Thursday, October 7, 2021

All Clear

clear. The PET scan is negative. No abnormal cellular activity in my body at all. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Praise God. Praise His Holy and Matchless name. We are overjoyed. Overwhelmed. Over-the-moon. 

So thankful. 

So grateful.

So relieved.

I'm pretty sure I freaked out my oncologist when he called this afternoon with all my tears and "praise Jesus" enthusiasm. He said, "stop crying, Jody. You can smile, but you can't cry." Well, Dr. Jolly (I love his name, wish you could meet my uber-serious, smart and sweet oncologist) I am crying! God has answered our prayers after all these weeks of poking and prodding and testing and scanning. These are some pretty BIG answers to some pretty BIG prayers.

I'm going to go on tell you something else, dear friends. [If you are still reading and still listening]. Yes, this is God's goodness and we are beyond grateful for the result today, BUT I want you to know, that what I wrote earlier today still stands. There was nothing this doctor was going to say to me today which was going to change WHO God is. He is Sovereign over all. He is on His throne when the news is good and when it is hard. Nothing changes Who He Is. He doesn't change. He is faithful. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

He woke me this morning with the sweetest confidence. Not a confidence that the results would be favorable, but a confidence that He would be faithful. I have never faced something which has had me so shaken and so, honestly, flat out scared. But this morning He woke me with a reminder that whatever I heard today He and His truths are unshakeable. That is why I wrote what I did this morning. Not flippantly or casually, but completely confident that He would see me through whatever it was. I don't know how to explain this to you on this thing called Facebook. But what I want you to know most is that Jesus is the answer to anything we FACE and Jesus is the answer to whatever is written in the BOOK of our lives. When the chapters are sweet and wonderful and when they are tear-stained and bitterly trying. He is the answer. I've been in both places a lot since September 16th and He has been with me in all of it. He showed me this morning in Isaiah 25:10 that "the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain." And I knew that mountain could contain a mountain top, a valley ... or possibly even a deeper valley. But I knew, regardless, His hand was already there.
I don't know why my family and I have walked through this particular valley in these past few weeks. But I do want you to know that He was with us all the way. As my favorite, Corrie ten Boom (survivor of the Holocaust) once said, “there is no pit so deep, God’s love is not deeper still.”

We will meet with the oncologist Thursday to discuss next steps. It still remains I have a good smattering of "thickened lesions" on my pelvis and spine. (lovely, right?) We have to get to the bottom of that at some point. The doctor doesn't think a biopsy is needed or warranted at this point, but probably will rescan in 3 months and we will pursue other possibilities for this kind of lesion growth. But tonight ... we are happy to report we are ruling out the ugliest beast called cancer. And we praise the name of Jesus. To Him be the glory.

As We Wait

 As we wait for results from yesterday's PET scan, I am clinging to the cross of Jesus this morning. Like the bleeding woman in the book of Mark (Mark 5:25) who--not fully understanding--but in simple faith, knew she must touch the hem of Jesus' garment as He passed by. I'm holding hard to His hem, I'm grabbing on to His garment with everything in me right now.

It is in moments like these when our eyes are opened wider than we ever knew possible; moments like these when life feels melted down to the most dire, the most visceral, and the most real; moments like these when nothing else matters but God's Truth. There's this line from a song a friend just reminded me of this morning, "Oh, the differences that often are between everything we want and what really need." 

It is in moments like these when we discover if we TRULY and FULLY TRUST the One we say we do. 

Of course we pray this waiting period is the very deepest part of this particular valley, but whatever results may show, we know God holds the entire mountain in His hand---the mountain top, the valley, and, yes, especially, the deeper valley. Reading in Isaiah this morning, I was reminded "The hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain." (Isaiah 25:10).

I wrote the following passage a few days ago claiming WHO GOD IS in His relationship with me ... (and with YOU). There is no result or word or fact or finding which can alter any of these Truths below. His Word shows Him always faithful. His Word is final. 

WHO IS GOD?  He is with me ... He makes a way in the wilderness ... He knows the outcome ... He has a plan ... He holds me in the palm of His hand ... He is my portion ... He is my Prince of Peace ... He hides me ... He covers me ... He calms the storm ... He goes before me ...  He is for me... He is faithful ... He is flawless ... He is healer and comforter ... He is Jehovah Jireh ... He is enough  ... He is my good Father ... He is all powerful ... He is trustworthy ... He is immutable ... He is unchanging ... unwavering ... unrelenting in His pursuit of me ...  He is all-seeing ... He knows the future ... He knows the very hairs on my head ... He sustains me ... He carries me ... He knows my name ... He knit me together ... He ordained my days ... He has promised good for me ... He leads me beside still waters ... He prepares a table for me ... He promises good ... He has not forsaken me ... He has not abandoned me ... He has chosen me ... He has summoned me by name ... He is my resting place ... He is the joy of my salvation ... He is the vine ... He is a mover of mountains ... He is a holder of oceans ... He set the stars in the sky and called them by name ... He is Creator of all things ... He is glorious ...  He is the way the truth and the life ... He is a name above all names ... He is greatly to be praised ... He will uphold me with His righteous right hand ... He doesn't slumber or sleep ... He will keep me ... He will counsel me ... He will fight for me ... He will make straight my steps ... He is my light ... He is strong when I am weak ... He is patient and long-suffering ... He is the giver of gifts ... He is sovereign ... He is a way maker ... He is a promise keeper ... He is my salvation ... He is my dwelling place  ... He is my strength and my song ... He is a strong and mighty tower ... He is the Lion of Judah ... He is my helper in times of trouble ... He is my shelter from the storm... He is my shade from the heat ... He is a refuge for the poor ... He is the Great I AM ...  He is my tender shepherd ... He is my Warrior ... He loves me so much He willingly took my place on the cross ... He is worthy ... He is my Rock ... He is my Refuge ... He is my rescuer ... He is my Redeemer.  He is the Alpha and the Omega ... 

