Thursday, June 27, 2013

Psalm 3

From the New Living Translation

O Lord, I have so many enemies;
    so many are against me.
So many are saying,
    “God will never rescue him!”
 But you, O Lord, are a shield around me;
    you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
I cried out to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy mountain. 
I lay down and slept,
    yet I woke up in safety,
    for the Lord was watching over me.
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
    who surround me on every side.
Arise, O Lord!
    Rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face!
    Shatter the teeth of the wicked!
 Victory comes from you, O Lord.
    May you bless your people. 

Melanoma, and all cancers and other diseases, have many, many minions...other enemies to us...that come with them. Some are fairly prompt to arrive on the scene, while others drift in in no particular order. Indeed, these other forces of hostility hit some of us hard and leave others of us alone. Fear and anxiety are common allies of melanoma. There's also depression, financial uncertainty/ruin, breakdown of relationships, lack of understanding, job loss, insurance loss, all the side effects that can come from treatments. I'm sure you can add to the list as it is certainly not an exhaustive one.

And then there are the people who tell us we're fine, this will all work out, it's just skin cancer, get over it, have more faith, you're just not praying hard enough, this is God's will, you asked for it, we all have to die from something. Worse are the people who say this is proof God doesn't exist so why bother praying and clinging to faith...they can't help you and neither can this God you believe in, you're looking for rescue in all the wrong places. 

Sometimes these voices can raise levels of doubt in us to where we can begin to doubt God's existence and love ourselves. Melanoma can really do a work on us. Big time!

But notice David doesn't let these people get to him! He knows better! David has used a shield before. Many times in battle. He knows its value in protecting him. But he's not relying on a hunk of metal. No! He's relying on the Living God as his shield from his enemies. A piece of metal can only do so much. God is limitless! A man-made shield can't lift us up or empower us to hold our heads up when life wants to drag them down. The things we place around ourselves to help us cope and feel safe can't do that either. Only God can. 

Notice how David "cries out to the LORD." He doesn't say meek, mild prayers. This grown man, mighty warrior, King, cries out to God! We don't "cry out" when things are going good and in our favor. David is in a bad place. He's got very real enemies seeking to do him very real harm. And he cries out to God. Probably over and over. That would be normal as those times when we cry out don't suddenly dissipate after one good crying out session.

And he is confident God hears him. He sleeps soundly. God is on His holy mountain so David can know peace in his soul and in his rest even when his life appears to be in danger and in chaos. God is in control and with David. That's enough for David. He may be surrounded by 10,000 literal enemies, but he is safe because God is with him.

I love the image of God slapping our enemies. I love imagining the look on the Beast's face as God whacks him across his ugly hide and sends him away for good. (Side note: For those who don't reside in melanomaland, "the beast" is how we often refer to melanoma).

We often read verses about God protecting His people from their enemies and keeping them save and nothing hurting them, and we automatically think about our physical bodies and safety. And then we look at ourselves and at others and see their bodies wasting away or injuries and we doubt and question.

We're part of this fallen world, you know. Jesus is clear that the sun shines and the rain pours on the good and the bad, and He also reminds us that only God is good. Bad things will happen to our bodies. Oh, sometimes God does step in and protect them, no doubt. But when He doesn't, it doesn't mean that His promises fail. Often it means we're looking at the promise only one way. In our imperfect way. 

Sometimes I think we're more concerned about what's happening to our bodies than we are our souls. And that's certainly an extent. Our physical bodies feel the pain, endure the surgeries and treatments, and bear the scars. But our hearts and souls do too.

YES, God is dealing with our total package, bodies included. YES, miracles happen everyday. 

But our enemies won't know God's final victory over them until the end. It's coming. He promises and we get glimpses of that promise-fulfillment all the time if we but open our eyes and look around. In the meantime, we need to try and wrap our minds around the fact that our bodies will succumb to something. Maybe melanoma, maybe not. But that doesn't make us losers. That makes us human. Mortal. We may be helpless and can't stop death, but we aren't hopeless! 

Though we die, yet shall we live. That is the hope and that is the promise and not a one of our very real enemies, not even something as vicious as melanoma...can stop it.

"Arise, O Lord!
    Rescue me, my God!"

In this life and in the life everlasting. Amen and Amen!


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Psalm 2

From the New Living Translation

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”
But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
    in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”
The king proclaims the Lord’s decree:
“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son.
    Today I have become your Father.
Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
    the whole earth as your possession.
You will break them with an iron rod
    and smash them like clay pots.’”
Now then, you kings, act wisely!
    Be warned, you rulers of the earth!
Serve the Lord with reverent fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry,
    and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—
for his anger flares up in an instant.
    But what joy for all who take refuge in him!

