I had to go to the hospital early yesterday morning to have a scan done of my heart to make sure none of the chemo I've had so far has caused any damage. The next 2 chemos I'm taking are Taxotere and Herceptin. The Herceptin will be a year long event. The Taxotere will consist of 4 courses, taken every 3 weeks. I began the first course yesterday along with the first course of the Herceptin. I'll get it every week while I'm getting the Taxotere, then once that is fiinshed, the Herceptin schedule will move out to every 3 weeks as well.
Mark and I were worried about what to expect with these new meds. We'd gotten used to the side effects of the Adriamycin and Cytoxin, but new meds means new side effects. What worked or didn't work before is all out the window. I'm happy to say that so far, I'm not really having any obvious issues. No nausea at all, praise the Lord! (I was a little worried about it because this time around I wasn't taking one of the nausea meds I took for the A/C.) The Herceptin can cause flu-like symptoms, including fever and body aches, so they gave me Tylenol and Benedryl before they started the infusion. I did not notice anything yesterday, besides the Benedryl making me tired. This morning I woke up with just a tiny bit of joint aching that may or may not have anything to do with the Herceptin. I just took some Tylenol to be safe.
I was so exhausted yesterday that I slept pretty good last night. I woke up too soon, and just had to take another dose of the steroids, so I don't know if I'll get to go back to sleep at some point. If the Decadron kicks in, sleep probably won't happen. Today's the last day I have to take it, though, so that's good news.
Okay, update done. Now I want to talk about how God talked with me yesterday morning. I have devotions I read, several in fact. I try to keep up on reading my Bible, too, though I confess I don't get it done every single day. God knows I regret that and Lord willing, He'll help me be more diligent in that respect. There's a song I know that talks about our tendency to overlook God. About how we could and should pray more, read our Bibles more, etc. But the chorus of the song says, "Sometimes I overlook Him, but He still looks over me." How very true that is. Even when I let life get in my way and I start slacking on my devotion time with God, I know He is still here, patiently waiting for me to remember Him and turn to Him. I'm forever grateful for His great mercy and love and the undeserved patience He shows me when I get just a little too self-centered to keep all my focus on Him.
So, one of the ways I often find that God likes to chat with me is through music. I've loved music, in most all forms, for as long as I can remember. Sometimes it's the music itself, but just as often it's the amazing, powerful, and beautiful lyrics God has gifted so many out there with the talent to write. Honestly, I guess I'd say I would be hard pressed to pick one single artist or group that I could call my absolute favorite. Mostly because I'm pretty eclectic and depending on my mood, I listen to a lot of different styles of music. I've heard some say that there's no such thing as "Contemporary" Christian, or "Country" Christian, or Christian "Rock", etc. I would respectfully beg to differ. I have listened to it all most of my life and I like some of all of it. I own some of all of it, well, not so much the Christian Rock because I just sort of outgrew that as I got older. I lean toward Southern Gospel, Christian Country, and some Contemporary Christian for the most part. (Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of secular music as well, through I don't listen to it nearly as much as I used to. I still love it, from the Eagles, to some Opera, to Classical, to Garth Brooks, to Broadway. PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, I'm talkin' about you! LOL) Like I said, I love music in most all of it's forms. Got that from my parents. They were both musically inclined and could sing. My mother played the piano by ear. Boy do I wish I'd inherited that particular talent. Anyway, music comes in all forms and styles. And nowhere does it say that the only true Christian music is old Bluegrass or songs out of the Hymnals. (Both of which I also happen to like.) Specifically, the Bible mentions "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;" Eph 5:19, and "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." Col 3:16-17
Just my opinion, but any song with a strong Christian message, whatever "style" it happens to be in, is a "spiritual song." And if the artist is doing it "in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him," then that's even better. And even having said all this, I can think of more than one beloved and popular Christian song written by artists that do not necessarily live what anyone would call a Christian lifestyle. Kris Kristofferson's "One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus" comes to mind. And how about "I Saw the Light" by Hank Williams? There are plenty of examples in the Bible of God using unsaved/unbelieving and sometimes downright evil individuals to forward His plans and purposes and message. Sometimes, God gives inspiration to those we least expect and the result is something beautiful that can uplift and encourage us in spite of its origins. Sadly, I can also think of former Christian artists who have written some incredibly powerful music that somehow got lost along their journey and now are so terribly backslidden that it is heartbreaking. The one that comes to my mind - because I have loved his music for years and have sung many, many of his songs because they are so incredibly powerful - is Ray Boltz. He wrote, "The Anchor Holds," "I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb," "At the Foot of the Cross," and so very many others. Yet, a few years ago he suddenly announced that he was, and always had been, gay. He had a wife and children that he turned his back on to embrace his new "lifestyle." I find it amazing that he still claims to be a Christian and to write what he calls Christian music. He made a choice to put a lifestyle he wanted to live before God, and that's tragic, especially when it is so obvious that God had given him a profound talent. He is not the only Christian artist to do this, either. But my point is, just because he has lost his way does not change the fact that God gave him the inspiration to write songs with wonderful messages. I still love those songs he wrote, and I still sing them. Some may disagree with that choice, but I simply cannot make myself ignore the message of a song just because I know who it came from. God speaks how and when and through whomever He chooses. Even if that person is someone most "good" Christians would have no respect for.
