Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sometimes It's 6 Years...

I recently read an article titled, "First Printing" in the December issue of Guideposts magazine.  Are you familiar with this little magazine?  It's kind of like Reader's Digest, and you can probably find a copy of it on your Grandma's coffee table.  It's filled with stories of faith and inspiration.  
And who can't get enough of those? 
I eat 'em up.

So this month's story won't leave my brain.  I can't shake it.  I keep re-reading it over and over again.  I think about it when I'm shaving my legs and trying to fall asleep.  
I'll do my best to share it with you...

Many years ago, a father struggled to support his family.  
After landing a good job, he and his wife finally had enough money to pay the bills and give their children a Christmas filled with all the trimmings.  Because they now had money to share, he wanted to bless another man who was struggling to support his family.  A friend told him about a man who lived nearby who was working three jobs just to keep his family warm and fed.

So he had the idea of blessing this man with $100 tucked under his welcome mat a few days before Christmas.  He said the gift would be from God, not from him.  

Six years later, this man who works as a cameraman was hired to work on a documentary about Paul Young, the author of The Shack.  Paul wrote this book for his children to teach them about the redemptive power of faith.  He made a few copies to give out to his family and friends for Christmas.  He never intended for it to be published.  Incidentally, The Shack sold 14.5 million copies and has become an international phenomenon.   

So as he and the crew drove up to Paul's house for the last day of shooting, he realized his house was quite familiar to him.  He realized that this was the exact house, six years earlier, in which he placed $100 under the doormat.  

He turned to Paul at the end of the shoot and said, "Hey, Paul, do you remember that Christmas when you found $100 under your door?"

Paul stopped and said, "Of course.  I'll never forget it.  
But how do you know about that?"   

He explained how he wanted to bless someone that Christmas and without ever knowing Paul's name and only his circumstances, left the money under the door.  

Paul said, "Want to hear the most incredible part of the story?  When I finished writing The Shack, I never intended for it to be published.  I just wanted to make enough copies to pass out to my family and friends for Christmas gifts.  I used that money I found under the mat to print 15 copies at Office Depot.  And without that first printing, word about my book would have never gotten out."  

I just sat there and re-read that last paragraph over and over again.

God revealed to each of these men, six years later, how He worked in both of their lives.  

I think this story hit me so very hard because of my many twists and turns in my own story.  Something happens and you think this.  Something else happens and you think that.  Sometimes we never fully understand or see God's handiwork in our lives.  But these men, and now everyone else who reads the Guideposts article, are again privy to God's power of perfection.  
To His perfect timing.
Even in two lives at the same time.

"Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him."
I strive to live by that sentence.
And when I don't see God's handiwork immediately after my obedience, I can't lose faith.  
Because I just might see God's handiwork
 in the details of my life.

Six years later.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

11 to Go...

Well, chemo number 1 began yesterday at Cedars.  I'll be there for the first few treatments and then plan to transfer over to the Westlake office.  It's funny.  At Cedars, I have a private room, a bed, a tv/dvd player and a recliner for my guest.  All this comes in handy when you're there for six to eight hours at a time.  At Westlake, I have a chair in a community area.  It's like the Four Seasons vs. Motel 6.  But it's only three minutes away!

So a lot has changed in the last 24 hours.
 You see, had I started chemo just one day earlier, I would have been a mess.  As you can tell from my last post, I was mad.  Confused.  Depressed.  Down.  You name it.  But the night before I was to start chemo, a friend of mine sent me an email.

"I thought of you the minute I read the title of this email and felt I had to share it with you," she wrote.  The email was from MOPS (Mothers of PreSchoolers) and it was titled, "Be Still."  Hmmm, isn't that my life's motto?

So I read the brief article and it just hit me.  Be Still.  Those two words just sunk into my heart and soul.  Again.  I replied to her email, "Perfection.  Thank you."  I needed that.

A few hours later, I was watching Diane Sawyer's interview with Gabby Giffords, the Arizona senator who was shot through the brain outside of a grocery store about ten months ago.  Her Mom received the phone call that she had been shot.  As she drove to the hospital, her Mom told Diane, "I can't explain this to you, but I heard God say to me, Be still and know that I am God.  And I don't even think I had ever heard that verse before."  

It hit me again. 
Be Still.

What also impacted me during that interview is had you seen Gabby days after she was shot, she was vacant.  Her eyes were open, but she wasn't there.  Her brain was clearly not working.  One may have thought she'd stay that way forever.  But she didn't.  Fast forward 10 months, and she's vibrant.  And she's speaking.  Not complete and full sentences, but it's only been 10 months.  But she's herself again.  She's glowing.  She's beautiful. And considered a miracle to all who have worked with her.

