Thursday, August 24, 2017

This Journey

I feel the need to get my thoughts into writing today. My endo titrated up my meds again after my appointment with her this week, and I switched to the name brand version of the medication (Synthroid, instead of the generic levothyroxine that I have been taking since surgery). I am now six weeks post-op and my meds have been increased from the initial 100 mcg to 150 mcg. I still feel exhausted no matter how much sleep I get, but today I feel a little sharper mentally. That's in improvement I will gladly take. A wordsmith who can't remember her words... now that is no fun at all.

Different fears bounce in and out of my head as the days pass. Some revolve around thyroid cancer, metastatic cancer,  and secondary cancer. Some revolve around side effects from RAI. Some revolve around the delicate nature of the endocrine system and how these medication adjustments feel like a shot in the dark while the way my body actually, physically feels continues to deteriorate. Some revolve around the lifestyle changes that I feel compelled to embrace but will cost me... monetarily, psychologically, emotionally, relationally. I try to let the fears bounce in and then bounce out again. The only way to keep them from bouncing in in the first place is to not be present, and escapism is something that I have been trying to disentangle myself from for years now. So they bounce in, and I look at them without giving them too much emotional weight, and then let them bounce back out again. It is a blessing to have small children, whose needs are always immediate and dire; they prevent me from dwelling too long on any "what-ifs" while I summon the energy to deal with the here and now.

In the past month I have felt the love of lifelong friends and the love of strangers. I was feeling sorry for myself the other day, and then felt chagrined, because although many people suffer, I have been wrapped in such a warm blanket of love and been held by so many strong arms through this. I have great friends and an amazing, tangibly supportive family. That is a gift. So many people are doing things for us to express their care and support, and normally my M.O. is to try to be strong and not need too much help... but right now I just recognize that I do need help. This is a hard place. I'm not despairing, but it is a low place; a place of proper perspective and honesty. I have never liked asking for help... not out of a sense of pride or "I can do it on my own"-ness, but mostly out of a fear of being rejected while I am vulnerable. I thought it would be easier not to need anything and just believe that I had the love of those around me than to actually put myself out there and be hurt. But one of my life lessons in this seems to be the lesson of "the necessary ask" -- the risky, vulnerable ask. And you know what I've discovered? I know some pretty stand-up people; people who are bending over backwards and sacrificing to help us. It is humbling and heart-warming and inspirational at the same time. And it is a picture of true community and family. I'm honored to be a part of it and I am determined to pay it forward.

I think that this time has brought much into focus for me. The reality that although there is struggle and loss and sadness, there is provision and love. Although fear knocks on the door, the mindfulness of the manifestations of God's love and presence in the moment I am in sends the anxious thoughts scurrying. Although relying on others to come through for you in your time of need is risky, it strengthens the fabric of family and community and it deepens the bonds of friendship and love. And that although I am not perfect in dealing with this situation, and in fact not one of us is perfect, "I will be my brother's keeper, not the one who judges him-- I won't despise him for his weakness, or regard him for his strengths, I won't take away his freedom-- I will help him learn to stand." I am applying Rich Mullins' interpersonal anthem to how I treat myself as well as others. There is a sense of freedom that comes when your paradigm of control slips through your grasp and you trust yourself fully into the sovereignty of God; when you take a look at your life under a microscope to see where your energy and effort has been spent and where you really want it to be placed in the context of the cosmos and God and eternity and a very, very short life. I don't want to live my life a mile wide and an inch deep. I thank God for seasons like these that give my introspection validity and real urgency.

I typically blog to sort out my feelings and thoughts, but these days it seems like a river that never stops flowing. It is not my favorite emotional space. Thanks for being on this journey with me.

