Saturday, March 31, 2012

Going Where God's Wind Blows

We all live with something. We all face issues, struggles, challenges. We all live with conditions, chronic illnesses, or diseases that can be manageable one day and bite us the next. Nobody's life is picture-perfect, no matter what the smiles we plaster on our faces and show the outside world try to convey. We all have fears and things that strike terror in our hearts. We all live with our own "what ifs" whether we take steps to prevent them or prepare for them if they should occur, or not.

And we all have our own sources of hope and joy. We all have people, or at least one person, we can count on to bring a smile to our face. Just the mention of a name, the fond memory, the song, the smell, and we are transported to a wonderful place even if that place is only in our mind's eye or in the past.

We all have life's seasons where if it can go wrong and fall apart, it will and does. We can't stop it or control it. We have to pray it through and get through it as best we can. We have these seasons whether we are people of faith or not.

We, likewise, all have seasons where life is a big double rainbow and everywhere we turn we find "good" tailing us. Blessings seem to fall from the sky and we're wearing a target on our backs that says, "Bless me" and we are blessed. It can seem that easy! We have these seasons whether we are people of faith or not.

Don't ask me "why." We just do.

In the good times and in the bad, it's so much easier if we can find people who share similar journeys. Just to connect with others who can share their life and say, "This is where I am and this is what's happening" can give us strength to know we aren't alone and others face the same challenges and are getting through them. If they can do it, then I can do it! In this Age of Internet and Facebook, I don't have to really know them; it just helps to know they are conquering, or, at least muddling through it. That's powerful in and of itself. That conveys so much hope in a world that often doesn't show much hope.

And God comes along and blows us in directions that move us into paths of people we would never have met, doing things we never would have done, and effecting change we never would have been part of if God had not stepped in and blown into our lives.

It was a challenge for me, at first, to set my sail and drift where God blew into my life. There were times early on when I didn't particularly care for where I saw Him heading. God wanted to blow my little boat in one direction and I said, "I don't think so." And God blew anyway and I learned pretty quickly that God doesn't care too much for mutiny and I don't care too much for "the brig." So I had to decide that in order to stay out of the brig, I had to be a helpful first mate on my boat and sailing was smoother. Even through storms. Ordinarily there might be a "Rats" coming. Not this time.

I've learned my life really does go better when I get out of God's way and watch Him work. I've learned that while I have no control over much of my life, I have no control over what other people do that can affect me and I have no control over the weather of life. I have learned to trust the One Who can do something about the things and situations I'm helpless in. As I tend to put it, you know that bumper sticker that says "God's my co-pilot?" I don't like that. As long as we're in the cockpit with God it's still too easy to reach over and take the controls away from Him. Nope. I do not want God as my co-pilot! He doesn't want that either! No, I'm in the passenger section, usually coach, and the door to the cockpit is locked to keep me out.

It has taken me a long time to get to this point and I know me well enough to know I may not be a happy camper in the passenger section of my plane forever and one day I may find myself banging on the cockpit door begging for those controls. Heaven help me if God opens the door!

But along the way I've learned to trust His leading and promptings. I wish I could say that I follow each and every one of them, but I don't. There are many subtle ones that I miss, there are some I ignore, and there are some that seem to come two-by-two and I can't do both at the same time so I pick one and go with it.

As I travel with God's wind, I go places to meet people I wouldn't have met otherwise. And I find God has beaten me to my destination and welcomes me just as surely as my new friend welcomes me. I do things I never would have done and find God is already at work, on the job, and I just have to pitch in and help.

And I find God delights in surprises. And I learn that while they are surprises to me, they are not to Him and He has His reasons for blowing them my way. I confess that I'm not always thrilled with His surprises, but I've never been one that loved surprises anyway. But they are also opportunities for God to show me some grace and help me stretch and grow.

Sometimes that "stretching" is painful and almost like being on a spiritual stretcher like was used in history as an instrument of torture. Life isn't easy. Being part of the lives of other people isn't easy. Holding hearts and walking with people through thin places and sad seasons and storms and darkness filled with shadows isn't easy. Hearing of trials and tribulations isn't easy. But when God blows us into these place we can rest knowing that He's our shelter, guide, and light. It's not up to me. It's not up to me to be God's travel agent and tell Him where to blow.

It's my job, our job as people of faith, to be God's little mustard seed and let Him blow our little bit of faith into a world already inhabited by His breath, Spirit, and wind.

His ruah.

No matter where God blows into our lives and directs our journeys, He's already there and will never leave.

He is always blowing us into Himself.

He cannot blow us away from Himself.

And I am grateful.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Making Those Dreaded Final Arrangements

It's something we have to accept. We don't have to like it. We sure don't have to embrace it. But we do have to accept it. We all have a limited number of days on earth. We will all leave this place. We will all die. The richest and most powerful people at any given time in history have not had enough money or power to avoid death.

How we face this fact, and the steps we take while we're alive, can make a world of difference to those we leave behind.

I'll be honest. I've been blessed with parents who have always been very open about living and dying. Maybe being from the rural South has something to do with that. I don't know, but I do know that when I was in my 30s and they were in their 60s, they sat me down and told me steps they had already taken in case they ever needed to go to a nursing home. They took that possible, eventual decision out of my hands while they were in good health, both body and mind, to make that joint call. They sat my brother down and had the same discussion with him.

Because I'm the oldest, I know where their important papers are. I know the system they use to pay their bills in case I ever need to step in and take care of their business. I've been added to their bank account now while they are able to take care of their own business in case something happens suddenly and they are no longer able to. I won't need to jump through hoops then because they initiated all that before it happened. They are now both in their early 80s. They bought their cemetery plots a long time ago. They bought plots for all of us so we could all be together. And then told us about it. (Insert annoying smiley face here!)

They have wills, and while I haven't seen them, we have had some discussion about them. I know my parents well enough to know they will treat my brother and I equally and the help they have given him over the years will be weighed in those wills because I haven't needed the same assistance. I also know that they have taken his history with crack into account, and even though he has done miraculously through recovery, they have taken steps to protect their estate in case he relapses...nothing will fall into the hands of dealers. Not if they can help it!

