Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Marian's Bone Marrow Biopsy

My mother-in-law, Marian, had her bone marrow biopsy today. John has had two already. He is no wimp when it comes to pain and he said they were painful. So I was dreading this day for her. But she did great. The nurse who took her vitals told us that they had a new nurse practitioner doing them now and she was extremely experienced. Experience means skill. She also told us that this NP had done over 9,000 bone marrow biopsies and worked at the Mayo Clinic. She didn't think Marian would even need to take any pre-meds. But if she did want something to relax her, they would give her Ativan. Since it was her first BMB, another nurse said it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to go ahead and take it.

Of course, I always think it's best to take drugs if there is a chance of pain. LOL. But I did not try to influence Marian's decision. I left it up to her and she took the pill.

The Ativan made her pretty sleepy and she was VERY relaxed. But she woke up enough to converse with the NP about the procedure. This NP explained that she uses two to three times as much lidocaine as is normally included in a biopsy kit. And she has great success with controlling the pain. She didn't promise there wouldn't be any pain, but she said it would be minimal. She also said she has learned how to hit just the right spot. She can usually tell just by feeling the hip.

When it was over, Marian's first words were, "That was it?" She said it really wasn't painful. I was SO relieved! If you saw the instrument they use for this, you would be amazed that she did not feel pain. It doesn't look like a needle. It looks more like a nail with a bar on top, which is what the NP uses to push it down into the bone. (It looks bigger and scarier than this in person. Marian didn't see it until after the biopsy.) 

Marian says she is still not hurting at all, but she will probably be sore tomorrow. She slept in the car all the way home and then we stopped to eat. She said a few funny things to the server and I could tell she was still a little loopy. But she ate well (then promptly fell back asleep in the car on the way home). At this moment, she is sitting on the couch dozing off and on.

CT scans in the morning and then treatment will begin next week (Thursday).

Thanks for all the prayers. I hope this nurse practitioner stays with Dr. Flinn forever, since there will be more bone marrow biopsies in both John and Marian's futures.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Only people-lovers are able to confront."

"[The apostle] Paul was not a people-pleaser. He was a people-lover, and because of that he did not change his message according to what others might think. Only people-lovers are able to confront. Only people-lovers are not controlled by other people." ~ Edward Welch (When People Are Big and God is Small)

I took the above quote from Chapter 3: People Will Reject Me.
The chapter opens with these words...

Closely related to the fear that people will expose us (shame-fear) is perhaps the most common reason we are controlled by other people: they can reject, ridicule, or despise us (rejection-fear).... They ignore us. They don't like us. They aren't pleased with us. They withhold the acceptance, love, or significance we want from them. As a result, we feel worthless.

I love this book for many reasons. First and foremost, I love the way Welch points me to the fear of God as the path away from the fear of man rather than trying to solve this common human problem by boosting my personal self-esteem.

For the majority of my life, I have been obsessed with gaining the love and acceptance I think I need from other people. In doing this, I now realize I have made idols of people's opinions of me.

I wish I could say that this knowledge has cured me of my desire to be loved and affirmed. It has not. But I have made progress. Although I still want to be loved and accepted by other people, it is no longer a desperate, driving need. I no longer feel a worthless ache inside when people reject or disapprove of me. And this is major progress for someone who has struggled with the fear of man (other people) and the fear of rejection my entire life.

The reason I started this post with the quote about being a people-lover and not a people-pleaser is that this concept has been such a major key in unlocking my heart from this bondage. We are controlled by what and who we fear. I remember when my Christian counselor explained to me that if I feared not being thought of as a good person by everyone, I would at some point compromise what was right in order to be considered a good person by all. And that would be wrong. Jesus was not considered a good person by everyone.

I have also learned that "fearing" and "needing" people will keep me from loving them unselfishly; I won't tell them the truth because I need them too much and can't risk losing them. I will avoid what is uncomfortable if I think their discomfort with me might lead to my rejection. In other words, I am loving out of my own need rather than loving unselfishly, the way Jesus loves.

"Only people-lovers are able to confront."

A lot of people believe that avoiding confrontation is loving. But by that definition, Jesus would not be loving.

I have learned to value more and more the friend who will tell me the truth ~ even when it causes me pain. I value the person who will confront me in love rather than ignore and avoid me. I value the person who will invest the time and emotion in digging through a pile of misunderstanding in order to heal wounds rather than denying them. I value someone who will open their heart in vulnerability, let go of pride, and help me understand their wounds so that I can repent specifically and not ambiguously.

