A Swift and Deadly Season – RE-POST

(Dear Friends and Readers, In the light of the recent revelation by popular television trivia program Jeopardy host Alex Trebek that he has Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer, I decided it was time to re-post this from April, 2014. Thank you for your patience.)

Have you ever looked at a situation and wondered why? As in, why is this so, or not so? And why isn’t this being addressed?

I have gone through something like that lately, dealing with something unexpected in my life. I discovered there was a mass murderer on the loose in the world, killing indiscriminately, regardless of race, creed, sex, age and socioeconomic standing. The mass murderer to which I refer is pancreatic cancer.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, pancreatic cancer is ranked #4 on the list of cancer killers. The following figures are a compilation from the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society. I highlighted the 2013 statistics for pancreatic cancer, so they could be more easily visible for you.

Cancer   Type

Estimated   New Cases

Estimated   Deaths

Bladder 72,570 15,210
Breast (Female – Male) 232,340 – 2,240 39,620 – 410
Colon and Rectal (Combined) 142,820 50,830
Endometrial 49,560 8,190
Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer 59,938 12,586
Leukemia (All Types) 48,610 23,720
Lung (Including Bronchus) 228,190 159,480
Melanoma 76,690 9,480
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma 69,740 19,020
Pancreatic 45,220 38,460
Prostate 238,590 29,720
Thyroid 60,220 1,850

Percentage of patients deceased within 5 years of diagnosis:

1. Pancreatic cancer – 94%

2. Liver cancer – 83.9%

3. Esophageal cancer – 82.7%

4. Lung cancer – 83.4%

5. Stomach cancer – 72.3%

6. Brain cancer – 66.5%

7. Ovarian cancer – 55.8%

8. Oral cancer – 37.8%

9. Kidney cancer – 28.2%

10. Rectal cancer – 33.5%

11. Colon cancer – 35.1%

12. Laryngeal cancer – 39.4%

13. Cervical cancer – 32.1%

14. Prostate cancer – 0.8%

15. Breast cancer – 10.8%

16. Bladder cancer – 22.1%

17. Skin cancer – 8.7%

18. Uterine cancer – 18.5%

19. Thyroid cancer – 2.3%

20. Bone cancer – 33.6%

21. Leukemia – 44%

In the last 5 years, pancreatic cancer has listed film star Patrick Swayze and Apple mogul Steve Jobs among its most famous victims. Pancreatic cancer is so deadly because it is usually not found until patients are symptomatic, and by then it is usually in more advanced stages.

Many pancreatic cancers tend to be swift growers, with times between diagnosis and death for most patients measured in weeks or months. Battles with pancreatic cancer are, as I titled this post, swift and deadly seasons for many patients, measured in weeks or months, instead of years as is the case for most other cancers. As you saw in my compiled statistics above, the 5 year survival rates for pancreatic cancers are shockingly low.

Breast cancer is discovered through self-exams and mammograms. Prostate cancer markers are found through a simple blood test. Colon cancer is found in a colonoscopy. Lung and throat cancers are found through x-rays and other tests. Melanoma, a form of skin cancer, is found when areas of the skin are seen to change. The only way to find pancreatic cancer is when a patient arrives at their doctor’s office, complaining of its symptoms. And by then, it’s far too often too late. There are no currently viable tests for early detection of this deadly disease.

The media was very vocal about Patrick Swayze’s and Steve Jobs’ fights with pancreatic cancer. Now, I want to tell you about someone lesser known and no less loved. Her name was Barbara.

Barbara was born on July 2nd in Albany, NY. Her father was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, VMI. His exploits there were so legendary, a movie was made, called “Brother Rat,” and Eddie Albert played him. By the time Barbara was born, he was a entrepreneur, who would later be quite successful. Barbara’s mother worked for the railroad.

Barbara was a studious child. Her parents were divorced, and her mother remarried several more times to a succession of step-fathers of varying character. Barbara went to both public and parochial schools, and eventually graduated with high honors from high school. Offered a full-ride academic scholarship to Syracuse University, Barbara gave up college to marry her high school sweetheart, George, and the pair settled briefly in Florida while George served in the Navy, where they started their family.

After George left the Navy, the small family returned to their hometown and settled down. While they looked into moving elsewhere once or twice, nothing ever came of it, and they raised their family in the same town where they grew up. All their children graduated from the same high school, and a couple of them even had one or two of the same teachers. George and Barbara were active in their church life, and encouraged their children to be active church members, too.

As their 5 children started to leave the nest, George and Barbara began to travel together. First was Maine, then a cross-country trip and then another one into the South. Eventually, after retirement, they explored maritime Canada. Barbara also traveled abroad with one of her children, going first to the Holy Land (Israel, Jordan and Egypt), and later to The Netherlands, where that adult child had moved with their family.

There was an esophageal cancer scare for George, and then a spinal stenosis (bone spur on the spine) for him, but they beat that, and celebrated their 50th anniversary with a cruise to Alaska on a small ship. Barbara considered it a great victory to get George on any type of cruise at all, which had long been a dream of hers. Unfortunately, within 2 years of that wonderful time, George’s cancer resurfaced, and he lost his long battle to it 6 days prior to their  52nd anniversary.

After some time of attempting to live on her own with live-in help, it became obvious to Barbara’s family she needed to move into an assisted living facility. Always opinionated, independent and stubborn, Barbara didn’t like the rules one bit. Eventually, her health demanded she move about 2 years later into another facility that was more comprehensive, which she liked even less.

On Sunday, February 9, 2013, Barbara went  as usual to church, complaining of nausea. She looked jaundiced and felt unwell, thinking she had a persistent flu-type virus. Diagnosed as a diabetic over 15 years before, her blood sugars were erratic at best, swinging wildly up and down. Later that day, Barbara insisted on being transported from her assisted living facility to a local hospital. She never went back.

Monday, the hospital found a mass in her abdomen in an MRI. They tried to do an endoscopy Tuesday, but were unable. It was decided to move her to the regional major medical center Wednesday night, hours prior to a major winter snowstorm. At the medical center on Thursday, they did the endoscopy, and confirmed it was advanced pancreatic cancer.

