Saturday, June 27, 2009

A few more pictures...

Eric and Ann's flight home should have taken off by now. They left our house this morning at about 6:30 after a cup of coffee with John and me at the kitchen table. It's been the most enjoyable week and the time has flown. I've posted a whole photo album of pictures on my Facebook page, but here are just a few from the second half of the week.

There were a few friends of mine that Eric and Ann did not have the opportunity to meet while living in Tennessee. So we had lunch.


Danny was directing a sports camp this week, so we met up with him, Rebecca, and the kids there for a couple of hours.


I have two chapters to read through (containing my editor's proposed changes) this morning. I will have another chapter by tonight. I need to start writing my acknowledgments page soon. I have more company arriving tomorrow. And John's reunion concert with his band from the seventies (Perpetual Motion) is next weekend in Evansville. One busy week comes to a close and another begins.

Thanks, Eric and Ann, for coming to see us! We had a great time. I love you (you knew that). John loves you. And Marian loves you. She has said over and over what a wonderful couple you are and what "easy" house guests, too! I totally agree. You will be missed. If you're reading this, you're home. I hope you had a pleasant flight back and now I will start looking forward to our next visit. Who knows...maybe the next time we see each other, John and I will be visiting Disneyland! (I love Disneyland!)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Up with my thoughts...

It's late. The house is quiet. Everyone else is in bed. And I'm not really sure why I'm still up. I'm relaxed and sleepy, but at the same time...excited and wanting to talk. So I'll write in my public journal and preserve these moments for future reflection.

It's been an amazing week that has flown by too quickly. And today was an especially full day. Without going into the details, God blessed this day from beginning to end. (I will be sharing the details with some of you privately!)

I am finally fully engaged with the editing process of my book. My copy-editor started sending me his work today to review. And he estimated that he can have my manuscript ready for print in just three weeks. I stayed up after everyone else went to bed so I could read through what he sent me and return the file to him via email with my responses. It feels like I am now in the home stretch and I can't believe that seven months ago I didn't have the slightest idea that I was about to begin writing my testimony.

I have been apprehensive about the edit because I've heard stories regarding how painful this process can be for an author. Having never written a book before, I didn't know what to expect. But I loved my editor's initial suggestions. I'm very happy and I don't think this is going to be grueling at all.

I'm feeling so good about it tonight that I am here rambling on my blog instead of sleeping. It is now past midnight and I am realizing that I'm not really writing anything all that significant. I think I just needed to release a little of the excitement I feel. I also wanted to share that I'm getting quite close to a finished product.

I believe with all my heart there is a purpose and an intended audience for this book. I don't know how God will use it or who He intends to read it. But I feel absolutely certain there IS a purpose and an intended audience.

There will also be people who are not happy with me for writing this book. I hope and pray that if any of those people actually read it, they will do so with an open heart.

A very big thing happened today to encourage my faith. It was an undeniable God moment in this journey. I don't feel to elaborate publicly at this time, but I do want to give thanks to God for being so faithful, once again reminding me of His presence in the details of my life. I will never forget this day and God's provision.

Oh, by the way, I got to speak to Lillian on the phone yesterday. She sounded weak and talking for a short time nearly wore her out. But it was SO good to hear her voice and the clarity of her words. She told me that when negative thoughts come, she thinks about the positive things (like still having her voice and being able to talk) and she doesn't get down that way. I was thrilled to hear her say that. I have always found that focusing on my blessings enables me to deal with my most difficult challenges.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lillian's Progress

For those checking...

Marian flew in today after spending a month in Reno with Lillian. Bennie is caring for her now and Marian will go back as soon as she can.

Lillian has a tough road ahead of her. She has to have chemo AND radiation. She has to have all her teeth pulled. She can only open her mouth a tiny bit. Her jaw is all out of whack from so much surgery and having it broken (in three places, I think) for the surgery. Marian told me this evening that the surgeon could not get her jaw aligned correctly after all he removed. So the oral surgeon will not only remove all her teeth, he will try to straighten out her jaw and get it properly aligned again. After radiation she will no longer have salivary glands.

She is still in quite a bit of pain. She still has the feeding tube. She was moved to a nursing home/rehab facility before Marian left. She will stay there until she has recovered enough to have the oral surgery. The abscess in her neck was a big setback and resulted in a much longer hospital stay than originally expected. The doctor first said she would be there for ten days. She's been in the hospital since May 20. When she is strong enough for oral surgery, she will go back to the hospital from the nursing home.

Hopefully, after that she will be able to go home to her apartment. But then it will be time to begin chemo and radiation.

Marian says the oncologist is a very nice man. She really liked him. He did say that there is no way to know if the cancer has spread at this point. Although it doesn't show up in any other organs, since her vascular system was involved, it could be as yet undetectable but microscopically present elsewhere in her body. That is an unknown for now. We are hoping it did not spread anywhere else.

One thing is for sure. Lillian still has her sense of humor. While they were in the oral surgeon's office (between hospital and rehab), Lillian said to Marian in a serious tone, "Have I told you what the oncologist said to me?"

Marian said she felt scared that Lillian was about to give her bad news. She said, "No. Tell me."

Lillian said, "You need to sit down."

Marian thought to herself; oh, no.

Lillian said, "Oh, I'll tell you later."

Marian said, "No, please tell me now." Her heart was in her throat.

And Lillian replied,
"The oncologist said...'Your mother is a real looker.'"

LOL.

That is the Howerton sense of humor and I told Marian, "That sounds like every one of your kids and, you know, you have to take at least partial responsibility." : ) Honestly, that could have been any one of the five of them. They all love those "gotcha" moments. But so does Marian!

It was hard for Marian to leave, but she did need to come home for at least a while. It sounds like Lillian is in good hands. Marian said Bennie was so sweet and caring. I think he is going to take real good care of her. It hurts my heart just thinking about all that is ahead of Lillian. It's not going to be easy. But I'm thankful she is such a fighter and she does have a great sense of humor.