He is God.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

What We Need

I wasn’t going to share this story. I’ve shared so much this week. However, I figure if you’re tired of hearing from me, you can just skip this one. But if you like stories, maybe this one will resonate or encourage or just give you a good chuckle.

After church today Rick and I ran a few errands killing time until we had to meet back at the building to get Bella off the bus returning from the junior high retreat this weekend. Thanks to my most punctual husband, we arrived right on time and found ourselves pulling into a large pack of parents also there and out of their cars waiting on the buses.

I immediately knew if we stopped and got out we’d be running into people all over the place. It was like a giant social scene in the church parking lot. Lately, not much in the mood to answer a lot of questions about what’s going on with me, my introverted side has been kicking in in situations like this. I instructed Rick to keep driving and pull over away from the crowd. He understood. He’s been all about protecting me in these past couple of weeks knowing sometimes it’s just hard to socialize and make chit chat.

As we were pulling away from the crowd, however, a friend was coming towards our car. Of course we stopped, rolled down the window and visited for a few minutes. And that was perfectly fine and good, but while doing so the large passenger buses (5 of them) began to return.

As our car was in the way, the junior high pastor jumped out and asked us to move forward. Quickly complying, Rick inched up and pulled into a parking space a bit further ahead.

And that’s when we realized we were in trouble.

Those 5 big buses came barreling up and pulled right in behind us and we were stuck in our parking space as the mass of parents scurried over to our area of the parking lot. We found our car completely blocked in by the buses and the space outside of our car completely engulfed in a swarm of moms and dads hugging tired teenagers stumbling off the buses. All of this as leaders were tossing duffle bags and sleeping bags and massive mounds of pillows all over the ground. It was like a giant, chaotic reunion. It was like a party that had come to us ... and we couldn’t leave.

And it was the last thing either of us wanted at that moment. But we were trapped with this line of big buses behind us, and, what's more, it was clear, we weren’t going anywhere soon. I’ll be honest, we both kind of wanted to crawl under our seats right then. I might or might not have, in that moment, criticized my husband’s parking space selection.

Sighing heavily, I looked out the window and saw standing directly in front of our car a dear family who had just this week been granted legal adoption of their (now) 13 year old daughter. I felt that familiar stirring in my heart: I had to get out and go give them a hug. Of course I did. We’ve been praying for them and this was big and wonderful news worthy of celebration!

While I was hugging them another friend ambled up and gave me a big hug. And then another friend from an old bible study came up and explained how God has been putting me on her heart constantly and she’s been praying big prayers. And another friend just grabbed my arm and squeezed. And then another. Well, you get the picture. And you know what? It wasn’t mindless chit chat, it was quick, but deep, ministry to my soul. It was beautiful community coming alongside me. Not asking a bunch of ill-desired questions, but quickly and quietly letting me know, they love me.

No, we didn’t want to place ourselves in the middle of the masses this afternoon. We didn’t want to visit and make small talk with all of these other waiting parents.
We didn’t think that was at all what we needed.
But it is where God placed us.
I mean He literally blocked us into a parking spot in the very center of this community.
We were stuck.
We were surrounded.
We were embraced.
We were hemmed in on all sides.
And that is exactly where we needed to be.

He really does know what we need.
Even when we don't.

"for your Father knows what you need before you ask." - Matthew 6:8

Update and Onward!

Good morning, dear friends. My post today is intended to provide an update from last week's MRI, but also to fill in some gaps for those of you who might have missed the earlier posts on how all this got started. 

I realized that my last blogpost about my bone scan must of have felt a bit "out of the blue" if you are only reading it on the blog and not seeing the first couple of posts I shared earlier on my personal Facebook. So for those of you trying to piece it together, below you'll find my initial words as I explained on FB this unexpected news from a CT scan earlier in September. 

