that the skin cannot, they still take a heavy toll. In fact, my arms at the moment look like I've been in an accident, while trying to run an iv, my veins experienced several "blow outs" which left sore bruised areas on my arms and hands. This happened due to the weakened state of the veins from the one round of chemo.

I scheduled a visit with the oncologist Monday thinking I would be stopping, yet again, afterwards at my pharmacy, this time for antibiotics. Instead she (my oncologist) admitted me to the hospital for two nights to receive iv antibiotics. She was concerned with salvaging the port. Additionally, she ordered an ultrasound of the port area and entire left arm. The ultrasound revealed a blood clot in that port vein. The oncologists answer to my wondering why I experienced this infection and clot was that both are common when receiving chemo. And, the solution and prevention are, of course, more medicines.

I now go to a clinic at the hospital every day for injections in my stomach until the lab is happy with my blood (with the coagulation rate of my blood). Unfortunately the measurement dropped yesterday instead of rising as I need it to do. Once the injections are finished I will continue an oral anticoagulant for a minimum of a year to prevent further clotting. The oral anticoagulant has to be closely monitored which means many trips to the clinic becoming fewer as that medication stabilizes as well.

I'm confident the irony of chemotherapy has not escaped anyone who has experienced it. Chemo is killing me to save me. I'm slowly coming to understanding the process more clearly though I don't think I will ever fully grasp it. The chemo kills all fast growing cells. Apparently, if I understand correctly, while it cannot target cancer sells it does like them the best due to their very fast growing nature. So chemo drugs go after the cancer aggressively but the other fast growing cells in my body take a hit as well - hair, nails, skin, white blood cells, read blood cells, platelets, etc. This results in the variety of side effects including a vulnerability to infection. The goal is to kill the cancer faster than killing the rest of me. This is a battle that is statistically in my favor with the type of cancer I have. I can't help but stop even now and grieve for the many and their families who cannot claim those favorable statistics. Those who are being killed by chemo to die. Cancer is vicious.

But, it is teaching me. I just love the apostle Paul. Besides Jesus it is Paul who I would love to go back in time and spend time with. I cherish his honesty and wisdom. I relish that fact that he says so much but really the same thing over and over. My summary of that one thing would change as much as his words are abundant. For today I would say Paul says you must be killed to be saved. He always points to Jesus.

Romas 6:5 AMP
For if we have become one with Him by sharing a death like His, we shall also be [one with Him in sharing] His resurrection [by a new life lived for God].

Paul is, in the surrounding passages, addressing sin and grace. Grace is abundant because of our sin. "Should we sin that grace would be more abundant?" Isn't that just like us to ask such a question? Constantly trying to escape surrender to death and indulge in sin we either - Ignore God all together, some going so far as to deny He even exists. Some of us become what I've heard termed "Sunday Christians," referring to those who sit in the pew on Sunday to allegedly insure their eternal soul but live the rest of life openly indulging the flesh. There are those who do what I call, "staying on the cross" and even express misguided pride in their constant state of dying to their sin they are constantly struggling to overcome. These and other similar scenarios are all the same "remaining in sin." Should we remain in sin?

Romans 6:2
Certainly not! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?

Then why do we remain in sin? This has been my prayer for several years. I came to understand that this Jesus I love died not just so that I would escape eternal damnation but even more specifically so that I would no longer remain in sin which leads to death or even in sin which does not lead to death. Now I arrive in this place many of us who call ourselves followers love to live in. In the sin does not lead to death and then we enjoy grace that abounds abundantly. Our names are written in the book of eternal life, we love Jesus and don't deny Him but we continue to indulge in the flesh, indulge in exerting our own selfish will.

Romans 6:3
Are you ignorant of the fact that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by the baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by glorious [power] of the Father, so we too might[habitually] live and behave in newness of life. 

We have to be killed to be saved. Not remain in the glory of being killed (staying on the cross in pride) but being raised from the dead and living a new life. Not only escaping eternal damnation but escaping all together the bondage of living in sin. Living in sin is bondage. Whether we are among those who deny God all together, sit in pews Sunday and indulge throughout the week, grieve our constant suffering of sin, or live basking in and yearning a deeper nearness to Jesus while justifying an abounding grace for our sin, we are still missing it. I was missing it. I knew I was missing it. I knew I needed to stop sinning - stop separating myself.

Romans 6:11
Even so consider yourselves also dead to sin and your relation to it broken, but alive to God [living in unbroken fellowship with Him] in Christ Jesus.

