Do You Have Home-Field Advantage?

Granddaughter Abby, 8, with her sign: “Go Hurts! You’re our #1 guy!”

THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES ARE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!!!

And if you’re wondering what that announcement has to do with words to the weary, I must tell you that I started writing this blog in my mind as I lay awake in the middle of the night after the Eagles’ win. So it must be divine inspiration, right? (Keep reading to decide for yourself if that’s true!)

I was a big sports fan even before I graduated from THE Ohio State University. It’s fascinating how schools, especially ones the size of Ohio State and Penn State, have far better winning records at home. Their 100,000+-seat football stadiums filled with cheering crowds give them something called “home-field advantage.” Studies show home teams on average win 55%-70% of the time (and this phenomenon is not limited to football or colleges).

Several years ago the Boston Red Sox started the season 22-5 at home, with pitcher Roy Oswalt posting a 10-0 record at Fenway Park. When our middle daughter played basketball at Houghton (N.Y.) College, her team was 32-0 at home.

Which brings me back to “my” Eagles, who, as the top team in their division, competed at home for all their playoff games.

Sunday Tweet from former Eagle Chris Long

Eagles Head Coach Nick Sirianni predicted the advantage like this: “Our crowd inspires us. Our crowd makes it difficult for the opposing team with how much communication that has to happen…It’s going to be loud. We’ll feed off that…”

Sunday’s Philly crowd of almost 70,000 roared at 95 decibels most of the Eagles’ 31-7 win. (Not to brag, but our family’s “crowd” of 7 adults and 7 children hit 91 decibels during our off-key rendition of “Fly, Eagles Fly!”)

Sports psychologists don’t know for sure why the home team tends to win, but surmise that the presence of people who feel for us and with us helps bring out the best in us. Their cheers convey: “We care. We think you’re great. We’re proud of you.” And athletes respond by giving their best.

It’s the same way when we’re going through life’s trials, (which can bring out the worst in us). Having friends and family “cheer” us on can bring out the best in us: home-field advantage! 

It doesn’t matter how tough, strong, independent we are—the Bible says we shouldn’t try to go it alone.

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.
If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble…
A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.
Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”-
-Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Bethany’s first (and last!) marathon in 2018 with Bauer, 7, running the last mile while cheering her on

We need to be willing to allow others to come along side and help us even though we probably would rather be on the giving end than the receiving. It’s humbling to let a friend scrub your toilets, mow your yard, or drive you to a doctor’s appointment, but when we turn down acts of kindness, we’re robbing others the joy of giving!

I hope as you face sickness or other life struggles, that you’re welcoming friends and family as your “cheering” crowd. Otherwise, it’s like choosing to play all your games away—no home-field advantage!

And if you’re blessed not to be facing any trials right now, please ask God to show you someone whose load you could lighten by cheering them on–maybe you’ll even hit 95 decibels!
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I hope you’re encouraged by this Michael W. Smith song “I Will Carry You.”

God’s Answer to My Unrealistic Prayer

I distinctly remember a day in August 1980 as one of the saddest of my then 26-year-old life.

August ’80 church going-away reception

My husband and I, our two little girls in our arms, watched the moving van pull away with all our worldly belongings. Tears streamed as I said goodbye to my dearest friend, Gigi, her husband George and their three little boys. I finally had a friend with whom I could share the ups and downs of mothering, marriage and ministry, but my husband’s new job was taking me away. (He later called that move one of his “worst decisions ever.”)

This is the story of how that decision led to God answering my seems-to-be-too-good-to-be-true prayer.
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When our oldest daughter Danielle was 6 weeks old, the Gaffgas moved to our western New York village (think, one stoplight and lots of lake-effect snow!) . Their towheaded boys were 1 and 3. George pastored the Presbyterian church on one corner; my husband shepherded the Baptist flock on the opposite one. The church-provided parsonages were across the street from one another.

Our husbands enjoyed wonderful ministry between the two churches, as well as George’s practical jokes. A “For Sale” sign on our church lawn. A cracked toilet with a potted plant on our parsonage front porch…You get the idea.