If I had only been able to understand thirty years ago the things I understand today, I could have avoided a lot of mistakes. But the mistakes are partly how I've learned. It's not about being perfect; it's about mending what's been broken through genuine repentance and forgiveness. I shared this quote on Facebook earlier in the week and I think I will share it here as well.

"In any human relationship, you will never be able to say things perfectly enough to avoid making a mess. But where there is love and mutual respect, you just clean up the mess." ~ Floyd Dawson

Confronting IS loving. Confronting is the first step in cleaning up the mess.

I'm not writing this to anyone in particular (in case you're wondering). This post is not intended to illicit any certain response from any certain individual. These are just things that are on my heart and mind. I constantly try to examine my heart for wrong motives and errors I've made that I need to correct. I have been thinking and reflecting lately upon how my words and choices have affected others in ways I may not have ever understood. But I've also contemplated the reasons why so many of us avoid the confrontation that could bring reconciliation and healing. I think it is the fear of people. We might tell them the truth and they might not care. They might ridicule us or even reject us for our honesty. So we push it down and the walls of self-protection go higher.

I am determined to conquer the fear of man (which is paralyzing) with the fear of God alone (which is liberating and empowering).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Self-imposed Emotional Stress...

I have been extremely fortunate in that I am 51 years old and I have yet to experience any of the dreaded hormonal symptoms of my age (except the few times when I've been really stressed out). I don't have hot flashes. I have occasional nights when I wake up and can't go back to sleep, but they are just now and then occurrences. Most nights I sleep. And with every passing year, hope increases that I might just sail right through this dreaded "change of life" phase and not even notice much difference. (Well, I can hope. Right?)

But then there are mornings like today that do seem to be happening a little more often.

I am normally out of bed every morning the minute I hear John close his closet doors, which is shortly after 6:00. My usual routine is to bounce into the kitchen, hang out with him for a few minutes before he leaves and kiss him good-bye at the door. Although I'm more of an afternoon person than a morning person, I don't normally feel like I want to stay in bed.

However, there have been several mornings lately when I just don't want to get out of bed. I feel like a slug. And today is one of those days. I told John a few minutes ago that I feel like I could just spend the whole day in bed and I wondered if it could be hormonal. He informed me that this is a pattern he's observed; every time I'm feeling a lot of emotional stress and putting more on myself emotionally than I should, it affects me physically. I said I didn't think I was doing that. I don't feel like I have more "on me" than I can handle. And he said, "Trust me, dear. I know what I'm talking about. You put more on yourself emotionally than anyone else expects of you."

I know he's right. Although it is not that I have any more stress than anyone else. In fact, I have less stress than a lot of people. It's my own expectations and the emotional stress I impose on myself. I don't know how to change that about myself, though. My sister-in-law, Lillian, said something very sweet to me recently. She said, "No matter how much you do, you never feel like you're doing enough." I appreciated her saying that because she was telling me that I am the only one who feels that way.

I don't know how to change the way I'm wired. I was telling Chris and Cheryl yesterday that I would love to have my emotional wiring switched out. Come to think of it, I have always felt that way. But I guess it's not about how we're wired, since we are all flawed ... just in different ways.

I know the answer is to rely more fully on God's grace. And it's really strange, but reminding myself of that just gave me an instant emotional boost. I think I suddenly feel like exercising.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Update on Marian

I was hoping for no change in Marian's numbers, but her white count has gone up to 53.8 and her platelets have dropped to 92. She is also slightly anemic. There is no crisis and she does not absolutely have to start treatment immediately. But Dr. Flinn advised that there is no benefit to delaying it either. The trend in her bloodwork has been consistent and the CLL will only continue to progress without treatment.

The biggest change today was in her platelets. But as the anemia increases, she will start to feel more fatigue. So we discussed all of her treatment options. Dr. Flinn knows we prefer something milder than chemotherapy because of her age (78). And he agrees. After seeing what John went through with FCR, I had strong reservations about Marian doing such strong treatment. It could severely impact her quality of life by compromising her immune system permanently.

At this time there are several clinical trials open with milder therapies. He gave us a run down of all of them. And the one he recommended as his first choice is CAL-101 in combination with Rituxan. CAL-101 is administered orally. Rituxan is administered by weekly infusions over eight consecutive weeks.

