Where are your roots planted? What do they cling to for nourishment? according to Psalm 1 the man who plants his roots in the living water is blessed and will see fruit in his life, and no matter the season, his faith and joy will not diminish or waver, but will find abundance in what he does as unto to the Lord. The Lord provides and meets our needs, we do not need to worry, or seek what the world offers. Our delight, our contentment, our fulfillment is in the truths of His Word. God will guide us if we only will seek Him for guidance.
I stayed home from work today. I felt somewhat achy, was it headache? Was it a tummy ache? I wasn’t quite sure, but I stayed home. The thought of sitting at my desk pushing papers to and fro, and answering the endless phone calls was all too much to face. I gave into the aches and pains that usually disappear within moments of my fifty-three year old feet hitting the floor.
After the hustle and bustle of one daughter off to college and work for the day, another daughter starting her second week of her sophomore year and my sweet hubby heading off to work, the house was at last quiet. I sat on the couch still in my nightgown and looked around my “lived in” house. “Lived in” is my daughters favorite line to use when I am on a rampage about the house being messy. “Mom, it doesn’t matter, it just looks lived in?”, they will say. They don’t understand the inner pressure I struggle with to make my home look like a Better Homes & Garden magazine, or worse, Pinterest! “It matters to me” I will tell them and then I set off on a mission to clean every nook and cranny.
I sat there on that couch for an hour, in the quiet, just thinking. I thought about my life and the road I have been travelling for the last fifty-three years. It isn’t playing out exactly as I had planned. That sounds like I am unhappy, but I am not, though I am finding myself at a crossroads. Many parts of my perfect plan have come to fruition. I am happily married to a wonderful man who loves me more than I ever imagined being loved. He makes me laugh, he understands me to the best of his ability as a man to understand a woman, and he supports me. I have three amazing daughters. The oldest is newly married, the middle daughter is in college and the youngest is in high school. They are strong in their faith and they are living it out. Nothing could make me more proud. I attend a wonderful church with many longtime friends. I have been on mission trips and I have taught Sunday School for high school girls long enough that I am now teaching the teenagers of the students I taught years ago. Frightening!
We have experienced hardships just like everyone else. God has blessed us time and time again. He has met our needs even when we probably didn’t deserve to have those needs met. We have learned so much as a married couple and as a family about God’s grace and mercy. All this matters.
Five years ago I went to work full time after working five years part time. Our daughters were getting older and more expensive. My husband had experienced a lay-off from a job he had been at for nearly ten years and had started over at a new company. Financially it seemed the right thing to do. Up to that point I had only worked twenty hours a week to help out our finances. The full time employment came at a time we were really struggling. Now five years later I am still working full time, mostly because we have become accustomed to the extra money.
This full time employment had never been part of the plan. I was supposed to have finished my first book, become published and obtained a lucrative book deal for additional sequels. The plan also consisted of me becoming a women’s speaker and ministering to women through conferences and retreats. This kind of work mattered.
I got up from my place of contemplation on the couch and decided to do something that matters. I got to work cleaning up the house. I made beds, I washed some clothes, I organized a cabinet and I even straightened up the girl’s bathroom. I had forgotten what it was like to be home in the middle of the day. The house was peaceful and I was getting so much done. The last time I had been home during the day on a regular basis was when my youngest was four years old.
At 3:00pm my fifteen year old came in from school. We sat and talked for an hour about school, friends, homework and anything else that came to her mind. Things got quiet for a moment and she suddenly said, “I like you being home when I get home from school.” Then she was off to her room to take a short nap.
I sat there a while longer thinking about that moment. It won’t be long till she is graduating and then off to college. This is what matters. It matters that I am there for her when she comes home. It doesn’t matter if we have lots of extra money to spend. Being there for her is what matters. Preparing my home is what matters. Serving others is what matters. Seeking God above all else is what matters. This is not what the world preaches through every social and public media. It is subtle. It is constant. But it ways in heavy on what really matters. We become confused about what is important. We strive to have it all and do it all. We push our children to be involved in everything and to maintain great grades while forgetting that they sometimes just need to be kids. We feel like failures when we haven’t achieved some kind of recognized symbol of an extraordinary woman who is perfect at parenting, leading and achieving, all while providing healthy meals, a spotless, well designed home and meaningful moments all chronicled on social media for all to admire.