Wow, got a little off the topic I originally wanted to discuss, here. Suffice it to say, I find music a powerful thing. God speaks to me through it all the time. I get in the car and my iPod is hooked up to my radio so I can pick and choose between all the music I own, as well as more than a few audio devotions, if the mood strikes. Usually, I go for the music because I just love to sing along. Anyway, yesterday morning when I got in the car I was really tired from the lack of sleep and I wanted something I knew really well so I could sing along without having to try to remember the words. I chose "Selah," a group that I suppose is considered Contemporary Christian, though they have released an entire album of Hymns. They began as a brother and sister both raised in Africa by their missionary parents and grand parents. They joined up with a college friend and started a group that specializes in absolutely magnificent harmonies and simple, powerful music with unmistakably profound messages. I adore them. I love the harmonies for certain, but more than that, I am amazed at the songs they have written themselves. So much power and obvious love of God.
One of the first songs that came on was "Unredeemed." This song never fails to touch me, but yesterday it seemed to be even more profound to me. The line that gets me every single time is "When anything that's shattered is laid before the Lord, just watch and see, it will not be unredeemed." What we give to God, however dark or painful or utterly broken, He can and will heal and fix. We just have to take that first step of letting Him have control. Here is a beautiful You Tube video someone put together of the song including the lyrics.
There were photographs I wanted to take, Things I wanted to show youI suppose this song, which always brings tears to my eyes, felt even more profound yesterday because Mark had mentioned to me something he'd seen on the tv in the break room at work. It was a story about some man who'd been raised in a strict Christian home. His parents took in a foster child who wound up violently raping this boy when he was around 5, I think Mark said. Anyway, this horrific event caused this boy to decide that any God who would allow him to be so terribly hurt either was evil or uncaring or just plain didn't exist to begin with. He turned his back on God and became a violent man himself. He'd killed someone by beating them to death with a baseball bat.
Sing sweet lullabies, wipe your teary eyes, Who could love you like this?
People say that I am brave but I'm not, Truth is I'm barely hanging on
But there's a greater story, Written long before me, Because He loves you like this
So I will carry you While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle Through the coming years
I will carry you All my life And I will praise the One Who's chosen me To carry you
Such a short time, Such a long road, All this madness But I know
That the silence, Has brought me to His voice, And He says...
I've shown her photographs of time beginning, Walked her through the parted seas
Angel lullabies, no more teary eyes, Who could love her like this?
I will carry you, While your heart beats here,
Long beyond the empty cradle, Through the coming years
I will carry you, All your life, And I will praise the One Who's chosen Me To carry you
I cannot begin to list the number of people, both who claim no belief in God and those who do claim to be Christians, who I have heard voice questions about how and/or why God would allow terrible things to happen. There was a lot of that kind of thing going around after 9/11. How can a supposedly loving God simply stand by and watch such terrible things happen? How can He justify letting a defenseless child suffer unspeakable abuses? How can he put someone like Angie and Todd Smith, who have devoted their lives to Him, through the agony of losing a precious child?
