Apr 25

Do you need a vacation from illness?

 

Ever feel like you need a vacation from cancer, dementia, ALS, heart disease or whatever health trial you’re facing?

You probably do—at least a mental one and maybe a physical one as well.

Believe it or not the chemo room at Dr. Marc Hirsh’s office, where I worked as a patient advocate for nearly 20 years, became a mini-vacation from cancer for patients when we threw elaborate parties for two days near Halloween. 

One year it was a Sesame Street theme and I obliged as Miss Piggy (For the record, I “porked up” with eight pairs of rolled up socks under my skirt and down my blouse!)

Another year we dressed  up as  the Wizard of Oz with the good and bad witches giving chemo. I covered my whole yellow-clad body with a long piece of yellow shelf paper outlined in brick shapes.  “Follow the yellow brick road!” I announced in my best Munchkin voice as I led patients back to the chemo room.

You’ve probably heard of the non-profit organization Make-a-Wish which grants wishes for children facing a life-threatening illness—often a trip to Disney World or a chance to meet a famous athlete or movie star.  But did you know there are groups which offer free wishes for adults with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses?

When I worked as an advocate I helped several people get free dream wishes. A young mom went to Disney with her husband and 4-year-old. Another family got a free week’s vacation at a beautiful Delaware beach home and a mother of four, who had just finished treatment got a much-needed holiday in Myrtle Beach.

If you Google “adult cancer patient wishes” a slew of them come up. The rules are different for each wish—some are only available to certain ages or specific kinds of cancer, while others include any life-threatening illness. Some are based on financial need—like if you can’t afford a vacation yourself.

There are dream wishes for everything from fly-fishing excursions to free house cleaning. Normally you can only have one wish granted, so choose wisely before applying. Ask a nurse/patient navigator or a hospital social worker to help you with the paperwork because usually you can’t nominate yourself. If you don’t have the energy to apply, but need a dream vacation, ask a trusted friend or family member to take the lead and make it happen. I’m sure someone would be thrilled to have a specific way to lighten your load.

My friend Barb Titanish and her wonderful organization H.O.P.E., which ministers to hundreds of cancer Hopelinepatients and their families is actually in the process of creating a retreat in southcentral Pennsylvania where folks can have a vacation from cancer. Plans call for the 49-acre donated site to have a fully staffed main house with four to six family suites, catered dining facilities, a fishing pond, greenhouse, hair salon, serenity garden, and playground including a handicapped accessible treehouse. Folks can come for the day or the week.

“Whether you are just diagnosed or starting a new treatment or at the end of life, you need to give yourself a break,” says Barb.  (You can follow the project’s progress at www.hopeforcancerfamilies.org)

You also can create a mini-vacation from your illness right in your own home or town. Declare every first Friday of the month to be “Cancer-Free Friday” where you only watch funny movies and no one is allowed to mention the “C” word. Or ask a friend to plan an outing for the day—a scenic ride and a picnic, a mani-pedi and a tea room, or an afternoon hitting golf balls and eating BBQ. Ask yourself what would help your mind/your body/your spirit to take a vacation from illness. Pray about it and ask God how you or someone you know can make it happen. People cannot read your mind so let those who have asked to help you know what you really need.

You deserve a break today…and I’m not thinking McDonald’s.

I am sick at heart.
How long, O Lord, until you restore me? Psalm 6:3

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. Psalm 84:6

Adapted from Peace in the Face of Cancer, copyright 2017 by Lynn Eib
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(If the music video below doesn’t automatically load, click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9zEgRsorZ4 )

Apr 18

Who’s taking care of YOU?

 

Do you know what to do if you’re on an airplane and there’s a sudden loss of cabin pressure? Scream? Pray? Scream prayers? All good suggestions, but if you had paid attention to the flight attendant before takeoff, you would know to “secure your own oxygen mask first before you help others.” Related image

If you are a caregiver—either as a volunteer or professionally—for someone facing a serious illness, my guess is that you probably could do a better job of taking care of yourself. Putting on your own oxygen mask first, if you will. And if you’re the patient and not the caregiver, my guess is that you probably could do a better job of understanding what caregivers do and feel.

Thankfully, I’ve never been on a plane which experienced a sudden loss in cabin pressure, but hearing a diagnosis of cancer or some other life-threatening illness certainly has a way of making you feel faint. And the weeks, months or even years of caregiving which follow can leave anyone weary.

So I chatted with my friend Cynthia about the crucial but exhausting role of caregiver because: 1.) She’s been doing it for a really long time and 2.) She’s written a really helpful book on the subject called Cancer Journey: A Caregiver’s View from the Passenger Seat.