In the spring of 1980, Gigi delivered a third boy six weeks after I delivered our second daughter. I had no car, no spending money, and no family nearby. But I had a friend right across the street who understood me, listened to me and prayed for me.

After our move to Connecticut, we stayed in contact mostly through letters–too expensive to call long distance! After they moved to Long Island and we moved (again!) to start a new church in Pennsylvania, we vacationed  together every summer at a free beach house on the Great Peconic Bay.

Our kids, summer ’88

Our kids (now numbering six after adding a third daughter in Connecticut!) swam and played Monopoly together while our husbands sailed the bay and Gigi and I played the word game Boggle.

Jamie’s high school graduation ’95

Through the years we occasionally reconnected at family graduations and weddings. Eventually technology made staying in touch much easier–texts, phone calls and online Boggle fun. Finally, we all retired–us to our current home and George and Gigi to Colorado.

When the frightening reality of the pandemic hit, Gigi became my steady contact with the outside world. We Boggled everyday to distract us from the isolation, FaceTimed while working on jigsaw puzzles, and encouraged one another that God’s love never fails.

Fast forward to early last year when my elderly neighbor across the street (in a one-story house exactly like ours) had another stroke and was hospitalized for months. Each morning as I sat at my dining room table reading my Bible and gazing at Paul’s house, I prayed for his recovery, but I added something else.

“Lord, if he can’t come home and be safe, please let George and Gigi buy his house and move here.”

It was quite an unrealistic prayer.

Even though Psalm 37:4 says that God “will give you the desires of your heart,” I know that doesn’t mean you always get whatever you wish for. But I do think God sometimes does put an “unrealistic” prayer on your heart because it is His desire.

So I prayed.  And when I found out in August that my neighbor needed to sell his house, I told the Gaffgas about my prayer.  Because they had been wishing they were nearer to their Philly-area son (a single dad with two young daughters), they started praying too.

Dec. ’22 and YES we laugh a lot!

I will summarize the next few months as a whirlwind of negotiating, planning, questioning, pleading and believing. But a week before Christmas, they moved into their new home–across the street just like nearly 45 years ago.

We have come full circle. (Except now we try to get our husbands to nap at the same time instead of our toddlers 🙂 )

We raised our children together and now we will dote on our grandkids together. We cared for our church families and now we will care for each other.

And we will pray the Lord uses our deep friendship to deepen His image in each of us…as together we praise the God who makes “unrealistic” prayers come true.
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I pray my story has encouraged you to embrace the message of this song by Passion: “There’s Nothing that Our God Can’t Do.”

 

A Good Word (or two or three) for the New Year

Do you know the first word you ever spoke? Perhaps “da-da” or maybe “ma-ma?” I don’t recall whether my mother ever told me mine, but I know for certain what our oldest daughter initially uttered.

Lindsey, 8.5 mos. old, Jan. ’83

Danielle was 8.5 months old and crawling after my parents’ Siamese cat when my mother and I heard her say “kitty.” We both thought perhaps we were imagining, but she clearly kept repeating it and has impressed us with her vocabulary ever since!

(BTW our very articulate and youngest daughter Lindsey, born on Danielle’s 4th birthday, also  spoke the same first word, also at 8.5 months, also while crawling after my parents’ cat!)

I love words.

I love word games.

And I especially love the people who are willing to play word games with me (both of you)!

I know many of you select a personal word for the new year–something to inspire, encourage, challenge, or focus you. I was contemplating why I never have embraced this great idea and concluded it’s because I love words so much, I don’t want to stop at one!

Instead I’ve chosen three sentences on which to meditate as I walk with the Lord in 2023. I plan to say at least one of them each morning even before my feet hit the floor and perhaps even before I open up my eyes.

The first is: “God is God and I’m not.”

