A Prayer A Day…

Last year on January 1st I committed publicly that I would choose one person and pray every single day for all aspects of that person’s life. Little did I know how a global pandemic and breast cancer would influence that commitment. How often do we tell people, “yes, I’ll pray for you,” and then we send up a quick prayer to fulfill our promise? Or, we go about our daily life and forget to pray as we promised? I decided to use a prayer journal to hold me accountable to pray a prayer a day. When I prayed about who that one person to pray over would be, I also asked God to impress on my heart the need to follow through and not quit as the weeks and months passed by. Then the pandemic entered the scene.

You would think that being told to “shelter in place” would allow more time to pray. It did to some extent, but it also meant there was much more to pray about. Securing supplies from local stores became a major undertaking (think toilet paper, hand sanitizer, etc.). There were many more people to pray for, job losses, small businesses (including our own), struggling to keep going, and church attendance went virtual. Having chosen the “one,” I was then cut off from seeing her each week. I maintained my commitment and the blank pages started filling with earnest prayer over a precious lady. She had no idea I was lifting her and her family up to the Lord, day after day. That thought made me chuckle. How surprised she would be next January. In spite of the virus chaos, I found joy in my prayers for her. Then breast cancer entered my life.

Mid-year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That proclamation began a flurry of tests, treatments, and turmoil, as I dealt with side effects, surgery, and subsequent healing. There were days I couldn’t imagine I’d have strength to pray for myself, let alone for someone else. Times prevailed when my numb fingertips barely held a pen and my fingernails felt as though they were being pried off. The blessing came when the Holy Spirit took over and gave me power to pray through pain. I found joy as I prayed for this friend, not knowing if she was in pain, or whether she was dealing with lack of finances as I experienced. When joy overflowed onto the pages of that journal, my pain diminished.

Keeping a written prayer journal was something I’ve done through the years, but not for one specific person. Doing it for my friend changed me on the inside. I owe that to God. When we pray for others it’s nearly impossible to feel sorry for self! I’m a people person, a hugger, and I hate being stuck at home because a virus is rampant and my immune system can’t fight strong right now. But, praying like I did, all year for this special lady, enveloped my heart and allowed me to get outside myself to encourage others.

I am now cancer free, although my immune system is still low and trying to recover from the 23 radiation treatments which ended on December 18th. I firmly feel that God allowed me to go through this so I can be someone else’s encouragement when they experience a life-changing event such as breast cancer. I found joy in my cancer journey…and God has prompted me to write a breast cancer devotional. I look forward to seeing what He does with it.

I am excited to hear from my friend after she receives her prayer journal in the mail and discovers she is the “one” I chose to pray for, a prayer a day.

The Finish Line

I can see it! I have it marked on my wall calendar. There’s even a count-down clock on my Facebook page steadily moving toward it. My iPad has it remembered so I’ll be notified when it happens! What is IT? The day I finish my radiation treatments.

When Dr. Dziuk told me last month that I would need 23 treatments, I thought I’d never see it come to an end. The task of driving 20 minutes each way to be administered a treatment lasting 12 minutes, seemed difficult at the very least. Going through the process of allowing the radiologist technicians to get measurements of the treatment area, position me on the table, and then command myself to remain immovable throughout the treatment, five days a week, drained me.

Somewhere around the tenth day I learned the routine and IT seemed to go quicker. I change into my gown, they help me down onto the table, I overcome my positional dizziness, turn my head into the foam mold made just for me, and take hold of the two handlebars above my head. I wait while the technicians confirm the measured lines are correct, before they disappear behind glass. “Can you hear me?” She asks. “Yes,” I respond. The machine moves into position, making a whirling sound. I can see laser lines on the ceiling. “Take in a breath and hold it,” she says. I obey silently. The machine mumbles mechanical jargon. I hear it stop and she says, “Breathe.” I allow my lungs to empty. We repeat the process as the giant machine moves around me seeking the programmed positions the doctor ordered. I soon become accustomed to hearing the technician’s instructions that I hear her even when I’m home resting. Sometimes my body will involuntarily, take in a breathe and hold it.