Within days, her 5 children and many of her 10 grandchildren knew Barbara’s pancreatic cancer was inoperable and untreatable. Barbara was moved into a local nursing home with Hospice care on February 25th, where she spent her final days.

When asked, Barbara said she wanted to be remembered “As a woman who loved her Lord first, and her family second.” She had definite opinions, clearly stated to family members, for her final arrangements, with her wake at the same funeral home, services at her church, burial next to George and a luncheon back at the church after. She told them what she wanted as part of her service, and was very clear about it.

Barbara would be among the first to tell you she was not perfect. “A sinner saved by grace,” was what she often said of her imperfections. After George died, Barbara found her life’s purpose of caring for him over, and struggled with finding another so late in life, while grieving his loss. Her grief and lack of purpose often appeared in overwhelming neediness and anger, which drove away the people to whom she most wanted to be close. Thankfully, in late December of 2013, Barbara finally found peace with herself and her situation, and the anger and neediness largely disappeared.

Barbara was always a woman of wry wit. One of the vacations George and Barbara took often with their family was wilderness camping. When asked by a friend who was well to do (and took fancier vacations, like European tours), what the family did when it rained, Barbara dryly deadpanned, “We let it.”

Barbara had great patience with the antics of her 5 rambunctious children, 10 grandchildren and multiple great-grandchildren. Her younger son was especially skilled at jollying her into good humor when he’d misbehaved, much to the consternation of the rest. Barbara was also strong-willed, which was a good thing, with 5 strong-willed kids.

By now, dear reader, if you’ve followed my blog, read my family stories and gotten to know me a little, you’ve guessed Barbara was my mother. I initially wrote this on March 11 and edited it in the days between then and now, knowing she was dying and wanting to capture my thoughts on Mom and her killer. Before she left us, I read it to her, and received her approval to publish it. I knew I’d be unable do more today than publish it. My mother Barbara’s swift and deadly season, her battle with pancreatic cancer, ended today, and she is at home in Heaven with her Lord and her beloved George.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Job 1:21
Barbara French
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Prince Of Peace – A Christmas Poem

Prince of Peace, Who came to make peace
With men who were at war in their hearts and lives

Came not as a conqueror
Came not as a hero
But came as a helpless, innocent babe.

Came not with flashes of thunder
Came not with profound display
But came unnoticed, while most around You slept.

Came not with trumpets
Came not with royal pomp and circumstance
But came in humility, majesty hidden in hay.

Even today You come, O Prince of Peace
You come to men who see past circumstance,
Who see beyond men’s reason,
Who see beyond what seems to be to what is.

To these You come, O Prince of Peace
Come with loving kindness and compassion,
Come with the immeasurable gift of Yourself,
Emmanuel, the God who is with us,
The God who is there.

Junk In Their Trunks

Who doesn’t love a wedding? The bride, all arrayed in her gown, tiara, veil and sometimes jewels. The groom, polished and fancy in his tuxedo or suit. A bevy of bridesmaids and cluster of groomsmen. The “best people.” The completely adorable flower girl and ring bearer. Sometimes, they get pets involved. Flowers, music, everyone in their best clothes, and the knowledge a great party with good food is soon to follow.

While a wedding is usually fun for the guests, it’s no fun a lot of the time, and is effort, energy and downright stress for the bride, groom, wedding party and/or their families. Much planning usually goes into them, and they can be occasions for family fights sometimes. Fights? Over what? Seating charts. Who gets invited and who doesn’t. Including kids (aside from the ring bearer and flower girl, and whether these will even be there), or not. Food preferences/allergies. The cake. The groom’s cake. Money is always a big one. Venue. Music choices. Decorations. Cantankerous guests. The honeymoon. The list goes on and on!

Thankfully, we didn’t have too many of these fights in planning and preparing for our wedding 38 years ago. We took care of the seating chart war by not having one. We cast our invitation net wide, and invited all our friends and relatives. Food was taken care of with a hot and cold buffet which mostly seemed to please everyone. There was only 1 cake, and everyone agreed on the flavor. Money? My mother gave us a budget (the same as my sister Judi, who was also marrying that summer), and we paid for whatever else we wanted. The venue was near the church we all agreed on, and was a suggestion of my mother’s. Music was provided by a band led by a friend of mine from grade school. We decorated the reception hall ourselves the night before. We just took care of everything as it came up, and agreed not to fight over it. (We won’t discuss our rambunctious guests from Bob’s office . . . or the Daddy/Daughter dance that almost wasn’t . . . or the Great Flower Fiasco . . . or the Polka Predicament . . . )

But just because our wedding was almost problem-free doesn’t mean our marriage has been. Oh, no! We had headaches, hassles and arguments right from the start! Bob and I are both strong-willed and stubborn, logical and determined to get our own way. He’s more quiet about it, while I have volume and emotions. Adding to it, we both had something else.

You see, dear reader, it took over 35 years of marriage for me to realize something: Everyone enters their marriages with what our culture likes to call “junk in our trunks.” We have baggage. I had, among other things, rejection and anger issues. He had, among other things, commitment and decision-making issues. We had different views about decorating, finances, child-rearing, and vacations. Our marriage put two people with that baggage together, expecting us to somehow work it all out.

I think that’s why bridal gowns have trains and tuxedos have tails, and why brides and grooms find them so popular to wear at weddings. While most people may not come into their marriages with quite all the baggage Bob and I did, or even the same kinds of baggage, we all have some.  We use those gorgeous gowns and fancy tuxedos to hide what we’re carrying along behind us, certain that if our fiance saw the full extent of it, he or she would run screaming from the church . . . At least, that’s how I felt about it, despite being aware Bob knew about a lot of mine.