Yes, that is Vince Gill


Eric and Ann went to a little place in Nashville called the Station Inn (I think) last night. I was going to go with them, but I decided to stay home and just let them have a fun night out as a couple. Turns out, a surprise guest sat in with the band. You guessed it; Vince Gill. Eric said he asked Ann, "Do you think Shari will know who Vince Gill is?" Ha! Do I know who Vince Gill is!

So this morning, they get up and nonchalantly bring their laptop over, asking me to tell them which of their pictures I would like copies of. They have not mentioned Vince. They let me flip through all their trip pictures and then I get to the one above and I say, "Is that one of those cardboard things of Vince Gill...or is that REALLY Vince Gill?" They started cracking up. It was really him. He sat in with the band last night and they just happened to pick that night to go. I was dying. I don't know how many times I said, "AGH! I'm so mad at myself for not going!"

I really like Vince Gill's singing AND guitar playing. He's done some of my very favorite country music. I can always recognize his playing on other people's recordings. Yes, I very definitely know who he is. I proceeded to tell them how many times I've seen him in concert, beginning with the first show I went to at The Pond in Anaheim, CA (their stomping grounds), where I fell in love. I'm over the crush, but I will always love his music.

Here is a picture of Eric with Vince just before the show...

Eric with Ann...

And a few pictures taken Sunday evening...


Monday, June 22, 2009

Self-sufficiency

I was reading tonight from a book by Catherine Marshall called "Beyond Ourselves." There is a chapter entitled "The Power of Helplessness." I wanted to share a passage of this chapter that addresses our self-sufficiency. It is compelling.

In the complex world of today, just how self-sufficient are we? We had nothing to do with our being born--no control over whether we were male or female, Japanese, or Russian, or British, or American, white or yellow or black. We did not control our ancestry or the basic mental or physical equipment with which we started life.

Even after birth an autonomic nervous system controls the vital processes of life. A power that no one understands keeps our hearts beating, our lungs taking in air, our blood circulating, our body temperature up.

A surgeon can cut human tissue, but he is helpless to make the severed tissue heal. We grow old relentlessly and automatically. In the end, despite all the so-called miracles of modern medicine, every one of us must die.

Self-sufficient? Hardly!

The planet on which we live rotates on an axis tipped at the angle of 23 1/2 degrees, the necessary angle for the climactic conditions that support life. Were the earth not tilted, continents of ice would lie at the poles and probably deserts between them. Moreover, the earth is exactly the right distance, some ninety-two million miles, from the sun. Any nearer, we would be consumed with solar radiation; any farther away, we would be frozen to death. Were this angle and this distance somehow to change, we would all be instantly destroyed.

The natural balance of oxygen and nitrogen in the air we breathe is exactly right for men and animals. The law of gravity which holds the world together operates independently of us. And is man--little man who struts and fumes upon the earth--self-sufficient? Not at all...

The Scriptures say that you and I are helpless even in relation to our own spiritual lives. We want to feel that God is real. We think that we are reaching out for Him. This is an illusion. "No one," Jesus said, "is able to come to me unless he is drawn by the Father." "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you."

We want salvation from our sins and we yearn for eternal life. We think that we can earn these things; Saul of Tarsus thought so too. Then we find out, as Paul did, that we cannot pile up enough good marks and merits to earn anything from God. No, salvation "is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast."

My Greek Heritage

I wrote about Eric and Ann, the friends who are staying with us this week from California, in my last entry. Ann is half Greek. Her mother was full blooded Greek. I was telling her that I have often wondered just where I came from. It never seemed that I quite fit into my biological family. I am just different. If I didn't look so much like my mom, I would swear I was adopted. But Ann said I obviously got all the Greek genes (my dad is half Greek). She tells me I remind her of her mother. She says it with such affection, I know it's a compliment. ; )

She told me this story, which I thought was quite amusing. She said that she was with some of the women in her mother's family and they were speaking Greek, so she could not understand what they were saying. They were all raising their voices and speaking with so much passion that it sounded as if they were upset and yelling. This went on for a while and she asked, "What are they saying???" She was told, "Oh, they are just talking about the weather."

I crack up every time I think about that. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have expressed myself passionately and someone has said, "Don't be upset at me." And I always think to myself, "Why would you think I'm upset?"

I cannot express anything I feel strongly about without a lot of emotion. I am the most expressive person I have ever known. LOL. When I saw "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" for the first time, I had a feeling that some of my inborn characteristics might be from my Greek ancestry. But since I was never around any of my Greek relatives (I have never met that part of my family), I did not know that I was such a typical Greek woman before seeing that movie. I had to laugh. The love of food, cooking too much food, the extroversion, the loudness, the tendency toward aggressive affection...ALL ME TO A TEE!

But when Ann told me this story about her Greek relatives, it was one of those "aha" moments for me. In spite of never being exposed to the environmental influences of my Greek ancestry, I am genetically one of them. No wonder I love to go to the Parthenon so much (a Greek restaurant in town). I tell John that even when I am not craving the food, I just like going there because I feel so at home. We are regulars. The owners and staff are so warm and make us feel like family. It is a welcoming environment that I look forward to. However, I'm now thinking that maybe there are additional (ancestral) reasons why I feel like I'm with family when I'm there!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Special Friends

A couple of years ago, through a series of events I could never have orchestrated, I became friends with a couple in California. From our first conversations, there was a bond. They lived in Tennessee for a short period of time and knew some of the same people I knew, but our paths never crossed while they were here.

This year, our friendship has deepened. I told them about the book I was writing and asked if they would like to read each chapter as I wrote and offer feedback. They enthusiastically agreed and from January until now, we have been in constant contact by email and phone. I consider them very special friends and, believe me, sharing such a personal story AS YOU WRITE and REWRITE it, creates a special closeness. Eric and Ann have become true friends of my heart; especially this year.

For quite a while now, I have been telling them they should return to TN for a vacation and stay with me. And they are finally taking me up on the invitation. They arrived yesterday. I knew the minute I opened the door and saw them in person, it would seem as though we'd been friends forever. And that was exactly how it felt. It was so good to see their faces and hug their necks. These are friends that God placed in my life. They have been a special gift and blessing to me in a way that you will understand only by reading my book. I have been looking forward to this week with them for months.