Cynthia says her role as caregiver to husband Jim has endured much shifting throughout his 15-year journey with non-small cell lung cancer. Cynthia Zahm Siegfried's Profile Photo, Image may contain: Jim Siegfried and Cynthia Zahm Siegfried, people smiling, eyeglasses

“I had a hard time initially getting him to be honest and express his needs…,” she explains. “He would try to make light of his symptoms or…minimize them when we talked to the doctor.

“I finally convinced him that wasn’t helping him or me,” she adds.

Because Cynthia has been a caregiver for so long—through nine lung cancer recurrences, one go-round with prostate cancer, multiple surgeries and countless treatments—I asked her how she finds the physical and emotional energy she needs to care for Jim.

“Find a support group and it’s better to be in one just for caregivers if you can,” she says. “Then you can really express yourself instead of both trying to protect each other.

“That first year (after diagnosis) I didn’t really do a good job of taking care of myself.” Cynthia admits.

But in the intervening years, she says she has tried to play tennis or do Pilates/yoga a couple times a week. She also joined a community singing group which always lifts her spirits, and together she and Jim find stress relief by watching comedies and reading humorous books.

I’ve been a caregiver for family members—either unwell physically or mentally—for most of the past three decades. I’ve had a relative with dementia living in our home for years and I’ve made bi-weekly seven-hour car trips for months to be with a relative undergoing chemo. I’ve been so physically fatigued I had to literally crawl up the second-floor stairs and I’ve been so emotionally exhausted I’ve spent hundreds of dollars so I could pour out my woes to a counselor.

Being a caregiver is incredibly hard. I get it.

Image result for love your neighbor as yourself

But I also know we make the job even more difficult when we fail to take good care of ourselves. Do you know what Jesus said the two most important commandments are? First, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and second “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Don’t miss those last two words: “as yourself.” It doesn’t just say to “love your neighbor.” It says we need to love ourselves. In fact, we can’t really love other people if we don’t love ourselves.

It is not selfish of you to do something refreshing, rejuvenating or relaxing for yourself. You cannot “fill up” your loved one when you both are running on fumes. Somebody is going to stall and get rear-ended.

The most loving thing you may do for your loved one today is to be good to yourself. If you can’t leave your family member alone, this is the time to call in one of those offers of help that others have made.  Watch a funny movie, enjoy a massage, go fishing, get a pedicure, take a walk, hit a bucket of balls, or catch a nap. Do something to lift your spirits so afterward you can once again lift someone else’s.

Adapted from Peace in the Face of Cancer, copyright 2017 by Lynn Eib
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(If the music video doesn’t automatically load below, click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUEy8nZvpdM

Apr 11

Are you as contented as a 2-year-old?

A few years ago I was eating breakfast on the deck with my oldest grandchild, Bauer, 2½ at the time. Thanks
to my husband’s green thumb, the deck was bursting with beautiful blooms. As I stumbled around, chiding my foggy brain to wake up, little Bauer let out a small toddler sigh.

“It’s lovely out here,” he said with a sweet smile. “We have everything we need.”

Ah, contentment.

A bowl of multigrain Cheerios with milk, a Lightning McQueen sippy cup of O.J., the beauty of nature and a day with grandma—what more could you possibly need?

Maybe a clear PET scan? How about a drop in the tumor marker? No more medicine side-effects would be nice. An insurance company that didn’t balk at paying for what the doctor ordered would be really great.

It’s difficult to have childlike contentment when we live in a grown-up world where in the U.S. alone every 30 seconds a new cancer diagnosis is made and every 65 seconds someone develops Alzheimer’s. It’s never easy to find contentment while watching a loved one deal with a physical assault on his/her body—especially knowing we are helpless to stop it.

My dear friends Don and Jean, longtime members of the church my husband founded, know all too well how Image may contain: 2 people, including Jean Hessler Abbey, people smiling, people sitting and indoorit feels to have your world turn upside down and to frantically search for contentment again.

Both retired school teachers, Jean was diagnosed with inoperable, stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer at Christmas time 2013.

“I was shocked,” she recalls. “I thought I was too healthy to get cancer. I was doing all the ‘right’ things to be a healthy person—never smoking, eating right, exercising, weight control, regular checkups and all that.”

Since that shocking diagnosis, both Don and Jean have tried to live in the moment, but the admonition to “take one day at a time” is “the opposite of our teaching careers,” she says. “As teachers we always had to look ahead and plan for another day.”

