Thursday, June 27, 2013

Weather Update and Video

With a full calendar, suitcases to pack, and a flight to Ethiopia in 2 days I don't have much time to write, but I wanted to let you know that my MRI scan came back showing "no evidence of cancer", but probable migraines. Thank you Jesus! I am being set up with the headache clinic at Vanderbilt after I return to the States.

Ironically, I can put away the rain gear since my forecast is SUNNY again. However, I will be packing it as it is the rainy season in Ethiopia now (really!) My heart has been broken for what breaks God's...namely orphans, widows, and those who have no access to basic needs. That is how I know it is going to flood... deep in my heart and soul. I welcome it. I embrace it. And I pray that God will allow me to be someone's safe place to fall while I am there.

Here is a video of Ryan, a man who is currently serving with Ordinary Hero. He spent one night in Korah, the trash dump community to get a feel for how it is to live this way. We too will be spending lots of time in Korah so I would love for you to see a glimpse of their lives.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's Going To Rain Occasionally

Several weeks ago, I journaled about my forecast with cancer ( The Forecast ).  I didn't know that just 3 short weeks later I would be looking a little more intently at the 25% chance of rain (or recurrence). I was only focused on the 75% chance of sunshine and blue skies. I was fully present in each moment and enjoying the springtime that the threat of rain did not cross my mind. However, I am now consciously trying to remember where I placed the rain gear. I tucked it away just like those negative thoughts.

Two weeks ago, I began having headaches after every CrossFit workout. They always start as a mild throbbing in the back of my head and are periodically behind my left eye. Within a few hours they increase from mild to severe -  enough to cause some nausea.  Occasionally it will also feel like sunglasses are on top of my head even though they are not. This is a weird sensation and I'm sure I get some strange looks when I try to remove those invisible sunglasses.  Nothing makes the headaches feel better, not even Motrin.

I didn't give too much thought about the headaches until I saw the pattern forming of when they happened and how I felt. One afternoon, as David and I were watching TV, I casually mentioned that my head had been hurting all day and that it always did this on my CrossFit days. He was concerned. He strongly urged me to notify my oncologist right away. Instead, I tried to self-diagnose by googling my symptoms. This was really stupid and I know better than to do that. I have sworn off google many times before because it is a terrible idea to diagnose yourself based on the internet. After the scary information found in my research, I emailed my doctor rather quickly. I explained my symptoms in detail and asked her if I could just see my general practitioner. Her response was this, "I want you to have an MRI. It may be nothing but it could be a metastasis to the brain. I want the scan done THIS WEEK."

Now that I have had a few days to process all of this, endure a few more headaches and fully understand the need for the imperative scan, I am able to think more clearly. I texted my friend Nichole regarding this news and her question to me was "what are you going to do about it?" Immediately this is what I wrote her back: "well, I'm going to keep taking Motrin, keep exercising, keep packing for Ethiopia, and keep focused on that. Then I'm going to get my MRI on Saturday and go out to dinner with my family afterwards. And I'd like to say I'm going to quit thinking about it but that's hard to do when you have a headache ;) ". She liked my plan, and I am thinking it's because of how I am choosing to respond to the "rain"...and maybe she even appreciated my bit of humor at the end?

This really is growth for me! I'm growing like the vegetables in my garden. I didn't automatically go into a place of despair or hopelessness. Instead, I have my mind set on continuing the journey in my spring season. I've had a great week with my kids and their friends, and have kept to my normal routine. Do I think about it? Sure! As I said above, it's hard not to when your head is hurting. Am I worried though? No! And it's because I know that occasional rain is not only expected in the spring, but also necessary for life and growth.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Lessons In The Garden

Several months ago, I decided to plant my first garden. I began researching the ins and outs of gardening. For example, I needed to figure out which type of garden bed I wanted, what vegetables I wanted to plant, and the various types of soils that could be used.  After a week of processing all of that information, I finally had a plan that I was content with. My husband David got the supplies and began building my raised garden bed. It is an 8x4 foot bed and stands around 14 inches tall. He placed it in our backyard near the deck where the vegetables can get just the right amount of sun. When he had everything done, I was one proud wife!

Several hours later, I, along with my two children, prepared the bed by filling it with humus and small holes in which to place the seeds. My 4 year old son Brody wanted to help me with the task of planting the seeds. Dressed in his Spiderman garden gloves, he began placing the zucchini, cucumber, butternut squash, tomato, green bean, and carrot seeds randomly. As he covered the seeds with the humus and topsoil, he immediately began looking for the seeds to start growing. I did the same thing.

The first few days were met with disappointment (mine, not Brody's). I just knew my seeds would show signs of growth within a day or two despite the seed packets telling me otherwise. When the seeds didn't sprout by day 5, I considered tilling the whole garden up and starting over. However, I dug up some patience and sat tight. I continued to water the garden and search it diligently (on my hands and knees) for signs of growth every afternoon. Finally, around day 12, I saw it - a very thin blade of bright green grass., about a 1/2 inch tall and was exactly where I had planted my zucchini. My heart sped up and I ran inside to grab my phone and call my husband. I was ridiculously ecstatic...him - not nearly as much.

