Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Under God's Grace

Yesterday, they finished with the 'bolus' in radiation.  It had done its job and was being retired. The next month of radiation will not involve the 'bolus' so they asked if I wanted to keep it.
"Why?" I asked.
"Well most women do keep them to show their loved ones. No one at home really understands what goes on in radiation, so they bring it home to their husbands or family."

This floored me. I had absolutely NO interest in bringing home my 'bolus'. Let me explain what it is. Maybe I am just weird in not wanting it. The bolus is a plastic piece that fits over the reconstructed breast. They radiate with the bolus in place, and then they take it off and radiate some more. I have no idea why, nor do I know why the bolus is only used the first two weeks.

I do know that they all commented on how perfectly the bolus fit. They seemed surprised by this, since every time a new technician put the bolus on me, they remarked on the perfect fit.

Perhaps that is why they seemed surprised when I told them, "No thank you."

What does one do with a 'bolus', even if one is not downsizing in preparation of cutting their living space in half? Use it for a Halloween costume? A wall decoration? A pot holder? A soup bowl? I just could not envision any good reason to keep my 'bolus', though I felt bad that this seemed to upset the radiologist technician who I really like. Maybe not all 'boluses' fit as perfectly as mine.

So far, radiation is having no ill effects on me. There is a slight 'sunburn' on the radiated area, but otherwise, I feel nothing out of the ordinary. While it disrupts my afternoon, it is mostly thus far a non-issue. In fact, I was working on an illustration job and totally lost track of time. I almost missed my radiation session because I was transported to the 18th century by my drawing. It was a rude awakening to glance at my watch and realize I was in the 21st century and about to be late for my high tech cancer treatment.

Unfortunately, from this point forward symptoms are supposed to get worse. Skin issues, and fatigue are the most likely concerns. I may be one of the lucky ones that get by with nothing more severe than the mild sunburn I already have. That is my prayer.

I lay in bed last night and thanked God for how gently He has treated me through this whole ordeal. It could have been so much worse, and is much worse for many women. I don't take enough time to thank God for His gentleness with me. What I deserve is Hell, and what I get is Grace. This is true of all of us.

The older I get, the more I regard sin with horror. I cannot believe how blind I was to the terrible effects of selfishness, pride, arrogance, envy, name a few of my failings. I still fall prey to all of them, but am usually quicker to despair and repent. Before I became a Christ-follower, I never gave those traits a moment's thought.

No, I don't deserve Grace...but I am grateful.

2 Corinthians 12:9 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Salamander's Tail - A Lesson in Following God

I think this is a marbled salamander. My friend Carol and I saw him on our long walk yesterday on the greenway. We don't know why he has a muddy tail. However, we did muse about the possible reasons.

Here are our guesses:
1. He is a she and she used the tail to dig a hole for her eggs. (Do salamanders do that?)
2. He used his tail for salamander pole vaulting.

Otherwise, I'm out of ideas. Any herpetologists out there that can help me here?

There is one interesting fact about salamander tails I did discover later while recuperating from my 9-mile walk.  The tail can break off, and grow back! It is a tricky way to avoid predators. The predator gets side-tracked eating the tail while the rest of the salamander skedaddles. Sure the salamander loses a tail in the process, but he has the long-term perspective. Lose a tail, save a life. It will grow back in a few weeks.

The salamander we saw on the path had a pretty short tail. I am wondering if it was dirty because someone tried to eat him, so he let his tail fly off to distract the predator, and then escaped. Maybe the dirt was from the scuffle.

The more I thought about the salamander's tail, the more I realized what God wanted me to ponder. There is a Bible verse that says, "And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It's better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell." Matthew 18:9

I do not think God is telling us to literally pluck out our eye. I think He is telling us that we need to turn our eyes away instantly from anything that might entice us to sin. That is how dangerous sin is, how reprehensible it is in the sight of our holy, righteous God. It would be preferable to go through life with one eye than to endure the eternal consequence of separation from God through our sin.

