Tuesday, May 31, 2016

He Will Never Leave Me Nor Forsake Me

I love bike riding. I have had to ease slowly back into it since the mastectomy because if I ride too fast, my breathing is deep, and it expands my chest so much that I am in pain. As long as I go slowly, I am fine. This has been a hard lesson for me. I don't like slowing down. However, I have no choice.

On my bike, I was trying to keep up with my biking companion but could not. I knew I was going too fast for my battered body, but I didn't want to fall so far behind. The sharp pains in my chest got my attention. I stopped and got off my bike. I tried calling to my friend, who was way too far ahead to hear me. Besides, trying to yell hurt more. I rested my head on my handlebar, wondering if this sidewalk, on the side of a busy road would be my final resting place.

If I die here, so be it. At least I will have died doing something I loved. But I'd prefer not to die.

Actually, I knew I wasn't dying, but it did hurt. The expander for the breast reconstruction is under the pectoral muscle. When the muscle is further stretched as in extended deep gulps of air,  it screams at me. I think it fights the over-stretch by trying to contract. However, it can't because the metal expander prevents that. In a month, the muscle will relax, having become accustomed to the stretch. It will be time to remove the expander and put in the permanent implant. Presumably, I will be able to breathe deeply in exertion without pain again. For now, I didn't move until the pain was gone. The spasm finally passed. From then on, I biked very slowly.

I rarely do too much, or go too fast when I am alone. I listen to my body, and am sensitive to what it is saying. This is why I prefer to kayak, walk, bike, and run alone. God speaks to me, and God never pushes me to go beyond what I am able. God is never disappointed that I am too slow, too fast, or going beyond what someone has advised. God is just there, with me. Never too far ahead. Never too far behind. In times of trouble, He is right beside be. If I collapse, He is there to catch me, and tell me it's okay.

I'm here, He whispers through the pain.

He will never leave me nor forsake me. As soon as I accepted Jesus as Lord, His Holy Spirit indwelt me. This miracle is beyond comprehension, but I know it is true. I feel His comfort and guidance from within, deep in my soul, at a place that cannot be shaken.

Anyone going through a serious trial like cancer understands the necessity of a positive outlook. To sustain good cheer for the long haul requires more than just force of character, at least for me. There will always be external forces dragging us down. Always. Anyone who isn't living in a bubble knows this. Whenever I find myself dipping into a trough, I recite scripture, read the Bible, sing songs of praise, pray for others. Invariably this helps remind me I am not alone. No matter what I am going through, Jesus endured worse. And overcame.

He who is in me is greater than the struggle, whatever it may be. This is a promise to those who have entered into a relationship with Christ. I don't rejoice in the struggle, but I rejoice in my God who never abandons me in the struggle.

pastel painting at top, Joy to the Righteous, 23x18. If interested, email vickychooseslife@yahoo.com

Deuteronomy 31:8 

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memories of Former Days

First today, I pause and pray with gratitude for those who died for my freedoms. I pray for their families who suffered so much that I might live in a land where I can freely worship and thank God openly. In many places, that is not allowed.

Behind us, in the photo at the top of this blog, is the world's largest stand of rare spider lilies in the Catawba river. Last year, I kayaked through those incredible mounds of water-encircled flowers. Yesterday, due to my recent mastectomy, I had to content myself with seeing them from the trail. Navigating the rapids by kayak only four weeks out from surgery would be foolish. They were still breath-taking.

After gazing at the glorious lilies for quite some time, we continued on the Canal Trail, which snaked beside the old Lansford Canal. The remnants of the canal were quite beautiful. It had been raining all morning and threatening to rain more, so the normal crowds that come for the brief blossoming of the lilies were not there. We had the trail largely to ourselves.

When we came home, Lucky had shown us how he felt about us leaving him alone.
I don't know if you can tell in the photo, but he had dumped his food bowl, and scattered his food all over the kitchen floor. The past two days, he's done the same thing, only with his water bowl. This is new behavior, and clearly a doggie temper tantrum.

We can't bring him on walks anymore because he is very stiff and goes lame after short walks. I do walk him to the corner of our street and let him sniff and remember the good old days.

I can relate to his angst. I loved seeing the Spider Lilies, but did so with a tinge of sadness. They only bloom for about two weeks each year. Last year, I kayaked through them with my daughter. I was a little frightened, as there were small rapids the entire way and I am not a white-water kayaker. My daughter found the rapids tame. She could have just been acting cool since that's what teenagers do. Now she's married, and off on her own. I wonder if she remembered that kayak trip through the lilies with the same fondness I do.

As I stood on the trail path yesterday, sidelined by the mastectomy, I looked at the water lilies but remembered the things that are past now, and will never again be. I understand Lucky's dismay, left behind because he can no longer manage what he loved so much.

It is easy to fall into melancholy over what once was, but can no longer be. The Bible warns us that this is not wisdom, to compare the former days with our current situation.  Our situations will change, and both the past and present will pass away. Our focus should never settle on the things that were never meant to last forever, but on the One who will. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Take comfort in that truth. Let the memories of the past be pleasant, but never a substitute for the true source of delight.