Days go by. Weeks. I mark them off with a big X and keep the countdown current. Each weekday afternoon is interrupted with me leaving at 1:40 and returning by 3:20. I don’t fight fatigue anymore…I embrace it by settling into my recliner when I get home. Chai, my sweet Shih Tzu, snuggles on my lap and we doze a while, then I have a cup of tea, and relax. Nick and I use some of my down time to catch up on things.

This is my final week of treatments. Friday will be IT…the third one. I will cross the finish line of radiation treatments. The first finish line was September 1st when I completed Chemo and rang that bell. The second finish line was October 15th, the day of my successful surgery. This third finish line provides prevention/reduced risk against recurrence of the cancer.

I’m not thinking about the next step of preventative measures, although there will be a time to do so. I’m focusing now on how The Lord wants me to use my journey to be an encouragement to others. He has prompted me to write a devotional for breast cancer patients. He has brought me through this, one step at a time, one treatment at a time. I will soon cross IT…the finish line. I praise Him in this season because He is bigger, stronger, and more powerful than cancer! He has provided the power for me to endure, persevere, and emerge with joy, as an overcomer, because He has overcome the world!

Pockets of Joy

The day of my lumpectomy surgery was a long one. We were up at 4 am, at the hospital before 6 am, and I didn’t get wheeled into surgery until 10:30 am. My husband waited alone while I underwent an almost 4 hour operation. I was in recovery another hour and a half before my medical team released me into my husband’s competent care. We arrived home at 4 pm, (twelve hours from when we woke up), and after Nick carefully walked me in and made sure I was settled comfortably in my recliner, I was welcomed by my Shih Tzu, Chai. He was deliriously happy for his mommy to be home. His kisses were sweet (and a bit sloppy).

The following Tuesday we sat in the surgeon’s office, waiting for pathology results and discovering what the next step in my cancer journey would be. I confess, my weekend wasn’t without anxiety, wondering if there would have to be more surgery. My doctor came in, made small talk (which always concerns me when it precedes surgical results), and smiled. “Well, I have good news,” she tosses out to me, “you are cancer free.” I’m speechless at first and ask, “All the cancer is gone?” She nods her head, smiling. “Yes, I got it all.”

She examined my incision and was pleased with the way it was healing. She assured me she removed what was left of the tumor (chemo had killed the cancer cells), plus enough breast tissue to determine clear margins, and 5 lymph nodes, which were all free from any cancer. She repeated, “It’s all gone.”

Before she released me we discussed the importance of me having radiation to reduce my risk of recurrence. After she left the room, my husband and I looked at each other and smiled. “Praise God,” I said. We hugged and left the office.

It’s now almost 3 weeks later and my heart is filled with joy as I think about what God has done for me. Yes, I still face radiation and will have to go in more often for mammograms, but the surgeon said I am “cancer free.” God did that! He has a plan for me and I will be around to fulfill it. I can continue teaching my virtual Sunday school class, finish writing my books, get reacquainted with my great-grands, spend time making memories with friends and family, and growing older with my precious husband and sweet little Chai. I’m able to continue sharing what Christ has done in my life while encouraging others to receive Him and fall in love with my Savior.

My cancer journey hasn’t been fun. I’ve had days of crushing pain, anxiety, fear, and tears. But there has not been one single day where God hasn’t given me a pocket of joy. He’s done it through people…family, friends, and even some I don’t know. I’ve received so much help in many different forms. I still receive precious cards and surprises weekly. I have saved every single one and when I re-read them, I’m filled with joy all over again.

Uncertain Times

This year has proven to be one which will go down in the history books as a year of extremes. The pandemic pulled us out of our comfort zone of social interaction, shopping strategies, and uncertain times. Jobs, education, worship, and entertainment resorted to virtual venues. Medical practices made drastic changes, while people contemplated how to gain access to health professionals and scheduled surgical procedures. Yes, 2020 is indeed a year filled with uncertain times.

