Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Acknowledging God

In the last 6ish weeks, the Lord has been moving within our family in amazing ways. We feel His presence and can see how He is using even negative circumstances and situations to mold us and shape us into what He wants us to become. One of the tools the Lord is using to teach us right now is a book that Eric and I are reading called Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham. I first heard about this book quite a while ago but hadn't endeavored to read it until recently. We are only a few chapters into the book since we just read a little most evenings after the kids are in bed. Some of the topics in this book are simple things that you can easily incorporate into your lifestyle or that you possibly already do, and others require you to take a greater stand personally and publicly for your faith and family. Prayer is a one of those topics which so many of us brush under the carpet because we do it, and we think we do it adequately, but, as a result of reading this book, Eric and I have been challenged to think about why we pray.  

Many Americans say grace before a meal (incidentally, why is it called "grace" anyway?). But why? Some of us teach our children to say routine prayers like, "God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for our food." I don't think there is necessarily anything wrong with that, but is that all there is? Are we training our children to understand why we pray before the meal? Are we doing it just to say, "Hey, God, thanks for feeding us,"? Do we, as adult believers, recognize this as anything more than another rote activity expected of us on a mundane journey toward heaven? Of course, I hope that most of us are not viewing it that way, but I think it is a common pitfall that we need to guard against.

We have begun to teach our children that our prayers before our meals are not only a way to thank the Lord for provision, something that many Americans take for granted, but also a way to acknowledge His presence at our table and to invite Him to be a part of that experience with us. This goes far beyond the family dinner table. We should be taking the time to acknowledge God in all the activities of life. For instance: Stop and pray before leaving the drive-way before a road-trip. Pause before heading into the office to welcome God into your workday. Are you a homemaker? Thank God for the ability to mop the floors, scrub the tub and carry heavy loads, and invite Him to watch over the meal as you cook it.

Acknowledging God in all things should be an easy discipline to implement; yet, I am realizing how much we do without ever acknowledging His presence. I know He is there, but do I let Him know that I want Him there? All the time? 

This is what we are working diligently to do in our family. I hope that I have inspired you to do the same. This could have tremendous impact if you think about it. If you acknowledged God before you turned on the TV, would you watch as often, and would you choose different entertainment all together? Would Jesus watch that show if He was in the room (because, He is in the room, you know)? If you acknowledged God before grabbing your laptop, would you spend less time on the internet or stop visiting certain websites? 

God is with us all the time, right? Of course He is, but He wants you to choose Him, so welcome Him into each thing you do, whether little or big, and remind yourself how important it is that He is always with you. As we draw closer to His Spirit, may we find that each task is a little sweeter no matter how mundane or dirty or unappetizing. Jesus can't wait to be with you no matter what it is you are doing!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bucket List : Living for God

The following was written especially for The Intentional Journey by my dear friend, Angela Kent:

"I know my plans for you, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, and to give you a hope and future."  - Jeremiah 29:11

"When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; You hold me by your right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." -  Psalm 73:21-26

It was the spring of 2010, and the second full year of my doctoral program. I had begun to experience headaches.  I made three different trips to the health center and always received the same answer, “It is just your sinuses."  Not having any major medical problems before I had no reason to doubt them but when it happened again I started to vomit. I figured out later I was vomiting due to the extreme pain in my head and my body could not tolerate it. I am a stubborn one, but on Friday April 23, 2010, I had had enough. My friend was up from Indiana and I asked him to take me to the ER. The first thing they did was perform a CT scan on my head and they found a mass in my brain and it would need to be removed. I was happy that they were going to take the pain away because that was the worse pain I had ever experienced.  It was April 26 when they operated and said that everything went well. The next day, when I was more coherent, they told me that the mass in my head was a tumor and that I had cancer. I did not sign up for cancer, just the removal of the mass. I then had to go through a number of more tests to determine if there was more cancer in my body.

Needless to say, I found out that I have stage four metastatic breast cancer. Although, there was never any cancer in my breast tissue, that is my primary site of origin. They cannot cure it but only try to prolong my life. So I gave up that summer and started chemotherapy and radiation. I tolerated treatment well, but still not into the fact that I will forever have to be doing some kind of treatment. 

