Category Archives: cancer volume 4

God Rules

“When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.”

Genesis 32:25

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Recently, we celebrated Pink-Out Day at our school – an October day dedicated for wearing pink to honor and to support the fight against breast cancer. In addition to wearing pink, the kids contributed their spare change as a donation to our local cancer center. It was a blessing to walk amongst a sea of pink that day and to soberly reflect on its significance in my own journey of survivorship.

My classroom started our Pink-Out Day as we begin all of our days – in the Word of God. I’ve been telling them their story of faith – the history of their people, the Patriarchs. Rich have been our morning discussions of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. My students are learning a lot, perhaps retaining more biblical knowledge at the tender age of ten than most of the world’s population. It’s a good thing to glean head knowledge. It’s an even better thing when that knowledge works its way down into the heart where it can lodge for a season, perhaps eternally. So when one of my students showed evidence of that movement on that particular morning, I was delighted and humbled to lead her to that place of greater understanding. The backdrop for our discussion was Jacob’s great wrestling match with God at Peniel which, ultimately, led to God changing his name from Jacob to Israel (meaning “God rules”).

“Mrs. Olsen, do you think if God would have healed Jacob’s hip that night, instead of letting him walk with a limp the rest of his life, that Jacob would have forgotten that he wrestled with God and that ‘God rules’?”

Her question interrupted my train of thought and led me down an unplanned path. Tenderly, I knelt at her desk and allowed myself to be vulnerable, transparent at a level usually reserved for adults.

“Class, I want to tell you something about me that, in some ways, mirrors Jacob’s story from so long ago. I have a scar running across the width of my chest, from armpit to armpit. I have scars on my stomach as well – all scars the results of my needing to deal with my cancer. Every morning when I look in the mirror, I am reminded about that difficult journey, and while I’m not limping around the room like Jacob must have, a part of my heart limps along each day remembering the night when I wrestled with God and had to learn that ‘God rules.’”

My words resonated with some … mostly with her. My hope is that, years from now, when those night wrestlings arrive for each of my students, they will remember Jacob’s night, maybe even some of my story so that they might emerge in the morning with a new name, a fresh hope, and a holy reminder that “God rules.” God is not disengaged from our lives, friends; God is engaged with us, willing to split the night sky (if need be) to walk upon this earthen sod, take us to the mat, and wrench our hips with an everlasting reminder that he is God. His thoughts are not always our own, and his ways aren’t always the ones we’d prefer. But his presence in the midst of getting us to where we need to go … who we need to be?

Well, Jacob-Israel would probably tell you a limp is a small price to pay to learn this one lesson of eternal significance. I would voice the same.

God rules. Yesterday. Today. Forever. God rules. We cannot always see his hand in the story. On those days, perhaps, all we really need to see is our personal scars, to lift up our shirts and boldly behold the truth of just how far we’ve come. In our scars, we can trace God’s hand, we can glimpse his grace, and we can know that we’ve been held through the night in his merciful and loving grip.

Your body is not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your body, scars and all. Limp on, sweet ones. Limp forward. Limp knowing that God rules and that God loves. I’ll meet you on the road. As always,

Peace for the journey,

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month…

In honor of breast cancer awareness month, my publisher is hosting a give-away of four copies of my book, Beyond the ScarsFor an opportunity to win a copy, head over to NyreePress and register your thoughts in comment section of the blog entry. As always, if you or a loved one is journeying through the difficult season named Cancer, I pray that my words will serve as a strong encouragement to you. 

Peace for the journey,

5

Forever grateful to Shirley Jones for this likeness.

 

It’s been a sobering day for me. A day for remembering. A day for grieving. A day for gratefulness. A day for tears. 

Five years ago. I remember it well. Most days I don’t … remember it. Most days I live beyond it. But today I take time to remember the impact and the forecast of those words spoken over my life on that day:

Mrs. Olsen, you have breast cancer.