Remember how I said “we were expected to work it out”? Well, the good news is we were not expected to work it out alone. Aside from friends, family, marriage books, CD’s, marriage counselors, pastors and sermons, Bob and I had an incredibly valuable resource to help us work it out. Because right from the start, within the wedding ceremony itself, we asked God to put Himself between us. We asked Him to not just to be a part of our wedding, but Senior Partner in our marriage, Whose values and opinions mattered more than our own.

Why did we do that? It goes back to a Scripture someone read as a part of that day. In Ecclesiastes 4, King Solomon said,

Two are better than one, because they have good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And although a man might prevail against one who is alone, two shall withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (English Standard Version, emphasis mine)

Since then, I’ve found in Proverbs 16 King Solomon also said,

Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.

Proverbs 16:3 (English Standard Version)

By asking God to be an active partner in our marriage, by valuing His opinions and values more than our own, we established from the very first moments a firm foundation from which to build our relationship. Without it, quite frankly, we would have been all over but the shouting and eventual divorce!

We could have chosen not to do this. We could have chosen to base our marriage on our feelings in the moment. But when the hard times came, and those feelings weren’t there, our commitment to one another needed something else to back it up. That “something else” was our personal relationships with and commitments to God, and our joint commitment to walk out our marriage together before Him.

For us, to not invite God into the center of our marriage would have been like what Jesus described in His parable of the wise and foolish builders, as recorded in Matthew 7:

Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

Matthew 7:24-27 (English Standard Version, emphasis mine)

Had we not established our marriage on the firm foundation of our shared faith in God, in His saving work for us in the Person of Jesus Christ, in the ongoing purifying of our lives of His Holy Spirit, our marriage would have been built on sand, and would have crashed at the least calamity. And believe me, with the junk we carried into our marriage in our trunks, we set ourselves up for calamities galore, let alone the normal ones that life hands to us all.

I am not saying we were perfect then, and I am certainly by no means saying we’re perfect now! Far from it! But as my builder friends say, when the foundation is strong, the house is likely to be strong as well. Because we started with a strong foundation, because we began with God in the center, we had a basis on which to build with strength and love.

Our first efforts were, as most are, stumbling, and often came crashing down in life’s storms, at least partially. But God our Master Builder uses the wisdom of Scripture, the guidance of mentors and books, CD’s, sermons and counselors and other resources time and again to help and guide us to rebuild better. Like most things of great size and strength, it’s taken time and much effort. We’re not done. We’ll never be done, at least until we receive our eternal Heavenly reward (hopefully a very long time from now!).

If you’ve read anything else on here, dear reader, you know life’s storms have hit us, and oftentimes hit us hard. (When Life Turns Upside Down) They still hit from time to time, in big and small ways. Our “junk in our trunks” still gets in our way sometimes. But God helps us to withstand the storms, unpack more junk, drop yet more baggage behind us and move on again stronger. Each time we allow Him to unpack our junk and drop our baggage, our marriage becomes stronger and a greater testimony to God’s love and enduring faithfulness. He’s a Gentleman, who won’t force Himself in, and unpack for us. We have to allow the process to happen in order for it to work, both as individuals and as a couple. We have to work with Him.

Someone might say, “Well, I’m single! So this doesn’t apply to me!” Please allow me to point out something. We all have relationships. We all enter them with “junk in our trunks.” Many times, sadly,  other relationships end over people’s “junk,” just as many marriages do. The same God Who helps us with our “junk,” Who guides us through the issues the storms and “junk” bring up, Who heals us from the pain life causes us (and often, we cause ourselves) is ready, willing and able to help you, too. He can be your Friend, your “Junk” Dealer, your closest companion and your foundation against anything life may throw at you. But as I said, He’s a Gentleman. He’ll wait for you to ask. Of course, He might prompt the circumstances of life to throw enough at you to prompt you to ask (and throw in the proverbial towel!). But He’ll never force Himself on you. You always have only to ask.

I hope and pray you ask. In the asking, there is a Friend worth having, and immense joy for your journey.

Cathy

One Quiet Holy Night

Have you ever wondered what really happened in a story we’ve heard so many times before? Or do you, like all of us do at times, zone out because you’ve heard it so many times before?? Have you ever considered what things were like for those people we now see through the dim lens of history as characters? I’ve been pondering over the Christmas story as we approach the Holiday this year, and I invite you, dear readers, to join my musings. Or at least, put up with them . . .

Let’s consider the timing of the events. It was during the early years of the Roman Empire. The known Western world was at peace with itself for the first time in hundreds of years. There were open roads, patrolled by Roman armies, between countries. The speed of communication between places had never been greater, and wouldn’t be equaled again until the modern era. There was a universal language, Greek, by which everyone was understood, along with local languages and dialects. There was a stable government, prosperous commerce and people were enjoying a better standard of living than in the past.

There were also tremendous problems. Entire populations had been enslaved to please Roman masters. Taxes could be oppressive. The protective Roman army could also be brutal. Laws were stacked against anyone, not Roman, as were the courts.

And the people who knew this event was coming had been waiting for thousands of years. Told a Messiah was on His way, they lived their lives as they waited and watched. First, a people, the Jews, was chosen. Then a tribe of the Jews, as Judah was picked. Then another choice, as the kingly line was promised to David and his family forever.

And then the kingdom was gone, lost by their own sin and judgment in occupation and captivity in Babylon. And when it seemed all hope was lost, the Jews were restored to their ancient land, a mere 70 years later. War, turmoil, and occupation followed, first by the Greeks and lately by the Romans. It was only really relatively few years into the famed Pax Romana, the Roman peace that would last for the next several hundred years.

Let’s consider the extenuating circumstances. It started, as many things do, with a government edict, to receive a tax. Governments have taxed their people for countless years, and this one was no different. And yet, it was different, because to properly tax the people, their government declared there would also be a census taken. We can easily imagine the unhappiness and disenchantment this order caused among the far-scattered peoples over which this government ruled. But taxed they were to be. And the census was to be taken by everyone returning to their ancestral homes.

The uprooting, even temporarily, would be incredible! Every city’s and town’s hospitality industries, however primitive, would be stretched to the maximum with guests. Families would be staying with extended relatives when they could, or camping in fields or caves when they could not.

