Hello, 2017

January is almost over. This past New Year’s Eve, I thought that just maybe, all the bad things in the world will go away because a new year is starting. I know that’s not likely, but you can’t fault a girl for dreaming.

So far this month, the following things have happened: a friend of mine lost his father, another friend (a single mom) lost her job, there have been politically charged riots, extreme weather, police shootings, and the Cowboys (who should have gone to the Super Bowl) lost their playoff game. And, my old nemesis cancer, continues to be an annoyance as I found out that it is now in my lungs.

Sigh. 2017 seems to be continuing exactly where 2016 left off.

I like the old adage, plan for the worst and hope for the best. For a long time, I lived only half of this adage; plan for the worst. Throughout the years of my depression, I never hoped for the best. I was convinced that the worst would always happen to me. My defenses were always on alert, always ready for my world to turn upside down. I knew that each day, a new hardship would fall into my world. There would be something new for me to manage while I was using all my energy to keep my mind from breaking into a thousand pieces.  It was a dark time in my life.

Today I know I don’t want to live on edge, waiting for bad things to happen. Over the past few weeks, I’ve thought about how to prepare myself for the rest of the year and all that it could bring. I thought about what I would tell myself at difficult times. All I could think of are words that God would say to me.

I am right here with you, you are not alone.

I love you more than you can comprehend.

I am in control, put your trust in Me.

Be strong and courageous.

Keep your eyes on Me.

I know bad things are going to happen. I’m not thrilled about the status of my health. But, I will not spend my days worrying about what may happen. I will not spend my days anxious about is happening.  I will not spend my days being sad about what has happened. The bad things will not control me. I will not allow them to take away the joy God has given me.

Except for the Cowboys, I am still mourning their loss.

Psalm 27:1 – The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom will I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom will I be afraid?

Life Not Empty

More peoplemore-1

More giving of love

More taking of love

More conversations, less silence

More smiles

More contentment

More relaxation

More peacemore-1

More purpose

More warm, less cold

More companionship

More plans

More dreams

More fun

More life

More joy

More hands to holdmore-1

More fulfillment

More serving

More sacrifices

More laughter

 

More God

Psalm 90:12 – Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

I Am Thankful For…..


wind-3I am thankful for the feeling of wind blowing through my hair.

Last winter, I went through some heavy-duty chemo treatments. There was a chance I would lose my hair. This news was bothersome. I’ve always had long hair, I mean always. Long hair was my thing. Hair dressers always complimented it. Friends envied it. I loved it and I definitely did not want to lose it. It seemed like a cruel joke, as if feeling bad wasn’t enough.

It’s hard to prepare for losing your hair. I’d like to say I was brave and stoic about it, but there were times I was not. About two months into the chemo treatments, it began to fall out. When I looked in the mirror, I started to see more and more of my scalp. When I washed it, long strands stuck to my hands in big clumps. It was difficult to remember that it was only hair and that it would grow back as I watched it going down the drain.

After finishing the chemo treatments, it did start to grow back. There was a problem, though, with that post-chemo hair style. I did not lose all of it. I had new hair growing in amongst the long hair I did not lose. Try to picture it, a buzz cut with random sections of long hair all over my head. Not pretty. It was time to get it all one length.

When I had it cut, I didn’t get upset. I had grown a little less vain and was comfortable with the idea that long hair wasn’t going to be my thing anymore.  After the cutting, I looked in the mirror. I saw someone who looked completely different. I saw someone who was completely different.  Since losing my hair, I’ve allowed God to shine through me. I’ve allowed myself to trust Him and He gives me joy in return. I have gone through a transformation on the inside and it was showing on the outside.

Now that my hair is growing longer, I can feel it on my neck. It’s naturally wavy and I have to admit that it’s kind of cute. One day I was walking my dog and we turned a corner and headed straight into the wind. The feeling of the wind in my hair was odd, foreign and wonderful.  It felt like a victory. The past year has been rough with the surgeries and chemo. But, here I am, rebounding and stronger than I could have imagined.

One more thing to add to the list of things that God and I conquered together.

Jesus, teach me that anything can be taken away except for You. My life can change, my body can change, the people around me can change. But the one constant is You and Your love for me.

Fifty-Five Gifts

girl braveI haven’t had a chemo treatment since August 16th. Earlier this week, I found out that a few of my lymph nodes have started to increase in size again. I will start back with chemo next week. During my chemo vacation, my blood counts have been great and my CEA number has dropped. I was growing more and more optimistic and hoped for a longer break. I am disappointed.