While she could safely put off treatment for another month or two, if necessary, the down side to doing so is that clinical trials open and close without much advance warning. Two or three months from now, the same trial that is open today may no longer be accepting new patients. There is nothing really to be gained by waiting. And she might as well get this behind her, since she is only putting off the inevitable by procrastinating. Personally, I would like for her to have the infusion part over with before the Christmas season rather than be going through treatments during the holidays. That was such a bummer last year for John and me.

So, as of right now, Marian will be having a bone marrow biopsy and ct scans the last week of September (next week). And she is scheduled to begin therapy the first week of October. Since she will have to go to Sarah Cannon weekly, the plan is for her to spend those eight weeks here with us so I can do my care giving magic. Not really. I don't know any magic. But I do have the gift of nurturing, I adore my mommy-in-law, and I have been down this road with John already. As they say, I know the drill.

Lillian will be here for her consultation at Vanderbilt on September 30. What she has ahead of her will be harder than what Marian is currently facing. But she will have her husband, Bennie, by her side. And she will have me as additional support.

I just need to stay healthy in the upcoming months!

*By the way, I almost forgot ... There is going to be an article in the Tennessean tomorrow (Wednesday) focusing on Sarah Cannon, Dr. Flinn, and CLL. I don't know what all will be contained in the article or what the specific focus will be. But John was interviewed by phone this morning and he may be quoted. I will post a link to the online version.

Doctor Appointments

I am wondering what today will hold. I take my mother-in-law to see Dr. Flinn for her regular three month check today. When I saw him Thursday with John we laughed about how I see him twice as much as either of his patients.

At the last visit, Dr. Flinn told us that the trend in Marian's bloodwork indicates treatment stage is approaching. He said then that it might be necessary in three months or she could stabilize for a while and not have to think about it for another nine months. Fortunately, there are some good options other than the strong chemo John had this time last year. But I'm hoping she will stay stable for at least a few more months.

I heard from Lillian last night. She has an appt. with a surgeon at Vandy scheduled for September 30. So it looks like she will come here for her next surgical intervention. As I mentioned previously, she has more cancer in her lower jaw and under her tongue. And the surgery for this is very specialized.

It's hard to think about the possibility of Marian having to begin treatment at the same time Lillian is going through such major surgery and embarking upon another difficult recovery. Hopefully, Marian can avoid treatment until at least the first of the year. But whatever happens, God will give us the strength we need to deal with it.

I'm really just rambling this morning as I ponder what lies ahead for my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. I'm thankful that John is stable with his CLL right now. Hoping he stays that way.

I will give an update on today's test results this evening.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Love Tanks With a Leak

I am again reading "When People Are Big and God Is Small" by Edward Welch. I am reading it for the third time. I knew I had read it once already, but when I looked back over my past blog posts, I was reminded that I had read it twice before loaning it to a friend (who also read it twice before returning it). I recommended this book to my Bible study group for our next read. So this will be the first time I will have the opportunity to read and discuss the book with others as opposed to reading through it on my own. I find myself really looking forward to hearing how this book speaks to my friends. Since I am the one who recommended it, I'm hoping they will get as much out of it as I have.

One of the reasons I got so much out of this book was that Welch, the author, did not write with the goal of enhancing the reader's self-esteem. His intention was to help the reader replace the fear of man (or people and people's opinions) with the fear of God. I love books that are God-centered instead of man-centered. I haven't always picked up on the difference in the past. But now that I have, I always find myself looking for books and authors that preach the gospel to me and focus me on how I can glorify God (focusing less on me).

I read the first two chapters again yesterday and plan to read them once more before our first session on September 29. As I read, I thought about how timely this book is for me right now (once again). I need these reminders about the pitfalls of fearing people and the opinions of others. I seem to get that condition under control for periods of time, but then I notice myself losing a little ground and falling back into old patterns of thinking all over again.

Chapter One is entitled: Love Tanks With a Leak. That's a pretty good description of me.

I fear not being loved. This is one of my "fear of man" issues. I want everyone to like me (to love me is even better) and think I'm a good person. Talk about an unattainable goal. Even Jesus, the only perfect person the world has ever known, did not accomplish this. Chapter One addresses the different ways we fear people and people's opinions. Chapter Two address how and why we fear people. According to Scripture:

1. We fear people because they can expose and humiliate us.
2. We fear people because they can reject, ridicule, or despise us.
3. We fear people because they can attack, oppress, or threaten us.

