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Friday, July 31, 2015

Plans and Steps...

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." (Proverbs 16:9)

I remember underlining this verse in my Bible when I was younger.  I always loved Proverbs. They were short and witty and to the point. Thirty-one chapters allowed me to read one a day for about 2 minutes and call it a devotional plan- a little bit of daily time with the Giver of Wisdom. Some of them didn't make sense to my youthful mind. Some still perplex me today.  However, many of them have sunk deep into my being and pop into my mind when I need them.  I had one hanging over my bed in high school, on the ceiling above my head.  I was known to sleep way past my alarm, and literally sleep through my alarm, or rather multiple alarms, and it seemed nothing could get me out of bed. So I thought if I looked up and saw an inspiring saying, it might stir me a little...  "How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?" (Proverbs 6:9)  I can't say my waking habits improved much that year, but I have a feeling over time it has sunk in just a bit, or at least given me a little shame and guilt when I sleep too late!

One verse that has remained with me and pops in my head quite often is ten chapters after the verse about being a sluggard.  Proverbs 16:9.  Here it is again:

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps."

Sometimes I would ponder this verse and not quite understand it.  We make choices every day that determine our steps, so how could the Bible tell us the Lord determines our steps? What about our free will, our own strength and motivation and forward movement and determination?  I know God is sovereign, but what does this quite mean? Is everything controlled by Him and we are just puppets?  I have let it simmer inside my mind for about a dozen or so years, and this is the year it has truly been evident in my life and more clear than ever.

I've been sitting in the hospital with Jamie this week as his white blood cell count is down.  I can't say it has been fun for either of us, but it's just how things are right now- he is hospitalized in an isolated room and basically in a bubble because he has about zero percent immune system at this time.  So I stay a few feet away and sanitize my hands about as rigorously as I did before brain surgery and try to bring some cheer.  He told me a few days ago, "You know, I'm not sure why we even try to make plans.  We just don't make plans anymore, because every time we do, they change and God has another plan."  We had plans this week and weekend, all good and fun...and then he got rushed to the ER and caged like a lion at the zoo (with friendly nurses and doctors as the spectators).  There should be a sign that says, "Look, but DON'T touch!  This lion is at risk for infection!"

Then we found out that our dear friend passed from this world into the next to be with Jesus, after fighting brain cancer for 4 years.  A dear friend who walked into my life one year ago, August, and was one of my biggest and bravest cheerleaders through my own brain tumor battle.  Anytime I was afraid, I thought of Nancy and knew if she could overcome fear with joy, then I could too!  And now tomorrow, I will sing publicly for the first time since my surgery, and it will be at her funeral service.  This was not my plan, but this is God's plan.  And it is filled with grief and glory, bitterness and beauty.  The plans we make shift like rolling sand in the waves, and God's course for our lives is determined by only His Holy Will and Power and Love.

So what does it mean for us to plan our course, but God determine our steps?  I think it means we dream, we look into the future, we set goals, we make plans...but along the way we are ready and willing for God to step in as He pleases and to change the details to His liking.  Sometimes this mess of a broken world changes our steps too, and then God intervenes with His love and mercy and miracles to make our steps a little smoother and the path a little brighter.  He doesn't always tell us exactly how things will go or promise an easy course, but He does promise to never leave us nor forsake us as he goes with us on the course (Deuteronomy 31:6).  He also promises to be our sun and shield, to give us grace and glory, and to withhold nothing good from us when we walk uprightly and acknowledge and trust in Him (Psalm 84:11).

Here I am, spending most days at the hospital, not sure what's next on this course...trying to plan a future, a wedding, and a marriage with Jamie, but not sure how the many details will all work out.  I'm finding, we're finding, that this raw trust in the One who determines our daily, hourly steps is what makes this journey so beautiful.  We are cherishing the great unknowns on this adventure and realizing that the sudden surprises and changes along the way are what cause it to all be so thrilling (even if sometimes it is painful, inconvenient, or a bit scary).  And as I go to Nancy's service tomorrow, I am reminded again that the adventure doesn't stop here on this earth...The Lord determines the steps of His beloved children right into His presence in His perfect time, and we walk toward the home our hearts were made for all along.