As I look at this Psalm and ponder melanoma, I take away several things that help shape my attitude and my own battle plan.

1. Don't spend my time pursuing my own plans. While I do need to know myself and what I'm comfortable with and what I'm not, I also need to resolve to do this God's way as best as I can. He created me and knows me better than I know myself. I've grown in learning how the Holy Spirit gets through to me and I know I better listen, even when I don't understand. Read this earlier post to better understand what I'm talking about.

2. Something in this resonates with me as melanoma being a "chain" that God can break. While I will never know until I know what melanoma is actually doing, if anything, inside of me, God can keep it at bay. And, should He choose to allow it to recur, for whatever reason, He can break the chains that comes with it...for there are many links in the melanoma chain. Indeed, as I write, the links of fear, dread, and worry are getting thinner. They haven't quite snapped in two yet, but I'll take thinner.  And, the day will ultimately come that, whether I die from melanoma or not, the melanoma chain will be broken, for good, and forever. I have that hope and reassurance!

3.So, I choose to take refuge in God. I'm not perfect, far from it; none of us are perfect. But even in my imperfection, I serve the LORD as best I can. I do my best to live by the Spirit and be guided by the Spirit. When God gets ticked at me and has to discipline, I do my best to catch on and submit.

4. And in doing so, I really have learned, seen, felt, anything you want to call it, that though this disease will hound me all the days of my life and I may leave this earth because of it one day, I can know the joy of the LORD in spite of it. Melanoma only has as much power over my spirit as I give it. I cannot control what it does in and to my body. But I do choose how much sway to let it have over my emotions, attitude, habits, and anything else I can control.

There was a time, when I first started this journey, that I thought melanoma got to run the show. I gave in to panic attacks and scanxiety. I know all about attirude and still get plagued by that (do a blog-site search for attirude. I've blogged about it often). I confused "happiness" and "joy." I let fear rule...and that's normal with this diagnosis.

But I'm five years...FIVE years, out from my stage 3b diagnosis now and I've learned a lot.

I've learned to recognize when attirude begins and how to control it. And though it flares up, it doesn't last as long as it used to nor is it as intense while it lasts. I've learned to stay in communication with God throughout my day in a way I never did before this disease, and I've learned to let the Psalms speak to, and minister to, my soul. I've learned to read theses gems with human emotion and in doing so, I've learned the Psalmists express every emotion known to man; work through their anger, fear, depression, doubt, etc; and as they work through...they remember how God has seen and carried them through life-events in the past and they gain new hope and faith that God will do it again.

I've relearned that God can handle my very real emotions and challenges as long as I am honest with Him...He can handle my honest heart. It's not being honest that prevents God from helping me. If God already knows my heart (which He does), why not give my heart voice? Which leads to tears. Which leads to really long discussions with God. Which leads to me calming down and feeling Him soothe my soul and gaining strength to keep on keeping on. And we muddle through. God gets it right and I come behind Him and throw kinks in the chains He's breaking. I just can't seem to help doing that.

And so we come full-circle, God and me. Back to those chains that need breaking. Thinning the links. Me taking refuge and finding joy...even when it's a modicum of joy. That's OK.

For the joy of the LORD is my strength.

And I am grateful!


Monday, June 24, 2013

Psalm 1

From the New Living Translation

Oh, the joys of those who do not
    follow the advice of the wicked,
    or stand around with sinners,
    or join in with mockers. 
 But they delight in the law of the Lord,
    meditating on it day and night. 
 They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
    bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
    and they prosper in all they do.
 But not the wicked!
    They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. 
 They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
    Sinners will have no place among the godly. 
 For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
    but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.

This was my introduction into the world of using the Psalms to help me when melanoma became part of my life in 2008. I am confident the Holy Spirit drew me to the Psalms, and draws me still. I started with this first one and worked my way through the entire book. I learned about enemies and God's ways in the face of our enemies. I realized that my enemy, melanoma, was every bit an enemy just like real people were the Psalmists' enemies.

Being a Methodist pastor and an ever-growing Christian, I was already in the habit of meditating on God's Word. I knew where to find Life, but in the times of storm that I was going through, it was very reassuring and strengthening to think of myself as a "tree" with my roots instinctively reaching towards Life Giving Water.

This Psalm gave me courage to dare hope that I would still thrive and bear fruit for the Lord and that my life was far from "over." Even if it were to end quickly (which it hasn't), that I still had meaning and purpose. This is when I began to understand what melanoma could and could not do and just how limited this disease really is. All diseases, though they can be vicious, brutal, and deadly, are limited in the face of eternity.

I will never wither. Never. The time will come when I will have to leave this earth to keep that track record going. But while I don't have to worry about withering...well, melanoma does. It won't follow me when I run my race through Heaven's Gates of Praise and into Jesus' waiting arms.  It will be left behind. How do I know? Because the Bible tells me so.