And this was no modern, mechanized culture like our own. This was the Iron Age, dependent on animals for transportation needs. But horses were for the well-to-do. Donkeys were if one could afford it, were what average folk used. So getting anyplace also took considerable time and often an effort, especially if one couldn’t afford animal assistance. Roads were not paved unless one was traveling in what we now know as Italy or Greece. They were dirt, dusty when dry, muddy when wet and covered with snow in the winter in places where it snowed. There was no police presence to protect from robbers, so they could also be unsafe in remote places.

Let’s consider the main “characters”. Prior to the government edict, there had been an engagement announced in a tiny town in Judea. Mary, a teenage girl, perhaps no more than 15 and just past puberty according to the custom of the times, was betrothed to Joseph, an older, established man, a carpenter. This couple was, like most around them, Jews. A Jewish betrothal was a complicated process, lasting 6 months to a year, as the groom prepared the bridal home and the bride prepared the things to go in it, and her family prepared for the commonly 3-day long wedding feast. Unusually, this couple had finalized their wedding before the full engagement period was over, forgoing the long feast and just starting their marriage together, despite the barrage of gossip from relatives and friends.

They had married early because of the amazing things the bride told her groom. She was pregnant, not by him or any other mortal man, but by the power of God. The Child she carried was to be the Savior of the world, according to what the angel had told her. He initially found it incredible and didn’t believe her. He could have publicly humiliated her. He could have had her stoned, killed by having rocks thrown at her by the men of the town, with the first coming from him and her father. He could have divorced her. He did nothing. Eventually, God showed him she was telling the truth by sending him his own angelic messenger, and he took her in as his wife, against all custom and tradition.

When the edict came, this couple, the bride now heavily pregnant with her first child, made their way to his ancestral home, a 90-mile trek. It was not at all easy for a healthy person, let alone someone 8 or 9 months pregnant!

When they got there, there were no rooms for them anywhere. Finally, they met a compassionate innkeeper. He pointed out the caves, used as stables where shepherds took pregnant sheep who were soon to bear the lambs for Passover in the spring. The only refuge they found, the grateful couple took it. And it was there the Child was born, in a primitive place, in a rustic time, to a poor and relatively uneducated people.

Let’s consider this Child. Mary’s son, yet the Eternal Son of God. Named from conception by angels to be called Jesus, named for His purpose and mission on earth. Child of many Names:

Emmanuel, meaning God is with us

Savior

Messiah, meaning promised deliverer

Lamb of God

Christ the Lord

Prince of Peace

Counselor

Mighty God

Holy One

Lord of Life

Lord of All

Wonderful

Son of David

Son of God

This is but a sampling, as the list in various sections of the Bible goes on and on! Yet He was a Baby, just like any other baby. Born just like we are, painfully and messily. A Baby, who would be hungry, cold, needing naps and feeding and changing and burping. Needing to be taught all the things children learn and have learned since humans started having them. A Child needing to grow and discover the world around Him. A Boy Child, needing to learn his earthly father’s occupation and trade. And yet, simultaneously, in a miraculous way, God. God’s Son, God made flesh, as the Scriptures say.

Let’s consider again the location of His birth. In a stable, humble and rustic, not at all the sterile conditions with which modern first world peoples are conditioned to believe are a requirement. No, these were third world conditions at best. Maybe a midwife, maybe not. It could have just been Mary, a scared teenager, and Joseph, her equally scared husband. Young girls were kept innocent until such things actually happened to them, and they were assisted by mothers, aunts and other helpers, so she must have been very scared. Men didn’t have anything to do with the birthing process at the time, and his ignorance could have been terrifying to both of them. If there was no midwife, they were two complete tyros, muddling through in a place and conditions modern Westerners would find completely unacceptable.

And that place, that place. Jesus, God’s one true and forever Passover Lamb from eternity, born where lambs for the Passover were birthed. Really, it’s astonishing when I think about it overmuch. The shepherds knew immediately where that place was, and its significance, when the angels sent them there. They were, after all, the ones tending the flocks responsible for the provision of the Passover lambs. So when angels heralded the Savior, laying in a manger, they knew what those things would mean to them and their people. Illiterate, perhaps. Uneducated, no. It was a requirement of all Jewish men to know (and largely memorize) their Scriptures. They might not be experts in theology like priests in the Temple, but they knew what the prophecies said. And they believed when the angels announced it to them.

That was no small feat, the belief of the shepherds. The Priests, Pharisees and religious establishment never saw what was in front of their eyes. They saw what they wanted to see, what they believed was true. They looked at Jesus through their own misconceptions, even as we all do, and made wrong conclusions because their minds were closed to any other possibilities. The Truth was just too fantastic to be real to them. But not to the shepherds.

Nor to the wise men. Let’s consider them for a moment. Much has been written and said about these Magi of the East we call the wise men. It’s not conclusively known where they came from or who they were, perhaps astrologers from somewhere east of Persia, or maybe even India or China. It’s not known how many of them there were. It’s not known if they came on their own or were sent by some organized group back in their distant home. Their names are lost to history and only guessed at in story and song.

All we know is they came, seeking the Star they’d seen, first in error to Herod in Jerusalem. When given the correct directions by the religious establishment there Herod consulted, they left immediately for Bethlehem, less than 10 miles away. Another thing we know is they found the Child and His parents, worshiped Him and gave Him gifts of incredible wealth in their gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Not only were their gifts costly, they were significant. Gold has ever represented kingship and rule. Frankincense represented priestly duties and intercession before God. Myrrh was used to heal and also used to prepare bodies for burial. These were kingly gifts given to people at the bottom end of the poverty levels and timed just perfectly for their needs.

Because the wise men brought not only gifts, but also a warning: Herod knows of the Child, and wants to kill Him! They left by another route and cautioned His parents to flee and do the same. Warned by angels in a dream, Joseph and Mary got up in the night, took Jesus and fled to Egypt, where the gifts of the wise men provided a living for them until they were safe to return home after the death of Herod a few years later.