So, last night, we had lasagna, salad, garlic cheese bread. We talked and laughed. John took Eric up to the bonus room for guitar appreciation. (We never saw them again until it was time for bed.) And I told them to sleep as late as they could. There are no big plans today. We have waited a long time to sit in the same room, drink coffee and just visit. I look forward to them going to church with us tonight and dinner afterwards. Tomorrow is their anniversary and I'm going to make them a special dinner (beef tenderloin roasted in the oven).

John and Eric have talked on the phone a couple of times because they share a love of guitars. But I was the one who had established an actual relationship. So when I told John a few months ago that they were going to come spend a week with us this summer, John looked at me kind of perplexed and said, "People you have never met in person are coming to spend a week with us?" In hindsight, I should have reminded him that WE met through the Internet and look at us! But I just said, "You don't understand. I know them really well. They're my friends. It's totally irrelevant that our friendship has been long distance." I also knew that there would be an instant connection for Eric and John because of music. (I've seen John with other guitar enthusiasts he'd never met before. There are no strangers in guitar world!)

John loves to share his guitars with other musicians who know and appreciate the instruments themselves. A famous signature does not make a guitar special to John. It's all about the instrument. I have never met anyone who knew more about guitars than my John. And Eric shares John's appreciation. So it came as no surprise to me when the two of them disappeared after dinner. It was obvious they were having a great time.

Actually, I have formed a number of close friendships over the Internet. Even more of them since John's CLL diagnosis. Let me tell you something; you can grow to feel VERY close to someone you communicate with online. Meeting face to face is a treat, but not an essential element of a heart-connection.

Getting to meet Eric and Ann face to face is indeed "icing on the cake." Although I could not have felt any closer to them than I already did, it is more special than I can possibly express to have them here in my home this week!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Updates on Lillian, John and my book...

I spoke to my mother in law last night. She said that Lillian has finally gotten her tracheotomy out! Marian walked in the room and didn't notice at first. Then Lillian covered the hole in her throat with her fingers and said, "Hi, Mom." Marian said that she sounded just like herself. I was so excited and thankful to hear that! I couldn't wait to share it with all of you.

Marian said that Lillian is still having a lot of pain. The doctor is going to start weaning her off the morphine and it won't be easy because she has pain even with the morphine. Her jaw was broken in two places, she has an incision that begins in the middle of her lower lip, goes down her neck, over from her collar bone to her shoulder, up the shoulder and neck to her ear (a flap they could peel back to do the surgery). She had muscle taken from her chest and placed in her neck. She has had tubes in her neck and an abscess in her incision that has taken a long time to heal. And she told Marian that the inside of her mouth feels like a train wreck. So I can't imagine her NOT having pain.

She will be going to rehab soon to learn how to eat and to receive some speech therapy. But Marian said that she is talking pretty well. They don't want her to talk too much, though, because it will make her hoarse. This whole time, not knowing if she would be able to talk normally, I kept thinking that I just couldn't imagine a silent Lillian! (Those of you who know her know exactly what I'm saying!)

After rehab, she will get to go home to her apartment. Radiation and chemo will begin shortly thereafter. It sounds like she will have both at the same time. It's likely she will lose all her teeth from the radiation. Bennie is going out to be with her next week and Marian is going to fly back to Nashville on Tuesday. She has been there for four weeks. This was such an encouraging report, I wanted to share it first thing this morning.

John seems to be fully recovered from his kidney stone surgery, but his CLL causes him to feel fatigued a lot. He just left for work and I asked how he was feeling. He said, "Not too good." (Of course, he wouldn't tell YOU that if you asked. But he does tell me.) His lymph nodes are growing again and getting more noticeable in his neck. He had a steroid shot in early May that kept them in check for about a month before they started to slowly return. He will get another shot soon that should last until his next appt. with Dr. Flinn in mid-August. And then we will make plans for the "real treatment."

Dr. Flinn is not in favor of using steroids to deal with his lymph nodes. He says their negative side effects will become more obvious down the road. They don't resolve anything, they just mask symptoms. He recommends going ahead and having the standard therapy for CLL (chemo) to put John in remission. Although one does not want to do chemo prematurely for obvious reasons, he has cautioned us several times that one can also wait too long and then have problems resulting from procrastination.

Treatment of this disease is an art, not an exact science. Every patient is different and every patient's CLL is different. In addition, every patient will react individually to treatment. Some patients sail through it with little to no side effects, saying they feel better than they have felt in years after receiving the chemo. Others say they have the immune system of an AIDS patient after chemo and suffer chronic illness (sinus infections, pneumonia, shingles, to name a few of the possibilities). One of my chemo fears is the possibility of John developing "bad markers" or a transformation of his CLL to something more aggressive as a result of chemo. That happens, too. And that is one of the reasons I have hoped John could go a long time without having to do it. But since it doesn't look like that will be his lot, I am trying to think positively and focus on all the good outcomes I've read about.

John didn't want to be in the middle of chemo this summer because his old band (from the seventies) is getting together in Evansville for a July 4 reunion concert. Dr. Flinn understood that and gave him the okay to use the steroid shots to get through the summer. I don't look forward to this next step in the CLL journey. But I also recognize that John doesn't feel good so much of the time and Dr. Flinn really believes he will feel better once he's in remission.

I sent my manuscript back to the editor after trimming it by 21,000 words. I talked to him on the phone two nights ago. He said that he is finishing up a project he's been working on and will start focusing on mine in the next couple of days. He thinks I can have this ready for printing within a month or two. He gave me a breakdown of the costs involved and explained that if I do a paperback and a hard cover, I will have to design two different covers. Also, the production costs will be greater. So I have decided that I will initially print only paperback books. I want to keep our investment as conservative as possible until I see how many readers will actually buy this book. It will be simpler and more cost effective to print one version. And I want to recover the initial investment before I spend any "extra" money.