Melanoma is an expensive disease to stay on top of and treat, but in God's eyes it's worthless. It's not rooted like me...oh's chaff that's blown around. It goes where it will and strikes as it will.

And it already stands condemned. Condemned. Like every sworn enemy of God's, its fate is decided. I'm just awaiting for Judgement to finalize the verdict.

God is watching over my path and better than that, He travels it with me.

The path melanoma is on goes straight to hell.

How do I know? For the Bible tells me so.

And I am grateful.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Yoo-Hoo! Oh, Armies! Where Are You?

Seriously. As we look at the manly men waiting in the wings behind David and Goliath, we have to wonder what they were doing. (This is 4th in my series. Please go back and read the previous 3 posts for the context for this one).

David, young Israelite who was not in the army, faces off against Goliath who was the star of the Philistine army. We know King Saul of the Israelites was with his army like all good kings were supposed to be during war. So, presumably, the Philistine king was also behind Goliath with his army. One side was counting on a young boy, who just happened to show up, for victory. The other side was counting on their giant to finally emerge king of the hill.

When we face life's obstacles and catastrophes, of any kind, often we feel like it's us against the world. We may have an "armor-bearer" like Goliath did to go with us, but we can wonder, "Where is everybody? Where are the legions of family and friends who are supposed to be by my side every step of the way giving me the support I want, need, and deserve, and do it my way?"

Like the respective armies behind David and Goliath, that's often where our armies are--behind us. They're there to yell encouragement and tell us to hang in there and fight. They're there watching us fight, waiting for us to give them something specific to do like "lend a helping hand, get us more ammunition and supplies, be there by our side, etc." And, let's be honest, depending on who they are and their actual relationship to us...they're thinking about their own lives and obstacles and things they have to do. Their sun doesn't rise and set on us. We aren't the only thing on their plate, and again, to be honest, they can think the same thing of us...where are we in their time of need? We all have people, jobs, things, we have to take care of and tend to. We just do. Even our faithful "armor-bearer" probably can't, literally, be by our side 24/7. For most people, that's an unreasonable expectation.

And I'm sure there will be people reading this who will get indignant and say, "Anytime anyone I know gets sick, I'm right there with chicken soup and I never leave their side. I'd do anything for anybody because that's just who I am. But let me get sick or in trouble and nobody shows up for me."

Don't get indignant. Just be honest. None of us are perfect members of every army. Even more, sometimes we can be someone's Goliath. We aren't always David. And we aren't always armor-bearers.

But, hold on! The story isn't over yet! Hope springs eternal!

David springs into action, Goliath goes down and is killed. God shows do the armies! The army that was fearful, namely the Israelite army, is suddenly encouraged and swinging swords in battle and bringing down more Philistines. United they stand and fight.

And the army that was so confident and smug, namely the Philistine army, is running for the hills, scared and being slaughtered. But because they are being attacked (THAT sure wasn't what they had planned!), they have to fight as they run. United they flee.

Sometimes we just don't have an army with us. Some of us will have great support no matter what our catastrophe looks like and some of us won't. Some of us will have to go out in search for support. Whatever your obstacle, illness, challenge, or catastrophe, know that you aren't alone as many also have similar mountains in their lives. Internet sites that have groups can be great places to connect with people, as can Facebook. There are pages and groups for everything imaginable! Just be wise and savvy. Surf smart.

Get vocal and ask specific people for specific help. Often people want to help but they don't know what you need. I have found, as a RULE, most people will do what is asked of them. If someone volunteers to do something, accept their offer if you can. But remember, be grateful not greedy.

And do what you can to be part of other people's support systems.

Whether we're on the front lines or bringing up the rear, we're in this life together. Every David facing Goliath needs to know there are people behind him, ready to rush to their aid even if they don't show up at first.

We will all be in the role of "David" at least once in life. We'll all be cast in the chorus far more often.

Think about that.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Go David! Go David! Go David!

For those who are just tuning in to this series, that would be David of David and Goliath fame. Go back and read the previous two posts to catch up if you need to. I'm moving on.

Who doesn't root for the underdog? From what I've witnessed, often in today's world, it's a team that's facing a team that's bigger and on a winning streak. Team Underdog is a long shot, at best. From all outward appearances they just don't stand a chance up against Team Hotdog. But the game is scheduled and they must show up and play. Will they play like they've already lost and ensure their defeat? Will they give it their all whether they win or lose? Will they play like winners and, somehow, pull out a victory? Only time on the clock will tell. But let's face it, even if Team Hotdog is your team...don't you secretly go "rah!" when the underdog makes a good play or scores? It's OK, I won't tell anybody. I do it, too.