One doesn’t forget a day like that. This is my “I remember where I was” moment that folks often speak about when recalling a turning point in their history.

A two-hour trip home from Dr. Habal’s office in Greenville. A phone call to family. A phone call to Judith. A detour to Campbell University to find my first born and a detour to Methodist University to find my second. And then home to loving arms – to a mom and dad and children not quite ready to absorb the news. And then, that trip to Arby’s with the living tree growing next to our table. If you’ve read my story, then you know about that tree and those surreal moments surrounding that hallowed meal.

And here I am, five years out—a benchmark for cancer patients I’m told. Survival rates for us are measured in five year increments. By the grace of God I’ve made it to this milestone. Soberly, I await the next one, whatever that might be.

This is my one life, from start to finish, this is it. And while I’d like to say that I’ve masterfully handled the five-year journey toward this milestone, I won’t because I haven’t. Truthfully, I haven’t understood most of it. It’s been mostly a limp toward the finish line.

But there is something – a pretty important one thing that has emerged in these past five years:

My obedience to the day in front of me.

Not tomorrow’s obedience. Not next week’s. Not next year’s. Simply (and I think rather profoundly) an obedience to the unfolding of life in a single day and my participation therein. It’s an obedience that offers more personal yeses and fewer nos; more open hands than clinched fists. Just an obedience to the day – to live it, come what may, knowing that I am deeply loved and sincerely safe.

If we know this, friends, truly understand in the marrow of our bones that we are loved and that we are safe, then we can remain obedient to the day we’ve been given. Five years ago, I didn’t know this kind of security. I didn’t recognize the depth of God’s love for me, and I didn’t always feel safe in his arms. And so he gave me the love and the arms of others, and through their touch, God got bigger for me. In his bigness, I understood (maybe for the first time) that I was covered, completely and certainly safe in the shadow of the Almighty Father who calls me his child.      

And that’s something – a pretty important one thing that has trumped the scars required to get here.

Today is the day that the Lord has made. He has given it to me. In return, I yield my obedience therein. Come what may – a tomorrow, a next week, a next year, or maybe even five.

Today I raise my glass and offer a toast to August 23, 2015. I am loved, and I am safe. It is good to be here and to be sharing this day with you. As always …

Peace for the journey,

Watering the Kingdom Garden

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” -1 Cor. 3:6-7

Today was watering day at Ebenezer UMC. I took my watering can and applied it heartily to the souls planted there in that green and growing garden. I am grateful for the privilege, for a walk in the lush abundance of God’s mercy. They are his blossoms—a heavenly-loved group of about a hundred, who cloister in that sacred space each Sunday morning. Today, God entrusted me with their care, a ministry normally reserved for my father. Graciously, daddy surrendered his pulpit to me and to my heart and granted me full rights to speak as the Spirit led.

It’s a sacred gift, especially considering that next Sunday will be my daddy’s last at Ebenezer. These are hallowed days for him, his “shaking hands with his tomorrow”, counting them slowly and lingering in their richness. A chapter in his story is ending so that another one might begin. I’m honored to have written a few closing lines in this one.

My prayer going into today was that the Holy Spirit would weed out the unessential words and empower those that were vital. By all accounts, it seems that my prayer was answered. Still and yet, upon reflection during my two-hour drive home, I recalled some words left unsaid – words I wanted to release and words that felt (to me) really weighty, really significant. Those words? Well, something along the lines of . . .

“Years of training build a soul, strengthen a stride, and foster endurance in the heart of a seasoned saint. Strength grows in the darkness.”

Words like that. But even though they were never spoken aloud (and after letting myself off the hook for not saying them), I came to the conclusion that the folks at Ebenezer UMC probably already know this about the darkness. Many of them have lived in and through the shadows of the night and have come forth as gold – strong people forged because of strong sorrow. I saw the strength in their eyes and felt it deep within – unspoken words spoken between us, spirit to spirit through the Spirit.