(Sept. 19th). My dear praying friends - Here I am [again] asking. Asking because I believe deeply in the power of prayer. Last week we received some difficult news.
A CT scan of my abdomen showed some “concerns” — there is some shading/potential "mass" material in the lower right quadrant of my colon ... in addition, it showed multiple spots on my bones — of specific concern based on my previous breast cancer.
Three physicians weighed in and all want immediate action. It could be nothing, but this week we head back to doctors to begin more detailed testing. Monday at 1pm I will meet with my oncologist for tumor marker testing and consult. Tuesday morning at 9am we will meet with a surgeon to discuss how best to explore more specifically what might be going on.
We are rattled. We are perplexed: Just this spring I ended a 10 year course of tamoxifen and celebrated 10 years cancer free. It feels harsh to be staring something scary in the face again. We didn’t see it coming and, frankly, we are scared.
But we are also, very much, full of HOPE. It could be nothing. Nothing at all. And that is our prayer. That is why I am reaching out to those of you who pray. I believe our Jesus HEARS the prayers of the righteous. I believe He works in miraculous ways.
Perhaps I should wait until we know something definitive, but, honestly, that’s not me. I have always been a pretty open book. I write and I share and I include others and I ask for prayer. If the news is GOOD, we PRAISE HIM and go on our merry way. If the news is unfavorable we PRAISE HIM ANYWAY and we prepare for battle. I don’t write those words flippantly or casually, I promise I don’t. I write them because my entire life is in God’s hands: the very good and the very hard. What other choice do I have? What other choice would I want? It is the only source of true peace and He will be glorified in it. Regardless of results. And so we boldly come before the throne and we ask you to join us in praying this week. Specifically …
* That all tests lead to a big nothing.
* That doctors are thorough and results are quick.
* That our family remains firm with eyes fixed on Jesus.
* That our sleep be peaceful. That has been the hardest for me. Those quiet hours in the middle of the night.
* That when those fragile moments come, we boldly call fear a liar and we fight hard with our faith and trust in God’s goodness.
* That God is glorified and His name is high and lifted up. Always.

We won’t know much until end of this week. We may not know everything for a couple of weeks. I will post again and share updates as we know. In the meantime, stand with us ... on our knees before the One who holds all things.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2

“I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in a secret place, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” Isaiah 45:3


October 3rd.

As most of you know, we had the bone scan (Sept 23rd) and it, praise God, came back all clear. It did, however, give us the need to figure out the rest of the story. The big question remained: What exactly are these "spots" on my bones? Are they something else? Or are they a cancer? Are they a primary cancer or a metastatic breast cancer? My oncologist isn't sure. 

An MRI was ordered this past week to look closer at my spine. And those results came back to us this past Friday. Unfortunately, they didn't exactly quiet our fears. The MRI confirmed the lesions are present and must be addressed. We still don't know what they are, but we do know they appear "abnormal." They didn't show up on the bone scan because a bone scan only shows issues of  "new bone growth." Trust me, I didn't know that either. You get to learn all kinds of things when navigating medical issues. Even though I've always been a big fan of learning, I'm not sure I want to call this kind of learning a silver lining exactly. 

Here's the deal. The MRI now leads us to a PETscan this Monday (tomorrow). We will see what else lights up in my body. Of course the hope is a big NOTHING, but we must take a peek head to toe regardless.  Is there something metabolic in my body that we haven't yet found? It's not a question any of us ever want to consider. We also have to guard ourselves against "false-positives." PETscans are notorious for lighting up things which end up being nothing. Oh, the beautiful inconsistencies of science and medicine! It's in no way a perfect process, people!

Another thing I've learned is where imagery is helpful, it is not really conclusive. Only pathology can truly tell us what these lesions are and so a biopsy must be done to be absolutely certain. BUT -- and this is a big one -- taking a biopsy from the spine, for obvious reasons, isn't easy or ideal. And it may be a choice we must make at some point. 

What we know right now is that IF the PET scan shows cancer in another (soft tissue) area of my body, that is where we will biopsy. Of course, we don't want anything else to show up. If nothing shows up then we will be faced with a difficult choice: do we go forward with a risky biopsy of the spine in our quest for answers? Or do we just keep an eye on it for a bit? It's a bit of a Catch 22, isn't it?

We are thankful for the things which have come back as marks in the good news column: both bloodwork and tumor markers are reading as normal. That was huge! Again, not conclusive, but affirming. We are praying for a clear path and great answers in this week ahead. 

And so we sit in another long, quiet weekend of waiting. Feeling a little paralyzed by all of these unknowns and what ifs. Some of you know, in the middle of all this we had just signed off on selling our home and buying a new one--literally days before those CT scan results were first delivered to us. I'm not going to lie, it was weird timing and it's a weird kind of limbo we've landed ourselves in. We wait for further answers for my health, but we also wait regarding our next steps in the new home. We are fully under contract, but have not closed on either home yet. Thankfully our buyers agreed to give us a couple of extra weeks to figure this all out. I just don't even know what to say about all of the house stuff. I find myself wanting to move forward on projects and plans  and packing and then my self-protection yanks me back and screams, "Wait! Just Wait!" Will we really be able to move into a new home if I truly find myself in need of treatment or whatever? I can't even go there. But the yo-yo of my emotions is a force to be reckoned with right now. A verse which has been very present for me over this past year is "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps." Proverbs 16:9

We can plan and plan and dream and dream and pursue and pursue all we want. But God determines our ultimate path. At times that gives me a good deal of comfort, but it also, humanly, gives me some frustration and maybe--like right now--fear. What exactly is God's plan for my life? And how is He working in the timing of all this? And, even more important, do I really -- I mean, REALLY -- trust Him?