I don’t know who gets credit for this simple statement, but I’m certain that basically all my worries, fears and anxiety are centered on me wanting to be in control instead of me trusting that the Creator of the universe can handle it all. My health, my family, my finances, my future are all safe in the hands of an all-knowing, all-powerful God. I don’t have to plan it or even understand it. Instead I can respond as our Father commands:

LifeHopeandTruth.com

The second is: “God says, ‘I loved you first and I love you best’,” (spoken by pastor/author Albert Tate https://alberttate.com )

If I truly believe this in the deepest part of my being, I can quit trying to earn God’s favor because He’s the one who began this whole love relationship. He loves me more than my dearest friends. More than my beautiful family.  More than my wonderful husband of nearly half-a-century.  And whenever I feel lonely, disappointed or unappreciated, I can find comfort in God’s declaration:

“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”
Jeremiah 31:3

The third sentence is: “How shall I use my inheritance today?” (penned by my favorite devotional writer, Chris Tiegreen https://christiegreen.com )

“And since we are His children, we are His heirs.”
Romans 8:17

What do heirs get? An inheritance! The Apostle Peter describes our inheritance as “priceless”–and while some of it is still to come in Heaven–much is already available now, including the power of the Holy Spirit, participation in the Kingdom of God, and authority over the Enemy!

Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay

Tiegreen suggests you “ask God if there’s any aspect of His authority, His Kingdom, His purposes, His resources that He wants to entrust you with today” and then “watch for opportunities (because) they will come.

“The owner of all that exists…has promised everything to His Son and the Son’s siblings.”

So as you face the new year, pick one word, or like me pick a bunch of words.

But whatever trials come your way, never doubt that God is God and you’re not.

That He loved you first and always loves you best.

And that from Him you have an incredible, infallible, and inexhaustible inheritance.
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P.S. (If you’re curious about middle daughter Bethany’s first word, it was “ball” and foretold the great athlete she would become.)
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Please enjoy the music video “This My Inheritance” by All Sons & Daughters

SIX THINGS ALWAYS TO SAY TO GRIEVERS

The holidays often are especially difficult for those who have lost a loved one.  How do we convey sympathy without saying something irritating or even downright painful? Have you ever felt helpless knowing what to say when someone has experienced a deep loss?

Here are my thoughts on SIX THINGS ALWAYS TO SAY TO GRIEVERS.

  1. I’m so sorry.
    It may not feel as if you’re saying much, but honestly, there are no words you can utter to take away grief. We comfort much better when we give up trying to say something to “fix” the sad situation–it can’t be done. Let your hug, your handshake, your tears convey that you are sharing in your friend’s sorrow. The best comforters simply feel another’s pain; they don’t try to explain it.
  2. Would it be helpful if I ________________________________?
    Fill in the blank with something practical: Brought a meal? Picked up your kids for a play date? Mowed your lawn? Helped you sort through paperwork? Took you out for coffee? Or whatever creative suggestion you think of–and then pick a date to do it. Concrete offers with a definite timetable are much more valuable than “Let me know if you need anything.” Grievers feel overwhelmed and don’t want to call people to ask them for a favor.
    If you know your friend’s “love language” (http://5lovelanguages.com), you can choose a sympathy expression accordingly. When my physical-touch-friend’s father died, I gave her a gift certificate for a therapeutic massage. My gifts-friend got a big bouquet of wildflowers (after the funeral bouquets had died.) When my Dad passed away in 2011, my friend Karen knew my primary love language is quality time, so she planned a “Pamper Lynn Day’ with manicures, browsing antique shops, eating Thai food and talking about parents. It was such an emotionally refreshing day, we created “Pamper Lynn AND Karen Day” and recently celebrated our 12th annual!
  3. A great memory I have of him/her is _______________________.
    Image courtesy Sandy Millar at Unsplash

    Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

    Mourners want to talk about their loved one and hear others speak of ways that person touched their life. I often wait a few weeks to send a sympathy card so I have plenty of time to write a meaningful note of memories. (And also because grievers are inundated with “sympathy” immediately after the death. Then everyone’s life goes back to normal, but the griever’s never will.) Don’t be afraid to say the deceased person’s name.Yes, it may bring tears to their eyes, but their fear a loved one will be forgotten is even sadder.

