Monday, October 31, 2016

Flexing Spiritual, and (sore) Physical Muscles To Overcome Adversity and Heal

In the spirit of full disclosure, I defied my massage therapist and went kayaking. She's a Facebook friend, so my crime is now outed as soon as this posts on Facebook. I decided that in all the years I had kayaked, I had not had a frozen shoulder. In the eight weeks since I stopped kayaking (because of a broken rib), I developed a frozen shoulder. It seemed to me the missing ingredient in my life was kayaking.

Besides, frozen shoulders can take one to two YEARS to heal. By then, my kayak will be dust, and my kayak muscles melted away.  Maybe gentle kayaking would loosen the tight muscles and stretch the scar tissue.

I was very careful not to use the aching arm to pull the kayak out of my van. Then, I paddled with very shallow, slow strokes. I went very slowly, and stopped frequently to rock on the waves and rest my weak muscles. It did not hurt, but the muscles were definitely weak. My shoulder felt looser when I was all done, and the pain was even a little diminished. During my many times resting, I thanked God. I have missed kayaking so much.

This conclusive study is clear. I should continue kayaking...but very slowly and not for very long each outing. (Praying my massage therapist agrees. I see her today. Tuesday I start Physiotherapy...wonder what torture she will recommend instead of kayaking?)

But first, I will go to the sidewalks of the abortion center like I do every Monday to flex some spiritual muscles. It is a sad place there, but I go with joy because I believe with all my heart that God has called me to be there, just as loudly as He called me to the lake yesterday.

Spiritual muscles can freeze just like physical muscles from misuse or disuse. If God calls us to do something and we don't do it, our spiritual muscles will atrophy. If God calls us to do something, and we do the opposite or defy and distort His call, spiritual muscles will sprain and even tear. Neither course of action will bring us into a spiritually healthy relationship with God...or others. I know because I have been there. If you are honest, I bet you would have to admit so have you. And FYI, healing is much harder than staying healthy.

I have a new statistic to shout out to the abortion-minded moms. New research shows a baby's heart begins beating 16 days after conception! I have been saying it was 17 days. For many moms, the beating heart is pivotal in their choice for life. Most don't even know they are pregnant only 16 days post-conception! 

This morning, I saw a video made by a pro-life group in which fetal monitors were strapped to the bellies of a line of pregnant moms and then their babies' heart beats were amplified. Can you imagine what an impact that must have on the argument that the 'fetus' is not human, or is just a blob of tissue with no right to exist if his mother doesn't want him to?

Did you know that every single day, more than 3,000 babies are aborted in America? Approximately 11,000 babies are born each day. That means more than a fourth of the babies that should be born are instead killed. This is a nation where equal right to life is the supreme and guiding principle of our society! Yet we abort one fourth of all our babies in the womb! What a mockery, a travesty of what we claim to stand for as a people. How can we claim equality for any rights if the basis of all of them, the right to life, is devalued in the most vulnerable and innocent among us?

Praise God that I have an opportunity to call out to some of those women who think abortion is the answer and try to convince them they are wrong. Jesus is the answer. And Jesus was once a baby in the womb of an unwed, impoverished young woman, engaged to a man who was not the baby's father. She chose life, and all of History pivoted on that decision.

That image makes my mission even more precious to me. The pain in my shoulder does not begin to match the pain in my heart as those mamas swarm into that terrible place.

Proverbs 6:16-19 

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

Isaiah 49:15

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

Isaiah 49:1 

Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Message About Victory and Defeat - Insights From Struggles

I am over half way done with my sequel to Unlikely Friends, and in trouble.  While I had a general idea of where I wanted to go with the story, there were some massive holes in the plot and I had no idea how to plug them.

So, I wrote more clues, wedging myself even deeper into a literary corner. I took time off from writing to finish the painting I was working on for my wonderful massage therapist. I loved the painting, which is at the top of this blog, but no creative spark arced over the gap to illuminate a solution to my writing dilemma.

Hoping for insight, I went on a walk. I ran into a friend, Roxanne, who is a massage therapist. She has been very kind in advising me on issues with my frozen shoulder. She and her husband were walking their dogs. One is a Carolina Dog like my beloved, newly deceased Honeybun. They always stop and let me pet their dogs, and kiss the sweet face of Jenna who looks just like Honeybun. Anyway, I told them my plot problem and between the three of us, by the time we had finished the walk, it was SOLVED.

I have often had this dilemma. I write with a basic outline of where my story is going, but very quickly veer off course. I know something important is just within my grasp, but I never seem to actually grasp it until I am quite a ways into the manuscript. Usually, by the end of chapter one, my plans are out the window, the book takes over, and forces me to follow it. Bizarre. It happens with nearly every single book I have written. (The current book is #19.)

More often than not, by bouncing ideas off of friends, or sometimes even strangers, I chance upon the solution to my story problem. God often sends me the perfect plot while I am kayaking...but due to my frozen shoulder, I have curtailed kayaking. Sometimes, the plot arrives perfectly packaged in a dream. Each time, I realize with sudden clarity, "Of course! This is where I was being led from the beginning!"  I am only surprised how long it took me to realize it.

This is not unlike my journey of faith. The clues of what God is doing are scattered all along the way. So often, I recognize they are indeed clues about where He is taking me, but I don't see the final answer. I don't understand how they will all come together. It sometimes feels as though life is just a series of chance, chaotic, incomprehensible events. When things miraculously come together, then I say, "Ah ha! Now I get it!"

That's what Satan thought about Jesus hanging on the cross. He didn't see the plot. He didn't pay attention to the clues that are throughout scripture. He missed the Big Picture. And in the end, it was all perfectly orchestrated, perfectly planned, and the victory for God was dramatically sealed at the very moment the evil one was certain he was about to win. I love that dramatic high point of all history. Evil and Good clashing as Jesus is nailed to the cross, both  simultaneously embracing the event. One thought he had won it all but lost everything; the other knowing He had won it all and gained everything.