Let’s consider the angels. Messengers throughout the story, speaking the words of God to His people after 400 silent years (prophesied in Amos 8) from the start of the Babylonian captivity and the death of the last of the Old Testament prophets until the first angel appeared to Zechariah, a Temple priest, to tell of the coming birth of his own son John, who would be the forerunner of the Messiah, according to Luke 1. An angel appears to Mary in person to announce her as the Messiah’s mother, and to Joseph in a dream, to confirm what she said to him. Angels herald the Birth to the shepherds with joy and great pomp. Angels appear to Joseph again in his dreams, warning him to go to Egypt, to escape Herod’s wrath. Four hundred years of silence from Heaven was broken. Not with a shout, but with angelic announcements and the cries of children, from the Messiah and His forerunner.

Let’s consider the Star. Some call it a star, some a comet. No one really knows what it was. An astronomical phenomenon never seen before or since the Star of Bethlehem is singular in history. It guided the wise men. It awed the shepherds and everyone they told about it. It was a standing star, in a sky of stars that ever move. A miracle of God all on its own, it’s a relatively minor player in the tale, eclipsed by the glory of the One who created it, and it was singularly created to herald. Like everything else in the story, it stands as unique and in many ways undefinable, even as is the incredible love of God woven throughout what we read and hear every year.

Finally, let’s consider the most astonishing thing of all, the love of God in this story. On that quiet holy night, Abba Father Daddy God reached out. The One who seemed remote and distant to mankind from the world’s creation, Who was awesome and fearful to His people the Jews, showed His true Father’s heart of love for the mankind He lovingly created.

I cannot emphasize this enough! Because if you get nothing else from what I’ve said in this post, please understand at its heart the Christmas story is a love story from Father God to you and me.

When Adam and Eve turned from God in the Garden of Eden, He could have done the same. He could have obliterated them and started over again. But He chose to send His Son, the physical representation of the Eternal Godhead of Three-In-One, to be born.

God could have sent His Son to be born in a palace, to be raised in pomp and rule from birth. But how could He have related to us that way? How could we have come close to understanding Him?? Instead, He sent Jesus to humble people, poor folk from a backwater town the religious elite would later scoff over, that His Son would be able to understand the humility and disdain everyone suffers sometimes in life.

Jesus could have come as an adult, fully formed. He could have come as a conquering king, suddenly appearing to make everything right. And indeed, He will come this way when He returns. But that time, He didn’t. Jesus came as a baby, born as we are, raised as we are, with all the inherent troubles, hazards and trials of a child growing into adulthood, that He might have compassion on us in our struggles. He came as a baby, small and vulnerable, that we might approach Him because humans ever find babies irresistible. Because we inherently know of His power, His majesty, and His might, and it frightens us. But as a Baby, a Holy Child isn’t frightening at all. As a Baby, He’s eternally approachable for everyone.

At Christmas, we love to give gifts to those we know and love. It’s an impulse that’s so innate in us, it’s almost instinctive. I believe this is because it’s put in us by the Great Giver of Life Himself, Father God. On that first Christmas, Father God reached inside Himself, becoming both Giver and Gift. In giving Himself to us in His Son Jesus, He is the Ultimate Gift we can both receive and give to a hurting world.

The Christmas story is more than shepherds and angels and stars. It’s more than wise men and Mary and Joseph. They aren’t just characters in the story and songs we hear every year, that most of us can repeat by heart. These were people like ourselves, ordinary people, who were chosen by God to play an extraordinary role in history, to reveal the Father’s love to mankind in His Son Jesus. Because that’s what it is, this history, it’s His Story.

May His Story be ever more real for you this Christmas, and bring your journey joy the rest of the year!

All-Sufficient God

Self-sufficient humans,

Going their own ways.

Created for something greater

Than the sameness of their days.

Ignoring all the signposts

Placed before their eyes,

Always struggling and striving,

Just trying to get by.

All-sufficient God

Loving wayward men.

Reaching into history

In only a way God can.

Becoming merely human

And remaining completely God,

Loving all encountered

On dusty streets, He trod.

All-sufficient God

Completely sacrificed.

Wholly and forever

Sin’s only priceless price.

Self-sufficient humans

Receiving Heaven’s best,

Some spurning the gift of grace,

Others bending willingly,

Raised up to see God’s face.

A Tale Of Two U.S. Cities

Charleston

Violent protest from violent people

Violent counter-protests

Violence begetting violenceImage result for charleston sc violence August 2017

Houston

Hurricane Harvey

Violent weather from the hand of God

Rapid local and national response

Violence begetting extraordinary compassion Image result for houston flooding cajun navy

Two sides of violence

Two sides of the U.S.

Which one is the real picture?

Are both?

America is like a family.

Her people fight among themselves like cats and dogs.

 But when something from the outside threatens,

her people pull together to fight it together as one.

 

 

Some Thoughts On Friendship

How do you define “friendship”? For you, what makes a good friend? What do you do to be a good friend?

I’ve been considering these thoughts lately. I’ve also been trying to read and study on the topic. However, I’ve been dismayed to discover books on the subject are extraordinarily lacking! While we can use much of what is mentioned in books on basic people skills, it seems like almost no one has written much of anything on friendship itself.

I wonder why? Could it be because friendship is so hard to quantify or define? Or is it that the qualities which make up a good friendship, like other things, was just so well understood by previous generations they saw no need to write about it? They just understood it and lived it and taught their children by living it in front of them.

A notable friendship in history is that of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The literary world is greater and vastly broader due to the deep friendship between these two Oxford Dons! It was the encouragement and support of Lewis through the Inklings club that led to Tolkien writing and publishing his stories which became the wildly popular The Hobbit and the trilogy (and follow-up books for) The Lord of the Rings. Their contributions might have been even greater together, save for a misunderstanding which led to a miscommunication, which eventually resulted in an estrangement.