And therein, the soil of my soul was watered as well. Just knowing that we were doing this thing together (walking the kingdom road shoulder-to-shoulder and sharing kingdom truth at soul-level) moved me to a posture of worship on the ride home and to shouts of praise all along the I-95 corridor. I may not always perfectly deliver God’s Word to others, but I am perfectly willing to lend my heart, mind, and soul to the process when given the opportunity. There is always a great blessing that arrives on the backside of such godly obedience.

God is the grower of good things. The rest of us? Well, every now again, we get to hold the watering can that pours out his grace, truth, and love. This is holy privilege, friends. This is God’s kingdom in us and through us. Let’s not spend our days measuring the growth in the garden. Instead, let’s spend our days nourishing it with the holy waters of heaven.

This is the best we can do. We can count on God to do the rest. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

Something

One glance in her direction, and I knew that she was carrying a terrible ache in her heart.

Maybe it was the way her head was lowered, covered up by the golden locks that frame her face.

Maybe it was the way she flicked her husband’s hand away from the back of her neck as he tenderly tried to comfort her.

Maybe it was because I knew some of her story.

Maybe it was because God needed me to notice.

Regardless of the reason for my knowing, it was clear to me what she was so desperately trying to hide . . .

Her grief. Her loss. Her something.

“Everybody has something. Your something might not be my something, but at some point in your life, you’ve had a something. Maybe not a big something, but something large enough to rock your inner equilibrium and force your outward response. It’s not particularly important what your something is. What is important is what you do with your something. Somethings come and go; what will endure, however, is the memory of how you handled yours.” (from Beyond the Scars, p. 13)

I think she is handling her something as best she knows how. Somethings don’t come with a survival manual, and the last thing she needed in those moments was another “how to” on how to handle her grief loaded on top of the already burgeoning responsibility of carrying it. Instead, what she needed was for God to notice her and to do his noticing through one of his children, through the unexpected hands of a servant who isn’t normally included in her inner circle but who was willing to momentarily charge in to deliver a message of hope.

And so I entered in and interrupted her grief to give to her what God had given me moments earlier. To wrap her up in my arms, cradle her pain, and strengthen her with heaven’s declaration.

“This is not the end of the story.”

In that sacred pause between us, I knew that she believed me . . . believed God, and I felt the burning of a great love inside of me for a woman I barely know. I am grateful for those flames because they remind me, even as they reminded her, that I am alive and that . . .

“This is not the end of the story.”

Not for her. Not for me. Not for you either.

I don’t where you are in this season of life. I don’t know the suffering somethings that have walked these many miles by your side. But I do know what it is to lower my head in sorrow, to wet my lap with bitter tears, and to flick tender caresses away from my neck. And I know what it feels like to feel alone, to feel so buried beneath my grief that I didn’t even know that I needed God to notice me. When all I could see, all I could hear, all I could absorb was the terribleness of my something.

Like a death march to a bottomless grave.

Maybe today you’re marching in similar stride. I don’t know how long it will last, friend. I wouldn’t dare try to talk you out of your grief. Grief walks its own timetable, and I’m not in charge of the clock. There’s a seasonal work taking place in your soul, and it can only be accomplished by your willingness to walk it through. Piece by piece, step by step, until one morning you wake up and you feel the warmth of something stronger, a peace that surprises you and that reminds you . . .

“This is not the end of the story.”

That day is coming, and it isn’t very far from now. Our God has taken notice of your pain; your something matters to him. It matters to me as well. Rest easy in the arms of Jesus, friend. There are more lines to your story, and our very good God is working on a way to make them all count for the kingdom . . . even when you can’t feel past the pain.

Especially then.

I love you dearly.

If you or someone you know is walking through a suffering something right now, I have a resource that will serve as a gentle companion to you and to them while moving through the pain. It was written with you in mind; it is released to you in love. Click here for more details.

Also, my friend, Laura Boggess, is hosting a give-away of the book at her website. Click here to learn more.

 

 

 

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