Number Two is my biggest motivator for fearing people.

In Chapter Two, Welch talks about how we enjoy certain television shows and magazines because ...
"They let us see the disgrace of others, and that normalizes our own."

When I read this I couldn't help but think about my love of biographies. Some people read for entertainment and escape. I read to learn and relate. Therefore, I do not have much interest in fiction. Instead, I love to read about the lives of real people. And I realize that one of the reasons I love reading biographies about all sorts of different people (from Benjamin Franklin to Eric Clapton) is that no matter what they have accomplished in life, there is one common thread in every human being's story. We all have relationship problems.

Nobody is loved, valued, or respected by everyone. Not Benjamin Franklin. Not Abraham Lincoln.
Not even Jesus!

I have had a couple of opportunities recently to gain insight into past interactions with others. And this insight has come through more than one source. I have felt myself at times sinking back into the quicksand of needing someone's love and approval. And I don't want to let myself go there. I want to go the last mile in righting any wrongs. But I don't want to be motivated by the fear of rejection, the fear of not being loved.

Yes, it's definitely a good time for me to read this book again. I need to be reminded not to look for my acceptance and affirmation in other people. I am loved and accepted by Jesus Christ. There is nothing to fear.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

CAL-101 Day 113

I am finnally getting around to sharing this update on my blog. It's been a full day.

More good news today! John's lymph nodes continue to shrink considerably and his blood is within normal range in every category.

At this point, we can't see any lymph nodes. So we would only be aware of changes if they were getting larger. There is one in John's neck that he can still feel and we were a little nervous because he thought it felt slightly larger. But apparently it's not. He is so skinny right now, I wonder if he can just feel it more because his neck has gotten so thin. I wasn't expecting bad news, but I was so happy when Dr. Flinn said the nodes had reduced very significantly even since the last scan (two months ago). He said even if they just remained stable, he would be happy. So he was very pleased with the results. He had a big smile on his face when he started to tell us the degree of reduction in the nodes that we can't see. Seeing his response made me think that John's results may even be exceeding Dr. Flinn's expectations.

I told Dr. Flinn that I would be seeing him again on Tuesday because Marian (John's mom) has her appt. I go along with both of them. So I see Dr. Flinn twice as much as his actual patients. Last time Marian saw him (three months ago), he told her that she was approaching the threshold for treatment (probably within the year) and I expressed my reluctance for her to do the harsh chemo John did at her age. Today when I mentioned seeing him again next week, he told me that there are several non-traditional options right now - good options for avoiding FCR - that she can consider. He said (with enthusiasm) that there are a lot of good things in development right now for CLL.

I can't do this justice because John's delivery makes everything so much funnier, but he responded to Dr. Flinn, "So, Doc, what you're telling me is ... this is a really exciting time to have CLL!" Dr. Flinn busted up. So did I. This is my husband. He never misses an opportunity for humor. I doubt Dr. Flinn has many patients like him.

When Dr. Flinn walked out of the room, I was beyond happy at the great results John is getting. I looked at John and said, "Have I told you today how much I love you?" (I say that a lot and the answer is always yes. I tell him almost hourly.) My eyes misted up (as they so rarely do ... ha ha ha) and at that moment Dr. Flinn came back into the room. John is always concerned that someone will think he made me cry in a bad way, so he quickly told Dr. Flinn, "She's so happy she's crying." 

Dr. Flinn has had to hand me a tissue on more than one occasion for fearful tears. So I think he's getting used to my emotions. By the way, have I mentioned what a great doctor/guy Dr. Flinn is? I can't imagine having another doctor care for us. He is super!

Anyway, we had to sit around and wait for John to have his blood drawn a second time (90 minutes after the first draw) for the clinical study. And then we were so glad to be able to leave, we took off without making his next appointment. I will have to call about that tomorrow.

I meant to write this update this afternoon when we got home, but I got distracted responding to an email and Facebook comments. And tonight I had a wedding shower to attend. So this is the first chance I've had to share this great news on my blog.

This CLL experience has been quite a rollercoaster ride emotionally. I've had some very anxious days and moments. But I knew early on that God spoke to my heart and told me to put my faith in HIM and His promise that He is working all things for our good ... even this. I have held onto that in the really difficult times and His grace has sustained me. No matter what we go through, God is faithful. And I'm so very thankful that He has given John some relief from his symptoms. I am thankful for every single day He gives us.