Hopefully next year, all will be well, cancer behind me. The water lilies will bloom again, and God willing, I will kayak in their fragrant midst again. If not, I will remember that He who made the lilies that only flower for two brief weeks, made me for eternity. You too!

Ecclesiastes 7:10 

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Peace of God Trespassed Upon

My husband surprised me yesterday.
"Shall we go kayaking?" he asked.
I blinked. "You mean...me and you?"

See, hubby is not really keen on kayaking. I know of very few people who enjoy kayaking as much as I. I don't go for any of the thrills, speed, or even exercise...I kayak because it is peaceful and beautiful. I kayak because I see God's creatures all around me, and I love them. I kayak because the water sings, and rocks, and smells wholesome and pure and good. I kayak because my muscles enjoy the rhythm and movement which they were designed for, and my lungs fill fully with fresh air God has surrounded our unlikely planet with. When I kayak, I feel God's presence.

"Yes, if you want to," hubby said.

So he loaded the car with our two kayaks and we went to Lake Wylie. As I feared on this holiday weekend, it was mobbed. Everyone and his brother was on the lake in gas-guzzling motorboats and jet-skis. I will freely admit my bias. I hate motorboats and jet-skis. They pollute the lake, the air, and the sound barrier. If I could ban them, I would. There is a sign at the launch site that fishermen may fish, but are strongly advised not to eat more than one fish a week caught in Lake Wylie, due to pollution.

My parents were great parents, and they taught me one thing supremely well. The world is full of free, non-polluting activities that feed the body and soul. Do them. So they taught me to sail, bikeride, skate, canoe, run, play tennis, cross-country ski, and enjoy long walks. All free. None use any fossil fuel or pollute the environment.

I tried desperately to teach my children that same value. I don't know if I succeeded. One for sure begged me over and over to rent a jet-ski. I refused. Firstly, I couldn't afford it. Secondly, I am morally opposed.

That's a strong position I am taking, isn't it?

But do you know what happens on holiday weekends when the jet-skis and motor boats are churning the waters, fouling the air with diesel fuel, and overpowering the sounds of the birds? The wildlife vanishes. The fresh smell of the water or hamburgers being grilled on the shore is drenched instead with the smell of exhaust fumes. The peaceful swells of the water become crashing, swirling waves. The peace of God is trespassed upon by the excess of Man.

I had fun, but hubby and I sought the quiet coves where the loud, gas guzzlers were unlikely to venture. As we kayaked, I told him, "The rare spider lilies are blooming on the Catawba River. I so want to kayak to see them, but I can't. The rapids are probably too much for my healing mastectomy. I would be foolish to go now...but they only bloom for two weeks. I guess I can't see them this year."
"There's a nice path along the river where we could walk and see them," he said.
"Could we do that tomorrow?" I asked, hopeful.


John 14:27 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Thoughts on Parenting from a Kayaker's Perspective

I doubled my milage from my first post-mastectomy kayak excursion yesterday. Still slow. Since I was so slow, making little noise or splashing, I surprised three teens sitting on the dock of a mansion. When they spied me, they quickly gathered their bong and assorted drugs and scurried off the dock. I wondered where their parents were. Were they sitting obliviously in one of that mansion's exquisite rooms? One girl who apparently didn't have drugs on her person, stood, and turned away as I approached, uncertain if she should run or not. She obviously felt guilty. She glanced at me furtively, hunched her shoulders, head low. Finally she walked slowly off after the boys in a trail of sweet smelling poison. The three of them huddled in some thick foliage by the house. Hiding.

I contemplated what I should say if they were there when I returned, but they had vanished.

Just one dock further, I paddled by two teen girls. They sat side by side eating candy bars and fishing. They waved as I passed. Their parents weren't in sight either. They watched me pass by, contentedly enjoying the peace of the quiet lake.

 I also glided by three families of geese parents and babies. The young'uns appeared to be teen-aged geese, but none of them were smoking dope. They were sticking right by their folks. The parents were nervous and attentive. The moment they saw me, they honked to their progeny, and moved swiftly away from me. The teen geese, flanked by their mom and dad, followed obediently.


I kayaked slowly to a little island in the middle of Lake Wylie. Sometimes I see osprey nesting there, but not this time. The nest was empty.

Later, looking at the pictures I'd taken, I reflected on the common theme. In each instance, the message was about parents and children. The geese parents were vigilant, aware of danger, and quick to warn and steer their children from potential harm. They were in a state of high alert. I could relate. That was the sort of parent I was.

In the vignette of the teens doing drugs on the dock, the parents were absent. Maybe they were near, maybe not. The kids were doing things they knew were wrong, and caused if not guilt, at least the knowledge they had to hide their activities. Usually that means they know it is wrong.

The teen girls were also not under the immediate vigilance of their parents. Unlike the druggies, they were passing time engaged in legal, peaceful activities. They didn't run or hide from me. They had no reason to.

Finally, at the end of my journey down the lake was the little island with the empty osprey nest. Those parents had finished their job. Their chicks were grown, and presumably off on their own. The parents were off enjoying the beautiful lake after their stressful season of nesting. I wondered if their spring hatchling had turned into a good, responsible osprey. Did they float on the thermals high above the water content in how well they had handled the job God had given them?