However, if the book sells above my expectations, I can have hard covers designed and printed down the road at any time. And I definitely will. So if you voted for a hard cover book, you will have that option eventually; just not in the beginning. The poll has been fun for me to see that there are a few of you who would like to buy a hard cover book.

What I wish is that I could simply GIVE the books away. John says I can't do that. LOL.

I will keep you posted on my progress.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Warning of Eternal Damnation

Let me begin this post by saying that it's a free country and we are allowed free speech. A "blogger" has the liberty to speak their mind and heart on their own personal blog. I recognize, appreciate and enjoy that liberty. I have occasionally received an email from someone who was upset about something I wrote on my blog and my first thought has always been, "This is my own personal blog. If you don't like me and you have a problem with my opinions, why would you read my blog?"

However, I do at times find myself reading the blog of someone I don't agree with. I have never emailed anyone to challenge their opinions privately, but I have left public comments ON THE BLOG with my real name and profile attached. That is usually what comment sections are for; people's responses to what you have written and an opportunity to discuss those opinions (not just from people who agree with you). I have never deleted someone's comment because they challenged or disagreed with me. I respond. I don't silence people.

Recently, I came across a blog of a prominent minister in the cult I was raised in (GAC/Sowders/Body of Christ). His name is Paul Dyal and he pastors a church in Jacksonville, Florida. I commented (respectfully) on his blog and he has since changed his blog so that you cannot comment unless you are his "follower." Again, it's his blog and his prerogative. I have no problem with that.

I am only mentioning his blog for one reason. I would like to share (for the benefit of those who have no experience with a cultish group such as this) the tactics that are used to instill fear in anyone who would challenge their teachings and practices. These are the enslaving tactics of a religious cult.

In his June 16 entry, entitled "A Root of Bitterness" Dyal is writing to people he does not permit to challenge him openly on his blog. People like me. He dismisses those who challenge this group and its teachings as bitter backbiters who will stop at nothing in their quest for vengeance. He then issues strong condemnation and even suggests that the claims made against this group are without evidence or merit. I happen to know that there IS merit and evidence to back up many of the claims this man wants to dismiss as slanderous. In this particular blog entry, he writes the following:

"The word Satan means adversary or if you will enemy. There were people who fulfilled that responsibility in times of old, and there must be those who fulfill the responsibility of being adversaries of the work of God today."

He is calling those who have been sinned against and abused (spiritually and sexually) adversaries and enemies of the work of God. This is how the group attempts to silence those who would speak against such abuses. I am familiar with this tactic and I am no longer intimidated by it. But this is one of the reasons people find it so difficult to break free from controlling groups like this. Men like this control others through fear and warnings of condemnation.

The following quote is the conclusion of his blog entry. He is warning people (like me) that we are in danger of eternal damnation for speaking against this group (which is a religious cult). He claims that his group is doing God's work in the earth and speaking for God. Anyone who opposes them is therefore working and speaking against God. He warns that such people are in danger of eternal damnation (his words, not mine) and blaspheming the Holy Ghost. I ask you, could there be a more extreme display of arrogance than this?

"To speak against what God is doing in the earth through the Holy Ghost is to blaspheme the Holy Ghost, Mark 3:23-29. This ministry and this move of God is working with and speaking for God by reason of the Holy Ghost. Anyone working against and speaking against The Body and the Ministry of God are working and speaking against the Holy Ghost, and are in danger of eternal damnation. Whatsoever is sown shall be reaped. Bitterness is a terrible evil and will defile someone if not soon repented of. Unforgiveness is an unforgivable sin."

Words such as this confirm to me that I am to be bold in my stand against this "movement." This is absolutely wrong. It is controlling and manipulative. God does not use or endorse such tactics. He does not sanction them or approve of them. Whenever men embrace tactics such as these to intimidate others into silence, you can be absolutely sure they are not speaking for God.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Update on Lillian

I spoke to Marian today. She said that Lillian still has a lot of pain in her jaw (they had to break it in two places). The abscess in her neck is getting better, but it has really been slow to heal. She had the abdominal feeding tube put in Friday. She still has a tracheotomy, but hopefully that will be removed in a few more days. She has had many setbacks and her hospital stay has been longer than the ten days her surgeon predicted intially. (She had surgery on May 21). But in a few more days, she will go from the hospital to a rehab/nursing home facility where they will help her begin learning how to speak and eat (with so much of her inner mouth gone).

After she has recovered from the surgery, she will be undergoing rounds of radiation, chemotherapy, more radiation, more chemotherapy. She still has so much ahead of her. She will definitely lose all of her teeth from the radiation.

Marian says Lillian has many friends in Reno who love her and keep a constant check on her. Marian has been there since the 22nd of May and is going to stay two more weeks before coming home for a rest. I'm sure she will go back at some point. Hopefully I can go out this summer, too.

Thank you all for your prayers!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

You can register as a marrow donor Friday in Murfreesboro!

Marrowthon in Murfreesboro

Check out the link above. There will be a marrow drive at the First Presbyterian Church on Spring Street here in Murfreesboro. It's so simple to register. They swab your cheek to get a tissue sample. That's it. Then if you happen to be a match for someone needing a transplant, you will be contacted.

Remember, it is a MYTH that donating marrow is a painful procedure. They put you out for the procedure and you don't feel anything but some soreness in your hip area for a few days following. It is an out-patient procedure. That's all it takes to give the gift of life.

Someday my John may need this gift. Please register!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Quotes from "Death by Love" on Righteousness

I recently finished reading the book, "Death by Love: Letters from the Cross" written by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Each chapter addresses a person and includes details of their life stories. Driscoll then writes each a letter, as their pastor, applying the cross to their individual lives. Each chapter is powerful and I was brought to tears again and again. The book covers the sins we commit against others and the struggle of having been greatly sinned against (as victims of others). I found the book to be especially powerful in applying the cross to the latter. And I would recommend the book to anyone who has suffered greatly at the hands of another. Justice will come through Jesus Christ, whether through repentance or in facing God on Judgment Day.

