Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Making Space

In the past few weeks I’ve found myself in the same kind of driving situation several times. It seems whenever I’m about to change lanes there’s been a car in that next lane which has sped up to make sure I couldn’t get over. You know that moment when a driver zooms from behind closing off any opportunity or gap for your vehicle. We all know it’s kind of that driver’s prerogative, but it’s also kind of impolite. 


It’s not like I’m trying to cut a line or cut anyone off or anything like that. I’m talking about just a simple tap of my blinker and a clear intention to move on over. Nothing fast or furious or frantic. Nothing exceptional. Nothing exciting. Nothing extra at all. Just an attempt to change my lane. And yet, lately, time after time, the message has been clear:  No way, lady. Not today. There’s no room for you here in my lane. MY. Lane.


Today that streak changed when a kind driver in the next lane and slightly behind, slowed down and, with a smile, waved me right over. He welcomed me into his lane. And what a difference that made. I immediately felt my mood lighten and my stress level lower. It changed everything when someone made room for me. 


Because, it does change everything when we make room for others. 


Driving or living or any-thing.


I know this is a simple little thing that happens a million times a day for a million types of people. But I guess because of my unfortunate personal string of lane changing attempts, it kind of felt like a big deal this afternoon. 


I’m pretty sure the man who smiled and waved me over had no idea the impact he made on me. And that’s when the deeper piece of this hit me—so often we don’t. We don’t always realize how our little interactions and tiny gestures of kindness can sometimes lead to a much bigger impact. 


Of course driving is just one such situation. But it immediately makes me think of anytime we slide over and make room for someone. In our lane or at our lunch table. The place doesn’t much matter, but the grace of it surely does.  


We all know how it feels to be told in words or, better yet, body language, “Sorry, there’s no room for you here.” Most of us have been on both sides of that message. We’ve been the ones to relay it as well as the ones to receive. Neither truly makes anyone feel very good.


I know it’s sometimes even easy to justify the lines we draw—

Sorry, there are only 6 seats in the car. Sorry, there are only 10 chairs at the table. Sorry, only 5 spots or 4 slots or 3 tickets or 2 pieces.  Yes, I know sometimes we do have to draw a line and we can’t include everyone who asks every time. But I’m not really talking about those times as much as the ones where it just requires us to move over, to make room, to pull up another chair, to find another way. To include. To invite. To embrace. 

Those times.


My kids have been on both sides. I’ve seen it play out in their childhoods and teenage years over and over. Either way, I marvel at the opportunity lost when we don’t make room for others. When we don’t invite others in to our circles whatever those circles might be. So often they lose. We lose. 


Earlier this month a group of my girlfriends attended a concert together. The concert (Maverick City Music) was AH-MAZING, but perhaps the thing which amazed me most about the night was finding out that the girlfriend who purchased all of the tickets for us, also chose to purchase an extra ticket. She told me she always does this. It’s her thing. Whenever she buys tickets for a group of her friends or those of her kids, she buys one more than what is needed. She went on to explain she does this because there’s always someone else who wants or needs to be there. Always someone who God kind of lays on her heart to include. She plans for it. She plans to make room for someone extra. But wait!--shouts my practical voice--concert tickets are expensive. Absolutely they are. But, a gracious including, wouldn't you agree, well, that is priceless. I’ve never once thought to purchase an extra ticket to anything. But she has been doing it consistently for years and isn't that so crazy beautiful? 


The word is grace. There’s a beautiful kind of grace when we make space for someone who needs a spot. 


Concert tickets. Seats at the table. Lane changes. 

I guess it gives us something to think about. 


"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, 

whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, 

you did for me."   ~ Matthew 25:40


Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Catching Up!


Dear Friends! Clearly I've been a little lazy with this blog the past few months. Though I share pretty often (okay, very often) on social media, I do forget to update y'all here. 

This morning I had a little extra margin and so I played a little catch up with my health updates and such. Going back over the past few months, I did try to include the correct dates. Hopefully for those of you who receive posts via email you won't get a bombardment of Jody Posts. If so, I'm so sorry.  

Thank you for reading!  

I took this photo this morning. Talk about rose colored glass --- It was truly the pinkest morning I've ever seen. Gorgeous!

