Saturday, October 22, 2016

How Do We Overcome Our Sinful Nature?

An incredibly generous friend, a trained massage therapist, offered me a free massage when she found out about my very limited arm range of motion. Since I was really struggling with the pain and arm limitation, I accepted.


I have never had a massage, and I admit I was nervous. First, I didn't want to get naked or even partially naked in front of my friend...or really anyone. Especially with the mastectomy, even though the breast is reconstructed. I have become more modest with age. The old grey mare just ain't what she used to be. Best to keep her covered.

Secondly, I was pretty sure it would hurt. The surgeries, the radiation, the broken rib, and now the scar tissue and loss of range of motion...they all conspired towards PAIN.

Nonetheless, I decided it might help, and I should take my friend up on her generous offer.

After having the 2-hour or so massage, I can tell you unequivocally: NEVER  pass up the opportunity for a therapeutic massage from a really good therapist. I am not sure I have ever felt so relaxed. It was like being drugged.

My friend has been doing massages for fifteen years. She has NEVER encountered someone with such tight muscles as mine. She said on a scale of 1-10 muscle tension, I was a 20. She also said I must have an enormously high pain tolerance level because she could not imagine how I could possibly kayak with such tight and painful neck, shoulder, and arm muscles.

I think I have lived in a continual low level of pain for so long so that I don't even really register how much it hurts. I do know that when she had finished the massage, I felt deep peace and gratitude for feeling momentarily freed of all that pain.

Because my friend loves God, she prayed at the beginning and intermittently throughout the massage. Heaven may very likely have angels that are trained massage therapists. Now that I have experienced it, I have a better picture of what Heaven must be like when tension and stress of our flawed bodies melt away. There were times when I was so relaxed that I could not have gotten off that table if a nuclear bomb had exploded next door.

We don't know why my muscles are wired so tightly. My friend is pretty sure that the muscle tension has been developing for many years. I have had TMJ (temporal-mandibular-joint pain) for decades and wear a mouth brace to prevent grinding my teeth right into my brain from jaw clenching. I have had chronic neck pain and joint pain throughout my body from muscle tension. I don't relax easily, and never have. I only nap when I am sick. I don't let myself off the hook easily. Pain and fatigue don't tend to sideline me unless I am flattened by something major like a severed Achilles, pneumonia, or cancer. Ignoring pain, and soldiering through it in the past has probably contributed to my sorry muscular state now.

I wish I wasn't the way I am...but that tendency to squeeze every last drop out of day is woven into my frame. I don't know how to be something I am not. Like relaxed.

The Bible says we are fearfully and wonderfully made, woven together in the inner parts, and known by God before one of our days was yet seen. He designed us to be uniquely who we are. My drive, persistence, and energy are often great assets, but often great curses as well.

So what do I do? How do any of us defy our own nature to keep from harming ourselves or others? I don't believe my energy level is a sin, but it certainly is at odds with what my muscles seem able to sustain.

Perhaps the message I am sensing from God is a stretch (which I can't do because of such muscular tightness) but the Bible has much to say about the tension between our natural self and our spiritual self. Our natural bodies have instincts that are there to preserve us as long as possible (hunger, thirst, rest, reproduce so the species survives), but all those needs can become distorted and lead to sin -- gluttony, drunkenness, laziness, fornication and sexual immorality. We will battle against the desires of the flesh and of the world till the day we die. The tension between our flesh and our spirit never leaves us till we are freed from our mortal life.

We are essentially at war with ourselves. I see that vividly right now in the pain of my upper body. How do we overcome our own sinful nature? One of the best passages that addresses this is below:
Romans 7:15-25
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God-- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
There are some key points in this passage that help.
1. Every one of us struggles with sin.
2. Every one of us knows what is good, and most of us even try to do that good.
3. All of us will fail, and then berate ourselves for our weakness in doing what we know we should do.
4. We will feel guilt, and despair, and fatigue from the battle that we cannot win on our own power.
5. We have a rescuer -- Jesus Christ our Lord is the only one who can free us.

I know this is true for me. I can do nothing for any length of time of any good apart from God. On the other hand, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.(Philippians 4:13)
How? The guilt from our sin drives us to Godly sorrow and repentance. Our repentance leads us to a humility that allows us to understand and see Jesus' atoning sacrifice which pays the penalty that must be levied against all sin. Our pride is squashed in our understanding of our own weakness, and we accept Jesus' incredible gift, and give Him sovereignty over our lives. The Holy Spirit indwells us the moment we accept Jesus as Lord, and will guide us and help us to battle more effectively against our sin nature. Finally, we can rest in the assurance that in Jesus we are victorious, and when our wretched bodies die, we will be eternally safe with God. The battle ends. The tension dissolves in the blink of an eye. We are healed and forever free.

