No Accidents

I’ve been turning the house upside down looking for my driver’s license. Flying out tomorrow to Baltimore and remembered identification is necessary to clear security. That, and small earrings. Don’t wear jumbo big metal ones. Trust me. I remembered the passport for identification option but discovered mine expired in September 2013. Sigh.

Online last night, around midnight, I found out the next available appointment at the DMV landed on May 21st. Sigh. So after dropping Julia off at school I gathered my coffee, big water, big bag-o-stuff (Darrin keeps telling me I should get a wagon!) and headed off to the dreaded DMV. Sigh.

The line ran out the door. Sigh. 

Temperatures are hitting the mid 90’s today and the sun was beating down. Sigh.

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Bumped into a couple from church so we caught up a little while waiting for our numbers to be called.

Two hours of waiting. Sigh. 

All the while I thought about my to-do list, my overturned wreck of a home, packing, prepping and which nail polish goes best with a hot pink dress. Finally, finally, FINALLY the electronic voice announced my number over the speaker. I smiled and worked my way up to the counter. Rainbow loom bracelets in little clear baggies greeted me. I thought to myself, “I bet she’s a mom.” Then I noticed the Bible verses tacked up all over her cubicle. I smiled wider and said, “I’m a Christian, too.”

Instant connection.

I shared how I needed my driver’s license because I was flying out tomorrow to speak at a church in Baltimore about my cancer journey. Whipped out a bookmark from my big bag o stuff, and  shared about the crazy journey to publishing. She shared, “I’m a two-time survivor.”

No accidents who we meet.

She showed me a picture of her beautiful daughter. I learned she was a single mom. Finances were tight. She wanted to know if the book was available on Kindle since the prices generally are cheaper. I smiled even bigger,

“I’ve got a book for you in my car.”

“Really?” She brushed away tears, “Oh, these are happy tears.”

We both agreed. It’s never an accident who we meet. And even when life seems “off” or inconvenient, God is at work. We are on assignment. A much larger tapestry is being woven and spun and you and are I part of God’s plan unfolding.

My new friend and sister in Christ, Angelica, is a shining bright light in the otherwise dismal DMV. God is using her to make a difference in the lives of hundreds who walk through the doors of the DMV. How grateful I am to have met her. How grateful to know I will see her again.

Navigating Chaos

I watched this YouTube clip of the Ethiopian Intersection today in the quiet of the house. Kids in school. Husband at another ministry meeting. Second cup of coffee. Face still unwashed. Unsettled soul. I laughed out loud. Then cried. This video describes well how I currently feel.

My literary agent mentioned, after being in town for The BEST Book Launch Party EVER, on our way to the airport,

“Don’t be surprised if you feel a let down in a few weeks after the dust settles.”

I nodded but inside I thought, “Pshhhheeesh. I’ll be fine.”

The same response I had when Darrin and I attended a marriage conference as an engaged couple.

“Psshhhhheeesh. I doubt we’ll deal with any of the stuff that guy talked about.”

Almost twenty-three years of marriage and I humbly admit we have dealt with all the stuff the guy talked about and more.

So, of course, my wise agent proved wise. Except I didn’t realize the funk I felt until I watched the video. Life feels chaotic but somehow no one has gotten run over. Yet.

If left to myself I hold my breath and expect one pile up after another. And yet, in the midst of chaos, everyone in the video is getting to where they need to go. Even the pedestrians walking THROUGH the center of the car maze (did you see them?).

Honestly, when I think about life nowadays, I’m sobered. More often than not, life does not line up neatly. No lanes, just a general sense of the overall direction. Most of us are living lives different than we pictured. I realize, as I watch the video, my tendency to want to play it safe. Why even head into the chaos? Why not just stay put. Maybe watch. Maybe criticize the road designer. The drivers. The pedestrians.

But I have heard the Shepherd voice. My life is not my own. Currently He is leading me through external chaos like the intersection. Terrifying. Unknown. Stressful.

But I have pledged to go where He leads.

And I trust in the end that His path proves most worthwhile.

How about you? How do you navigate chaos?

Offering Everything Back to Him

She asked me to tilt my head forward, combed my wet hair straight through to the ends, and then looking at me while we both faced the mirror she said through her smile, eyes twinkling,

“It’s long enough to donate, you know.” 

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Wow. It would be like coming full circle!”

She threw her head back laughing, and with her warm, Alabama accent she declared,

“That’s exactly what I was thinking! Full circle.”