Not everyone has been as blessed with such proactive and practical parents as me. We've all seen those families, and they may be ours, where the last parent dies and a once close family is destroyed. Grudges and hostilities that were buried, surface, and those that have always been out in the open explode. We've heard, and maybe said, "If mama and daddy could see this, they'd be so disappointed in us." We vow it won't happen in our own families. But do we take the necessary steps to ensure that, or do we just trust our survivors will love us and each other enough to stay close, no matter what?

No matter how close your family is now, please consider the idea that there's something about death that can bring out the worst in people. Sometimes people don't wait for death; potential heirs can start arguing over estates and who gets what while parents are still alive. There is something about the idea of "inheriting" that can bring greed out of the closet. We will all leave estates. Grandma's antique tea set can be the only thing of "value" and ten people can suddenly think they have a right to it. Our estate may be so small we don't think of it as an "estate," but whatever you own and leave behind is your "estate." Any debt you leave is part of that estate and will have to be paid from your assets.

That said, no one, no one, is entitled to an inheritance. Nothing, technically, becomes an inheritance until after death. Until that moment it is yours to use, enjoy, spend, do with what you want. You earned it, maybe even inherited some, but it's yours. Not anyone else's.  Keep in mind, though, that any heirs may not understand that and they may not understand some of your other wishes, so...

While you are here and of sound mind, make plans. And, side note, writing a will will not tempt fate and cause your immediate demise. For many people, it actually brings a sense of peace to have wishes in writing. It is possible you might be able to say, "So-and-so wrote their will and they were dead in a month." More than likely So-and-so had a terminal illness and was getting affairs in order. Try not to wait that long. If you do, there's a chance your heirs may contest your will if they don't like it and say you weren't in your right mind when you wrote it because you were under the influence of heavy medications. That happens. Don't let it happen to you if you can prevent it.

Have those difficult discussions while you are here and can. Let your wishes be known and WHY. That why is crucial. If you have more than one heir and you've helped one out but the others haven't needed it, if you plan to equalize things in your will, let them all know this. If you plan to forgive debts, make that plain. If you have promised certain items to certain people, make that known. Ten heirs cannot all inherit your Purple Heart. Let all heirs know, in advance, who is to receive what and write it down. These are but a few examples of what needs to be considered. Add to the list and customize it to fit your family and particular situation.

If you are reading this and you have minor children, write down plans, now, who is to take care of them and, if possible, make financial provisions for that care. It should go without saying that you will need to discuss all this with the person you want named their guardian. Iron this possibility out NOW. You do NOT want the state ironing it out for you later! As your children age, keep revisiting this portion of your will and make necessary adjustments. If you have pets, you may want to decide who is to take them in and make financial provisions for their care also. And, of course, discuss the care of your pets with the person you would like to have adopt them. Do not let this come as a "surprise" to someone. It might not have a pleasant ending.

While you are here, now is the time to also consider what you want done with your body upon death, any special instructions that need to be known regarding your funeral, and even how you wish to the point you might have any control. Do you want extraordinary measures taken? If so, what measures are you comfortable with? Do you want "Do Not Resuscitate" orders in place, or not? Do you want to be in a hospital, Hospice facility, or at home? Who do you want to be on hand to help with your most personal needs? Put it all in writing, after discussing and making your wishes known verbally with those who need to know. Do you want your organs donated or do you want to die with all your original equipment? Do you want your body donated to research? Do you want to be cremated or buried? Where do you want your final resting place to be? Is there a particular funeral home you want to handle you or is there one that better not touch you? Write it down and make sure to tell the people who will actually make these arrangements when the time comes. If you have a funeral, are there particular people you want participating, hymns sung, poems or Scriptures read? Have those discussions and write it down.

As a pastor, I cannot begin to stress the need to tell your family any special instructions for your funeral. Whoever conducts your funeral will ask your family and it puts them in a sad position if they say, "They never said anything about what they wanted." Even if they think you had a nice funeral, they'll never know if you looked down and were pleased.

I also cannot stress enough the need to protect those you love even in death. See, all this isn't really as much about protecting your estate as it is protecting your family. Take steps now to keep your family, as much as possible, intact after you die, or, fail to take steps and ensure your family falls apart. Failure to plan for this inevitable event may actually put the wheels in motion for the family you brought into the world and dearly love to be irreparably ruined. Destroyed. And you won't be able to right it.

Now, get everything in writing, but do it legally. You want everything as airtight as possible. I want to thank Rich McDonald for proofing this and adding his legal expertise. Rich also sent me a couple of links to share.

Laws vary from state to state. One word of caution: both these sites offer do-it-yourself forms. These are not recommended. Please work with a lawyer. If you simply cannot afford a lawyer, Rich McDonald offer's this advice, "If you think you cannot afford a lawyer, there are at least two potential sources of free or reduced cost legal services in your community.  First of all, you may qualify for free legal services through your community's legal aid society; if you need help finding a local legal aid group, visit the Legal Services Corporation's web site at  Second, many local city and county bar associations sponsor programs through which local attorneys provide free (pro bono) legal services or services at very substantially reduced costs.  That local bar association's number is in your phonebook and most associations have a web site you can easily find through a Google search."

To find the lawyer you need, this is his recommended site.

This site is his recommended site for good legal information about getting your affairs in order, including articles on living wills and medical powers of attorney.

I'm 52 and have melanoma, stage 3b. I may live another 30 years and die peacefully in my sleep. My melanoma may kick in with a vengeance and I could be dead before 2012 ends. I could get killed in car crash today. I could be found dead over my computer while I type this. None of us ever knows and we have no guarantees. We may have a houseful of young children and not see morning. It happens. I don't wish it on anyone but it happens. We can be in great health when we go to bed and still die in our sleep. I've seen these scenarios in other people's lives, and you probably have, too. I say this as a person of faith and my faith will not prevent any of these things from happening. Don't rely on being a person of faith to ensure that you see at least 70 years and enjoy good health for all of them. Recall people you've known who were also people of faith but who died young. It happens.