I have defined sin, while teaching my children, as an acronym - separate in nature. Defining sin as separating ourselves from God. My kids cannot look me in the eye and separate themselves from me. I was remembering with them the other day the moment I saw this struggle come to Pierce's awareness when he was a little guy. Pierce, to this day, surrenders quickly if he finds himself in a moment of conflict or strife. That quick surrender was birthed one moment in the grocery store in my little mans heart.

I don't recall the exact scenario which had something to do with who would be pushing the cart. Pierce was set on ruling me. It was the man thing in him, it was the natural born leader in him, it was the sinful nature in him. That moment was more about ruling me and being ruler of himself than about who would push the cart. There we stood at the carts (with all 5 young kids in tow) in this moment that would forever change him. He would not look at me. He was separating himself from me in order to maintain exerting his own rule. I asked him to look at me. He did not want to. I saw it happening and I remember feeling joy instead of frustration at a conflict in the grocery because I sensed what was about to happen. Pierce loves me. He loves me so much and I knew it then as I know it now. He really wanted to win rule but more than that he loved me. After a few moments of contemplating he looked up into my eyes. Anyone who knows Pierce, knows his amazing joy spreading grin. The moment he looked at me, love took over, he surrendered and grinned and something in him was now aware that he could not rule himself, rule me and love me. He could not separate himself form me to exert his own rule and be untied in the love with me that we treasure and enjoy. He surrendered himself to be united to me. He learned how to be killed to live.

As I have said, cancer is moving something deeper into me that I have understood for a long time but was not owning. We can only teach what we know. I was seeing it way back when Pierce was much shorter than me, but something in me didn't fully take it. River has a harder time with surrender. This reflects me. I am now watching River soften. This also reflects me. He is learning what I had begun to harden in my stubbornness and am finally grasping deeply. My cancerous body is being killed with chemo in order to live and my sinful nature is being killed with surrender to love in order to live in unbroken fellowship with God.

The reward of cancer cells dying with chemo is, I get to keep living. The reward of dying to myself is I get to live in unbroken fellowship with Love. I can't begin to express how sweet both of those things are. Living is good, but living in fellowship with Love is really, really great.

I have a long way to go in this cancer battle. My next treatment is Monday, as long as this port is ready to go. I still have some tenderness at the site and hope it will not interrupt treatment further. It couldn't be helped but I don't like the delay in treatment last week and the sense that comes with it that I am losing ground - the fast growing cancer cells having more time to reproduce. It will be a long day going from chemo at the cancer center which takes 6-7 hours, then across town to the hospitals Coumadin clinic and after that up to another floor for the Lovenox injection. I continue to be grateful for the owning of life I'm gaining. This past week did feel hard though. Long hours in the hospital left me exhausted both physically and emotionally. The good news is, the fruits of the Spirit abounded - patience during my hospital stay. Not that I didn't dart out of there the moment the nurse gave me an out from the pacing I had resorted to. I'm so grateful for all the servants at the different facilitates. Nurses, techs, doctors are amazing individuals. I sat in the car and cried after a Coumadin clinic, Lovenox injection 2 1/2 hour daily marathon. It was a moment of cancer feeling really hard to do. I am so blessed to have a great deal of support. One phone call and I was all better. I know it's going to get harder. I also know my support is going to keep on loving me. And I still feel that really "getting" unbroken fellowship for all eternity is well worth some months of hard.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cancer Courage

Let me just throw right out there in the front that I still don't want to do cancer or its treatment. I'm praising God for his work and struggling with the reality of the process simultaneously. I am hoping to strike a healthy balance between the positive attitude I really do have (the sincere faith in positive process and outcomes both physically and spiritually) and a bit of I just get to gripe because it's not fun to have cancer.

Physically speaking I'm still mostly just tired. I continue to have symptoms of the cancer itself and the Graves and anemia (I don't know who gets credit for which things) but as far as cell destruction from chemo I'm just noticing a few tiny things. My tastebuds are failing me, even a pickle at lunch held no flavor. It's weird. My fingernails are peeling and cuticles are easily finding the corners of things that leave little sore red spots. May be some brain cells going because I keep forgetting "What I walked in here for." So you can sum me up as a lazy bum with no taste in need of a manicure. : )

A sweet friend gave me a bag of her previously used chemo head hats (which she told me to keep as she never wants nor intends to use them again). That bag and shopping for new items to cover the coming shine has caused a great deal more nausea for me than any of the meds have so far. David, though he realizes the baldness is promised, said he is praying perhaps I would somehow escape it. Let me make it clear this prayer is for my benefit not a selfish thing on his part - in fact he jokes that he can't see what I look like anyway (David is also among the suffering of a debilitating disease, he is going blind from cone rod dystrophy). I would be most happy to receive that miracle of hair with chemo in the blood! The friend who gave me the hats is one of the toughest, hardest working most practical persons I have ever known. Servant is her middle name, even this tough cookie who will climb on any roof to hammer on a new one, crawl under any house to dig out a new cellar or take the dirtiest, most difficult chore off anyone's to do list, told me the bald issue was a most difficult part for her. It's just a tough thing to face. 