Last Wednesday, the official release date of “Warrior In Pink,” I had an appointment with Jesslyn to get my hair cut. The same Jesslyn who has always, always cut my hair. The same Jesslyn who knew I was pregnant before I knew because she could tell the texture of my hair had changed. The same Jesslyn who gifted me with the sassy magazine haircut when I was diagnosed with cancer and knew I would go bald. The same Jesslyn who came over to our house to shave my head when the harsh chemo meds began taking over my body and my hair began to fall out. The same Jesslyn who styled my crazy “muffs” when curly chemo hair grew back.

Fighting back tears I replayed in my mind those milestone moments with Jesslyn.

Full circle.

And how wonderful. How absolutely appropriate to donate my hair back to someone who would be walking the now familiar road of cancer treatment.

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And symbolically the donation of my hair reflects the place the book holds in my heart. I’m seeking to offer everything back to Him.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things…

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Cancer has altered my hair from stick straight to wavy curls. And cancer has altered my heart. The One who remains unchanging through each and every twist and turn is the One who has sustained, provided, led, and loved with perfect faithfulness.

To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:36

We are blessed to be a blessing.

He is worthy of our all, our everything.

It’s No Joke: Warrior In Pink Has Released!!!!

I can’t smell, taste, or hear. Pulled a muscle in my chest last night from coughing so hard. But all of this pales in light of the excitement I feel having “Warrior In Pink” officially releasing today.

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What is an official release date? I’m not exactly sure. I do know that now the book will be available on Kindle and Nook and on iTunes and will start showing up on book shelves in real book stores. Amazon has been sending pre-ordered books out for the better part of March, so it feels kind of like the book is already out. But today, April 1st, 2014 is the OFFICIAL BOOK RELEASE–so bring out the pom-poms and cowbells!! It’s time for celebrations!!

The Book Release Party is taking place on Saturday, April 5th at Mariner’s Church from 2-4pm. Can’t wait to celebrate with friends from near and far. Special out of town guests include my parents coming in from Nevada and my literary agent, Karen Ball, flying in from Oregon! And of course Darrin, Michael and Julia, the Oasis women, the Awesomes, the California Cohort, and so many who loved our family so well and prayed us through cancer treatment and someday-book-turned-actual-book.

I’ve enjoyed taping two pre-recorded radio interviews and giving two live radio interviews so far about the book. You can check out the Speaking Schedule page for other radio interviews coming up. I think most of the interviews will be available to listen online at the links on the websites.

So grateful for your love, encouragement and prayers leading up to this day. Appreciate all of your help in getting the word out about the book. Please keep on sharing, reposting, tweeting, etc.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

 

The Book Has Birthed

I love the Fed Ex man.

Not like I love Darrin, the kids, our dog and Jesus, but the Fed Ex man is on my current top ten list. Every few days the Fed Ex man leaves packages on my doorstep. Boxes of bookmarks. a banner, bookplates.

IMG_2188IMG_3101IMG_3119Yesterday I returned home from enjoying a tasty lunch out with some church friends and found a small brown box on the doorstep. I was on the phone with Darrin and brought the box inside. Our dog, Koa, greeted me like I had been gone a month, or five.

As I ripped through the packing tape, I wondered out loud to Darrin,

“I wonder what they sent me this time?”

The last I checked the Fed Ex tracker (at least three times that day), three boxes of books had made it to Chicago and were scheduled to arrive on Tuesday.

I lifted the packing paper and found a hand addressed card, some book plates, and then under another formal looking envelope with my name typed out, I saw, then gasped. Then said loudly,

“Oh my goodness, Darrin. It’s here. The book. It’s actually here!!”

Darrin congratulated me and we finished up our call.

I pulled out the book and flipped through the pages. My first thought: the book seems thinner than I thought it would be. My second thought: these books will fit nicely in purses and bags of women sitting in waiting rooms and infusion rooms.

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I checked the time and jumped in the car to pick up Julia. I decided to see if she would notice, so I placed the book prominently between the seats, resting it in the coin holder section, up against the dashboard. Julia clicked in as I drove off and started rattling off all the happenings of the day and sighed deeply,

“I wish I could do a reading counts test on your book, Mom. I wouldn’t have to read it. Except I wasn’t at the Epcot Center so I wouldn’t know how to answer questions about that part.”

I picked the book up and handed it over to her,

“I guess you could read about that part in here.”

SCREAM. Instant happy tears.