Happy November! JM

~~~

"Satisfy us in the morning

with you unfailing love,

that we may sing for joy

and be glad

all our days."  

Psalm 90:14



Saturday, October 8, 2022

Good News


Waking this morning with gratitude in my heart and good news in my hands.

Late yesterday, my wonderful doctor handed me favorable news— no progression, no new growth and stable mets. There was even some shrinkage of lymph nodes and a couple of spots in my pelvis. “This is excellent news,”she said. “Your current treatment is working.” I don’t think she had finished her sentence before my tears began to flow. The weight began to lift. Praise Jesus.
For those of you interested in the science/medicine—this week’s scan is something brand new. Just this summer a new type of PET/CT was approved in Georgia. It’s called the FES PET and it measures estrogen instead of glucose. It’s a huge advancement for hormone positive breast cancer. Strangely enough, my cancer wasn’t able to be seen on traditional PET, therefore, last fall (literally a year ago this week) we thought we had received good news when the scan came back “all clear.” But it was misleading. There was, indeed, cancer present, just not readable cancer. As we found out earlier this year with further testing and biopsy. Confused? Yes, we were too. But lobular cancer especially isn’t always read on traditional modalities. So, this new (estrogen) tracing ability is more accurate for women like me.
When I went in for the scan this week the technician told me I was the first patient to be scanned this way at that particular location.
Not that long ago, Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) was considered a death sentence. In 2022, because of the advancements made in recent years, we now have the ability to (possibly) manage it as a chronic disease. How amazing to be living in these times and get to see such steps forward.
I am thankful for research, medicine and science.
I am grateful for those who push forward in finding new treatments.
I give God the glory for all of it.
In breast cancer awareness month, I urge you to keep in mind, every woman’s journey is different. Like with most things, there’s a wide spectrum when it comes to the diagnosis and disease. We must be careful to get informed and recognize this fact.
Thank you, dear friends, for standing and, more importantly, kneeling with us.🙏🏻

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Only Mist


Every morning, on the way to school, Bella and I pass this lovely little farm tucked far back from the busy road.
This week as temperatures have cooled a bit there has been every morning the most beautiful blanket of mist covering the fields. Looks like snow doesn’t it? Well, y’all know we are nowhere near snow in the south at the start of October. No, it is only mist.
Only mist.
Often our lives can look blanketed in something heavy and cold. Blanketed in something too hard for us to handle. Blanketed in something not right for this season.
We see only so much.
We understand only so little.
I feel that way too some days. Especially in this past year.
But I was reminded this morning that even in the hardest of hard, God’s promises remain faithful and sure. Even when things look a certain way, God remains the same.
This morning, my girl, DJ Bella, had chosen to play Maverick City’s song, “Promises.” And, as we drove by, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the beauty
… of those words
… and this landscape
… and His faithfulness
in this time.
“Great is Your faithfulness to me
Great is Your faithfulness to me
From the rising sun to the setting same
I will praise Your name
Great is Your faithfulness to me
When the seasons change
You remain the same
God from age to age
Though the earth may pass away
Your word remains the same, yeah
Your history can prove
There's nothing You can't do
You're faithful and true
Though the storms may come and the winds may blow
I'll remain steadfast
And let my heart learn,
when You speak a word
It will come to pass.”
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” ~ Hebrews 13:8
Link to Promises in comments below.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

So Many Promises

It’s been a great summer. A pretty quiet and even kind of lovely 3 months. But tomorrow I face new scans. The plan is every 12 weeks and it’s time again to take a look and see what’s going on or, hopefully, what isn’t going on.

My PET/CT scan is tomorrow at 2pm and results by Friday. I’d love you to join us in our prayers for peace, for strength, for good news.
Yes, the scan matters, but these things have already been found at The Cross.
So though I care much about the results,
I cling most to my Redeemer.
Psalm 27. So many promises. Over the years, I have literally marked the stuffing out of this passage. Words circled, underlined, highlighted and clung to. God’s word is so beautiful.

This passage begins with — 
“The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?” and ends with “I am confident of this: I will see goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong
and take heart
and wait for the Lord.” 
Psalm 27

Do you need these words tonight? My guess is you might. We are all needy, dear ones.

“My heart says of you, “Seek His face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek.”

Friday, September 9, 2022

Always Something More