I stopped a car leaving the abortion center yesterday driven by a young man with two toddlers in the back seat. He had just dropped his wife off to kill their third child. He was gentle, soft-spoken, intelligent, and said he was a new Christian.

"Sir," I told him, "If you had not told me that, our discussion would be a little different. But if you claim Christ, then I am going to speak to you as I would any fellow Christian. You cannot claim Christ and then blatantly defy what He clearly commands."

The amazing thing is the young man did not just drive away. There was a fierce battle going on in his soul. He knew (and admitted) that he should get out of the car, go back in there and demand to see his wife. Then he should do everything in his power to convince her that he would stand with her through the birth and raising of their third child. The truly sad part was that his wife was conflicted just as the young man was. Both knew abortion was wrong, and both knew God would not have them do it.

But their eyes were not on God. Their eyes were on the struggle the new baby would cause, and they would rather deny God's blessing and power than sacrifice the security and comfort they felt the abortion would provide.

I spoke to him for at least half an hour along with one of our new counselors,  but then felt I needed to return to speaking to other women from the sidewalk. (Two chose life!) I sent Dwight over to speak with him. Dwight is an ex-pro NFL player and his 'star' power along with his strong Christian faith is compelling. Nonetheless, the man never got out of his car, and as far as we know, his wife went through with the abortion.

If any part of us leads us to destruction, better to get rid of that part! The salamander gets this. Do we?

Matthew 19:21 

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Monday, August 22, 2016

Saving the Lost: The Story of a Lost Bunny Points Me to Jesus

I was biking along the local greenway when I saw a woman stopped looking down at a little furry creature on the path. It was a bunny. It had the coloring of a wild bunny, but it was clearly not running away from the woman. I stopped my bike and asked her if the bunny was injured. She said she didn't know but she didn't think so. For whatever reason it was not running away.

"Maybe it's a pet that has escaped," I said. I didn't know if that was true but something told me this bunny needed help and would not hurt me. So, I knelt, and poured water from my water bottle into my cupped palm holding it out to the bunny. Instantly, the little bunny began lapping the water out of my hand. I kept pouring more water into my cupped palm and he kept drinking until my water bottle was half empty.

"I can't take him," said the woman who had first stopped. I couldn't either, but that didn't matter. If we left the poor bunny, a coyote would eat him for sure. What choice did I have?  I picked the little bunny up and put him in my bike basket. He did not squirm or seem the slightest bit afraid.

The woman said, "You're my hero!"
Tell that to my husband, I thought. My guess is those wouldn't be the first words on his lips when I showed up with the bunny.

I waved and began to bike away wondering how on earth I was going to bike five-miles along a busy road with all the traffic and get this bunny safely to my house. I hadn't really had time to consider what I would do if I safely reached my house. I didn't suspect Hubby would be thrilled to see me arriving with yet another lost pet. But first, what would the bunny think of riding in a bumpy bicycle basket?

With complete astonishment I watched the bunny settle calmly into my basket, looking forward,  twitching his nose, and laying his ears back.
"All right," he seemed to say, "I am ready now. Let's go."
(click on arrow in photo below for video of Bunny's wild ride.)

I rode slowly just in case he tried to jump out but he never even attempted to do so. Even when we hit the heaviest traffic and the roaring sounds of cars whizzing right beside us, he lay quietly in my basket. He seemed to know that wherever he was going was better than where he had been.

On the way home, I passed a pet store. It was only 9 A.M. on a Sunday morning. They couldn't possibly be open. Nonetheless, I prayed for a miracle that they would be. They were. The pet store had just opened. I went inside with my little bunny cuddled against my heart.  I had already named him Honeybunny.

I explained the situation to the very kind sales people. They could not take him, but they gave him a bowl of water and gave me a free bag of food for him.

Honeybunny and I returned to my bicycle, and he nestled calmly again in the basket. We made it safely home.