“Learning to live one day at a time—and live it to the fullest—has been no easy task for me,” Don acknowledges. “My mind is always ‘planning’ the future, so I have had to change the way I think about tomorrow. I’m not there 100-percent, but I’m way better than I was.

“I think both of us in our own way just turned this whole thing over to God,” Don adds. “For me it’s putting total faith in His plan—knowing it’s a perfect plan—even if I don’t understand it all.”

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I’ve thought often about my grandson’s contented sentiment, especially mornings when I sit down with my to-do list ready to organize everything that I think needs to be done that day.  Sometimes I smile to myself and say “It’s a lovely day and I have everything I need.”

Perhaps that’s a sentiment with which you could start your day? The words of a toddler could be described as childish, but if like Don and Jean, you have faith in a loving God, they can become childlike trust.

Of one thing I am certain: my soul has become calm, quiet, and contented in You
Like a weaned child resting upon his mother, I am quiet.  Psalm 131:2 The Voice

 A soul that is calm, quiet and contented in God. 

What do you need today for your soul to be content? Ask your Heavenly Father and expect His answer.

 Know this: my God will also fill every need you have according to His glorious riches in Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King. Philippians 4:19 The Voice Bible

…for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

(If the music video doesn’t automatically load, click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHe_qmo3gX4 )

 

 

 

 

Apr 04

“I refuse to be robbed of peace…”

 

Have you ever met someone and been amazed at the JOY and PEACE exuding from that person? Did simply being in their presence make you feel better about yourself and your world? I’d like to introduce you to one of those kind of people: my friend, Bola Montoya Taylor.

Bola was a Filipino jazz and gospel singer, best known for founding, along with her husband Ken, the Hallelujah Gospel Family choir in Japan, where the couple was serving as missionaries. It was the country’s first such choir and composed almost entirely of non-Christians, who had been introduced to black gospel in the American film “Sister Act” starring Whoopie Goldberg.

That initial group grew to 70 choirs with more than 1,000 members, all of whom no doubt were devastated when Bola posted a Facebook message in early September 2015 that her cancer had returned and no more treatments were available.

The news saddened me, too, as a mutual friend had earlier sent Bola one of my books and introduced us via Facebook. I hurriedly set up a time to Skype with Bola as I was writing my last book Peace in the Face of Cancer and wanted to interview and include her.

She was obviously tired, but her beautiful smile radiated joy and peace. We chatted about how it feels to know you are dying and leaving behind a husband and three children then ages, 18-23.

“I do not worry about myself because I know the future God has planned for me,” she calmly told me. “And the God who can take care of me can take care of my family, too.

“I refuse to be robbed of peace by something over which I absolutely have no control,” she added. “Allowing yourself to go down that rabbit hole of worry is just giving the enemy victory.”

We talked about her plans for the following week to marshal enough strength to perform one last time, on her 54th birthday, at the popular “Satin Doll” Tokyo jazz club. Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, text

“I want my swan song to be for Jesus!” she said, tearing up for the first time in our lengthy conversation.

And what a swan song it was! Bola, dressed in vibrant teal and purple, was flanked by pianist-husband Ken and her jazz band snappily dressed in black and white. (You can see a short clip from the concert  below.) Perched on a stool with her life-sustaining, intravenous TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition) bag resting on the floor, she sang for 170 fans—only about 30 of whom were Christ-followers—crowded into a room built for 100. Another 1,500 watched a livestream online.

“Please know that Ken and I love you from the bottom of our hearts,” she said at the concert’s close. “You can have the peace and the joy and the rest that I’m enjoying right now (because) Jesus is REAL!”

The Japanese are not known for showing emotion, but many in the audience could be seen wiping away tears. Exactly four weeks later, Bola came to the end of her earthly life. One can only imagine the souls touched for eternity by her life

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Don’t worry; I’m not going to suggest that everyone facing a life-threatening illness needs to perform a “swan song” last concert—no offense, but I imagine some of your voices could be quite painful to the listening ears. 🙂

But I do hope you are thinking about how you want to be remembered. Image may contain: 1 person, standing

“I pray that I’ve lived well according to God’s plan,” Bola said. “I pray I also die well.”

Would you be willing to pray that prayer today? Pray that you live well according to God’s plan, however many weeks, months or years are remaining. And pray that when the time comes—as it will for all of us unless Jesus comes back first—that you die well.

I remember praying fairly soon after my diagnosis something like this: “Lord, I don’t want to have cancer and I hate having such an uncertain future, but I pray that as I go through this I will represent you well and others will see Jesus in me.”

I guarantee you that is a prayer God always wants answer for you.