It has now been almost two months since Brody first placed those seeds in the garden. Now it is bursting at the seams with enormous green stalks and leaves showing my zucchini is thriving. The cucumbers are beginning to bear fruit evidenced by the yellow flowers blooming on the vines. The butternut squash are overtaking the left side of my garden. The bean stalks are 6-8 inches tall as are the tomato plants. There is an over-abundance in the garden to be sure and while watering it today, it dawned on me how this little garden of mine is so much like my life....and possibly yours.

What if I had reacted out of frustration and tilled up my garden when the seeds didn't appear to be growing?  I would have missed out on all the vegetables that are growing and the joy that this process has given me. Just because I could not SEE what was taking place underneath the soil, doesn't mean things weren't happening.

For 4 years, I was in the winter season while I underwent multiple surgeries and over 30 rounds of chemo. I lived with emotions ranging from hope and profound faith to deep despair and anxiety. It's not easy to move past those intense emotions and do it gracefully. There are days where my bones hurt and I wonder if the cancer is back. There are times I have incredible fatigue while my friends seem to function like the Energizer Bunny. The natural thing for me is to go back to that place of "this sucks...I will NEVER be like I was pre-cancer."  But in those times, I am learning to cut myself some slack and remember that changes occur slowly just as they did in my garden. They may not always visible to the naked eye, but they are happening nonetheless if I will just remain rooted in God and His promises of an abundant life for me.

Remember the "bright green grass blade" sighting I mentioned earlier that caused a genuine elation? In that very moment I didn't care if it was grass or a seed sprout because at least it was something, and this is how I look at situations or opportunities way to frequently. At first, many things will appear to be good, and oftentimes they are. What if, instead of "good," the Lord has something "great" for me if I will just be patient and wait on Him? More than once, I have found that if I step out of "familiar" and into full faith and obedience, that that is where the greater is found. You know the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"? Well, I think it's in our best interest sometimes to fix it and move on to greater things...even if the good isn't broken.

Finally, for my veggies, there is one word that describes their growth - abundance. The dictionary defines abundance this way: an extremely plentiful or over-sufficient quantity or amount, an overflowing fullness.
As I stare at and care for them every day, I look at the plethora of veggies that are growing and I am dumbfounded. I never expected any, and certainly not this many, to grow and thrive. Instantly, I think of how God has promised each of His followers an abundant life. Not just a life, but an extremely plentiful -overflowing with fullness- life.
God's Word also tells us that He is able to do far more that we could ever hope for or imagine. I'm living proof. I pleaded for healing of cancer and have received not only healing of my body, but also a renewed mind and spirit and an incredibly deep love for Jesus. I also asked God many years ago to use me to make a difference in someone's life, and now He is sending me around the world to Ethiopia to share the Gospel and show His love. He is making good on His promise of an abundant life and while it may look a little different than I could have ever dreamed of, it is way better than anything I could have ever thought to ask for.

So today, I am content with the many lessons that my sweet little garden has taught me. And as it continues to grow and evolve and produce vegetables, I pray that I too will grow, change, and that the fruits of the Spirit would be evident in me.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Let The Rains Come

Rain is something I have grown fond of and now I truly love it. Not torrential like rains, but instead the soft spring and summer rains that come in at just the right times to cool things off. I love the kind of rain that prevents me from having to water the lawn, the potted plants, or my newly established garden. I love the kind of rain lets my kids go outside and splash in puddles or try to catch the falling drops in their mouths as they giggle out loud. I love the sounds of their laughter! It creates a simple yet profound joy deep in my soul.

My new love for rain did not come naturally to me. When I was younger, it seemed that the rain just messed up my plans. I would check the weather and if there was even a hint of rain that could ruin my outdoor activities, I would get upset with worry. I was the bride who really would have loved an outdoor wedding yet I let the threat of rain "ruin everything" so I opted for a traditional church wedding instead. While it was everything that I had dreamed, there was still a small part of me, once I saw the forecast for my wedding day, that wishes I had chosen the outdoor option.

I have had many moments where if I had been confident in the forecast I could have been prepared for what lied ahead. Had I known that breast cancer was coming, I would have probably started having children earlier so that I could have the three we always dreamed of. Had I known that my reconstruction wouldn't work, I would not have tried it at all. Had I known that many of my friends would move out of our transient Army community, I wouldn't have befriended them in order to save myself some heartache. Had I known that Kate and Cathey were going to die of breast cancer, I certainly would not have become soul sisters with them. Each of these events, I would consider, a rainy season. Yet it was in these rainy seasons that I grew so much.

For example, I grew in my relationships as I no longer took any second of any day for granted. I was able to really be present in those relationships instead of just being present and waiting for the next thing. I grew to trust Jesus more than ever...especially in His sovereignty. While I didn't understand why this health crisis was happening to me, I did come to understand that none of my pain and suffering was in vain and that God was using it all for His glory. And I grew in the knowledge of all things related to my type of cancer... how if affects the physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental sides of not just the patient but also their support systems.

Had the rains not come, I would still be living in a drought. I would still be waiting on someone to come along and refresh me with some water from a hose or spigot. Instead, I was well watered and can now begin the process of flourishing.

Flourish: to grow luxuriantly, or thrive in growth.

So I am thankful for the rains. I see how beauty and growth comes from occasional rains and I actually long for it at times. I have no doubt that they will come again, and this time, when they do I will not run for cover. I will not grab my umbrella, rain boots, and rain coat. Instead, I hope that I will dance in the rain and allow myself to be refreshed by the One who makes and controls the rains.