“Oh. My. Goodness! Your book! It’s here! I’m actually holding it! I’m crying!”

We screamed together again, eyes filled with happy tears.

Thank you all for journeying with me all these long months, and years, really. Thank you for your prayers, for believing the book would really happen. Thank you for your enthusiasm, encouragement and support.

Please join me in praying the book will bless many walking the road of cancer.

The book has birthed, and just like with each newborn, I wonder if I’ll ever sleep through the night again….

….the journey has just begun.

 

 

Here

Another full week. I can tell based on the volume of dog hair I vacuumed up this morning. Differing levels of disorder fill the rooms. The flat surfaces around our home are covered by either dust or stuff. Or dusty stuff. Our dog intermittently has donned the dreaded cone-of-shame for an infected anal gland. He started on his second round of antibiotics today. Very little on my to-do list or the way I wanted my days to look turned out how I wanted this week. Mild irritation began growing into full-blown frustration. And then today I stumbled upon this TED talk:

And now I sit here humbled, sobered, grateful, sad.

Jennifer and I both were diagnosed with breast cancer the same year. Five years ago this week I lay in bed recovering from my first surgery to remove what ended up being a 4cm by 6cm tumor. A call from my surgical oncologist came with the devastating news: cancer had spread to three spots on one of my lymph nodes. A second surgery was quickly scheduled to remove all the lymph nodes under my arm.

My story didn’t turn out like Jennifer’s, but it could have.

Now I sit with renewed perspective.

I am still here.

Here.

And regardless of the circumstances around me right now, God has gifted me with more days and years to live and love.

Life is a gift.

As I look around at the mess, both within and without, rather than annoyance I find myself whispering prayers of gratitude and thanks.

 

Willful, Will-less, or Willing

Sometimes when I speak I find myself sharing things I didn’t plan on sharing. Weird audio-visual mishaps take place, derailing my train of thought, and I’m left scrambling on the inside. But sometimes those unplanned things end up being exactly what someone needed to hear. I’d chalk that up to the Holy Spirit’s work and the prayers of our ministry partners and friends.

Just a week ago I stood in front of a room packed with over 400 college students representing 40 campuses across the country. Our annual West Coast Epic conference took place down in San Diego. I had spent the past two years speaking at the East Coast conference so it had been awhile since I experienced conference west coast style (you know, things like the emcee Olympics event in Sochi, a staff zombie flash mob, students sharing in the form of spoken word, creative art, string quartet, rap, the lip sync contest sing off, etc.). What an incredible weekend filled with incredible students learning about our incredible God.

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Darrin, wearing the conference director hat this year, led the 50 or so staff in a time before the students arrived of personal evaluation and surrender. Symbolically pouring out a vial of water representing our lives poured out to God, he asked the staff to pray and add their “lives” to a glass vase as an offering to God: willing to go, do, say and give whatever God asked. And from this place of surrender the staff welcomed students who arrived from everywhere. Some alone, without knowing a single person, some with their posses and school flag (Arizona! :-) ).

So with this as the backdrop I went up on stage to deliver the first talk. The cordless microphone gave us all sorts of trouble; weird feedback, popping, and the like. My staff friend, Duncan, came up to the stage halfway through the talk and unwound the long cord and handed me a handheld mic. I lost my place in my notes and ended up skipping an entire section of the talk. When I looked at Gilbert, the time-keeper, I realized I still had more time. So I summarized, and went on to share, but not from my notes, about a willful, will-less or willing heart.

Turns out, based on questions and feedback, most people wanted to hear more about what I hadn’t planned on sharing.

I first learned about these three postures of the heart in a class I took at Talbot Seminary. (One day soon I plan to return to resume the Master’s degree I will eventually earn–at the age of 86).

Okay, so here goes:

A willful heart: says “I’m going to do this.” It is characterized by striving and depending on my own strength.

A willful heart may come from a place of wanting to live a life pleasing to God, but this life is spent trying to muster up willpower to charge ahead. Willful hearts can feed into pride and legalism. If convicted of sin the response of a willful heart is “I will do better. I will try harder.” When my heart is willful, I’m trying to live life in my own effort, and trying to be obedient in my own effort. Willful hearts can lead to burn out. Sometimes after all the striving and the inevitable disappointment, it leads to

A will-less heart: “God’s going to do it all. It doesn’t matter what I do.”