  4. Is there an especially difficult time of the day/week when I could pray for you?
    When I asked members of my Grief Prayer Support Group this question concerning the hardest time of day, their responses varied. Many said they dreaded too-quiet evenings without their spouse. Some hated mornings with no child to wake up for school. Still others trudged through Sunday afternoons because that was then they always visited their parent. Discover your grieving friend’s difficult time and promise to pray for them at that time—you could even text to let them know you’re praying, or send a short prayer to them.
  5. If you would like to attend a grief support group, I’ll go with you.
    It’s hard to walk into a roomful of grievers, but so much easier with a friend by your side. Many churches hold 13-week Grief Share programs (www.griefshare.org). Stephen Ministries, funeral homes and hospice organizations often offer bereavement support. I’ve compiled a list of grief care organizations and resources in the back of my book When God & Grief Meet http ://lynneib.com/index.php/my-books/#anchor5.
  6. I care…and I’m here.
    Your presence speaks much louder than your words. If at all possible, be present physically. Otherwise, “show up” in phone calls, texts, cards or whatever means you have for connecting. You can be the kind of friend Aaron and Hur were for Moses in Exodus 17.  Moses held high the staff of God for Joshua and the Israelite army because whenever he lowered it, the enemy prevailed. But “Moses’ arms became so tired, he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands.”

Grieving is exhausting work. Ask God to help you find a sitting “stone” for your mourning friend and then show you how to hold up his/her weary arms.

For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted onesIsaiah 49:3

LifeHopeandTruth.com

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I hope you are blessed by the music video “Cry Out to Jesus” by Third Day.

 

SIX THINGS NEVER TO SAY TO GRIEVERS

Is there anyone you’ll be missing this Christmas? I know so many who have “lost” loved ones this year. A spouse of 55 years.  A  43-year-old father of two teenage girls. An 88-year-old amazing grandpa. A 22-year-old son killed on a motorcycle. A best man from a long ago wedding.  A 9-year-old little girl tearfully taken off a respirator.

How can we offer sympathy in the face of such sorrow? Let me start with what not to do.

SIX THINGS NEVER TO SAY TO GRIEVERS:

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

  1.  God must have needed him/her more than you do.
    God is self-sufficient and needs nothing. He is not made greater, stronger or better by anyone or anything. Yes, He loves our loved ones even more than we do, but He does not take them Home out of His own necessity.

2.   At least you have other children.
I remember when I miscarried our first baby at three months gestation on Mother’s Day of all days. A nurse came by my hospital room that night and commented: “You’re young—you’ll have other children.”

Her words did not comfort me. I didn’t want a “replacement” baby—I wanted the one I already loved. I needed to grieve the baby I would hold only in my heart and never in my arms.

And as devastating as a miscarriage can be, the death of a child is even more so.  A parent burying a son or daughter is so unnatural, I believe this is the deepest grief to bear. And having other children still alive does not diminish the loss. The less said by onlookers, the better.

3.    At least they lived a long life.

If this thought gives you comfort when your loved one passes, by all means say it to yourself, but it’s not a phrase to share with grievers. Simply because someone was 80, 90 or even 100 doesn’t mean it feels OK that they are no longer in this world. In fact, when a loved one has been in our life for a long time, it can feel really difficult not to see/call/take care of them each day.

My Mom passed away at the age of 82 after many health struggles and I mistakenly thought that because she had been in my life for six decades, I wouldn’t grieve as much. It has been eight years and I honestly still could cry every day.

Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash

4.    You’re young—you’ll find someone else.

Even if this comes true, such a statement minimizes the special love relationship two people had. Those burying a spouse/life partner do not need to run out and find a new mate. They may indeed experience love again, but first need to grieve what they had and lost.

5.    I know just how you feel.

I remember when someone said this to me shortly after my 86-year-old father passed away. I wanted to shout: “Really…your dad died a few hours before your mom got home from a 2-week hospital stay for cancer surgery complications? So the day that was supposed to be your parents’ happy reunion became the date your brother had to drive three hours and break the news to your Mom? And meanwhile you hurriedly drove seven hours in a vain attempt to say goodbye to your dad? Really…you had all that happen to you, too?”