And that gave me peace.

So I thank God for His hand upon me.  I know it was always there, but I think I kind of kept pushing it off.   I recently told someone that I came to the realization that I was 10% mad at God and 90% mad at me.   And she responded, "Well, that's better than me.  Because I'm 50/50."  And that broke my heart.
And that's what I didn't want my story to do to someone.  Have a friend lose faith.  Have a sister get mad.  
But I hope what my story does do is remind you to cling to Jesus despite the circumstances.  Cling.  How else do you face a tough time with peace and true joy?  But with Jesus. 

And I thank all of you for lifting myself and my family up in prayer.  I can't tell you how many texts and emails I received just yesterday during my treatment telling me I was in your prayers.   You guys are the best.

So as my husband reminded me as we pulled into the driveway late last night, "1 down, 11 to go."

11 to go. 
And I thank God 
that He'll be with me through 
each and every one of them.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Don't Write It. Read It...

Hi, everyone.  I know so many of you are praying for my upcoming treatment in Chicago.  But things have changed. So I need to update you a bit.

I spiked a very high fever last week that landed me in Cedars for six days.  I now know what a battery of tests mean.  I think I had them all.  I was considered a "medical mystery" because all of the specialists were scratching their heads as to why I had a fever.  It was never really determined, and on the sixth day of my hospitalization which fell on my birthday, (and I played that card for all it was worth!), they discharged me.  They even sang Happy Birthday and presented me with a slice of carrot cake.  So thoughtful.

But those six days in the hospital made Ed and I realize that I couldn't do Chicago for treatment.  First off, I realized I couldn't be away from the kids for weeks at a time.  And secondly, that fever made me visualize what it would feel like to be filled with chemo and have to be in an airport to catch a plane.  If memory serves, I remember wanting to be locked in the trunk of a car for six days following chemo.  I didn't want to eat, talk or exist.  
So we opted to stay at Cedars for chemo.

But in all honesty, this was a very difficult blog for me to write. 

The healing that I thought was coming my way, though not immediately, has yet to be seen.  In fact, my tumors have even grown a tad since originally found.  And I won't go into detail, but boy, did God have a perfect opportunity of revealing His healing while I was in the hospital.  And I mean perfect.  But He didn't.  And I'll be brutally honest, I was pretty devastated.  On a scale from 1 to 10, I was about a -17.  But as my husband reminded me during the last night in the hospital, "Let God finish the story.  Then read it.  Don't write it.  You're still trying to write God's ending to your healing."  

Wow.  So true.  A zinger of truth that hit me right between the IVs.  

And as much as I'm saying, "God, put me on your path," I clearly still have one foot on mine.  Such a very difficult lesson for me to learn.  Still!  To trust.  100%.  And I failed.  Badly.

So to add to my misery, we have a friend who has offered to take care of us during these next fun-filled months.  She's a cancer survivor who was given a 15% chance of living.  That was eight years ago.  She's thriving today.  And what does she eat, you ask?  Oh, just cold canned soup, crackers and tomatoes.  Oh, and lots of bread.   So after she arrived and I was observing her eating habits from afar for a few days, I got really mad.  Really mad.  Here, I'm busting my hump to become a vegan, juice twice a day, eat soy cheese on my pizza (if you can call it that) and choke down 50 supplements a day.  

But what it drove home for me was that the end of this journey clearly lies in God's hands, and not in bottles of tumeric and Green Monsters from Lassens.  For those of you who don't live near me, that's a nasty blended concoction of all things green and yucky.  Which I'm trying to drink.

And all of this anger that has been welling up inside of me this past week has made me tune God out.  I've just ignored Him.  Pretended He wasn't there.  I even walked by my favorite book Jesus Calling and said, "Nope, not gonna read it today. I'm gonna read Country Living right now instead."  (Picture me even sticking out my tongue and saying, "There!")

 I've acted like a brat with a capital B.  As if my plan was sooooooo much better than His.  And for the first time in my life, I'm telling him so.  I'm telling Him that I'm mad at Him.  

And then I turned a corner.  Albeit, a very small corner.  And I began asking Him for His forgiveness.  I have so many days ahead of me in which I can't say that enough. 
 "Please forgive me.  
Please forgive me."  