Graham Lake in Mariaville, ME
(photo credit: Judy Mummert)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer Storms & the Seas

Drip. Drip. Drip. The rain falls, thuds in the night as I try to sleep.  The skylight above my head is lit up with lightning every few seconds.  The drips turn into a downpour on the glass, and the wind howls.  I move to another room, trying to get rest on the couch, away from the glass bowl I sleep in. Summer storms- they crash the night violently, waking heavy sleepers.  In the morning, I awake after fitful sleep, to the reality of another summer storm.  Back to the hospital. Drip. Drip. Drip. The chemotherapy over four hours long, dripping from bags as we sit in the infusion center.  Ports and pumps and needles and nurses every which way one turns.  Five months now since my brain surgery, and this time we're not at the hospital for me, but for the one I love, the one who walked me through my hardest road, faithfully by my side even when I could barely see, hear, or walk. Now it is his turn, his time for medicine and miracles.  Two weeks of chemo down, and seven weeks left to go...The week he is finished treatment will be the week of our wedding.  I never imagined preparing for marriage like this, planning our wedding day this way, with my head healing and him conquering cancer.  From the outside, it must look frightfully crazy, but on the inside, every day is a gift, and the blessings are abundant.  Some days are difficult, but the love of the Lord is the calm in this summer storm, and the light brightening our darkest nights.

(on our way to California last February for my surgery)

(at the hospital this July, preparing for the first day of Jamie's chemo)

Some of the blessings that have made this summer so very special... 

Walks every evening, hand in hand with my man.

Watching my dear cousin get married on a farm in June, and standing there as her maid of honor.

My fiancé, Jamie, visiting Maine with my family for the first time.

(at my cousin's wedding!)

Practicing piano little by little and beginning to sing and write again.

Wedding dress shopping with the girls in my family...then going again with my Dad and seeing tears well up in his eyes when I found my dress.

Celebrating one year since the release of the "Sing Over Us" music video on June 21st, and receiving the 2nd place award for "Best Music Video" from the International Christian Film Festival.
(Wanda, my sponsor child in the Dominican Republic who inspired the song and video, will graduate from Compassion's program this September, around the time I get married!)

My eyes healing ever so slowly, to the point where they are better now than they were pre-surgery!

Sitting outside and hearing with both ears the sound of birds chirping and cicadas singing and my dad's patio waterfall splashing on rocks.

Picking blueberries by the bucketful (and eating blueberry pancakes!)

Watching farmer Joe's four chickens in the back yard (Easter chicks turned into family "farm pets"?)

Meeting brave sojourners who are walking through cancer every day that we go to hospital.  Seeing their joy in the midst of uncertainty and pain is such a reminder that life is a precious gift and every minute we are here, we should be grateful.  (Jamie's nurse likes to remind us- we're all dying sometime, it's just that people with cancer realize it more than everyone else!)  So let's live on purpose here on earth and have our hearts set on things eternal!

"Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God's right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all His glory." (Colossians 3:1-4)

I encourage you, if you feel like this has been one of the best summers in your life, basking in the glory of sunshine as you sail through, enjoying simple pleasures- give praise to the Creator and Giver of all good gifts.  If this has been a sticky season of storms, however, I encourage you to look not at the waves, but to the Maker of the waves and the Calmer of the seas.

"As evening came, Jesus said to His disciples, 'Let's cross to the other side of the lake.'  So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed).  But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.  Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke Him up, shouting, 'Teacher, don't you care that we're going to drown?' When Jesus woke up, He rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Silence! Be still!' Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.  Then He asked them, 'Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?'  The disciples were absolutely terrified.  'Who is this man?' they asked each other. 'Even the wind and waves obey Him!'"  (Mark 4:35-41)

In a sermon by Bill Johnson, which I listened to quite a  few times after my surgery (when I couldn't watch TV or read or listen to music, because my eyes and ears were too sensitive to do any of that...), he mentioned that everything we do in life is based out of fear or love. Everything.  Fear or Love. Those are the two root causes of every action, every word, every thought.  The more I think about it, the more true it seems to be.  Today, will I choose to fear or to love?  Will I choose to watch the waves or wake up and call upon the Master who commands silence and stillness from those waves?  What will you choose?