I have discovered a rather quirky pattern in these 7 months of treatment. After spending a day in appointments or in the infusion center, I must come home and DO something physical outdoors: weed the garden, clean up our woods, burn debris in the fire pit. The harder the better. I don’t know what this is or why it is (or what’s wrong with me and my wiring)
but this is what I do. I DO something and allow myself to process what has transpired earlier in the day.

Because, truth is, there’s always something. I don’t seem to be able to go to Emory each month and leave with only lab results in hand or good medicine in my body.
There’s always something extra thrown into the deal.
This morning was no different. I was in my seat waiting on the IV hook up. Honestly I was feeling a bit frustrated as things weren’t going quickly or smoothly. I was probably feeling a little sorry for myself having to spend it in a treatment room. Lately I’ve been feeling tired of it all. Just tired. Maybe even grumpy.
And this morning the room was extra full, the wait was extra long, and I suppose I was extra impatient.
But because I was there much longer than anticipated my path crossed with a woman who I’m pretty sure was exactly what I needed this week.
I knew there was something different about her. She had a joy and a softness that was noticeable immediately. I was strumming my fingers and tapping my feet in impatience and she only had a smile and kind words for everyone around her.
She was peaceful.
We ended up in conversation. We shared our stories, our sadness, our fears … but, most importantly, our Hope.
Also a stage 4 metastatic breast cancer patient, Lisa, told me she was starting a new chemo drug today as her scans have recently shown progression. She’s had over 117 radiation treatments and 108 chemo infusions.
She told me about her children, her grandchildren, her beautiful, full life. She called herself blessed.
But she also told me about how when the treatments are hard and she can’t get out of bed for a day or two she pulls the comforter up around her and she reminds herself that the Holy Spirit is her comforter. He covers her and He comforts her and He reminds her whose she is.
She reminded me that none of what we are going through is a surprise to the Lord. He knows it all. She said she has never felt so loved by Jesus.
To some this might feel like a fake kind of happiness, but it’s not. Her confidence is in the Lord. It’s the real deal. Dear ones, fake happiness just doesn’t happen after 108 chemo treatments.
I know today I needed my bone strengthening medicine, but way more than that, I needed the hope strengthening medicine of Lisa.
I might have been there twice as long as I had planned for my appointment, but I left doubly encouraged by my time spent talking with this beautiful soul.

Friday, June 10, 2022

A Human Place


Writing to you from the infusion center at Emory right now. It is a holy place. I come in and find my seat and find myself surrounded by a great army of fighters. Too many people are here. Almost every seat taken. So many in one place. Men and women fighting for more years, months, days. Fighting with everything they have in them. 

So many look so tired. I almost look away. My heart hurts to see what I see, to hear what I hear, to know what I know. 

But I don’t look away, I know I must look deeper. These fighters are not defined by their diseases. They have stories. Grand stories. Beautiful stories. Brutal stories, too. Stories full of husbands and wives and children and friends who love them. Who love the sound of their laughter and the jokes they tell and the way they smile. I am honored to sit shoulder to shoulder. Infusion seat to infusion seat. It is a gift. I receive it.

It’s a hard place, gosh, a humbling place. But Emory does everything they can to make it a very human place. There is kindness and concern everywhere I turn. My oncology nurse today acts more like a flight attendant as he makes sure I have a warm blanket and a choice snack. Though he must poke and prod my body, his kind words fall soft on my soul. It is a gift. I receive it.

In the vestibule outside of the room two teens play their violins. Their mother, I assume, sits with them, quietly encouraging. I don’t have to be told why they are here or for whom they play. It is beautiful. It is a gift. I receive it. 

At the end of my seat my husband sits. Faithful. Quiet. Encouraging. Strong for me. And funny. He’s a tremendous gift. 

Before I am finished with my infusion a bell rings toward the front of this busy center. Someone has completed their treatment. I might not ever ring that bell with my dx, but it encourages me to hear it anyway. I feel the beauty of hope. It is a gift and I receive it. 

I am grateful. 

Lord, keep us grateful. For kind people, for good medicine, for snacks offered, for violins played, for bells rung, for loved ones faithful, for days multiplied, for hope given. Lord, keep us grateful. Amen.



Friday, June 3, 2022

This Is The Day

 

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted an update about my health. Y’all can see I’ve posted more than a few pictures of life—celebrations, milestones, and even some basic day to day stuff.

That’s because life goes on.

Even when handed a terminal diagnosis, life must go on. Because we can only teeter so long at the precipice of fear. Kate Bowler, in her book No Cure For Being Human, has a conversation with her father about living in fear versus moving forward in life. He tells her, “You can’t stay in this state of extreme vigilance. You can’t … live here anymore.”

