Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Changing Landscapes

They say we humans don't like change. I don't know about that. I think it all depends on what we call it. If we call it "graduation," "birth of a baby," "marriage," "promotion," "finding the Lord," and similar life-altering events, we don't call it "change." We label it what it is and rejoice! We accept what comes with it. We may dread the new and growing bills that come with the birth of a baby, but we accept those new responsibilities that are part of the baby-package. Whatever we call it, we seldom call it "change," though that's what it is.

But just let that "change" be something like new hymnals at church, the closing of favorite businesses, empty buildings on Main Street, shifting populations, disease, divorce, death, or anything else that makes us long for "the good old days," or pine wistfully for "the way things used to be"... those things we don't like, can't accept, wish would go away...those are "changes" and we buck against them.

Everyday brings each of us a mixture of blessings and not-blessings, positives and negatives. Changes. Our life's landscape will look one way when we wake up and look somewhat differently when we go to bed. For good or bad, there will be changes. Sometimes I think God's a little too busy planting weeds in places I want roses. OK, I know God doesn't "plant" weeds, but He does allow them to grow in our gardens.

And my landscape changes.

Thursday of last week a great cyber-buddy and melanoma warrior died. I found out Saturday morning. Saturday evening I learned another cyber-buddy and melanoma warrior was in a coma. Sunday morning before leaving for church, I learned she, too, died. Sunday afternoon my husband and I found ourselves taking a very long, scenic route from church to a district meeting and drove past where my grandparents' house used to stand. I knew that landscape had changed. I had not seen the change. Until now. Sunday afternoon. Two deaths right on top of each other and now this visual.

It had been a two-story house. Nothing to write home about. Nothing that made passers-by ooo and ahhh. But my Granddaddy, a logger and sawmill man, had cut the floorboards himself from heart pine. My Grandma was so proud of her floors! It was a good, solid, sturdy home they raised their four children in. As their family grew to include children-in-law and grandchildren, that was the gathering place Sunday afternoons for Grandma's pot roast. Too many memories to share here but we all have those treasured places. Every time anyone left from a visit, Grandma and Granddaddy would stand at their porch door and wave until the car got on the road.

When you pulled into their driveway from the highway, you drove straight a short ways and then looped around a tree. Grandma's crepe myrtles lined the far side. The crepe myrtles are still there. You can still see the loopy driveway and that single tree in the center, there's the small shed out back, the grapevine in the side yard, a great big tree where the front corner of the house was...no house. No floors. Tears though. Plenty of tears. I knew it was going to be torn down. But seeing the changed landscape wasn't the same as "knowing" the landscape would change.

Time marches on. Things change. Life changes. Landscapes do too. I cannot change "change." Rats!

But as I ponder, I give thanks because for a landscape to "change" it had to be there in the first place and be something precious. We don't cry over changes that suit us. Something had to have existed worth crying over. And something did. People did. Had it not been for the people who occupied that house, I wouldn't be here and neither would chunks of our family tree. Grandma's trees still stand.

And we are its limbs.

And I am grateful.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

And So It Goes

"Why, God? Why? How, God? How do You watch so many people die every second around Your world? How do You continually watch what we humans do to Your earth day after day? If I were you, God, I would have stopped all this a long time ago! How do You do it, God? Why do You do it, God?"

And the Spirit answers, "Because there's far more good and beauty and life than you realize."

And I'm sure God, in His Infinite Wisdom, must surely be right. A real conversation I had this morning with God. But only after...

He woke me up this morning in a good mood after a good night's sleep and I had "blessings" on my brain. Steven Curtis Chapman's song "God Is God and I Am Not"  was also playing in my head and today had all the earmarks of being a great day from start to finish! God had me pumped, primed, and ready! I was filled with great expectation, anticipation, and I just knew my hopes were going to be fulfilled in unexpected ways!

It's not even noon and God has already taken me on a roller coaster ride. I have never, ever liked roller coasters. I hate the mere sight of them. I cannot stand riding them. Need I say that I'm not a happy camper right now? I'm a sad-beyond-words camper. This is just not what I thought God was preparing me for.