   




Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Palatable and Piecemeal

Today Joshua and I met with my endocrinologist to talk about radioactive iodine treatment. My providers have been great. They are kind, engaged, and positive. But today I feel heavy. Since the first time I brought up my enlarged thyroid with my primary care physician, the theme of all of my interactions with all of my different doctors has been: "You have nothing to worry about!" Today was more of the same, except now I'm treating thyroid cancer and about to make a foray into the world of nuclear medicine. The cheery "everything is going to be fine!" perspective is starting to feel incongruent with my experience, since I have heard that since day one yet at every turn end up being on the wrong end of the statistic spectrum. I am staying positive overall, but today was just a rougher day.

My endocrinologist shared with me the dosage she has chosen for my treatment based on the pathology report. Right now it is at the highest end of the "moderate" dosage range; she will do a localized scan of the thyroid bed just before the treatment and hopefully that does not change her mind on the dosage because more radiation than what she has already prescribed ventures into "increased chance of developing leukemia" territory. Other than that, she has limited knowledge of nuclear medicine and could not provide many details about what the experience will be like. It's all piecemeal; everyone is specialized for their particular part of this process and cannot speak to what the other doctors do. Not that I would want them to be advising me outside of their specialty-- it's just frustrating to take this process one little breadcrumb at a time. But that may be a larger metaphor for life and my control issues. ;) I'm a planner to the max and find it difficult to plan without being able to visualize the whole process and its contingencies.

She strongly recommended that I use recombinant thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in preparation for the RAI instead of withdrawing off of my medication for weeks prior to the treatment. Before RAI, your thyroid cells (or what is left of them, in my case) should be as stimulated as possible. So you can either do this "naturally" by withholding thyroid hormone (in my case, levothyroxine) from your body-- which forces your pituitary gland to send out increasingly desperate messages to the body that it needs more-- and your TSH level rises and rises, trying to get your body to fix the problem... or you can use the drug to force an elevated TSH. The big caveat to using the med withdrawal method is that the higher your TSH level gets, the more the cancer will grow, which is not something you would necessarily want to foster over a four to six week period when you could spend two days injecting yourself with synthetic TSH to get to the same goal level. Another benefit of this is that I don't have to spend weeks feeling terrible becoming severely hypothyroid. I am generally leery of shortcut methods, but this seems to be well-researched and without side effects, so count me in.

After the treatment I will have to be away from my children for three days. Five days after the treatment, I will have a whole-body scan to see where I "light up" (a.k.a. where the cancer has been). They use the radiation that is preexisting in your body from the RAI instead of giving you more for the scan. Josh asked the doctor how it's possible for me to still be radioactive enough for it to show up on a whole-body scan as a diagnostic tool and yet safe for me to return as my children's primary caregiver two days prior to that. She thought that was a good question but didn't know the answer. I guess we will have to trust Nuclear Medicine on that one. The five-day-post-RAI scan won't tell us whether the treatment worked, only where cancer has been. I have to wait several more weeks afterward to take a blood test to see what my thyroglobulin levels are... this tells the doctor whether or not there are still thyroid cells (cancerous ones) trying to make a comeback. If the level is not zero or close to it, that means the treatment didn't get all the bad guys. In which case we would be looking at round two of treatment. We didn't go down that road; she was optimistic that this punch of radiation would do the trick. 

So overall, a positive visit. We will schedule my RAI for sometime in August or September at the latest. I do have to be on a quite restrictive low-iodine diet for two weeks before the treatment. I am considering going radioactive on my birthday. That would be a memorable one!    


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thyroidectomy

My thyroidectomy four days ago was my first surgical experience, and my first true experience with anesthesia (other than two epidurals and one blissful sedation with propofol). It was different than I imagined. Way more intense, for my mind and my body. 

I have to say, my hospital experience was fantastic. The day of surgery, everything from the moment I got there was timely, ordered, and professional, which inspires confidence when you are about to allow yourself to be cut open. All of the medical staff I met that morning-- my pre-op nurse, the pre-op nurse manager, the anesthesiologist, the CRNA, my OR nurse, and of course my surgeon, were warm and reassuring and present with me in our interactions. I spent the two hours before surgery trying to pee and being very nervous. For some reason I was fixated on the fact that I wouldn't be cathed during the operation and I didn't want to have an accident on the table. Despite Joshua repeatedly reassuring me that this would not happen, explaining that anesthesia "turns off" your body during the surgery, I suppose it was just what my nerves chose to center themselves on and so I probably made 18 trips to the bathroom. 