As humans we have to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other. And so that’s what I’ve been busy doing. Each day. One foot in front of the other. Some days it feels like I’m numbingly going through the motions. Faking it a little. But, you know what? Some days I surprise myself and I find I really am living and really loving and really feeling kind of normal. Maybe better than normal because I have this new perspective that everything truly does matter. Each day really does count. Another quote from Bowler’s book explains how in a stage 4 diagnosis, “the mundane begins to sparkle.” It’s not just something found in a sappy song lyric. It’s not just a nice philosophy or some clever bumper sticker theology. Every single day DOES matter. Every day IS a gift.
Even the hard days.
Pretty quickly after hearing my diagnosis I came face to face with a decision—Either I could hunker down and hide myself under the heavy blankets of fear or I could continue to live life. In those first weeks I decided one morning to start my day declaring out loud Psalm 118:24 — “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” And so that’s what I do. Every morning. Each day. As soon as my feet hit the floor, I recite that verse to anyone listening, but, truly, mostly, to myself.
I need the reminder.
That practice, however, is not just for those with stage 4 cancer. Maybe it’s for you too? Maybe you are also going through the motions of life sometimes. Feeling numb. Living in fear. Wondering if there’s more. Sad about your past and unsure of your future. We all experience those feelings to some extent. Can I encourage you to join me in this morning declaration? “THIS is the day the Lord has made. I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.”
I’m inviting you. Take this step. Sometimes it really is just one step. One foot in front of the other. Step by step by step … and all of a sudden we find ourselves moving forward again … maybe even dancing a little through life once more.
Speaking of steps, I know some of you are wondering what my next steps medically might be —
I’m leaving today (soon) to spend the day at Emory University Hospital where I will have my first scans since the diagnosis. Scans are a pretty big deal as they show what’s actually happening inside of me. They show what we cannot see. Things seem pretty stable on the outside. Many of you have almost seemed startled to see me looking healthy and active … normal. We can almost forget if we look only on the outside. But, though I’m thankful for a healthy outward appearance, we know its what the inside shows which matters most. So today we will scan.
As many of you know, the scans last fall were more than a little misleading. They gave us the false news that there was no cancer evident. We have since learned my specific type of breast cancer (lobular) doesn’t always show up in PET imagery. That’s why I kept hearing the good (but false) news, “all clear!” last fall. Obviously, the biopsy doesn’t lie and so, whether the PET shows cancer lighting up or it doesn’t, the cancer is present. Going forward, the doctors have decided to use CT scans along with bone scans to monitor the bone mets. That’s what I’m doing today.
We are praying for no progression or growth, no spread to other areas, and even praying boldly for the bone lesions to have shrunk a bit. That would be great news!
The whole "scan” thing can be a source of great anxiety. In cancer circles it’s called “scanxiety.” Clever, I know. 🥹All week I’ve been feeling it begin to seep in and start its awful attack. But, strangely, today, I woke up very much at peace. I guess this is exactly what Paul is talking about in Philippians 4:6 when he tells us to “instead, in every situation with prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
What a privilege we have to “tell [our] requests to God.” I know the part that says I should do it with thanksgiving feels weird. Am I really going to pretend I am giving thanks for this cancer? No, probably not. But there are so many things for which I most certainly CAN give thanks. And it is this posture of gratitude which leads me closer to giving Him my worries and my fears. Don’t ask me to explain it any better than that. I don’t fully understand how it all works, but that’s exactly why Paul calls it a peace which “surpasses all understanding.”
In other good news, my body does seem to be adjusting to the different medications. Yes, I have some aches and pains especially late in the day and first thing in the morning. I wake up with stiff hands and I go to bed with sore joints and some bone pain, BUT, from everything I read about the side effects of my medications, this could be much worse. It very might become more of an issue, but we are praising God for how good I am actually feeling right now.
So that’s the update on this beautiful June 3rd morning. I won’t have results from the scans until sometime next week. Y’all know how to pray. I’m counting on you dear ones. As always, thank you for coming alongside us on this journey.
Love, Jody

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Walmart and Redemption Stories


After dropping Bella off at her summer camp this morning in north Georgia, I stopped at the Walmart up there for a few quick items.

