Cancer Update: Jesus is More Than Enough

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   Twenty-seven days. That’s the number of days since the final radiation treatment for my husband’s prostate cancer. He still isn’t quite ready for a nice rare steak, but that’s getting ahead of my story. It was quite a summer, not an easy one. Yet ironically, this very summer, of all summers, our pastor embarked on a series from Colossians. The theme? Jesus is Better.

     If you haven’t already, you can read here about the rough times of late 2014 and up to now. How we put off the biopsy for months and finally went ahead with it at the same unfortunate time as his massive oral surgery. We knew the mouth issues would be tough for a long while, but had no idea radiation would dwarf that ordeal. How could we know? I’d undergone radiation during my breast cancer eleven years ago, and it was more or less a piece of cake. He, on the other hand, almost immediately, suffered constant stomach upset, no appetite, and almost daily weight loss.

    With no stamina whatsoever, each day he’d manage our business as best he could, then ask to be left alone to rest. As I grieved, I questioned. Why did he resist distractions like a small outing or a walk? Sometimes we left the house. Then a few miles out, he’d turn the car around and head home.

    Each day, though, he’d drive himself the hour to the treatment center, then the hour home. Five days a week. Alone.

    Jesus is More Than Enough

    I entered church the Sunday after his first five days of treatment, and barely acknowledged the theme’s announcement. For the next several weeks, the pain I felt during church trumped my ability to concentrate. I’d sit there and wonder why. Why he only wanted food and laundry needs met. Why he wouldn’t let me comfort him – no holding each other, not even his favorite foot rubs.

    When I did register the theme, Jesus is More Than Enough, my response was hollow. Well, I’m sure that is true in the grand scheme of things. Of course that’s what God says…The screen behind the pastor glowed with the words, but weeks passed before I actually took them in.

    I felt completely abandoned.

   Then I began to dig into Colossians at home. My pastor pointed out how Paul struggled (ch. 1:29 and 2:1) to make the people see “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” I realized that God, through Paul and our pastor, wanted me to ask the question: Is Jesus really more than enough?  Going about the day, I asked, “Is Jesus better than earthly relationships?” I knew I’d have to know, really know, the answer to that someday. But I wasn’t ready to face the question just yet. It blindsided me. I’d read Colossians over and over, and wrestle with God. I’d challenge Him. “Haven’t we already worked this out? Other times of trouble in our relationship sealed the matter, didn’t it? Jesus is enough!”

    But is He More Than Enough?

    In the moments of working alone folding laundry or walking in the neighborhood, I had to face my anger, and this persistent belief that puny me, I, knew better than God what should happen. These unrelenting needs, the friendship and love of a husband who lives in the same house, who surely has many good years left, clashed noisily with the supremacy of Christ. In my head a cacophony of voices screamed against the quiet assurance: No matter what, when all else fails, Jesus will prove to be more than enough. Whether in the resolution of Hubby’s health issues and restoration of our passion.   

        Or in the loss of both.

       To jump off that cliff of trust, find the net solid underneath, then walk in the truth became the challenge of every day. Colossians 1:23 reminded me to continue “in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel…”

        Finally, I had to say, You are not only enough, but more than enough. You know best. You know more. You love me best. You will figure all this out.

     I had to say it over and over again, with thankfulness (Col. 2:6 and 7) as I went about caring for and releasing my Hubby.  

     How often do I have to jump, Lord? Okay, You know that, too.

    So, you might wonder, where are we now, as a couple?

    After the treatments ended, he still felt horrible. Days went by. When we woke up to the usual how are you this mornings, I’d take the temperature of the room, remembering my truth. My barometer still wondered, is the glass half full? Or half empty? Is Jesus really more than enough if my husband stays emotionally gone?

    Twenty-seven days. Not long, really. Twenty-seven days since the last treatment of summer. We made it through. The laundry smells sweeter, food tastes much better. One of these days my babe may even enjoy a steak again. It’s a process. And one we don’t take for granted.