I know that it's just vanity. I know it's absurd to wish I could have some boils on my toes or something else painful or of suitable to replace severity rather than go bald. I also know I will get used to it. I know my friends who I have seen go bald from chemo were not freakishly ugly faces I protected my eyes from the dreadful appearance of. After the initial surprise they were just beautiful, wonderful them. I know that is how others will see me. I know everyone including complete strangers will know what's going on and have no negative judgment or rejection. I know it will really be fine. I still just can't imagine how I'm going to finish my preparations and look in the mirror and think that I'm all set and ready to go show the world how the mornings ritual turned out. 

I have been asked about whether I want a wig. Maybe I will change my mind but for now it just gives me a notion of itchy claustrophobia. I can imagine my kids horror when their friends see me rubbing a wig back and forth the top of my skull while moaning relief. Or worse, pulling it off to scratch all over and fan the sweat with it then plopping it back on and inquiring if it's straight. For now the plan is hats and scarves. There have been tears and there will no doubt be plenty more as the hair pulls from my head, but then it will be me and then it will grow back. I just have to do it, that's all there is to it.

Here's the good part. I know suffering produces hope. Hebrews 5:1-5 is my promise in this experience. I imagine that Jesus no more relished the auctioning off of his clothes than the crown of thorns when He was begging escape from His coming persecution. While I yearn to possess the humblest of humility, I dread the suffering of losing my pride. And while I know humility is a mysterious creature, (if I think I possess it there is a fundamental flaw - if I claim its there I simultaneously shoo it away) I long to know the fruits of its lingering about me. Pride, in my mind, is much like cancer. I didn't know the mutated cells were growing in me. Eventually, in increasing symptoms, they would reveal their ugly selves. If I ignore the cancer, it will just keep growing and consuming me. The sin of pride is the same way. I might not know its there, but it reveals itself, bit by bit, and unchecked will continue to grow and consume. 

Like symptoms of cancer, however there were symptoms of pride. Scripture exhorts so often to be like little children. Children are not vain. I have such great memories of giggling at my little toddlers running through the house stark naked and completely ignorant of their humility. They learned though, first because it was obviously appropriate to teach them not to run around nude and then life began to teach them which logos should be on their shirts. Laughing at a 15 months old fat thighs is delightful for everyone. Laugh at a 15 years old fat thighs and innocent humility is chased away and replaced with consuming vanity. Unfortunately, this process takes place much younger than 15 years old. Self image begins to form much sooner and not just as potential external vanity, but as an inner value which in naivety is high but in life's school of hard knocks can become low. Be like a little child, the scripture exhorts, because it is then that humility is embraced unaware by the soul unwounded. Don't get me wrong, I'm not expressing pity on my imagined terrible life of hard knocks. I'm just your regular old selfish, dysfunctional American girl. 

While I have this journey of God pursuing me and me Him, there has also been simultaneously this parallel occurrence of hardening taking place. A hardening of the heart that grew with worldly experience. A beautifully manufactured protective covering expertly constructed to protect me from, well, the knocks that were blowing holes in it all the time. I'm confident I never hid myself because of feeling safe and secure but from feeling vulnerable and exposed. While I yearn to die to myself, the world constantly presses me to preserve myself. So, for the most part this protectiveness just seems smart. Who goes to movies to see the superheroes die? I like those heroes because no matter what gets thrown at them they grow miraculously stronger and walk in victory - like gods, I like that. Independent, invulnerable, indestructible gods. I want to be a god. Yep, I admitted it. I want super powers too. I have even told my kids I have super powers, how else would I know, "What they were doing in there." Moohaha. No matter how much I want it though, I am not a god, I am dependent not independent - I am created not Creator. Here is the conflict, how do I be a humble, vulnerable, loving, dependent follower of this God I want to love AND be a humble, naive toddler invulnerable to knocks. Aaaaa, I get cancer. I face death (so, I'm not dying but when the blow of that word hits lets just call the spade the spade - no treatment, no living), I face suffering - the side effects of disease and treatment.