Probably they'd done the best they could do.  I think most of us at least try to do our best when it comes to parenting.

God was the perfect parent. He would have to be. He is God. Perfect in all things.
Yet His children, Adam and Eve, rebelled. As soon as they did, they hid from Him. Immediately, when found hiding by God, they began the blame game. Their sin was everyone's fault but their own.

I have often wondered how God could have raised such fallen children! He had provided for their every need, created that gorgeous garden for them, given them a whole earth filled with pets (none of which were vicious or dangerous at the time). He banned only the one thing He knew would harm them. Presumably, He'd modeled perfect behavior and morals. Why had they turned from honesty, integrity, obedience, and righteousness and embraced the one forbidden thing?

Our pastor made the point that the book of Proverbs is not filled with promises from God. It is a book of wise actions that are more likely to produce a favorable result but not guaranteed. Thus the often quoted verse of parenting, Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it, should not be bandied about as a certainty.

Sometimes, children raised perfectly do depart from the training of the parent. Sometimes, they don't return to it. Whether we parent like the vigilant goose, or the absent druggies' parents, there is no guarantee that God's best plan for our children's lives will be rejected or accepted.

Now don't get me wrong. There are biblical principles that we are to follow as parents. Lots of them. For example, one is to never stop speaking of God and His truths in the presence of our children. We are to "teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." (Deuteronomy 6:7) Clearly the standards we set should reflect God's standards, not the world's or our culture's.

However, the results are not in our control. That is between the child, and God. Those were my thoughts as I kayaked back to my launch site, watching osprey swoop above me.

Exodus 20:12 

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

2 Timothy 3:16 

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.

A fool despises his father's instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Into His Presence with Thanksgiving

Progress Report on the mastectomy front: as of yesterday, I am all "filled" so that the muscle with the expander is now stretched as far as it has to stretch. Now, the next month is spent letting the muscle realize it must relax, and then I go through a second surgery. In surgery #2, the expander is replaced with a permanent implant, fat from my thighs squished into my breast to make it look nice and smooth, and if I want it, the "normal" breast can get a facelift to match the new one. Not sure if I am willing to shell out $5,000 for that bit of nonessential vanity.  The surgery is no cake walk -- it is still a three hour ordeal, but I am told not as bad as the mastectomy itself.

My doctor was pleased to learn I had kayaked a couple of days ago. The more I use my arms and muscles, the more I will heal and hopefully, without limitations on range of motion.

However, all was not rosy yesterday. On an advisory note, always read your hospital bills line by line. I was charged for two drainage tubes (not cheap) when I only had one, and two breast implants ($5000 each!!!!) when I only had one. They also charged me for the compression stocking to prevent blood clots...which they never used! (You may recall from earlier blogs that there are three anti-clot procedures they do with breast cancer patients undergoing surgery. NONE were done for me, and I did develop blood clots. Praise God I didn't die...but it was still an enormous expense I shouldn't have had.)

Another disturbing addendum yesterday: the pathology report. This was two pages long with incomprehensible names of things that made no sense to me. I read it line by line anyway. On the second page, it noted a total of four biopsies on my neck, scalp and shoulder. This was news to me! I wonder how they accomplished those biopsies with no wounds, and without me knowing. Then, listen to this: based on those biopsies, the report added diagnoses of basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. This was a month ago, yet if these were my biopsies and diagnoses, no one has informed me yet!

Given escalating issues, I called Patient Care Advocates. They assure me they will investigate all my concerns and get back to me.

Fortunately, yesterday was also filled with joyful events. I went on the first run since my surgery. I ran 5 1/2 miles, and then walked another two or so to cool down. It felt great. It didn't hurt at all, except for a few little twinges when I was too vigorous with my arm swings. While I will win no races, my time was not too dismal.

After returning from my final breast "fill-up", I went on the first bike ride since the mastectomy. I only rode for a little under an hour, but it again proved to me I could. It didn't hurt, even the uphills. I have a lot left to endure, but the milestones each day of cancer survival are monumental.

This is an important key to contentment that cancer is teaching me. The process of recovery and treatment is long, and involves slow progress at times, and long periods of waiting. Since each stage must be healed and completed before the next stage can begin, it cannot be rushed. Every victory, no matter how small must be noticed and celebrated. Things I took for granted, simple things, I now find myself praising God for...and meaning it! Like eyebrows. I dread chemo for many reasons, but losing my eyebrows which I never cared one whit about is very disturbing to me.

This is the way I should have lived all along. What if every day, as soon as I awoke, I listed with gratitude to God all I should be thankful for? Opening my eyes, walking unaided, putting on my clothes myself, seeing the sunshine, seeing the rainfall, hearing the birds, sitting in my own home, reading the Bible, tasting the coffee, smelling the roses, having eyebrows...etc.

That list would take every moment to honestly complete. If my heart were so swelled with all the praise I should be lifting up to God, there would not be a single moment for despair or complaining. I hate that it takes enormous loss to gain perspective on what really matters, but so often, it does.

The Mountains Will Burst Forth with Song
pastel, 14x22
available for purchase


Psalm 95:1-11 

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. ...

