Friday, December 27, 2013

As 2013 Draws To A Close...

I ponder.

2013 has seen some monumental events unfold! My grandson, Damon, was born July 25th just two days before my son, and his uncle's, birthday. The same son who began his graduate studies in math this year. I still shake my head in awe and disbelief over that one. Yes. 2013 is one for the books.

My husband and I celebrated our 34th anniversary in November. Who knew there was someone on this planet who could, and would, willingly and happily live with me for so long? God. OK. God knew. But I bet it has surprised more than one person! Ha! I bet my parents and brother still shake their heads over that one...and they're all here to celebrate 2013 ringing out.

And 2014 ringing in in a few day. Both my parents are 83 and are in great shape for the shape they're in. They live at home and still do pretty much what they want to do. Slower. But they're kicking old age's patootie! And my brother was able to come home for Christmas, along with his two sons. Time flies! His sons and mine son sat at the card table for Christmas lunch at our parents' home...just like they did when they were little. Some things never change. Thank God! But many do change...including these three. Taller with driver's licenses and college educations. Grown up voices with little boy eyes.

Since 2013 saw the birth of my grandson, that means my daughter and her husband now have TWO children! She really shouldn't be that old...I know I'm not that old...but calendars say otherwise. Did you know calendars lie? They're juggling an almost 4 year old and a 5 month old. Something I didn't choose to do. Mine are 9 years apart, much to my mother-in-law's chagrin. Insert annoying smiley face here. Micaylah has my heart. She helped me preach the Christmas Eve Candle Lighting Service this year...she ran circles around me. Literally. Almost ran into the stand with the Advent Candles on it. And they were lit at the time, too. God's moving her into the pulpit at an early age. Her Pop-Pop moved her out of the pulpit.

Though disaster was averted and there was no burning down the church...we are a church on fire. I know. Looks can be deceiving. Little country church, off a by-pass. That's OK. God's got us right where He wants us. He's at work, has been very busy, and continues to mold, shape, and use us. Quietly. We're becoming known for giving away Recovery Bibles for anyone who wants one. We hear of a local need and we fill it to the best of our ability and if we need help, we get help. We really cannot out-give God. We've got a Circle of Life going. God gives to us and we give to others and God gives us more and...2013 turns into 2014 and God is still on His Throne and we're still off the by-pass going about God's work. And absolutely loving it. We've got a unique place in the Kingdom. It's hard to describe and people who aren't there probably wouldn't understand if I tried to explain it. There are people who wonder how we're even open. We're a tiny congregation that God has lit a Spark in. He's growing us spiritually and we know it. Slowly, but surely, He's bringing others through our doors. But the main thing is, right now, He's tending His Garden. We're loved by God and we know it. We have an inner Peace and genuine love and respect for each other that many congregations, of any size, sadly, don't have. When God's at work and when He's blessing, you know it. We know it.

And, as you know, I also live with a foot in the melanoma community. Our world saw some truly wonderful things unfold in 2013 and these things herald even more promising treatments in 2014. Click on that link and read all about it. And I share this knowing that not everything, even these things, will work for everybody. 2014 will be a year of much sadness and heartbreak, just like 2013 has been for so many. That's the nature of melanoma, and any cancer, and many other diseases. Of this world. But there is HOPE and there is PROMISE and there are ADVANCES...more now than ever.

2013, you've been quite a year. But you are passing and almost over now. You won't be coming back and we have to live with the memories you leave and continue to face any situations that you ushered in. And that's life. We take the good and we take the bad. And God is in the midst. That is the Hope and that is the Promise. are that great unknown. While we don't know what you will bring with you, we do know that we will rejoice in some of it and weep over some of it. We will be challenged, changed, and charged during the next year. We're ready for some of it and dreading the rest of it. While you, 2014, are the great unknown, we will hold on tightly to

The Great I AM and we'll get through. We'll soar. We'll crawl. We'll muddle. We'll leap. We'll be on our knees. We'll stand tall. We'll stand united.

Bring it on 2014! In God we trust.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I Really, Freakin' HATE Melanoma!

And the choir sang, "Amen!"

I know.

