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What’s Your Strong Tower?

whats-your-strong-towerThe chemo was wreaking havoc on his body. He wasn’t able to eat and was weakened to exhaustion. Where do we go from here? We may be killing cancer cells, but at what personal cost?

It’s not easy to hear this from almost seven driving hours away. If I could teleport myself directly to Pennsylvania for these conversations, I surely would, but I was digesting my latest email update from my mother about my father, and God gave me this Scripture: 

Psalm 61:3, ESV, King David speaking

For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

I felt strongly that we could substitute the word “enemy” with “cancer” because God had been sustaining my father on and off since 1981 through six different battles with this persistent foe. It had once again rented my father’s body and officially moved in. An unwanted tenant, it was taking more than major surgery to evict it, and at this point, we needed more than the words of doctors to sustain us.

We needed a fortress. We needed to seek a safe place to cry out.

Every fortress where we huddle in and regroup must have a tower, a high place that shows itself strong and imposing on the horizon— Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Dear Dad: A Letter to God

Dear Dad- A Letter to God

Do you ever write letters to people in your head—things you wanted to say, unfinished business, sentiments that pressed on your heart and didn’t let you go?

Sometimes I wake up at night and have a three-page letter downloaded straight into my heart.

Right now, for my father who is living* through cancer and chemo hell, parts of my letter would look like this:

 

 

Dear Dad: 

I hate that you are struggling. If I could be with you in person more frequently, I’d just want to hold your hand. Pray silently. Sit at your feet. Watch you sleep. Bless you. Read you Scripture. Share a few memories. Make you smile.

I’d say I didn’t always respond the way I should have, that I often was too quick to react in my youth. I’d tell you if I had to do it all over again, I’d talk to you about your “corny” country music and be willing to discuss the different jazz artists you grew to appreciate.

I’d tell you I’m sorry I stuck my tongue out when I was 3 years old, that spitting out my peas onto your dinner plate wasn’t nice. I shouldn’t have made eating and the dinner table such a scene of drama.

I might state that I could have been more gracious when you taught me how to drive and more grateful when you would pick me up from a late theater rehearsal. While we were generationally farther apart than the parents of many of my friends, I wasn’t really embarrassed by you; I was just a teenager who thought that I was.

I would share with you that I watched you healing on that couch from radiation many years ago while you let me put barrettes in your amazing hair because that’s what you do when you have daughters. You play barbershop. I’d be less angry that you won UNO sometimes. I’d be more mindful of the times I got to “camp out” on the porch with you in the summers and wouldn’t make comments about your snoring.

I wrote a book, Dad. It wasn’t everything it could have been, but it was my first attempt. It was about God. I hope you could see the Presbyterian roots deep within my theology, Dad. How I really did understand Christ, the propitiation for our sins.

If I could just lay my head against your robe, Dad, like I used to rest it on your lap during the sermon, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I can be a spoiled brat, but my heart is trying to be more like Jesus, Dad. I hope you can see that in me. I hope I make you proud.

My letter would say so many other things, but I’ll stop there. You get the idea.

What about God, though? What about our Father in Heaven? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When Thankful Changes the Atmosphere

When Thankful Changes the AtmosphereShe had just put a huge meal on for tourists and was about to reload the table for her family of 9. It was almost 8 PM, and they were coming in from the harvest. The corn had to be collected before the rains came. Her youngest child, a boy of 7, had helped late into the evening the night before, but they still had some work to do. She had a twinkle in her eye, but there was a shot of weary and concern as well as she turned her bonneted head toward me and chirped happily in her heavy accent:

“I have so much to be thankful for. God has given me many blessings.”

Her words grew feet and scurried right into the center of my heart.

It was the Amish way, and yet, as tired mothers: one the “worldly English” and one with the “plain life,” the only thing separating us in our common mama sighs was our lifestyles. Otherwise, the weightiness of our hearts beat to the same sound. We shared the same God. We each wanted to express love into the other’s world, if only for a few hours, without making her world become fully ours.

And yet those penetrating words. Despite the fact setting the table for her six-course meal was on its second round, she was grateful.

Counting blessings—

—with another sinkload of dishes in the almost-dark.

I grew up not far from this community. We regularly came “up the country” to Lancaster County from Chester County, Pennsylvania. Horses and buggies were part of my childhood tapestry. But now, with my parents living amidst the Amish community in surrounding farms, I have come to pay greater attention to my Christian brothers and sisters in solid, dark colors.

And as I left her house that day, this 39 year old mother of 7, with worn hands from many years of caring for her family, gave me a gift I can never exercise enough. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Dragonflies, Lily Pads, Bullfrogs, and Faith

Dragonflies, Lily Pads, Bullfrogs, and FaithLast weekend, I found myself drawing in heavy breaths from the weighty, humid Pennsylvania air, almost fighting against it with every inhale as the mugginess climbed my limbs and threatened to swallow me whole. We arrived at 80-something degrees and were leaving at 90-something. How did I ever live in the South Pacific for two years and bike 80 extra pounds in kids around in the trailer? When did I become so intolerant of the humidity?

These thoughts swirled around in my mind as I watched my 9 year old Little Man, the happiest he’s been in months, darting from one flagstone to another trying to find a bullfrog willing to reveal itself for a moment among the lily pads in the pond at my parents’ retirement community. It’s not for a lack of trying that he did not find an amphibian friend. We heard their throaty cries. I believe our cold-blooded friends didn’t want to raise half an eye above the cool water and shade of the lily pads to greet Little Man. And who could blame them in this heat?

As I let my eyes soak in the serenity of the calm pond water and marveled at the dragonflies dancing freely, living in the moment, I also envied the lily pads—anchored, yet fluid on the surface of the water. While I want to tango with dragonflies on my more adventurous days, as we wait out my father’s prognosis, I think I much prefer the safety of roots in the pond bottom, with only slight, gentle movements away from my anchor in small steps of trust: lily pad living at its finest!