One of the greatest ways you can show the people in your life you love them, is to make plans for your death, your estate after your death, and to let them know your plans. Have your plans and wishes in writing, legally, and make sure people who need copies have them. As your life and family moves forward and changes, revisit your plans and make revisions...again letting your family know of any changes you make and why.

One of the greatest things you can leave your loved ones is peace. All the money and assets in the world cannot buy harmony and family unity as your passing is grieved. Don't let bad planning, or no planning, add to their grief and pain. Don't trust them to work together if you've given them nothing to work with.

Do the hard work now. While you can.

Have the difficult discussions now. While you can.

Put everything in writing now. While you can.

Be grateful you can do it now.

Now, gratefully, do it.

Thank you, Rich, for all your input with this post.

I am grateful.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hope Wrapped In Grace

A week ago today was, undoubtedly, one of the worst days in my life. If it could go wrong, it did. Big time. It ended with me missing a big meeting which was rescheduled for today. That rescheduling was wrapped in much grace. Grace showed up today as well.

The meeting was relaxed and fun. I actually love going before the District Board of Ordained Ministry and having a chance to talk with them, answer their questions, get their collective wisdom.  We talked about my church as that's primary. But we also talked about something else.

Today, they asked me to tell them about my melanoma, Melanoma Prayer Center, and Melanoma Grief Chapel. I had the opportunity to explain what "stage 3b" means and I put in an anti-tanning bed plug. I was able to tell them to please consider me a resource because if melanoma hasn't shown up in their congregation yet, it will, and I gave them some stats. And they listened! They cared!

We discussed what melanoma has done to my faith, and when they steered the conversation back to the church, it got steered back to faith and melanoma and not by me.

And then hope arrived. It was that rare thing that popped out of my mouth and it caused quite a reaction. But it needs to be shared. Not because it was something awesome that I uttered, but because it's beautiful simplicity is inherent in the faith-based segment of the melanoma community.

I think what kept DBOM coming back to melanoma was the peace and ease I discussed it with. And, in particular, discussed mine with. I think I caught them off guard by presenting them a colleague who lives appointment to appointment and who might have an as yet undetected renegade cell, which I also told them about. We really had quite a discussion!

I honestly don't recall the precise context of this, I was just talking, it came out, and they were "Say that again! Are you getting that in the minutes? Good! Get that in the minutes! What was that again?"

What it was...There's always hope even when hope becomes the hope of heaven.

And that is so. You'd think a group of preachers and lay leaders would know that. And I'm sure they did, they just hadn't thought about it quite like that. We always have hope. From life to Life, hope never leaves us because God never leaves us. Maybe hearing it from someone in my position added an extra oomph, I don't know. But seriously, the Chair was making sure the Secretary was getting it in the minutes and the Secretary was repeating it back to me to make sure he got it right.

So simple. So much grace. It bears repeating because it is so true.

There's always hope even when hope becomes the hope of heaven.

Be grateful!


One of the most moving and self-motivating songs in my repertoire, for me, is Matthew West's My Own Little World.

It's a song that has motivated me on my melanoma journey and it's the vehicle God used the most to get me thinking that my own little melanoma world isn't about me. God has a bigger picture in His panoramic view of His creation and just maybe He could give my melanoma a redemptive and transformational purpose. God, being a God Who Is big on "community," has been doing just that through the greater melanoma community.

Once again God has boggled my mind (which really isn't hard for Him to do and I'm beginning to think it's a primary source of amusement for Him). Once again God has used something outside the realm of melaworld to show me a little of what He's doing inside it.

Last week, as I write, I went to a Warren County meeting, at which a man high up in the NC Department of Agriculture was giving a presentation. I didn't catch his name but he caught my hometown and asked if I knew a certain couple, which I did. He said he was kin to them. Besides being well-known locals, the woman of this couple is, also, first cousin of a former aunt of mine and this former aunt has two children with my now-deceased uncle. During his presentation he showed a video and I saw his name in that film. His last name is my former aunt's maiden name. After the event was over we were talking yet again, and I asked him how he is related to the couple. We compared notes and, lo and behold, he is first cousin to my first cousins! He's related on their mother's side (my former aunt) and I'm related on their father's side (my deceased uncle)!

I'm still floored by this chance meeting! Or was it a chance meeting? Part of me says, "No, it wasn't. God's up to something." It may just be that God knows I need to know He's got a big picture in mind and that He excels in pulling off great surprises. Whatever we face, He can handle it and He may just have a few tricks up His sleeve!

So what's this got to do with mela-connections? God makes them in surprising ways and reveals them in surprising ways. He's working to bring us together and remind us that we are not in our own little worlds, though melanoma would have us believe differently. One powerful tool, besides those pockets of communities we develop on Facebook, is blogging!

Not everyone is on Facebook, but if you're on the Internet the world of blogs is your oyster. I can't think of a subject that someone doesn't blog about; usually many someones. Melanoma is no different and the list is growing. What's interesting about blogging is a reader can "join" a blog and if the blogger chooses, a "follow by email" gadget can be added. The numbers of those that join a blog are the numbers the readership sees. The blogger can see another set of numbers and stats. And that's where it can get really interesting!

As I write, this blog has 35 followers. Also, as I write, this blog has been viewed 11, 457 times and they aren't my views! I have set the tracker not to track my own. I'm reasonably certain all those views aren't my parents' either. And I seriously doubt that 35 people keep referring to this blog like that. All bloggers have access to their own stats and can see how many page views they've had. We can even see which countries our readers are from, what type of devices they use, and what web browsers. Just this little bit reveals the powerful potential and outreach blogs have.

That doesn't include the fact that readers can leave comments after each post. They don't have to be followers, they don't have to be registered users of a particular blog site. They can make a connection with the blogger, which, in turn, can lead goodness knows where.

Then, there are the "traffic sources" figures we get and they are given to us in various time spans. But, for me, what's interesting about these traffic sources is they give us, within the chosen time span, "Referring URLs," "Referring Sites," and "Search Keywords." And this is also where we can find more connections being made.