Please continue to pray for Marian (John's mom) and Lillian (John's sister). Marian also has CLL and it is slowly progressing toward treatment stage. We are hoping she will be stable when her blood is checked next week. Lillian is facing more surgery. And she has already been through so much. We don't know yet if she will be coming to Vandy or going to another facility. It is my heart's desire to do all I can for each of them as they battle their individual cancers.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Great is Thy Faithfulness!

If we are Facebook friends, then you may have already seen this link on my page. But I thought I would share it on my blog as well - along with some of my reflections.

God's Repentance

The above is a link to my son's first sermon as assistant pastor at Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, Tennessee. But before I share my thoughts on yesterday's service, I want to share a little background leading up to this occasion.

When Danny first told me (well over a year ago) that he was considering applying for a position with Church of the Redeemer, I had mixed emotions. There was only one reason for my slight discomfort. Church of the Redeemer is an Anglican church.

If you've read my book or know anything about me at all, you know how I was raised. Suffice it to say, a lot of strong biases were cultivated in me as far as certain worship styles; what was right and what was wrong. My preference after leaving the church I was raised in leaned toward non-denominational charismatic. I had never even visited a church that practiced a more liturgical form of worship. And I have to admit that I had no desire to. I thought of that type of worship as dry, formal ritual, and a little too close to Catholicism for my comfort.

I have to honestly tell you that to give you an idea of my itnternal struggle when Danny and I had that first conversation about the possibility of him being an assistant pastor within the Anglican faith. Danny was okay with my discomfort. He told me to feel free to ask him any questions I wanted to. And he told me he understood my apprehension. One of the things I remember him stressing to me was that the most important consideration for him about any church was not necessarily the style of worship. Much more important to him was the uncompromised message of the cross being consistently taught as the central tenet of Christianity. Where we came from, more emphasis was put on other things. The cross was not the primary message we received. In fact, if anything, the role of the cross in salvation was minimized in comparison to our own role in gaining (earning) eternal life.

I really did not believe Danny would be getting into any "danger area" with God for becoming an Anglican. But it was just so foreign to me and so out of my comfort zone. I don't know if I ever even told him how much I was hoping he wouldn't choose this position because I was so determined not to be a meddling mother. I trust the Holy Spirit to do His job. And I know that Danny and Rebecca belong to God, not to me. I believe that the best thing I can do as a mom is to pray for God's will in their lives, support them in their decisions, and not put the burden of my personal preferences (or baggage) on them and their little family. I sincerely want what God wants for their lives, not what Mom wants.

Another position that was being considered for a while would have involved a move to Chicago. And the thought of possibly being separated from my little grandsons was hard at times. But I reminded myself that if that was what God wanted, then that was best and that should be what I want FOR THEM. Even if it wasn't necessarily what I thought was best FOR ME.

Ultimately, Danny and Rebecca felt that God placed them where they are; at Church of the Redeemer. He opened this door and closed the others. And even though my personal preference is still another style of worship, I realize none of this is about me. More importantly, I see God's hand at work so beautifully in their lives. I am thankful that I have learned better how to trust in God's faithfulness and not think that I have to take an active role in controlling or directing the lives of those I love!

I went to Redeemer yesterday with an open heart to receive whatever God had for me in the service; not just to hear my son preach, but to worship with other believers in the style that was their personal preference. Sometimes breaking out of our comfort zone can be a positive thing. And I can honestly say that God enabled me to experience the reverence expressed in this style of worship. What I once would have viewed as empty ritual felt anything but that at Redeemer. Even though it was unfamiliar, I was not at all uncomfortable (like I thought I would be). For one thing, I was surprised and happy to see worshipers raising their hands as they sang (definitely my comfort zone) in an Anglican church.

Toward the end of the service we sang "Great is Thy Faithfulness."

As I sang and contemplated God's faithfulness to me, tears flooded my eyes. I thought about the blessing of witnessing God's hand on my son's life ever since he has been a little boy, culminating in hearing him preach the gospel as an adult. I thought about how far we have both come; from leaving the control of a cult to finding the freedom that is only found in Christ and the gospel. I was holding my grandson, Andrew, (who was being especially cuddly at that moment) and standing next to the most wonderful husband any woman could ever have; the husband God so mercifully provided at such a pivotal time in my life. I was completely overwhelmed with the reality of God's faithfulness to me.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hats Off to Clydell

I had the pleasure and privilege of attending a fabulous 60th birthday celebration today.
The birthday "girl" is my good friend, Clydell Clark.