The following quotes are taken from Chapter Four, which addresses self-righteousness and the gift of righteousness that is through faith in the person of Jesus Christ. I highly recommend this entire book and would like to share a few quotes from this chapter...

"...you have made your idolatry into a religion, that, although you call it Christian, is the exact opposite of the gospel of grace."

"...because, as Jesus said, religion focuses almost entirely on the external, visible life of a person and overlooks the internal, invisible life of the heart where motives lie, how one appears on the outside before people is far more important to the religious person than how one appears on the inside before God...On the other hand, the gospel is concerned first with the state of our internal self. Colossians 3:5 is incredibly helpful on this point, saying, 'Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.' Practically, if the gospel is your guiding principle rather than religion, you will not labor so hard to appear as a godly and righteous man on the outside but will humbly confess your sin and live in repentance. First you will be changed on the inside, which will enable you to live a new life on the outside."

"...because religion is about what we do, the end result is that we lack assurance regarding our standing before God. When asked if you are certain that your sins were forgiven at Jesus' cross and that your eternal life is secure, you weakly replied, 'I hope so.' You are uncertain because if your standing before God is based on your life and good works, then you can never be certain that you have done enough to please God. You thus have no assurance that if you sin tomorrow you will not undo all that you have already done in an effort to make God save you. This kind of false gospel is a demonic cruelty that robs you of the joy that is to be yours through the cross."

"The gospel tells us that because our standing before God is contingent on Jesus alone, we can know with assurance that we are secure as redeemed people. First John 5:11-14 says it plainly: 'And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him.' The gospel says that if you believe in the person of Jesus and his work on the cross, you can know with assurance that your standing before God is secure and therefore live in the joy of that gift."

"...religion simply does not work, because it results in either pride or despair depending on if we think we have done well or poorly in earning our salvation through moral conduct and religious devotion. You have made a list in your mind of what it means to be a good person whom God will love. You have made it your life's ambition, through being rigorously organized and self-disciplined, to make God love you by being a 'good' person who does good religious and moral duties as judged solely by external appearances. Because you feel you have done a good job being a moral and religious person, you are now an arrogantly proud man who has little compassion for people who openly struggle with sin...The hard truth is that pride is the worst sin of all..."

"...the desire underlying your pursuit of religion is in fact a noble one...you simply want righteousness. But you have sinfully sought it by the power of your own self-righteousness and not the cross of Jesus, which enables gift righteousness."

"The Bible repeatedly says that God is righteous in everything he does, and that there is no righteous God but him alone (Ps. 11:7; Isa. 45:21; Dan. 9:14)..."

"Because we were created as God's image bearers made for righteousness, we continue to year for righteousness. Yet, because we are sinners, we pursue it through self-righteousness. Romans 10:3 says that religious people, 'being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own...did not submit to God's righteousness.'"

"Much of this religious pursuit of self-righteousness is through our own attempts to live by God's laws in addition to our own, just as you have done. Regarding such vain attempts at self-righteousness, Jesus said that 'unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven' (Matt. 5:20). In the history of the world, it is arguable that no one has been more religiously devoted than the Pharisees who, for example, actually tithed out of their spice rack in an effort to be certain that they gave God a tenth of literally all they had. Our attempts at self-righteousness are as repugnant to our holy and righteous God as giving a bloody tampon to someone as a birthday present (Isa. 64:6)."

"The good news of the gospel is Jesus Christ, not self..."

"...this gift of righteousness...it is through faith, not rule keeping..."

(Read Genesis 15:6, Romans 3:21-22, Romans 4:4-5, Romans 10:4, 1 Corinthians 1:30.)

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." (Phil. 3:8-9).

"...you have to give up the illusion of control, which earning God's love through rule keeping gives you. You simply have to trust that God is good to his word and accepts us totally out of his merciful character and the work of Jesus Christ."

"...in telling you that righteousness comes from Jesus alone and by virtue of none of your own good works, I am not advocating a kind of lawless Christianity where we are permitted to live in unrepentant and ongoing sin, unconcerned about whether we are living righteously. Rather, I am saying that only by understanding the righteousness of Jesus Christ in us can we live out his righteousness as our new status as Christians..."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Conversations with Joshua (my turn)

Me: "Joshua, you're being too rough. I'm a grandma. You're supposed to play nice with grandmas."

Joshua: "I'm Spiderman. I'm not nice."

Me: "I thought Spiderman was a good guy."

Joshua: "He IS a good guy. He's just not a nice guy."

Now that I think about it, he's making a pretty good distinction for a three year old.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why would anyone not register?

Free Marrow Donor Registry through June 22

When my husband, John, was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, we were advised that a bone marrow/stem cell transplant would probably be in his future. This is not something we would consider unless it was our only option, of course. Plenty of patients don't make it through the transplant and others have debilitating graft vs. host disease even if they do survive.

We have already used single agent Rituxan for John's nodes. It was very effective on his blood, but very ineffective on his nodes. So that is not even on the table for the future. The next treatment will be chemotherapy (probably FCR or FR). Hopefully, that will provide a long remission and we won't have to think about CLL for several years. However, when the first remission ends, we will probably have to at least think about transplant since chemo loses its effectiveness with every successive treatment and the malignant cells have to be destroyed in order to transplant healthy marrow that will, hopefully, "take over" the regeneration of healthy cells.

According to my understanding, you don't want to go this route prematurely but neither do you want to wait too long. Younger patients are better candidates and overall physical condition is an important component in transplant success.

John is not facing the weighty decision of whether or not to undergo a transplant any time soon. He hasn't even had his first round of chemotherapy. However, knowing that he might be dependent upon someone caring enough to donate bone marrow to him in the future highly motivated me to register as a donor for someone else. His diagnosis made it impossible for me not to think about the reality that every leukemia patient is someone's loved one.

What if my John's only hope was a transplant and there was no one willing to donate? I immediately sent off for the kit, swabbed my mouth and sent in my $52 registration fee. It did seem odd to me that I had to pay a fee to offer my marrow, but I didn't care. I so hoped I would be a match for someone; perhaps a child.