This blog gets a lot of referrals from other blogs! Hopefully they get some from me, too. But these are the blogs that have sent people my way and I thank them: Adventures With My Enemy...Melanoma, Black Is The New Pink, Hotel Melanoma, Melanoma Sucks, and My Journey Fighting Melanoma. There are other blogs, to be sure, that tackle melanoma. All these bloggers have stepped outside their own little world and are helping the greater melanoma community make vital connections. (Not everybody wants to blog or go as public with their disease as bloggers and this is not to be seen as a slight. This is lifted up as an example of stepping out and reaching out, and shown to be another way of making connections besides through FB).

But there's one thing that really touches my heart and that's two recent "search keywords." Those are "jennifer marie christy" and "paul hummel melanoma." Jennifer and Paul are two fellow warriors and fellow bloggers and that Google would connect them to me because someone else was looking for them is humbling and touching. Paul writes My Journey With Melanoma and Jen writes Prayers for Jen. It amazes me to step back and look at the ways "community" is created through blogging. And it's a community that those of us who blog must approach "with fear and trembling" and fun, honesty, humor, whatever your forte, we have to keep in mind that we have a trusting community and we need to honor and respect them and hold their trust as something almost sacred. Because it is.

Then there's that ultimate connection where it's about us and God; back to My Own Little World, which God likes to move us out of. Melanoma would have us each believe that we aren't part of a bigger picture and that we are nothing more than people fighting melanoma. Many are in the battle of a lifetime for their very lives, but melanoma is not the sum total of who they are!

We are created to be people who need community. Even if we are loners or introverts, we need at least one person who cares to share the journey with. We are part of God's bigger picture. We do fit in and we do have a purpose and it is more than being a person with melanoma. And while melanoma is not our purpose, God can use it in our lives and in the lives of others to be a blessing if we let Him.

How is God using the melanoma in your life to connect with others?

Where do you find yourself on God's canvas?

You have a purpose; despite, and in spite of, melanoma.

The picture is incomplete without you.

How are you connected to the rest of the painting?

God is our ultimate connection and He is at work connecting us to Himself and us to each other.

And I am grateful!

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Year In The Life Of Melanoma Prayer Center

One year ago today Melanoma Prayer Center opened on Facebook. As usual, God didn't hand me a script and say "this is how it's to be." No. I'm not that lucky. I had a mission in mind and that was to be a spiritual resource and prayer support for people with melanoma, their families, and their medical teams, and for melanoma research. Which meant I had to learn all I could, for my one brain, about melanoma and I had to learn where the better resources are. And I had to continue learning people.  I had to learn that setting myself up as a spiritual resource for a very diverse group of people meant I had to draw on everything I've learned as a pastor about relating to the hurting, the sick, and the dying.  I had to draw on my time as a volunteer hospital chaplain and as a volunteer Hospice chaplain. I had to learn to be open and honest in a format that's not face-to-face about the facts of life. And death. And everything in between. And do it in a culture that is often far less than honest.

I had to get comfortable talking about my own melanoma in every context imaginable which meant shedding some of my personality. I'm an introvert. And I'm not someone who is comfortable sharing personal stuff. I'm not, by nature, comfortable hearing personal, intimate stuff about others. I had to get it through my head that "who I am" isn't important because this isn't about me. I had to grow into who I am meant to be because this is about other people.

I've had to relearn things I already knew, but relearn them to fit the world of Facebook. Facebook is a blessing, but it can also throw curve balls. And a ministry to a group of people from various walks of faith or possibly no faith, as well as with different stages of this disease, isn't always easy. But it is always a blessing. To me. My 21 year old College Kid tells me there's no such thing as true altruism...all altruism is rooted in selfishness.

Melanoma Prayer Center certainly is. While it has a stated mission, the first mission in my mind was to diminish that which sought to diminish me. I'm a prayer warrior in other realms and I could bring that gift against melanoma on behalf of others and on behalf of research.

Along the way, in this past year, I've learned a lot from the people God has brought my way via MPC.

God's love for us is unfathomable! His timing is beyond perfect and He has a way of working in our lives that's individually tailored to suit each child. Even when things aren't what we want and hope for, or even pray for, God knows how to handle each child of His. I've had a ringside seat to more than people realize because there's more that goes on than the obvious comments and posts people leave. I get the messages and emails. I get the notes through this blog. I even get phone calls.

I've learned God is definitely NOT one-size fits all and MPC isn't either. Folks may not see the prayer requests, but often, needs that are communicated to me in private are reflected in the prayers and words of encouragement. Often things I pick up on when I zoom through cyberspace are reflected. If one person is going through something, literally thousands are going through something similar and can relate. So take the wheat and leave the chaff each day when you look at MPC. Some prayers aren't going to fit where you are, the music choice for the day may not be exactly what you need. But they do help someone else. If your needs aren't being met, please let me know. I really do take requests! I've written notes because some one said they needed something about a particular topic. Prayers are often tailored to particular people or particular legs of the journey.

I've learned we're all special to each other and, may I repeat, we're infinitely special to God. The melanoma community is a supportive, loving community that seeks to help each other and be there for each other. In our own ways. And we learn each other. We all have something unique and wonderful to offer, we may just need a little help plugging in. Remember: someone needs what YOU have to offer! Promise! You are where someone else is moving to and you can help pave the way! And we all need to know we are not alone!

I've seen tremendous advances in research and treatment options and the determined-to-live human spirit that will do anything to kill the beast and live another day. I've learned we live with a determined disease and we have to be honest about that. We have to know our enemy. But we also have to know our God.

I've learned MPC is for all people of all faiths or no faith. I am who I am and I'm a Methodist (mainline Christian) pastor, but I do my best to make people comfortable and I hope people don't think I shove my beliefs down throats. That's not what MPC is about. It's about hope and comfort and building community and pointing people to the help and resources they ask for and need. The mission has grown and evolved. It is what it is needed to be at any given time for any given person.

I've learned we are definitely all over the map! Some of us have gotten a melanoma scare. Some are recent diagnoses, anywhere along the staging spectrum. Some are the family and/or caregivers. Some are experiencing a season of NED, some are dealing with active disease, some have advanced in their staging, some are in the death process and are dealing with their coming death. I'll level with you, it's not easy to write and admin a page that tries to say something each day that will speak to each person, somehow, where they are. Some days I don't. Days when I deal with death can be particularly difficult for some people.