Psalm 27:5 The Voice Bible:
His house is my shelter and secret retreat.
It is there I find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.
Safety sits with me in the hiding place of God.
He will set me on a rock, high above the fray.

Psalm 85:8 The Voice Bible:
I will hear what the True God—the Eternal—will say,
for He will speak peace over His people,
peace over those who faithfully follow Him…

(If the music video doesn’t automatically load, please use this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHbDcYDl5hA )

And here’s Bola’s introduction to her birthday concert at the Satin Doll Jazz Club with her Japanese translator (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUYCaWt2ecE )

Mar 28

Happy Trails to You!

 

Did I ever tell you about the time I sang in church with Roy Rogers

It was the fall of 1969 during my senior year of high school and my family was newly attending a small church in Apple Valley, California. One Sunday morning the four of us traipsed into the little sanctuary toward a partially filled row. For some reason my eighth-grade brother, Jim, tried to squirm past me to get to the row first. Like a typical, annoyed older sister, I pushed him back and told him to sit on the end by Dad like he always did.

After we were seated, I silently snickered as I checked out the man on my left: very uncool cowboy boots; dorky bolo tie; gaudy gold wristwatch with big red gems and a bear head. Looks like a real hick.

I finally glanced at the man’s face and then whispered to my little brother, “Doesn’t this guy look like Roy Rogers if Roy Rogers was really old?”

My brother’s bony elbow jabbed my ribs as he loudly whispered back, “You, stupid, that is Roy Rogers!”

I gulped, scooted my chair closer to Roy, and when he offered to share his hymnal on the first song, took hold of it and sang my heart out with the King of Cowboys![1]

I hope you know the “Happy Trails” melody which signed off TV episodes of the Roy Rogers Show.[2] It’s a soothing, feel good song, which seems rather inappropriate for the unhappy trail of serious illness and other trials of life:  Happy trails to you, until we meet again. Happy trails to you, keep smilin’ until then. Who cares about the clouds when we’re together? Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.”

But listen to the song’s second verse:

“Some trails are happy ones,
Others are blue.”

Roy and Dale could have kept on making movies at that age...They look great!Roy and Dale, married for 50 years, had plenty of “blue” trails—three prior, short, failed marriages for Dale beginning at age 14; the death in childbirth of Roy’s first wife; toddler daughter Robin’s death from Down Syndrome complications; and the deaths of two of their four adopted/foster children—12-year-old daughter Debbie in a bus accident; and son Sandy, who choked to death while serving in the U.S. Army.

I can only imagine how many times Roy and Dale had to remind themselves of the rest of that verse:

“It’s the way you ride the trail that counts,
Here’s a happy one for you.”

So you’re on an extremely blue trail—how are you going to ride it?

 Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 1 Corinthians 4:16-18

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen;
it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 12:1

We ride our “blue trails” by faith and not by sight. And that’s how we find a new perspective as God sets us “high above.”


His house is my shelter and secret retreat.

It is there I find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.
Safety sits with me in the hiding place of God.
He will set me on a rock, high above the fray. Psalm 27:5 The Voice Bible

Happy Trails to you, my friend, until we meet again.

 

[1] I laugh whenever I recall this incident because I’ve looked up Roy’s birthdate and know he turned 58 in November 1969—obviously “really old” to my 16-year-old eyes!

[2] You can listen to the original version online https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgw_yprN_-w or later versions by Van Halen and Randy Travis among others.

(If the music video below doesn’t automatically load, click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3TbAMExY_w)

Mar 21

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

I can’t promise you that Abraham Lincoln really did utter these words, but they have been attributed to him as far back as a 1914 newspaper column, and I agree with Honest Abe—or whomever really said them. And I can promise you that our minds can have an amazing impact on our bodies

I got chemo every Wednesday for six months and that evening we would take our girls to Shoney’s Restaurant for supper because kids 12 and under (of which we had three!) were free. I was always pretty nauseous, so while my family enjoyed the buffet, I sipped a cup of cream of broccoli soup and munched on saltines.

A couple weeks after I finished treatment, we decided to go to Shoney’s again and I was anticipating being able to enjoy the array of food, but guess what? I felt so nauseous I thought I was going to be sick just standing at the buffet. My mind was telling my stomach it had just gotten chemo and my gut was going along with the charade. I remember standing there holding on to the edge of the buffet willing myself not to throw up.

My sweet husband said we didn’t have to go to Shoney’s anymore, but I was determined not to be beaten by a mind trick. It took two or three more trips to the restaurant before the buffet nausea totally passed—and about two or three years before I could eat cream of broccoli soup again!

Obviously, the connection between mind and body is real and the effect on our body can be positive as well as negative. And while I don’t believe our thoughts can guarantee a positive outcome for our health, I do believe they can influence it.