Alright, that was a lot of words that may or may not effectively communicate a train of thought connected to some reality that is actually happening in my life. That reality is that I am learning to die to myself. Learning to give up my godness. To stop protecting and and clinging to me and die so that I may enter into peace with God, rejoicing in His Glory, enjoying His Kingdom love in faith today.

What does that look like? Still watching, but as I've said before I believe it will look more and more like the fruits of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control - SUPER POWERS.  Here is that beautiful mystery of Jesus again, by giving up my godness, I do become godlike. Who wants a mean, grouchy, strife filled, impatient, cruel, rough god who throws fits? Umm, apparently I do because when I deny unity with God, embrace separation to exert my own godness, that is just how I act. But, when I die to myself - ta daaaa, not only do I lose fear of knocks and gain childlike humility but I become this really loving, lovable wife, mom, homemaker, daughter, business owner, driver, customer, person in victory. 

And so, I am bracing myself to face baldness with courage. I really, really don't want to lose my hair and eyebrows and eyelashes, BUT all the super heroes give up something for their courage. Something that genuinely hurts and costs. Honestly, it's a small thing to simply accept the gift of grace offered me in Jesus, given through His much greater suffering. It's truly a privilege to even have the option to grab at courage as I learn to die to myself and walk in real super powers. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

New Strategies

My first treatment has allotted me to 2 new strategies. The first is, the cancer center saves my life and I show up at the right times for appointments. I think they like that plan as much as I do. My other strategy is to keep switching nurses if I can help it. It seems each time I see a nurse she moves the side effects further out, with some careful maneuvering maybe I can slide right through this easily. My nurse yesterday said it is her experience that the majority of patients begin to experience the more difficult side effects after the third treatment. So far I just feel sleepy.

A lot of people have asked me what treatment looks like and I had wondered this as well. Seeing people devastated by the drugs gives dark images of "what they are doing to them." It is so boringly not gruesome. I sat napping in a comfortable recliner looking out large glass windows over fields of beautiful Kentucky with an iv bag dripping chemicals into my bloodstream, then they sent me home. At this facility a row of these recliners line the outside walls as nurses monitor and switch out bags and visitors chat with their family receiving treatment. The sounds are chatter and iv polls rolling back and forth all day to the atrium for lunch and the bathrooms which are frequently visited due to all the fluids being pushed in with the drugs.

I finally thought to send Jocelyn a picture which calmed her nerves a lot. I think she had gruesome images in her head and was pleased to see that the facility is bright and cheery. She replied that it was much better than she thought and her texts slowed down considerably after seeing the picture. Pierce stopped in briefly, to show support and I think to see what it was all about as well. Really in any experience the not knowing is the hard part, fighting a battle is much more desirable than anticipating it. I snapped a bunch of pictures to bring home for everyone to see.

My heart thoughts today continue along the same themes of peace and rest. 

So much of my life has been spent striving to grow spiritually. My "church journey" is a truly blessed one. I have not always, in my striving and pain, viewed it this way but as I learn to rest hindsight changes continually.

My early church experience gave me a base that would permeate the entire rest of my life - my eternity. I left those youthful years with many insecurities and questions and hurts but with a direction that would never change. Those early years in the chaos of church growth, awareness, ministry goals, leadership skills, outreach potential, etc. that was thoughtfully, lovingly imparted to me - at the bottom of it somewhere lied the true goal - rest. Just recently my youth pastor pulled out of my past and onto my doorstep. What a precious reminder (before this struggle I did not know at the time that I was coming into), that I am loved. Not only do I remember the love he invested in me in my unloveable youth but he chose to come and bless my present as well. He has this way of using approximately 10 words at a time to cut to the the quick of your mistake and/or place you in the bosom of love. 

Next would be the college years where I would begin to come out of the insecurities of youth led into a world of seeking wisdom. I recently attended the funeral of another man who touched my life deeply. This man did not use ten words at a time but hours of words in stretches that felt like moments. From this man I began to see going beyond myself rather than being limited by discovering just the gifts and potentials within. Rather knowing the power of a Holy God that I could embrace and admire and watch do mighty things. What a wonderful time of celebration at his funeral, listening to family and friends rejoice in the life of this man who imparted to countless others the tangible presence of a Holy God. 