Whether we die from melanoma or not, whether we die today, next year, 50 years from now, we will all die. Our culture wants us to ignore that or pretend we can have plastic surgery forever and if we "look young" we'll stay young and cheat death, but that's not the honest world I live in as a pastor. And it's not the way the universe works. This journey we are on demands honesty. Burying heads in the sand is dangerous.

I've learned honesty is easy, but it's not always well-received, and in all honesty, it's not always easy. And that may not make any sense. It's not easy to become a friend with someone and be one of the people they talk to as their disease progresses and life moves toward death. Sometimes I'm the only person they talk with about that (or so they tell me). It's not easy to hold their heart in that thin place but it is a blessing beyond belief. And it's hard as hell when I learn of their death.

I've learned our hearts are big places. Far bigger than we can imagine. We can rejoice together over one warrior's great news and, at the same time, cry with another warrior when their news is horrible. We can stand together because we are one.

And we stand, where we are, who we are, with God standing with us giving us strength, hope, comfort and compassion. All of which is to be internalized and all of which is to be reflected and shared with others we meet along this road. For MPC is not all about me at all. Hopefully I get lost in it.

It's about God, first and foremost. It's about Him using a very imperfect person to rally the warriors to remind us that He is definitely with us. And it's about those of us who travel the road where melanoma resides. Without those who lift each other up, MPC is nothing. It doesn't matter if you "like" the page or not, and it doesn't matter if you "like" a particular post or not. What matters is that you let it remind you that God is Love and to share that love by praying for others and yourself against melanoma.

Prayer is our first line of defense. Never apologize because "all I can do is pray." Apologize if you don't pray. Don't apologize for needing prayer and saying so. Apologize if you think you don't need prayer or if you think you "shouldn't ask for prayer because so many are so worse off."

Prayer is the greatest tool God has put at our disposal. Prayer moves God's Throne. He tell us to pray! He wants to hear our prayers! God empowers our prayers with His holy and mighty power...that's where the power in prayer's in God. Don't deny God's power in your life or in the lives of others! Rely on it. Grow in it. Use it every chance you get!

And be grateful!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Scriptural Understanding Of "Healing"

Hope and Healing! We have hope to be healed. We pray for healing. I, personally, am a huge believer in God's power to heal my body, spirit, and emotions, and to redeem my life's baggage. And, frankly, I know what I want and even expect these desired healings to look like. When it doesn't happen to my specifications I can get down, depressed, turn from God, and think God messed up and caused me to miss the "healed boat." It's easy to forget in my humanness that God doesn't always share my perspective on things.  OK, He seldom seems to get my drift on matters of the utmost importance to me and that causes me to holler, "God, don't You care? Where are You in all this? This isn't part of my game plan!"

He manages to get my attention in the most surprising ways and remind me that I'm the one who doesn't get His drift on matters of the utmost importance and that I don't share His perspective! Sound familiar, maybe?

"Healing" is often one of those areas where we bring our human understanding, perspectives, and expectations and expect God to fall in line behind us. We can forget that there are over 6 billion of these understandings, perspectives, and expectations as we each bring our own versions to the table and God isn't going to change to suit each of us, or me in particular. No, I've got to get my understanding in line with His because He's not going to get His in line with mine...or yours.  Sorry.

I undeniably believe in miracles! I've witnessed unexplainable healings in this life. In the Bible, the Book of my faith, God heals and even brings people back from the grips of death in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as Jesus does in the New Testament. I've had my ophthalmologist look at my retinas, tell me he saw spots that shouldn't be there, send me for further testing that involved dye and x-rays, only to be told the spots were no longer there. In case you don't know, there are no "good" outcomes for spots on the retina. All explanations eventually end in blindness. Yet what one of the leading ophthalmologists, of his day, on the East Coast told me were there...well, they weren't when it mattered most. I say I was healed.

There are peopled healed of cancers, heart disease, all kinds of illnesses and conditions around the world every day. Sometimes God uses technology and medicine. Sometimes He chooses to act without them. Sometimes people pray for healing and sometimes it seems to come despite their apparent lack of belief. We're told attitude is key and I believe that. I'm a positive person, yet I've got melanoma. Positive people with their own melanoma will die today; people who prayed for healing will not be healed.

Or will they? Have we got something of a misunderstanding of what "healing" is?  I think maybe many of us do. In our modern minds, to be healed is equated with to be cured. Disease free in this life. And it can happen as I said. Miracles do occur!

Sometimes we forget God's eternal perspective on healing. We forget that this life isn't all there is.  OK, maybe we remember that...but only when we're 100 years old! We don't like to think about the finite quality of life when we're under, say, 80 or so!  

I'd like to offer a perspective for consideration and that is that healings always occur! We might not recognize the healing, it may not look like what we prayed for or hoped for. The healing may come in the form of a miracle.  It may come in the form of successful surgery, treatment, or medication. It may come in the form of death.

It's not a newsflash to recall that we are imperfect people with imperfect bodies in an imperfect world, subject to all the imperfections this world has to offer. Melanoma being among the horrible, imperfect offerings.  But as people of faith, we don't accept this world as being all there is. We may not know all the details of Heaven or life after death, but we are hopeful that it's better than this world, if not absolutely perfect.

The last book in the Bible, the Book of my faith, Revelation, gives a human description of what John saw in a series of visions. The following short passage is a small portion of what this perfect place will be like; a place we have to die to experience. Because I like how The Message puts it, that's what I'm offering you:

Revelation 21: 3-7 (The Message)
I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: "Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They're his people, he's their God. He'll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone." The Enthroned continued, "Look! I'm making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate."  Then he said, "It's happened. I'm A to Z. I'm the Beginning, I'm the Conclusion. From Water-of-Life Well I give freely to the thirsty. Conquerors inherit all this. I'll be God to them, they'll be sons and daughters to me."

