Fears And Tears

It’s been 3 weeks since my last post and I wonder how to attempt to put into words the condition of my heart these last few weeks…

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Since my radiation treatments in September and October of 2015, I have been struggling through some very private fears and silent tears.  

I have lived with fibromyalgia, a chronic illness, for at least the last 15 years.  Fibromyalgia is a hardship, a miserable hardship, but I have learned to live with it and manage its effects.

All that is related to cancer scares me...

Cancer can kill you; It is a life-threatening disease.  I will live with this looming fear of its possible return for the rest of my life.  There is a reason they have me on Tamoxifen for the next 5-10 years.  There is a reason they had to administer one particular chemotherapy directly into my heart instead of my veins.  There is a reason they had to removed 17 lymph nodes and the entirety of my left breast.  There is a reason they had to give me 30 treatments of radiation.

Even now, every twinge of pain or discomfort means something completely different than the twinges I lived with before my cancer was diagnosed.  Every day I have to pay attention to what is what 

That spinal pain?

That shoulder pain?

That rib pain?  

That widespread joint pain?  

That hip pain?

That neck pain?

The chronic fatigue?

While all of these pains are side effects of cancer treatments, I, trying to gain more clarity, something more… definitive, asked one of my doctors what to look for if my cancer were to returned.  His response was that it wouldn’t show up in the remaining right breast.  It would show up as a lump or mass in my left chest area or I would experience pain in my body because it would have spread to my bones.

My mind and my heart struggle over the desire to exist in a well-formed fog…

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The day that your oldest child whispers in your ear, “Don’t die while I’m gone.” as she heads off to summer camp…  The day that your youngest child responds, “You are going to die.” when you tell her that you have a surprise for her…

These become core memories, key moments that reinforce what your life has become.  There is no “the way things were.”  There is only making the definitive choice of moving forward as a thriving survivor in spite of your deepest fears and your overwhelming tears.  Every part of your life is changed forever and all you have is what you believe and if you are fortunate, those who have been there every step of the way through this drastic and dramatic journey.

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 I have been following the lives of 3 particular women these last 4-5 months.  They all have dealt with or are dealing with some form of cancer.

The first woman I did not know very well.  She was attempting to form a breast cancer support group in my county.  She was a strong outspoken advocate for women dealing with breast cancer.  She died of metastatic breast cancer at the beginning of November, 3 days after I finished my last radiation treatment.  I had the privilege to know her for only 4 months…

The second woman is someone whom I admire greatly.  I have served her meals in my home.  I have prayed with her on occasions as she has ministered in our church.  She has dealt with cancer in the past, but just found out in the last few months that she has pancreatic cancer.  Even in just these last 3 weeks, an update was given that the cancer has progressed…

The third woman is someone whom I have never met, whom I will never meet on this earth.  I know nothing about her except for the words that are shared by her husband on their blog.  His humble admission as she enters her last days because of cervical cancer are moving, overwhelming, and… heartbreaking.

It isn’t the dying that is the problem.  It is saying goodbye…

As I have been allowed to see a small part of these 3 women’s lives through the eyes of cancer, I am moved by their determination to be what they believe.  Ultimately, their belief determines their choice.

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As I make the very definitive step to be that thriving survivor of cancer, I must choose from what I believe:

For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.  For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.  Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”  – 2 Timothy 1:6-14

As those who believe in God, we have been given a treasure and all the battles that wage fiercely around us seek to steal that treasure through fear.  Remember that you do not fight alone.  You fight through those fears with the help of the Comforter who enables you through power, love, and discipline.

There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the truth of your battles.

Failing to work through those battles will cost you more than you can afford…

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The War Within

It has been 2 months since the last of all my breast cancer treatments.