And even though I'm still wounded, I still feel His comfort.  And I'll be honest again, I don't have the joy-thing mastered yet, but I'm sure it will return.   It always does. 

So the lesson that I learned this month is to stop writing the end of my own story.  Being a writer (or a wanna-be writer), I can come up with 10 different, fabulous endings to my own story.  And I have.  If not more.  When I begin to close my eyes and start writing a great ending in my head, I stop.  I then visualize a large white board in front of me with all of my notes and endings all over it. And then I erase the board completely.  And I take a step backward and open my eyes.  
And I say, "Lord, it's all yours."

So I wrote this blog last night while eating at the Natural Cafe and waiting for my son to finish up basketball practice.  OK, I cheated.  I had my favorite meal there, the Gobble Burger.  Don't tell the vegan police.  

And the plan last night was to start chemo next Tuesday at Cedars.

But tonight the plan changed.  My neice, who always has her thinking cap on, reminded me that I was no longer in a clinical trial as I had been during the first diagnosis.  Brilliant memory because this means I don't have to be tied to Cedars this time around.  In checking with my nurse, she agreed that it would be fine to have my treatment near our home (instead of having to shlep down to Cedars three times a month through April) and I could continue to see my Cedars oncologist every month or so.  And wouldn't you know there's a great UCLA oncology center just three minutes from my house.  Three minutes! 

And to think I was heading for Chicago for chemo this week.  Who knew?  
God knew.

"Lean not on your own understanding, and in all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight."
Proverbs 3:5

That's loosely translated by me, (not sure where my Bible is!) so I might have left off a word or two.  But a verse I will continue to lean on...
 every day of my life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

OK, Really?

So my prayer for the last two years has been, 
"Lord, put me on Your path.  
Not mine."

My new prayer, with a twist is, "Lord, put me on Your path, not mine, and surprise the hell out of me!"  
(Sorry for the cursing, but I want you to get the full effect!)

Well, has He ever.

Notice I used the photo of my favorite chalkboard that hangs at the top of our staircase.  
(An indication that this post won't be all about cancer.)  
We need a little break from that topic, don't you think?

Well, I received a phone call this afternoon from a photographer who shoots for several national magazines.  My name and number were given to her by a friend of mine.  She called to say she wants to shoot our house and submit it to a few editors she works with.  For publication.

OK, really?

Before cancer entered my life, I would have dropped dead from a heart spasm or two upon hearing this news.  A dream come true!  I hate to admit it, but I've always thought it would be cool to see our house in a magazine.  Then cancer entered my life, and my priorities shifted around a bit.  OK, a lot.  I now try really hard not to worry about having a perfect home anymore.  I now let my husband leave his baseball hat on the banister for a whole week or so.  OK, two days.  I try not to get too uptight when all my kids' shoes aren't put in the cute Pottery Barn baskets I've conveniently placed by the front door.  OK, sometimes I do lose it, but I'm trying to teach them to clean up after themselves.  A quality, I tell them,  their future roommates and spouses will really appreciate.

So I didn't flip out upon hearing this news.  I simply bowed my head and said, "Lord, thank you.  You know me so well.  You know my heart's desires.  And amidst cancer and juicing vegetables all day, you continue to love me and treat me to something that melts my heart."

Before cancer, this news would have been the end-all-be-all news of my life.  
(I was so out of balance!)  But now, I see it simply as a gift from God.  

Want to hear how this happened?
Last weekend, I popped into one of my favorite stores 
while Ed and the kids went over to my in-laws to drop something off.
I was talking to my friend Kym, the owner of this stunning store, and she was kind enough to tell me that she thinks I should write a book.  I told her that God hasn't placed upon my heart a desire to do that yet.  (Right up there with having our home in a magazine,  is being a real writer).  So she asked if she could give my number to a friend of hers who is a photographer.  I said sure, and thought nothing of it.  Four days later, the photographer calls and is coming over this Sunday for a photo shoot.  Ok, really?

"Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart's desires."
Psalms 37:4

So I thank God that I have no symptoms and lots of energy.  I'll buy a few English ivys, a few sunflowers and clean the place up a bit.  But more importantly, I look forward to showcasing my love for the Lord throughout every nook and cranny of our home.  

What are the desires of your heart?  
Can I tell you a little secret?
Submit your life fully to Him, as hard as it is to do, 
and he will surprise the hell heck out of you!  
Watch and see.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

God Threw a Rock...

Ok, this post is a long one (but a good one!)  
Got a cup of coffee, I mean green tea?