In the David and Goliath story, we have an individual, not a team, who is the underdog. But when we first approach the story, we don't know it. It, like life, begins nice enough for David. We're introduced to Goliath and the Philistine army first. We get it. They're big, mean, vicious, itching to fight. Goliath keeps throwing down to the Israelite army. The problem is, none of them are picking up the gauntlet.

Enter David stage right. Sweet kid. Youngest of eight boys. Stays home with Dad to tend the sheep. His three oldest brothers are in the army. Runs back and forth between home/sheep and his soldier-brothers taking them supplies. Good kid. Keep in mind, though, he's a tough kid even though the story doesn't explicitly tell us. It tells us he helped his father with the sheep. That little fact is important. (Remember. When we are given details, they are important even when we have to read between the lines. Like here. We are expected to know what "helping with the sheep" entails and implies).

On this particular day, David is being an obedient son and taking bread to his brothers and cheese to their captain. I'm sure he plans to visit and watch the action because his dad is expecting a report from him. THIS is how David plans to spend his day. THIS is David's plan. Can we say, "Goliath, WHO?"

That's how things in our life can happen. We're sailing along. We've got life mapped out, our plans made. And. Boom. We run smack-dab up against Goliath. Maybe he was there all along but we could ignore him because he either wasn't acting up or wasn't out of control and we could manage him.

David is confronted with Goliath out of the blue. Here's where we begin getting principles, based on David in this story, on dealing with our own huge obstacles in life.

David may not have known he was going to face Goliath, but God did. And God knows about the obstacles we'll face. David already had what he needed, with him, to face Goliath. And, chances do too. You're probably already equipped with what you need to tackle your obstacles and bring them down to size, or totally obliterate them. You just don't know it yet. Or you may need to reframe them. That's what David had to do.

Once David decides to do what a whole army won't do...confront Goliath, two things happen. King Saul gives David armor and a sword...all of which David puts on and promptly takes off.

1) He sheds the things that weigh him down.

Then he takes 5 smooth stones and puts them in his own bag and picks up his own shepherd's staff and slingshot.

2) He uses the weapons that are already in his arsenal (his staff and slingshot), and he gathers weapons that he already knows how to use (stones) and puts them in his bag.

Now, and only now, is he ready to square off against this huge obstacle that's towering over him and wants to kill him.

The stakes are high, as they always are. The loser not only dies, but his people will become the slaves of the winning side. The obstacle is threatening and menacing. It can make us feel like nothing. It can make us think, maybe, God has abandoned me, won't come to my aid, will let this obstacle ruin my life. It can weigh us down with depression and fear, doubt and confusion. It gets in our way and colors how we perceive everyone and everything around us.

We can even forget the stones in our bag. It's time to shed some weight and reframe our stones.

Often one catastrophe will lead to other problems and issues. A major illness can lead to loss of job and insurance, mounting bills and eventual homelessness. A major downturn in the economy can lead to job loss, not finding another one, and the bills and homelessness. In these, and other, scenarios, relationships can suffer, marriages can end, drinking can start or increase and so can drug usage. Alcoholism and addiction can become huge and damaging challenges. There are a multitude of problems that can arise and they will look different for everybody. The thing they have in common, besides being depressing, is they weigh us down to the point that we don't know how to look up, don't know where to go for help, can doubt if help is even out there for us.

That's how this series started...helping someone who was weighed down by so much that he lost sight of the fact his obstacles were temporary and forgot about the stones he had to work with. His stones needed reframing so he could see them in a new light. And while his obstacles may be long-term, they can be dealt with, brought down to size, some can be obliterated, and they are all temporary. None will last for all eternity.

As we reframed his stones, he could already feel a sense of hope coming on and he had not felt hope for a long time.

Some possible stones you may already have in your bag that need to be brought out, dusted off, and put to use: Your education. Do you have a college degree? (My friend has a 4-year degree and had previously used it well in one type of business, but after the economy hit his field hard and his company closed, he lost sight of using his degree in other types of businesses). Work experience? Connections? (We all know people and we all know people who know people. Networking is  valuable tool). Knowledge of a different field that can be of value to an employer? (David was a shepherd, but he had acquired experience taking care of, and protecting, his sheep that he could use against Goliath). Can you let go of finding that new dream job in the area and field of YOUR choice and be willing to move, or be willing to take a job that at one time you may have considered "beneath you" or "not anything you're interested in"? Can you swallow pride? Ask for forgiveness? Knock on some doors? Pray? Locate people who are willing to give others (you) a second or third chance...these people exist...ask around, they are usually known and word of mouth is a great tool.