   But he did come back to me. We comfort each other now, laugh more readily. Finally. But my heart’s desire is to live in the Jesus-is-more-than-enough mode. I want it to be my default mode. I want His enoughness to infuse every minute of every day. His enoughness will get me through the next cliff I face – and hopefully I’ll jump a bit quicker into his net.

    Until the day I get to jump right into His arms. Won’t that be grand?

Five Ways Your Marriage Can Change the World

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Genesis 12:3b …in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

(God to Abraham)  ESV

Many years ago our family participated in a Pro-life rally and march in downtown Charlotte. Our ten year-old daughter, boldly marching with her sign, suddenly found a microphone from the local TV station thrust in front of her face.

“What are you doing here today?”

Without hesitation, our Johnny on the Spot leaned into the mic and said, “I’m changing the world!” Later, while watching this micro-interview on the 6:00 news, I thought her answer a little over the top. My jaded attitude said, Isn’t it a bit arrogant to think my actions matter that much?

In the years since, I’ve tried to hear my daughter’s statement through her young mind. The world needs help. The world needs changing. So if not to change the world, why go up against anything big?

My daughter’s comment on TV got me thinking…

What about marriage? When God said Abraham and Sarah would change the world, did He mean just through their offspring, Isaac? If so, why did He make them wait until they were almost one hundred years old to produce that child? I believe one possible reason for the epic wait was that something big would happen along the way to Isaac.

Their marriage.

The Abraham/Sarah marriage included decades of trusting and not trusting God, of disappointing each other, of misunderstandings and near-death decisions. Bless the world? God emphasized His statement again in I Peter 3:6. Sarah serves as the model for us wives.

“…And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

But she had issues! Yes. Most of our biblical heroes stumbled big. As with their lapses in judgement and obedience, God still uses cracked pots to hold and distribute his message. That includes us. Sarah called her husband Lord because in the Eastern nations this title served as a model for proper respect. We wouldn’t call our husband Lord, but the respect without fear part sure challenges me! Respect without fear is no small order. It will take a lifetime to learn what that kind of respect, the world changing kind, looks like.

Your marriage, too, though imperfect, is meant to change the world. Here are five ways.

1. A good, working marriage increases the productivity and creativity of each partner. Couples who resolve conflict, avoid resentment and misunderstanding, cause energy to flow into the workplace. When times of crises and desert come, both at work and in the home, the habits of kindness and forgiveness help get them through. These relational habits spill out at work, along with new ideas and fresh ways to solve problems. The world does change when energy flows from loving relationships.

2. A good, working marriage marriage makes a peaceful home. Children thrive at school and play when Mom and Dad like each other as well as love each other. They feel secure when they see their parents apologize, hug, and kiss. This sense of well-being and security changes the atmosphere wherever those happy people are. All the other kids want to be at that house. Peace, fun, and contentment change the world.

3. A good, working marriage gets noticed out in public. Everyone loves to see couples who make eye contact and laugh together. Onlookers smile. We get the message. We wish we had that- and we think we know what “that” is. Parks, tour buses, hiking trails, museums, resort lobbies, and restaurants attract more users, at the very least, and may even be transformed, when loving couples fill the spaces with their enjoyment.

4. A good, working marriage reproduces itself. True, children from happy homes sometimes divorce. Marriage is complicated at best, miserable at worst. However, many studies show that homes where kindness and passion live produce children more likely to stay married, just by their good modeling. Don’t we all pick up relational habits from the home in which we grew up? Commitment and love are caught as much as taught.

5. A good, working marriage spreads the Gospel. God designed marriage to be a reflection of His great love. He’s the One Who drew the blueprint and planned to change the world through our marriages. Since the gospel is the greatest love story ever told, we spread it knowingly or not, as we love each other in the most intimate of relationships.

Our marriage is meant to change the world. Doesn’t knowing that put all its difficulties in a different light?  For, although it can be the most hurtful, the most demanding, and the most complicated of relationships, something really, really big must be in all the hard work.

Salty Conversation

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Colossians 4: 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. ESV

      Often, the smallest comment can go a long way in helping a friend feel less alone, more normal, and more empowered to love her hubby better.

Here are a few examples of some conversations, seasoned with Salt.