Some of the things which the friendship of Lewis and Tolkien shows are:

  • friends are there for you and support you
  • friends love you where you are at
  • friends encourage you to be more than what you currently are

I was thinking about friendship because of something that happened a while ago. I was upset and unhappy about some things going on in my life. (I won’t bore you with the details.) On my lunch break at work, I used my office line and called my best friend Cindy, and told her my troubles. She listened and advised, but we were both realizing she seemed to be unable to break me out of my “blue funk.”

A call on my cell phone from a family member interrupted us. The family member was reporting on some trivia I couldn’t handle from work, and I asked them to deal with since they were there. I finished that call and went back to my call with Cindy, who had heard my end of the conversation. I told her what it was about. She reminded me of a funny story of when we were newlyweds together, dealing with stuff for the first time as adults on our own. She related it exactly to the frustrating call from my family member. Using the story and the memory, Cindy was able to give me a hilarious mental picture to replace the one frustrating me, and a good laugh to top it off. The laughter gave me needed perspective on the things that had been troubling me, and she was then able to help me reframe the things that had been bothering me when I first called. I ended the call in a much better mood, with ideas to solve my problems.

Friends are there for you and support you: Cindy was there for me and supported me. She was having a tough day herself, but took time out to listen, counsel and make me laugh. Her presence on the phone, while I was having a problem, was part of my solution.

In another example of support, after my mother died, our friends Tony and Pat drove 1 1/2 hours from their Utica, NY home to our Albany, NY area for Mom’s 4:00 pm wake. They met my whole family and stayed until almost 5:00. Then they drove back past Utica and on to Syracuse, NY, a 3-hour drive, where they were scheduled to speak at an event, and arrived on time. Now that’s what I call being there and supporting a friend!

Friends love you where you are at: Cindy knew I wasn’t thinking right when I called after about the first few sentences. But she didn’t work on the errors of my thinking or suggesting any behavioral changes until she helped me out of the “blue funk.” Instead, she listened and loved me where I was at, “blue funk” and all.

Friends encourage you to be more than what you currently are: After she had me laughing, Cindy was finally able to encourage me to think differently about things and to suggest different things I could do about the situations that were troubling me. We brainstormed together and came up with some possible answers. I later tried to put them into practice. I was also able to come up with more on my own because Cindy had given me the reinforcement that I was able to find better solutions.

These aspects of friendship are by no means the entire list! I could talk about how friends make you laugh, or cry with you. I can mention friends correct, counsel and advise you. I could outline different types or levels of friendships, from casual to intimate. Perhaps, that’s another reason why a definitive book (or 3) on friendship has yet to be written. There’s just so much to say!

Please join me in the conversation, and say something about it in the comments. (I might even edit the post to include it!)

 

Mirror Moments

Have you ever looked at an image in a mirror and wondered, “Who is that, and where did that person come from? When did I get to look like that??!!??”

I had something of that experience recently. I was getting ready for work. Sitting at my vanity, reaching for something, my glance hit the mirror and I saw something I hadn’t seen before. When I moved my arms forward to reach for things, the skin on the lower part of my neck got wrinkly.

My glance then happened across my hands. While grabbing things, my skin was the smooth, even texture I had always seen. But when I just held them in a resting position or was using them in other ways, wrinkles appeared where none had been before.

Where had these come from? When had time done its inexorable march on my physical self to cause me to start to look so much older than the me inside feels??

Now, lest you think these thoughts are rooted in the mind of someone so selfish and vain all I care about is my image and appearance, allow me to correct that assumption. I wear makeup because as a business owner, it makes me appear more credible. I put it on as a necessary chore, not a pleasurable one. After years of searching, I finally have a hair style that doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort to look good in the morning. I wear coordinating clothes and jewelry because of my creative, artistic sense, not to be fashionable or to please anyone else (except my husband, who gave most of it to me!). I tend to wear the same necklace (my husband gave it to me for our latest anniversary) and the same bracelet (he gave it to me for Christmas last year) every day. In other words, my appearance is something I give about 1/2 an hour of my day to in the morning, and only scant attention to any other time. It’s an issue of practicality, not vanity.

So, why did the wrinkles bother me? Because when I saw them, I was instantly reminded of a conversation I’d had as a child with my grandmother. And I suddenly realized what an egotistical, self-centered jerk I had been, and how loving and gracious my grandmother had been.

I was no more than 8 or 10, and visiting their home in Syracuse, NY. I was there for the week with my older brother for Vacation Bible School, which we often did in the summer.

We were in Grandmother’s kitchen, and I was helping Grandmother and a friend of hers with some baking. At some point, I looked at their hands, compared them to my childish ones, and made some comment about the wrinkles on them. I then further compounded the immense insult by remarking about the wrinkles on their faces!

Grandmother and her friend could have rightly chosen to be offended. They could have chosen to become upset. They could have chosen to speak harshly to me. They chose none of it. They answered with love, kindly and graciously, simply saying these were signs they’d so far lived long and well, and someday I would understand.

There was something thing I realized as I reviewed that conversation in my memories. Looking at it now, from the adult’s perspective, Grandmother and her friend were likely around the same age I am now! At the time, they seemed immeasurably old. Now, at the same relative age, I look in the mirror and see someone still young looking back (except when I see wrinkles!). But I have a calendar awareness of the passage of time, as well as tangible proof like grandchildren, arthritis and gray hair (just ask my stylist).

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who could have 30, 50 or 100  years left to do all I want to accomplish in life. Okay, I admit it, 100 is pushing it! Or, I could be hit by a bus, get into an accident and my life would be over tomorrow. Don’t believe me? See When Life Turns Upside Down, in which I talk about life after a near-death experience last year. The point is, you never know.

I realized I needed to repent, and say I was sorry to God and the memory of Grandmother for being such an obnoxious, selfish and self-centered jerk of a kid. I know what you’re thinking. Kids have no filters. I certainly didn’t that day. But if time has taught me anything, it’s that a heartfelt “I am sorry” is never out of place when your conscience hits you with a guilty sting.

Finally, I realized as I reviewed that conversation the passage of time has done its work. I understand what Grandmother and her friend meant that day. I have tried to live well, for as long as I’ve had so far.