What other tools are in your belt? Personality? Perseverance? Skill that's employable? Access to good, yet cheap or free, counseling? If illness is an issue, are you near a great hospital with a wonderful charity-care program? If you don't know, ask. There's help available for dealing with depression and support groups for various problems and challenges. If you need AA or NA (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) check to see what's in your area. All of these things, and more, are tools God has placed at your disposal. Find them and make good use of them. And watch your obstacle(s) start coming down. And feel the weight lifting off your shoulders.

David was young, out there by himself, nobody with him had any faith in him, and Goliath was in his space and had to be dealt with. By him. God had brought him to this place.

And David learned that with God on his side he could face any Goliath that stood in his way and he could trust God for the outcome.

Nobody on that battlefield thought David stood a chance. But David did. He believed in himself. He knew what he needed and he knew what he didn't need to get the job done. He knew Goliath had to go and he knew he was the guy for the task at hand. This young guy was the manliest man around that day. He was also the only one around with any faith. Was it the size of a mustard seed or the size of a mountain? Who knows? He had faith and God honored it.

But David had to step out in it. He had to face Goliath. He had to take stone and sling in hand and use them. David showed up. And so did God. Mightily.

When obstacles arise in our lives and loom large over us, chances are very good that if we take stock of the people, skills, and other opportunities and life-experiences that God has already blessed us with, that we'll see we have what we need to do battle.

David's Goliath was human and able to be knocked down where he could kill him with one well-placed stone to the forehead. Our obstacles probably won't fall that quickly and easily. It may take a while. So keep taking stock of your stones. Keep stepping out in faith. Keep calling on God and trusting in His provision. Know that you have an army, somewhere, watching and waiting for you to act and they'll fall in line and work with you.

Take heart, hold on to hope, and remember David's words to Goliath, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17: 45b-47 New Living Translation)

What you're facing is an obstacle, it's not an obstacle for God. You are His child and this is His battle. He has called you to join Him on the battlefield and He has given you what you need. Use it. Keep your eyes and heart focused on the Lord of Heaven's Armies and know that your obstacle is coming down. 

God always wins.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Bringing Goliath Out of Hiding

(To set the stage for this, go back and read the preceding post if you haven't already).

The Goliath that young David faced was towering over his face and not merely in his face, out in the open and, definitely, not hiding anywhere! And David's Goliath arrived on the scene first. So, while we have to take a break from the story and can only press the David and Goliath analogy but so far--since our Goliaths are rarely human, there are principles we can apply when it comes to bringing down those larger than life obstacles we face.

The first thing we have to do is admit we have a Goliath that has taken up residence in our life. Often we humans try to hide our Goliaths and pretend they don't exist. We try to relegate them to the basement or cram them in the attic and pray they stay still and quiet so the neighbors don't learn of their existence. Let's be honest. Often, we're ashamed of Goliath and our obstacle makes us feel like a failure. Some Goliaths force us to admit our bodies aren't as strong as we thought they were or maybe we've made some wrong choices that have now caught up with us. We hide Goliath because his presence makes us feel "less than." Much "less than." And the longer we hide Goliath and don't deal with him, the more it feels like he has become a permanent resident instead of being a temporary tenant like he really is. Remember: many of our obstacles are temporary...job loss, many health conditions (even those that will be lifetime but can be treated), homelessness, financial setback, etc. There are, likewise, obstacles that will need to be faced on a regular basis the rest of our lives, so while we can't change the obstacle itself, we can change our attitude towards it. We can change how we deal with it...we can bring it out of hiding and when we do, we will find that there are many, many people and families dealing with the same thing. We aren't alone. There's a vast ocean of experience out there and people will help us. But they have to know we need them.

Also remember: what's "out of sight" to others, is never out of our minds...nor out of our own field of vision either. Truth be told, our neighbors have probably heard about our new "tenant" living in our basement--somebody besides our immediate family knows--so we really aren't fooling anybody.

Goliaths aren't meant to be hidden. And the fact of the matter is, they can't be dealt with and conquered when we try to hide them from others. We cut ourselves off from the support we need to face them. We cut ourselves off from advice and other ears to bounce things off of.

It's not pretty when we face Goliath, though. We may be all alone in the initial confrontation. Like David was against Goliath. Oh, yeah, David had the king, three older brothers, and the rest of the Israelite army behind him...way behind him. Shaking, quaking, and scared, thinking the unarmored David was some kind of little fool and they were probably already planning the guy's funeral.

And there was ugly name calling on Goliath's part. He did his level best to intimidate David. The thought of killing a young boy didn't bother him a bit. Get that little punk out of his way and the Philistines could then enslave the Israelites.