      Head in the Window

    When I was much younger, having a rough time in my love life, my Bible Study leader saw me load up my stroller after a morning class. Her car happened to be parked near me, so she came over to my open window and poked her head in (almost too far for my comfort). With a sparkle and a wink she asked, “Hey, Girl, how’s it goin’?” Glancing back at my year-apart toddlers, she added, “Hey, have you gotten any new ‘nighties’ lately?”

    What!? Did I look deprived, depressed, or debilitated!? I was not particularly happy with her point blank accosting of my love life. I felt a wee bit “buttonholed,” you could say. But I prayed on the way home, asking God why this question bothered me.

    Then I realized it wasn’t the topic. Nor that her words were inappropriate. It was that I inwardly winced at doing the work of forgiving, taking more initiative, and thus improving my marriage relationship. I was put into the position of having to take stock of my attitude. (I had been wearing those Granny Gowns quite often lately…)

    God has used the “head in the window” experience to give me more courage to say something to women, even tho’ I might not say that

     Here are a few more examples of what I mean.

     Sharp-eyed Friend

    My girlfriend came over for lunch and noticed that my bedroom was changed around, spruced up a bit. “Hey, you really fixed up your room! Nice! But what did you do with the TV?”  

    Here was my golden opportunity to reply, “Well, the TV wasn’t much help to our love life, so we took it out. Now we are more “tuned in” to each other at bedtime…”

    Big Tub

     Another time, when some friends showed us around their new home, the bathroom  “centerpiece,” a whirlpool tub, could hardly be ignored. So instead of ignoring it, I said, “Don’t you love the big tub? I hope you guys get good use out of that. Man, we’d sure use it if we had one!!”

    You’re right. She had nothing to say. Quick change of topic. “My, the mashed potatoes are so creamy!” (dinner conversation quote from “While You Were Sleeping.”) But this didn’t spoil the evening. It may have improved the evening for both couples! (Our tub may be smaller, but…)

    Restroom Conversation

    Have you ever overheard a church restroom conversation?  I once heard a woman say to another, “My folks are keeping the kids this weekend, and we’re going to (a romantic place) for his birthday.”

    “Oh, really?”

    “Yup. That’s the only birthday present he wants…. a whole lot of special alone time. And he’s going to get it.”

   The tone I picked up was celebratory and grateful. And, well, I loved overhearing it so much I decided to book a hotel for my husband’s next birthday.

    Our marriages are truly meant to change the world.

    But platitudes don’t work. Pat answers with rote phrases we’ve heard all our lives don’t work, either. People need success stories, or an approach that’s been proven in the here and now, like yesterday. Our complicated, often confusing, up and down love life could actually bless others, simply by our perspective. We are learning and leaning on Christ for help, so we have seeds to sow. Those “salty” out loud seeds may cause a friend to ask,  “How does she have such a good attitude about sex? Hmmm…does God live in even this part of everyday life? Do I really know Him? I guess I should be less selfish in this area…”

   Remember that the value of salt in Bible times wasn’t only for flavoring, but even more for preserving. We are to preserve Truth, and hinder the deterioration of marriage.

    Here’s the Salty Challenge:

1.) LEARN something to improve your own marriage in this area, and then..  

2.) ACT on what you learned.

3.) Then look for an opportunity to SAY something to a friend – appropriately – when the time seems right.

   I can’t tell you how much you girls have encouraged me by your comments!! Have you ever discreetly spoken up on behalf of great love-making in marriage? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

“I Want a Love Like Mom and Dad Have”

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Good, they’re both home.

He parked the pickup behind his parents sedans already in the driveway. I’ll remember the code when I get to the door. With only a two-day break before second semester started, it seemed right to surprise them. Climbing out of the truck, moist grass welcomed his feet. One easy hop took him up the three steps to the door.

Yes! 9158. Music, ever so faint, leaked from inside, hurrying him in. In the quiet front hall, a familiar warmness flowed over him. So good to be home. He hung his coat on the stair rail and headed in the direction his nose usually pointed him. Mom’s famous soup! The almost intoxicating aroma intensified the closer he got to the kitchen. And the music swelled too. They’re home alright.