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord Always

My little class of artists gathered for a picture after our class. I love these girls. They are so enthusiastic, attentive, and kind. We drew a tree with a road. Note the smudges of pastel on one of my student's faces. They really get into their art...literally. The two hours always flies by, and I never fail to sit down afterwards and say out loud, "That was fun."

When someone is excited to learn and listens respectfully with a humble spirit, there is nothing like being a teacher. This is an unusual group of kids. Not a single one makes me lament my role as teacher. Every single one makes me feel that my instruction is valuable, even cherished. The end of our semester has been a little chaotic, since I had to try to schedule around doctor appointments, surgery for breast cancer, and now cancer treatment.

Yet rarely does anyone miss class. I am blessed beyond belief with this little group.

While I was teaching, my phone rang. I didn't answer but then it beeped with a text message. I glanced at the message. One of the mamas I work with had just finished her 3-D ultrasound, courtesy of a Cities4Life supporter and Sweet Pea 3-D Imaging.


"Is the call important?" one of my students asked.
"It's a mama I work with," I told her, "I go to the sidewalks of abortion centers and try to talk the women into choosing life. She just found out what gender her baby is."
"Well???" asked the girls.
"It's a girl," I said.

The Bible says, Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, Rejoice. 
In a world that frankly is so often filled with terrible things, we forget that there is cause for great rejoicing. God made us. God loves us. God will sustain us. God will reclaim us.

I would urge everyone, no matter where you stand on the issue of abortion for ANY reason to please watch this video. If you support any law, you better know what it is you are supporting. Click HERE.

Philippians 4:4

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Writing Your Own Ending as You Hope it Will Be

That happy me is 3 1/2 weeks post-mastectomy out in my kayak for the first time since surgery. I went really slowly, and stayed close to the dock, but it felt wonderful. Well, there were sudden sharp twinges if I stroked too hard, but I quickly figured out I had to do shallow, small strokes with the paddle and then all was well.

Still, my shoulders ached after only half an hour, and I knew it was best to ease slowly back into kayaking. The doctor had mentioned it might not be easy since the muscle used in reconstructing the breast was the very muscle used in kayaking. I found the pectoral muscle not so much to be the problem as my shoulder muscles, which must have atrophied in the four weeks since I last used them much.

On the way home from kayaking, I passed my favorite greenway, so stopped to go for a short walk in the shady forested path. As I walked, I felt about as happy as I have ever been. Nature, fresh air, sunshine all have a way of chasing even the most troublesome concerns away. Instead of worrying about all the uncertainties of tomorrow, I found myself thanking God for the sun dappled leaves, the shade cast from the beautiful trees, the strength of my body despite all the trauma it has had to endure lately. There is always cause for rejoicing in the Lord.

This recovery is a nice life. I have doctors' orders to exercise, eat really healthy food, and rest, while reducing stress. And I'm not supposed to vacuum for six weeks. Can you think of a better recipe for happiness?

When I got home, I wrote 3,000 more words on my new novel, making myself tear up with what the heroine is about to undergo. Then I heard from one of the mamas I work with who chose life over abortion. Like most of the mamas I counsel, her background is riddled with trauma and despair. Yet she told me she and the baby's father are reconciling, and they are both going to church every weekend! They both eagerly await the baby's imminent birth. She is a talented writer, and I encouraged her again to write a book about her experience. Her transformation from despair to hope could inspire many.

She thanked me for believing in her but said she couldn't write it, "Until I know how it will end."
"It won't end till we are in heaven with Jesus, and then it will be too late. Write it now," I advised, "In fact, write it with the ending you hope for. See how close the real ending comes."

I did that with my first book about our rescue dog, Honeybun. I actually wrote the ending of that true story before the ending happened in real life. I wrote what I thought would be the perfect though improbable ending. Guess what? It happened almost exactly as I wrote it. I didn't have to revise much of my make-believe ending at all!

Now don't think I am saying that I can change events like God can. What I am saying is that optimism, hope, and planning for a certain outcome can very often bring you closer to the future you envision. God must be in the center of those plans, but if your will aligns with His, and you have a goal, and steer towards that goal, it is much more likely you will hit it than if you have no clear finish line or plan.

Here's a Biblical example. David was a young shepherd when he came upon his brothers and fellow Israelites cowering in the face of the Philistine giant, Goliath. Instantly, David forged a plan based on what he knew of God. He didn't let fear, the counsel of naysayers, youth, or inexperience alter what he was certain should be the course of action. He envisioned the outcome. And then he did it.

It ended just as he hoped. Goliath was defeated, and God was glorified.

1 Samuel 17: 32-37
And David said to Saul, “Let no man's heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

His Blessings Are Free

Do you see what this little baby in utero is doing? His hands are clasped together as though in prayer. This mama has a heavy burden of sadness, and this little baby gave her what she needed when she saw him on the 3-D ultrasound. He reminded her that God loves her, and is in control. Her circumstances may be hard, but God never leaves us to bear our burdens alone. He pours out His love in the most unexpected, and miraculous ways. Like a baby in the womb praying.