And sometimes, He sends a really talented massage therapist to give us relief from the battle for a moment.
Romans 8:11
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Don't Be Afraid of Bad News

I brought my car in for an oil change. Any time I go in for a $25 oil change, I end up with a list of $500 or so of necessary repairs. Yesterday was no different. I left my cell phone number with the mechanic at SpeeDee Oil Change and went on a long walk.

Predictably, the mechanic called about a half hour later and told me the bad news. My rear brake pads were gone, and the brakes were grinding metal on metal. The bill would be almost $500 for the repair and new brake parts. That included the $25 oil change, of course.


I told him to go ahead. The car has over 200,000 miles on it. Things do wear out over all those years and all those miles. (Just look at my body...)

I walked on, enjoying the beautiful day and the warm, summery air. It's only money. Money that we don't really have to spare, but the good news is, we won't need money in heaven! The phone rang again.

"Hi!" the mechanic said, "I have some better news for you. When I removed the wheel, I see that whoever did your back brakes last did not put them on correctly. The pads are just shifted but they are fine. It will take me some time to replace some of the parts that have rusted and been damaged, but the total will only be $100 for the brakes."

How many times have you ever heard a car mechanic call and tell you the bill will be one fifth of his earlier estimate? And how blessed was I that incorrectly installed brake pads had not resulted in some catastrophe, particularly since I had just completed a 2,500 mile car trip?

Praise God. Here was something about which I had not had the slightest inkling of a problem or an issue, and God had protected me. His message to me was loud and clear -- Trust me. I have your back...and your brakes.

On my long walk, I was thinking of the recent presidential debate and how concerned I am about either candidate running our country. I think we are sunk no matter which one is in charge, though I have my personal beliefs about who will ruin us faster. However, I think God was telling me with the whole car episode, Trust me. Do not fret. I've got this.

Matthew 6:25 

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

Mark 5:36 

But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Back in the Paddle Again -- God is Good

LOOK!!!! After almost three months, radiation treatment, and a broken rib, I am back in the again! My doctor gave me the go-ahead Tuesday, and I was in my kayak at my old favorite spot Wednesday. That favorite launch site had been closed to public kayakers because of construction of a restaurant on the site. I had been told it would not open ever again for public kayak launch. That broke my heart because I loved that portion of the river more than any other. It was that section of the river that I watched my little girl dock at the sandbar and swim with countless friends we brought and introduced to kayaking. It was that portion of the river my beloved dog used to accompany us and stand in the shallow water when we rested. It was that portion of the river I spent many hours kayaking alone when my heart was broken and I needed God's solace. It has been almost a year since I last kayaked there.

Anyway, I was going to launch from a park not far from that site. As I came to the split in the road where I turn left to the park, but right to the old launch, I put on my left turn signal. But something made me veer sharply at the last second, and  turn right. I wanted to see my old beautiful launch site, the portion of the river I loved so much, and whether the restaurant was finished being built.

The restaurant had a huge sign: 'Open for Business'. The building was beautiful, with a deck overlooking the stunning view of the river. And, the sign that had said 'No public kayak launch' was gone! I pulled into my old parking spot, hauled out my kayak, and with not a few joyful praises to God, splashed into the beautiful still waters.

There was not a single other person on the river. I had those peaceful, quiet waters all to myself. I had only planned to kayak a half hour, since I worried my injured rib and strained shoulder muscles might rebel if I went any longer. However, they barely hurt at all, so I kayaked an hour and a half. Only reluctantly did I force myself back to shore.

And then, I had no choice but to check out the new restaurant. This was a day of celebration. There was one table left on the deck. The waitress sat me at the table and asked if I would be dining alone. I think she felt sorry for me, but I don't mind being alone looking out at God's incredible world in all its beauty. This was my favorite portion of the river I was gazing at from my solitary table on the deck, and I no longer had to worry I would not be able to return.

"I am dining alone. This is a celebration."
"I just finished kayaking for the first time in three months."
"Wow! Why have you not kayaked?"
"Well, I broke my rib...and I was going through radiation."
"Oh my!"
She stayed and talked with me for some time, sharing that she had had lung cancer. The doctor found it when she fell and thought she broke her rib. The rib wasn't broken, but fortunately, the MRI revealed the cancer!
"Praise God that you fell," I said, "Or they might never have found it."
"Yes," she said.