"Not what I thought" are the key words. God knew what He was doing all along and He can handle my heart, which is broken. He has handled it before and He will surely handle it again before I leave this earth and then He'll never have to handle my broken heart again.

I have been a melanoma patient, stage 3b since July 2008. I write and administrate the Facebook page Melanoma Prayer Center. I'm a Methodist pastor. I wing my way through cyberspace daily visiting fellow melanoma warriors. Some even welcome me into their lives and hearts. I become well-acquainted with their trials (literally "trials"...melanoma trial treatments) and the trials of their lives. I hear their stories. I become their friend. They become loved and admired by me. They come in both genders, all ages and races, various faiths, various family structures. We have in common that we are people, of faith, with melanoma.

It gets tough when they die. It hurts. This past month and a half or so has been particularly painful. First Eric, then Rick, followed by Ryan. And now, Kitty. I found out about Kitty's death just this morning...after...after God woke me up expecting blessing! After God deeply planted "God is God" in my brain.  I knew Eric, Rick, and Ryan through their devoted wives. I knew Kitty through herself.

She was one of my cheerleaders and I was one of hers through this miracle of the Internet. Our paths only crossed through cyberspace. One day, a glorious day, they will cross in Heaven's space.

And so it goes. Life and death. Life comes first and life has the final say. Kitty has gone from life to Life. She has been blessed beyond measure! She fought the fight and she fought dang hard! They all did! And many more still do! She ran her race and she ran it right through Heaven's pearly gates. She won!

Why? Because God is God and I am not. I can only see in part the picture He's painting.

And so it goes. He's still painting my picture and if I look at the canvas, I see Kitty has a place on it! So does Eric and Rick and Ryan. So does Linda and Christina and Rich and Chelsea! So do more than I can name and the list keeps growing. They are on my canvas for all eternity and I am on theirs.

And so it goes. Life.

Maybe God knew what He was doing after all when He woke me up with "blessing" on my brain! He just had to remind me, again, what true blessings are.

And so it goes!

And I am grateful!

watch a video of Steven Curtis Chapman's "God is God"

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Secret's Out!

I'm a glutton and sucker for flattery! I really, really, can I say "really" enough?, hate to admit it, but a little flattery goes a long ways with me! I just posted here yesterday and someone just had to say something nice! So, here I go again.  (Note to my friend anonymous: don't pull that stunt again! God didn't give me but so many thoughts to share!)

The Melanoma Research Foundation posted a blog this past Friday about how melanoma can isolate. While it turns out to actually be about ocular melanoma (yes, there is such a deadly beast), there's a paragraph in it that everyone can relate to on some level:

"Even the treatments make melanoma patients different.  Chemotherapy has limited impact on this cancer, so some of the classic signs of cancer treatment bypass melanoma patients.  They don’t lose their hair, look pale, walk the hospital halls with IV bag in tow.  It is not unusual for melanoma patients to look perfectly healthy.  Sometimes the appearance matches reality.  I have known Stage IV patients who felt fine, even as they moved closer to succumbing to their disease.  Sometimes the side effects of treatment are less apparent.  Living with flu like symptoms for a year is a horrible experience, but is not something that is readily apparent the treatments make melanoma" http://www.melanoma.org/blog/isolation

I've been thinking about that in a more general way. Every single one of us is not who everyone else sees! Think about that. When people look at you, you know what they visibly see about you. They can see your hair color (whether it's real or not may be another story). They can get a sense of either your fashion sense or your clothes budget. One look at me, and people can readily tell I have neither.

But they cannot see who you are on the inside. They don't know your dreams, fears, joys, baggage or delectable groceries. They don't know what your mind feasts on or what garbage slips in there.

People have never looked at me and instantly thought, "she must be a cheerleader!" God didn't make me petite and cute. He certainly didn't make me gymnastically inclined. Ask my parents and they'll happily tell you that He didn't endow me with a perky teenage personality either! Outwardly I wasn't a cheerleader, but inwardly I sure was! Man, how I wanted to be cute, perky, agile, petite, and out on that gym floor leading cheers! Nobody though, could look at me and know that.