My husband, after the initial shock of opening the door to his wife holding a bunny with a pleading look on her face, helped me prepare our dog crate for Honeybunny. We got him water and put his food in a bowl. I brought him carrots and lettuce which he loved, instantly crunching with apparent delight.

Then he washed his face, lay down, and closed his eyes.

We went to church, where we sang a song about Jesus saving the lost.
My eyes welled with tears as I thought about Honeybunny, lost and frightened for who knows how long on that greenway, alone and afraid in a hostile world  that he was not familiar with.
He had to have been terrified. Somehow, he knew that he could trust me and that I would take him to a place where he would be safe.


What a wonderful symbol God had sent me of what happens to all of us when we put our trust in Jesus. We are alone in a dangerous world where evil and darkness forever threaten to harm and consume us. We thirst terribly for righteousness and a place of safety, but are powerless to help ourselves. And then, Jesus lifts us out of the abyss, quenches our thirst with everlasting water, and carries us tenderly to a place of refuge.

After church, a friend helped me find a wildlife refuge (Carolina Waterfowl Rescue - CWR) that takes not only birds in need of rescue, but other animals as well. I sent them a picture of Honeybunny and they quickly told me the bunny was not wild, but clearly domestic. The CWR director said that Honeybunny would've died if I had not rescued him. In all likelihood, he had been dumped by a family who realized bunnies are not as neat and clean as they had hoped, so ditched him on the greenway.

"Thank you for rescuing him," she said, "These guys don't fare very well in the wild."

She told me to bring him to their rescue home right away and they would care for him and find him a new home.

I have to admit, I felt sad giving up my little bunny. I had bonded with him in the short time I'd known him. After all, I was a fellow wanderer, once lost, but now found.

Psalm 28:6 

Blessed be the Lord! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.

Luke 19:10 

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Envy Destroys Today's Tranquility

My kayak is inexpensive and little. It has none of the fancy doodads that the bigger, expensive kayaks have, like feet braces, dry locking compartment, or storage area behind the seat. It is 8-feet long, weighs 24 pounds, and is a no-frill kayak that fits easily in my van and I can carry myself. It is tippy (I am told) as far as kayaks go, though I have never felt unstable in it. It doesn't 'track' well - that is each oar stroke makes it zig and zag a little. Thus I don't kayak in a straight line, and it cannot cover nearly the mileage as quickly as a bigger kayak.

It is a humble little kayak that no one would look twice at or comment upon.

Except once.

Yesterday, I was easily and single-handedly unloading it from my van when a man who had just carried his kayak to shore offered to help me.
"Oh thank you," I said, "But it isn't necessary. I have no trouble with this little kayak."

I dragged it to the shore.

"That's just an 8-footer?" he said. "That's nice. Easy to deal with when you are alone."
"Yes. Nothing fancy, and slow, but I can handle it by myself and don't have to put it on the roof of my van to transport it. It is lightweight...perfect for me."
"I see that," he said. "I made the mistake of trying out a carbon fiber kayak yesterday. 16-foot kayak and weighs 32 pounds. I am waiting for the off-season sales." He paddled away, leaving me with thoughts of carbon-fiber kayaks.

I didn't know they made carbon fiber kayaks. If they made an 8-foot carbon fiber kayak, I bet it weighs only sixteen pounds! I began to wonder if this heretofore unknown kayak also had feet braces, and a locking dry well in the hull. Soon, as I set out on my kayak, I was in full lust after the unseen carbon fiber kayak.

How easily the beauty of what we have is marred by the longing and envy of what we don't have. All I want to say about this is forgive me, Lord.

James 3:16 

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

One Day, Our Faith Will Be Sight ... But Not Yet

I finished the second week of radiation! One third of the way through! So far, I feel great but I do notice a slight redness in the radiated area. It is a little early to be seeing skin change, so I hope that is not a bad omen of what is to come.