I have never gotten that phone call, but I hope someday I will. I can't imagine anything more meaningful than having the opportunity to save another person's life. I didn't hesitate to pay the fee, but for the next couple of weeks, you can register without paying this fee. And when I became aware of that, I wanted to post it on my blog.

A couple of weeks ago, I rented the movie "Seven Pounds." At the end of the movie, I sobbed. The reason I did was that my husband's 18 year old daughter, Brittany, died in August of 2003 of a severe asthma attack that went into cardiac arrest. She had designated herself as an organ donor on her driver's license and verbalized it to her dad. Many people were recipients of her gift of life, sight, etc. I was overcome by emotion at the end of this movie just thinking about Brittany and the lives she touched through her own death.

I am also very proud of John for having the courage to honor her request without hesitation; even though this meant a heart-wrenching decision in his darkest hour. Somewhere, we have a letter sharing vague information about each of her recipients. Among her many gifts, she provided a healthy heart for a 38 year old father. I seldom think of her loss without thinking about the children who have their daddy with them today because Brittany and her daddy were so generous.

I loved the movie. However, I did have one axe to grind with it. So I will grind it here on my blog. The movie perpetuated a myth about marrow donation. During the movie, Will Smith donated bone marrow to a young boy with leukemia. The scene portrayed this as a very painful procedure and the doctor told him how brave he was. This perpetuated a harmful myth about marrow donation that prevents many people from registering as a donor.

I made up my mind that I wanted to be a donor no matter how painful it might be. John's diagnosis gave me that courage and motivation. (Nobody hates pain more than I do.) I read extensively about what I was signing up for and I learned that it is not true that marrow donation is extremely painful. You are anesthetized for removal of your marrow. Yes, you may have soreness and discomfort for several days afterward because it's a surgical procedure. But that's it.

You may be healthy as a horse today. You may think cancer will never happen to you. But your life can change in a moment. You or a loved one could receive a life-changing diagnosis tomorrow, next week or next year.

What would you be willing to do to save THEM?

Well, every leukemia patient is someone's husband, wife, son, daughter, father, mother, sibling, friend. Someone needs them to be here. Someone would give anything to keep them here. Someone is needing a stranger to be unselfish and giving. I know that I would give my bone marrow or any organ in my body to keep my John here with me. Why would I fail to give something my body regenerates so that someone else could live, and someone could keep their loved one with them?

Won't you please consider being a registered bone marrow donor? You may one day look at this gift from a completely new perspective, just as I have.

See this link for details:
http://www.marrow.org/
On the main page, the link for details is down on the left hand side.

Martin Luther Quote

"The gospel tastes best to those who lie in the straits of death or whom an evil conscience oppresses, for in that case hunger is a good cook as we say, one who makes the food taste good . . . But that hardened class who live in their own holiness, build on their own works, and feel not their sin and misery do not taste this food. Whoever sits at a table and is hungry relishes all, however, he who is sated relishes nothing." - Martin Luther

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tweaking My Blog

In addition to adding a picture to my title, I have added a list of my favorite books (below, on the left) and a couple of recent pictures at the very bottom. I mainly wanted to draw your attention to the book list. Each title has a link to the book's description on Amazon. The books on this list are some of the best I have ever read and I highly recommend them. Check them out!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Update on John and Lillian

I feel like I should probably put something on here about the Howerton kids. I know a couple of family members check for information.

I talked to Marian about Lillian's progress over the weekend. She said Lillian is doing well, but still in quite a bit of pain. They were feeding her through a port in her neck, but she developed a problem with that and they stopped using it.

They are surgically inserting a feeding tube into her abdomen today. She will go home with that. It will probably take a while for her to learn how to eat and talk again. Marian is hoping the doctor will let her go home soon and recover there. She has been in the hospital since May 21. Marian had planned to stay in Reno for two weeks, but she doesn't know when she will come home at the moment. Lillian is definitely going to need help. This won't be an easy recovery process.

John got to have his stent removed today. Normally, the stent comes out after three or four days. In John's case, because of only having one kidney and having an extremely narrowed tube between the kidney and bladder, his doctor wanted to leave it in for about ten days. Everyone I have talked to about stents has told me they are awful. So I was anticipating John having lots of pain and discomfort. But every time I asked, he said it was no big deal. He could feel it, but it was nothing compared to the pain of a kidney stone. He never complained once.

When Dr. Cleveland came out to tell me John came through the procedure fine and give me some instructions for him, he asked me about John's pain over the past week and if he needed another prescription. I told him John had taken half a pain pill one day, but he doesn't like the way they make him feel so he doesn't usually take them. I told him that John acted like the stent caused him only minimal discomfort. Dr. Cleveland said, "He's pretty tough then." Yes, he definitely is. And he can't stand to complain. To John, admitting he doesn't feel good is the definition of complaining.

I think I am a pretty good care giver - even when it comes to demanding patients. But John is an extremely easy, low maintenance patient. I have warned him that if our roles one day reverse and I have a serious health issue involving a lot of pain, I won't be like him. I don't think I will be difficult or unpleasant. I'm very grateful for anything anyone does for me. But I know I won't hesitate to share how bad I feel and I will soak up all the attention he can give.

Last week at the hospital, waiting for surgery, I mentioned calling his mom. And he said, "You called my MOM?" as if he found that shocking. His mindset is that there's nothing she can do and she doesn't need to worry about him. As a mother, my response was, "Do you know how upset I would be if Danny was having surgery and Rebecca did not call me?" I told him that I not only made phone calls, I posted on Facebook and my blog, reminding him, "We need all the prayers we can get!" He rolled his eyes and smiled.

I asked him if he remembered giving me permission to talk about his CLL on my blog. He said "no" and just laughed. I guess he has gotten used to me and my need to share openly. It didn't seem to be any big deal, thank goodness.