I don't understand the timing. I don't get why those CT scan results arrived (lost and late) after we had signed on the real estate dotted lines. I don't get that. But that's what happened. And this is our situation. And we clearly have some big things to figure out in the days ahead. 

And there's this big part of me which wants to go hide my head under the covers and ask it to all go away. Actually, I've done that. More than a few times. And as you probably know, it doesn't work. It's not going away and it's not the answer anyway. Those words, though, "hide" and "cover," they remind me of God's promises to do just that when I choose to dwell in the Shelter of Him, the Most High. Which is where He desires me to dwell in all my days ... in the good ones, as well as in the not so good ones. 

         "He will COVER you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find         refuge;"  Psalm 91: 4

"For He will HIDE me in His shelter in the day of trouble; He will CONCEAL me under the COVER of His tent; He will lift me high upon a rock." Psalm 27:5

"And while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will COVER you with my hand until I have passed by." Exodus 33:22

Yes, can you see it, friends? Even in my distress over the unknown, God constantly reminds me that He is with me and making a way in the wilderness ... that I am not alone ... that He knows the outcome ... He has a plan ... He holds me in the palm of His hand ... He is my portion ... my Prince of Peace ... He hides me ... He covers me ... He calms the storm ... He goes before me ...  He is for me... He is faithful ...He is healer and comforter ... He is Jehovah Jireh ... He is enough  ... He is my good Father ... He is all powerful ... He is trustworthy ... He is immutable ... He is unchanging ... unwavering ... unrelenting in His pursuit of me ...  He is all-seeing ... He knows the future ... He knows the very hairs on my head ... He sustains me ... He carries me ... He knows my name ... He knit me together ... He ordained my days ... He has promised good for me ... He leads me ... He is with me ... He has not forsaken me ... He has not abandoned me ... He has chosen me ... He has summoned me by name ... He is my resting place ... He is the Joy of my Salvation ... He moves mountains ... He measures the waters of the ocean ... He set the stars in the sky and called them by name ... He is Creator of all things ... He is glorious ... He is a name above all names ... He will uphold me with His righteous right hand ... He will keep me ... He will counsel me ... He will fight for me ... He will make straight my steps ... He is my light ... He is strong when I am weak ... He is a way maker ... He is a promise keeper ... He is my salvation ... He is my dwelling place  ... He is a strong and mighty tower ... He is my helper in times of trouble ... He is my shelter from the storm ... He is the Great I AM ...  He is my tender shepherd ... He is my Warrior ... He loved me enough to take my place on the cross ... He is worthy ... He is my Rock ... my Refuge ... my Redeemer.  He is the Alpha and the Omega ... He is God. 

And so, strangely, on this long weekend of waiting for yet another test and result we aren't quite sure what to do. Pack? Plan? Pray. Yes, of course, pray. 

I woke up Saturday morning feeling a bit perplexed about my hours. Bella is gone on a junior high church retreat. Rick and I have this weird weekend of no kids and no clear plans. Funny enough, it feels like the perfect time to re-do my wedding album which had fallen in a state of disrepair a few years ago. It's been sitting in a box waiting for me to give it a little TLC. I guess 31 years can do that to a wedding album ... or a person. And so, this weekend, I am tackling that task. Those of you who crave the next project more than Netflix, you understand. And can I just point your attention to those massive sleeves on my wedding dress in the photo above? Gotta love the 90's. 

Yes, it's a weird weekend as we wait for more tests and more answers. But it has also been sweet time for Rick and I to talk through all of this and spend some quiet time together. It's hard for our personalities to have things on hold. We are both planners and we like to check things off lists. This should be a weekend full of checking things off the list, instead we work on an old album and we wait for the new plan to become clear. 

One last verse I want to share with you is from Isaiah. This verse has literally come to me about 20 different ways this week. And then this morning I woke up and it was the main verse in today's devotional. Yep, no surprise, this is exactly how my Heavenly Father works. So I guess I'm supposed to pass this along to you all as well!

"You keep him in perfect peace 

whose mind is stayed on you,

because he trusts in you.

Trusts in the Lord forever,

for the Lord God is an everlasting rock."  Isaiah 26:3-4

Take a look at that devotional by Paul Tripp -- New Morning Mercies (in the photo up above). I love what he writes about this verse:

 "Peace is found in trusting the person who controls all things that you don't understand and who knows no mystery because He has planned it all.  ... You experience it (peace) by keeping your mind stayed on the Lord. The more you meditate on His glory, His power, His wisdom, His grace, His faithfulness, His righteousness, His patience, His zeal to redeem, and His commitment to His eternal promises to you, THE MORE YOU CAN DEAL WITH MYSTERY IN YOUR LIFE."

