Monday, December 29, 2014

Happiness Fades, but Joy Lasts Forever

How are you feeling?  On any given day when I am out in the presence of friends and family, I get asked that question quite a bit.  It's not something that bothers me because I know people genuinely want to know how I'm doing.  Some are hoping for a better response than "I'm doing ok,".  Others want to delve into things a little more and get specifics.  Either way it is done out of love.

So now it's my turn to ask you -- How are you feeling?  Has the merriment of Christmas worn off already and you are facing the daily life you always face?  Or are you still basking in the glow of that near perfect Christmas you had with your family and friends.  Are you still happy, of has the happiness worn off already.

I will be honest.  This wasn't one of my happiest Christmases.  It had nothing to do with the company that came around, the gifts I received or the little bit of food I was able to eat.  If you just looked from the outside at those things, it should have been one of my happiest Christmases ever.  I celebrated with my dad for the first time in a very long time.  The gifts I received from my family were perfect.  We received countless gifts from people that we weren't expecting.  Yet, the happiness just wasn't there because of what is looming in the near future.  It constantly hung over my head that this could be my last Christmas with my family.  I wasn't depressed because of it.  I wasn't really sad, either.  I just wasn't happy.

You might be wondering how I couldn't be sad if I wasn't happy.  That's because there is another feeling that trumps them all -- JOY. It is explained best here by author Sarah Habben in a portion of an Advent by Candlelight service she wrote.

Are you beginning to understand that joy is not the same as happiness?  Happiness is circumstantial and fleeting.  Happiness is finding a free parking spot at the mall 2 days before Christmas.  Happiness is unwrapping a hoped-for present.  Happiness is pulling a perfect pie out of the oven.  But happiness doesn't last.  Try to enjoy backing out of that parking spot when 10 cars are lined up behind you, honking. the present you so desired will soon collect dust.  That perfect pie will be eaten.  Happiness is a feeling that does not last.  Happy doesn't help you when you are broken on the inside.

True joy is not a feeling.  It is a posture of the heart.  The root word for joy in the Greek is chara, which is closely related with the Greek charis for "grace".  Grace is God's gift of undeserved love.  Do we see God's grace in Bethlehem?  Certainly we do: God sent his only Son to a world of sinners.  That's love! ... Because of that gift, all who believe in Jesus as their Savior also have the certain hope of God's favour and a heavenly home.  That gift of love is what creates true joy; divine joy.  Divine joy make our hearts stand tall even when they are pummeled by earthly sorrows.  

Remember what the angels said in Luke 2?  "Don not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;  he is Christ the Lord."

"Today a Savior has been born to you:  he is Christ the Lord!".  If you are looking for Christmas joy, you can find all you need in this single verse. 

I might not have been happy this Christmas, but instead I was filled with JOY.  Joy came from having my dad with me.  Joy came from the countless blessings we received.  Joy came because I was once again reminded of the amazing grace that God showed us by sending His son as a baby to die for us.  I like it is said above, JOY is not fleeting.  It is something that lasts.  The JOY that I felt this Christmas is not something I will loose, ever, because God's grace will never end.

I was thinking about one of my favorite Christmas hymns, "Joy to the World".  What if that first line was changed to "Happy is the world, the Lord is come,"?  That would change the entire meaning of the hymn.  There would be no certainty, no hope, no grace, no unending love if this birth only made us happy.  Instead it fills us with JOY that will last forever.

So how are you feeling?  May you be filled with the JOY that only God can give because of His grace, His mercy and His love.

** Special thanks to my sister-in-law, Michelle Vogel, for sharing the piece by Sarah Habben.

Friday, December 19, 2014

I Was Looking for Comfort but Instead I Found Hope

We all long for comfort in some way or another.  We try to find that elusive mattress that we know will give us ultimate comfort and the the perfect sleep.  For others it might be that pair of comfortable shoes that will let you be on your feet all day long.  But my guess is most of us look for comfort from others -- a hug, a cry, a laugh that lets you know that someone is there for you.

Many of you know that I have been searching for comfort and peace the past week.  As the holidays grow closer, the reality that this might be my last Christmas here on earth makes my spirit sink. I long to be with my children every night, but they need to keep on living their normal lives which includes sports, jobs and friends.  But what hurts the most is knowing that I will be leaving them behind without a mother and my husband without a partner.  There is nothing I can do about that.  When God calls me home, I will be going home.  But knowing that doesn't give me comfort when I know the pain that will be left behind when I go home to Heaven.