Finally, it was time to go. Joshua kissed me goodbye, the CRNA slipped some versed into my IV and I was wheeled off to the operating room. The last thing I remember is laying underneath two very large lights and listening to the medical team inquire about one another's weekends. Apparently I scooted myself onto the operating table before they really knocked me out but I have no recollection of that. 

The surgery took about two hours. My thyroid was very enlarged and in addition to the papillary carcinoma had an inflammatory Hashimoto's response to the cancer, which made it more difficult to remove. I vaguely remember stirring awake in the PACU, long enough to ask Joshua if it was cancer and repeatedly tell the nurse that it hurt. I received a nice dose of dilaudid in my IV and after that it felt like someone had placed sandbags on my eyelids. I spent the next several hours trying to wake up. When I finally did, I was on a general surgical floor and I had to go to the bathroom (surprise surprise). I tried to walk to the bathroom but was way too unsteady on my feet and nauseous from the anesthesia and pain meds-- I sat down on the toilet and promptly puked into a basin. Throwing up after you have just had surgery on your throat during which you were intubated... not recommended. 

My nice nurse gave me some zofran for the nausea and morphine for the pain, and back into unconsciousness I faded. When I woke up again I really had to pee, but still could not go. Another trip to the bathroom ascertained that I was still unsteady on my feet and my body was pretty sensitive to the general anesthesia. The nurse offered to in and out cath me, which I agreed to because my bladder was uncomfortably full. It is a strange sensation to know you have to pee but to be unable to do so. People don't really realize this who don't work in medicine, but it is notoriously difficult to catheterize women. Thankfully, I'm married to an incredibly skilled ICU nurse so when my floor nurse couldn't get the cath (even as he gave her instructions), she asked him if he wanted to do it and so that was that. Thank you, Joshua. Sweet relief, I was finally able to pee. 

I tried some Jello mid-afternoon but promptly threw it up. I was too queasy and sore from the intubation to swallow any meds, so I was kept on morphine for the rest of the day, which gave me a headache but dragged my body into the sedated state it needed to be in so that I could sleep off the rest of the effects of the general anesthesia. In between doses, my parents brought the kids up to visit during a period I was awake. I sat my bed up and tried to look as normal as possible (aside from the large bandage on my neck, and the drain sticking out of my hospital gown, and my IV), but I could tell they were scared to see me that way. Aidan warmed up once I began talking with him. Maddie looked intimidated the whole time, but took cues from her big brother. Olivia stared at me and cried when PopPop put her down next to me in the bed so I could hold her. I felt bad. 

I was taken down to X-ray in the evening to get a chest film done to rule out cancer metastasizing to my lungs. I didn't know why I was getting a chest x-ray, so I asked the tech if it was to check for pulmonary embolism. She seemed surprised that I knew what that was (especially since I referred to it only as "PE") so she answered candidly and told me that it was to check and make sure there wasn't anything metastatic in my chest cavity. Then I freaked out inside and wished that I hadn't asked. Curiosity killed the cat. 

By nighttime, I was ravenous. My mom had switched posts with Joshua at my bedside by that point, so she rustled up some chicken noodle soup for me, which felt divine on my throat. I ate two bowls before bed, and a roll that I begged her to go down to the cafeteria and find for me. I hadn't eaten in 24 hours and was getting a little hangry. 

