Friday, December 19, 2008

Holding On To Hope

“Hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts” – Romans 5:5

Christmas is drawing closer and looking back over the year I shake my head with wonder at all that has happened. Our lives have been completely transformed as the grace of God has surrounded us and led us down unexpected paths. We have traveled through the valley of death on a gripping journey but yet I can count it all as joy. Only God could have taught us how to cope with unbearable sadness and give us the strength to look beyond it and shout the victory.

But here’s the thing. We are not alone in suffering. We each have some form of unbearable sadness that we must cope with at some time during our life.. We all bear a cross that simply has a different name. My heart aches for those around me who are struggling through grief, illness, bankruptcy, loneliness, addictions, surgeries, cancer, lawsuits, unemployment, handicaps, bills, pain, fear, divorce, abuse, homelessness, etc. These are just a few of the things I pray for other people for, in my own personal prayer ministry each day.

Back in 2004 I had to find my own way to God to deal with the shock of discovering I had a deadly form of breast cancer which I did not have a great chance of surviving. I was furious with God. I was scared to death (excuse the pun.) I screamed, I ranted, I raved, I stomped my feet. I cursed. I yelled at Johnny. I broke mirrors. I acted like a spoiled rotten child. God patiently waited for me to calm down.

One night, in the still of the night, I was laying there angry at the world. I lay awake until the wee hours fuming about my plight. Finally I calmed down simply crying from the frustration of it all and just totally gave up my tantrum. It was then that I “sensed” God gently whispering in my ear “are you ready to listen?”

At that moment, with my eyes closed, I saw a vision of sorts. It was a glowing heart pumping in the darkness and with every beat the heart grew brighter. Suddenly I KNEW it was the heart of God, because it enfolded me with a peace that was a kind of “blessed assurance” that everything was all right because HE was with me. Nothing else mattered. I fell asleep and slept like a baby that night for the first time. Maybe it was because I realized I was not the center of the universe. God is the true center.

The next morning I woke up with a new sense of well being. I determined that if God was in control than I no longer had to worry about the cancer. I felt an urgency to make the most of every moment. My focus changed from being self centered to seeking God. I wanted more of that feeling I had the night before. I developed a voracious appetite for learning more about God. I discovered the incredible gift of power to be found in “THE WORD.”

I was excited. I went from helplessness to helping others. This was the secret to my own transformation. I decided that though I was weak from cancer treatments I could still pray and serve God! I decided to make my own mission of seeking others to pray for. At first I simply made a list of family and friends and their concerns. I got a blank journal book and started there. Then I decided to expand it and start looking for more. Everywhere I went I simply started asking everyone I met if there was something I could pray for them for.

What amazed me was how receptive people were after getting over the shock of my question. It led to many beautiful discussions, often with total strangers, of how great and wonderful our Lord is. I discovered that there are A LOT of people who are eager to talk about the Lord and are simply waiting for someone else to start the discussion.

Johnny is now discovering these same truths through his own journey. Despite a descent into constant pain, nausea, weakness, no appetite, his spirit still remains resilient and humbled to the will of God. It is a juggle of faith and human frailty. It is choosing to trust in God even when the future appears bleak. It is about praising God even when you don’t feel like it. It is about believing in a power greater than yourself to protect you.

God does His part. We have to do ours. It is an eternal pact that binds us and there are many fringe benefits if we can hang on to hope long enough to receive them. We must have hope to sustain us through the darkest night. What is hope? It is ”leaping up in expectation.” It is believing everything will work out for good – not by our own power but by the power of something far greater than ourselves. WE must believe no “matter what.”

Our “no matter what” came this past Monday as we met with the oncologist. The CAT scan did not yield the results as positive as we wanted them to be. A SLIGHT hair of a reduction in the mass on Johnny’s lung and in the lymph node. However the mass on his adrenal gland on the kidney continues to grow bringing more pain in his side. Johnny asked the dreaded question. How long do I have? The doctor replied 6 months.

She said she still wanted to do one more round (3 sessions) of the current chemo he was on because of the slight success. But she was concerned about the side effects and Johnny’s quality of life beyond that, if results are not more dramatic, which may simply lead to keeping him comfortable and pain free. I expressed concern about resuming chemo so soon because he had not fully recovered from the last chemo.