God was reminding me (again) that sometimes what seem like disasters are really blessings in disguise. Sometimes, He leads us in unexpected ways to revelations and even joys we never expected to find.  How glad I was that at the last moment, I had turned my car down the old familiar road to visit the old launch site I didn't think I could ever launch from again!


Luke 6:17-23 

And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. ...

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How a Frozen Shoulder Reminds Me of God's Upward Call

My radiologist check-up confirmed that all is dandy with my skin and surgical site following radiation, and I was pronounced officially a "cancer survivor." He did notice that my right arm range of motion is quite compromised. I can not raise it horizontally from my side higher than 90 degrees. That is about half of a normal range. So I need to be doing more stretching exercises, and he says I will need to do them my entire life or those muscles will always want to contract and tighten.  I had been doing range of motion exercises, but not that one! He told me I could do it as many times a day as I could stand. I don't quite have a 'frozen shoulder', but it will be one if I don't diligently add this new stretch each day.

Oh well. 

On the positive side, he told me he saw no reason for me not to kayak. At 7-weeks post broken rib, he felt it was fine to ease back into kayaking. 

I returned from my doctor appointment, did some painful range of motion exercises, and loaded my kayak in the car. Today, I will try to kayak for at least a little while. It has been almost three months since kayaking. I lost my whole summer!

Throughout the day yesterday, I stretched my arm out horizontally, turning my body so I didn't 'cheat'. The doctor warned me that the stretch would be intense for a while, and I would be tempted to shift my body so the arm was not truly directly out to my side.

Trying very hard not to cheat, I inched my arm up the wall, using my fingertips tip-toing like spider legs upward to help stretch higher. It was tempting to cheat. As soon as my arm reached any further than directly across from my shoulder, stabs of pain radiated through my upper arm and shoulder.

Try it. You will see that 90 degrees is a pathetically limited range! Despite the discomfort, I did this several times yesterday. My shoulder feels 'sprained' and frankly I am sick of pain, but I don't want to lose function so I will do what I must do as long as I must do it.

This morning, I made my coffee and then stretched my arm out and put my hand against the wall. Slowly I inched my fingers up the wall, raising my arm to at least 110 degrees! I had regained all that lost movement after just one day of stretching!

This reminded my of my walk with God. If I don't stretch myself to follow Him, and to obey more completely today than I did yesterday, I stagnate. I even regress. I lose my ability to reach areas He intends for me to reach. I need to 'exercise' my spiritual range of motion regularly -- reading His word to stretch my knowledge, praying to stretch my areas of strength and relationship with Him, acting on His word to stretch my obedience and faith.

When I do that, inevitably I can do more than I ever imagined I could do.

Unless my reach exceed my grasp, what is a Heaven for?

Reach higher, Saints, and do so regularly. Don't lose the best that God has for you out of laziness, neglect, pride, or even pain. We ALL need daily stretching of our arms upward, palms open, fingers reaching to God.

Philippians 3:13-14 

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Cog in a Spirit-Led Wheel

Yesterday morning before heading out to the abortion center sidewalk to speak life to abortion-minded moms, I prayed during my one-hour run. I asked God to send us conflicted women who needed the comfort of Christ. I also told Him I was so excited to see what He would do, what miracles He'd reveal as He lifted back the corner of Heaven's veil.

By the time my run ended and my prayer concluded, I felt incredibly joyous and optimistic. As it turned out, our day at the abortion center was filled with miracles just I had hoped and prayed. Miracles always abound, but sometimes they are harder to discern.

The first car that stopped for me was a man with a baby in the backseat.
"You're not looking for the abortion center, are you?" I asked.
"No," he said. "But we did consider aborting our child and in the end did not. She became an incredible blessing in our life."
I pointed to the baby. "She is beautiful."
"That's not our child," the man said. "She's our grandchild."
"Oh! She's the blessing of your blessing?"
"Well you have blessed me! Thank you for stopping!"

The next car that stopped for me just wanted to know what was going on with all these people on the sidewalk and the RVs parked on the curb. I told her it was an abortion center and we were here to encourage women to seek God and save their babies.