Finding out I have breast cancer in the middle of the year has brought uncertainty into my life. In the shock of being told the news my mind immediately began planning what I needed to do in case…. I cried, prayed, and hoped. I want to live out my life according to God’s plan. I want to see my grandchildren and great grandchildren grow, and continue teaching, writing, and sharing Christ.

I was at the place of hope after prayer, when God reminded me that the year 2020, while it is an uncertain year in the minds of men, every year is uncertain. We have no idea what the future holds, or even tomorrow. I knew then that I need not fear whatever lie ahead. There were a few things, however, I could do that would bring peace to my heart and fill me with joy.

First, I must realize that my goals and plans are limited by the fact that I’m human. I think small, sometimes afraid to ask God for too much. If I will accept that realization then I open the door for God to fill my life with His plans.

Second, my expectations for my life are limited as well. I tend to think of what I expect according to my strength to accomplish it. I’ve learned through my cancer journey that it’s not my strength but God’s, that will fulfill the expectations for my life. In just two days I will see my surgeon and she will provide results of my recent MRI. Right now I’m uncertain about what she will see and tell me concerning the next step. I could wring my hands and worry, but it won’t change the results or prognosis. I do expect God to provide the strength for me to go through whatever is necessary to accomplish what He has called me to do.

Third, the most important thing I’ve learned is to believe God’s promises. I’m to study His Word, take the things God declares, into my heart and make them mine. Then I’ll be able to give them out to others going through uncertain times.

Doing these three things will not only help me get through a pandemic, financial uncertainty, and cancer, but also to encourage others through the sharing of what God is teaching me.

Insomnia

Whether it’s the cancer/chemo combo, the toe/finger neuropathy, or mental work on book three/cancer devotional work in progress, I am suffering with insomnia once again while Chai enjoys a good night’s sleep. It’s after midnight as I type. Laying in bed awake for almost two hours exhausted me. I prayed for those I know in need of prayer, including myself. I winced at the pain in my toes and fingers, and then mentally extracted a scene from book three, while sketching in a replacement that made connection. I finally gave up the thought of falling asleep, left the sound of my husband’s breathing, and padded my way to my recliner. Wide awake now for sure.

I look at the security cameras and admit the weather people didn’t get it right. The predicted overnight storm is nowhere around. They are all asleep apparently. No rain, wind or thunder. Am I the only one awake tonight? The only storm I’m experiencing is the one within me. Sorting through my thoughts I’m thankful I’m secure in a safe place. Like Chai on his “blankie,” I’m protected and loved. I have all I need. Why then does my mind wrestle with sleep? Why can’t it shut down long enough for me to slip into slumber for a few hours?

I finished chemo one week ago today, and the drugs shooting through my cells are still doing their intended job. Keeping me from a good night’s sleep seems to still be one of them. I wiggle my toes to relieve pain, and tap gently on the keyboard of my iPad to avoid pressure on my fingertips. The physical maladies can’t be avoided.

My writing WIP serve to ease my mind of pain and instead cause anxiety that I might forget what I wrote mentally. Getting up and jotting down notes seems to make sense but further widens my eyes and stimulates my mind.

Help me Lord, to lift my eyes up to You. Bring calm to my brain cells and slow my body down. Unravel the nerve-endings in my toes and tamp the soreness in my fingertips. Bring me to a relaxed place on a “blankie” of my own where You keep me safe and I know I’m covered with Your love as I fall into a blessed slumber.

Covered In Love

My breast cancer journey has been one of challenges, surprises, and discoveries. Now that I find myself three quarters of the way through chemotherapy and reflect on the many ways God has tucked me under His wing, I can revel in His protective love. From the beginning I was surrounded with support and nurtured through my haze of anxiety. I have been buoyed by my husband’s strength, encouraged with the love and prayers of family, friends, and yes, even people I’ve yet to meet.