“Psychoneuroimmunology” is the fancy label attached to the subject of mind-body healing, which is being studied increasingly by therapists and researchers, some of whom say they have discovered a hard-wire connection between the body’s immune system and the brain’s central nervous system.

So, if your brain has the ability to send messages to your immune system, “what you believe and tell yourself can become a powerful medication in your personal pharmacy,” according to the late psychologist Dr. William Backus. 

He advocated not just positive-thinking, but telling ourselves the truth about our situation. He gathered many examples of truthful healing beliefs embraced by those who have survived life-threatening illnesses. Here are a few he discovered:

  • I refuse to believe my diagnosis is an automatic death sentence.
  • I believe treatment is effective against this illness, especially the skillful efforts of scientific medicine combined with my strategies for replacing lying thoughts with the truth.
  • I believe my hormones and immune system were created to be on the side of my healing and can work to overcome this illness.
  • I believe God is on the side of my healing because His unbreakable Word says so. 
  • I believe I am personally responsible for my treatment and for managing it.
  • I believe hope is a choice. I choose hope, not hopelessness.
  • My main goal is to have a mind fully yielded to the Spirit of God and His truth, not just to see better lab results or improved physical symptoms.
  • I believe I’m on earth to share Jesus, hope, and joy with others. I’m here to love others, regardless of my physical condition.
  • I believe that God’s will is good. I believe that He loves me and wants only the best for me—no matter what He is allowing me to experience right now.
  • I can recover from this illness and live a rich, productive life. But whether I recover or not, I am going to leave this life someday regardless. Until then I can live a full life of service every day for as long as I am given.”*

I’m grateful for medicine that doctors can prescribe to heal us or a least make us more comfortable. But why not add some, or even all, of these truths to your mental pharmacy? These prescriptions for your mind won’t cost a cent and always can be refilled—no insurance coverage needed!

Take your “mental medicine” and make your mind up to be happily at peace no matter what today brings—or doesn’t bring.

A sound mind makes for a robust body,
but runaway emotions corrode the bones. Proverbs 14:30 The Message Bible paraphrase

When anxiety overtakes me and worries are many,
Your comfort lightens my soul. Psalm 94:19 The Voice Bible

You will keep the peace, a perfect peace, for all who trust in You,
for those who dedicate their hearts and minds to You. Isaiah 26:3 The Voice Bible

*William Backus, The Healing Power of the Christian Mind (Minneapolis: Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 1996) 96.

(If the music video doesn’t load, please use this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTDoDA-1lsE)

Mar 14

Do You Need More Sunshine?

Do you start feeling a little funky in the fall? And by the time winter arrives are you downright depressed? Does your energy level disappear during the dark and you feel sluggish sans sun? Perhaps, you like me, have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression related to changing seasons.

Now I must be honest and tell you no physician actually has diagnosed me with this malady, but I’m fairly certain I have it. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up a California girl living an hour from the beach, but I LOVE the sun (yes, I used to lather myself with cocoa butter to get a better tan!) I do know that having a family history of SAD is a risk factor for relatives being diagnosed and I  remember my mother often remarking: “If I didn’t know better, I would worship the sun!”

I start feeling anxious in the fall because I know what season is coming next. As others are enjoying carving pumpkins and autumn leaves, I’m thinking: “I don’t know if I can get through another winter!”

Although SAD is more common in younger people, mine has gotten worse with age. I actually understand now why all those OLD people move to Florida for the winter and become “snowbirds!” 

According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD symptoms include: loss of interest in once enjoyable activities, problems sleeping, changes in appetite/weight, feeling sluggish, difficult concentrating, lack of energy and at its worst, feeling hopeless, guilty and even suicidal. (Read more at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651)

Thankfully mine is a milder version and I’m able to slog through these darker months. But I  definitely rejoiced the day after the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21) because I knew I had made it through the year’s shortest day (5 hours and 23 minutes less sunlight than the Summer Solstice). And because the next day would have 1 MORE SECOND OF SUNSHINE! And then every day after that would have a a little more light! I even texted my good friend Pat, another SAD sufferer, and congratulated her for making it through the shortest day, although she admittedly was busy lighting 20 candles in her living room trying to light up her life!

Obviously I’m not a doctor (although I do love pretending I am and diagnosing myself and others), so if you think you might have SAD, you should seek professional advice. But one of the things that really helps me is “light therapy.” I don’t actually have one of those fancy, electric “phototherapy” lights, but I try expose myself to as much sunshine as possible. If the sun is out and it’s not too freezing, I walk outside for my dose of Vitamin D. If we go to a restaurant for lunch, I choose a seat by the window where the sun is in my face.