Every grief has it’s own uniqueness, including how it affects those left behind. So while you may have an inkling, you do not know exactly how someone feels.

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6.    I thought you’d be over this by now. 

People do not get over grief. They get through it. There is no universal timetable for grieving and grief work is not a linear progression. “Getting over it” is what we do when someone we’re dating breaks up with us, or we lose a job, or someone hurts our feelings. The idea of “getting over” our grief implies that we’re never going to miss that person or be sad again. It’s simply not true because when we love deeply, we grieve deeply.

In two weeks I’ll share “SIX THINGS ALWAYS TO SAY TO GRIEVERS.” In the meantime, here’s a prayer to lift to God for yourself or for those who mourn:

            Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless.
      Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.
                                                                                 Psalm 10:17

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If you haven’t ever experienced a deep grief, I especially recommend listening to the song “I Will Not Say Goodbye” written by Danny Gokey, contemporary Christian artist–and former American Idol contestant– after the death of his 27-year-old wife.

Handling Life’s “Setbacks”

I don’t know about you,  but my life has been full of a lot of “setbacks” lately.

Our friends’ new home (before the landscaper arrived)!

For a couple of months we’ve been helping some very dear friends in Colorado purchase the house across the street from us. I’ll share more about this long-distance adventure in a later blog, but suffice it to say it has been a real roller coaster fraught with tons of setbacks. One minute the four of us were cheering and thanking God, and five minutes later (after another upsetting communication from the house’s previous owners), we were in tears and ready to forget the whole idea.

Now, I realize that in the whole scheme of life, my setbacks right now are fairly minor. But I have several good friends who are experiencing major setbacks–life-threatening health issues, painful difficulties with teenagers, unsettling hitches in important plans, and overwhelming problems with terrible anxiety. Each is facing a huge setback and trying to find hope and peace in the midst of it all.

I’m curious…what is your first reaction to setbacks in life?

Complaining? Obsessing? Blaming?

Depression? Avoidance?  Maybe anger?

“When we suffer a setback,” author/teacher/historian Chris Tiegreen* says, “our first instinct is usually to lament about it, analyze it, wonder what we did wrong, and try our hardest to get out of it.”

However, a “better instinct,” Tiegreen says, “is to ask God what He is doing in it and open our eyes to the opportunities it creates.”

Let me be the first to say that I don’t find this kind of response comes quickly and easily. But I do agree with Tiegreen’s assertion that “whatever situation we find ourselves in, there is some way to reflect God’s face.”

“Does it give us a platform to show God’s mercy? His power? His compassion, patience or love?” Tiegreen asks.

When our friends and we were dealing with the many setbacks in their home-buying process, we all prayed that God would shine through us.

Was it easy? No way. Did we still have to fight against the urge to get back at the wrongs done to us? Absolutely. But in the end, I’m so grateful that God’s Spirit empowered us to exhibit our heavenly Father’s patience, offer His compassion, and show His mercy (after all, the latter is undeserved for all of us).

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

“Train yourself to think differently about your hardships,” Tiegreen recommends. “See them as opportunities for God to manifest His character and His kingdom. Pray toward that end and step through the open doors.”

We can do this with assurance and trust in our faithful God because as Tiegreen concludes: “Everything that happens to you is under His hand–and somehow useful in yours….Our crises are usually His stage.”

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.
You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.
So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.
Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

–James 1:2-4 The Message paraphrase

Ask God to let your crises–your setbacks–be His stage to reveal Himself through you. It’s a prayer He longs to hear…and answer.

*Quotes are from The One-Year Heaven on Earth Devotional by Chris Tiegreen, my favorite devotional author. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
I hope you’re encouraged by this music video from Casting Crowns. God is the “God of all My Days”–especially the ones with setbacks.

Are you a Titus? Or do you need one?

I remember so well the first cancer support group meeting I attended at our community  hospital. It was the summer of 1990.

Fall 1990 reporting on a P. Buckley Moss art show

I was a 36-year-old reporter for a York, PA, newspaper and recently had interviewed Mary Flinner, the new group’s facilitator. When I showed up at a support group meeting a few weeks after my story was published, Mary naturally assumed I was visiting the group as a follow-up to my article.