No more tears! No more pain! No more death! That means, no more melanoma! No more depression! No more grief! No more sadness! Healing! Healing of body, spirit, emotions! Healing of all our life's baggage! Perfect and complete HEALING!

Sometimes, we have to die to be healed.

Hear me, when healing comes with death, that does not mean melanoma or any other illness won.  That does not mean a warrior lost his or her battle. Melanoma always loses!  Melanoma can only do so much. It can kill our bodies and that's it. It cannot kill that part of us, our spirit, that lives forever and will be completely healed. I don't know what life after death will be exactly like or what our perfect, healed bodies will be like, but melanoma will have no part of them.

I bring this topic up to remind us that when we pray for healing, that's a prayer God always answers in the affirmative! It may not look like what we envisioned as we prayed. It may not take the form we hoped for. But, if in the end we prayed and hoped to beat the beast, be free to live a joyful and cancer-free life, to experience the BEST God has planned, and never ever have to worry about melanoma again...well, healing always comes and sometimes it comes with death to this life but life in the world to come without end.

Lord, in Your mercy. Amen.

Here are  resources for help to better understand the Scriptural understanding of "healing" that the Church Universal draws on. I'm a pastor in the United Methodist Church and the following links are to resources found in our Book of Worship and to the UMC theology of healing. These resources will stand in line with those of other Christian denominations and with the broader Jewish understanding (God's healing is a healing of wholeness that goes with us even into death). There may be slight nuances that will differ, but the information on these pages will offer a good, general understanding of Scriptural "healing." I hope this will be useful. Blessings.

Healing Ministry and Worship

Healing Service

A Liturgy for a Service of Healing

A Service of Prayer for Christian Healing

Pay attention to the words. "Healing" isn't completely and totally equated with our modern idea of "cure." God can and does bring "cure" but it is only temporary as we will all face death one day. "Healing" is a wholeness that in life and death we are healed of all life's pains, sins, and sorrows.

And I am grateful that that kind of ultimate healing awaits! Amen!

(Note: this post is actually a compilation of two notes at Melanoma Prayer Center on Facebook).

Sometimes The Battle Doesn't Go As Planned

Scans. Tests. Procedures. Surgeries. Wait. Results. Come back. We need to talk. Let me show you this or these. It's spreading. It's not working. Let's try this and see what happens. I need a miracle and I need it now. Pray for me and don't stop. I can't do this. I have to do this. No more.

Words that strike fear and dread and terror in our hearts and make us cry in our souls and tremble in our bodies.

Words that people of faith hear and words that people without faith in God hear. We come in this world the same and we leave this world the same. Frankly, we usually hear these words the same. Faith kicks in or it bolts; it strengthens or this is new proof that there is no God. Whether or not we believe in God and turn to God, God believes in us and is there for each of us. And God is at work on behalf of each of us. We may not see it. We may not understand it. We may rebel against what we do see and understand. We may not like where our life is headed one little bit. But it's what we have to deal with and God is there whether we want Him to be or not.

He is there when we get those scans and He hears all those prayers that they be clean. He hears the prayers that the tumors be stable and not have spread or grown. He is there when we get the results and they aren't what we hoped for. That happens. God is not obligated to change what is happening in our bodies because we pray.

Many of us are at this place. Scans aren't what we hoped for, maybe even worse than we ever imagined. Those of us who aren't in this place right now know we can be any time.

And the scans aren't the complete picture either. There are all these symptoms that are indicative of growth and spread of tumors. There's the unbearable pain. There's the crippling fears and bodily challenges. This isn't how we imagined our life, this isn't where we want to be and there isn't any way out of where we are. No way out except the one door that seems to be looming.

And that's not a place we want to go either. There are many who are at that place of "no hope." Whether at home, in Hospice, or in a hospital, there are many who have been told those dreaded words, "There's nothing left for us to try. Nothing is working. We're sorry, but you need to be making plans for your final months and get your affairs in order. There's no hope." Whether the doctor actually says, "no Hope" or not, that's what is heard and that's what is meant. The medical community has nothing left to offer.

And we all know we will face that one day, too. But for now, today, this is where many are. It's happening. It's not changing except to advance. And God is here, too. Many will be empowered to keep fighting. And they’ll fight for a good while and some will prevail and treatment that didn’t seem to work will somehow kick in and tumors will start shrinking and life will take on a renewed and good quality. That happens, to be sure. 

But something else can happen instead. I’ve seen it and that is that God starts preparing a warrior to go home. The person starts cutting their ties with this world. They start making peace with dying. It no longer becomes appropriate to tell this person to “keep fighting, don’t lose hope, never give up.” As a matter of fact, those words become hurtful to warrior and family alike and are no longer helpful and appreciated. Death is coming, the transition is happening, and the “hope” of more life here on earth becomes “hope of heaven.” That doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting deeply! That doesn’t mean that they won’t welcome a miracle if one happens! That doesn’t mean they like what’s happening at all! But it does mean they see what they see and are trying to accept what they cannot change. We will, all, make this transition one day. This is their day.

So what do we do with this? For starters, we admit that we are powerless to change our circumstances. We can fight but we can’t make anything “work” for us. We are a people in a culture that tells us we’re in control. Melanoma throws us in a world that slaps us in the face with the truth that we are not in control and never really were. Then God steps in and slaps melanoma in the face and reminds melanoma that it isn’t in control either. God is the ultimate authority. He has the final say-so. And His say is always based on good, love, and what is best for us. He has eternity in His field of vision in a way we cannot have in ours, even if we are people of faith.

We have one understanding of life and death, particularly our own. We have one timetable and idea of how things should play out. God has an altogether “other” understanding, timetable, and idea.

We each get a lifetime. A lifespan. It may be less than a year. It may be more than 100 years. When a lifetime becomes less than what we deem acceptable, we can question and get upset. We don’t understand and we don’t like it. I know I don’t like it.

Isaiah 57: 1-2 tells us, “Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.”

We do care and we do wonder why. We have one idea and think we can handle anything life throws at us if we just get to live! Sometimes God looks at us and HE sees a future we cannot see and He says, “You need to come with me. If I let you stay, you won’t be able to handle what’s coming. It’s hard now; it will be far worse later and I don’t want that for you.”