I cannot compete with the ideal that floats around in my head of how I should be doing everything. It’s too exhausting. I will never live up to my expectations. The realty of life is that my house is not always clean, I do not have a particular set of skills that allows me to have every room decorated and looking magazine worthy. I am not a great cook! There I said it. I have go to meals that are no longer considered healthy or “Keto friendly” or any other kind of healthy friendly. I don’t have a deep desire to be a chef. I probably won’t be the granny cooking up amazing treats and creating lasting memories. I will probably never be a published writer. As of this writing, I have yet to have the children’s book I wrote achieve even one request for further chapters.
Loving, talking, laughing, hugging are things that matter. Nurturing is what matters. Encouraging faith in a God who loves unconditionally and who sacrificed His Son just so we could spend eternity with Him matters. Cheering each other on matters. Calling a friend matters. Writing a note matters. Listening matters. Spending time with our sweet Savior matters. Not measuring ourselves against the world’s standards matters.
Our family is FAR from perfect. We are loud. We laugh inappropriately sometimes. We may be a little judgmental at times. No one is brilliant. No one is incredibly talented. Not one of us will be famous. We are not rich. But what matters is we love each other. We talk about everything. Our girl’s poor fellas probably find the constant conversation overwhelming sometimes, but we all know what everyone else thinks about everything! We share meals, we share vacations, we share last minute road trips. We support their activities, we beam with pride at their accolades. We go to church together. I love how my youngest daughter once told us, “Not all families are like ours! We are freakishly close.” If freaky means we love each other and we are in constant communication with each other, that we talk a lot, we laugh, we cry, we fight. We hug and make-up. Then yes we are freakishly close.
There is one thing that matters. Love.
God is faithful. He is. Really. Even when I am not. I am not faithful to remember all He has done for me when I am in the midst of an overwhelming circumstance. It’s easy for me to say those words to someone else who is crumbling beneath a difficult situation or an overwhelming state of mind. But then just moments later, it seems, I am sitting here, throat constricted, my mind chaotic with possible answers to a problem, instead of taking a deep breath and releasing my burdens into His capable outstretched arms.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”. Matthew 11:29-30
It’s interesting to me, that given this word from the Lord, we still take our burdens to the feet of Jesus, lament and cry and beg for answers or resolutions or even for Him to take them from us, but then we promptly get up, pick up the burden and walk away. I want to learn from Him, I want to lay my burden at His feet and trust His hand. But I am a control freak. I am a dweller. I hold the situation or issue in my hand, study it, dwell on it and try to figure the best way to resolve it. I’m not so good at releasing my burdens into His hands. The crazy part is this: after I’ve struggled over it, lost sleep over it, tried my ideas on it, I finally come to His feet and just fall in a puddle of tears with my hands still clinching the burden. And, just as He promised in these verses, He pries my sweaty hands from the burden, brushes my hair back from my tear stained face as I relax and release it into His capable hands. He comforts me and calms my spirit and I finally rest. I wish that I could say I do not repeat this process very often, but it isn’t true. I am stubborn and willful. I am a child of God still learning that I am not in control. He is. Still learning that life is easier when a burden comes into my life if I instantly snatch it up and race to the feet of Jesus and quickly place it in His hands.
What burden is weighing you down today? Release it dear friend into the Savior’s hands and then pick up His yoke which is about peace and rest, and the. watch Him do His thing in that situation!
Last night something was confirmed about me that may surprise many of you. I am not a rocker. I know you are shocked and surprised. I’m not even a poser. (I had to look that term up, fyi) It was evident by my lack of knowledge about the music or words to the signature songs of the band. I spent more time entertained by the people in attendance than the actual concert. My husband and I were given tickets by sweet friends to a concert by The Black Jacket Symphony: A Night at the Opera and The Best of Queen. My big guy was very excited about hearing favorite songs of his younger years. I confess that I wondered what kind of opera the symphony would play. I honestly expected an orchestra. I was wrong! I am not completely in the dark, I do know who Queen is, but I didn’t realize it would be a real deal rock and roll night! You may not believe this, but I’ve never been to a rock concert. It’s true! I know I’ve surprised you again.