Oh no! What people looked at and saw was a tall girl who "was" a "natural" for basketball! I was 5'9" when I started high school in 1973 and that was tall back in the day for a girl. My first day of high school, ninth grade, I walked in the room to register for classes and get my schedule straight and who should be sitting at the table doing that BUT the woman who, it turns out, was the girls' PE teacher and basketball coach! I could literally see her drooling when she saw me! She even told me, without knowing me, at that moment, that she expected me to be on her team! I tried, stumbled the words in shock is more accurate, to tell her I didn't play basketball...but all she saw was height and that equaled skill....

Until...she took note in PE that I was the one who always had to stay after class until I could make that one dreadful, dreaded lay up shot! Her anticipated "star" player was the one always picked last for any PE class team, and the team captain always took me with that horrible "you mean I've got to take her?" look in her eyes and everyone instantly felt sorry for the team I was on but relief that I wasn't on their team. All PE classes have that person. I was mine. I knew in my heart and soul I was no basketball player! In my heart and soul I was a cheerleader!

And I still am! Thanks be to God, today I'm a real cheerleader! And I'm perky, too! Annoyingly so! Just ask my college kid! I'm a 52 year old, compression sleeve and glove wearing, melanoma patient of a cheerleader who still can't do a cartwheel anywhere but in my imagination...and that's OK!

I guess two secrets are out. Oh well, I yam who I yam.

And I am grateful...and I'm grateful you are who you are, too!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life

OK. It sounds cheesy and quaint, I know. We're all grateful for "life" aren't we? From my personal experience, I was always glad to be here, but it wasn't until my existence was threatened that I became grateful for life. Not just grateful for my life, but grateful for everyone's life, and grateful for the concept of "life" in general.

I'm grateful for the birthdays that come with life! Bring on those numbers and let them climb higher! I don't want to stop at 52. They say "aging's not for sissies." Neither is cancer. If I can live with the beast (what melanoma is "lovingly" called) then I can surely live with getting older. I've got a bunch of wisdom to pass on to somebody and I'm sure to gain more as I move through life...hate to have all that life-experience go to waste.

Hmmmmmm, wise words to share for all posterity:

Dead ain't sexy! Love the skin you're in. Take care of it! Check every inch of it thoroughly every month and get any changes checked out pronto! Don't cook it, baste it, broil it or oil it. Love it. Be good to it and it will be good to you...most likely. Abuse it and it's sure to bite you. Ahem! "Melanoma" is a highly exclusive club and we members do NOT want you joining our ranks, thank you very much. When you see something about melanoma awareness, do NOT roll your eyes and look away! Pay attention and learn something and then apply it to your life and the lives in your family. If you think it can't happen to you, you're dead wrong. So please, be "wrong" and not "dead." Pay attention. We all thought it would never happen to "us." Learn our lesson. Is that too much to ask?

Appreciate every birthday you are blessed to have and stop cracking those awful jokes when another one rolls around. Stop wishing life away; it will be gone soon enough. Stop wishing the week away so you can get to the weekend. Stop wishing childhood away so you can be a teenager then so you can turn that magical "21" then so you can get out on your own then so you can....You get the picture. We humans are great at wishing one stage of life away so we can move on to the next and the one after that! They will get here soon enough and all in good time and in God's time.

Maybe. Sometimes life doesn't work out according to our plans. Let's be real: life never works out just like we plan and envision. Dream. Dare to hope. It just doesn't. No matter how "charmed" and "blessed" a person seems to live, sooner or later, something totally unplanned and unfathomable will happen to shake you to your core.

What or Who is at that core of your life? How you answer that will make all the difference in how you live it, how you celebrate it, or how you wish it away.

I had to hit the bottom to see that Core I prayed was there REALLY IS there. And that makes all the difference...

And I am so grateful!