This part of Psalm 31 really shows how I felt:
 "Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow week with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief.
 My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak."
I've cried out to God.  I've screamed at Him.  I've questioned His purpose.  I've told Him how mad I am that I couldn't be one of the survivors and I couldn't be one of His miracles.  I've wondered what in the world He was doing with me and what He is going to do with my family.  I've been mad with God.  I'm not proud of that, but it's the truth. 

And you know what happened?  He met me at that place.  He reminded me that He knows what He is doing, and even if He chooses not to do what I want, He still has something better for me, and that is hope.

This small part of the journey started when I read this WELS Daily Devotion.  It starts with this passage:
I started reading this looking for comfort, but when I got to this part of the devotion, I found so much more.
What does God's word say?  "Your sin has been paid for,"  That's why God the Son came into this world.  He became flesh and blood to pay the price that we cannot pay.  His blood is holy, for Jesus never sinned.  His blood is precious, for it is the blood of God.  And that's the price he paid for you:  His holy, precious blood.
 What comfort!  No matter what you face in this life, cling to the word of your God, cling to his tender words of comfort.  He has paid the ultimate price for you and me.  The glory our God has prepared for us far outweighs our present suffering.  He is ht Shepherd who carries us in his arms to take us home.  What comfort!
Talk about a reality check.  God has taken care of my worst problem, my sin.  So now no matter what I face, what I struggle with, what sins I commit, I am still looked at as a sinless child of God by looking through the blood of the Lamb.

And then the hope came.  This isn't the hope of something we wish will happen or we wish we will get.  Oh no, this hope is something that comes with a 100% guarantee of happening.  It says so here:

  Yes, I have been suffering a long time.  And when I look back at all those years, I can see how God worked some of those characteristics in me.  They are not perfect, BUT HOPE IS!!  We will never be put to shame by anyone who doesn't believe what we do.  Why?  Because the Holy Spirit is reminding us every day that if God is for us, who or what can be against us, that our lives are important to him, and that our salvation is one.  That's the hope we have.  That's the hope the has the 100% guarantee.

So I looked for comfort and I got hope.  But then again, I think I got comfort as well. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Learning to Move Forward

One step forward, two steps back.  I think that's a phrase so many of us can relate to in life.  We look like we are getting ahead in a project, and then a complication comes and we feel like we got nowhere.  We are getting close to a destination, and then car problems happen.  That project at school or at work is almost done and then a major change comes.  One step forward, two steps back.

A week after finding out that my time on earth looks to be short, I've spent quite a bit of time pondering over many things.  What should I leave behind for my family?  What can I do for my husband so life without me might be a bit easier? 

But the biggest question I've been pondering is this:  How do I move forward?  It's a very surreal thing knowing that you're life is coming to an end.  Do I quick make a bucket list of all the things I've ever wanted to do?  (I've never really had one.)  What is my mood supposed to be -- depressed and downtrodden, happy with anticipation of something better, or a combination of the two?  What am I supposed to do now?

As I was pondering these things again today, a thought hit me about Jesus.  His entire life was leading to one thing, His one purpose, His death.  Anyone who would know that could easily become depressed and try and hide.  Yet He didn't.  He didn't because of His great love for the world.  He did it because of His great love for you and me.  He did it because that's what His Father asked Him to do. 

When you think back to Jesus' life, He kept His focus and He stayed present in the world.  He knew He was going to die, yet He healed people.  He knew He was going to die, yet He kept seeking the lost.  He knew He was going to die, yet He kept preaching the truth.  He kept pressing on toward the end because of His great love.  He was true God, yet He did this:

Now I know how to move forward.  I follow the lead of Jesus.  He was present with the world, with His friends, with His disciples.  I will be present with my family, with my friends, and with the world.  I'm not going to concern myself with a bucket list of the things I wanted to do, because when I am gone none of that will matter to me.  Instead I will focus my time on what I can do for others so that in their sad moments, they can have memories of me that will make them smile, just like I have memories of my mom that make me smile.  And most importantly I will focus my time on continuing to spread the love of Jesus in any way that God shows me I should.