The funny thing is: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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A Father’s Love: Defender and Servant


This blog was first a featured column at Your Tewksbury Today on Father’s Day.

A Father's Love, Defender and ServantAs I sit here waiting on news from my father after a three-month check-up, CAT scan, and blood work were performed to let us know if the beast that is cancer is keeping its nasty little talons out of his body, I watch another father patiently brushing his son’s limbs, back, and extremities. He follows it up with joint compressions and rolls the yoga ball onto our youngest son’s back.

I am sandwiched in life by two fathers:

  • One still on guard against a disease that has launched pathological assault weapons at his body multiple times in different places over the span of about 35 years
  • One who helps with the five-times-a-day occupational therapy at home for a child with sensory integration issues, anxiety, and ADHD

My father has never backed down in the face of a nonstop onslaught on his organs, muscle, and tissue. He knows prayer (in the name of Jesus) is a powerful weapon.

My husband will never stop serving my son—not until he sees a settled, healthier version of him.

I am struck by the fact that my Father in heaven sent Jesus to do both of these things for us: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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What Are You Being Prepared For?

EstablishedFootsteps-2If you’re anything like me, you may start thinking about a grocery list for Easter dinner on Maundy Thursday, get in your car to brave the shopping crowds Friday, and possibly finish putting your menu together, setting out the ham Saturday night. (Since I think about coffee almost every waking minute, it completely amazes me that I often have to run out to buy something coffee-related the night before a holiday.)

Suffice it to say: I’m not always prepared. For a Sunday School lesson? Yes. The black suit and shirt that needs laundering for a high school band concert in three hours? No.

But, what if, just what if, I’m the one being prepared for something? Am I always aware of a loving God setting my footsteps? 

Proverbs 16:9, ESV, King Solomon speaking

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. 

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Waiting for the Telephone Call

My father has struggled with cancer since the early 1980s. He was actually told his first one was terminal. My mother didn’t accept that diagnosis, given at a local hospital, and took him for a second opinion. And here he still is, decades later, because of her persistence—but also because of our faith community, which rallied in prayer. (And I know not everyone’s story of healing plays out this way. We each have our own story. This is just ours.)

His first cancer was a liposarcoma in his leg. I remember that one well. I was about 9 years old, and I’d come home to find him in his bathrobe laying on the couch airing out the leg that went through radiation. The pastor would come, sometimes an elder (leader) of the church, and there would be prayer. A lot of prayer. Sometimes they would invite me to come over to the couch to talk or join the prayer. I also remember a spaghetti dinner brought over by a neighbor; she made it with pepperoni in it, and I was consequently really happy every time she was slotted to bring a meal. When you’re 9 and your strong father is home sick and weakened in your family room, pepperoni in spaghetti makes your whole day. I think I may have played barber shop with his hair a lot while he was so sedentary. He tells me now, years later, he really didn’t mind. And I believe him.

His second cancer, only a year later, involved the colon. And back then, colon cancer victims very regularly ended up colostomates, where they have to redirect the waste to exit through an opening (called a stoma) out the front of the body into a pouch. Dad has been managing that lifestyle change now for over 30 years. In my ninth grade year, I wrote a paper on living with an ostomate, and it went into the Ostomy Quarterly. But that wasn’t so much about getting published. It was about taking the biology class I was in and finding direct application. It was about honoring my father.

Somewhere during Cancer 1 or Cancer 2, I wrote him a song and sang it into an old tape player so my mother could take it to him in the hospital. I remember that my grandmother was there, intermittently, while Mom had to go between hospital and home. A part of the song went something like this:

“Waiting for the telephone call, bringing all the news,
Remembering the Bible says that Jesus died for you.
God the Father, God the Son is all I think about
I know the Holy Spirit; there never is a doubt.”

Originally the part about “Jesus died for you” was “Jesus was a Jew” because I was 9 or 10, and that rhymed, and I saw Jesus being a Jew as a good thing (and it is!). But Mom asked that we readjust that so it wasn’t accidentally taken as some kind of slur or mocking in our culture, or be misunderstood by the man next to Dad in his room when they played my song. That was probably wise on Mom’s part. At this time, I remember my childhood pastor talking to me. I have no idea what he said, but he ministered to me as Jesus would a child who approached Him. He saw that this whole sick family member thing was about each of us: my parents, my sister, and me. It made a lasting impact on me that he found me worthy to stop, in the middle of talking with adults in crisis, to address my needs.

And then there was reprieve, and in 2002, in came bladder cancer. And at first, the BCG treatments kept it at bay. Dad was fortunate; the bladder was spared, although he had years of uncomfortable procedures to make sure the beast kept its teeth out. But back it came in 2013 and again in 2014, a very unwelcome companion.

And last night, my father lost his bladder.

But he didn’t lose his life.

Or his faith.

Or his God. He walks with Christ, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:27, Apostle Paul speaking

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

And I’m convinced God has used this journey to not only build my father’s faith but to build the faith of so many around him. Because while God doesn’t cause the yucky things of life, He promises to take them and bring them to good purposes for those who love Him.

Romans 8:28, Apostle Paul speaking

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Good-bye, bladder. We’re very sorry to see you go, and we have certainly mourned your parting. But your part of the story is over now. And the disease within you has not stopped a very real God from inspiring people through a previously-very-red-going-slowly-white-headed, 6-foot-tall man who, through the power of prayer, has lived beyond three different cancers and five tumors into his eighth decade. Nor have you slowed down his impact on this world—because the God he serves is so much bigger than you, or any yucky disease for that matter.

[Dad, earlier this year, with three of his six grandchildren.]

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