It was a frustrating day at the sidewalks of the abortion center yesterday. No mamas that we know of chose life over abortion. We preached up a storm and gave all we had to give proclaiming God's truth and love, offering real help and resources...but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. We just have to trust that God is working and His word never returns void.

I came home to a surprise. The company that sent the Waterford Crystal wine glasses my son and daughter-in-law had gifted me sent the replacement for the three broken ones. Except they sent not three, but six new glasses! That means I now have nine gloriously beautiful wine glasses. What looked like a sad tragedy when half the original glasses arrived broken turned into a blessing.

Then, my phone headset, just a year old and maybe a week over warranty, stopped working. I went to the Verizon store and asked if I could buy a new one, though I was disappointed that it had lasted only a year. They replaced it for free.

Then, there was a package in the mail from Microsoft. Even though I told them my Surface Pro 4 tablet pen no longer worked very well probably because I had dropped it, they sent me a new one. FREE.

It wasn't until I sat down to write this blog that I realized the common theme of the day. God's blessings are all around us, and they are free.  What looks like tragedy can unexpectedly reveal God's abundance and grace. It is often unexpected and quite often found not at all where you are looking for it. Greet the day with wide-eyed wonder.
While not FREE, my best seller The Tower Builder is on sale till the 30th for only 99 cents. It is my mom's favorite book of mine! Click HERE.

Ephesians 2:8 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. ...

A Maskil of David. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Broken Pen and a Spiritual Parallel

The post-breast-surgery exercises that I could not do AT ALL last week, I can now do. Ignore the fact that I only do five of the 5-7 recommended repetitions. Also, I cannot lie flat and do the killer winging arm exercise, but I can do it with a pillow under my head. If that is cheating, so be it. I am doing my best.

Part of the issue is not the surgical soreness. The new breast is created by an implant under the pectoral muscle. That poor muscle is already being stretched beyond its intended purpose. To do the exercises, it has to be stretched even more. It doesn't exactly hurt...well...actually, it does hurt. Exactly.

But it is not a terrible pain. It is more discomfort, like poking at my eye with a stick. Well no. Not that bad. Let's just say I cannot WAIT to finish the repetitions. My arm is not very sore afterwards, which must be a good sign.

Meanwhile, my Surface Tablet Pen broke, right when I have three potential new book illustration jobs. It still works, sort of, so I played around with it yesterday. I created the lioness above with my broken pen. It is amazing what we can do, even when we are broken.

That was part of our message yesterday in church. We are starting a study of the book of Proverbs. The pastor noted that despite all Solomon's wisdom and greatness, he was as fallible, broken, and struggling with sin as we all are. Nonetheless, he accomplished great things for God. The last thing any of us need to be is perfect to be useful to God. There would definitely be a shortage of people God could use if perfection was required.

CS Lewis states it beautifully, speaking of God and His work to make us what we should become: The job will not be completed in this life: but He means to get us as far as possible before death.

I am a perfectionist, so this lesson is one I struggle with. I need perfection now. (No-duh! That aside is what I am sure my husband is muttering if he is reading this.) Cancer is just one more part of the broken world that is teaching me this very lesson. There are things I absolutely cannot do yet with my right arm. I cannot pump out shampoo with my affected arm, or reach the shower head to turn it so the water doesn't slam right into my eyes. It doesn't matter how much I want to, I can't. I cannot lie flat on the ground and do the winging arm exercise without a pillow under my head. At all. Not even close. This lack of skill and imperfections are terribly frustrating to me. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

But I am still useful. I can still type to write this blog. I can still go on long walks and encourage little girls selling koolaid (and yes, I did do that...), and I can still pray. I can still go to the sidewalks of the abortion center today, and call out to the women, "Please. Come talk with us. Tell us your situation. We want to help."

So I will. Please pray for our team, broken but obedient, to be mightily used by God.

Psalm 34:18 

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

When the Sun Returns...Lessons from Inside the Storm

The sun was back!!! After being stuck inside by torrential rain for days, I was able to go on two glorious walks, logging 11 miles for the day. Who would ever have thought 3-weeks post mastectomy, after all the fear and despair, worry and angst, I would rejoice in the magnificence of a blue sky, legs that can walk mile after mile, and ears that can hear birds serenading in the trees? It felt great! Up until the sun appeared, it felt like it would never stop raining. Glorious, beautiful sun!

Then, I got this text message on my phone:

"It's a boy!"

One of Cities4Life wonderful supporters paid for a formerly abortion-minded mama to get a 3-d ultrasound to determine her baby's gender. The beauty of the 3-D ultrasound is it is so realistic that the mamas further bond and connect with the baby they were thinking of killing. This is critical with mamas who are struggling with desperate circumstances, and are distancing themselves from the reality of the humanity of their baby. The 3-D pictures of this particular baby were blurry, so the wonderful group (Sweet Pea 3-D Imaging) that partners with us agreed to have the mama return and they would get better pictures for her.

Once we know the baby's gender from the lovely 3-D session, we then tailor gifts according to gender for the lavish baby shower we will be providing for her in conjunction with Truth and Mercy Pro-life Ministries.  If you are keeping count, so far in helping this one abortion-minded mama, we have three groups working with us to bring her to a place of cherishing the life within her: Cities4Life and its supporters, Truth and Mercy Pro-life Ministries, and Sweet Pea 3-D Imaging.