My heart couldn’t comprehend the depth of concern and offers of all things imaginable. Besides my medical team, including a terrific nurse navigator, and a support group friend, God put together an awesome team to ride this roller coaster with me. I wasn’t alone! He provided a vast, worldwide team of prayer warriors, a meal group of awesome cooks, chauffeur, financial assistance, and His own powerful strength.

One thing I began to realize, even with all these resources and overflowing hearts helping, is that each person’s cancer journey is walked individually. Mine is certainly different from every other person. When the door is closed and I’m alone, I’m living it in real time. I cry and question why. When I’m in pain or sick, I get upset. Days that drag when I’m fatigued frustrate me. I want to be done and get on with living my life. But God wants to do something during this journey. He wants me to find joy in the journey I’m traveling with Him. Yes Joy! 

God has given me a devotional book to write during my time going through chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. I have found joy every day so far and I know more will be revealed. In the photo above I’m joyful to be covered in love. I have a cute wig to wear, a pretty, red headband from my granddaughter, Harleigh, and a mask and T-shirt designed by my sweet friend, Dawn, at church. The prayer shawl I’m wearing was a gift from another friend, Susan. These gifts are a small sample of many such surprises I’ve received. But the true gifts are not visible because they are in the heart. God’s love sent out through His people covers us when we need it the most. There will be many opportunities for me to send out His love to those going through breast cancer, and I pray that the devotional book He planted in my heart will be the beginning.

Courage Through Cancer

I have often looked at my calendar and made note of something which happened 2 months or years ago on a certain date. At times I’ve reminded my husband about a special time for us when the anniversary of it rolls around. I’m not talking about regular anniversaries, birthdays, or major events; I’m thinking of the simple joyful days of a special conversation that turned my day into sunshine, or a phone call from a friend or family member I haven’t talked to in forever. I would say, “One month ago today, so and so called.” Or, “6 weeks ago today Chai,” (my precious Shih Tzu) “began his new habit of cuddling with me in the chair.” I’m odd, perhaps, I remember odd, but important to me, things.

Today’s date, July 10th, is an odd one to jump out of my memory bank. Odd because it’s not a date I’m happy about, but one which has changed my life in many ways. One month ago today I was told I have breast cancer.

June 10, 2020. “It’s Cancer!”

I certainly would have preferred to remember this date for something else; my Achilles tendinitis stopped hurting, we had a beautiful rainstorm, or my Passion flower vine had 20 blooms at once. Anything except “It’s Cancer!”

Today, ten days since my first chemotherapy, I’m feeling a little more like my old self physically, except for the ongoing bad taste in my mouth and not sleeping without aid most nights. My time spent with the Lord has changed though, much like moving from the world of black and white TV, into vivid technicolor. It has become more passionate. I crave our conversations and my time in His Word. My prayer time has deepened, not as much for me, but for the people He puts on my heart to pray for.

The week that started for me on June 10th, was devastating to say the least. I had already endured multiple tests, scans, lab work, doctor visits, and anxiety. Then, to be told I needed chemotherapy, followed by surgery, and finally radiation, I started to crumble. But, when I shared my information with family and close friends, God stepped in and encompassed me with love through a network of prayer warriors from my family and church to literally across the globe. People began praying, helping, and lifting me up. Joy and courage in the midst of my cancer was birthed. God also revealed to me the plight of many who need the kind of love shown to them which He was showing to me. My prayers are developing in a whole new direction as I am prompted by His Holy Spirit to pray for others rather than myself. I’m overjoyed and privileged to go to the Throne of God and intercede for those He puts on my heart.

July 10, 2020. I have eleven days until my next chemotherapy, followed the next day with the injection that will stimulate my bones to create new white blood cells. It’s necessary and will cause every bone in my body to hurt. I wasn’t prepared for a-truck-ran-over-me, experience after the first injection, but I am now. God has fortified me and I’m going to be praising Him as I wait for the pain to pass…and it will. The chemo nausea, bad taste, and fatigue that follows chemotherapy will also pass…until the next treatment. I will cocoon myself in the comfort of cards, prayers, and hope. I won’t be afraid to cry when I hurt, or go to bed when I’m worn out. I won’t hold back from asking for help.