“How sweet that you would come to our meeting,” she said with a big smile.

“Actually, I was diagnosed with colon cancer last month,” I told her as her jaw dropped.

It was an incredible irony.

I remember that I had to talk myself into attending that meeting because I wasn’t sure I really wanted to be with a bunch of cancer patients. As introductions were made around the table, I happened to be the most newly diagnosed and the last to introduce myself.

I burst into tears before I could even get out my name.

I felt really silly for falling apart like that, but I had been trying to hold it together in front of everyone else for so long that it seemed good to let down my feelings with others who had “been there, done that.”

Daytime Cancer Prayer Support meeting

Before I retired as a patient advocate, I constantly invited cancer patients and their caregivers to my support group meetings, but often people told me: “I’m not really that depressed that I need to come.”

To which I replied, “Great! I need people there who aren’t depressed to support those who are!”

 

What life difficulty are you facing or has God already brought you through? Divorce? Addiction? Cancer? Special needs parenting? Relatives with dementia? Abuse? Job loss? Infertility? Grief?

The list of life’s trials is endless…and so is the grace of God to see us through.

“God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.
When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Courtesy MorningbirdPhoto

Don’t waste the pain you’ve encountered by failing to share your experiences with others. The troubles you’ve faced with God’s strength will be a comfort to those facing the same kinds of circumstances.

When the Apostle Paul was down and out, God sent his friend Titus at just the right time to him.

“When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction,
with battles on the outside and fear on the inside.
But God, who encourages those who are discouraged,
encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy.”

2 Corinthians 7:5, 6

I think each day that you and I fit into one of two categories: someone who needs to be encouraged or someone who needs to be an encourager. Which are you today? If it’s the former, ask God to send a “Titus” your way and if it’s the latter, ask God to show you who might need you to step in and be their “Titus.”

 I pray that we each see one another–family, friends and even strangers–through the eyes of God.  As the beautiful Brandon Heath song below says“give me Your eyes for just one second.”

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Two Women (Make that Three) Defying the Odds

This is the story of two women God brought together more than two decades ago, forging a faith-filled friendship which has seen them through incredibly scary diagnoses.

L. to R. Chris, me, Jutta Sept. 2022

Chris’s ordeal began in July 1999 when at the age of 36 she suffered a grand mal seizure while sleeping.

“My husband thought I fell out of bed,” she recalls. “He was trying to get me up, but when he rolled me over I was turning blue.”

Hospital tests revealed a golf ball–sized tumor in the right front area of her brain. Chris remembers nothing of those events until she awoke from surgery and received the shocking diagnosis of anaplastic astrocytoma, which is not usually considered curable.

“I never knew what the odds were regarding survival,” says Chris. “No one ever told me that I only had a certain length of time left. If they had, I think I would have panicked.”

While still finishing radiation and chemo, Chris was befriended by a young mom named Jutta (YOU-tuh), who was leading the women’s Bible study Chris had joined.

“I had so many questions about God and all kinds of spiritual things ,” recalls Chris, who, along with her husband and 2-year-old son had recently begun attending Jutta’s church. “I always thought they were stupid so I didn’t bring them up [before], but Jutta didn’t seem to mind explaining things to me. And she would always give me a hug when I got there and when I left.”

A friendship was easily forged between the two, and Chris’s love for God grew alongside her love for Jutta. On the one-year anniversary of her brain surgery, Chris was baptized in a swimming pool with Jutta cheering her on.

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Then in July 2003, at the age of 38, Jutta also awoke from surgery to discover she had cancer.

Doctors initially thought her jaundice was due to a drug reaction, but instead discovered a malignant tumor in her pancreas. Up until that time, Jutta, a wife and mother of children ages 6 and 10, had never even considered the possibility that she might be seriously ill.

But the harsh reality was that she had one of the deadliest kinds of cancer and it already had spread to the lymph nodes.

“The day after surgery, the oncologist came up to my room and said, ‘You better get your act together. You have cancer and you’ve only got two years,’” Jutta recalls.