In that time, my body took 2 full weeks to heal all the radiation burns.  It then took 4 weeks to endure a fibromyalgia flare-up (imagine the feeling of having the aching fatigue of the flu while feeling deeply bruised from the top of your head to your very tippy-toes).  After that, my body experienced its 1st bout of a viral infection in more than a year.  (Football Fan is still fighting the same virus after 3 weeks.).  And tomorrow, I get to visit the lymphedema clinic for swelling in my left arm and chest area, as well as, getting fitted for a lymphedema compression sleeve.

Needless to say, it has been a roller coaster ride that I want to get off…

My Blessed Little Family and I are exhausted.  

You would think that after enduring 12-14 weeks of 3 different types of chemotherapy, 3 surgeries, and 30 sessions of radiation that we would be better equipped to handle these seemingly insignificant issues.  We are not equipped.  I don’t even know how to adequately explain “the war within” us except to share an excerpt from a book that someone recently shared with me:

Strong storms have raged through the years and there were times I wondered if they would ever cease.  The aftermath of these storms proved almost as traumatic an experience as the storm itself.  But I learned an important lesson- surviving the storm is only the beginning.  The road to recovery starts with a Post Storm Assessment.  We must summon the courage to venture out and assess the damage.

Many times my assessment found normal post-storm debris.  It was quite a relief when the clean-up process did not prove too costly and great expenditures of time were not needed to repair the damage.  However grateful I was to survive the minor storms in my life, there were other times- times when the best of what I saw should have been labeled a disaster area.  These were the storms that made the windows rattle and shook the foundations of my life.  This type of storm had many names…”  –Beauty For Ashes: A Divine Exchange by Stephanie Hampton Credle

We feel as though we are living in a disaster area right now.  The effort to formulate a Post Storm Assessment takes… too much effort.  We know that our lives have changed drastically.  We know that our thinking has changed drastically.  We know that our attitudes have changed drastically.

We know very well that we are changed… drastically.

But what to do about ALL of it is so far beyond us right now.

And so, we continue to move forward, day by day, moment by moment, until He makes know His way to enable us to heal physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

It has been said by many that:

“Cancer is so limited…  It cannot cripple love.  It cannot shatter hope.  It cannot corrode faith.  It cannot eat away peace.  It cannot destroy confidence.  It cannot kill friendship.  It cannot shut out memories.  It cannot silence courage.  It cannot invade the soul.  It cannot reduce eternal life.  It cannot quench the Spirit.  It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection.”  -Unknown

I would say that cancer MAY be limited, but it can wreak havoc, like a deadly storm, on love, hope, faith, peace, confidence, friendship, memories, and courage.  That havoc DOES invade the soul and unless your foundation is anchored in the One who is Unmovable, Unchangeable, Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent, then it will break you.

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It has been recorded that on April 23, 1910 in Paris, France, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech entitled Citizenship in a Republic.  Part of that speech, now famous in its own right, dubbed “The Man in the Arena,” is as follows:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

As My Blessed Little Family and I continue to live in the “arena” of cancer, we understand that “the war within” us is ours to wage.  We understand that we will never be able to convey to you what it is that we are “striving” with.  We understand that you are striving in your own arenas of life just like us.  The point is…

We understand.

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Wage your “war within” always striving valiantly, no matter how you are marred or how you err, no matter how you are spent or what the cost.

Wage your “war within” resting on the foundation of the Truth of “Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  (Eph. 3:20-21)

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The Bitter Bite of Bitterness

I’m sitting here on the floor… TIRED.


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Since this 3rd surgery, which went well, I have been fighting the fatigue of the Tamoxifen mostly, but all in all, the fatigue of fighting cancer.  I will not be going into radiation physically strong.  And that is okay…

My spirits, in regards to my cancer, are at peace.  My body, though exhausted, is firmly entranced in “It is what it is.” mode with the motivation of “Slow and steady wins the race.”  I am doing okay.  

What I have come to realize over these last several months is that this journey is MINE to travel and endure.  As I said to a friend the other night, if nothing else comes from my having cancer, that I have chosen to draw closer to my God, is worth it ALL.