She told me she was pro-choice, not religious, and a law student who wanted to go into civil rights law. We had a long discussion about where we put our faith because we all put faith in something, when does a human baby become human if not at conception, and what a barbaric, violent act abortion is. It was a very respectful discussion, and she agreed with many of my points. Finally, I told her since she was entering a career in Civil Rights to carefully consider that the root of all civil rights was the right to life.

She told me that I might be right, and she would think about all we had discussed.

Shortly after that, I was on the microphone for quite some time pouring my heart out in a passionate soliloquy while  the rest of my team was calling out to women and stopping cars. A woman and her friend came out of the abortion center, rolled down the car window, and told me to please come talk to them. I put down the microphone and jogged behind the car, following them to the spot where they pulled over to the curb. The two women got out of the car and the driver told me, "I don't know what to do but it smells like death in there, and I need help."
"We can help you," I told her. "Tell me your story."

They came on the Mobile sonogram RV with me, where our incredible nurse Sherry awaited us. Mama 'C' and her sister described the situation that had brought them to the abortion center -- a difficult one, and not uncommon with the women we work with.  While we spoke, 'C's sister admitted she had had an abortion herself some years ago, and had been urging 'C' not to abort now. The sister had been a minor and was forced to abort by her mother, who threatened she must do so, or be kicked out of her home.

Now, as she recounted this sorrowful tale, she broke down in uncontrollable tears. Later, she told me it was the first time she had ever cried about her abortion. She had felt grief and guilt for years and believed God was punishing her. But she had never cried or expressed the deep sorrow the abortion had caused.

Sherry, the ultrasound nurse was getting everything ready for the sonogram and I began to share the gospel and the comfort of Christ with the two women. Their eyes were riveted on me and I knew they understood they were being thrown a lifeline when they had felt they were drowning.  All of us who have truly grasped the power of the Gospel know what I am talking about.

They asked wonderful questions and I saw lights go on in their heads as they told me they understood these truths for the first time. They both eagerly requested that I pray with them to ask Jesus into their lives as their Lord and Savior.

When we finished praying, they hugged each other, wiped away tears, and said they served an amazing God. They leaned back, looked at each other and said, giddy with delight, "We are saved!" They instantly listed things in their lives they knew must now change, and asked that we connect them with a good church.They immediately decided that instead of watching TV, they would read the Bible and do a Bible study. When I told them a pastor was on the sidewalk, they wanted to meet him. I am not sure I have ever seen such an instant transformation.

While I was sharing the gospel, our other counselor Anna came on board the RV with another abortion-minded mama. This mama also had a friend who used every opportunity on their long drive to try to point her to God and encourage her not to follow through with the abortion. The friend told us that they had hit many unexpected detours on the drive, and she knew it was God giving her more time to convince the mama. The mama may yet have aborted, unless she could see her baby's heartbeat. As she was so newly pregnant, our nurse had to do a trans-vaginal ultrasound, but miraculously, found the tiny baby and the amazing, miraculous beating heart. Praise God for Sherry's skill and determination!

ultrasound of first Mama 'C's baby

In the end, both of the sweet new mothers chose life for their baby. A third mother chose life but did not get on the RV. Our entire team was pivotal in some way for bringing these moms to the point where they could abandon their earlier determination to abort. The entire network of Cities4Life supporters was critical in allowing us to offer the real help these moms needed. What a blessing to be a cog in such a spirit-led wheel!

Those were not the only miracles of healing that God accomplished that day. Daniel, the director of Cities 4 Life intercepted a car that had mistakenly turned into the abortion center parking lot. As always, he began talking with the driver, knowing God often brings us unexpected but necessary encounters. It turns out, the driver had been raped and considered abortion, but then had given birth to her disabled son. She said he was the greatest blessing of her life and when she hears people say that children conceived in rape should be aborted, she wants so badly to tell them what a terrible mistake that is.

Daniel said  he felt God's prompting that this woman desperately needed to tell her story, so he stood car-side and just listened. That woman may have thought she turned into the driveway by accident, but it was no accident that Daniel was there and his presence was a godly comfort to a hurting soul.

So many different needs were met by our team on the sidewalks of the abortion center that day. Each one was a divine encounter, providentially arranged. As I drove home in the late afternoon, stomach growling and reminding me it was well past lunchtime, I praised God for answering my prayer to send us conflicted souls, and to peel back a corner of heaven, letting us peek inside.

John 20:31

But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Words of My Mouth and Meditation of My Heart

The things you talk about all the time, those are the things that you love. What do you think about? Where do your thoughts dwell?