OK, so we spoke with Dr. Block after we returned home from Chicago.  We had a three-way conversation with him.  We love him, by the way.  While Ed and the doctor were talking, I was listenting, but I had a thought I had never had before.

"Lord, did you turn me away from chemo right after my second diagnosis so that I would be led away from Cedars and their form of treatment only for you to lead me to the Block Center?  Was 'no chemo' temporary or permanent words from you for my healing?"
Oh, what a heavy heart I now had.

 The next morning, I learned my CA 125 number taken in Chicago was now up to 215 from 133.  It's a climbin'.  
It needs to be under 9.

 I had prayed that I would see a glimpse of God's healing in all that blood work that was drawn.  But that was not His plan.  

I'll be honest.  I had a rough day.  Really rough.  Though through all my tears, I was wrestling with myself, not God.  I know God is faithful.  And I was mad at myself that I had lost it.  Did I really feel His healing hand on me?  I was beginning to doubt me, not God.

Just then, a sweet friend of mine had come over.  I told her my story through my tears.  As she was leaving, she said, "You know, instead of you going to Chicago for chemo and getting an apartment or flying back and forth, why can't you see about hiring one of their nurses to come to you?" 
A girl who thinks outside of the box.  I like that.

(Remember, the Block Center is the only cancer program in the country who does chronotherapy, or a way of coordinating the body's biological rhythms with the application of chemo.  They feel every drug has an optimal time of application when the chemo is least toxic and the most effective.  In Europe, there's over 40 centers that do this).

After she left, I started reading a book I had ordered last year called Living God's Will (Reading and Applying God's Signs for Your Life) by Eddie Rasnake.  I began reading the chapter on Wise Counsel:

"So how does wise counsel relate to God's will?  It is my conviction that we should not base a conclusion about God's will or leading from only one area.  Although God does give us leading through His peace (which He has certainly blessed me with during this whole cancer thing!) and because of the danger of misinterpretation, it is unwise to draw a conclusion based only on God's peace. " 

I just happened to underline that paragraph in my book, when the very next day, one of my most treasured friends came over.  Oh, and thee most bibically wise woman I have ever known.  

She began telling me that God doesn't just drop us a "clue" and leave us there to figure it out.  He continues to lead us down His path.  She was telling me this because she felt God has clearly led me to the Block Center.  And to their chemo.  And to their integrative/nutritional program that I was so drawn to.  

And she also reminded me of a few more things: 
that I was the one who felt God leading me to the Block Center, 
that I was willing to fly to Chicago even though I  NEVER 
(repeat never!) want to fly.
 (Note: we've given trips away that we've won because I won't get on a plane!), that both Ed and I were very impressed with their approach to cancer, 
and that I've prayed that Ed and I would both have peace with my path to healing.

I was beginning to see her point.  
But I still didn't have peace with it.
I told her that God would need to throw a big rock through my window with a note that read, "I meant no chemo temporarily!"  

I hugged her good-bye and knew that God had brought her into my kitchen that morning.

Two hours later, my other wise friend came to drop Rachel off from school.  
She asked how our morning together went.  I told her my friend's perspective.  I asked her what her take on all this was.  She paused, and then said it was very clear to her that God had led me to the Block Center.  And to chemo.  I again told her that God would have to throw a rock through my window for me to have peace with doing chemo.

As I closed the door, tears stung my eyes.  "Lord, I feel if I do chemo, I'm being disobedient to you.  Did you mean no chemo?  Or no chemo back then?  I have limited time to make such an important decision.  Please continue to guide me."  
And I knew He would.

The next morning while I was standing with my daughter waiting for school to start, another wise friend of mine-slash-teacher at her school asked how my morning went with our mutual friend.  I repeated the story again.  She also agreed that God was leading me to the Block Center.  And to chemo.  (In case you're keeping score, that's three wise women in a 24-hour period who feel they clearly see God's hand in all of this).  I had also mentioned to her about my other friend's idea of hiring a nurse to come to me.

Now, this is where the story gets good...

A few seconds later, my friend says, "Ruthie, I don't know if this is a God thing or not.  But do you know a mom here named Audrey?  I was with her last week in the school kitchen and she turned to me and said, 'I don't know why I feel led to tell you this, but I'm an R.N. and I want you to pray for me as I feel God is nudging me back into the nursing field."

I thought, OK, that's interesting.

Just then, as the second bell rang to start school, my friend sees Audrey walking out to the parking lot.  As I saw her run after her, I noticed there was not one other Mom anywhere on campus.  Just Audrey.  She brought her back, quickly introduced the two of us and walked her class into school.