We read in 1 Samuel 17: 16 that twice a day for forty days, Goliath had taunted and threatened the Israelite army. For forty days, the Israelite army refused to deal with this huge obstacle. They lost all sight of being God's chosen people and part of His army. They forgot Who would go out and battle for them if they had just one man willing to step out in faith. They, in essence, "hid" from their Goliath by refusing to deal with him.

And Goliath didn't go away.

Until David arrived on the scene. David wasn't blind. He saw how big this giant was. He saw how he was decked out in armor and the weapons he had. He heard the threats and he knew Goliath was quite capable of carrying them out. He saw. He heard. He came. He faced. God conquered.

Goliath was temporary.

We aren't told how many years he had been a big, mean, nasty, threatening giant. Maybe decades. In the end, he was temporary.

God is still God and He isn't going anywhere.

But it took someone to come along who was willing to meet Goliath face-to-face and deal with him. God's way.

And you know what? Remember how the story ends? When the Philistines saw Goliath was dead, they turned and ran! Then the Israelite army gained courage and strength and shouted in triumph and rushed after them! There was still much fighting to be done to win that final victory, but seeing Goliath dead bolstered the Israelites and gave them a previously unknown momentum, and at the same time, it totally withered the zeal of the Philistines.

That's how it works. Knock down our biggest obstacle and we can deal with the smaller ones until they, too, are managed or even defeated. Bring it out in the open and deal with it, even if we feel alone at first, and usually others will rush to our aid when they see us out there trying, and winning.

It wasn't easy. There was strategy. It took time. There was carnage. It was a battle. But there had to be a battle for there to be victory. And there had to be a confrontation for there to be a battle. And Goliath had to be faced in order for that confrontation to take place.

And for young, little, seemingly unarmed David to win, there had to be Power far greater than anything any eye on that battlefield that day could see.

I Am was on that field and fighting for David. And I Am will join us on our battlefields and empower us to face our obstacles and enable us to conquer them just like he did David so long ago. God hasn't gone anywhere. Have you?

I'll deal with David and other players in this story in future posts in this series. But for now, find hope in knowing that any obstacle you're dealing with can definitely be brought down to size and either managed or defeated, depending exactly on what that obstacle is. But it CAN be knocked down to where you can deal with it.

But first that means, going to the basement and bringing it up or going to the attic and getting it down. Get it out in the open. Seek God's face. Go where He sends and fight according to His battle plan. When He leads you to human counsel, reach out and open up. You'll be surprised at the people God has already put in place to help you. But they don't know your need and aren't going to seek you out first. You've got to be the one to make that connection.

The obstacles you face, that I face, are just that obstacles. They can be moved and removed. But first they have to be faced and dealt with. Otherwise, they aren't gong anywhere.

The choice is ours. Be Goliath's victim or be victorious over Goliath. So, what's it going to be?

I choose to learn some lessons from David, I don't do "victim" very well, and that will be coming up next.

Take heart and take courage! Obstacles are temporary. God and hope are eternal.

Until next time.


Friday, June 14, 2013

David and Goliath, the Psalms, and Catastrophe

I'm feeling a need here to do something a little different and instead of starting a whole other blog, I'm going to do it on this blog-site and explain it with this post.

I recently had a conversation, with a melahomey, that drew heavily on David and Goliath. This person saw a future sermon series in it for me. Maybe. But I also see blogs about it. In addition to the David and Goliath story, I have come to see the Psalms in a whole new way since melanoma entered my life and feel a need to incorporate them into this. But David and Goliath and the Psalms don't just apply to melanoma, they apply to all of life's catastrophes.

So I'm going to spend a while looking at the story and then the Psalms as applied to life's catastrophic times. Everything can be expanded upon and I'm sure readers will have their own insights, but to get that ball's 1 Samuel 17 (home of the David and Goliath story) from the New Living Translation. This particular site, biblegateway, offers many translations, including two Jewish ones and various languages.

Few of us will face human giants that loom over us like Goliath did the young David, but we all face giants in life...obstacles that loom large and seem insurmountable. We may live most of our life before facing one, or we may face them on a regular basis, but make no mistake...we will ALL face a Goliath in our life. It may be disease/illness like cancer, mine's melanoma. It may be abuse, a financial crisis, job loss, homelessness, a relationship disaster, death and grief, addiction of any kind, a legal dilemma, aging, and the list goes on. Our Goliaths will each look different, but they will have some commonalities.

They will be bigger than us. They will look down on us and taunt us. They will make us feel helpless and hopeless. They will seek to drive a wedge between us and God. They are mean and ugly; they can have violent tendencies; they come at us with everything they've got and they mean to destroy us; they don't care about our age or anything else; they don't care if we're alone or have an "army," a lot of people, behind us because a "Goliath" seems bigger than anything we've got going for us; they're intimidating; they bring weapons with them (challenges and issues); they're decked out in "armor" and seem impenetrable; and...