We both got two solid three-hour chunks of sleep that night between vital sign checks and need for more meds. I had to wear these leg compression wraps to prevent blood clots, and it was kind of like getting a calf massage-- I decided I would like a set to take home. Unfortunately, they had to stay. In the morning I switched off IV meds and started on an oral combo of Tylenol and hydrocodone, which is what I was sent home with to manage the pain. I feel like I was on a narcotic free-for-all during my hospital stay. But I am thankful that my pain was well-managed. It was much more painful than I anticipated, and my response to the general anesthesia and intubation was a lot more sensitive than I ever thought I would be. It took me almost a full 24 hours to recover from all that. 

I saw my surgeon and his PA. The chest X-ray came back clear, and the nodules biopsied during the surgery were small. My surgeon seemed confident that I did not need to worry about cancer beyond my thyroid gland, but we will have to wait for the full pathology to be sure there are clear margins and to see if radioactive iodine treatment is indicated. He signed off for me to be discharged. My nurse removed my IV and the drain (which was the sickest feeling ever-- and I mean that in the literal sense. It felt like a snake was slithering around my trachea and being pulled-- painfully-- out of my skin. Ick.). I cleaned up and walked out of the hospital, steady again on my own two feet with my husband holding my hand in the bright July sunshine. It was very strange to me that 30 hours after a major surgery you can be back at home, but there I was. 

The first two days post-op I needed the prescription meds to take the edge off the pain. The soreness from the intubation had passed, but had been replaced by the aching pain that you feel when you have a bad cut. Which makes sense, I suppose. On the third day post-op, the incision really hurt on the right side, with the pain radiating up to my jaw and down underneath my collar bone. Day four (today) has been the best day yet. I switched to Ibuprofen instead and it has done the job. I am sill very tired, but feeling better every day. I wonder when the incision site will not hurt anymore. It is still swollen, but looks good from what we can see peeking out from the steri-strips. My voice is back to normal. I'm so thankful for an excellent surgeon who protected those nerves. Before the surgery, my anesthesiologist told me that my doctor uses a specialized intubation tube that has sensors all over it, so if he gets too close to a nerve it alarms. I thought that was pretty awesome. My doctor had a fantastic personal record of practically 0% sustained nerve injury, but I still had to face my fears of my voice being damaged during the thyroidectomy. The risk was there. I'm so thankful that nothing happened to injure it. 

In truth, I didn't know what to expect because I had no previous experience to compare this to. It has been painful and intense, but I feel I am making a strong recovery. And, I am proud to say, I have been able to swallow my daily dose of levothyroxine with just the smallest spoonful of applesauce. This is a big deal for a 31-year-old woman who has never been able to swallow pills. Thank God this pill is about the size of a baby aspirin. I'm not supposed to eat for an hour after taking it, so I really shouldn't be swallowing it with food, but my endocrinologist said that it would be alright and I am counting it as a huge win for myself. 

Right now my own thyroid hormone is still circulating around my body. I won't be solely relying on the meds until about the two week mark, I think, so we will see then how I feel. Right now I am very tired, but I think that is the shock and trauma of putting my body through surgery more than anything else. I am hoping that after unknowingly living with Hashimoto's, I will feel better than I did before the surgery. The journey will continue, for sure, as I figure out the right dosage for optimal health and also the right medication. I will be honest and say that I have been hoping to get lucky and do well on levo from the start. Time will tell. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

That moment when your doctor tells you that you have cancer. Maybe.

I'm discovering that there really isn't a good way to break the news to people that you might have cancer. Especially because, "What do you mean, might? It's either cancer or it isn't." Well, yeah. Pretty much everywhere else in your body except for that nuanced little butterfly gland in the front of your throat-- your thyroid. 

In case you haven't been following, I started coaching with Beachbody this year and have lost about 30 pounds in the past four months. It has been a welcome change and a great transformational journey on the inside and out! And the grace of God surrounds me, because it was precisely due to my weight loss that I realized my thyroid was enlarged. (Actually, I just thought my neck was still fat until my dad saw me and pointed out that my thyroid looked big.) One visit to my family doctor, an ultrasound, an endocrinologist consult, and a fine needle aspiration biopsy later and... I receive that phone call. The one where you answer and it's actually the doctor on the other end of the line instead of her medical assistant and you know instantaneously the news is not good. 