In the bin aisle, as I was attempting to match bins to their lids, I had the express joy of overhearing two men—well into their 80s—chatting. One was telling the other the story of how God rescued him as a young man, turned his life around and made what was broken, beautiful.
There was really no seamless way for me to enter into that conversation, so I didn’t. Though I kind of wanted to stop and hug them both.
Wouldn’t this world be a little better if we all took the time to share our redemption stories with each other over our carts in the aisles of Walmart? Not our success stories, but the story of our surrender and His rescue?
I mean, just stop for a minute and imagine.
And even better yet, if we all allowed ourselves to receive the free gift of God’s beautiful rescue in our own lives?
Walmart probably has over 5 million items packed onto its many metal shelves, but the best item I walked out with today? Joy!
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.” - Psalm 40

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Week Following

Eleven years ago we were at this same beach. In a house on this same street. And we took this picture.

This past week, I (somehow) cajoled my family into replicating that old photo. “For fun!” I told them, encouragingly!  A few of them gave me the look--like what is our mom now asking us to do--but lately, they have all been pretty agreeable with most of my requests. I guess this is the silver lining kind of stuff. =)

Eleven years ago Bella was just home from China. We were a brand new family of 7. It was a glorious time introducing our tiny girl to the big ocean and all of its wonders. Truly one of those A+ kind of vacations.

But the week following that trip, we returned home and, shockingly, I was handed my first diagnosis of breast cancer. 

That year, as I went through surgery and treatments, I often looked back at our beach pictures from that trip just prior to diagnosis. I saw our healthy, happy, tanned faces. I saw our joy and carefree family and sometimes, the cancer thing well it didn’t even feel real. 

It didn’t seem possible.

How? How could we be one day jumping waves in the ocean and the next week jumping through medical hoops at the hospital?

It didn't make sense then. 

It doesn't make sense now.

Here we are again. Same family of 7, eleven years later. Only now we know. Now we deal with this next go around—this 2nd more difficult diagnosis. And there are more medical hoops. A harder prognosis. Higher stakes.

We are back home this week. Still a little tanned. Still finding sand in the bottom of bags and in the back seat of my car, but this week I have ahead of me a brain MRI on Thursday and another infusion on Friday. Not really what I wanted to come home to, but part of my new reality.

Grand as it was, the beach trip is officially over.   

And again, in a weird way, I’m battling the same disbelief as 11 years ago. We just had another glorious week playing at the beach, walking along the ocean, enjoying each other and God’s creation completely. Feeling good, healthy, happy. And there’s this part of me that wants to deny there’s disease in my body. I don’t look sick. Honestly, I don’t even feel sick--a few things going on, but not much.  Anyone watching our family from afar this past week would never guess what it is we’ve been processing in these past couple of months.

It doesn’t make sense.  Again, it doesn’t add up or fit our family photo.  

I’m not sure we’ll ever understand how beach trips and brutal cancer can happen side by side in this world. But they do. The beautiful and the ugly. The wonderful and the tragic. All of it mingled mysteriously together in what we call life.

It’s absolutely true. For all of us … in some way. 

Maybe it’s not cancer for you, but something else which just doesn’t quite fit the picture you had planned. 

Something you didn’t see coming.

Something which turned out differently than imagined.

Something untoward. 

Something unwanted.  

Some thing. 

I don't know what it is you are dealing with, but I do want you to know you aren’t alone. I sit in that sadness/disappointment/grief with you. I don’t want terminal cancer to be a part of my family’s picture either. Everything inside of me wants to shake my fist and shout out--it really wasn’t supposed to be like this!

This week is not just the week after spring break, but it is Easter week. Holy week. Just like it was eleven years ago when we returned from the beach. For me, that was and that is everything. It is in this week more than ever that I find my hope, my assurance, my life. 

Even with my resistance to cancer and my occasional feelings of disbelief, Easter is everything. Easter saves me. Because of Easter--because Jesus died on a cross and rose from an empty tomb--each day I know, no matter what, I will be okay. No matter what turn this diagnosis takes. No matter what the brain MRI shows tomorrow.  No matter how hard this next year or next decade or next whatever. No matter what, Jesus died and rose again for me, for my life and, most importantly, for my death. "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 1 Corinthians 15:55

And because of that truth I can wake every single day with a choice. I can—

Succumb to the grief of this life? 

[OR]

Surrender to the Giver of True Life?

Yes, dear ones, some days are hard. Heartbreaking, in fact. 