The chain of loving Christians interceding for this mama and her precious baby was not yet at an end.

This mama accepted Jesus as we prayed with her last week when she agreed to go on our Pro-life RV instead of in the abortion clinic. Cities4Life connected her with a church in her area by the end of the day. The pastor immediately sent some of his congregation over to meet her, bringing her clothes and food. She goes to church with them today. She is excited, and so grateful that we were there to encourage her to save her baby, accept the Lord, and now walk with her as she seeks to follow Christ on this journey.

That is now four groups tag-teaming to bring a single desperate mama to a point of joy and hope. Actually, five. We first met the mama on the sidewalks of the abortion center, and ushered her onto the HELP Crisis Pregnancy Center RV parked on the curb, where a trained nurse provided a free ultrasound and first showed her the tiny baby's beating heart. That RV is critical in the fight to stop the abortion-minded mamas. That is where this transformation all began.

Christians, this is the way it is supposed to work! When the church body rises up and embraces others, speaking truth and providing for their physical and spiritual needs through a network of believers, God is glorified, and lives are saved. Since I am in a pretty daunting battle of my own with breast cancer, it is a huge relief to be able to pass this precious mama over to others ready to minister and take over from here. One person can only do so much. All of us working together can change the world.

Please. If you are wondering what you can do to help stem the tide of abortion, and to help impoverished and desperate women forge a better path, encourage your church to become involved with front-line ministries like HELP Crisis Pregnancy Center, and Cities4Life. Babies and families are being saved. You and your church can be a part of it.

There is nothing like receiving a text like the one I got yesterday: Thanks so much for everything. Tomorrow I will go to church. I'm so happy. I appreciate everything you did for me and my baby.

By nighttime, the rain was back. It poured out of the sky in a flood, with thunder, and solid sheets of rain. It never feels like the sun could possibly ever return when you are in the midst of the deluge. But it always does. And when it does...it is glorious.

Deuteronomy 31:6 

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Step-by-Step Instructions for Life

It never fails. The seniors at the nursing home file in, and see me setting up my easel for their art class.
"Oh I can't draw at all," they say. Every time. Without fail.
"I can teach you."
"We'll see." They chuckle with a knowing glance at their friends. Every time. Without fail.

Step by step I instruct them, and step by step, they realize they can draw. They just needed to be shown the way. In fact, we had trouble making them stop drawing when class ended. The Activity Director had to pull the paper out of some of their hands.
"You need to stop or you'll be late to lunch!"

It's always a good sign when people don't want to leave at the bell. If I could be as successful in every area of life as I am at teaching people how to draw, I would be giving Zig Ziglar a run for his money. (For those of you who don't know Zig Ziglar, he is the quintessential success story, and is famous for his motivational books such as Success for Dummies.)

My formula is fail-safe. I teach drawing with basic shapes, and I train them to see the basic shapes in every object they wish to draw. Then I guide them line by line, shape by shape. They grow entranced as simple shapes begin to transform into the very thing they were certain they could never draw.

As one lady started packing up, she thanked me, and asked if I had always been an artist.
"Yes, always," I said.
"Well it's kind of you to take the time to teach us."
"Oh I love showing people anyone can draw."
"Well...it isn't really drawing. You showed us how to do it."
"That's how I learned to draw," I countered. "I got books out of the library on drawing with basic shapes and I followed step-by-step instructions. Soon, I began to figure out the shapes myself, and then I learned I could draw anything on my own."
"Hmmm." She glanced at her drawing.
"Did you make a drawing that looks exactly like what you wanted?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, smiling.

So many of us wallow through life like we are blind gnats in a mud pit. It doesn't need to be this way. We really do have a step-by-step guide, with clear instructions. If we just followed that guide, life would be so much less filled with angst, and filth, and despair.

Yes. Of course I mean the Bible. The more you follow it, step-by-step, the more you figure out how to live a little more exactly the beautiful plan drawn for you. Soon you realize you can do anything, if you just follow those instructions. They become a part of you.

 Here the analogy ends. You will never really do it on your own, the way I learned to draw on my own. But the good news is that God's Holy Spirit indwells every believer, and He will whisper the instructions when you fall short, when your strength is gone, and when you have lost your way.

Sort of related, but a tangent. JUST IN CASE I need chemo, I decided I needed to practice drawing on eyebrows. My incredibly wonderful daughter-in-law (DIL) sent me an eyebrow pencil, and assured me there were YouTube videos that could instruct me. I watched two of them. All recommended practicing while my eyebrows were still present.

I sent this picture with a text to my DIL: How did I do?
As always, she was encouraging.

Frankly, even without chemo, the outer edge of my eyebrows are already vanishing. The eyebrow pencil arrived not a moment too soon. And it really is not hard. Especially because I found the proper guide, and listened carefully, and followed the instructions.

Psalm 32:8 

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Good News and Bad News -- God is in Charge of it All

You want to do something really scary? Start adding the bills for battling cancer. One of my books better become a NY Times Bestseller, or some famous movie maker decide he needs to pay me a few million to make a movie based on them.