In the attempt to avoid radiation from the sun, I washed my shirts in a special product that adds SPF protection to clothing. My new invention, my "Son-Cape" went in the special wash load to be sun-proofed as well. will I know if it really works? There is no visible change to the sun-proofed clothing. I just have to take the manufacturer's word for it. See, faith is required in so many areas of life. Faith that the products we buy really will do what they say they do, that the food we eat isn't filled with all kinds of harmful, undetectable chemicals or hormones, that the treatments doctors prescribe don't do more harm inside us than good. I have faith that the radiation is killing bad cells and letting good cells live, but I cannot see its invisible work in my body.

Life is one big faith-fest.

The question is not whether we have faith or not...all of us have faith. The question is what is our faith IN? Is it in something worth trusting, and what will be the repercussions if our faith is in the wrong things?

If our faith is in self, or other people, I guarantee we will be disappointed. Others fail us almost as often as we fail ourselves. And all you young, nubile studs and studdesses out there, your lovely body will fail you too. Just wait. If your faith is in good health, good looks, or even your good bank account that stretches into more zeros before the decimal than I will ever see, it will end in disillusionment and despair. Faith in those things will not sustain you in life.

The Bible says that "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1

If this were all the Bible said about faith, we would be misled. I hope for many things that are not necessarily in my best interests, or in the best interests of others. There are also many things I don't see that I hope for, like a million dollars. True sustaining faith must be more than hoping for unseen things.

The verse in Hebrews continues on:
For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 

This clarifies matters a bit. It is by faith we are commended by God. Our faith is not in trivial matters but in the very one who created the entire universe. Furthermore, it is by this faith that we understand the source of all things. A very important point is made here. The universe was created out of unseen things, and became seen.

There will be a day when our faith will be rewarded. All will be revealed unequivocally. For those who put their faith in Jesus, they will see Him face to face, for all eternity. Those who chose to put their faith elsewhere will be more than disappointed!

Even more importantly, what is the outcome of faith in the right thing?
Here is a key verse:

The outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.1 Peter 1:9 

The only faith worth having does not guarantee earthly health, wealth, or happiness. It guarantees eternity with God, the salvation of our souls. Right now, we don't see it, but we have the assurance of the unseen. One day what we hope for will be revealed, and we will be so glad we put our faith where it belongs.

It will be as though my Son-Cape suddenly visibly sparkled with sun-protectant angels  holding shields that reflected the harmful UV rays. The blind will see. The light will have permanently penetrated the darkness. All will be made whole and perfect as it was intended from the beginning when God's first reported words to creation were: Let there be light.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Lord's Handiwork

I went kayaking on a section of Lake Wylie I have never explored, launching from the condo site that we hope to downsize to if all goes as planned selling our house. It is a very large open section of the lake and I was completely alone. Not a soul in sight. No one out on their balconies in the homes along the lake, no one dipping in the cool water, no one on a boat except me.

What is wrong with people? All this spectacular beauty and no one is out enjoying it! Maybe everyone is working to afford these incredible lake mansions. I loved the one behind me in the photo. It has three wood crosses just under the roofline. As I kayaked by, those three crosses evoked thoughts of Calvary, Jesus dying on the cross, and the thief crucified beside Him who with one sentence of faith is in Paradise with Jesus. The other man crucified on Jesus' other side made no such statement and presumably is eternally Hell-bound. Everywhere I go, God beckons me with the simple truth of the Gospel.

Lest you think I was not working, I was very hard at work. My doctors all tell me that an optimistic outlook is crucial in my healing from breast cancer. Reducing stress and exercise are also key. So I am very busy working on healing just like the doctor ordered.

And, I was wearing my new creation  for women undergoing radiation for breast cancer like me. The sun is NOT our I made this Son-Cape out of a t-shirt. (See yesterday's blog for details.)

And more importantly, God made this beautiful world for me! It is a sacrilege not to be out in His glorious creation, filling my eyes with the beauty of the Lord's handiwork.