One of the things about being on Facebook and being something of the "Chaplain" to some of my melahomies is that I get close to many of them. More than people probably realize. Some message me once-in-a-while and others on a regular basis. I learn what's happening with their disease, their hopes and dreams and fears, their families. I receive their prayer requests and offer up the best I can in hopes and faith that God will take what I place before Him, that others agree with and like and add their own prayers to, and will bring about some type of blessing in the life of the requester-friend. I want miracles, dang it and I want them yesterday.

And miracles come in all shapes and sizes. So do answers and non-answers. Yes, no, not now, wait.

And I might not make sense right now, and that's OK. God knows what I trying to say even if I don't get it out well.

We come to be family on Facebook. Me and my melahomies. Every day of every week of every year 178 people die from melanoma...people around the world, not just in the USA. Some of them I knew thanks to Facebook. It's hard knowing so many die from this disease daily. It's really hard when it's someone you've come to love. Whose faith touched your heart. Who turned to you for hope, prayer, advice, comfort.

So, tonight I see a post on a dear friend's wall...a wall in my dining room on my laptop but that originates halfway around the world from me...that she's not expected to last another 24 hours...her husband wrote the post.

We just messaged Friday! I had no idea. NO clue. Did she? I'll never know. But I know this: she is 31 and beautiful and full of life and faith and love for her husband and her family and was full of hope even when it looked bleak...options we take for granted in the USA simply aren't available in her country. Dammit. They aren't available in a lot of countries. And I mixed the present tense with the past...she's still here...or is she? She's running her race through God's Gates of Praise. And it hurts.

So tonight I cry. I cry for her and her family who have to say good-bye way too soon.

I cry for all the people who think melanoma is a game and think a tan is worth the risk (don't read into that that she was a tanner...I don't know if she was or not...I DO know there are young people who don't get the seriousness of this disease and are courting disaster. Disaster is an awful partner).

I cry because I need to. This disease causes a lot of anguish and heart-rending pain. For all of us.

I cry because I can. Don't ever get so used to all the pain that you become hardened by it.

I cry because it hurts.

I don't cry alone.

Do I, God?


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

If This Was My Last Christmas

A dear friend sent me this message (he was starting to feel the effects of his pain meds, so disregard the spelling. I copied/pasted it):

"food for you to think on...if you knew this was oribably your last Christmas....hwo wiould you reflwct on it???"

The last thing I want is for this post to be morbid, but I will be honest. This is an easy reflection to write because, truth be told, I do think about that every Christmas. Every birthday. Every anniversary. What if this is the last one? The LAST one! These thoughts started the Christmas after I was in a wreck in October 1999. I realized then how quickly my life can end. The thoughts intensified with the Christmas of 2008...the first Christmas after my stage 3b melanoma diagnosis. It seemed pretty certain, after I survived two surgeries, that I would see that Christmas. It's all the ones since then that I knew I might not see.

As Christmas 2013 nears, I'm relatively certain that I'll see this one. I'm still doing well with my melanoma. But I know this disease and I know how quickly things can change and I know how fast accidents can happen. Lightning can strike twice. Know what I mean? This may be my last.

So. How do I reflect? What thoughts cross my mind?

That this could be the last. Ever. Not just for me, but every celebration would not only be minus me but that fact would stare my family in the face. My two children and son-in-law will remember me. But what about my grandchildren? And hopefully there are grandchildren yet to be born. Hopefully I will one day have a daughter-in-law. What will she learn of me? Will my son look for a girl just like the girl that married his dear ol' dad? Or was I such an embarrassment that that will be the last thought on his mind? 

It's this thought that this might be my last and I want my grandkids to know me that lets people take more pictures of me. There really aren't many because I'm not photogenic. Now I don't care about that. I want them to know what I looked like. I want them to have something to point at and know "that's Granny."

My daughter has her PharmD. My son has just begun working on his masters in Math. I think I may never know what he eventually does with his brain. That thought kills me. I think I haven't paid down loans enough to leave Mitch without my income. I think I want him to find love again.

I think about the fact that there were millenniums when the world had no idea I would ever occupy a short time on this planet. And there will be millenniums when the world will not remember me. Not even my little corner. Eventually I'll be forgotten. Not even a name etched on stone because I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered over Mount Pisgah.