Again, thank you for all of your prayers, words, music, meals and love. We truly feel richly blessed by our beautiful community. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

We Are Not Alone

 Bone scan today. And it’s already been interesting. 

I checked in at the hospital at 7:15 this morning only to be told that I had missed it. Their records had my scan scheduled yesterday.  “I’m sorry,” the man at the desk said, “But you’ll have to call scheduling and reschedule.” 

“No way!” I calmly (not really) replied. “No way do I have the day wrong. I am sure the scheduler told me Thursday. I have it right here in my phone notes and on my calendar. Look right here! I have it right and it says THURSDAY!  And NO WAY am I leaving without these bones getting scanned today. No way, do you hear me?”

Startled, but firm, he explained it was out of his control. There was nothing he could do. 

I walked out of his waiting room and down the hallway and found a quiet corner to make some quick phone calls. Realizing my oncologist office would not even open for another 30 minutes yet, I felt paralyzed. There was no one to call. No one who could immediately fix this. The tears came. And then so did the realization that I needed to reach out for prayer. I texted a small group of praying friends. I explained the situation and asked them to pray. Right now. Pray that someone will fix this. Pray that this happens today. I can’t go back to scheduling and delay this. Every day of waiting is excruciating. 

They agreed to pray!

When I finally did reach the oncologist office on the phone, they assured me my appointment had been scheduled for today, Thursday. That was what all the paperwork stated. 

Something was very wrong. “Let us work on it,” they said. 

And, shaky as shaky can be, I waited some more. Meanwhile my phone blew up with prayers and texts and bible verses and all manner of encouragement.  All of which reminded me that I was not alone. That God was in this. That it would be okay. 

Within an hour I got the message to head directly to a specific office and they were going to make this happen. Today. Praise God.

And just within this last hour as I sat in nuclear medicine, the nurse putting in my IV, explained the only reason they were able to get me in today was that someone else called within this very hour and canceled their scan. (I mean, who cancels a bone scan)??? He explained that it wasn’t going to be a matter of “fitting me into the schedule.” They actually have to have a specific dose of (something) that is injected in me day of scan. And the only reason they had it on hand was because someone else was scheduled for today but canceled. 

“Well, you got lucky,” the nurse said to me. “No,” I said to him, “I’ve got prayers answered.” Focused on my IV, he kind of looked at me sideways … and I smiled at him and shook my head, Yes. Prayers. Answered.

Injection finished and I now have a few hours to wait before my 1pm scan. First thing first, I headed directly to the chic-fil-a across the street from the hospital for hash browns and then drove to our beautiful city park — Piedmont Park —where I get to eat my lovely hash browns and wander around for a bit on this most gorgeous early fall day. 

In the middle of this morning’s great scheduling debacle, a friend had texted me, “You are not alone.” And I had to smile because that has been the song at the top of my playlist this week. 

Friend, I don’t know what you have on your plate right now. I don’t know what has come crashing down in your world. I don’t know what disaster or diagnosis or disappointment or just messed up detail has happened to you recently, but I want you to hear the message of these words: You Are Not Alone.  Please take a minute and listen to Kari Jobe’s song. Listen for me. Worship to it. Wonder about it. Ask God to show you His wisdom in it. You are not alone because WE have a God who goes before us. Who is in every detail — even the ones which don’t make sense. We have a God who created every cell of us. Who knows every hair on our head. Who knew our steps before we had even set foot in this world. 

We will feel alone. We will look like we are alone. We will listen to the lies of the devil who wants us to believe we are alone. 

But, dear ones, we are not alone.

I Am Not Alone (Kari Jobe)

When I walk through deep waters
I know that you will be with me
When I’m standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
I will not fear
I am not alone
I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me
I am not alone.
In the midst of deep sorrow
I see your light is breaking through
The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing Into you.
Lord, you fight my every battle 
And I will not fear.
I am not alone. 
I am not alone. 
You amaze me, and see me, you call me as your own.
You amaze me, and see me, you call me as your own. 
You’re my strength and my defender. 
You’re my refuge in the storm.
Through these trials you’ve always been faithful 
You bring healing to my soul. 
I am not alone. 
You will go before me.
You will never leave me.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A Gift Given

My 18 year old son walked into his first day of college classes this morning. And I’m truly excited for him. Like any mother, truly proud of his accomplishment and expectant for what lies ahead.

All day, however, I couldn’t help but feel the deep mix of emotions knowing that while my boy walked into a college classroom, there are other boys—not much older than him—being brought home today in coffins.

The disparity of these two things is not lost on me.

We’ve talked a lot this year about our rights and the things we deserve as Americans—Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unalienable rights which our Declaration of Independence set forth over 200 years ago. Truly, a most worthy ideal for all of us, but in no way a “given.” Perhaps, instead, we must see it for what it actually is — a gift.