The ALL of others is what I am working through right now…  Just because a person goes through a life threatening condition, doesn’t mean that the world around them ceases to rotate on its axis.  Life goes on and a lot of times, that can be a bitter pill to swallow.  It has been a constant struggle that I have endured this entire time through ALL the treatments for my cancer: to see the world around me, hearing their dismay of unfairness, and choose to focus on what I believe.  Because if you haven’t read anything worthwhile in this blog, then read this, again

What you believe determines what you choose.

Unfortunately, not everyone believes this…

They believe that what they choose determines what they believe.

Or should I say that they live, believing, acting, and interacting, in such a manner that is so full off unhappiness and bitterness.  They never take the time to know and realize that they infect the world around them.  Bitterness is unhappiness that acts and reacts and it is always, let me emphasize that, ALWAYS detrimental to those around you.  

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Let me mentally paint a picture for you…

I am a woman.  This means a variety of truths are evident.

I was born and have a male and female who were responsible for my created form.

The female I called my mother and the male, I never knew.  However, my older sister had the opportunity to call that said male her father.

My mother married again.  That male was the only father figure that I ever knew…  My younger sister is the result of their union.

I was born.  I had a mother and a father.  I have 2 female siblings.  I have extended family.  

Through the years, my siblings and I have married and had children.

Now I have brother-in-laws, nephews, nieces, and my husband’s family.

The realm of my choices, which are determined by what I believe, no longer affects just me.  They affect a growing multitude of people.  In turn, their choices, which are determined by what they believe, no longer affect just them.  They affect a growing multitude of people.

Think about that

for a moment

or two

or three

or a lifetime.

Now let’s take a look at just one emotional aspect of life: bitterness.

Can you imagine if we allowed our bitterness which is unhappiness that acts and reacts to rule our lives?  It is intersecting with multitudes of people on a daily basis.

That is detrimental to them and ALL because we chose not to allow what we believe to determine what we choose.  Instead, we allowed our choices to determine what we believe.

Bitterness is a choice.

Its bite is bitter.

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Can you imagine how this blog journey would read if I chose to be bitter these last several months?  Football Fan, Camo Kid, and Princess Pink would be so. very. broken.

Can you imagine dumping bitterness on already broken people?

They would stay away from you… possibly forever.

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What you believe determines what you choose.

Choose carefully.

 

 

 

Blessings of Grace

There we sat, she and I, waiting for our scans.

We didn’t know each other.

As I sat there, trying to find a distraction from The Spiew, uh sorry, The View that was playing on the waiting room television, she began to make conversation with me.  (I would like to think she was trying to distract herself from the The Spiew, as well…)

Are you here for a scheduled scan?” she asked.

No, I replied, this was unexpected.  I’m having a chest x-ray.

She said, “I’m here for my mammogram.”  (Now I know why she was trying to distract herself…  She was 80 something years old and she was NOT thrilled to have her scan done!)

That’s good.” I said, “I have a medi-port that isn’t flushing properly.  So they need to see what’s going on.

You could see the wheels turning…

I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” I told her, “The medi-port was for my chemotherapy which I have already had.  My hair fell out but it’s coming back in now.  I’ve had the surgery to remove my cancer and now I am waiting to have radiation.

Did they catch it early?” she asked.

I replied, “The diagnosis was stage 3.  They think that they have it all, but they had to take my breast,” I continued, “but I am grateful to be alive.  I have this day to live and enjoy life.  I have this day to give glory to my God.”

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Last week I posted about the Lessons of Humility that I have been learning, but as I sit here mentally processing all my Blessings of Grace, I realize that I am still writing about my Lessons of Humility.

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I am blessed to be learning these Lessons of Humility.

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I am blessed because this journey of cancer has allowed me to learn these Lessons of Humility.

I am blessed to be alive to have this day to live!

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I am blessed to have been able to receive a diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer because that means that there is information out there that allowed all the testing to actually make that diagnosis.  The cancer was found and so, I have this day to live.