The biopsy wasn't definitely cancer. It just wasn't definitely not. It's about a 40% chance of malignancy, looking at the size and shape and DNA of things. That's like one in every two-and-a-half people. Not my favorite cancer odds. My favorite cancer odds actually are  the number zero. 

First and second opinions recommended a total thyroidectomy. They speak like taking synthesized hormone to replace what my body already does perfectly ain't no thing. And maybe it's not-- I know tons of people do so without qualm-- but saying "okay" to cutting out a vital organ is harder than I thought it would be. Mainly because I don't think I ever counted myself as a person who would need lifelong medication for anything, let alone actual survival. You know what's worse than that, though? Cancer. So there's that. 

Good news: thyroid cancer has a 99% survival rate because it is so treatable. Better news: I might not actually have cancer. There is something going on with my thyroid,  though, that has absolutely nothing to do with its proper function, which is perfect. And it's not a lack of iodine or fluid-filled cysts. So it's either cancer... or a mystery. I want to lean into the "mystery" option, but then a friend asks me, "So if your children were going to go into a toy store where they had a 40% chance that a toy they picked up was a grenade, how would you think about that?" And while I've read that some small cancerous thyroid nodules are better left alone, unfortunately mine are not in that size category. So maybe the grenade metaphor is more appropriate. 

This is just a little glimpse into the hamster wheel of my mind... the pros and cons that vie to win the tug-of-war. 

Thyroidectomy pro: svelte neck. Score. 

So here it is, world. I-- maybe-- have cancer. The only way to know for sure is to have a thyroidectomy and wait for the pathology after the fact. The odds are 40/60 and I have to decide what to do with that. So, yeah, I'd welcome your prayers. Any don't pass along any horror stories. I've got a good enough imagination as it is. ;)




Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Long and Winding Blog

I love my family's history. I will admit that it is a glossy version, birthed from stories passed down and given wings in my imagination, where the past plays like a movie montage of an era gone by.

I am a true American mutt; a woman born from a group of immigrants who made the United States their home. In the highlight reel of my imagination, I envision my Nana and Granddaddy's meet-cute in England during WWII, their eyes meeting over drinks at a dance hall where American GIs and their British compatriots mingled. I imagine my Grandmom and PopPop holding hands on the walk home from high school, wearing their Catholic school uniforms and dreaming of their future together. When I look at the black and white wedding photographs hanging in my mother's house, I imagine my grandparents' early years together, poor but in love. "Without a pot to pee in" as my Granddaddy used to say.

I'm mesmerized by thoughts of my British, Church-of-England-bred grandmother acclimating to life in America and her Irish-Catholic in-laws. She arrived in St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, and surely she must've felt much the same as those pioneers did as they headed out to Oregon and California a hundred years before. The war was over and life was full of promise; she was exploring uncharted territory and leaving her family and all that she had held dear behind. Then a move to Houston-- to hear her describe it, it wasn't home to much more than tumbleweeds in those days. How it must have contrasted against life in London. I wish I could've known her father, my great-grandfather: he was a loving, expressive dad that she never stopped missing after her move to the States. 

I wish I could step back in time and see my Grandmom growing up in her home in New Jersey with her Italian mother and aunts, smell the cooking (the sauce! the pasta!), watch her interact with her family and friends and her high-school sweetheart, my PopPop. Two teenagers falling for each other in Hoboken. I wish I could be a fly on the wall when my grandfather snuck over to New York City to play in the pool halls. I wish I could've known his father, my great-grandfather: he was Puerto Rican but assimilating hard and refused to speak Spanish in the home; a boxer; married to a white woman in the early 20th century. He painted ships and got my PopPop his first job at a shipyard in Jersey, which in turn would influence the trajectory of my grandparents' lives, my parents' lives, my life, my children's lives. The shipyard took my PopPop and Grandmom and their young sons to Galveston.