Hearing that she had such a difficult-to-treat cancer was shocking, but even worse, Jutta says, “was the way I was told.”

“It took me at least a month to get over that,” she adds. Eventually she decided the doctor’s prediction was only that—a prediction—and she would not live believing it had to come true.

“I always prayed that God would use me no matter what, but if I’d have known it would result in this, I wouldn’t have prayed that way,” she adds with a laugh.

Jutta, who still speaks with a rich German accent, believes setting goals is important for survivors.

“Even if my cancer would have been stage 4, I would still have gone for my goals,” she says. “One of my goals is that I want to be an encouragement to other people.”

“You don’t stop living just because you hear that word cancer–that’s the worst thing you can do,” Jutta says.

“I wouldn’t change anything about my journey,” Chris adds, ” because without it, I wouldn’t have met the wonderful friends that I have and I wouldn’t have a relationship with Jesus.”

Recently at a Cancer Prayer Support Group concert we all reconnected–three mothers diagnosed in our 30s, with the survival odds stacked against us.

It was a powerful reminder for us–and I hope for you–that statistics and predictions are no match for our God.

I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?
Jeremiah 32:27

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Please enjoy the music video “God of the Impossible” by Lincoln Brewster.

Five Cancers Can’t Stop their Joy

Bill and Pat Shifflet have faced five cancers in their 80+ years–some cured, others not–but please don’t feel sorry for them. The very happy couple doesn’t spend time bemoaning their own struggles; they’re too busy helping others.

“Everyday I pray ‘God, show me a need’,” explains, 82-year-old Pat, who loves to pray for people, send encouraging notes, and serve behind the scenes.

She describes her almost 84-year-old husband Bill, as an “avid giver.”

“If there’s a need,  he’s ready to open his wallet,” she adds.

The couple married in 1995–she, after an abusive marriage and he, after 55 years as a confirmed bachelor.

Pat was a non-practicing Catholic and Bill says he was “raised in faith” but his lifestyle did not show it. In 2000 he agreed to visit a  new congregation worshipping in a local movie theater only because he heard they had free coffee and a band.

“If they bring out any snakes, I’m leaving!” a skeptical Bill warned his wife.

No snakes appeared and the couple embarked on a spiritual journey of becoming committed Christ-followers.

It was that newfound faith which would strengthen them for what lay ahead.

A couple years earlier, Pat had encountered cancer via a malignant colon polyp. But her real trial came in 2005 with invasive breast cancer requiring a mastectomy, chemo and radiation.

Amazingly, my beautiful white-haired friend looks back happily on the whole ordeal.

“To me that was a blessing because that’s how I met Melissa and got to share Jesus with her,” Pat explains.

“Melissa was a nurse at the hospital and before my mastectomy she said ‘you must be frantic’,” Pat recalls. “‘Absolutely not; I gave it all to God,’ I told her. The next day she came into my room and said ‘When you’re well enough, can I go to church with you?'”

A few months later Pat helped baptize both Melissa and her boyfriend.

LifeHopeandTruth.com

Bill’s “turn” with cancer came in 2013–a fairly low-grade prostate tumor treated with “watchful waiting.” This year he was diagnosed with a spot of melanoma. But the toughest news came in 2018: incurable multiple myeloma.

“The MRI showed cracks in my spine and my ribs looked like Swiss cheese,”  Bill recalls. “The first year, I was a mess. Besides the terrible back pain, I lost 30 pounds and shrank 2.5 inches.”

After completing his initial chemo and radiation, Bill expects to remain on a bi-weekly “maintenance” drug for the rest of his life.

“It doesn’t bother me or make me worry,” he said. “I just try to put it in God’s hands.”

But he does admit disappointment over not being allowed to downhill ski anymore.

Skiing in Salida, CO

“I always wanted to ski until I was 80, but I made it to 78,” he says with a grin.

The couple spent 14 winters skiing in Colorado. Bill, an Air Force veteran and commercial pilot for 40 years was a lifelong downhill enthusiast. Pat came to love the sport in her 40s after a friend’s invitation to help at a winter Special Olympics in the nearby Pocono Mountains.