Where there is life there is hope. But this life will have an end. That’s how this universe is set up. We are called to love our life and treasure this gift. We are called to live it to the fullest and fight to keep it when we have to. God NEVER tells us to give up hope. But the time does come when we are called to look beyond hope of life on this earth to life beyond.

Where there is Life there is Hope. Forever. When we get those scan results that are far worse than we can handle, when our melanoma advances beyond what doctors can handle, when our life is spinning out of control and there isn’t enough hope to handle what’s happening…Cling to Life, Cling to Hope, Find Strength for the days ahead to do what you have to do, Know Peace in your spirit, And hold the Hand of the One Who Is holding you and there you will find Hope everlasting and Life eternal.


(Note: this is also posted on Melanoma Prayer Center)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

There's Nothing Funny About A Comedy Of Errors

Yesterday began six months ago with my last visit with my surgical oncologist at Duke. I left with my appointment card and it was for yesterday, Monday March 19, 2012. It was specifically for 11 am and right above that time were instructions to be there by 10 am. Fine. That became a permanent part of my calendar. All was well until

Wednesday February 29th, 2012 when I received an email letting me know I was scheduled to appear before the District Board of Ordained guessed it...March 19th at 10 am. Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning on March 19th!

Not having a clone that I know about, I emailed the district office and explained my prior commitment and our wonderful administrative assistant promptly took care of it and got another pastor to switch times with me giving me a new appointment time of 5 pm to appear before the DBOM as it had to be that day. Fine. I could make that. I knew my doctor would run late, he's a surgical oncologist! Of course he runs 2-3 hours late. But with an 11 am appointment, I could manage to get from Durham to Nashville by 5.

While all of this is going on, Duke is opening their new, costly Duke Cancer Center with more bells and whistles than imaginable! Somehow those bells and whistles created some havoc with scheduling and here's where I start "laughing."

Friday March 16th, I get an email from Duke with the exciting opportunity to sign-in, online, right then, for my upcoming Monday appointment. Cool! Except I see that I now have an appointment with the doctor at 12 noon instead of 11 am like I had been planning on for six months and had already had one meeting rescheduled to accommodate.

I knew that wasn't good, but if he didn't run too far behind, I could still go screeching into my other meeting on time. So I get there by 11:30 am to go ahead and get labs started. I have the paper to prove this: one time is mentioned and that is 12 noon. Two levels are mentioned: level 0 and level 1. At noon I'm to apparently do labs and see the doctor. That's why I was there by 11:30. That didn't make sense. Labs done on level 0. Check...and! one bright spot: no tourniquet was used for my blood draw! I didn't even know they could do that! When I asked if that was a new way of drawing blood, without a tourniquet, she said, "No. I didn't need one." Zip-pe-di-do-dah! X-ray done on level 1. Check! Then I'm told to go to level 3 to see the doctor. Huh?

So I point to my paper. I show the time and levels. No other time. No level 3. So I ask what time my appointment is with my doctor. She checks. One pm! So, I've gone from an 11 am appointment to a 1 pm appointment and I didn't find out it was 1 until I got there! Noon was bad enough and potentially a problem. With a 1 pm appointment, there was NO way I was going to get to my other meeting. No way! Unless God had already figured this out and for once the doctor was running on schedule.

At 2:35 I go to the desk on level 3 and explain my situation. I have to be on the road by 3 pm to go before my District Superintendent and the District Board of Ordained Ministry. Is there any way I can be given the results of my labs? If they're good then I can make another appointment for six months down the road and if they aren't good I can come back, but I really have to leave by 3.

You would have thought I asked them to arrange an impromptu meeting with the Queen of England! I threw everything into a tizzy, which really wasn't a pretty sight at all. I kept explaining to what seemed like everyone in the back my situation. And I said "District" so many times and I was getting so addled that I got in my brain that I needed to go to the District Office for my meeting which is in Rocky Mount. That fact will prove important.

I'm in the back, in a room, there's one nurse trying to get me to put on a gown. I keep looking at my watch which is moving closer and closer to 3, and I roll down my compression sleeve instead. I don't have time to change. My doctor's nurse sees if he can come on and see me real quick even though he's with someone else. She says it will be a few minutes to which I respond I don't have a few minutes and if he can't see me that minute, I'll have to leave. I apologized, I wasn't trying to be ugly, I just really had to hit the road...after getting to the parking deck and finding my car!

She gave me the results of my labs, which were good and she pretty much did what he would have done and I left. With going to Rocky Mount to the District Office on my brain.

I get there around 4:50 and the parking lot is fairly empty. I really expected to see more cars there. The doors were locked and the blinds were drawn. Not the warm welcome I expected at all! Luckily I had my handy-dandy district booklet of all important contact info and I whip out my cell and start calling folks to find out where everyone is. "Folks" have their cells off because they are polite and in a meeting with the person there before me. I leave voicemails and keep calling everyone I can think of to locate this committee who aren't where I think they're supposed to be!

It's now a few minutes after 5 and the committee has not shown up, I finally get someone who tells me they are meeting at Nashville UMC. I hang up in total disbelief and realize two voicemails have come in while I've been phoning. One is from the DBOM chair. I call him back and explain where I am and burst into tears. I tell him my nerves are frazzled and my skin is thin right now and I'm sorry I've messed up so badly. It's now 5:10 and I'm at least 15 minutes away from where they are waiting for me and they are ready to go home.

And he shows me grace on behalf of DBOM. And he says a prayer with me and it's the perfect prayer. And they work with me. And I'll see them next Monday. In Nashville.

So why do I share all this? Because I'm human and we all have a day or two like this in our lifetimes. Unfortunately. But the thing is, I'm a human with melanoma and that makes something of a difference in how I handle and respond to these days. I don't handle things like this like I did in my "before melanoma" days. (Sidebar: "before melanoma" equals "bm" and I don't need to explain what "bm" is. Kind of appropriate).