You’re just too good to be true….Can’t take my eyes off of you.

You feel like heaven to touch, I want to hold you so much,

You’re just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off of you.”

The moment seemed sacred, them not knowing he stood watching. His dad swayed his mom to the song as if nothing else existed. She smiled up at him, totally engrossed in his embrace, until he twirled her around and she caught sight of her youngest son in the doorway.

“Uh, hi, Dad, Mom… sorry to barge in, but it is only five, and I didn’t think I’d be… but, dang it, you told me last year to start knocking… I’m sorry… I forgot.”

“Hey, hey, Bud, no problem!” John hugged his boy and then dropped into the closest chair, grinning. “We’re decent, aren’t we? Good to see you, Son! Come on in, sit down…what brings you all the way from Virginia?”

As the three chatted about “the latest” in the tiny den by the kitchen, Jay soaked in his surroundings. This was the life he left behind almost four years ago. Why would he just now see it? They’d always shown love for each other. So why the lump in his throat just now? Could it be the non-breakup, break up he’d just been texted last week? Could it be the series of divorces he’d heard about lately? Or maybe he’d talked to enough girls now- dated enough- to find only a few who said their parents truly liked each other.

“Mom, Dad, I hope I have a marriage like yours. You guys make it look easy to be happy…”

Can there be a higher compliment than this? One of my sixty-something friends shared this story while we chatted over coffee. Her son had toasted a similar version at their 40th wedding anniversary party. Then she said this:

“Our kids are jealous of us. They see us kiss in the kitchen, dance in every room, and laugh wherever we are. They wonder out loud when will it be their turn!”

Growing older isn’t on anyone’s bucket list. But it happens to most of us. And it presents a double challenge. Is my purpose in life bigger than my age, and am I in love with my mate?

Do you have that marriage? Did your parents have that marriage? Who do you know with that marriage? I can’t wait to hear about it!

Talking ‘Bout “My Girl”

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.

When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May…

My girl, (my girl), talkin’ ‘bout my girl…”  -The Temptations

Such a simple thing. Hubby comes into the kitchen, brushes past me, and without eye contact or emotion says,  “You are one hard-working girl.” Not a hard-working lady. Or hard-working woman. Or even hard-working chick.

Before our marriage, during his career as a professional musician, my husband played that song hundreds of times- often several times in a night. The crowds loved “My Girl” then and the world loves it still. But, why did it pop into my head today as if for the first time? I realized that in thirty-nine years, (That’s how long we’ve been married.) he’s never referred to me gender-wise with any other term. Of course, I’m also those genderless names of Honey, Sweetheart, and Love. But mostly, I am “his girl.”

He would even tell the kids, “Don’t you cross my girl. She’s your mother and my wife.”

As I thought about his consistent use of the tag, I wondered if it’s made a difference over the years. What if he’d used just the other terms of endearment? Or called me by my name or “The Mrs.” These questions brought up a distant memory from VBS teaching days (my mid-forties) when a misbehaving six year-old referred to me as “you old lady.” I immediately burst out laughing, it sounded so crazy. Seems I have been affected by my husband’s pet word, for a long time. But how?

Self-Esteem

Since reality says I’m way past girlhood, being called Girl has affected my self-esteem. I don’t mean self-worth. I find my worth in God’s view of me. But when women pass the girl stage of life, they may tend to feel “past their prime.” The term “Girl” evokes a sense of freshness, radiance, and warmth. When he calls me that, I feel all those things, even if only for a moment.

Attraction

“My Girl” speaks of security and belonging. His “Come here, Girl,” sounds more alluring than “Come here, Woman,” or Lady or Chick. Now I admit there are times when the latter references might “stir things up” a bit quicker. But normally, when he draws me into his arms with this playful name, I want to move toward him. I think it’s because I sense he wants me for me. Not for what I have to give him.

Sense of Aging

As hard as it is to admit, I feel more like a girl because that’s exactly how he sees me. Always has. Here I am in my sixties, but besides having (a bit) less agility, the mirror is the sole conspirator against my sense of “girlness.” Denial? Self-trickery? Maybe.