Will-less hearts are the “whatevah” (hold up the “w” with thumbs and pointer fingers). It’s a passive place of who cares, “God’s going to do what God’s going to do so what I do is inconsequential.” When my heart is will-less, I stop being engaged, I give up and my thinking is “why try.” I become cynical. When I sin my attitude is “Oh well. At least it’s forgiven.”

The heart is not changed or transformed when we are willful or will-less.

Rather than a willful or will-less heart, God asks for

A willing heart: “God I am desiring to grow. I will do whatever it is, but on my own I can’t.”

The willing heart recognizes our inability to live the Christian life on our own and expresses our dependence on God’s power. The key to the willing heart is really the issue of being yielded. It’s not about signing up and being a missionary in a foreign land and eating bugs. It’s the willingness to go if God asks. It’s the willingness to stay even if you want to go. It’s about a life surrendered, laid open. This is the key to the Christian life. This is how God’s Spirit is unleashed to empower believers to live the Christian life.

Our lives, a poured out offering to the Lord

God, I am willing to go where You want me to go, do what You want me to do, say what You want me to say, give what You want me to give.

The last morning of the conference students were invited to sign a card and symbolically pour out their lives to God.

Willing hearts.

One hundred and eighty-three students expressed willing hearts.

This new generation of leaders, through the power of the Holy Sprit, will change the world.

Do you have additional thoughts to add to this conversation?

Christmas Traditions Eleven Months Early!

Okay. Really quick post.

Yesterday I posted on my Facebook writer page a photo of our Christmas card tradition.

One of our family traditions: hanging Christmas cards we receive on thick ribbon along the staircase. Each cards is prayed for over dinner by the family before we hang them up.

One of our family traditions: hanging Christmas cards we receive on thick ribbon along the staircase. All cards are prayed for over dinner by the family before we hang them up.

Thought I’d share it here with all of you on the blog and create a nifty pin for Pinterest. Of course, like every good idea I share, this is not an original idea. Darrin and I began praying over each card after we first heard the idea from our friends, Otto and Ruth Buhler. Hanging the cards from ribbon off the staircase we first saw at the Homestead house several years back.

What I’ve most enjoyed about this tradition is introducing our kids to friends from around the country and the world and helping them put names and faces together. Usually we divide the cards out evenly between the family (and guests if they happen to be joining us), open the cards and read them to ourselves, and then one of us begins to pray based on names or news from the Christmas letters. Over dinner we pass around all the cards for each person to read. After dinner I staple the cards to the ribbons off the staircase.

Our family is blessed with friends and ministry partners who pray and give so faithfully in order for us to work with college students so it is especially meaningful to pray for each of them. We also serve God with incredible staff and friends in Cru and other ministries spread across the country and around the world. Our vision for the world is renewed as we pray. During a brief window between Thanksgiving and New Years we are reminded of the priceless gift and treasure of our family and friends.

 

When God Says No

“If ever we needed prayer, it is now. The pain is indescribable.” I read and reread Maegan’s post on Facebook in absolute shock and disbelief. No. There must have been a mistake. This can’t be. None of the thousands upon thousands who rallied in prayer the past several weeks expected the story to end this way.

Rain fell steadily from the normally bright blue skies here in Southern California the first Saturday in December. Our family, dressed in dark colors, joined hundreds of family and friends, filling a church to capacity. Love and sorrow flowed through the aisles as we gathered to honor and remember Josiah Robins. Heaven joined us in our grief.

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Family and friends were gifted only two short decades with this young man of character. Our lives intersected with Josiah’s family through our friendship with his aunt, uncle and cousins. Jonathan and Josiah had AP Lit class together their junior year. Michael played the game “Heroscape” with Josiah and his cousins late into the night. Two words I most associated with Josiah: kind and grounded. Josiah’s quiet strength and the unstoppable love of his extended family influenced people all across the country. We wept as we collectively celebrated a life so full of promise, suddenly cut short.

Early in November a motorcycle accident in Arkansas sent Josiah to the emergency room. After realizing the extent of his injuries, the doctors had him airlifted to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He spent his final weeks in the ICU. A star athlete throughout his young life, his healthy body made steady improvement even as his underwent surgeries including having both his legs amputated.

As word got out, the faithful rallied and prayed. And God heard prayers for Josiah, his siblings, his mom, his extended family at all hours, from coast to coast and around the world. We prayed in faith, asking and believing God for complete healing and restoration. Everything seemed to point to answered prayer.

Then a stroke.

Then he was gone.