Johnny has only been eating less than a handful of food a day for the last two weeks and his weight has dropped down to the low 160’s. It is a viscous cycle created by the pain pills which nauseate him and remove his appetite. His body is frail. He is bony and gaunt. I told her my main priority was for addressing his constant pain and nausea and lack of appetite.

The doctor insisted that it was best to keep the chemo going on schedule while it was showing some results. She suggested doubling the oxycontin for pain and then adding marinol to relieve the nausea and stimulate his appetite. Marinol, she explained was medical marijuana in pill form. It apparently is now legal in Florida for medical uses in cancer treatment. We agreed that if we could get everything under control then he could endure a couple more chemos and keep fighting.

He did the chemo Monday and started the new regimen with increased pain meds and the new marinol pills. For the record – Johnny’s nausea is now under control and his appetite is now back to normal! I cannot tell you the joy of seeing him perk back up and hearing a chuckle in his voice! It is even greater joy to be able to cook for him again! But best of all we have a thread of hope. It is the same hope that David had as he faced Goliath with merely a slingshot. It is all about keeping your eyes on God when the Egyptians are at your back and the Red Sea is in front of you. You close your eyes and hang on.

So what is YOUR cross? Are you letting unbearable sadness rule your world and keep you from bringing light to the world? What are you CHOOSING to feel today? Perhaps you need a “heart to heart” with God and to look beyond your own self to reach out to others. What are you doing today to reach out and touch another life? Don’t go to bed tonight until you’ve done ONE THING to make another life breath easier. Do a random act of kindness for someone anonymously.

Do the same tomorrow.

Unbearable sadness is a matter of perspective. It is how you choose to handle it that makes the difference. We have all been faced with a loss or tragedy or trauma that has damaged us in some way. But we cannot dwell in that place for too long. We must light the candle ourselves that dispels the darkness. We must not lose heart. We must dig down deep and find the courage that lies dormant in each of us. Keep fighting!

We must choose to run under the pinion of God’s feathers. We must accept God’s strength to get through the valley. We MUST ask God for help and then get out of our own way so we can hear Him whisper to our hearts. God is always there. God is always waiting. We each have a destiny – a purpose for being here on earth. We each have an appointed time to be born and to die. Our concern is not the beginning or end. It is what we do with the “in-between.”

If I could give each of you a gift this Christmas it would be the gift of understanding the incredible power we each have through Jesus Christ to conquer anything. I would give you the whole armor of God. I would give you the helmet of salvation. I would give you the shield of faith. I would give you the sash of truth. I would give you the breastplate of righteousness. I would give you the sandals of the gospel of peace.

Most importantly, I would give you love. I hope you will take it and pass it on to everyone you meet. It is the best Christmas gift of all. Every thought of encouragement I just shared with you is not an original thought. It’s what I learned from reading my bible. I am simply sharing the truths I found that have helped me carry my own cross.

One last thought to leave you with. This is a quote posted on my refrigerator by James Frey:


Merry Christmas Kisses!

Rene and Johnny and Scarlett


Anonymous said...

Praise the Lord because I have been praying that the Lord would ease Johnny's pain and nausea. Maybe the next round of chemo will shrink the tumor even more!!!! I pray for all of you as you fight this battle and I know that God will never leave us or forsake us. Much Love--Janice

Anonymous said...

You are a true prayer warrior. I have always looked up to you. From your journey, I am learning to trust Jesus in everything. I believe in prayer and in the power of God. So many of my own prayers have been answered this year. I continue to pray for Johnny, you and Scarlett. I have been praying for a cure. In a sense, this prayer has been answered. The eternal cure for us all is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is evident by all of your posts that Johnny has embraced this cure along with you and Scarlett. Thank you for blessing us all with your thoughts and journey. You all show much strength and much faith. But most of all you show much love. Your sister in Christ... Angie Bowdren

Rachel S. said...

Happy Birthday, Johnny! Sending you much love, peace and joy this day and everyday.


Anonymous said...

thank you for your inspirational words - amidst your own trials. as much as i wish you didn't have to endure this road, i thank the LORD that he works through people like you. YOU are a living example of my faith. YOU embody CHRIST. thank you & GOD bless you all.