Fast forward a bit and my parents meet through mutual friends in Houston. Fast forward even more, and my dad goes to work for my grandfather at a shipyard in Tampa, where my PopPop had relocated for promotion. Fast forward yet again, and I graduate from high school in Tampa and choose to go to college on scholarship at a state school. There, I meet my husband.

In the past century, my family's history has made stops in England, Ireland, Italy, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, Missouri, Texas, Florida, and now North Carolina. My grandparents walked the streets in the Shades of Weehawken and bombed-out London. They built lives in Texas, a country of its own. Then on to Florida, land of palm trees and beaches and heat. It's really fun to think about, since the tears and mends in the family fabric are not examined closely in a montage sequence. But when I actually take a minute to ponder on the facts that provide the framework for my imaginations, I look at the women in my family and I see how much they have done for their men. My Nana left her country and changed her citizenship; my Grandmom moved at least five times during the course of my PopPop's career; my mother has had her own career dictated by relocations required for my father's ministry in the Methodist church, which to this day uses an itinerant system of moving those in its employ to a new city every few years. It isn't a small thing to be a wife. The truth is that it is not a small thing to love.

I have been mulling over some harder things lately, turning them over in my soul again and again. One is the commitment to love my husband. Another is contentment. A third is living in the proper paradigm, which I like to call "red letter reality."

Joshua is on track to apply for graduate school soon. He's talked with graduates of the program he hopes to attend and thankfully has gotten good, honest feedback. The general takeaway from those conversations seems to be this: It's going to be a tough couple of years for our family while he is back in school. We knew that already, but talking with people who have done it just makes the knowing more real. The dynamics in our family will drastically shift in that season. I know we can do it, but I know it will be very hard. I know that there will be times when I am feeling at my introverted wits' end, yet I will have to choose to love my husband and invest in our marriage in the moments that he is available, despite the fact that I will want to drive two counties over to have some time and space to myself. I know that I will have to carry responsibilities alone that I wish I could share with him. I know that I will not feel like I have the time or energy to go out of my way to love Joshua exceedingly well but that I will have to make a choice to exercise my will and do it anyway-- and by that I refer to the truth of what love is: a commitment to putting his needs above my own, even when what I want is someone to acknowledge my own needs; serving when I want to sit; doing the things that are meaningful to him even when I want to think about doing something meaningful for myself. I know that I will have to turn all this "knowing" into "doing" and that I should really get a head start, like, now.

I always look back and laugh a little about the fact that when I got married I actually didn't know what love was. I would've defined it as the feelings of affection and desire I had for my husband, a deep appreciation for the way he could "see" me and was loyal to me, and an untested commitment to stick it out in tough times. Those things are still part of the equation for sure, but now there is so much more depth. Learning to love has been like peeling back the layers of an onion. Lessons in forgiveness, openness, and vulnerability, and next up: the gritty reality of hard, self-denying work. I know this onion will just keep showing me the next layers of loving for the rest of my life. So in another ten years, I will probably look back and laugh yet again. 

Contentment has been another topic bouncing around my brain. Ferreting out wants that lure me into "I have to have it" territory; seeking more for our family without letting go of the deep truth that I have enough. It is a deep truth that gets deeply buried in our culture of consumerism and status defined by wealth, opportunity, possessions, experiences. But it remains true, nonetheless. I have enough. I can be content with little and I can be content with much. My children need so much more from me than extracurriculars and going to the best school we can find. Those are good things and I do want them, but they are not the most essential. And I can let the priorities get screwed up. I will tell you this: as I have been on this journey of figuring out our next steps for our family with Joshua, operating from a seat of contentment makes the process so much more free. The things I desire for us and that we are working toward don't own me. If I get them, I will receive them with a joyful and thankful heart. If they don't come in this season, I will wait without embracing a feeling of victimhood. I have enough. I wish that my grandmothers were still alive to share their perspectives with me on this. My Grandmom was deeply affected by the Great Depression; my Nana deeply affected by life in England during WWII. Those were periods of deprivation that later generations have never known. What would their hopes be for me and my family?