Since my last chemo treatment, God gave me 55 gifts. Fifty-five days of feeling free. I let myself imagine life without cancer and I truly lived. I felt the sun on my face and I walked in the rain. I watched beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I stopped and looked people in the eye and really listened to them. I spent time with friends and family. I laughed, a lot.

The status of my physical health moved to the back burner. People around me stopped asking how I felt or telling me not to overdo it. I enjoyed not thinking about how I was going to feel the next day because I knew I would feel good. I grew stronger, my brain was quicker and I began to feel like me again. The old Julie with the dry, sarcastic sense of humor was welcomed back.

The news of more chemo has made me sad. I want to be free from the chains that come with cancer treatment.  I feel like I was let out to play, but now I have to go back inside. I’m a little shaken and I have cried a few times these past few days. But, I feel God all around me. He whispers to me that He is near and will never leave me.  

I’m thankful for the 55 gifts. I lovingly embraced each one. There are no promises that life will be easy and I accept that this is the path I’m on. There is no point in asking why because God is in control. He knows I can handle it. And, He’s given me another opportunity to share my faith. I will let His light shine through me and I will continue to tell my story

I will take up this battle again. He will give me the strength, tenacity, courage or whatever I need. God is bigger than cancer and I have Him on my side. I win regardless of what happens. 

I am not afraid, I have nothing to be afraid of.

Isaiah 41:10 – Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Charles, The Contractor

charles-paintFor the past few months my husband and I have worked (and worked and worked) to get our house ready to sell. We were getting to the bottom of the list of things to do. The grand finale was getting the master bath redone and completing paint projects around the house.

After getting quotes and talking with contractors, we had a plan and were ready to get going. The first day of work began with excitement. We’re getting started! Everything is going to be beautiful! Home remodeling is fun! The day ended with plastic covering everything, brown paper on all the floors and my bathroom inoperative. My excitement had turned into dread. As I brushed my teeth in the kitchen sink, I had a hard time envisioning how my house could ever be beautiful.

At the beginning of the project, our contractor Charles, dealt mostly with my husband. I suppose he could sense I was not enjoying myself so he kept his distance. Two weeks have passed, the work is nearly complete and I’m so close to having my bathroom back. I decided that being a contractor doesn’t mean you’re a bad person and I’ve started to talk to Charles more. Yesterday, as I was cleaning the kitchen and he was painting the ceiling, we somehow got on the topic of God.

Charles started to talk about his life. He was a long time abuser of drugs and alcohol. He had stints in rehab, but he came out the same way he went in. Unless he was drinking, he was a mean and angry person. He was one of those people who if you brought up God or church, he wanted no part of it and he ran the other way. One morning, he woke up lying on the kitchen floor after a night of drinking. He heard his daughter come into the kitchen. She leaned over him and asked, “What is wrong with Daddy?” As he lay there listening to his daughter, he thought he could get no lower.

He soon found himself in jail after his fourth DWI. In the past he had prayed and tried to make deals with God like, “God, if you get me out of jail, I’ll stop drinking.” None of those prayers were heartfelt and none were answered. Soon, the visits from his father, his daughter and all other family members and friends ended.  After years of trying to get him to change, they all gave up on him.

He felt broken, alone and deserted. With a humble and sincere heart, he turned to God and asked Him to change him. And just like that, God did. Charles began to read the bible. He continued to pray and ask for God’s guidance. He began to live his life the way God would want him to.

He immediately quit the drugs and alcohol cold turkey. He had no withdrawals and he hasn’t had a craving since. He finally found the best place for rehab and it stuck. He is living proof of God’s handiwork to his family and friends.They cannot believe what a completely different person he is. They call him a miracle.

I’m glad Charles had the courage to speak to me about his life. While I’m brave when it comes to writing, I’m not so brave in person. He showed me how easy it is to speak about our Father and what He has done for us.

And, once again when I least expect it, there is God. I love it when God takes me by surprise like this. It gives me chills. He is real. He is with us.

Happy Birthday

happy-bdayToday is my son’s birthday, he is 22. He is my only child.

Throughout his life, I’ve always made him my first priority. His happiness was always more important than mine. Right or wrong, I lived through him. When he was young, I saw the world anew through his eyes. When he was a teenager, I loved listening to him talk about exams, graduation, friends and football. As he’s grown into adulthood, I enjoy watching him work through college, live on his own and experience being in love.

Nothing makes me yearn for the past like the memories I have of holding his hand. When I was pregnant, I had him all to myself, perfectly safe and secure. After he was born, I spent my days holding him close to me. I’m glad I was wise enough to know that the early days of his life would pass quickly. I was fully present when I held him and when I looked into his eyes, I wondered about his future and dreamed dreams for him.