And in the mornings, I position myself at the dining room table near an eastern-facing picture window and let the rays pour on me as I read my Bible and drink my tea. I don’t bow my head or close my eyes to pray–I talk out loud to my Heavenly Father with my face lifted to the warm light.

And sometimes He gives me a special message from His Word, like the verse I read one recent dreary winter morning:

“How happy are this who have learned how to praise You; those who journey through life by the light of Your face.” (Psalm 89:15, The Voice Bible)

Yes, LORD, that’s how I want to journey through life–and especially through my dark days.  I want my greatest source of direction and comfort  and peace to be the light of Your face.

Will you join me in praising God and walking through your dark days–whether they be literal or figurative–by the light of His face? Will you commit to putting yourself in places where His light can touch you? Worshipping Him with a nearby congregation. Reading His Word with an open heart and mind. Singing or listening to praise music. And asking Christ-followers to pray for and with you.

And if your dark days are incredibly bleak because you or someone you love is facing a medically incurable illness, please remember the Isaiah 9:2 promise of the coming Messiah: “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light–a light that will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow.”

Jesus is that light for the world. You can find His light, whoever you are, wherever you are and whatever darkness you face. The song below is my prayer of blessing for you today.

(If the music video doesn’t load, use this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEqclQGD7rs)

Mar 07

Helping Kids Cope with Cancer and Celebrating One Boy’s CURE

 

One of our church’s pastors, Matt, and his wife Carrie have been living in the shadow of cancer since December 2009, when their oldest child, Ian, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia at the age of 3 ½ .

Matt vividly recalls the moment the doctor gave them the diagnosis. 

“Acute leukemia were not the words we expected to hear,” Matt says. “In my mind, I equated that (diagnosis) with death and I thought I was going to lose my son.”

Later that night after the frightened couple put Ian and younger brother Nathan, then 1 ½ , to bed they joined hands and “told God we fully gave Ian to Him,” Carrie recalls.

“We prayed for our marriage to be able to withstand the stress that was about to come upon us,” she adds.

Ian underwent six phases of aggressive chemotherapy over more than three years and was in and out of the hospital for treatment and its debilitating side effects.

I recently asked Carrie and Matt how they helped their young family, which now includes a daughter, Quinn, see God at work in the midst of this trial.

“We openly discussed our fears and when we felt alone and even distant from God,” Carrie explains. “We also served in our ‘cancer community’ by showing God’s love in practical ways to others who were suffering, too.”

A couple of years ago, Ian and his family loaded up their van to go out to eat and celebrate his third cancer-free anniversary. Carrie recalls:  “I noticed Ian sitting there with his eyes closed and hands folded. I wasn’t sure if he was praying, so I asked him if he was OK.”

“Yes,” was the young survivor’s reply. “I was just thanking God that I’m still cancer-free.”

On February 27, 2018–five years after Ian finished treatment– doctors officially pronounced the 11-year-old CURED! He and his extended family joyfully celebrated with a Disney cruise vacation.

 

Every year nearly 16,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer and worldwide about a quarter of a million kids get that bad news. That’s a new child diagnosed with cancer every three minutes.

Statistics are not compiled for how many parents of minor children get cancer, but about 3.2 million of the U.S. adults diagnosed annually are ages 21-55 and therefore likely to still have kids at home. And that’s not even counting all of those cancer patients with young grandchildren.

However you add it up, there are a millions of families facing cancer with children.

So how can you best help the children in your life?  Fred Rogers has been quoted as saying: “Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”  So here are my recommendations written in an A- B-C style in honor of my hero, Mister Rogers:

  • Allow your feelings to be seen—even the sad ones. Obviously, it’s our job to help our children with their feelings, not vice versa, but if you want them to see how God is walking with you, you’ll need to share your struggles at times. It’s OK for children to know that sometimes we are afraid or angry or worried because then we can show them how a Christ-follower seeks God’s help with those feelings.
  • Be age-appropriately honest. Don’t tell all the statistics, but do use the word “cancer.” If you don’t, it may seem as if the word is too scary to even utter. It isn’t. Take away some of its supposed power by naming it as simply another illness. Sometimes when we don’t tell children the difficult truth, they imagine something even worse.
  • Create ways kids can give of themselves. Let them make cards or little gifts for the one facing cancer. Encourage them to pray specifically for that person every day. If the child is the one with cancer, follow Ian’s family’s lead and minister to others going through hard times. It’s so much easier to get our minds off our own troubles when we reach out to others.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep. We never told our girls “Mommy will be fine” because there was no such guarantee. We did promise them that the doctors would do everything they could to make me well, I would do everything to get well and that we expected I would become well.
  • Empower them by praying for them and with them—as in out loud and not just at mealtimes. Show them how to trust God even when we don’t like our situation. Don’t promise them that the one with cancer will be healed, but promise them that the One who created that person loves him/her with an everlasting love and will never leave them.