However, doesn’t love see everything in its best light?

If your husband hasn’t used this reference to you lately, and you haven’t thought of yourself this way, here’s my advice to you:

         Keep the attitude of being your husband’s girlfriend. You are your husband’s lover, wife, and business associate, all in one package. Concentrate more on the girlfriend part, and tell him you love being his girl. Call yourself a girl when referring to yourself. “I am one tired girl!” “This girl really likes you, Mr. Hunk!” You get the idea. Don’t call yourself Old Girl, though. That’s an automatic penalty.

         Finally, think of your grown daughters as your forever girls. My oldest daughter just turned thirty-seven, and she is still my girl. I will always be her mother, and she’s the mother of her own brood. We belong to a sisterhood of girls- for life!

Change Mad to Sad in a Fight

Normally I would greet my husband’s entrance into my tiny office with a smile. But the day I happened to be engaged in a lively phone gab, how dare he walk in and give me the “timeout” sign followed by a flat-handed cutting motion under his chin? I wasn’t ready to either get off the phone or take a break just yet. As my wide eyes and cocked head returned his glare, two people clearly saw each other cross the line of respect.

Turns out, after getting off the phone, his interruption was indeed trivial – no blood, no flood, no roof caving in – and therefore disrespectful to me. He, on the other hand, felt sidelined like a second-rate citizen, not worthy of common respect. The chill in the air told me we weren’t done here. Not at all. Something else, something much bigger was trying to enter the arena.

Power struggle.

Again. Daily irritations, emotional distance, set up an unsteadiness inside. In the past, my fear that he’d shut down usually caused an irrational panic in me, and a greater disconnect. After the initial storm, we wouldn’t feel close, just in a truce-like lull. And inside I would die again, becoming a little more numb.

In many Autumn marriages, this rut is slowly dug through years of unresolved conflict. No wonder so many emotionally check out. We may fight less; but we engage less, too. You can’t fight if you don’t disagree out in the open. Anger throws up dust. Nothing seems clear anymore. A stale blah sets in, like the air a few hours after cooking fish. No spark of sweetness. Little joy. Accumulated resentment and relational pain pile up, and the deep friendship this time of life offers us just evades.

This time, though, on “that’” morning, something different happened. After he “gave me a piece of his mind,” I pondered what I’d been learning in the book, Wounded Heart, by Dr. Dan B. Allender. As I read about “good girl” self-protective distancing, my way of relating to conflict began to come unraveled. Keeping pain away no longer seemed the godly thing; it began to look downright unloving and very energy-sapping. I thought about how angry, fearful tears never got me where I wanted to go.

Neither did demanding a hearing.

Neither did insisting it all didn’t matter.

Instead of sinking farther from intimacy, this time I determined to keep the door open.

After work he asked me out for supper. A tense calm ruled the ride to Red Lobster. Once seated and having ordered the food, the topic came out. I told him that I felt disrespected too. I also said that disagreeing about who disrespected who can be okay. This statement had never come out before. We both seemed bent on getting the other over to our point of view. He rejected the idea of “amicable disagreement” on this issue.

And here, I made a decision. I would be sad. Sad for all the times this happened to us over the years. Sad for the way I had incrementally blocked him from my heart. Sad he had done the same. However, a kind of softness came with it.

It became my challenge to refuse to give in to those other choices – anger or numbness.  I let my point sit. In this uncluttered moment in our restaurant booth, I added, disagreeing with each other civilly makes us adults.

Sadness stayed. We missed the Spurs game we both wanted to watch. I took a walk and talked to a friend, asking her to pray. I rested in the conviction that I must not push for premature resolution or let anger build another fence. Not this time.

My decision to simply be sad changed everything. With fear held back, it couldn’t join forces with anger and get the stronghold this time. Secondly, I boiled the fight down to what we both struggled with – not feeling loved by the other.

Sadness must keep the door open. Grief just might usher in healing.

By late afternoon the next day, a strange thing happened inside me. I felt a slight new attraction to him. Why did he look handsome to me? Nothing had changed.

Next day at breakfast I smiled. He smiled back.

All because I refused to be dead.