1 Corinthians 1:18 

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Chronicles 11:14 

But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and killed the Philistines. And the Lord saved them by a great victory.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Colossians 2:15 

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

When You Feel Like a Target for His Arrows

My frozen shoulder is clamping down even more I think. It seems to be losing more range of motion each day. I had freed my day yesterday to kayak... but decided that would be foolish given the pain in my shoulder and arm. Instead, I wrote 3,000 words in my new book, and painted a watercolor painting for my massage therapist, Miracula.

I haven't done a watercolor painting in a long time. I wasn't even sure I still could. I told myself I would just do a little bit, maybe the very bottom corner of the painting. Well, one thing led to another, and I couldn't stop. I finished all but some tiny, final details.

And it may be the best watercolor I have ever painted. Thank you Lord for giving me the ability to paint, and thank you that my dominant hand is not the side of the frozen shoulder.

I can't show you the painting since I still have to do a few minutes of final details. It was based on the painting in this blog. Miracula loved that painting, and I offered it to her out of my deep gratitude to her for the massage treatments. She knew I didn't really want to part with it. So she told me paint it again. She would take the remake of the original. The new painting is clearly based on this one, but is still unique and has a different flavor. I hope she loves it because she is helping me alot with the massage therapy.

She didn't help me in hopes of getting a painting. She never asked for anything in return. She just knew I was in pain, and wanted to help me feel better. I cannot begin to express how precious and special she is. The painting is nothing compared to what she is offering to me.

As my shoulder grows increasingly limited in range and in pain, I feel more and more sorry for myself. Anyone who has lived with chronic pain knows how difficult it is day after day. It wears down all reserves. Imagine my response to Lamentations 3 in my daily Bible reading yesterday. Here is a snippet:

I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; (v. 1-4.)

 Remember, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March and since then have had two operations, 3 blood clots, six weeks of daily radiation, 3 bouts of strange rashes, cellulitis, and then a broken rib just under the reconstructed breast. Now I have a frozen shoulder. You can imagine how I related to the author of Lamentations 3. (The author by the way is Jeremiah- inspired by God. Jeremiah is also known as the weeping prophet.)

 I can understand the despair that drove Jeremiah to cry out in verse 12: He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows. 

It could be worse. It can always be worse, but in my weaker moments, that is my cry. Why have you drawn your bow and targeted me?

I continued reading Jeremiah's mournful lament. Listen to verse 18: So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.” 

This is a faithful servant of God who has done all God asked of him. And yet, his whole world has collapsed. He is at the bottom of the barrel, and there is no sustenance, no escape. Thus, it is a bit jarring to read the following snippet just 3 verses later:

 21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. 

Nothing changed in Jeremiah's situation. However, there is a change in one preposition that I think is key. In verse 18, Jeremiah is bereft because all he had hoped FROM the Lord has not materialized. In verse 25, his hope is IN the Lord. With this simple shift not in what God might do, but in who God IS, Jeremiah finds the strength to hold on and wait and hope again.

 Just in these few verses, Jeremiah reminds us who God is. God is love, God is compassion, God is faithful, God is good, and His mercies are renewed each morning. God will be found by those who seek Him, and His eternal salvation will be the reward.

 I think I can muster on another day with this thought tucked in my heart.




Friday, October 28, 2016

When They Look at Me...Do They See Jesus?

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

My doctor was running an hour behind for my 3-month post-surgical check-up. I didn't mind. A gorgeous green-way runs right alongside his office building. I told the receptionist I'd be back in an hour and happily set off on a walk. 

Memories flooded back from the time period of my first surgery for breast cancer. I had spent a lot of time on that green-way in between doctor appointments that occurred almost daily during the early days of my cancer diagnosis. Strangely, I did not remember the fear, the grief, or the pain. Instead, I remembered how much fun my sister Amy and I had during the extended time she came to stay and aid my recovery. 

I remembered our walks on that very green-way in between countless doctor visits...Our Italian lunch out while meandering along the lovely path... Finding huckleberry bushes and eating them by the handful... Enjoying the beautiful fountains and statues, and creek along the way.

 Laughing. Exulting in life and the beautiful world God created. Funny how the pain or sorrow of losing a breast didn't enter my thoughts at all as I walked along the green-way remembering that time. The only emotion I could recall was love from and for my sister. Gratitude that she was there. Joy knowing God had not left me to struggle alone.

This is a powerful message. No matter what terrible things we endure, love makes them endurable. First and foremost, God's love upholds us. Secondly, human agents demonstrating Christ-like love sustain us through situations we could never pass through alone.

This is a critical truth that I speak at the sidewalks of the abortion centers all the time. I tell them we are our brother's keeper. We are expected to do all we can do to help those in need or heading down a destructive path. Scripture abounds with this message:

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me... Matthew 25:35

 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. Genesis 4:8-10

My sister Amy is one of the most selfless people I know. She embodies sacrificial love. When I am with Amy, I see Christ moving and acting on behalf of His people.

 That is the type of person I want to be. I want to hold the hand of those who are struggling such that the struggles become less important than the fact that someone is there with them. I want them to find comfort and truth in my presence, and when they look at me, I want them to see Jesus.
As an aside, the doctor looked at me, and saw a frozen shoulder. He said I need to get to physiotherapy pronto because while it still has some range of motion, frozen shoulders can get really bad really fast. My appointment with a sports medicine PT is Tuesday. I will continue with my fabulous massage therapist and figure between all these professionals, and God, I will be healed.

Psalm 82:1-8 

A Psalm of Asaph. God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. ...

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. ...

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.