But every day is Holy. Precious. Counted. Coveted. 

A Gift. 

A Chance.

A Choice.

"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, 

though he die, yet shall he live." ~ John 11:25


Note:  I started to write this piece on my last full day at the beach just a couple hours after taking our funny “recreated” family photo. It was later that day we received word that a friend from back home had been in a terrible skiing accident. Mary Lynn and Stewart, had been skiing in Colorado with their 3 daughters for spring break. The impact from Stewart's accident was too devastating and a day later he went to be with Jesus. We are heartbroken for these friends. This tragedy has rocked our community deeply. It surely doesn’t seem possible. Yes, there’s immense, unbelievable grief and we don’t fully understand the how or why. Probably never will. Stewart's wife, Mary Lynn, wrote these words:  "The girls and I said goodbye this evening to his earthly body but we know he is home and that we will be with him again. We have great hope. Great hope.” 

These are not easy words. These were written by a woman who, in a most unimaginable way,  had just said goodbye to her husband. She didn't write them casually or because it was the right thing to say. She wrote them because she believes them. In life and in death. In the very beautiful and in the very terrible. She wrote them, because she believes confidently in the Hope we have in Christ. 

Life IS precious. 

Our days are to be counted. Whatever amount we are given. Whatever the story, whatever the path, whatever the diagnosis, whatever the disappointment, even whatever the devastation. We have a choice to put our trust in the flimsy here and now or in the solid HOPE of Jesus and our eternity with Him. 

Oh dear ones, choose carefully. Our earthly snapshots are brief.  So brief. 

But heaven is the bigger picture.



some favorites from our trip eleven years ago ...








and this year ...









Thursday, March 31, 2022

All Things New




This.

[What this devotional below says - see photo].

This is how I am putting one foot in front of the next each day under this diagnosis. 

This is my hope. 

Right here. 

What God is doing.

What He has already done. 

And, ultimately, what He will do. 

Because He took the worst thing in the world (death on the cross) and the darkest day in the world and He used it for the most beautiful, brightest redemption of this world. Not yet fully, but some day. 


Because of this … I have hope. You have hope! No matter what. 

Hope that my worst thing and my very darkest day will be redeemed! Will be made beautiful. Will, ultimately, end in the bright day of His glory. 

Because He died, I live. 

On this final day of March, I am watching spring take hold everywhere in my temporal world. Signs of life. Signs of His promises. Signs pointing to eternal hope. Reminders of redemption!

He gives us these things to show us New Life! New Life in Him!

He makes all things new. 

Beauty from ashes. 

Bright green from brown.

Blooms from bare buds.

Tender leaf from hard wood. 

He is raising the dead everywhere around me. 

Regardless of how many years you think you have ahead, don’t miss His earnest pointing to Himself. 

As we enter into this next month of Easter see Jesus. Look past the distractions of chocolate bunnies and pretty baskets and see the Man on the cross come to make our worst thing and our darkest day better … beautiful … New.🌱

“Look! I am making all things new.” - Revelation 21:5🌱✨

“Behold, I am doing a new thing;

    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” - Isaiah 43:19

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Month One of Stage Four. Five Lessons Learned

As you can imagine, I was a little glad to flip the calendar from February to March this week. February was a doozy for us.  Not that there is ever a good time to receive a stage 4 diagnosis, but this specific timing felt especially unkind. 

Traditionally, that first week in February has been one of my favorite weeks of the year. It holds the birthday (Feb. 5th) of both our oldest and youngest daughters and typically it is also the week we are busy throwing our big, annual Chinese New Year party. But, this year, that week went pretty south pretty fast for us. In an amazing, almost herculean effort, my dear friends helped me get through an already planned birthday party for Bella the day after my diagnosis. As my mind was trying to take in the enormity of my news, I was watching my little girl celebrate 14 and my heart ached wondering ... Well, I won't even type it. But you know what I wondered. I know that’s awful, but it was an unavoidable thought.

And that brings me to my first lesson learned this month —

Lesson One: Protect the Mind

Gosh,  just uttering the phrase “stage four” makes my stomach hurt, my breath catch and my mind swirl. I knew what those words meant without anyone having to explain. And in those first couple of weeks, especially, I wrestled constantly with my thoughts. That phrase was more than permeating me, it seemed to cut me into pieces. I was hearing it over and over again in my mind. I was under a full out attack like never before. Fiery darts were hitting from every angle. Of course the middle of the night was the absolute worst bringing an almost constant bombardment of pure, unbridled fear. But even the busy days were hard. Recently, I explained it to a group of friends how I can be going along pretty well and then, suddenly, a thought presses in and I feel a heavy, weighted blanket drop itself over me. It’s a tangible, physical feeling of dread and is almost crushing. So much so, I have literally hit the floor from the weight of it. 