Parking was the first step to getting to our night of rocking and rolling….obviously not an easy task in downtown Mobile when a rock concert is about to happen! We finally parked in a church parking lot with a sign that said “Private Parking for…(and I’ll leave the church name out here just in case someone wants to report two rebellious fifty somethings!): Violators will be ticketed or towed at owners expense. I was a little anxious as we got out of the car and proudly walked toward the theatre, impressed by our night of living on the wild side. I secretly asked God to forgive us and please allow the car to still be there when the night was over!
As we entered the door of the Saenger I was asked to open my purse for security. I looked at my big guy and asked, “Are these people famous?” The security guy asked him if he had any weapons. He confessed to a pocket knife and suddenly the guys hands went up and said “You can’t enter with a weapon, sir.” I looked around at the other security people standing ready to pounce, beginning to wonder if the real Queen was in the house. My sweet husband informed me later that the lead singer died in 1985. He handed over his knife, it was obvious to me that it was worth the sacrifice to hear the band! We then walked to another security checkpoint and were scanned with a wand for any other concealed weapons. This didn’t make me feel comfortable about the obvious possibilities of events that could happen if there was this much concern for what people would carry into the concert hall! We finally got to our seats and waited. We were in the balcony, third row, dead center. Perfect view of the stage. I noted the massive speakers hanging from the ceiling, both sides angled right at us. This wasn’t going to be good. There was an atmosphere of excitement all around me. As I watched people, which I love to do, I realized the average age in the room was somewhere in the mid fifties. But the energy was more like a crowd of twenty somethings! I noted the lights, the instruments and party like atmosphere. Suddenly the lights went down and the band ran out. The crowd went crazy. The lead singer belted out lyrics and people were screaming. I looked hard at the singer trying to recognize him. I did not. But then a familiar tune came, Bohemian Rhapsody. I looked at my big guy and said “I know this!”, but my words were lost somewhere in the midst of the screaming crowd and the blasting music. He leaned down and I got as close to his ear as possible and I repeated my words. He smiled and nodded. I still don’t think heard me….but I saw the smile on his face as he took in the loud music and I knew he was having a good time. I found myself watching people more than the concert as they got lost in the music, reliving the moments of the 70’s and 80’s when they first heard the songs. People were standing and dancing, hands in the air and singing at the top of their lungs. These people knew every word. Then I heard a familiar beat….the crowd began to stomp, stomp, clap, stomp, stomp, clap. I looked at my man with shock, it was my high school senior class song! I found myself following along and singing “We will, we will, rock you”. I was no longer a fish out of water. A square peg in a round hole. I was a rocker! They sang Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites the Dust. I suddenly felt cool because I knew these songs. I didn’t know all the words, but I knew the songs. At the end of the night, my ears were numb and I honestly was glad to be headed home. I observed something as I left. It was 10:15pm and the crowd that had just been jamming out for two hours were leaving in an orderly manner, laughing and chatting as we exited the nearly 100 year old Saenger Theatre. Forty years ago, these same people would have been jumping up and down demanding an encore still full of youthful energy, demanding to be blown away by the rock band, Queen. We made it back to the church parking lot (along with many other concert attendees) and our car was still there and no ticket on the windshield. Prayer works! We drove home and I listened to my sweet man talk about the band and how good they were and how fun it was to hear some of his favorite songs. I listened and thought how thankful I was for the gift of tickets for us to enjoy a non -typical night out for this “square” chick, and to sit next to my man who has had such a difficult year. All I can say is…..rock on!