Facing cancer with children can be a wonderful first-hand lesson of the supernatural power of God in our lives. Help guide them to the path of peace as the Lord guides you there, too. The positive impact of this journey can be seen for generations to come.

Our children will serve Him;
future generations will hear the story of how the Lord rescued us.
They will tell the generations to come
of the righteousness of the Lord,
of what He has done. Psalm 22:30-31 The Voice Bible

Adapted from a chapter in Peace in the Face of Cancer, copyright 2017 by Lynn Eib.

(For parents with cancer, I recommend When a Parent Has Cancer: A Guide to Caring for Your Children by Dr. Wendy Harpham. For parents of children facing cancer, I recommend Chase Away Cancer: A Powerful Story of Finding Light in a Dark Diagnosis by Ellie Poole Ewoldt.)

If the music video doesn’t appear, use this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uy2EtG3UkL8

 

 

Feb 28

 “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

I love this quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. I can only imagine how many “scary” things this American First Lady had to do each day. She was described as a shy child and was orphaned by age 10. Later her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was stricken with polio, necessitating her expanded role in his political career. Eventually she became the first First Lady to speak out on political and humanitarian issues, for which she was both strongly criticized and enthusiastically praised. I wonder if she woke up each day reminding herself: Do one thing today that scares you.

That’s probably a good mantra for those facing serious trials and their caregivers—although some days you may have to do several things that scare you!

A post appearing online in recent years asserts that the phrase “Fear not” appears in the Bible exactly 365 times—one for each day of the year. The first time I saw that post, my natural reaction—as a reporter who needs two sources to verify anything—was to look it up and count them for myself.  I turned to BibleGateway.com and discovered the King James Version uses that phrase 64 times—exactly .1753424 times for each day of the year.

Okay, just because it’s not listed 365 times doesn’t mean it’s not good advice for every single day.  So what do we do with our understandably fearful reactions?

There’s a great story in the Bible which I believe offers some clues. It’s found in 2 Chronicles 20. The Jewish king Jehoshaphat was told that some great armies were coming to attack Jerusalem. His reaction was not atypical from what ours might be—he “was terrified” and then he “begged the Lord for guidance” (2 Chronicles 20:3). Shortly, God answered that prayer by sending His Spirit to speak through one of the king’s men:

He said, “Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel. But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!” 2 Chronicles 20:15-17

The king and his people agreed to “fear not”—instead they believed God and began to worship Him, praise Him, and sing to Him. At the very moment they did this, the Bible says God caused the approaching armies to fight amongst themselves and kill each other. The Israelites won the battle without a fight because God fought for them.

Logically, standing still does not sound like a good way to win a battle. But then God’s ways are not our ways, are they? The armies coming against Jehoshaphat were way too large and powerful to be defeated by him. The situation was hopeless from his perspective—but it was hope-filled from God’s vantage point. All the king had to do was acknowledge his fear, pray to God and then stand still.

One of the most difficult admonitions in Scripture for me to follow is Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” 

The word translated still in Psalm 46:10 is the Hebrew word harpu. I’m no Hebrew scholar, but I did some research and found it conveys the idea of ceasing to act or letting go. It’s the opposite of striving with our arms up, ready to fight or at least defend ourselves.

I know that we talk about “battling” cancer or other illnesses, but I also think that at times we need to quit striving, acknowledge our fears, surrender the fight to God and release His power to work in our situation.

Perhaps the scariest thing God is calling you to do today is to “be still” and trust Him.

The LORD is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? Psalm 118:6 NLT

COURAGEOUS PEACE REPLACES fear when we are still and know He is God. (This post is excerpted and adapted from Peace in the Face of Cancer, copyright Lynn Eib 2017.)

[1] Although this quote is widely attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, including in a 2013 book by the same name, I could not verify any original sources. The earliest verifiable print source with this phrase appears to be a June 1997 Chicago Tribune advice column by Mary Schmich. But even if Mrs. Roosevelt didn’t utter this sentiment, I think she lived it!