Or my artwork suddenly becomes the hot new item  for the hipster crowd. You can beat the rush by going here to look at my album. If interested in purchasing one, or thirty, email me at vickychooseslife@yahoo.com.

The disease is bad enough. The expense of the disease increases the struggle ten-fold. But it's not all bad news. I am recovering well, and the first phase of breast reconstruction is probably done. It is fully "pumped up" now. The next stage is a second operation to even out the lumps and replace the metal 'expander' with the permanent prosthesis, probably in late July. The pain is rapidly diminishing, and the hypersensitivity much lessened. Yes, the expander is shifted a little far towards my underarm causing some irritation and pain with every arm swing, but the second operation will fix that issue.

The plastic surgeon is pleased with how I am doing. I was so grateful for his skill in making me a new breast, that I gave him one of my paintings last week. He told me that he was very impressed, and that it reminded him of his own father's art work. In fact, he held it up to his kids and asked what it reminded them of. Grandpa's art!

That made me happy. I wonder if he would consider more art in lieu of the the tens of thousands we will owe him? He told me because my skin is 'thin', he thought he ought to do some liposuction to help with the overall final appearance. He checked my stomach and said, "Probably not enough there...maybe from your thighs..." 

Now THIS I like. I always wanted streamlined thighs. Finding a medical necessity for plastic surgery on my thighs is like Christmas in July. Which is when I get that gift... If I understand correctly, he takes some of the fat from my inner thigh and squeezes it into my reconstructed breast. I don't know why, nor do I care. Sounds like win/win to me.

Probably an expensive win/win however...

Back to the good news. I am cleared to kayak. The doctor said pain should be my guide, and he recommends going very slowly and a little at a time. Right now, it has turned cold here, and honestly, I hurt too much to kayak just yet, but I am excited to know I have doctor's approval to do so when ready.

"By the way, I will be horseback riding June 9...is that ok?" I asked him.
He scowled a little and said, "Well, as long as you have already planned it..."

I am taking my daughter and her new hubby to a lovely cabin retreat along the New River, and we are going horseback riding on the New River Trail. I have always wanted to do that, and Asherel shares my love of horses. It will be my last hurrah before cancer treatment begins...whatever that will be. I don't find that out till June 1.

I have been reading 1 Samuel 2-4. These are the chapters where the young Samuel is in the temple with the priest Eli. Samuel is sleeping when he hears his name called. He runs to Eli and asks what Eli needs. But Eli did not call him. This happens two more times, and Eli realizes that it is God Himself calling Samuel. He counsels Samuel to lie down, and when he hears the voice again, to say, "Speak Lord, I'm listening." Samuel does so, and God speaks to Samuel. Wow. Unfortunately, much of what God had to say is a prophesy of judgement against God's wayward people. It was not a hip-hip-hooray kind of speech. But Samuel listens, reports God's word exactly as he was told, and the Bible says "the Lord was with Samuel."

Speak Lord, I'm listening. Not everything God has to say will be comforting. Some of what He asks of us is very hard. Most of us tend to close our ears to those messages. But if we can trust God with the good, surely we can trust Him with the bad.

I don't quite know how we are going to manage when all the bills are due. However, I didn't know how I would bear a mastectomy either. And I certainly could not envision a fake breast looking so good...and it's not done yet! Each day, God reveals new plans I cannot even imagine, and His mercies are new every morning. My ears are open. Speak Lord, I'm listening.
(All the pictures in this blog are available for purchase. What a gold mine, right???)
1 Samuel 3: 8-21
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God,[f] and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”
15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”
Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Suggestions to You Before You Get Cancer

Another day, another surprise. I am going to miss the days of feeling special as I recuperate from the mastectomy. For any of you who are enduring this same journey, or about to: Take hope. This is me in the picture above, not yet three-weeks post surgery and I just finished ten-miles of walking. The breast reconstruction process is so routine now, and so well-done that no one looking at me would know I had a mastectomy. (At least not as long as I am clothed, which is all anyone reading this blog will see.)

And here's another perk of breast cancer.

Almost every day, some gift arrives in the mail, or on my doorstep.  The day before yesterday, it was six gorgeous Waterford Crystal wine glasses from my son and his wife. Look at what greeted me on my porch when I stepped outside yesterday. (Picture below.) In case you can't see well, that is FOUR bottles of wine, a horse calendar, high protein flapjack mix, plates and napkins, and La Croix sparkling lime water. Oh, and a lovely serving platter to hold it all. This is from my friend Carol who brings ministering to hurting friends to the level of art. Her ability to cheer others is genius. (By the way, those are fine Italian red wines, like my radiologist prescribed to help me deal with breast cancer.) (Just so he doesn't get in trouble, he didn't exactly prescribe fine Italian wine, but he said it wouldn't hurt.)

When I called to thank Carol, she warned me not to drink it all in one sitting. She told me that while she was delivering my wine, she also scared off a political candidate coming up the driveway to chat with me. She did all this without setting off the dog alarm, or waking me from a nap. Like I have told you a million times before, I have the world's best friends.