And last but not least, the paradigm shift of living in "red letter reality." I watched this witty little comic on YouTube last week, where a 21st century Christian appeared next to Jesus as he gave the Sermon on the Mount to help tell Jesus' listeners what He actually meant.

Jesus: "Sell your possessions and give to the poor."
21st century Christian: "No, he doesn't actually mean that, I mean, nobody does it. Whenever a Christian prays about it, God always tells them that they don't have to. Jesus, stop saying that."

It was funny and scarily accurate. The culture of Western Christianity has departed in so many ways from what Jesus actually said (hence the term "red letter reality" -- "red letters" being the words Jesus spoke in the New Testament). I don't want to embrace the party line. And for me that means actually defining my choices by the red letters. You know, like selling my possessions and giving to the poor. It's scary because I don't want to do some of what Jesus said; I just want the easy parts that I'm okay with-- as little cartoon man pointed out so well. This is also going to be a journey taking me deeper still for the rest of my life, but there is no greater pursuit. The battle for surrender to this is real.

It's cool to think about my future grandchildren imagining their own montages about my life. How did their grandparents end up in the Blue Ridge? That story is seasoned with God's grace and divine providence. What trajectory will my own choices make for the future generations of our family tree? It's the everyday choices we make and the ones with eternal weight that make ripples in the pond that extend for decades. Today I'll choose the way I walk while gratefully wearing the mantle of my family's history, which I love. That gratitude is so rooted in my heart, this thankfulness for my family and our story. I will be glad to walk in the ways of my ancestors that bear beautiful fruit and legacy, and I will be glad to break free from the ways of my ancestors that have proven to be pathways to pain and heartache. And I will thank God for His grace to change ashes into beauty, turn little into much, and teach me to walk in His ways most of all.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A response to #myquestionablelife

A response to today's teaching at Highland.

Legalism vs. a life of pleasure-seeking with Jesus as an accoutrement. I hardly know a Christian that doesn't have a history steeped in legalism (do this, don't do that; behave the "Christian" way; deny everything and die to your every desire; serve, serve, serve; earn, earn, earn God's approval and blessing). It's a sad twisting of the disciplines that help to make the soul of a Christ-follower, and a real indictment of our need to be in control all the time. Grace is inherently risky. Oh, the gloriousness of God. A call to freedom and healing by such a powerful and simple thing as trust. I really resonated with the call to live the life that is rooted in the Living Christ, as opposed to running so far away from the weight of the legalistic paradigm that you end up being your own lord and master and adding in Jesus for guilt.  

Living an open life. "Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven." (The Message, Matthew 5) If we are friends, you'll know that I'm all about talking about the real stuff. I stink at small talk. I want to connect with you about stuff that's authentic to your life and your heart. I may find it easier to "go there" than other people, but it would be a lie to say that it's not hard to put myself out there. I struggle with fear-- fear of what too much authenticity (if there is such a thing) might do to the friendship; fear that I will open up and be disappointed at a lack of reciprocity. It wasn't until today's sermon that I realized that when those fears are present, they reveal that my living an open life is all about... me. About what I will get out of a relationship by being open (a meaningful connection?), about what may happen if it doesn't go the way I hope (loneliness? disappointment? embarrassment? pain?).

There's nothing wrong with desiring meaningful connections with others, but I was challenged today to be open with others with my heart centered on reflecting the nature of my generous Father. "Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added." God knows what I need relationally in my life. I can drop the fears and insecurities and trust that by being open I may prompt someone to open their own heart to Jesus, and trust that God is going to bring the people into my life that will connect with me in the way my heart needs. Living from a place of fear, anxiety, or insecurity makes my life closed in and small. It's not the "open house" Jesus was talking about. 