As we waited in recovery, I was trying to figure out how to keep him from trying to go to the dealership this afternoon. He didn't even stay home one day after being released from his hospital stay. I was about to suggest he take the remainder of the afternoon to rest when his nurse came in with his discharge instructions. She told him that since he'd had anesthesia, he could not drive for 24 hours. So he has no choice. He is home for the day. : )

John and I are so similar in many ways, but in this area we could not be more different. I never have to be convinced to take it easy and rest.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

My Poll Question

A big thank you to those of you who have voted. It looks like there actually are a few of you who would like a hard cover book. Obviously, I will print many more paperbacks because they're less expensive. But if enough of my friends want a hard cover, I will order some of those too.
<3 Shari
PS John says I should rephrase my poll question to ask how many would be willing to pay the extra cost of a hard cover book. LOL. Feel free to comment...

A sigh of relief...

This morning I finished my final revision. Next step will be the polish of a professional editor. I have purged my manuscript of nearly 21,000 words. (The word count now is approximately 106,000.) Of course, there will be acknowledgments and a foreward, perhaps a brief epilogue. So that is not a final count. But it's a big step toward a finished book.

Although I have believed for years that I had a book in me, I don't think I ever thought I would actually write it. A specific event in January caused me to think about it more seriously. I had the feeling that now was the time, but I didn't know why. I just felt inspired to start writing. I think it's presumptuous of me to say this was God's timing. But in many ways, it has felt like my inspiration came on God's time schedule and not my own.

In four months, I wrote 127,000 words. I wrote and rewrote. I didn't keep track of rewrites, but I revised each chapter endlessly. (Just ask my readers!) Sometimes I would send three revisions in a row before one of my trusted friends even had a chance to check their email. They learned to only read the most recent version and delete all the rest.

I owe such a huge debt of gratitude to those readers, who constantly gave me such valuable constructive criticism and their own unique insight/reactions to my writing. I am especially grateful to those who dared to tell me "Stop explaining yourself!" One dear friend said it to me the most bluntly of all. "Shari, if a reader can't see your heart by chapter 26, it's because they don't want to! You have spent four pages explaining yourself. Stop doing that!" A gentler friend (concerned he might hurt my feelings) carefully agreed, saying, "Sometimes you do slow down the train just a bit when you do that. I want you to keep telling the story."

It was good advice. The really exciting thing for me, though, was that by the last few chapters, I didn't feel that compulsion to explain myself anymore. I felt a new sense of freedom to speak the truth from my heart without agonizing over and apologizing for my feelings. As I edited the final three chapters today, I was moved to tears. They are very emotional chapters for me.

The book has essentially been finished for nearly a month, but I have continued to make revisions. I think the only changes left will come from an actual editor as he gets it ready for publication. I feel like I'm done. And I feel a real sense of relief this afternoon.

I hope to release this book before the end of the summer. And I cannot wait for you to read it!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Up with the birds...

Well, actually, I don't even hear any birds. : ) It's still dark. I have been awake since 4:00. I often lie in my bed and pray silently until I fall back to sleep. This morning, praying made me more fully awake.

My prayers are 90% thanking God for all that He has done for me, from the cross to my marriage. This morning, I was also asking Him to deliver me from myself.

As you know, I have been working on a book about my life since mid-January. This process has been transformational in different ways. One aspect of my spiritual journey has involved the light God has shown on my own personal self-focus. You cannot write a book about your life without introspection and self-disclosure. At least, I can't.

Writing is therapeutic for me, but it has also been painful at times. I have relived situations that brought suffering. I have relived the joy of deliverance and redemption. I have relived personal failures. I guess you could say it's been an emotional rollercoaster at times, but life is an emotional rollercoaster. At least, it is for someone as "in touch" with their emotions as I am. : )

Every failure in my life, no matter how small, takes me first to the cross and then to introspection. This morning, I was again asking God to forgive me for my preoccupation with self and I thought about how deceptive my own heart is. It will find every possible way to make something about me, when it's not. Yet even knowing this, how often I still take the bait! It can be discouraging, to say the least.

I am so thankful God doesn't leave me there, in self-denial. He has been so good and so gracious to shine His light on this part of my heart. With the hindsight of only 24 hours, He helps me to see my yesterdays for what they are. And He gently refocuses me on the gifts of repentance and forgiveness.

I am especially susceptible to my emotions during times of elevated stress. I have been melancholy and a little more sensitive this week, following the stress of John's health issues and hospitalization. My insecurities have gotten the best of me. And in the early morning light of June 5, I clearly see how emotionally drained I am.

As I write this, I can't help reflecting on this time two years ago. John was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in June and I battled depression all summer. We went to Mayo in July. We found Dr. Flinn in August. I developed shingles and reflux that fall from the internalized stress (he didn't want me to talk about it to hardly anyone at the time). I remember several months of hibernation and tears.

Then God spoke to my heart and told me to live in today, not in an imagined tomorrow. He helped me to stop projecting myself into the uncertainty of a future I can't see and to put my trust back where it belongs; completely in Him. I will never forget the day I was watering flowers and crying, asking God for all "good prognostic markers." If there was ever a time I knew God spoke to me, it was that day. He said, "I don't want you to put your faith in good markers or a certain outcome. Put your faith in ME and in the promise that I am working all things for your good; even this."

I worked through my fears and learned to put myself -- and John -- in God's hands. Last summer I had to confront my fears again when he had a reaction to treatment and I thought I was losing him. I wasn't, of course. He was fine. It turned out to be something called "tumor lysis syndrome." But it was scary. And as we were awaiting surgery last Friday, I relived that day in the Emergency Room and tried not to project myself into future hospitalizations.

John is recovering and hasn't had any complications from the surgery, but I have struggled emotionally this week. I don't feel depressed. I just feel physically, emotionally and mentally depleted. So, to all of you who read my blog regularly, I just want to thank you for bearing with me through my ups and downs. Sometimes I feel like an emotional trainwreck. And when I do, it is usually reflected on my blog.

I feel like such a wimp when I think about the things that I let bother me. Even more so when I think about the cross and what Jesus willingly endured so that I could have life through Him. I am humbled this morning by God's great love and mercy. He is such a kind, compassionate Father. In my weakness, He is so strong. I will never understand or comprehend why He would love me, but I am so thankful that He does.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A public apology

I need to repent to someone publicly. They know who they are.