God said “no.”

I’ve struggled over the outcome of how I thought Josiah’s story would end. In fact I haven’t written a blog post since his death. I’ve turned over a thousand times in my mind the way his short life abruptly came to a close and I can’t make sense of it. Josiah’s death wasn’t the result of gang violence, or alcohol or drugs. His life brimmed with possibilities. As a young African-American man, son to a single mom, big brother to his three younger siblings, his life stood in stark contrast to poor choices he could have made but didn’t. Instead, he leaned into God and with fierce loyalty he purposed to love and protect his family. He chose to live a life that made them proud. Grounded, he rose out of the difficulties he both experienced and witnessed, like gold.

I just don’t understand.

Looking for answers I return to my coffee stained, tear-stained, well-worn Bible. More than looking for answers, my eyes search for Him. And I have learned and continue to learn His ways are not my ways, His thoughts are not my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). I cannot fully grasp all of who He is, but still I seek. In the pages of my Bible I catch glimpses of His heart. And of His mysterious ways.

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In Mark 5:1-20 I read about Jesus and the man from Gerasenes possessed by a legion of demons. The demons torment the man day and night causing him to cry out and gash himself with stones. When Jesus confronts the demons they ask him to send them into the pigs (v12-13).

He says yes.

The townspeople, familiar with the demon possessed man, find out about the deliverance and get scared. They ask Jesus to leave (v17).

He says yes.

The man who had been demon possessed, now calm, clothed, and clear-headed, asks to accompany Jesus (v18).

He says no.

Jesus loved the man He rescued and restored. But unlike the first two petitions He responded “no” to the man’s request. I realize how resistant I am to hear “no.” I unconsciously equate “no” with absence of love or favor.

When God says “no” to us He never stops loving. His “no” is never cruel or petty or haphazard. His good purposes cannot be thwarted. So I am left scanning the pages wondering who Jesus wanted this man to meet in Decapolis (v20).

This side of heaven, because we exist in the confines of time, we don’t see the outcome of each story. More often than not, especially the longer we walk the earth, we find ourselves with more questions than answers. Since we cannot see past the ups and downs and the twists and turns of life we have to wait for more of the story to unfold. Josiah’s aunt, my friend, Kierstin, shared at the memorial service, “Josiah’s death is not the end of the story.”

And while I believe Kierstin’s words to be true, my heart grieves deeply along with the Josiah’s family and friends of all Josiah’s missed milestones: his college graduation, awards, travels, birthdays, wedding, children. Holding both the grief and the hope, I can’t help but think God’s “no” to our prayers for Josiah involves so much more than we know at this point.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks the Father if it’s possible for the cup of suffering and dying on the cross to pass him (Matthew 26:39).

God says no.

Even to His Beloved Son.

What is your reaction when God says no?

Love is: Laying Down Your Life

Prepping talks for the Cru Red River Region Staff conference this coming weekend. Looking forward to seeing my staff friends who serve on college campuses all over Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. One of my favorite Bible study tools for the New Testament is the Discovery Bible:

9780802441591This wonderful resource is great for folks like me who haven’t *yet* had the opportunity to study Greek. Different symbols, words and numbers help add depth and understanding to verb tenses, translation and emphatic words used in the original New Testament text.

For example:

John 15:13 reads:

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

Initially I read the verse to mean the greatest act of love is to physically die in someone’s place (like Jesus taking our place on the cross for our sin). I picture jumping in front of a would be assassin and taking a bullet for someone I love. Laying down my life. (And yes. I have been watching “Alias” on Netflix. In the middle of season 3. Go Sydney Bristow!)

But it turns out the word life in Greek is psyche (from which our English word psychology is derived). This explanation of life is the inner life of a person, the personality, or ego.  It’s what gives a person individual distinction before God. So rather than bios (the duration of earthly life or existence), Jesus is teaching that laying down our lives (feelings, desires, affections and aversions) is something we do over and over.

The verse right before this one about laying down our lives reads:

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

Love in this verse is agapao–unconditional love which seeks a person’s highest good, an unselfish affection for another without the expectation of receiving anything in return.

We are to love one another by laying down our lives for one another. Again and again.

This is greater love. Dying in someone’s place is a one time event. But choices to daily lay down my ego, laying down my agenda, lay down my rights and seek another’s highest good is the selfless way Jesus demonstrated love.

My challenge today:

How will I lay down my life for those I love?

Do you have any other thoughts to add to these verses?