A gift only made possible by the men and women willing to serve our country with full knowledge they may be required to lay down their very lives. Required to look at what each day brings—not for what they deserve from it, but as their duty to serve in it.

Like the 13 who did just that this past week.

I wonder, as Americans, if we wouldn’t be better off looking at our freedoms through the eyes of those who serve, instead of pounding our fists and demanding what we think we deserve.

My kids learned early on to never use that word with me. They knew the mother-wrath they’d encounter should they ever choose the sore path of that misguided argument. Even this very week as our son headed off to college, we underscored with him not the entitlement of higher education, but the opportunity of this year ahead.

“It’s not a given, son, it’s a gift. A Gift.”

Treat it as such. Work hard. Hold it carefully. Handle it as treasure. Value it as an investment. But don’t dare ever look me in the eye and say, “I deserve it.” No sir.

Our chance to chase dreams, our path to pursue goals, our freedom to live freely … No, not ever a “given,” fellow Americans, but a generous GIFT GIVEN by the brave ones willing to pay with their lives.
For us.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Just Me and Us, Mom

He was my little guy. My sidekick. The youngest of our tribe who rode in the backseat of my car for what seemed almost forever. He was always with me; always along for the ride; always on board for the day’s adventure; always … right there.

And today he leaves for college.

And though I’m really okay with this, I’m really not okay.

When he was small and his older siblings wildly piled out of the car on their way to school or practice or playdates, he remained behind. He remained with me. 

He was the child I remember hoisting into shopping carts and buckling into strollers as we tried our best to keep up with his older siblings and their busier schedules. He wasn’t a kid quick to get away. He seemed pretty content with this arrangement. After the great exodus from my vehicle each day he would say to me from his perch in the backseat, “it’s just me and us, mom. just me and us.” 

And for a long time, it was. 

But today he leaves for college.

It might seem a blink from that little boy in my backseat to the young man driving confidently around in his own truck today, but “a blink” isn’t exactly my choice of word for what these past 18 years have looked like.

Every mother knows the road her child takes. She knows the mile markers of struggle and growth. She knows the highway of hurts and hurdles. She knows the path of disappointments and accomplishments. She knows the winding way of “what ifs” and “what nows.” She knows it’s not a blink, but a day-by-day-by-day journey. Sometimes joy-filled, and sometimes just barely hanging on. 

On some of those days we wonder if this child will ever be ready. Days when we worry. Days when we ask why this? Days when we can only wrap ourselves in the knowledge that we are not the ones really in control.

There’s this internal fight we feel as mothers: This certainty that God has them, but this desire that we still want to be the ones who call the shots and control the outcomes. From kindergarten to college, we wrestle wanting to smooth the road ahead, but knowing it’s the very bumps which help to build them strong. We struggle with letting them fall and falter and forget their lunches. We struggle with having to watch them sometimes fail. When we sense potential pain, we are wired to swoop in and fix it like we know we can. 

And if you’re like me, there are times when you have taken the hard stance: “He will just have to figure it out on his own.” And times when you’ve picked him up off the floor and made everything okay again. Because as a mom you are required to do both. And it’s not because we are always consistent, but because we are fiercely compassionate when it comes to our kids. 

They are learning. We are learning. Together.

It’s going to be brutal saying goodbye to this kid who used to announce “it’s just me and us, mom” from my backseat. Even though he’s grown up and gone off a million times on his own in these past years, he’s still a kid who has been content to be part of whatever is happening here at home. He’s truly been my “go-to-guy” for too many years to count. 

He solves problems, he runs errands, he drives his sister, he picks up groceries and dinner and random last minute requests. He gets yard materials and milk and mails packages and makes his own appointments. He’s been doing his own laundry since middle school and knows his way around the kitchen better than the average adult. He is possibly my most ready and independent kid heading off to college, but he is also the one who has seemed to be here the longest. The kid who was always right here when the others left.

But today he leaves for college. 

It will be hard to let him go. Like with each of our kids, there’s a piece missing when they leave. My prayer is for peace in that missing piece. I know it’s God’s plan. I know it’s a good plan. I know, in fact, God has a great plan for his life which includes so much more than driving around in the backseat of his mama’s suv. 

Still … letting go is hard. It's a holy process which continues to refine the one who leaves and, maybe even more, the one who releases.

Recently a friend asked if it is easier saying goodbye to the 4th child. My answer is no, not easier, but you do gain the gift of perspective. I know the leaving is a timely end to a certain sweet season, but I also know there is a new kind of loveliness in what lies ahead. I’ve watched his older siblings come home softer in heart and stronger in purpose than when they left. And, for their mother, that is a most beautiful thing to see. We give them everything we can in their growing up years, but they must leave in order to grow up.

All summer I’ve watched mama birds set up nests in the ferns on our front porch. Just a few weeks ago I had the thrill of witnessing the fledglings, one by one, take flight. They tentatively left their tiny, safe, little nest and the next minute they were up on the branch of a majestic Maple nearby. I sat on the porch rocker and wept for the beauty and design of it all. They were never meant to stay in contained nests or backseats of cars, they are meant to fly. To soar. To see. To experience the beauty of this big, wonderful, wide-open world. 