(If the music doesn’t load, please use this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0B-yfgmezM)

Feb 21

Given No Hope–Alive and Well 50 Years Later

 

“There is something you must always remember.
You are braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Christopher Robin to Winnie‑the‑Pooh in Pooh’s Most Grand Adventure

I love these words of encouragement from one best friend to another. They were the sentiment of a life-changing pep talk given to me in high school by my dear friend Cecil, who is the first person I knew who survived cancer.

We met in a speech class in the fall of 1968. I was a junior and he was a sophomore at Victor Valley High, where he was without a doubt the best orator. When he chose me to be his debate partner, I was thrilled. I didn’t know that the year before he had been diagnosed with fibrosarcoma (a rare cancer of the soft tissue), only that he always had a large Band-Aid on his forehead and that its self-described “flesh” color did not match his black skin. 

I’m not sure if either one of us ever used the “C” word. In the sixties, cancer was something adults whispered about and doctors tried to keep from patients’ knowledge.

“Why do you always wear a Band-Aid?” I naively asked him one day.

“Because I’m very embarrassed about my scars” was his quiet reply.

The scars were the result of multiple surgeries—beginning when he was fifteen—to try to cut away the cancer and extend his life.

“The fibrosarcoma was eating through my skull,” Cecil explained as we chatted on the phone about this chapter.

Back then chemotherapy was in its infancy, and radiation therapy couldn’t possibly be safely aimed at a patient’s head, so his doctors simply sliced away, waited for the cancer to grow back, and then cut it out again.

By the fall of 1968, doctors were so pessimistic about Cecil’s future, they recommended he drop out of high school. “Once it hits the optic nerve, it will go right to the brain. Go home and don’t even worry about school anymore,” they advised.

But Cecil had other plans.

“Not only am I going to go back to school, I’m going to graduate,” he told them. “And not only am I going to graduate, I’m going to go to college. And not only am I going to go to college, I’m going to go to the best college!” he defiantly added.

His equally strong-willed mother approved, saying, “If you want to go back to school, it’s fine with me. I don’t want you to just lie down and die.”

So Cecil went to school, ran track, and played basketball and football, wearing a customized helmet to protect his forehead as he darted downfield with the ball. (Bet that wouldn’t be allowed these days!) Just about every Saturday for the next two years, we were together at a speech meet or a debate competition, eventually becoming the first students from our school to make it to the speech state championships.

But in the summer of 1970, right after I graduated, Cecil’s cancer came back, and more surgery ensued. The hole in Cecil’s forehead was getting rather large, so doctors stitched his left forearm to his forehead for six weeks in an attempt to graft skin there. However, in the fall of 1970, the relentless cancer returned.

Surgeons wanted to operate again and now sew his right arm to his head, but his mother refused. She moved him to another hospital, ignoring the doctor’s warning that if she did he’d be “dead in two weeks.”

Physicians at the new hospital did the same kind of surgery, without stitching his arm to his head. At Cecil’s first recheck, they were pleasantly surprised the cancer had not returned. Three months later, they were shocked to find no sign of it. Three more cancer-free months later, they were speechless.

“We can’t take any credit for this, because we didn’t do anything different from the other doctors,” they told the then-eighteen-year-old Cecil. “The fibrosarcoma was like a runaway freight train on a dry, straight track, and it just stopped. In medicine we call it a spontaneous remission.”

Cecil finished high school, serving as student body president, and went on to graduate with honors from Harvard University, where he played football, ran track, and coached the debate team. As I write, he is a sixty-three-year-old longtime university law professor with many accolades and former students across the country who say his teaching expertise and friendship changed their lives.

“Despite all the dark predictions, I’m alive and doing just fine,” he says. “I believe to this day that God healed me despite all the gloom and doom. And it has never come back because He had other plans for me.”

I’m so grateful that meeting Cecil was part of God’s plan for my life. Before we participated in our first debate meet, I was scared and not at all confident in my speaking and writing abilities. I felt insecure because I was the youngest in my class (I graduated at sixteen) and because my father’s job had forced me to twice move midyear to new high schools. But Cecil shared words very similar to Christopher Robin’s with me, and I took them to heart. And as they say, the rest is history.

When we face the trials of life. including cancer, we discover the incredible strength of the human spirit as we do things we never thought we could. But I hope you also are discovering that the greatness of God is the reason you are braver, stronger, and smarter than you realized.

Find a mirror, look straight into it, and tell yourself: “I am braver than I believe. I am stronger than I seem. I am smarter than I think. God is much greater than I can imagine.”

And then share those words today with someone else who needs to hear them. You never know how God may use them to change a life.

(If the music video doesn’t automatically load, please use this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cb4o4lN0c_E&list=RDCb4o4lN0c_E&t=23 )