Psalm 19:1
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cut Off From the Source of All Power

I hate Time Warner Cable (TWC). They are the only game in town here, though Google Fiber is laying cables in our neighborhood. They are coming soon! But I digress. TWC was busy in our yard all day before yesterday, and so I was without internet all day. Then when they were done, and left, the internet still didn't work! In dismay, I called TWC who would not send a technician out till yesterday evening.

The tech guy arrived, and was a God-send. He discovered that TWC workers themselves had cut my cable while doing whatever it is they were doing out there all day. I found that disturbing. You would think that the folks responsible for laying the cable would know if they had cut their own cable thus obliterating the very service they were supposed to be upgrading.

It seemed there must be a message here from God. It's a favorite exercise of mine, seeking the commonplace symbols of the spiritual world.

I went to radiation therapy, as usual in the afternoon. This is my routine every single day for the next five weeks. There are a lot of nurses, technicians, receptionists, and patients that know me now. Every one of them asked if I got my hair cut.

I did. It was hard not to notice, even if you aren't obsessed with hair like I am. I told my hairdresser NOT to cut it as short as last time as it was shocking, and too short. She understood...she said. However, I think she cut it even shorter this time. I was not very happy, but she is a great hairdresser...and in two weeks (or so) it will be the length I want. At least it is cool in the blistering hot weather we are having.

"It is too short," I told my radiation buddies, in case they couldn't tell.

Cut cables, cut hair....I was beginning to see a theme for the day. In both cases something was cut that was intended to make something better but instead caused some dismay. To try to help me discern if there was an important message I was missing, I did a Bible word search: 'cutting hair.' There are a lot of verses about cutting hair, but this passage spoke to me:

27 “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. 28 And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips. 29 “‘Cut off your hair and cast it away; raise a lamentation on the bare heights, for the Lord has rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath.’ 
Jeremiah 7: 27-29

God's people had ignored the prophet Jeremiah's call to repentance. Truth was cut from their lips. Here is God's laundry list of their infractions:
Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?  

So why does God tell them to cut off their hair in His anger and dismay over their disobedience? God is speaking to them as though they were His specially sanctified servants, the Nazirites. In those times, the Nazirite vow of strict obedience to God included the edict that no razor should ever touch their head. As a result, their hair was long and symbolically, their strength was in their hair - reflective of their obedience to God. (Think Samson- whose strength was literally in his hair.)  

In the passage in Jeremiah, God's people are spoken of as the Nazirite who has disobeyed God's commands, and thus his vow is null and void. They may as well now cut off their hair to expose the hypocrisy of their actions. They have paraded as God's obedient people, but their actions clearly show they are not.

I don't think the message of my too short haircut was God specifically branding me as a hypocrite, but this passage and these thoughts do indeed give me pause. I certainly claim to have a strong connection to God. TWC claims to have a strong internet connection. Yet they cut their own source of their strength and were useless as internet providers! 

This is the lament in Jeremiah as well. God's people cut off the very source of their strength when they disobeyed God. They may as well cut off their hair, and divorce themselves entirely of any claim to Him or to His deliverance.

Here's the bottom line. If we want the power and strength of the Lord, His deliverance through the trials of life, we cannot cut ourselves off from the source (God) through our foolish and willful behavior. We must follow Him in word and in deed or our claims that we love Him and believe Him are self-deluding lies.

In contrast, as long as we are discussing hair, the Bible also tells us that every hair on our head is numbered. God cares for us to the tiniest detail, to the very hairs on our head. He loves us beyond comprehension, despite knowing what stumbling, fumbling, wayward hypocrites we are. That's why He sent Jesus. We cannot save ourselves, but God desires that we MUST be saved.

Once the technician fixed the cut cable, our internet was restored. 
"You're a genius!" I said, tugging at my short hair.
He smiled, but shrugged humbly and told me he had brought my garbage can in from the curb. He hoped I didn't mind. Now this was someone whose actions matched his promise to serve.

Numbers 6:5 

“All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair, for the children of your delight; make yourselves as bald as the eagle, for they shall go from you into exile.

But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.