Like my son. 

Who, today, will leave for college. 

"There are two things we should give our children: One is roots and the other is wings." ~ unknown

Friday, July 30, 2021

Walking Each Other Home

Recently I had to go back to a group of my dearest friends and ask their forgiveness. We had been out to dinner and, I guess, unfortunately, my filter had been out to lunch. You know the filter—The one which measures the words and curbs the tongue; that filter which keeps us from doing, thinking or (a-hem) saying things we shouldn't. Yep, that one. 

For believers, that's the Holy Spirit. And though the Holy Spirit isn’t really ever out to lunch, sometimes that thing in us which hears him and obeys certainly is. Sadly, I wasn't listening to his prompting that night at dinner. My tongue wagged without restraint and I used it to discredit another person not sitting around the table. I shared too much. Bottom line: I gossiped. And I was wrong. Doesn’t even matter if what I said was true, saying it was wrong. I was wrong. 

I’ll admit this tongue and all these wild words inside of me, well, they get me in trouble sometimes. Bella’s been listening to the musical, Hamilton, on repeat this summer—she’s trying to memorize all the lyrics/raps (bless her). There’s this line in one of the songs between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton which I keep running into: “talk less, smile more.” Gosh, what a zinger! Every time it comes on, I am convicted. Yes, Jody, yes! “talk less, smile more.” 

Why is this so hard for me? Ugh. 

But hard it is. For a lot of us. So hard that James devotes an entire chapter to “taming the tongue.” Actually all five chapters of James touch on the topic. Interestingly enough, Bella is also spending this summer reading the book of James as part of her summer assignment for school. So there you go: I just can’t escape this topic, can I? Similarly to Hamilton, James instructs us right away in the very first chapter to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Later in the book James writes, “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8). "Deadly poison" - yikes! 

But here’s the deal. Though I could go on and on about the tongue and it’s temptations (because, as we have already established, I am quite familiar with this particular struggle) the point of my writing today isn’t really about my repentance, it’s more about the response of my friends. Every one of them was quick to offer forgiveness. No one hesitated. It was beautiful and a true example of genuine grace. They all had kind, encouraging words, but my wise friend, Cathy, said something which pressed most deeply into me. “Ooh Jody, I love your heart. 'We are all just walking each other home.'” 

“Walking each other home.” Now I know that phrase is attributed to Ram Dass and he and I probably don’t agree on a whole lot spiritually, but I think we do agree on the fact of an “after life” and that we are moving toward it together in community. And regardless of our differences of theological belief, I really do love those words. 

Mostly, I love how Cathy used them in the context of Christian friendship. I love her heart behind them. I love the grace, understanding and empathy in them —None of us are doing it perfectly. None of us have got it all figured out. None of us always come up smelling like roses. None of us can go out to dinner with friends and not make a choice which might later call for some confession. What Cathy was saying was—“girl, we are in this together!” We are helping each other along. We are holding each other’s hands. We are steadfast when a sister stumbles. We are faithful when a friend falters. We are dependable when a daughter of the King takes an ugly nose dive. We are here. We are present. We are along for the ride. We are all doing the best we can walking home together — home to heaven. 

It’s not easy. We need each other. We need accountability. We need opportunity to ask forgiveness. We need community, and, what's more, we have a responsibility to extend grace. 

If we call ourselves true followers of Jesus, then THIS is how we must treat each other. When God’s word instructs us to “confess our sins to one another,” (James 5:16) it also instructs us how to respond — 

1. “Be merciful…” Luke 6:36 
2. “Bear one another’s burdens.” Galatians 6:2 
3. “Encourage one another and build one another up.” 1Thessalonians 5:11 
4. “Stir up one another to love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24 
5. “Have … sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart…” 1 Peter 3:8 
6. “Live in harmony with one another.” Romans 12:16 
7. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” Ephesians 4:32 
8. “Show hospitality to one another.” 1 Peter 4:9 
9. “Beloved, let us love one another.” 1 John 4:7 
10. “Keep loving one another earnestly.”1 Peter 4:8 

Nope, not always easy. I agree. But these words aren’t given as a list of God’s top 10 popular suggestions. They are required behavior for us as believers. Truth is, they make our life here on earth better when we work in tandem as empathetic sisters and brothers. God makes it clear in His word: We are in this together. And it can be beautiful -- like the grace my girlfriends showed me. We need to confess to one another, but we also need to come alongside one another.

Because, dear ones, we all [hopefully] are “just walking each other home.”
"My home is in heaven. I'm just traveling through this world." ~ Billy Graham


Saturday, July 24, 2021

Understanding My Mother-In-Law

My mother-in-law, Marilyn, would have been 76 today. She lives now in heaven and my guess is she’s probably celebrating her birthday with a stroll along some kind of glorious ocean shoreline. Sunrise or sunset, didn’t matter, that was her happiest place here on earth—the beach. We shared that love. Actually, we shared quite a few big loves: the ocean, laughter, mission trips, dessert, Jesus, good books … and her son, my husband. 