I'm not who I was. I can't change that and I can't go back and somehow hold on to that Carol. She's gone. She doesn't exist anymore. She has been rearranged for almost four years now and I couldn't stop it from happening and I didn't know it was happening until it happened and it STILL manages to catch me by surprise! And if you have melanoma, you know what I'm talking about because you aren't the same person either and you want the old you back and that person isn't coming back and  that's a dang hard thing to accept!

Part of me really doesn't even look the same thanks to my compression sleeve and glove. There are aspects of me that are better, to be sure. But there are aspects to my personality that have been forever and permanently changed. For me, how I react to things has changed drastically. Sometimes I'm much mellower than I would expect me to be. Sometimes angrier. Sometimes sillier. Sometimes more tearful. It is what it is and I am who I am and I don't know who I'll be tomorrow or in 5 minutes. And while I'm not crazy about this, I'm OK and making peace. Now. In ten minutes I may be bucking it. Rats.

Reinhold Niebuhr wrote The Serenity Prayer and many of us are familiar with the first part of it. There's actually a second part to it. Here's the whole thing:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

There are some things we cannot change and we are better off when we accept that and work within our new limits. That's not easy. It may never happen in some cases. But just like there are things we cannot change, there are things we can change and change takes courage! What, in life, can you change, and what in life is beyond your control?

Yesterday was beyond my control and I got addled.

I paid $250 to not see my doctor so I could get to a meeting that I missed because I went to the wrong place.

And I was shown grace.

"Grace" and "gratitude" come from the same Greek word, "charis" with a hard "c" sound.

May you be shown grace when things happen that are beyond your control.

May you have the grace and courage to accept what you cannot change and the grace and courage to change what you can and the wisdom to know the difference.

If you have melanoma, you are not who you once were. May you have the grace and courage to be who you are now.

You are still God's child. That has not changed. That will never change.

Thanks be to God.


Friday, March 16, 2012

i wish i had lived my life

Another interesting search term that made Google think of me and this blog and send someone here. I hope they found what they were looking for because they sure left me a great gift in return with this great topic! I hope it turns out to be something of an even trade!

Because I don't know the emphasis the searcher placed on each word, I'm going to try a few on for size. Different stresses give this phrase different meanings.

i wish i had lived my life. But I didn't and now I can't change it. I'm looking back filled with regrets over missed opportunities and lost challenges I didn't take. If that's the thought of someone reading this, no, things can't go back and be changed, but lost opportunities may be able to be redeemed and transformed into something you can do now where you are. What is it you wish you had done but didn't for whatever reason? Is it still doable? If so, what's stopping you? If there really is a list of things stopping you now, what steps can you take to remove those roadblocks? If your dream is no longer doable the way you dreamed it, how can that lost dream be transformed into something that may be even better than your original dream? Do some serious thinking and praying over that one. Where there's a will there's a way. For me, I wish I had taken more chances and stepped out and tried out for cheerleader in high school. I wish I had stepped out and sang more in various settings and school clubs. But I was tall and clumsy and couldn't have done a cartwheel if my life depended on it. And  while I can "sing," I'm no singer. But God has redeemed and transformed those teenaged dreams into something better than I could have imagined. I get to "cheer-lead" the melanoma community with Melanoma Prayer Center on Facebook, thereby also giving purpose to my melanoma. I get to sing every Sunday with my congregation, loud and strong, and in November will get to help lead singing of Hotel Melanoma's Greatest Hits with the melanoma community that participates in our Aim Walk the 17th! God never forgot my dreams and He hasn't forgotten yours either!

i wish i had lived my life. But I didn't and I let someone else, usually a parent, live their life through me. Or, maybe, I patterned my life so strongly after someone else's that I loved that I got lost in the shuffle. That's what I did. My mama's younger sister-in-law, my aunt, was a woman I absolutely adored. She was only 18 years older than me and when she died of brain cancer when she was just 31, I was beyond devastated. Lou was a proud graduate of a certain college so that was the only college I applied to when the time came. I knew nothing about the college except that Lou had graduated from there and loved it and that she wanted me to go there. So I did. For one year. It was not a good fit for me at all! It wasted a year and money. None of which could be gotten back. But it taught me I have to be who I am created to be. I'm not Lou. It took a while to get my college career back on track and figure out what I really wanted to pursue and do and be. But I've got what we've all got: a lifetime. It took a while, but I'm where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to do and loving every minute of it! While there are definitely minutes I don't want to relive, I'm moving forward and life is good. What do you, if this fits you, need to do to be who you are created to be and do what you are created to do? God is great at getting us back on track!

i wish i had lived my life. But I didn't live it. I played it safe. I went through the motions. I didn't live it to the fullest for whatever reasons. I didn't give it all I had. Now it's too late. I'm older, maybe I've got responsibilities that prevent me from pushing life's envelope. Maybe health is a deterrent. While this can be similar to the above two paragraphs, this one has it's own unique shades of gray. This one tends to be the emphasis that throws in the towel and says, "It's too late. Really." Notice the past tense! I wish I had lived like it's all over and nothing can be done about it! We're all different. Some of us are go-getters. Some of us are laid back and take life as it comes. Some of us have to make life happen. We're all over the map when it comes to our unique personalities. But no matter our personalities, no matter our dreams, no matter where we are right now, we can still have that fatalistic attitude that looks at ourselves and our lives in the past tense! If this rings a bell, you are not past tense! You are here. Life may not have turned out precisely as you had planned, but no one's life ever measures up to the plans we make and the dreams we dream as children. Some are better, some are not, things may have turned out great but different. You're alive. You've got a life now live it. This one is a mind-set and as such, it's one you have to decide to do something about. Instead of looking at life in the past tense, look at it in the present tense and in the future tense. God resides in the present and in the future just as surely as God sees the past. He knows how to move you. So move!

We all have a lifetime. Some are shorter than others; shorter than we humans think is fair. Whether our lifetime turns out to be one year or less, or somewhere between one year and one hundred years or even more than that, we all have a lifetime and it's a precious time. It's a time that once we live one minute of it we cannot it get back.

Live it who you are as you are and be who you are created to be. Appreciate your life and its times.

And be grateful.