I was angry at first and I asked God why? I researched Job and why did God allow him (of all people) to be put through such an ordeal. Job did nothing wrong, but he was a great man of faith. So despite not knowing any answers to my why I had to regroup and slowly move on. I was given three months off after finishing treatment in September and the cancer quickly came back in November. I asked for a second opinion and went to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. They confirmed treatment and opened my eyes to my prognosis (meaning my time frame of life). The average was 2.5 years, with 20% living 5 years and 2% living 10.  I was angry that no one had told this to me before. 

After crying, being angry, and knowing that cancer will take my life sooner than what I thought, I began to re-prioritize what meant the most in my life and what do I want to invest my final years in. Enter in the creation of my bucket list of things I wanted to do before I die. These are things that are specific to me but in which others will be included to participate in the experience and the memory.

1.  Visit Disney World-  03/02-03-06-11  Booked
2.  Ireland
3.  Visit all 50 states- about 10 to go
             a. Oregon
             b. Rhode Island- Jessi
             c. Louisiana
             d. Alabama
             e. Mississippi
             f. Texas
             g. Delaware
             h. Hawaii
             i.  Alaska
4.  Weekend trip to Nashville to take in some food and music
5. Ride (motorcycle) the dragons tail, North Carolina
6. Ride through the redwood national forest in northern California
7.  Finish my PhD- I need the support of my CECP family here.
8.  Have one article published nationally
9. Write a book, spiritual in nature
10.  Attend the Rose Bowl or any other major college bowl game 01/01/12
11.  Continue to photograph people, places, and things
12. Learn to cook a little more
13.  Visit Australia/ New Zealand
14.  The great Wall of China/ Japan
15.  Tobogganing
16.  Painted rock state forest in UP of MI
17.  Marriage- I am not counting it out - must be Christian
18.  Laughter, love and time spent with friends- on going
19.  The wine valley in California
20.  Go snorkeling again
21.  See a volcano
22.  See as many National parks as possible
23.  To see, breathe, and speak God's nature to all people. – On going

The ones crossed out are the ones that have been completed. I have also completed more than what is on this list thus far. One that was not listed was Community Theater. Last spring I was in the performance of the Vagina Monologues and I dearly loved it. I had always wanted to go out for plays in high school but was always to shy. It is hard to rank what has meant the most because as I cross off each one it is more about the relationships rather than the activity. My friend, Sophie, is coming with me to the Rose Bowl and she does not follow football- that is love. Disney was a blast and so was the company. The dragon’s tail was biker heaven, but the company I will cherish. Picture rocks, the reunion of the stooges with some snoring in the room. One itty-bitty state you should visit is Rhode Island – beautiful! Jessi and I blew glass, literally. 

I have cherished all the traveling will all the different people and the people who are in my life bless me beyond belief. Through all this doing I have learned many things, but one is very clear to me and is more prominent that the rest. More so than any other time in my life do I want to store up treasures in heaven. I ache over my friends that are not believers because the thought of them not being in heaven with me one day is sadness in my soul. I know my fate lies in heaven but I want to take as many people as I can with me. 

As my cancer continues to appear in different places of my body, my prayer is not for healing, rather for strength and for God’s will to be done. My heart has been eased at the thought of leaving this world and moving on to the next. We were not made for this world, but to be with God, our father, in His Kingdom. Many people still pray that I will be healed physically and I let them, but I just seek to do the will of the Father, and to shine my light as bright as I can for the one who has saved me. On my journeys I mean to enjoy myself, take in God’s greatness here on earth, and sharing the word to as many people as I can. There is a fire deep within and it cannot be squelched by cancer or death. I strive to leave a legacy of Christ.


Angela Kent is originally from Moline, Illinois. She is an avid Colts and Notre Dame fan. She is currently working on getting her PhD in Counselor education and supervision at Western Michigan University. She holds a MA in Marriage and Family Therapy from Indiana Wesleyan University. When she's not working on her dissertation you can find her riding her Suzuki C50 motorcycle. She loves adventure and is thankful to God for everything.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bucket List: Maine

My bucket list is really rather short, probably because I tend to go ahead and do the types of things that would show up on a bucket list as I am able.  I don't want to get to the end of my life and still have things I wish I had done.  However, at this point, I have one thing that I have not done: travel to Maine.