I don’t know why that strikes me as most poignant today on her birthday, but it does. Out walking the dog this morning and a song randomly hit my playlist which always reminds me of her. It is called “Love Remains.” (lyrics/link below). I'm pretty sure the dog might have wondered what was wrong with the weepy-eyed lady walking him. Maybe a few neighbors wondered as well. But just go ahead and listen and then try tell me it doesn’t stir up something strong in you too. 

Melancholy songs aside, in the strangest of ways, it has been in this past year I feel like I have grown to better understand my mother-in-law ... to better know her. That might sound odd as she has been gone for over 6 years. I haven’t talked to her in quite some time. Sure wish I could. We had a wonderful relationship when she was alive, but in this past year, I have felt even closer to her heart. 

Her heart as a mother of a son. 

I am certain it has something to do with my own sons’ growing up. Our youngest boy is 18 and about to head to college—the same age and place when I first met Marilyn’s son, Rick. We found each other in our first month of freshman year and were immediately smitten. It’s pretty safe to say, like with most college-coeds, I never once saw that through her eyes. Sometimes we can’t see. It takes time and life to show us how to see things from the perspective of another. 

I know she was happy to have her son find the girl he would someday marry — but there’s a bittersweetness to watching our children grow up and go away with someone else. We can't help but feel a little bit left in the dust. Even when we fully approve and sincerely rejoice. It's a thing. In addition to my youngest son heading to college, I have perhaps, even more so, been impacted by our oldest son marrying this past year and giving me my very own daughter-in-law, beautiful Brooke. It was an amazing day and I couldn't be happier for him, but ask any mother about her boy getting married -- it's a big thing.

Somehow, it has been my own processing of these two milestones this year with my sons which has drawn me closer to Marilyn. I loved her from the very start, but I didn’t always fully understand her role. I didn't understand her need to stay so connected. I didn’t always understand her desire to ask questions and care deeply for my answers. Back then, I wasn’t a mother and I certainly wasn’t anywhere close to becoming a mother-in-law, I was just a girl who loved her son. And I guess in my young mind, when Rick and I married, it was really just about us. Embarrassingly enough, I wasn't so good at thinking about how our union impacted the others around us; how it felt to those who loved us most; how it felt to Rick's mom. 

Our wedding day - 1990. The day her son was married.
The day Marilyn became my mother-in-law.

As a mother, Marilyn was never overbearing, she was just appropriately and authentically interested. And though I really liked that, I probably didn’t always "get" all the emotional juggling behind it. I do now. With my recent experience of watching several kids go off to college and two go off and get married, I have a clearer glimpse into the art of letting go. 

It’s a fine line with our adult children —

This desire to speak into their lives, but not too loudly or for too long. 

This desire to be involved, but not be too instrumental.

This desire to coach, but not to coddle. 

This desire to help, but not to helicopter.

This desire to encourage, but not to enable. 

This desire to demonstrate our love, but to not demand theirs. 

It’s a little tricky, right?

And all of the mother-in-laws in the world give a collective and adamant “A-men!” 

Gosh, how we want to love our adult children well. But a big part of loving them well is fully releasing them to the lives God has waiting for them. Lives which we hope include us, but lives which are no longer very dependent on us. 

And this is how it should be. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." Genesis 2:24

And sometimes, like in this year of watching my own grown boys enter college and marriage, I am reminded. Reminded of what an amazing mother-in-law God gave me almost 31 years ago. Marilyn McNatt modeled for me what it looks like to love our adult children even from a little distance. She modeled what faith looks like when our fingers can no longer be wrapped around their little hands. She modeled well how to stay within reach, but with respect for their independence. Mostly, she modeled what it looks like to say less, but to pray more.

She was truly a gift in my life ... and even continues to be one as I enter into this next season. It's pretty awesome to have a wonderful mother (and I do have one), but to also get a wonderful mother-in-law, is an extra special blessing. It's the beauty of two mothers -- and it's a gift I never want to take for granted. 

Today, on Marilyn's 76th birthday, I honor her. I loved having a mother-in-law and I now get to love being a mother-in-law. It's all truly connected and love truly does remain. 

Love Remains - by Hillary Scott

We are born, one fine day

Children of God, on our way

Momma smiles, and Daddy cries

Miracle, before their eyes

They protect us, till we're of age

And through it all, Love remains

Boy moves on, he takes a bride

She stands faithful, by his side

Tears and sweat, they build a home

And raise a family of their own

They share joy, and they share pain

And through it all, Love remain

Kingdoms come and go, but they don't last

Before we know, the future is the past

In spite of what's been lost or what's been gained

We are living proof that love remains

I don't know, baby what I'd do

On this Earth, without you

We all live, and we all die

But the end is not good-bye

The sun comes up, and seasons change

And through it all, Love remains

An eternal burning flame, 

Hope lives on, 

And Love Remains.

Love Remains - spotify