Next came marriage and babies. Nothing in all of life undoes anyone more quickly than these family relationships that now are not experienced ignorantly from childlike perspective but wittingly with adult accountability. In marriage we discover if we are liars. 

I have this thing about lying. I hate it. I really, really hate it in all it's forms. Lying is the ultimate insult to God, self and other. To embrace lying is to deny the fabric of exactly what we were created to be in the first place. Created to be united, nakedly exposed with a loving tender Father and then from the context of this joy and exultation to rejoice in that love in relationship as a body before Him. To lie is to simply defile that place that is holy, pure, cherished. That place is in our everyday life and conversations. Nothing hurts more than a lie. It defiles relationship. This theme is raw on my heart as my family was recently deeply wounded by a web of lies like I had never known others could or would administer. I can honestly say if this cancer is going to help me to the bottom of knowing how to to walk out of that memory in true death to self and sacrificial love for the liars I will say it is worth every moment and then some. I know a righteous anger from this hurt now I must come to know a graceful rest and love. 

There was the true confession, now back to the journey. Once marriage and babies started coming, love changed meaning. Suddenly there becomes an internal war, will life be about me and my needs and escaping the work of marriage and parenting or will life be about these unbelievable precious ones that fill me with unfathomable depths of love. Will I be honest or will I be a liar. There are many dynamics that come into play in the family relationship. Some, more all the time, find that the lies of dishonestly clothing/hiding ourselves are too divisive and the marriage falls apart. Some struggle in anger, in disfunction and conflict for years or decades. Some learn to weave a life of allowing the lies by forming habits together that become acceptable with moments of emotion later chosen to be ignored and allegedly forgotten. Some learn to weave a net of deception together as a couple, a family, excusing one another for the sake of peace by joining in a team of deception. And as a society we learn to call it all sorts of things that lead us all to believe the pain of separation is not real, only brief and imagined and there are a great many strategies available to help us move on in health and happiness. It's all the same defiling God, of self and of others - the great thief of rest. 

I remember a day I had a specific epiphany. It was as though all my church experience became symbolized as a totem poll. It could all be piled up on this poll in carvings of books, lectures, studies, training, programs -  ministry. I realized my faith, my true goal would never be obtained by getting to the top of the ministry totem pol. My faith, depth, love, rest would only ever be defined by my relationship with Jesus. Everything changed for me in that moment. I knew that somehow I had to die to myself.  

As I said, I have been so blessed to have been "invested in." Next in my life came a woman who's "big pink book" would change my life. It is affectionately called that because it is a pink covered, 3/4 inch thick 9x13 book that has now been rewritten into smaller chunks and continues to develop as her time and ministry expand. Unbelievably, these words that turned my world inside out and upside down would be ministered to me in a season of being personally discipled by the author. As I share more she will be quoted often, for now I want this to be about the idea of rest and not her so I will continue to be evasive with names. All the words in the big pink book, the weekend conference I listened to her speak, the fellowship in our homes, the phone conversations, the emails were filled with tons and tons of wisdom and words and things that made sense and things that just were good and right. BUT, while I understood, while I could help her in her ministry in small ways in conversations with others, while I knew I was swimming in wisdom as I have said before, I knew I was still not getting it. When I am in her presence, it is not her that I am enjoying, loving, experiencing, receiving from, being with. When I am with her I am with the Lord. She is dead to herself. She has a precious personality, and fun sense of humor and enjoyable countenance and is in and of herself a very desirable friend but it was that something more that I have longed to embrace. With her, there are no lies, no dishonesty, no clothing hiding her true self.

Finally, I am to the verse that opened on my Bible program randomly this morning and spoke all of this to my heart. 

Genesis 2:2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which He had done; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which He had done.

Yes, this verse and theme have been preached and written about as much or more than any. Somehow my dense self is finally getting it. Be honest. Be naked. Be real. Rest. He made the world, He made Adam and Eve naked and honest before Him fellowshipping in rest. Sin interrupted, we had the whole Old Testament thing of wandering and figuring it out that we are a dishonest people and then came the New Testament and Jesus to lead us back to our naked honest selves. We don't need strategies, helps, hobbies, date nights, books, church, healing prayers, tools, goals, accomplishments, ministries, etc. (understand what I am saying in context - these things all have their appropriate time and place in our lives). The point I'm getting at is that we just need to rest. His work is done, we may rest in naked, honest fellowship with Him and one another. When we choose rest we choose honesty, we choose joy and peace and grace and love. My new strategy, instead of striving, rest!