This morning, I made something about me that wasn't about me. Although I mentioned no names, I wrote on my blog about my paranoid perception that a public comment had been directed at me. I thought I made it clear that my conclusion could very well be presumptuous and paranoid. However, it was interpreted (by someone reading my blog) as putting this person in a negative light. That was not my intent.

My blog is an outlet. I journal my thoughts. I was expressing inner conflict.

However, I never should have shared those feelings publicly. I allowed myself to vent instead of praying and allowing God to help me with my inner turmoil and pain.

Because I have experienced so much rejection in my life, I tend to anticipate it and react to my perception. My perception is skewed by my past. Sometimes I imagine rejection that isn't there. I realize that. So I want to publicly ask your forgiveness for giving vent to my own paranoia. I was wrong and I want to acknowledge that publicly.

I removed my self-indulgent post because I never intended to cause pain with it. I was trying to deal with my own pain in what I now realize was an unproductive way. I have to remind myself that everyone doesn't know all of the hurtful things that have been said to me personally and privately. If it were all out in the open, my paranoia might be more easily understood. However, I should not be seeking the validation of others in the first place. God knows the pain I carry and He will help me deal with it through grace and mercy.

I have repented to God and I repent to you. Please know that my reaction was rooted in my own insecurities and not because of anything you have ever done. You have never said hurtful things to me. I humbly apologize for making something about me that wasn't. I sincerely hope you will forgive me.

"Give me Grace" lyrics (Andy Gullahorn)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Believing a false gospel

I recently stumbled onto a blog that is written by a prominent minister in the group I was raised in. He embraces and teaches the doctrines I was taught prior to leaving this group and finding the truth of the gospel. He actually states that the three elements of salvation are teachings, order and standards. (Jesus doesn't make his top three elements of salvation.) I don't think he is the kind of man who will go back and change his remarks because someone brings attention to them. He does seem to have the integrity to openly declare - and stand by - what he truly believes.

I have been reading for a couple of weeks and I have been tempted to post links to some of his dissertations, just to give you a glimpse into what I have come out of. I decided against it because it did not seem profitable to do so. However, this morning I read a response from Todd Edwards on Dyal's blog that I do believe is profitable to share here. I admire Todd's ability to articulate the truth of the gospel so effectively. It's a gift God has given him. I feel so deficient in my ability to witness.

Todd's words this morning were so meaningful to me, I wanted to share them on my blog.

Todd Edwards' comments on Paul Dyal's blog

Todd's comment was deleted by Paul Dyal. Todd made no personal attack. He shared the gospel with Mr. Dyal and his comments were removed. (See for yourself when you click on the link.)

Taking a Poll

I'm trying to choose a subtitle for my book "Breaking the Chains." The top two vote-getters presently are:

Escaping the Captivity of Deception

and

My Journey from Oppression to Freedom

I woke up trying to put a thought into words to the effect:

Reflections on Captivity from the Perspective of Freedom

I'm not sure those are exactly the best words, but I was trying to come up with something that represented "looking back" from the perspective of freedom. There may be an illustration on the cover that symbolizes that, which is why I was trying to come up with similar words.

If any of you have an idea you want to share or you want to cast a vote, feel free to do so anonymously or in a private email if you prefer.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I'm excited!

I have to talk about this and I think I have probably posted enough Facebook status updates on the subject.

When my editor initially suggested I eliminate thousands of words from my book, I felt overwhelmed. He thought my story was interesting. He said my manuscript was in good shape for a first time author. However, he said that "today's reader" is less likely to pick up a thick book.

My first manuscript was over 127,000 words. Less than 100,000 would be ideal, but he thought I could possibly shave 20,000 simply by "tightening up" each chapter and that might be enough. So I went to work. I reminded myself that he knows what he's talking about.

I explained to him that I wasn't trying to write a best seller. I have a mission for this book, which is more important to me than extensive readership or sales. I do not want to compromise the content, but I also want to be open to his expertise and advice.

It's funny. My first reaction to a challenge is to feel overwhelmed and think, "I can't do it." In the end, I am actually pretty adaptable to change and compromise. I just have to get that first reaction behind me and then adjust my attitude. I can't tell you how many times, in the process of writing, I have wanted to give up for various reasons.

However, I remember when I started college and wanted to give up every time I tried to learn algebra. It was the most frustrating subject I had to learn and I did not think I could rise to the challenge, but I knew I had to do it to get a degree. I will never enjoy--or be great at--math. (You can't imagine how tough it was for me if math comes naturally for you.) I learned a more important lesson through basic algebra, though. I can do what I set my mind to if I want to badly enough. Going to school in my forties taught me that I can do a lot of things I don't think I can do. Nothing proved that to me more than algebra.

When the editor told me how much I needed to cut from the book, I initially wanted to throw up my hands and say, "Then maybe I won't even write it." I guess I did say it, because John's response was, "You have ALREADY written it. You'll figure it out." He was right. As of this morning, I am now halfway through the book and I have eliminated over 11,000 expendable words! I feel like I need to throw a party!

When I began writing this book, I was writing it to help others. You will understand that more fully when you read the book. I have read random chapters to several people and the response has repeatedly been, "This is different than I expected." At some point, I may even post the introduction on my blog to help convey the purpose of the book in case you're interested. However, as I have gone through the writing process, it's become obvious to me that God has used it for my own healing and transformation. Therefore, this book has come to mean a lot to me in different ways. I can hardly wait to have it in print. All anxiety about publishing it is gone. And in the beginning, I contended with chronic anxiety as far as other people's responses.

I know there will be those who criticize me for writing it and say hurtful things about my motive. I think I have reached a place of genuine acceptance as far as that goes. That doesn't mean misjudgments won't still hurt me. I just expect that to happen and trust God to get me through the pain. I will not be deterred by it.

Anyway, I'm excited about my progress this morning. The people I look forward to reading it most of all are you, my dearest friends.