I would recommend that before you get breast cancer, be sure you have great friends and family. That takes time and investment so start building those relationships now. Besides that, be sure you are working on trusting God in the little things, because no matter how good friends and family are, you are going to need to trust God more than you ever thought you could. But you can. If I can, you can. Best to learn to trust Him now, while things are going well. When things go south, you will have a backlog of experience knowing God is always there.

If you are one of those rare individuals who lives a trouble-free life, you can still test God's faithfulness in the midst of trials. Read the Bible. The Bible is a history of wayward, sinful people (like all of us) and God's relentless pursuit and desire that none should perish and remain separated from Him. His redemption of mankind begins in Genesis and continues all the way to Revelation.

I have read the Bible cover to cover over and over again. Long before I got cancer, I knew that the God who created the entire universe had a special love for humans. I knew before I ever had to lean fully upon God that others in much worse circumstances had been upheld by His everlasting love. I was devastated to learn of the cancer journey I was going to have to travel, but not defeated. I knew God knew before time began what I would endure, and His good purpose would not be thwarted even by cancer.

Today, I was able to shower, dry my hair, and put on all my healing essential oils while looking directly at the result of the mastectomy. With the lights on. With my eyes open. It's really not so terrible.

There are worse things.

Like not having family that spends ten days helping you after surgery or sends gifts of beautiful glasses, pajamas, checks, flowers...or not having friends who look for the exact perfect gift to bring you cheer along with food, blossoming shrubs, essential healing oils and supplements, or not knowing God. He never promised us our bodies would last, but guarantees our soul is safe with Him.


John 15:17 

These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

Hebrews 4:16 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Saving the Best till Last - A Lesson from a Broken Gift

A large box was delivered by UPS for me. I have never gotten so many gifts as when I was diagnosed with cancer. There was no note or return address to indicate who had sent me the box. Deciding it was probably not a bomb, I opened it.

Six exquisite Waterford Crystal wine glasses! Three were smashed to smithereens. What could I do now? There was no name on the box, and no obvious way to find who had sent them, and where they had been made. Fortunately, after tunneling through mounds of packing peanuts, I found the packing slip with the name of the company that sent the glasses and called them. Instantly, they shipped out three more glasses, no questions asked!

Who bought me this incredible gift? I had my suspects. Ever since the radiologist agreed with me that red wine is good in fighting cancer, a few people have been very interested in persuading me to get fine red wine. Thus far, I am still only a cheap boxed red wine kinda gal, and truth be told, I do not own a single wine glass. I use pretty cranberry-red juice glasses for my boxed wine.

Anyway, I knew the glasses came from one of a small list of potential suspects: the radiologist, my sister Amy, or my son and his crafty wife. I was betting on the son and wife. Of all of my family, they are the only ones that could probably have a hope of claiming grace, taste, and class. The radiologist probably owned Waterford crystal himself...but I'd only met him once. I doubt he sent wine glasses to his cancer patients, so that was not a realistic suspect.

Then, upon examining the order slip, I spied my son's email. I don't own anything as fine as Waterford crystal glasses, even smashed ones. I felt like crying as I held the beautiful glass. I quickly texted my dear son and daughter-in-law to thank them. They told me if I was going to be drinking fine red wine, I needed glasses that would show off the beauty of the wine.

I'd run a lot of errands yesterday that I'd put off because I didn't feel up to it. Afterwards, I was aching all over. Driving hurts the poor mastectomied breast and arm. I collapsed on the couch, and remembered, "Oh. I have Waterford Crystal wine glasses!"

Sometimes, those little pick-me-ups in life are all it takes to turn a wearying day on its hinge. As I sipped my (boxed) wine in my fine Waterford Crystal glass, I thought of Jesus' first miracle. He turned the water into wine. A bridal party had run out of wine, and Jesus decided to help out. In typical festivities, the best wine comes out first, and then as the guests get drunk, the equivalent of boxed wine is served since no one is coherent enough to know the difference. But when Jesus transforms the wine, it is the best wine. (Naturally...made personally by God, how could it not be?) The best wine, saved for the end.

I thought about the symbolism of that. Look at what we have to look forward to! A lot of life is really wonderful, but Jesus has saved the best till last. Nothing we experience now will hold a candle to what awaits us in Heaven "when faith will be sight".

Now don't miss this. If those three beautiful glasses had not been broken, I would not have looked for the deeply hidden packing slip, which told me the source of this lovely gift. The shattered glasses propelled me to find their Maker, knowing only the Creator of the glasses could restore them. How gracious that three arrived intact, so I had a sense of what could be, what perfection looked like.

Are you getting chills over the message God sent me? Folks, we are all shattered glasses, created and molded to be exquisitely beautiful. However, the journey we travel invariably breaks us. We have no hope of restoration unless we cry out and return to our Maker. Sometimes we have to work hard at finding Him, but don't stop looking. He is there and He alone can make all things new. He reminds me that when He fills us with the new wine, it will be the best.

That's what I thought about, as my recuperating body ached, and I sipped the wine in my beautiful Waterford Crystal wine glass.

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.[a] Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

Isaiah 65: 17-19
“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem
    and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping
    and the cry of distress.