So now I move forward.  I move forward with God's love and guidance.  I move forward with God's promises and protection.  I move forward knowing my Heavenly goal awaits.

Day by day, your mercies, Lord attend me,
Bringing comfort to my anxious soul.
Day by day, the blessings, Lord you send me
Draw me nearer to my heav’nly goal.
Love divine, beyond all moral measure,
Brings to naught the burdens of my quest;
Savior lead me to the home I treasure,
Where, at last, I’ll find eternal rest.

Day by day, I know you will provide me
Strength to serve and wisdom to obey;
I will work your loving will to guide me
O’er the paths I struggle day by day.
I will fear no evil of the morrow;
I will trust in your enduring grace.
Savior, help me bear life’s pain and sorrow;
Till in glory I behold your face.

Oh, what joy to know that you are near me
When my burdens grow too great to bear;
Oh, what joy to know that you will hear me
When I come, O Lord, to you in prayer.
Day by day, no matter what betide me,
You will hold me ever in your hand.
Savior, with your presence here to guide me,
I will reach at last the promised land.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Race is Almost Run

Running has never been a favorite past-time of mine.  I remember having to run a mile every day in my grade school.  Even during basketball season I could never run the entire mile without stopping.  The distance was always too long.  Now it seems that a lengthy earthly race will also be too long for me.

My oncologist confirmed what Paul and I have been suspecting for the last week.  I am out of options.  I cannot take the oral medication because I won't be able to absorb the benefits because of my g-tube.  Also we will never know if it is the medication that is causing my issues or my digestive tract problems.  She did look quickly to see if there were any trials, but those are very hard to get into even in the best of circumstances.
Paul and I had a very good talk with Dr. Swisher and my nurse, Holly.  They said it was up to me to keep trying different treatments that would be toxic in hopes to extend my life or do something else that would give me a better quality of life.  Either way there is no guarantee in anything. 

For right now my main focus is getting to Disneyland at the end of the month.  The Dream Foundation is working with us and something should be done soon.  We are going either way because our trip is already paid for.  Hopefully they can get us the extra medical support I will need for traveling and for the time at Disney.  We know quite a bit of paperwork has come across my doctor's desk so things are moving forward.

After that I will be going back on Avastin that I was on before.  It took my ascites away and the hope is that it might keep the cancer stable for a time.  Once again, there is no guarantee.

As far as a time line, they really can't give one.  Just like with my mom, all of the sudden things will shut down and then they can say weeks.  What they did say is that it's not weeks but it's not years.  I asked about my family reunion in July and both my doctor and my nurse said that it's unlikely that I will be able to travel then.  They did say that it could be different in two to three months when they see how things are going on the Avastin.  We will cross that bridge with the rest of the family when we come to it. 

We told the kids on Monday.  Please pray for them.  It's not easy hearing that your mom will be going home to Heaven before you are even close to being an adult.  They all reacted differently, but how we expected them to.  Melanie chose to stay home with me yesterday where the boys decided to go to school.  Pray for Melanie as she sees her friends and lets them know.  That is going to be hard for her.  Pray for the boys as they process things in their own way.  Pray for them to open up when they need to.
Please pray for Paul.  He already is doing the jobs of both parents since I am quite limited.  He's getting tired and is always in need of help with rides or things around the house.  We appreciate any help people can give us.

As I have been pondering the past few days, the verse Melanie chose as her confirmation verse kept running through my mind.

    Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  I Corinthians 9:24

For a long time I have pictured this race as something like this:

Like I said before, I've never liked running. My thought of this verse was the hard pounding running people need to do to train.  And honestly, that is part of our spiritual running, isn't it?  We have to pound away, constantly learning, constantly training to keep God's Word so embedded in our hearts that nothing can penetrate it. 

But now, I'm looking at this verse like this:


This is a painting Melanie's first grade teacher, Rachel Tacke, made for her confirmation.  It's based on 1 Corinthians 9:24.  I love this because it's a child.  A child just keeps running because that's what children do.  That child-like faith knows they are going to get to the goal, and the goal will be wonderful.  There is no hardship, but there is urgency.  There is no wondering, yet there is expectation.  There is no angst, just joy.

So as I finsih my race, I am going to be running with the child-like faith shown here.  I know I am running to an amazing place.  The last part of this race won't be easy, but the reward will be amazing.