The time came when I had to return to work. I clearly remember the first day I left him at day care. I laid him next to his caregiver on a blue mat. I looked down at him. He was so small and I was leaving him in this big world without my protection. His caregiver chatted away, trying to make me feel comfortable until she saw the tears hitting the mat beside him. That picture is forever etched in my mind. Him looking up at me with my tears beside him.

That was the first of many physical bonds to be broken. He learned to ride a bike and rode away from me. He learned to drive a car and drove away from me. He left for college and has a life of his own, away from me. I wish I knew that raising a child is a series of separations. If I knew, maybe I could have tried to get ready for each milestone. Probably not, there is no way to prepare for the ever loosening grip I had on his hand.

He was 5 years old during a particularly stressful time in my life. He and I were in the car going to Blockbuster. It was raining and I was in a gloomy mood. He told me that before he was born, he sat on a cloud and looked down at earth and saw me. He told God that he wanted me to be his mom. I don’t think he will ever realize how desperately I needed to hear that. How thinking about it now, makes me cry. How honored I am to have him as my son. He is my greatest treasure.

Today, more than ever, children need our love. If you don’t have children of your own, look for a child in need of love and support. Loving children will always teach you that you have much more love to give than you could ever imagine.

Mark 9:36 – 37; Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.”

 

Cracks

cracks-girl-lying-downToday, I found something I had written 20 years ago. As I read it, I found it fascinating. I can see the early tracks of depression in my thoughts. At the time, I didn’t realize where these thoughts would lead me. I can see I was lost but still looking for a way out. I still had hope. I was still praying to God and asking for His help. Yet, I can also see the cracks in my spirit. For me, depression built slowly over time. It took many years for it to finally break me. When my thoughts began to turn darker and I thought about suicide, I wish I had reached out for help then and not have waited so many years. This is what I wrote:

Is it really that important to be with someone?  If I don’t stand by me, who will? I haven’t done that in a long time. I react, not act.

People are incredibly deep sources of heartache. They are unreliable and selfish. Is it really necessary to have people in my life or am I afraid and avoiding the risk of pain? Why would I want to put myself in a potentially painful situation? Plain and simple, people hurt.

No one close to me has died, yet I have witnessed many types of death. All the way back  to when I was young, parts of my heart and soul have died. Some resurrected, some still gone. All those secret places that beg me to remember and feel. I’d rather cover it up and look the other way. Why God? Why have you decided not to give me someone to lean on? Why must I stand so very alone? Please stand by me. I need to stop jumping from one distraction to another. Act, don’t react. Julie – you know she knows what is best, who else do you have?

God, I know you must be observing this. I want to breathe with no weight on my chest and not feeling bogged down. I want to feel alive. I want to feel.

God, help me to be my own best friend. You’ve got to love me, God. If I were to die, would it merely be an inconvenience to others? If I were gone, things would easily be smoothed over and life would quickly move on. Please God, surely I’m not worth that little. Do you see me? I’ve looked everywhere for answers.

I look back and remember the pain I had then.  That Julie seems so innocent and oblivious to what is to come. I’d give anything to go back and help her avoid it. But if I did, I wouldn’t have experienced the depth of God’s love for me. The deeper the darkness, the greater the miracle.

Jesus, teach me to keep a close eye on myself and the people in my life. Keep me from ignoring any warning signs because I think they’re not important or temporary. Help me to remember we are all amazing creations. We’re here to make a difference and build each other up.

I Want To Be Like You

pointing-babyBack when I was fighting (and at the time losing) my battle with depression, I didn’t like me. I didn’t want to be me. I thought I was a mistake and forgotten by God. I believed I was unlovable and a failure at life.

There were many people in my life I did want to be. Strong people who spoke their minds. Confident people who always said the right things. Brave people who shared their beliefs, regardless if they would cause controversy. Successful people who worked hard and reaped the benefits. Optimistic people who were not afraid of the future.

Since beating depression, I now know that God doesn’t make mistakes and I am meant to be here. He made me on purpose, just as I am, His beautiful creation. I no longer want to be anyone else, I only want to be like Jesus. But, there are qualities some people have that are like rays of sunshine shining through them.  They have opened up a window to their soul, allowing God’s light to shine through them. They are very special because God chose them, they listened to Him and He is using them to reach others and provide hope.

I know one such person. I worked with her for a while and we got to know each other. She is a positive person who always smiles. She has lots of energy. She speaks openly about her love for God. She’s one of those people who when she walks into a room, others are drawn to her.