The Bible has a lot to say about aging and the experience and potential of wisdom that comes with age.

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. Proverbs 16:31

Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. Job 12:12

My absolute favorite on the topic, however, is this one:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalms 90:20

I know, you’re asking, “Number our days?!?!?? What does that mean??!??” It means more than that calendar awareness of time I was mentioning before. The ancient Greeks called that calendar awareness of time Chronos time. It’s the time of clocks and calendars, that we can understand, quantify and measure. What we need is an understanding that our lives, that we see as so long, so significant, so important to us, are really just blips and specks on the timeline of eternity. In other words, what the ancient Greeks called Kairos time. Kairos time is not something quantifiable, understandable or measurable because it’s eternal. It’s all that was before and all that is and all that will be, all in one package, all in one big picture. It’s God’s view of eternal time, as He Who was and is and ever will be.

When we get a Kairos view of time, when we learn to “number our days,” as the psalmist says, we understand our own insignificance in the vastness of God’s perspective. That sounds like it would be something to bring down our self-image and not give us wisdom, right? Well, God’s views are different. When we look at things the way He sees them, we look at ourselves and our lives through His plans, His purposes and, most importantly, His immense and overwhelming love for us. We see our faults, our failings, our flaws and yes, even our wrinkles, in the light of what He has taken us through, and where He is taking us to.

One of LIFE Leadership co-founder Chris Brady‘s favorite quotes is by noted author Henry David Thoreau:

It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?

In our lives of Chronos busy-ness, getting a Kairos view of things from time to time gives us a perspective to understand what we need to be busy about. Day to day living can smother purpose, gobble up passions and devour dreams in the minutiae of things that just have to get done. An eternal view from time to time realigns our perspective, sharpens our focus and reminds us what is truly important.

So, where do we go from here? For me, going back to the start of the post, I’ve earned my current set of wrinkles, and hope to earn lots more. I want to earn more doing things that matter in life, things that have a Kairos impact on a Chronos world. For me, these are things like loving people, sharing the Gospel, and being all the light I can be wherever my life’s candle is placed, just to name a few. On a more selfish level, I want to have some more adventures, a bit of fun, and maybe even acquire a few more gray hairs (for my stylist to hide) by doing exciting things in incredible places with wonderful people.

What about you? Who do you see in the mirror each morning? How are your “mirror moments” lately? Our “mirror moments” are the best when we see not only who is physically looking back, but who is looking back from within. I wish you joy in your journey of discovery.

 

Competition

Are you competitive? Do you play cut-throat Scrabble, or Monopoly, or cards? Do you have a killer instinct on the softball field, the hockey rink or touch football field? Or do you race ahead even if it’s just in traffic?

I will confess to being extremely competitive. Whether I am driving, playing Yahtzee or softball, I want to get ahead, to win. I grew up in a highly competitive family. Cut-throat games of Monopoly were how my siblings and I would spend long evenings on winter vacations when our parents didn’t want us watching television. Card games and competitions to see who could toast the best marshmallows marked evenings on family camping trips, after racing one another in the lake or on hikes.

I think competition is built into us and is part of what makes us human. The drive to compete, to excel, causes people to go beyond the efforts they think they can otherwise do, to find levels of performance in themselves and inspire it in others. Competition causes people to look for new ways of doing old things, and to invent new things entirely.

I started thinking about the role of competition in our lives when a friend posted what turned out to be a humorous hoax article on FaceBook. It was from a Canadian radio program, This Is That. At the time he shared it, my friend didn’t know it was a hoax, and took it seriously, as did the rest of us. It was about a Canadian youth soccer league, who supposedly removed the ball from competitions, to ensure every child would be a winner. Here it is: This is That – Youth Soccer

Reading this story, before I knew it was a hoax, I began thinking about competition in the light of my grandchildren. The older ones are almost 8, almost 6 and just turned 4. They are even more competitive than my siblings and I were. These kids compete about everything! Living with them on a daily basis as I do, I see them compete for who can clean their rooms, who can eat dinner the fastest, who can hug their parents first and anything else they can think of at the moment! Competition is in their DNA.

When we attend a football or soccer or basketball game, the first thing we look for is the score most of the time. A game without a score would be missing a significant part of what makes it a game. When someone we love is competing, we want them to do well, to win. But without a score, there is no winning, and the competition is pointless.

In the past couple of years, there has been a movement in youth sports for children to play, but for no score to be kept officially. The reasoning behind it is all kids get a chance to have fun, and no one “feels bad” when their team loses. But short-sighted organizers failed to realize the children, lacking an official scoring system, time and again come up with an unofficial one of their own. While the wins and losses may not be publicized, the knowledge is still known to everyone. 

Competition can also teach us lessons. Not just the obvious ones of what you learn in how to win at whatever you are trying to do, but less obvious ones, too. Lessons like good sportsmanship, fair play, honorability and even the inevitable lesson of being gracious in a loss are all learned when we compete if we are careful to pay attention to them. There is a mindset to winning, and another one in losing. Consistent winners develop positive attitudes, endurance, self-discipline, and perseverance. Many learn teamwork and  the value of putting shared goals over individual ones.

Baseball great Derek Jeter once said,

If you’re going to play at all, you’re out to win. Baseball, board games, playing Jeopardy, I hate to lose.

Derek Jeter’s comments sum up what I’ve been saying. I don’t think it’s just him, though. Deep down, if we truly examine ourselves, we all hate to lose. Don’t we?

The Importance of a Small Thing

Have you ever broken a bone? I have a colorfully checkered orthopedic history, according to my doctors.

It started in middle school, breaking my left big toe when I was helping to set up a trampoline in gym class, and someone didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, as it were. It continued in high school, as I broke each ankle in its turn, finding woodchuck holes on cross country courses in the region. In college, I broke my tailbone ice skating and later one of my wrists on roller skates. As a young mother, I blew first one knee skiing, and the other one a few years later when my heel broke when I was dancing. I broke my other wrist tripping over my husband’s cat when he was flopped in my path and I didn’t see him in the dark. I thought I was done, but 4 years ago, I broke my hand tripping over a curb at a rest stop in the early hours of the first morning of a road trip. (By the way, that’s just the list of what I’ve broken. I’ve also sprained both ankles and both wrists as well, in other, separate accidents.)