I’ve had some quite sobering moments this week. The realization that if I live as long as my grandmothers did, and if there is nothing unexpected in the near future health wise, I may only have 20-30 yrs left. Quite sobering when I know how quickly the last 30 flew by. The English ancestry in me leans toward the whole stiff upper lip attitude, while my Irish blood wants to put up a good fight, and with those two ancestory bloods coursing through me I stick out my chin and choose to press on. Mostly I just want to fall into the Father’s arms and beg for a do-over, or declare I’ll do better. I wish I had done more with this life He gave me….why do we realize this when we are older and the clock is tick tick ticking away? This week has been an emotional one in my head. I sat in my car and cried a few days ago. I know I’ve said this before but this year has been more difficult than I realized emotionally. So many layers to the life experiences that occurred in the last 14 months as I now understand the concept of PTSD to some degree. Delayed reaction is sometimes more painful than immediate reaction. It has time to swirl in the back of your mind, churning and building like some low category hurricane in the gulf until suddenly it gains unexpected strength and barrels into the coastline surprising everyone in it’s path. There were warning signs that were ignored or waved off as minimally important, but still the storm churns and builds. Then suddenly you’re in the middle of it struggling to contain the possible surge that threatens to burst forth. Out of nowhere there is a hand reaching towards you and you desperately grasp it, finally willing to listen to the wisdom that will follow. The answer to the storm was always there. Trust Him.
“Trust in Him with all your heart and lean not into your own understanding”.
I’m just going to let that sit there for a moment.
That verse has new meaning for me. Trust Him. Don’t try to figure out how you could have done it different or better or not at all. Don’t lean into my own understanding of what time is and how much or little I have left. But face forward. Remember the truth: I know that I am His child and He cares for me. He doesn’t see me with critical, judging human eyes, He sees the heart of me and He sees the plan He has for my life. His unconditional steadfast love wraps around me like a warm blanket calming the storm swirling inside and I rest peacefully. I will choose to walk closer with Him. I will choose to take joy in every day I have left with confident expectation of what He has planned for this mess of a human He created and loved enough to send His Son to die for in order that my eternity would be spent with Him. Yes…..I trust Him.
So we’ve reached another hurdle to jump in this cancer journey. Radiation. It started with a doctor appointment on December 13th. We heard many new medical terms and explanations of radiation procedures. We were again in information overload, but, we left confident that this would be the final kick in the butt of this cancer that has been an uninvited visitor in our lives for the past nine months. It took the programmers, physicist, doctor and who knows who else a month to configure and calculate the big radiation machine (I’m assuming it is a big machine at this point but have not seen it). All this for 22 prescribed visits of 15 minutes of a laser type of radiation to be precisely shot into my big guys body, carefully dodging his kidney, aorta, pancreas and spine while basically frying the shrunken mass. Literally from entering the room to walking out of the building only takes 15 minutes! I am praying they clearly have that mass in their sight before they pull the trigger. I am sitting in the car right now waiting, looking at Springhill Hospital and thinking about how much time we have spent at this facility over the past months and feeling thankful that God created people who have the knowledge necessary to treat people who have been shocked by the word “cancer”. God is so good. I am not oblivious to the countless sweet people who are still struggling for answers and successful treatment. I am thankful He has walked every step with us and blanketed us in peace and the security He is with us. I am thankful that Lynn’s treatment seems to be working. I will never take our time together for granted, and will continually thank Him for letting me grow old with my big guy.
We are waiting….yet again. Cancer is not only a life altering experience in the life of the patient and their loved ones, but it’s a game of waiting….always. Waiting for diagnosis. Waiting for tests to be done. Waiting for diagnosis. Waiting for a treatment plan. Waiting for results. Today we are waiting for yet another CT scan so the radiologist can them create a formula of treatment for radiation. In theory, we think this will be easier than the last eight months, but we are no longer hanging our hopes on unrealistic expectations. It will take a week for them to do their thing and program the monster radiation machine that will shoot pin pointed radiation into my big guys body. Then, according to the consultation…a month ago….he will take 20-23 treatments that last 15 minutes (I find this hard to believe) and will happen Monday through Friday until he reaches the prescribed number between twenty and twenty-three.
Sometimes it feels like this cancer journey started yesterday and other times it feels like it has been going on forever. I wonder if we’ll ever get past life with cancer. Will we be able to walk through each day without the “what if” of cancer imprinted on our subconscious? Will the affects of the last year of life’s storms ever slip away and return to normal? I hope so.