I am blessed to have been able to receive chemotherapy because it reduced the amount of my cancer by 50% allowing the surgeons to better manage my surgery and the removal of the rest of the remaining cancer.  I may deal with the side effects of chemotherapy, but I have this day to live.

I am blessed to have been able to receive the life-giving surgery of a modified radical mastectomy because the cancer was removable.  I may deal with the side effects of a mastectomy, but I have this day to live.

I am blessed to have this body because this is the body that my Creator gave to me.  He did not give me cancer but He allowed me to travel this path so that I live this “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  I have this day to live.

I am blessed to have My Blessed Little Family.  I have this day to live with them and enjoy them and love them!

I am blessed to have ALL those who have ministered to My Blessed Little Family: in words through cards and conversations; in actions through meals, house cleaning, monetary gifts, tokens of encouragements, visits, and so much more;  in attitude through being our cheering section as we have worked through some of the toughest days of our lives.

And even now as I prepare to start my radiation treatments on the 15th of this month, I am blessed to have made it this far, by His grace, despite the setbacks.

I am blessed to have this day to live!

 

 

 

 

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Words fail me right now.  It is all emotion that courses through me even now.

This week has been tough…  

It isn’t just this week though; it’s a build-up of a LOT of tough weeks.  

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Someone asked me the other day how my summer was going.  What do you say to that?  I tried to answer honestly without too much emotion lodged behind my words.  “It hasn’t really been much of a summer for us,”  I said.

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You see, my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew came for my 1st surgery and immersed my girls in all things Pennsylvania, from Hershey Park to the Turkey Hill Experience.  This was done on their “anniversary weekend.

A church about an hour away from us that has been a tremendous blessing to My Blessed Little Family gave Camo Kid the opportunity to go to The Wilds of New England.  She had a great time even though it was her first time ever away for “camp.”

My unexpected 2nd surgery interrupted my mother-in-law’s planned excursion with the girls that day, but I think that they made the best of it anyway.

My aunt made it possible for my girls to visit her most awesome log home and be exposed to farm living that really was the life for me.  While Camo Kid is certain that chickens are not in her future, Princess Pink learned how to can tomatoes, feed chickens, and express herself a little more freely.  It was good for them to get away from ALL that is a reminder of their Momma’s cancer.

During all this, the beautiful love of some of our church ladies has just been a balm for my wounded spirit.  As they have taken my girls under their wings and incorporated them into their activities of the day, kayaking, baking, peach festivals, and playing in the creek have made their smiling faces glow with love and acceptance.

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We have grown closer as a family.  We take ANY and EVERY opportunity to laugh, love, and be silly.  You have to because the sadness and uncertainty of What’s next? it always lurking around the corner.  Princess Pink associates everything with cancer now.  Camo Kid doesn’t let me far from her sight without checking on how I’m feeling or if I’m overdoing it.  It wounds my heart to the core to have my girls live their lives with this kind of burden.

So, as I say this, please understand that I understand the circumstances that My Blessed Little Family is living in…  We are a family facing the effects of cancer.  This is the journey that we must endure.  

WE GET IT.  

This summer of 2015 has passed and for that I am grateful.  Watching and hearing about summer vacations and visits with family is a very bittersweet pill to swallow.  These people mentioned above along with more that I can’t even remember right now (thanks to my chemo-induced Swiss Cheese brain) took it upon themselves to seek out ways to be an encouragement to My Blessed Little Family.  Many people ask frequently what they can do for us…

The truth is:  Don’t ask, just do.

Ask yourself what you would want done…

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I think the most hurtful thing that has been said to us was the accusation that we were stealing that person’s blessing because we “wouldn’t” tell them what we needed.  It was like a dagger in an already broken heart.  More days than not, we are barely coherent as we trudge through appointment after appointment.  Football Fan constantly struggles with focusing on his pastoral duties while watching his wife struggles with all the treatments to fight the cancer and its ever growing pile of side-effects.  My girls constantly live with the fear of being separated from their Momma for a lifetime.   I battle, day in and day out, a mental battle that would batter the faith of the most faithful.  Depression lurks around the edges of insanity.  To say that I have a new appreciation for the book of Job would be the understatement of the century…

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What I believe is constantly being tested and my choices are constantly saying, “Me first!”  And yet, He is faithful to sustain even someone like me, where I am, promising that His grace is sufficient.