Clydell and I first met at a women's Bible study in the early fall of 2004. I had lived in Murfreesboro for a year and I was constantly meeting new people. But the day I met Clydell, I remember telling John that evening, "I made a really good friend today. There is something so special about her. We had an immediate connection and I just know that I have made a new lifelong friend." Although I have been blessed to feel that way about more than my share of friends, you don't feel that way about every single person you meet. And it's a unique blessing every time it happens.

Clydell and I became instantly close. And we've been friends now for six years. It feels like I have known her all my life. But some of the guests at her birthday party have known her all her life ~ or since high school. So I was feeling thankful to be a part of her celebration.

Clydell throws a great party. She makes it look easy. So it was only natural that she would host her own 60th birthday celebration. I know it was her party, but it felt more like a party she gave for all of us! If you know her, you know exactly what I mean.

The theme of the party was "Hats Off to Clydell" and the invitation said to wear a hat. I am not a hat person. If I wear a hat very long, it gives me a headache. And it also gives me "hat hair" for the rest of the day. So a few of us passed on wearing hats (not just me). But everyone who did wear a hat looked beautiful. You would have thought we were on our way to the Easter Parade or the Kentucky Derby.

Above: My friends, Susan Moss and Connie Tedder
(I met both Susan and Connie through Clydell.)

After eating and socializing, there were several tributes to Clydell. Old friends and family members told some funny stories and shared their love and affection for my sweet friend. I could definitely tell that any friend of Clydell's would easily be a friend of mine.

I laughed out loud when one "old friend" said that she often does not return Clydell's calls because she knows they will be talking on the phone for two hours. And then the time they agreed to limit their conversation to fifteen minutes, they wound up talking for THREE hours. I told a friend next to me, "That's why I would rather go to lunch than talk on the phone." Clydell is one of those friends that I have three hour lunches with. But that isn't unusual for either of us. In many ways, we are like peas in a pod. We share many similar personality traits. I suppose that is one of the reasons we were instant friends. I just can't imagine my life without Clydell's friendship! I can't imagine my life without any of my Murfreesboro friends!

Not only am I thankful for Clydell's friendship, but I am thankful for the friends God has blessed me with through Clydell. The first day I met her she invited me to go to lunch (after Bible study) with her "lunch bunch" pals. They have been going to lunch on Wednesdays for almost twenty years now. And last fall, Clydell invited me to a new Bible study group where I made even more great friends. I probably have close to fifteen friends that I might not have had the opportunity to know if it hadn't been for my friendship with Clydell.
Above: The Lunch Bunch
(Susan, Martha, Marilyn, Clydell, Katherine and Annette)

Below: More of my Bible study friends
(Suzan, Barbara and Judy)

Even though today was Clydell's day,
I was thinking about how blessed
I WAS to share it!

God is so good.   

Thank you, Clydell, for enriching my life in so many ways. I love you.

Happy 60th, Girlfriend!
You sure don't look 60!    

Friday, September 10, 2010

Update on Lillian...

I have been in touch with Lillian and she did get some disappointing news yesterday. She does have cancer in her lower jaw and under her tongue. The good news is that it seems to be totally contained to that area. No cancer is showing up anywhere else in her body. But the cancer in her jaw has to be surgically removed asap.

The type of surgery she will need is only done by a few ENT surgeons in the country. It sounds like a very specialized procedure. She's waiting to find out from her insurance provider where they will send her. It will be either Vandy, UK or St. Louis. Obviously, I hope they send her to Vandy so she is close to us and I can be a more helpful sister-in-law through this.

In spite of being bummed out about more cancer and more surgery, Lillian wrote to me about the calming peace, strength and comfort she has found in her relationship with Jesus. I can't even read her words about Jesus without crying. I used to worry so much about her. (She knows this.) I tried - when I had opportunities - to witness to her. I always tried to do so in loving and gentle ways. But I'm so passionately expressive, and I know that sometimes my passion is easily misunderstood. I feared being abrasive, but not so much that I could remain completely silent.