Though the world won't remember me, I want to leave my mark. Even if it only lasts a short while. Is a vapor. A flower quickly fading. Like me. I want to leave this place, at least thinking that I left it a little better than when I found it. I want the preacher who preaches my eulogy to postulate to the bereaved that God welcomed me with a "You did okay, Carol." If God can look me in the face and tell me that much, I'll breathe a huge sigh of relief and be tickled for all eternity. "Well done good and faithful servant" is too lofty a goal for me.

If this is the last Christmas Eve Candle Lighting Service I preach, I want to preach it so God smiles and the worshipers feel worshipful, even as they leave to enter back into the world of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. 

If this is my last Christmas, I want to spend it like I want to spend it and that's to spend it like my family wants to. I want them to know I was there with them. It all comes back to them. Them and God. They're my biggest blessings. And they are, each, gifts from God. Stick them under my tree, with a bow on their heads, and I'll be happy, happy, happy. And I'll grab the camera and take their pictures. So they'll remember.

My dear friend who originally asked how I'd reflect if this was probably my last Christmas...well, this may well be his last one and he knows it. 

It may well be mine too. I just don't know it yet.

I think those of us who live with any life-threatening condition know this may be the last and I think we reflect. I really don't think I'm alone in this.

But I'll tell you something: I think facing the fact that this may be the last always makes this the best Christmas ever. Here's to Christmas 2013!

Live it. Love it. With abundance. Your way. Include those you love. Remember Who it's all about.

And live every day as if it's your last. And I'm not being morbid.

I'm being honest.  Make it count.

Do OK. Do more than OK.

Live so that at the end of your time here, you hear "Well done good and faithful servant."

Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What Christmas Means To Me

I'm listening to Mandisa's Christmas Album and the first song is What Christmas Means To Me and it gets me thinking. I ponder what Christmas means to me. Oh, I know all the theological things it means to me. Jesus is the Reason for the season. Tell me "Happy Holidays" and I'll reply with "Merry Christmas." I love Christmas but I love Advent, too.

Christmas doesn't mean shop 'til I drop and see how deep in debt I can go. Ho ho ho!

It doesn't mean fighting crowds and traffic. I'm no fighter. Not against people, anyway.

It doesn't mean pulling out the decorations in October, or even in November. Heck. It's December 10th as I write and they're still nowhere in sight! The tree may not even be pulled down from the attic until December 24th, after the Christmas Eve Candle Lighting Service. And I'm fine with that. But you know what? When it's up it will stay up for MONTHS! Seriously and truly. MONTHS! Our granddaughter loves the lights. And I love not tying Christmas to one day. For me, Christmas is a heart thing and as long as my heart is beating it will be that way. Now my neighbors might understand me better!

Christmas will come no matter when the tree is decorated and the house is lit and the presents are wrapped...if they are wrapped! And unfilled stockings will not stop Christmas from coming either.

And I'm no Grinch! I love Christmas! But I don't like what it has become.

I used to though. I was the person who had ALL her shopping done by the end of July and if I didn't, something was seriously wrong!

All that changed with the Christmas of 2008. My melanoma-diagnosed year. Ironically, I was diagnosed in July...the month I liked to be finished Christmas shopping.

I learned that year that Christmas is every day of every year. Christmas is a heart thing and not a glitz thing. Christmas is all about what you can give, any time, to anybody. Christmas is about watching God take the ordinary and the forgotten and the downtrodden and lifting them up and raising them to the heights. New heights. Heights of the soul.

Christmas is about miracles. Big and small. Life and death. Miracles.

We've lost sight of the fact that we are all miracles. Each day we see is another miracle. Sure, perfect health, ideal families, and storybook endings are fabulous...but they are also figments of our imaginations.

But if you want real miracles and not Hollywood fabrications...look around you. Open your heart and spirit. Let your soul soar above the doom and gloom and let the Lord set you free from all that would seek to hold you down...and you'll know miracles. You'll witness what's around us and see it with fresh eyes. Sure you'll see the bad and the ugly. It's there. But we choose whether we focus on that or if we look for good and focus on that.

I choose not to just look for the good, I choose to focus on God in the good and in the bad. "Good" in and of itself can be a miracle...but to see God at work in the bad and redeeming it and transforming's a miracle!

And that's Christmas.