So how does a woman with a stage 4 diagnosis crawl out from under that kind of heavy?

I have learned quickly this month, the only thing which helps is keeping my eyes on Jesus and reminding myself of God’s truths. I mean it — NOT LOOKING AWAY from Him. It is what I asked of my friends, first and foremost —keep helping me turn my eyes to Jesus and keep reminding me of His truth. Because, man, does the evil one want to set up shop in our moments of fear. He is like a kid in a candy store when someone is dealing with fear and anxiety and awful diagnoses. It is his favorite playground. 

But Jesus has a different message for us. Jesus speaks of what a heavy yoke life is. That’s a fact. Not just for me, but for you too.  In Matthew He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart , and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Jesus wants to remove our blanket of dread which is heavy and crushing and exchange it for His yoke which is easy and light. He never promises life will be easy and light, but He tells us His yoke is. When we cover ourselves with Him, He will give us rest. 

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:6 

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

 

2. Lesson Two: Let Go 

Not let go and give up, but let go and let God. I needed to learn at a whole new level how to let my Savior and Sustainer direct me. Y’all know I like to be in charge. From my time as a teacher, theater director and coach to my time now as a mom and a wife, I like to be bossy. But this diagnosis is showing me there’s a good deal I simply cannot control. It is out of my hands. Period. I must surrender all of it. All of me.

Surrender has been a regular word in my spiritual life. As a try-hard kind of girl, I’ve struggled with it forever. Even though I know I am not in charge, that hasn’t stopped me from trying. I have lived a good deal of my life under the practice of “If I just work a little harder, stay up a little later, dig in a little deeper, go a little further …” That’s been me to a T! Try Hard. In fact, TRY HARDER! I had a friend tell me once that I should write a book called “Grace for the Try Hard Girl.” That was the title we decided upon. And then—I kid you not—like a month later another writer came out with a book called “Grace for the Good Girl.” LOL. Really? There you go. I guess I’ll have to think of another title for my book. 

But here I am each day, arms stretched out before the Lord giving Him the reigns of my life. Each day. Every day. All of it. Over and over and over again. Begging Him to lead me, show me, show up for me. Asking Him to take charge, to take over, to take me through these deep waters. It’s a level of surrender I can’t quite explain. But He’s working it out in me. He’s showing me that He is very much with me and He very much wants to lead me. Last year a verse kept showing up in my life and I was doing a good bit of pondering. “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Proverbs 16:9. Oh yes He surely does. Enough said. 

3. Lesson Three: Go On, Life Must

This has been a month like no other. Unparalleled for sure. It has been a month of getting information.  A month of going to appointment after appointment. A month of gleaning wisdom. It has been a month of grieving deeply. But it has also been a month which has shown me life must go on. Like that birthday party for Bella. I had to put one foot in front of the next. And somedays are like that. Somedays I have to tell myself, “do the next right thing, Jody.” One thing at a time. One step at a time. But, move forward. That’s all I can do. I ask Jesus each morning for His daily bread. Enough strength for that day. I can’t go too far down the road. I can’t look too far in the future. I just can’t. I am to live in the day and go on. One foot in front of the next.

And, dear ones, that’s exactly how we are supposed to be living whether we’ve got a nasty diagnosis or not. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Ain't that the truth!) Matthew 6:34

In classic Jody fashion, I suppose, in the middle of this diagnosis we also dove into a massive kitchen remodel. It literally began the week I found out about the cancer and we decided to go forward with the project as much of it was already in motion. Trust me, we have had our moments of doubt, but we think that was the right decision. It’s been a nice distraction. I haven’t had a stove or a sink or countertops for almost 3 weeks, but, since I’m getting extra meals provided, the timing isn’t too bad. LOL. I’ve had a few friends tell me only I would take on a cancer diagnosis and a full kitchen remodel in the same month. Sigh. But it is a reminder that life does go on. Plans must be made. Projects must continue. It has also made me pretty patient with certain more minor irritations. I mean, who really cares if we have to wash our dishes in the bathroom sink or cut up our carrots in the living room? There are bigger things in life, right?

Honestly, I know some of you think that sounds crazy. And maybe it is. But there’s been something health-giving in running around town trying to decide on the perfect subway tile. I’m weird. I know. 