How utterly humbling…

I’m Thrilled. Can’t You Tell?

Went to see the doctor on Tuesday…  I’m thrilled.  Can’t you tell?

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My expander implant, designed to “hold” the space for my breast reconstruction after all my “immediate” (radiation) cancer treatments are finished, has punctured a hole in my skin.  Since some time Sunday night, the hole has grown to about the size of 2 pencil erasers and the doctor says not to be surprised if the hole gets larger!

Yikes!

So, I get the “privilege” of going back in for (outpatient) surgery #3 on Thursday.

I’m thrilled.  Can’t you tell?

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He will go in and clean out all the fluid and infection, remove the expander, and close me up again.  This all means that radiation is put on hold… again, for the 3rd time and I get to endure radiation simulation… again, for the 2nd time.

I’m thrilled.  Can’t you tell?

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My family and I are weary, overwhelmed, and covet your prayers.

My body has been fighting the battle of all battles for the last 267 days.  In the midst of that fight, I have accomplished much at times and very little at times.  Some things have been very physical like simply pushing the vacuum across the floor or making a meal for my Blessed Little Family.

I have tried to tell myself that “slow and steady wins the race.”

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Some things have been very “mental” like lessons of humility learned from how I view all my scars to my Swiss Cheese Brain forgetfulness of thank you notes, people’s names, and where I laid my glasses down???

I have tried to tell myself that “Great Expectations is just a title to a fictional book, not real life living.

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Some things have been very emotional like accepting the rejection of some family and old friends.  Learning to prioritize what is important in this fight for life does not include those who would criticize and berate rather than encourage and bless.

I have tried to tell myself “It is what it is.

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This journey is not easy and I have not done it perfectly, but I have done it faithfully, honestly, and with His “peace that passes all understanding.”  As for doing it patiently, well… as a friend reminded me just a few moments ago, “patience is a virtue.”

I’m thrilled about that particular virtue.  Can’t you tell?

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Oh, yes,  I get to have my friend JP drain back again!

I’m thrilled.  Can’t you tell?

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X Marks The Spot

On the 10th of this month I had the privilege?  opportunity?  distinct pleasure?  Ugh, I endured the “radiation simulation” (RS) to set me up for my upcoming radiation treatments.  It was fun.  I just told a lie…  (See, I do own up to my wrongdoings!)

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Radiation has been put off for the last 6 plus weeks because of drainage issues with my mastectomy.  Surgery #1’s incision healed up just fine but because I am such an awesome fluid-y person, I got to keep my JP drain for 4 weeks instead of the supposed week and a half.  Surgery #2’s incision is still not completely healed after being with JP drain for 3 weeks and now being without JP drain for a week and a half.  Also, surgery #2’s unhealed portion of the incision is leaking…

They won’t do radiation with my leaking “Stubb” but they went on with the RS.  

It went something like this:  They had me lay down on the table with a board about the width of an average size person that is inclined from my tailbone up at about a 5-10% grade.  The board has a series of markings and grooves for hand holds, head rests, and head masks that all need to be secured to the board in order to accommodate each person’s specific need.  For me, with the breast cancer being found on my left side, I get to lay on that board with my arm arm raised above my head in a “chicken wing extraordinaire” (CWE) position.  My upper arm is secured in a 2-4 inch cuff while my hand is holding a grip above the left side of my head.

Side note:  Here’s the problem.  Since my first surgery, I have been working with a rehabilitation/ lymphatic therapist because my range of motion in that shoulder is limited.  It feels like a rubber band that has reached its limit and wants to recoil.  I’m getting better and the therapist was confident that I could manage the necessary CWE position.