They ALL have an exposed Achilles' heel. The Goliaths, the giants in our life, ALL have a soft spot and they CAN be brought down to size. Not only can they be brought down to size, but they can find themselves under our feet and ultimately defeated. Just remember, David didn't render Goliath powerless and kill him on his own or through his own strength and power. And we won't either.

We have to learn to look at our Goliaths like David looked at Goliath and not the way the Israelite army looked at Big G. We often look at life's giants and see these obstacles that we cannot overcome. We need to realize that what are obstacles to us, are not obstacles to God.

We need to invoke the system young David had in place when he faced a human giant: Goliath looks down on us; we look up, and beyond, Goliath to God; and God looks down on Goliath.

There's not a Goliath on the face of this planet that can stand up under that!

Future posts will look at Goliath, David, God's role in this, the Israelite army and Saul, adapting this for us in facing our giants, and individual Psalms.

For now know that there is hope as you look at the giants in your life. Maybe this little post is already opening your eyes to that.

My prayer is that God keep opening your eyes and heart to what He is doing and has done to slay the Goliath you face and to give you victory!


Monday, June 10, 2013

friends say melanoma is no big deal

"friends say melanoma is no big deal" AND "friends don't understand your melanoma" are search terms that led someone to this blog today.

And my heart breaks. I'm seeing these same sentiments over and over in Melanoma Land. That would be on Facebook and the greater Internet. In groups and on sites. It makes me angry, too.

People, as a rule, don't get this disease until they get it. And make no mistake about it, our numbers are growing in ALL demographics, worldwide. People ARE getting it, but by then, it's too late for them to yank those words back and they are forced to understand melanoma from a whole new perspective. From the perspective of the one with instead of as the one belittling. I dare say most of us, myself included, didn't truly understand this disease until we got it either.

Let me tell you: It IS a big deal! A HUGE deal. An in-your-face-let's-talk-life-and-death deal. A scary deal. It is not, however, a deal without hope. Hope abounds because God is very present and our Help in this storm. And God is throwing out a lot of lifelines for us. There are more treatment options now than ever before that are showing very real promise. But they are still few and limited in number. And, not every option will help everyone. But we do have people, even with stage 4 brain mets, who are living better and longer than ever before. Things are starting to really look up in our world.We are a very hopeful and hope-filled people. However, melanoma is still a storm and for many, too many, it is a tsunami. This is a big deal and it needs to be understood.

The problem is that most people equate "melanoma" with skin cancer. They think it can just be cut out, stitched up, and life continues to sail along.Well. It doesn't. People with any kind of skin cancer will tell you that skin cancer IS cancer and those cancers, when they are cut out and stitched up, leave scars. They are disfiguring and emotionally scarring. Basal cell is very rarely fatal and squamous cell will kill over 2500 people in the USA alone this year. That's a big deal.

Now let me tell you about melanoma. I want it removed from the skin cancer category because it is so much, much more. It does not need skin to begin, grow, or spread in. Just because we hear tell of "moles" and "skin" the most, don't get deluded into thinking that's all you have to watch for: changing moles. That proves deadly.

Melanoma can literally begin ANY place in OR on your body that you can name except for your teeth and your hair. Start naming places. Eyes...check. Ocular melanoma. Mouth...check. Oral melanoma. Ear canal...check. Any organ. Any body part. Bones. Nose. Nail beds. Rectum. Vagina. It can travel through lymph nodes AND the bloodstream. It can be aggressive from the get-go or it can lie dormant a while and then kick into gear. It does what it wants, when it wants, and goes where it wants. It has no MO. None. Zilch. Nada.

Let me tell you something else...for those of you with friends who have had stage 0 (in situ) and stage 1 melanomas removed and you tell them it's no big deal. Their melanoma can come roaring back stage 4 in a matter of months...or never. They, like the rest of us higher staged people (I'm 3b), never know what our own melanoma will do until it does it. Those of us who are in the stage 3 and 4 range, as a rule, have access to periodic scans (depending on the doctor, facility, etc). SOME at stage 2 will be scanned. People at 0 and 1 don't get scans...OK, rarely...some do. Most don't. And let's face it, scans are no guarantee that a renegade cell, or tumor, will be caught. Many have clean scans one day and new tumor growth in a matter of weeks.

People really, really need to wake up to the truths about this disease, melanoma. It's not only melahomies in the 0-1 stages who get this "roll your eyes and yawn" reaction from people. It's people at all stages. Usually we look good. We smile. We're upbeat. We go to work or school, raise our families; from outward appearances we look like we're coping. Our emotions can be a whole other story. We usually don't choose to open up to the world, but when we do open up and share about our disease and where we are, a little compassion is called for. If you don't know what melanoma is, then ask. If you think it's "skin cancer" and no big least hear the word cancer and say "I'm sorry."