John's family has always known I am a strong believer and that I won't hesitate to speak up about my faith. But I also try to wait for true God-ordained opportunities and not be offensive or imposing. So I just tried to plant little seeds when I could. And one thing I know Lillian has never doubted is that anything I have ever said has been out of love for her. I'm thankful she always sensed what was in my heart, even if she didn't always share my convictions. I remember many conversations I had with John where I shared my concerns and told him that although I never wanted to offend, I couldn't dismiss the possibility that God put me in Lillian's life for a specific reason. What if I was the one person in her life that would risk her being offended and put off by me attempting to "impose" Jesus on her? Would I place so much value in her having good feelings toward me that I would fail to share the gospel? How could I ever live with that choice if something happened to her?

God heard my prayers and I don't have those worries anymore.

I have watched my sister-in-law grow in amazing ways through her cancer ordeal. I am so proud of her, her grateful heart and her persevering spirit. But most of all, I am overjoyed to witness her faith in Christ grow stronger and stronger. She may not even realize it, but she now is witnessing to me because she is standing in a place where I have not stood. And her faith is inspiring ME. The way God works through us, even in the most difficult circumstances, is amazing to me.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Please Pray for Lillian

I just wanted to ask my readers to please say a prayer for my sister-in-law, Lillian Howerton Arnold, when you read this. We received an email from her tonight telling us that her surgeon has the results of her recent pet scan and has asked her to come into his office to talk about strategy tomorrow. She does not think she will be getting good news. She also has a horrendous infection in her lower jaw.

For new readers who don't know what Lillian has been through; in May of 2009 she was diagnosed with a very invasive throat cancer and had to undergo radical surgery to get it all out. She lost parts of her throat, her tongue, her soft palate, all her teeth. She lost her taste buds from the radiation. She has had to have a feeding tube ever since this surgery and she has suffered so many setbacks, complications, side effects and infections. There have been so many rough days for her. But, through it all, she has maintained such a grateful and positive attitude. And she has given her life to Jesus. She knows she is in His hands.

In her email tonight she asked us to pray hard for her. I prayed for years that God would reveal His Son to her in a powerful way. That prayer was answered. I know her eternity is far more important than the length of her days on earth and I want to always accept God's will, knowing that He is working all things for our good. But the desire of my heart is that she would have many more days here with us and be able to enjoy quality of life again.

I love my sister-in-law very much. So I just wanted to ask for your prayers. I'll let you know how she's doing as soon as I know more. Thank you.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Punishment vs. Discipline

During a small group discussion last week, our group leader read a Scripture that used the word punish in places where I have always read the word discipline. I interrupted her and asked what translation she was reading. I expressed my personal objection to the translation of punishment as opposed to discipline and said that, in my opinion, the words were not interchangeable. Most in the group who spoke up said they did see the words as somewhat interchangeable. But one other person was also having a great deal of difficulty with that word. The two of us told the rest of the group that we were going to do some word study this week and possibly share what we learned.

Honestly, I wasn't sure if I was being a little overly sensitive semantically or if my conviction was merited. But the reason the word-substitution bothered me so much was that my understanding of the Gospel is that Jesus took my punishment for sin on the cross. Feeling a bit like an odd ball, I was really thankful for that one other person who felt as strongly as I did (for the same reason).

Prior to my present understanding of the Gospel and grace, I don't think I would have had the same sensitivity to the words being used interchangeably. But back then, I did not understand fully what Jesus had done for me on the cross. Now that I do, I see God's discipline as loving correction and never as punishment. His goal for my life is to conform me into the likeness of His Son. His correction and discipline help me to understand how and in what areas I need to be changed. But His correction is not retribution (which I do see as interchangeable with punishment) for my sins or failures.

When we repent of our sins and put our faith in Christ, we have forgiveness through His blood.

I will never forget a conversation I had with my son Danny years ago. He was explaining to me that God does not punish us for our sin because He is just and, if we are in Christ, He has already punished Jesus for our sin. Jesus sacrificially took the wages of our sin (death) and the penalty of God's wrath upon Himself though He was perfect and sinless. We have grace and forgiveness through Christ and His atoning work on the cross when we receive salvation through Him.

If God punished Jesus for our sins and then also punished us, He would not be just.

Isaiah 53:5 (NIV) states:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Therein lies my problem with the two words being used interchangeably and synonomously. There are consequences in this life for all our choices, both good and bad. If we sow certain behaviors, we will reap certain rewards or consequences. I have suffered unpleasant consequences many times, but God has never given me what I deserved. He's shown me mercy.