When I saw the orthopedic surgeon after I broke my wrist tripping over the cat, he was shocked at my history. “What have you been trying to do, girl? Kill yourself??” he demanded. “No,” I chuckled. “I was trying to find out what I could do, by finding out what I couldn’t.

I say all that to sheepishly tell you I did it again. I have more broken bones to add to the list, another misadventure ending in injury. We were in Ottawa, Canada recently for the Life Leadership Masters of Leadership Convention. It was the final morning of our trip. The conference was fantastic. The time with our partners was delightful. The hotel was gorgeous and had a great hot tub. The time away from our routine was a welcome break. The Poutine (a Canadian food, made from French Fries, gravy, cheese curds and whatever add-in’s you select) was incredible. All things added together, we were having a marvelous time.

And then the phone rang with the wake up call the final morning. It was on my side of the bed. To his credit, Bob had gotten up with it every other time it rang, because of the difficulty he knew I would have with it. This time, he didn’t. Oops. I woke up and tried to reach for it, past my C-pap machine (for breathing when I sleep), past my ever-present water bottle and realized it was too far away. I tried to angle further in my sleepy state, partially unable to see due to my room darkening mask still mostly covering my eyes, and the absence of my glasses (I’m almost blind without them!). My momentum caused me to fall off the high bed. I landed mostly on my right foot, which was turned under me, and my left leg, which hit the partly open lower drawer of the night stand. In a state of intense pain, I grabbed the phone, silencing the ringing, hollering variations of, “OW!!!” I’d badly bruised my leg, and broke my right little toe and the outside edge of my right foot in the fall, both hairline fractures.

Naturally, being the stubborn and determined person I am, I didn’t go see the doctor when I got home. In fact, I didn’t go for another 10 days! It was only when the pain started waking me up at night (after I stubbed it against Bob’s cat, who was laying on the floor in the dark where I didn’t see him), that I went and got the official verdict. However, in the meantime, I started to learn some painful lessons about the importance of our little toes,  our littlest and seemingly least insignificant body parts.

For such a small part of the body, the little toe is incredibly important! When we stand or walk, it is a crucial part of us being in balance. When we drive or use a bicycle, our little toes add strength and stability to our efforts. In short, it adds its efforts to the other toes and combines to make a mighty force in our lives we almost never notice, until something like this happens.

Breaking my little toe meant I limped, which threw me off balance, causing my hips to be out of alignment, creating discomfort in my lower back. Limping also caused strain on my other leg and knee, which had to bear more weight than normal. Finding a comfortable place to put my foot so my sandal wouldn’t rub on it caused discomfort to that knee, too. In other words, breaking my little toe negatively impacted orthopedic issues from my waist down, which had not been in any discomfort prior to my injury. It also impacted my lifestyle, and what I could and could not do, and altered plans I’d had for 5 weeks of my summer. I couldn’t swim, ride my bike or play softball, as I’d planned. It meant I had to rely on others more, something I immensely dislike doing (I did mention I’m stubborn and determined, right?). In short, it messed up major sections of my life for a bit.

Human relationships can be a lot like a person with a broken toe sometimes. The Bible talks about the Christians being in relationship like a body. Paul says in Romans 12: 4 – 5 (ESV – emphasis mine):

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individual members one of another.

He also says in I Corinthians 12:12 – 27 (ESV – emphasis mine) :

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
In the past, when I have been around as these concepts were taught, I have heard people say, “I must be a little toe, then, or something else equally insignificant. I cannot see where I am making a difference.” They are operating under the belief that if they are not out on the front lines of public ministry, if no one can see their service, it must be insignificant. Or worse, they leave “ministry” up to paid pastors and church employees and perhaps elders and other leaders, thinking if it doesn’t come with a title, it must not be a ministry. Their attitude is kind of like this:
When we think like these saints, we are living under a lie! We have been cruelly deceived, sidelined in what we can do, and a vital part of the ministry of the Body is lost in our failure to serve. We are also forgetting God sees everything we do, whether public or private. He knows our service, whether we see it as small or great. He knows it all.
Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song about changing this mindset, called “Do Everything.” He challenges us as Christians to live out our daily lives, performing our many tasks, as if God was watching over our shoulders at every minute of the day. And really, when you think about it (not to freak you out, or anything), He is! If we truly believe He knows and sees all, then He really does see and know every small act of service, no matter how unimportant we think it is.
There is also the matter of something called “The Butterfly Effect.” In short, it’s the impact of a small thing on larger consequences, the theory of how the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in a rain forest could ultimately cause a hurricane and billions of dollars of damage somewhere else. Well, doing small things has a lasting impact we might never know about until we see God face to face! An example in my life is the choir director who saw talent in me when I was a quiet and shy kid who had joined only on a dare, who brought out in me a love of sharing my gift of song and taught me I love performing. Another was the youth leader who had compassion on me when I was a suicidal, abused teenager, who loved and counseled me back from the edge of disaster. Another is the mentor and leader who discovered my love to write and share from God’s truths hidden away in me and challenged me until I started this blog. For the most part, they don’t know the lasting impact of what their service rendered in my life, and really, neither do I.
I could go on and on! Who has impacted your life, dear reader? Who has done something, or said something, that they might have considered small or insignificant, that made a huge impact on you? Where have you impacted someone else? Please feel free to share a story and continue the discussion in the comments. Let’s thank them here, if nowhere else.
Dear Readers, be the little toe in the Body of Christ if that is what God is calling you to be. But please, dear saint, if you are the little toe or whatever body part you are, understand you are not insignificant. You are not unimportant. You are vital, you are needed and you are very much required and loved.  The pain in my life from one broken little toe has been proof enough of that!