After a few years she moved on to another job. She regularly posted on Facebook and I kept up with her there. Last month, we directly communicated with each other for the first time in years. I learned that she is fighting stage 4 thyroid cancer. She has endured surgeries, radiation and many trips to the emergency room. I was shocked. After reading her many posts, I never would have guessed what she was going through. She posts a lot of pictures on Facebook and her beautiful, smiling face is in each one. She posted a selfie while lying in a hospital bed. She was grinning and surrounded by a happy glow. The only reason I knew she was in the hospital is she mentioned it in her comments.

She is the perfect example of how God shines through us. I know she trusts and believes in God. I know she prays regularly and has a close relationship with God. I think many of us know people who shine just a little brighter. They have a different kind of courage and an unshakable faith. I want to spend time with these folks and get to know them better.  I know being around them brings me closer to God.

Acts 13:47 – “The Lord gave us the following order: ‘I have made you a light for the nations so that you would save people all over the world.'”

 

My Heaven

heaven-mountainI have envisioned my heaven. I live in a valley between soaring mountains. The sky is a perfect deep blue and there is always a gentle breeze. All the dogs I’ve had through my life run around me and play.  They are so happy, their wagging tails making me smile. I feel the sun on my face, the breeze in my hair. I am strong and full of peace. I sit on a blanket under huge trees and breathe in the beauty. I see Jesus walking towards me. He sits down beside me. We talk quietly about how happy I am, how thankful I am for what He’s done for me.

Since my cancer diagnosis, I think a lot about death. My thoughts now are very different from those I had when I was struggling with depression. At that time I could not imagine a heaven. No beautiful, happy place was waiting for me. My soul was dark and empty. There was no room in my mind for ideas that were full of light and hope. I believed that death was my only option to escape from the pain.

During this struggle, one of my dogs became very sick and he was suffering. I decided it was best to put him to sleep. In the exam room at the vet’s office, blankets were brought in to make him comfortable. I got down on the floor beside him and held him. The drugs were administered and he quietly slipped away. I cried because I was sad to lose him. I cried because I desperately wanted to go with him. I didn’t want to ever step outside that exam room. I didn’t care what happened after death. I wanted to cease to exist and become nothing.

Now, death doesn’t mean an end or an escape. It means a transition to all the amazing things God has waiting for me. Through my fight with cancer, I have found joy and purpose. I know who I am and why I’m here. I can die knowing I found the courage to listen to the small voice that kept telling me to share my story.  I can die knowing I conquered my biggest fears and I now shout out the secrets I hid from the world.  I can die with the knowledge that those secrets were loving examples of God’s hand in my life.

Today is another page in the story of my wonderful life here on earth. I know this story will end but having a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean I’m going to die sooner than anyone else. Cancer only serves as a constant reminder that there is a timer running.

James 4:14 – How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

Human Gifts

giftA few weeks ago, my husband and I had a huge garage sale. We probably had enough stuff for two huge garage sales. We made a decent amount of money from the sale, but the most valuable rewards we received were all the people who came to the sale.

I had help from family members. They traveled a long way to be here. They worked and sweated (and sweated). They cooked meals, did laundry and went to the grocery store. They helped price and organize all the things we had to get rid of. They hauled out furniture and climbed in attics. They did these things cheerfully and always asking, “what else can we do?”.

I had help from two dear friends. Both have very busy lives, but they made time on a hot, August Saturday to help us. They are marketing geniuses and used these skills to sell many more things than I could have ever sold on my own. They were genuinely happy to help me with this unpleasant job. I hope that if the roles were reversed, I would be as giving as they were.

Neighbors came over, some of them we had never met before. Many knew about my health struggles. I received a lot of hugs, good wishes and prayers (and they bought things too!). I never would have thought that a garage sale could be used as an example of the kindness of people. People are quick to give love, they only need to have the opportunity.

One person, her name is Teresa, came to the sale. She spent a lot of time talking with my husband. During their conversation, he told her about my battle with cancer. After she paid him for the items she wanted, she drove away. Five minutes later, she came back. She pointed at me and asked to speak with me. She spoke in such a serious tone, I thought she was angry. She said as she was driving away, God urged her to come back and pray with me.  Teresa looked into my eyes and she knew what my fears about cancer were. She told me to stop being afraid and then prayed with me. It was a surreal. All the people around me were bringing items out to sell, talking about prices and chatting with each other. Yet Teresa and I stood in the presence of God. I knew that even in the normality of a garage sale, God found me and reminded me He is in control.

The garage sale was something I dreaded for months. But through it, I saw the many priceless human gifts I have in my life. Once again I have learned that whether I’m fighting cancer, dealing with depression or having a garage sale, God can turn any situation or obstacle into a lesson on how awesome He is.

Jesus, teach me that nothing is more important or valuable than the people in my life. Teach me to love and cherish them the way you love and cherish me.