The mama we had a baby shower for yesterday told us she didn't know if her baby's father believed in God or not. He never really mentioned God, she told us.

"Then he probably doesn't," I assured her. "The things we love, we talk about."

We spent four hours with this mama, and our lunch out with her was spent talking about God. Sheryl Chandler of Truth and Mercy Pro-Life Ministry bombarded the mom with piles and piles of gifts for her unborn baby.  Since I was the counselor who first met this mom at the abortion center and encouraged her to choose life, I had the joy of attending the baby shower. As always, our goal during the shower and lunch was to point the mama to Jesus.

I love talking about God. I don't really talk about much else, in fact. I know what a hopeless sinner I am, but I also know that Jesus rescued me from the terrible penalty of my sin. I can't stop talking about Him because I am so grateful, so overwhelmed with the life He has given me.

What do you talk about?

Psalm 19:14 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Stepping Forth in Faith

Yesterday, a sweet mama's living room was filled to overflowing with all the things she will need for the first two years of her baby's life. This is only a partial picture of the loot! The adjoining room was filled as well with a gorgeous crib, changing table, bedding, and car-seat. It took her three hours to open all the bags and bags of gifts. This abundance was donated by Cities4Life volunteers and friends, as part of our encouragement to mamas who choose life over abortion.

The mama told me that from the moment she walked out of the abortion center, met with our Cities4Life team, and chose to save her baby, her life changed.

She had been living with relatives, without a permanent home for her small children and herself. She didn't know how she would manage, but turned away from aborting her child anyway.
"There were so many people in that clinic," she said sorrowfully. "I just had to get out of there."
When she walked out, we were there, and she came to us, not knowing what she would do, but knowing what she wouldn't do. She wouldn't kill her baby.

Almost immediately, miracles began. A program to assist homeless moms secured her an apartment, complete with furnishings. She was cleared to enroll full-time in college to pursue her dream, despite issues that up to that point she'd been unable to resolve. Then Cities4Life stepped in to meet the overwhelming needs of the new baby provided by the lavish donations of Christ-followers who love Jesus and want to provide tangible help to battle abortion.

"It looks like I will be set for a year!" she cried, settling down after three hours of opening all the baby shower gifts.
"Two years actually," I said.
"It's like Christmas in here!" the grandmother said.

We can't just talk about the evil of abortion. We have to provide the vision of the Gospel, the tangible help to overcome the terrible circumstances many abortion-minded mamas find themselves in, and walk alongside them with hope for a future where following God replaces a hopeless world view.

Time and time again, I meet mamas who choose life for their baby at the very brink of destruction, and their own life turns around. When we step forth in obedience and faith, God meets us with lavish, abundant blessing. Sometimes it isn't as dramatic as it was for this mama, but blessings always follow those who walk in obedience to God's prompting.

The blessing yesterday for me and Sherry, the ultrasound nurse who was with me as we counseled this mama months ago, was we now sat in the living room stuffed with gifts, and had the opportunity to share the gospel.

The grandmother, baby's father, mother, and off-and-on five small children heard the truth of God's most precious gift-- eternal salvation. The father in particular had scant understanding or desire for God, but asked wonderful questions, and in the end, agreed he would like to have a spiritual mentor call and speak with him. All of the small children, the parents, the grandmother, Sherry, and I held hands in a circle and prayed to God. Each little child begged to pray out loud, and in turn thanked God for being there - in the gifts, in their friends, and in the grass and the trees.

We even had the opportunity to discuss marriage, and God's perfect plan for a secure and flourishing family. Both Sherry and I hope that we will one day be able to help host a wedding of this couple committing their lives to God.

And here was the final proof of God's providence and goodness:

While preparing for the shower, I had asked this mama what was her favorite dessert. I told her I would bring whatever she most loved. I have sworn off of all sugar because sugar feeds cancer. Since my breast cancer diagnosis, I have been determined to follow the best nutritional pathway to health. There is only one dessert that I will on rare occasion indulge in.

"My favorite dessert?" she said, "Hmmmm. Cheesecake!"

That is the ONLY dessert I will eat on RARE occasion. This was a rare occasion. God is Good.

Today, I celebrate life again with a baby shower for another one of the moms I work with who chose life over abortion. My first double-header weekend of showers. Blessing upon blessing.

Want to enjoy the rare privilege of watching God work miracles? Go to and let the wonder overwhelm you.

Isaiah 1:19 

If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;