I'm not sure when my fascination with Maine began.  I recall that during my early years at Indiana Wesleyan, I considered becoming a Spanish teacher, and noticed that there was a shortage of Spanish teachers in Maine, where French is a more prominent language due to the border with Canada.  However, in more recent years, I have started collecting lighthouses, and try to find ways to see them anytime we go on vacation.  In researching popular lighthouses, I learned of the Portland Head Lighthouse, and decided that I just have to see it in person.

I also imagine that a trip to Maine will involve at least one day in Boston, since it's the best place to fly into when heading to that part of the country.  While a tour of Boston would be nice for the historical significance, as a Colts fan, I wouldn't in good conscience be able to make Boston the focal point of any trip. :)

At one point, my husband and I thought that we would try to make the trip for our 10th anniversary.  However, at that time we were living in Iowa, and a trip to Maine was just too cost prohibitive.  I don't think we'll be in a place to be able to go in two years for our 15th, so I am shooting for the trip to occur in seven years when we celebrate our 20th anniversary.

If anyone has been and has any suggestions for places that are a must see on this trip, I would love to hear about it!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Grief Journey

Approaching the 3 month mark of my sister's death has been difficult.  It is hard to believe that my baby sister has been dead for 3 months, hard to think that my life is continuing even with my daily thoughts of not knowing how it is possible for that to be happening.  The raw, unfiltered and ugly emotions that I face daily are a challenge for me.  I am a fix-er.  I fix things.  Something is broken?  I fix it.  Someone is angry?  I bake cookies.  (It is pretty tough to be angry and unhappy when you're eating a cookie...)  The realization that I couldn't fix my sister (not that she was ever my "project" to fix) weighs so heavily on my spirit.  She was her own person and, as my cousin so eloquently phrased it, "Free will won."  She wasn't mine to fix.  She had lots of opportunity to turn things around and chose to not do so.  She made her choices.

*Realization: No amount of baking (or praying, or crying or days of not functioning) will bring my sister back.  I can't fix this.  And I'm not a failure for this...it is not mine to fix.  Handing it over to my Gracious Heavenly Father is the absolute best I can do for myself and my family.

God is for everyone.  In my world, it is easy enough to go along believing that God loves us because we're doing the things we should be doing, sinners, yes, but forgiven...walking under the umbrella of His endless Grace.  But...

*Realization: It is because of who God is that He loves us...not because of how we live or what we do. He loves those who make not-so-good choices every bit as much as He loves His followers.  He desires us deeply and completely and He is saddened by those who are lost.

The pain I endure is sometimes unbearable.  The tears come suddenly and with no warning.  I wish so desperately that I could just speak to her one more time, let her know that despite my frustration and impatience with her behavior, I love her so very much and a part of me died with her.  I'm thankful that my last words to her were "I love you." but I beat myself up constantly that I said those words in a rush and in an unkind and rushed tone of voice.  I have nightmares about my impatience with her and even the fact that I HAD to separate myself from her, I HAD to sever the co-dependent hell in which I was drowning.  She definitely still took advantage and still manipulated and used me, but I was in a better place emotionally for having made the separation.  The guilt is more that I feel that I should have been kinder (typical for a co-dependent, huh?) and much less about how "little" I did to help her... although the sneaking thoughts creep in from time to time - but I do know that I tried and did everything humanly possible to help her.

*Realization: Pain is part of the process.  We live in a fallen world. Allowing my thoughts to wander to guilt for more than a fleeting moment is not only unproductive, but simply is of the enemy and not to be entertained.  I will still be thinking of my baby sister.  It is part of the pain, part of the process.  The answers may not ever come to me.  I may not know where she is now, but I know she lives on in my heart.  I pray that she has found a deep peace that eluded her for her whole life.  I pray that the same peace can wash over me at some point and I pray that my baby sister knew how loved she was and still is.