If the best you can do is some fake platitude then shut up and don't say anything. Don't tell someone it's no big deal. Don't say "oh, skin cancer." Don't say "you'll be OK." Don't say "get a grip."

Learn about this disease. Especially if you've ever been to a tanning bed. Especially if you've ever had even one sunburn. Especially if you have a family history of any kind of skin cancer or melanoma. Especially if you already have cancer, of any kind, in your medical history. Especially if you have a body of any age or either gender. Race and ethnicity offer no protection.

Melanoma is THE fastest growing cancer there is and there is no cure. Don't think this disease only happens to other people. YOU are "other people" to everybody on the face of this planet except to yourself.

Those of us who already inhabit Melanoma Land want our numbers to go down, but frankly, that will take a while. They will continue to rise for years to come. For one, most people aren't listening to us about the dangers of tanning beds and unsafe sun practices. Too many people still are not having annual skin checks. And, even if all dangerous practices ceased today, the damage that has been done is permanent and people will continue to be diagnosed with melanoma decades later. It happens every day. I was diagnosed decades after my last sunburn.

Melanoma is such a big deal that MD Anderson has a melanoma moon shot and Stand Up 2 Cancer has a melanoma dream team. Nothing says "big deal" like shooting to the moon and a dream team!

Melanoma no big deal? Every single day, around the clock, in the USA alone, 25 people die from it. Those numbers are up from last year and they'll be even higher next year. This year, in the USA alone, over 135,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma and that includes those in situ. The more common number of diagnoses (76,690) we see doesn't include in situ (stage 0) but it should, every diagnosis counts.

Don't understand melanoma? Check out these trusted sites and learn more:
Aim at Melanoma

Melanoma Research Foundation 

The Skin Cancer Foundation

American Academy of Dermatology

Your friends with this disease need understanding. They aren't looking for the moon, just an ear. They aren't asking for a lot, just hope and to know you care. They need you to understand this diagnosis, at any stage, IS a big deal.

And I need you to understand it can happen to you and it can strike your family and chances are very good that it will. So please, read up on it, stop any damaging/deadly practices you're engaged in, get annual scalp-to-toe skin checks, and be proactive. Do a blog-site search here for melanoma and read to your heart's content. At the very least, if your attitude towards melanoma is "no biggie," then get an attitude adjustment. Seriously. No annoying smiley face.

That attitude adjustment may just save your life or the life of one you love.

That's a big deal and needs to be understood.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Significance of June 2, 2013...Survivors

Not every marriage celebrates 57 years of wedded surviving. My parents, George and Bettie, will mark this milestone tomorrow, June 2, 2013. I know people have the tendency to think in terms of "wedded bliss," but after 57 years I might as well be honest. It hasn't all been blissful. But it has been doable and survivable. They have shared rearing my brother and I to adulthood. Seen him get through his crack addiction, and seen me get through two melanoma surgeries and maintain at stage 3b for almost five years. They've survived deaths of siblings, parents, and nieces and nephews.

Mama looked at Daddy the other day when we were talking about their anniversary and said, "When you said 'I do,' you did." That sums it up pretty accurately. And she put oomph behind her "I dos" as well. They did what they had to do. They did much they wanted to do. They muddled through other stuff. They've been human. They've been superhuman. They're both 82 right now and as Dr. Seuss would say, "They're in good shape for the shape they're in." Mighty good shape.

After 57 years, I can say with absolute certainty that they're going to make it!

Speaking of me and NED holding hands for almost five years now as stage 3b melanoma has had to watch...tomorrow is National Cancer Survivors Day. Until I knew this, I had not dared, or dreamed, to think of myself as a "cancer survivor." Especially not as a "melanoma survivor" since there is no cure. But as I near the halfway mark of my ten year stat, I don't feel like a patient anymore. I feel like a survivor and I like that. I need that.

I know the disease I live with. I know it can rear its ugly head any time and I can be dead by this time next year. I know. But right now, NED and I are tight and mel is keeping quiet. And because I made the decisions that were right for me, I'm physically in a good place right now. Oh, my emotions and attirude can be like that of any of us with melanoma, but physically I better now than I've been in a long while. I, too, am in good shape for the shape I'm in.

After almost 5 years with NED I can say I've been blessed, and whether I continue to make it or not, I'm a survivor.

At some point, because I'm human, melanoma or something else, will try to change that. But I'll always outlast melanoma or whatever ultimately takes me away from this earth. It may cause my death. It will not follow me into Life.

I'll always survive.

And I'll always be grateful.