But the lesson learned is that we must go on with life. Go on, make plans, live life. The very last thing my body or mind needs right now is to crawl into a hole of despair filled with isolation and stagnation.

4. Lesson 4 - Allow Others

The hands and feet of Jesus are exactly that — His body working together to come alongside those in need. We have been felt out overwhelmed with the loving way friends are meeting our needs. It’s been everything from meals to prayer to rides to help with my crazy kitchen renovation. I am also so grateful for the outpouring of words. There’s almost not a day I don’t wake to someone’s encouragement. Almost every single day I am receiving powerful, life-giving scripture from someone. Prayers come pouring in. Y’all are reaching out to my kids and husband and loving them well too. It’s amazing! We have friends across the United States praying and even some across the world. We FEEL those prayers. They are so real. I have always liked to be the one taking care of others, but right now I’m learning to allow others to care for me and it’s beautiful. I’ve had to adjust to this new role, but, more and more, I am beginning to see it as one of the greatest gifts of this new normal.

5. Lesson 5 - Be Grateful 

Okay,  so this is a weird one. No one is grateful for cancer. But there are other things. So many things. And what I learned 11 years ago with my first diagnosis and what I’m learning again now is that cancer is actually an opportunity to become more grateful. When things are going along swimmingly (like we all prefer them) we can quickly become a bit numb. We forget to look. We fail to see. We are busy and distracted and we don’t always stop to pause and ponder. Cancer has a way of crystallizing much of what fills our life. Certainly knowing a stage 4 diagnosis could limit my life here on earth has had a profound impact in making me more intentional in my thinking and, hopefully, in my living!

The truth is, we are all terminal. (Some of us just know it). But none of us escape this life in any other way than through death. The number of my days has already been written by my Creator in His Book of Life. He did that before I was even born. This diagnosis gives me not one less day or one day longer, than what He has written. So, the decision becomes what will I do with my days? Will I continue to grope around in the dark or will I find reason to be grateful? I think it is a question that bears asking for all of us, no matter what amount of time we think we have left on earth. None of us truly know. But gratitude is life-giving. It is joy-bringing. It is more than just “positivity” or “thinking happy thoughts.” Gratitude knows we are entitled to nothing, but all is grace. All is gift. It is not just being passively aware, but it is being present and active in giving abundant thanks. 


A few other things …

I know some of you heard stage four and you immediately thought I had months to live. I don’t know how many months or years or even decades I have. I do know the doctors feel very hopeful that I’ll respond well to treatment and so far I am doing great. But you will just need to plan to see me in the produce aisle of the grocery store and in the carpool line at school and maybe even back out on the tennis court some day. You will see me. You will!

I am not on chemo right now. I take three drugs and one of them is a heavy hitter — chemo type drug — but metastatic stage four is approached differently. Yes it’s serious, but it’s a long haul. It’s a marathon as opposed to a sprint. We aren’t trying to cure the cancer with treatment, we are trying to slow its growth and stop its spread. I’ll happily leave the cure thing to Jesus for the time being. 

I’ve had several friends ask “when will your treatment end?” That's not a bad question. I wouldn’t have known the answer prior to this, but the simple answer is … never. That has been one of the hard things to wrap my brain around. I will forever be a cancer patient managing this. As it is not curable (at the moment), I will always have to treat it. That means daily meds and monthly infusions and lots of scans and bloodwork and tests and monitoring. This is hard for me. I am not all that intrigued with hospitals and healthcare. Trust me, I struggle with locating a bandaid and a couple of Tylenol in my house. I would much rather be gardening or playing tennis or well … anything! But my new full time job is to manage my health. Period. I am watching everything I eat and drink and beginning a more intense lifestyle plan that will promote health and healing in any and every way I know to do. More veggies and fruits, more exercise, more sleep, less stress. You get the idea. More, because I desire More.

So, we step into a new month. We protect our minds, we let go, we go on, we accept help and we live in gratitude. This is it. This is the very best I have for you at this time. I think it is stuff that's not just for this lady typing furiously on her laptop right now. I think it's for all of us. Maybe you don't like everything I wrote, but maybe there's a little something here which might help you wherever you are. I hope so.

Again, I can't say thank you enough for all of your encouragement and kindness to us in this past month. Keep those prayers coming!

I love you all!  jody