Pat volunteered despite the fact she had never put on a pair of skis! Eagerly, she watched the handsome instructor with a foreign accent patiently teaching the special needs kids. He invited her to stay after class for some personal instruction and Pat soon was flying through the soft powder. Only later did she learn that the handsome instructor was none other than champion French alpine ski racer, Jean-Claude Killy!

So while their skiing days are over, their serving days are not.

“Our lives are not defined by cancer; our lives are defined by our relationship with Christ,” Pat insists.

They offer rides to medical appointments for those in need, collect toiletries to be distributed at a local soup kitchen, volunteer at their no-snakes-church and regularly invite people out to lunch.

“God always provides, there’s always money,” Pat says with a smile. “We may have had bad times. God never promised us a rich life without cancer, but He did promise us eternity. We’re both ready to go and pray we go together.”

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Please enjoy the short music video “Press On” by Selah.

Contentment: My Oncologist Has Cancer (Part 9)

If you’re tired of hearing good news about people with little-to-no medical hope who are amazing doctors by how well they are doing, don’t even bother to read this.

Marc & Elizabeth Hirsh

Okay, because you’re still here, I could not be more happy–and thankful to God–to tell you that my oncologist and dear friend, Dr. Marc Hirsh, had another encouraging scan! This latest 6-month checkup at Hershey Medical comes almost 2.5 years after he was diagnosed with such a serious and rare cancer that he and every specialist consulted thought his death was imminent.

But the large tumor behind his heart has remained stable for the past two years.

“I’m really happy I got a good report–the tumor hasn’t grown and actually is a little smaller (about 5X3 cm instead of 6X4 cm),” Marc told me. “Now I can enjoy another ski season and have time for traveling.

“I’m delighted my short-term prognosis is excellent,” he added with his usual penchant for cautious optimism.

Contentment.

LoveHopeandTruth.com

That’s the word that Marc never actually used in our conversation, but I heard in his voice.

He’s a 71-year-old man  forced to close his successful three-decade-long oncology practice immediately after his diagnosis, and still living in the shadow of cancer…and yet he feels contentment.

“I’m enjoying my life quite a bit,” he said. “I know it (the cancer) may or may not come back, but I’m pretty much enjoying life a lot.”

“Life” includes another cross-country excursion out West this fall to visit older daughter Jessi and family, as well as regular trips to Maryland to help out younger daughter Sarah with her son and two little foster girls. And of course, plenty of physical activities like swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, jogging, and biking.

And music is still a huge part of Marc’s life. For the past 30  years, he has ministered in song at our Prayer Support Group concerts for area cancer patients, their caregivers, and those grieving someone lost to cancer. After Marc’s diagnosis in May 2020, I honestly thought there never would be another concert, but this past Sunday for the second time as a cancer survivor, he extended healing through his beautiful music and wise words. .

Marc, a Messianic Jew,  began by sharing his personal testimony through his original melody “Jesus Took Away My Blues” and ended with the words of the old song that always bring me to tears:  “And when I come to die, just give me Jesus.”

“Trouble is inevitable, (but) thank goodness we can have Jesus in our life,” he reminded the 65 folks in attendance.

Marc also shared from Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light and salvation–so why should I be afraid?
The LORD is my fortress, protecting from danger, so why should I tremble?…
The one thing I ask of the LORD–the thing I seek the most–
is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life…”

Before the concert Marc mentioned to me that he really liked the new oncologist he saw at Hershey.

“When I asked him if he had ever seen anyone with my diagnosis who was doing well, he said ‘no’,” Marc recalled. “But he added that nobody has ever had the same treatment (radiation, chemo and hormone injections) that I prescribed for myself.”

And then the new doc reminded Marc of something he knew but was encouraged to hear again: “Even in the worst cancer, there are long-term survivors.”

Marc, we are praying that’s what you will be.

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Please enjoy the very short music video of “Hope to Carry On” by Rich Mullins, Marc and Elizabeth’s favorite Christian artist.