My calendar will continually hold special dates I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Courage through cancer doesn’t just happen. God builds it within, surrounds you without, and fortifies your spirit.

A Need for Normal

Turmoil and chaos overshadow daily living, blocking the ability to accomplish things we set out to do. The media bombards the mind through negativity and graphic descriptions eyes cannot unsee. Sheltering in the safety of home seems best, until the enemy shows up from within, emerging from its hiding place, silently growing, invading, and threatening to disrupt a normal life.

Cancer does that you know! It becomes the unwelcome reality to a normal life after a biopsy. The knot in your stomach tightens until you can’t eat or sleep. In the silence of the night you hear your heartbeat pounding out fear of what will happen next. Once the word is spoken you can’t take it back. It hurts to tell family and friends through tears, accepting their support and prayers, knowing you’re loved deeply. You cry out to God for strength and grace to face the morning. Scriptures of His power, plans, and peace, soar through your mind, bolstering your weakened state, until your faith shows up strong.

Then the fight begins! Doctor visits, more tests, chemo, surgery, and hope. You listen and learn more about this enemy than you ever wanted to know. God gives you strength for each day and His wisdom to follow along, trusting and believing. One day at a time.

The knot in your stomach begins to loosen, allowing some normal back in your life. Conversations without tears, laughter over silly jokes, and enjoying a decent meal. The enemy has been revealed and will be removed. A normal life…not a new normal…will return. The same people will love you and desire to be involved in your life. The same saving faith in Christ will continue saving you everyday. The same heart that pounded out fear will beat with a passion for a loving God who has overcome the world.

All Alone Together

In a recent conversation with my college student Granddaughter, Harleigh Garcia, we talked about being sad that she was alone (not with family), with her dog, Astro, in CA for Easter this year.

I mentioned that Grandpa, Chai and I were alone in Texas, and her parents/brother were alone in Saudi. She sighed and said something I consider very profound for a soon-to-be senior college girl. She remarked, “Yes, we are all alone together.”

A pandemic keeps us physically distanced right now but the Lord Jesus binds us together. We may not be able to gather together physically but in our aloneness we are connected by the cross. During the quarantine time imposed on us we can heart-tag our loved ones living across town, out of state or overseas. Because we have the Spirit of God living within us we’re never really alone. Our separation from family and friends will soon be over and we will return to family gatherings, vacations, and celebrations. The best thing to remember right now is that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39). He is always with us wherever we are!

Six Foot Rule

Life as we knew it just a month ago has taken on a new normal for not just our country, but around the globe. Shutdowns and restrictions have thrown states, cities, households and daily activity into chaos. Something I never dreamed I’d experience is seeing churches close and turn to online streaming of their services.

The most common evidence of change comes with a six foot rule. Television reporters and anchors allow distance between them and everyone is advised to do likewise. Now that we have a mandatory stay home ordinance (with exceptions), I’ve thought about the six foot rule in a completely different perspective. I wonder how many people have been distancing themselves from God before the Coronavirus made an appearance. Have we instituted a spiritual six foot rule, holding God at bay unless we find ourselves in need?

This morning in my quiet time, I realized my mind and thoughts have focused more on the physical restrictions imposed on me, and I’ve allowed current political rhetoric to steal my peace. My spiritual pulse was being threatened by marathon television reports, negative social media, and lack of human connection. This morning I broke the spiritual distancing and brought God close. I felt His presence, His touch, and the breathing of His Holy Spirit.

Right now it is necessary to be cautious and we must practice preventative habits to help us stay healthy even in our own homes. We clean doorknobs as well as countertops, and wash our hands repeatedly. Let’s also remember to practice spiritual closeness with God. Read and memorize Scripture, spend additional time in prayer, watch your church service online, and keep a thankful journal.

We will emerge from the virus restrictions and when we do, our spiritual condition can be stronger if we don’t keep God six feet away.