Back to the RS:  So as I got on the table to assume the CWE position, I really wanted to cry like a very plucked or molting chicken who is not an extraordinaire at anything.

Side note:  Apparently, I have made a portion of my left rotator cuff very angry.  So now, as I am waiting for my incision to stop leaking/ heal, I am doing therapy for my displeased rotator cuff which includes being taped up with kinesio tape for a time, some therapeutic ultrasound treatments, some massage therapy, LOTS of repetitive rotator cuff exercises which necessitated the need for electrical stimulation and indirect cold pack therapy.

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Back to the RS:  They wrangled me into the CWE position and then proceed to tattoo me.  I have two pin size dots on each side under my rib cage (these define my “start” position) and I have one more spot on my chest (almost parallel to my medi-port) that will need to be tattooed when I actually start radiation.  See.  X marks the spot…

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They lined me up (with my new tattoos), placed stickers that contained wires (for the types of pictures and scanners needed/ being used), and took multiple pictures of me in that position with multiple devices (including a CT scan).  You ever tried to wrangle a Chicken Wing Extraordinaire through a circular tube?  Fun times.  I lied again…  (And still I owned up to my wrongdoings.)  Each time they would tell me that I could move, I would have to very carefully unwind my angry shoulder from its CWE position.

By the time it was all over, I was a caught bird that had been plucked, dressed, and seasoned to perfection for my upcoming journey to be “cooked” till I am well-done.

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Who are you?

So, there comes a time when you are faced with the realization that some people only see you as one distinct part of the whole, much bigger picture…  Ever met people like that?  Was that a ‘Yep!‘ I heard from you?  Oh, wait, you mean that supposed sonic boom was actually you hollering:  ‘AMEN!  Preach it, sista!‘ 

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Man, there I go stereotyping myself… again.

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I am most assuredly not a preacher or a minister or any type of clergy of any type or by any means!  I am however married to a pastor… and there are many people that I have met along the path of life that only see me as that one thing.

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It can be comical.. most days… 

Hello, such-and-such, this is Lee.  She’s my pastor’s wife.

Good Grief pastor’s wife, don’t you know that you’re a pastor’s wife.

Hello, person-of-no-importance, don’t you know that you have to be the Proverbs 31 woman or I can have your husband fired.

Okay, maybe I ad-libbed some of those words, but I figured you already knew my real name!  😉

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Here’s the crux of the real issue…  I’m not JUST a pastor’s wife.  In fact, shocker of all shockers, I was born a little baby girl some odd number of years ago…  And even before that moment in time, there was the moment when I was gifted the privilege to become someone’s daughter…  And as I made my entrance into this world, I became a little sister, and then under divine providence, I became a big sister…  And wonders of all wonders, a wonderful man loved me enough to commit to me his life as husband and I, his bride…  And then, I became a mom… (WOW, I need a minute to gather myself because THAT day was a powerful moment in time for me!)  And in the midst of an ever-evolving state of physical relationships, I was blessed to realized that my Creator truly loved me with an everlasting love and I was adopted into the family of God!  Oh, and I also became a youth pastor’s wife and a sales clerk and a school student and a customer service representative and a red belt in Taekwondo and a high school & college graduate and a victim of sexual abuse and a pastor’s wife and a school bus driver and a victim of bullying in the church…  Which role would you like me to perform for you today?

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My sum total is not just as a pastor’s wife.  Truly, my sum total will never fully be formed until I stand before my Creator and give an account of all that I have been and have done on this earth.  Right now, He sees me as His own, washed in the sacrifice of His most loved Son.  And next to him, my husband is my guide of words and actions…  Sometimes, I truly wonder how others would react if I treated them and theirs as they have treated me and mine.

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Can you say ‘offended’? 

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Maybe you need to learn the word ‘forgiven’? 

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And maybe you need to practice more ‘grace’…

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Oh, before I forget to point out the stereotypical obvious…  I also have a warped sense of humor!

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Remember, No Smiling Allowed!