The pat answer is that God sees, understands, and knows things that we cannot fathom. He is in charge and we ought to just trust Him in all things. That doesn't help with the pain, though. Not really. Even though it's true, it may not bring any real comfort to someone in the midst of terrible suffering. So, what's the real answer? The answer is us. WE are the ones responsible. God created a perfect world. No pain. No suffering. No sickness. No sorrow. No death. Just a perfect world where His creations could freely and personally interact with Him. It was Adam and Eve who chose to upset that perfection. God warned them that eating from the tree of Knowledge of Good AND Evil would bring death. And it certainly did. But it brought so much more. Pain and suffering, evil and agony. They unleashed every terrible thing upon the world, destroyed God's perfect creation, and the entire world has suffered in countless ways because of it. Their disobedience cursed every single person born since that time. You, me, all of us. It caused the earth itself to be cursed. Every natural disaster that claims countless lives can be blamed on that one moment of weakness. The "circle of life" that we all witness on nature shows did not exist until the fall. Every one of us, whether we want to see it or believe it or not, bears the stain of that first sin. We are guilty because Adam himself was guilty. The evil in this world is not God's fault. It is the fault of those who perpetrate it. It is the result of a fallen, broken world. God is not evil. He is not capable of being evil. He is perfect in all ways and this often results in us, with our tiny, fallen minds being unable to grasp how He could just sit by and let bad things happen. But we make judgments based upon our own limited - and incomplete - understanding. We color everything with our own personal feelings. We use our highly fallible logic and ethics and moral understanding to try to rationalize with the One who created the entire universe. How arrogant we are!
God is our Creator. He loves us. He sacrificed Himself for us. He is patient beyond measure with us as we struggle and often outright insult Him with the choices we make and life we live. We cannot grasp the depth of His knowledge, wisdom, love, and perfect justice. Which is why, when our very human minds and hearts start urging us to question His motives or actions (or lack thereof) we must take a step back and remember that faith is the thing that can carry us through whatever we are facing. Questions or fears or utter devastation can be dealt with and endured simply by trusting that God is, in fact, in control. More importantly, He is aware of all things, past, present, and future. He can see far ahead, beyond the end of our crisis. He knows who our faith might touch, who might be brought to Him because of the life we choose to live. And He knows who might be driven away from Him as well, if we choose to surrender to our doubts and fears. We are so shortsighted. So self-centered. Even at our best, we cannot come close to God's perfection. So we must turn to Him. let Him guide and lead us, and we must trust Him, even when we don't understand the why of a situation.
I have leaned this lesson over most of my lifetime. I admit I've done plenty of questioning God. I've had moments when I quite literally screamed at the heavens in frustration and pain. I still have those tendencies sometimes. But I know, in my heart of hearts, that God's plan is perfect. Whatever comes, whatever happens, He is in complete control and will do what is best for a future I cannot begin to see or comprehend. I still feel fear. I'm human. I still feel pain. I miss my parents and sister and Mark's mother each and every single day. Especially now, as I go through this battle with cancer. I wish they were here. I wish my precious mother could be here to hold my hand and comfort me. I wish my sister could be here to share her experiences with her cancer. I wish Vannie could be here to just be herself, to be my friend and offer her support and love in her sweet way. I feel their loss keenly. But I know God has a plan and I am grateful for the others in my life who are still here with me. My other sister, Debi, who just sent me a sweet card of encouragement. My friends who make me food and cancer hats and just offer me love and laughter and support as I go along. And my precious husband, Mark, who is my rock and my best friend and stunningly patient with me. God has given me great and profound gifts and I cannot help but be thankful for them all.
I hope we can all learn to be grateful even in the midst of a crisis. I hope we can see the blessings through the tears. I hope I never get to a place where I find myself able to justify turning my back on God. And I hope none of my dear loved ones ever get to that place, either. I am just so grateful to God for continuing to speak to me even when I'm not trying to listen. I'm glad that He does not turn His back on me, or withdraw His hand even if I sometimes deserve it. I'm grateful that I can turn on a radio and hear Him speak to me through a song, and that He can use something so simple to pull me back into the center of His will. And I'm thankful that I have a chance to share what He's taught me with others. I'm no evangelist. But I never want anyone I meet to walk away without knowing that I love and trust God. Who knows when something that simple might be the catalyst to cause a complete stranger to turn to Him? God please give me the strength to maintain my faith in You, whatever comes my way.