Trusting could bring pain. That choice to live rooted and abiding in Christ-- you know it may bring pain, right? Oh, if I could banish that thought forever. I'm truly growing tired of my brain bringing it up over and over and over again. If I am most tempted to be my own lord and master, it's not to seek wealth and things and empty pleasures. It's to avoid pain. Today during worship after the message, I was pondering the lyrics of surrender in Lead Me to the Cross and I just got frustrated by that incessant nagging pop-up thought that inserts itself into my spiritual journey at every turn. And I think in response to my frustration, the Holy Spirit brought to my mind a time in my life that was immensely painful to help me overcome this question. 

You see, right before Joshua and I got married, I was really seeking the Lord. I desired closer communion with Him, and I wanted Him to reach deeper into my life and make me more like Himself, reveal Himself to me. I remember having a conversation with a friend and I told her, "I just want the Lord to fillet my heart." I meant I wanted him to slice it clean in two, get to the parts hidden within, deal with me in that place. I prayed that prayer; God answered it. The very word "fillet" is used to describe cutting meat with a knife. Did I somehow think I was going to escape without feeling any sort of pain?  

In retrospect, I can see the Lord did the filleting in the most swift and gentle way possible, but it was painful and it was painful on purpose. The deep and wrenching pain I felt led to an education in love, generosity of spirit, openness instead of relational retreat. It was my first course in realizing how selfish I was (the second course started when I had kids). It was the beginning of choosing to put away childish responses to old wounds and instead bear the fruit of the Spirit. Today I looked back and saw all the Lord had built from that one small thorn pierced into my heart, and I realized how I would not give back the ground I have gained just to avoid hurting the way I did. I'm not going to fear the pain anymore. It will come again as life unfolds-- it will visit all of us. But I won't shy away from the life abundant that Christ has for me by refusing to abide in Him and His Lordship because I know something painful might happen today. 

I thought about the crucifixion-- God chose that on purpose, Jesus walking straight into a painful death. Jesus endured the pain for something worth infinitely more to Him-- the redemption of mankind and our communion with Him. He could've chosen to avoid the path of pain. But He would not give away the ground to be gained just to avoid hurting. Shooo-eee! That one got me in the feels, ya'll. 

Anyway, those are my thoughts from today. That and not wanting to raise my kids legalistically but needing to learn the balance of grace and authority in training up these little ones in the way they should go. So much to learn! Glad to be with my fellow Highlanders as we journey down the road. 

Peace and love tonight. Penny for your thoughts!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

My Cup Overflows

Sometimes, you breathe Psalm 23 as a prayer of faith. Sometimes, it's a smile and an acknowledgment and a "thank-You." 
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. 
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. 
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 
Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. 
There are times in my walk with Jesus that I have opened the Scriptures and I've felt like it's 
like swallowing sawdust. And there are other times when I read and His Word is so sweet-- "sweeter than honey to my mouth!" I would say those sweet moments come during the times when I am most open to His Spirit at work within me and I am abiding in Jesus. Lately I've been working on mindfulness and abiding, which-- to my joy and surprise-- go hand-in-hand. And reading over Psalm 23, I feel like I could dive into the depths of those words and swim in the truths revealed about God and about my identity in Him for a long while. I drink them in... and they quench a thirsty spirit. 

Today I was reflecting on the past week and the words "my cup overflows" popped into my head. It was such an apt description of my heart. Highland's Kids Camp was Tuesday through Thursday at Montford Park and it was truly a thing of beauty. And Thursday evening's Highland in the Park was the icing on top of the cake. I am beyond thankful, joyful, and humbled to count myself as part of the Highland "family" -- and it really is a family, because I know the second I find myself in a hard spot I've got easily 50 people blowing up my phone to help, pray, love on me. After being away from this community for awhile, it's not something that I take for granted. My cup really does overflow. Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever! Amen. :)