We spent a relaxing weekend in Atlanta and I forgot about the word study I had planned to do until we were on our way home today. When I remembered, I grabbed my phone and Googled "Punishment vs. Discipline." Most of the articles were addressing parental discipline issues, not biblical discipline. But this one commented on both and, in my opinion, articulated the distinction well...

I was inspired this past week by something my pastor said in the sermon. “Punishment focuses on the past and what you did, discipline focuses on the future and how you can grow.” After twenty years of parenting, this was a new view for me. As a pastor, he was using this to talk about how God does not punish , but He does discipline....
(The link will take you to the full article.)

Please feel free to share any thoughts you may have on this subject.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rambling September Thoughts...

It is so hard for me to believe we are into the month of September. I keep thinking about last September, which I've already mentioned in a recent blog post. It doesn't seem possible that a whole year has passed since John was beginning chemo. Reflecting on what we were going through last year just makes me appreciate this year - and our blessings - so much more.

Our close friends, Mark & Anita, have a sky box at MTSU. And we are often invited to join them for Blue Raiders football games. We don't go to every game, but we've always gone to a few each season. Last year we didn't go to any. It wasn't that John was so sick the entire season that he couldn't have ever gone. It was more our concern for his compromised immune system; being in such a confined space with a lot of other people just didn't seem wise.

One of the side effects of chemo that John experienced was a complete lack of interest in anything social. Chemo doesn't just affect a person physically; it also affects you emotionally. John was "done" being around people by the end of the day and just wanted to be home with me when he wasn't working. Although he kept up his normal routine and never missed work other than treatment weeks, I knew he was exhausted at the end of every day. So we did a lot of hibernating last fall/winter.

John has had Titans season tickets ever since I've known him (and before I knew him). We normally miss only occasional home games. But I'm not sure we went to any games last year. Maybe one early in the season. We never considered going after it got cold, though. Again, it just didn't seem wise. Staying home and avoiding crowds and cold weather seemed like the smart decision. So we stayed home and watched on TV.

Prior to meeting John, I had only been to one Titans game. But ever since we've been together, fall means football. We have great seats and we've even been invited to join friends in a company sky box a few times (which is really a treat and not something I ever imagined myself doing). Over time, Titans games have become a routine part of my fairytale life with John. But they won't feel routine this year because of what we went through last year. I just feel such an overwhelming sense of gratitude for every part of my life; including the privilege of enjoying a football season with my husband and friends.

I didn't attend MTSU or grow up in Murfreesboro, so I wasn't an instant MTSU sports fan. But even if you're not totally into the game, it is a privilege to have an open invitation to join friends in their sky box. And that has also become a routine part of every fall. When John and I were first together, I wasn't totally at ease in these settings. I felt like the new kid in school. It seemed like everybody knew everybody else in this town (especially at MTSU football games) and I knew no one. I wondered if I would ever be able to remember all the names and connect them to the right faces. I always had a good time. Everyone I met was so warm and welcoming. My "new life" often seemed too good to be true. But I was also out of my comfort zone.

You have to remember that I grew up and spent most of my life in a very tight community where most of my friends had known me all my life and vice versa. So it was surreal to leave that coccoon of an environment and then start fresh in a whole new community where I initially knew no one other than John, Mark and Anita. I felt just a bit like an outsider no matter how warmly I was received.

It took a little time, but today it almost feels like I've always lived in Murfreesboro. And so many of the friends God has blessed me with feel like lifelong friends - not new friends. In the beginning, I remember wondering if I would ever feel like I completely fit in. But the reality is I have never felt as connected to so many people or enjoyed such a sense of "belonging" to a community before in my life. Murfreesboro is by far the best place I have ever lived. And my life has never been so happy. What was at first a bit overwhelming (adapting to living in John's world and knowing virtually no one) has become a comfort zone surpassing anything I've ever previously known.

Last night we went to the first MTSU home game of the season with Mark and Anita. I don't remember feeling deprived of going last year. It wasn't a big deal. Our focus was on getting John through chemo. But I think last night was so much more special to me because we didn't get to go at all last season. I don't remember ever enjoying a night of MTSU football quite as much as I enjoyed last night. I savored the privilege. I did not take it for granted. And I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with our friends. I kept thinking about how thankful I am for every day. I'm so thankful that John's CLL is under control and we can enjoy the little pleasures in life that are so easily taken for granted.