Well. Today’s the day. We’ve come full circle in this cancer journey as we sit waiting, in a room full of other cancer victims, to have another PET SCAN. This one even more important than the last. This one will tell us the cancer is gone….or not. But our gut feeling is this cancer monster has been conquered! Our lives have revolved around that frightening “C” word for seven months. 2018 will be our year of woes that was filled with blessings. 2018 will be our year of victory over cancer. I am not as anxious or feel like a deer in headlights this time. I am not afraid. My big guy has faced this giant with courage, with determination, with soldier like strength and I believe he will walk away a conquerer. Some say they are cancer survivors, but i think they should call themselves cancer conquerors! Fighting this beast is an all out battle both physically and mentally! God has sustained us and will continue to sustain us. He is worthy to be trusted. He will hold you up when you feel you are crumbling. He will provide when you aren’t sure where it will come from. He will send one of His children to wrap loving arms around you or to hold your hand and let you cry. He will provide humor to get through difficult moments and He is faithful to walk every step with you. I knew this before….but I am absolutely certain of it now. I trust Him…..no matter the outcome of today.
So the Armstrong saga continues. Today I sit here in our recliner, right leg propped up and iced down while watching Alabama beat Ole Miss. Yes, I am recovering from partial knee replacement…..and just so you know, it’s no joke. I had unrealistic expectations of walking unassisted and already returning to my regular routine. No. The bandage is off, I can see the approximate four inch incision with pieces of tape on each end mocking me. The knee is still pretty stiff and I haven’t achieved a 90 degree knee bend yet. My right hip is complaining, so while I ice down the knee, I heating pad the hip😳😭.
I have discovered a few things about myself: I am not a patient patient. Not necessarily with others, but with my own progress. I really expected to be moving more freely at this point (9 days in). I do not handle pain meds very well. I tend to get weepy and depressed. Not a good combo with my lack of patience with myself. And I have an amazing family who takes care of me and puts up with my issues (I hope), and great friends who sacrifice in their own lives to help us out! Shout out to Keith Bradley and his mad a/c skills and servant heart. And a special shout out to my dear friend of 37 years, Dottie Hartley, who stayed with me the night before surgery and got up at 3:45am to get ready to get me to surgery by 5:00am because Lynn was already in Springhill taking chemo. Speaking of Lynn, I love this man. Even though he’s in the first week after chemo, he’s been taking care of me, amazing. I do so much better when he’s babying me and holding my hand.Our lives are crazy, but the love of our family and friends is stronger!! I’ve said this repeatedly over the last few months, and I still shout it loudly, God is sovereign, God is faithful and He will walk us through this season.
I cried yesterday. If you know me, you know I don’t do that a lot. It came out of nowhere. Completely unexpected. I have fought back the tears for a month….trying to be positive, encouraging and strong. Strong for Lynn, strong for my girls and strong for me. One word from my friend, which I can’t even recall what that word was right now, and the tears welled up and spilled down my cheeks. She quickly closed the door to her office and pulled a chair up next to me and took my hand in hers. She let me cry and try to get out the words that I had been pushing back for some time. She listened and held my hand tightly in hers, then gently rubbing it between her hands, it was comforting and personal and needed. Then she began to softly speak truth to me. I felt the flood of emotion begin to relax and recede. I felt my spirit fill with peace and my heart stopped aching. I knew everything she said was truth and was whispered to me in love. I felt myself breathing normally and I knew I was going to be okay. I trust God, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have to deal with fear. I don’t have to be strong all the time. I believe in His sovereignty and I know that He walks with us through whatever is part of His plan for our lives. We are not alone. We might not “see” Him, but He is with us in the hug of a friend, He is in the sweet whispers of encouragement, He is in the contagious laughter of my girls when they are together, He is in the warm meal brought to my door, He is in the beautiful sunset that takes away your breath, He is in the smile of my precious man-cub, He is in the quiet as I sit with my sweet husband finally sleeping quietly in His recliner, He is in the kindness of a friend riding by to see if our grass needs cutting, He is in the warm laughter of dear friends as we share breakfast, He is in the words of a song at the right moment, He is in the profound words of Psalm 46 as it reminds me that He has already won the battle and He is with me.