Audrey had looked familiar to me as we've passed each other in the parking lot, but we had never met.  

So I sat down and told her my story.  
I ended with, "If God is really leading me to Chicago for chemo, then I pray that the Block Center would be open to sending us a nurse trained in their form of chemo so I don't have to fly there 24 times or live there on and off for 4 months." 

And that's when she told me that she was a med/surg nurse with a background in oncology.  That she had just recently gotten
 re-certified and had felt God gently nudging her back into the nursing field. 
 Oh, and did I mention, she LOVES to fly? LOVES it.

So we both just sat there in amazement.
I felt she was an answer to my prayer.  And she felt I was an answer to her prayer.
God threw the rock.  And I believe her name is Audrey.

So this is the deal.  We will be contacting Dr. Block and proposing a plan.  A plan that's never been done before to our knowledge.  I pray that he is open and willing to think out of the box on this one.  I think it's about time that he has a nice satellite office in beautiful Southern California!  Maybe at the Longevity Institute? No harsh, below-zero winters here!  Heck, we'll even put some of his patients up at our house who come in for a day of chemo!  And serve them a Block-approved breakfast, of course! 

And just to let you know, my claim to fame while working at UCLA many moons ago, was that my colleague and I were the first two employees to job share there.  So ya see, age-old protocols can change if you just think out of the box.

So... all of this to say that I know God is still leading me.  This big journey is new to me and I'm willing to stumble along the way because I know He will pick me back up.  He has brought so many special women into my life who encourage me with His scripture.  Bringing me just what I need when I need it.  Lifting my name to Him in prayer.   
Thank you all.
You are using your gifts!

So I believe another trip to Chicago is in my immediate future.  I did love it there, right?  The flight wasn't all that bad, right?  We flew Virgin American and they had little tv sets on all the backs of the headrests.  I actually watched The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (my guilty pleasure) all the way there while eating wheat crackers and almonds.  I can do that again, right?

I just pray that I continue to be obedient.  
May He be glorified throughout my entire journey.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Faith in the City...

The Blind Faith Cafe in Evanston, Illinois.
Was that a perfect place for me to eat, or what?

We got home late last night.  On the ride home, we all agreed that this trip ranked as one of the best vacations we've ever had.  So great, that our kids want to return every year.   Even I loved it so much, I didn't want to come home.  And that says a lot, because I'm always ready to come home.  

Our first stop was the Block Center.  Ed's Uncle Bob and Aunt Julie came in to Skokie and watched the kids for us as our appointment was about six hours.  That was an answer to prayer -- and I didn't even have to pray about it!

And since it's getting close to Halloween, I'll treat you to just one spooky photo...

They took 20 viles of my blood!  
(Ed also checked in as a patient and they took 16 of his.)

They use blood work to determine the best course of action in terms of lifestyle changes.  I should get back my CA125 number this week and the rest of the results in two weeks.

We met with an internist, nutritionist, psychologist and oncologist.  And get this - they mentioned they also had a patient from Westlake Village who happened to be in the next room!  So she popped her head in to say "hi", we exchanged phone numbers, and I look forward to meeting her for lunch one day soon.  What are the odds of that!   

So the bottom line is that they recommend I start chemo soon.  And I kind of expected that.  But I shared with them that I feel God will heal me without the use of chemo.  I'm sure they haven't run into too many patients like me before.  

Before my trip, my friend gave me a book to read.  In it, I found the verse, 

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope 
without wavering, for He who promised is faithful."
Hebrews 10:23

The day after my appointment, another friend texted me the same verse.  

How many verses are in the Bible?  Odds of that one being texted to me?  Yeah, you get it.

So after we got the doctor stuff out of the way, we headed to downtown Chicago.

This was the view from our hotel window.

And let me tell you, Chicago is my kind of town.
The architecture is stunning, the people are so friendly, and there are mums and kale everywhere!

They even have raw juice bars in their malls!

This was my lunch --
carrots, celery, beets and an apple!

After shopping at their 8-story mall, 
we headed to Northwestern University where Ed's Dad went to school.  It's in Evanston on the edge of Lake Michigan.  

This is their admissions office...

I would have gone there just for the building!

This is one of probably 200 churches we saw while driving around town.  They are everywhere!  And they are stunning!

And I could have moved into any one of these old homes...

Love the windows!

But this was our favorite home of all...

(Sorry, too much glare from the pond, but you can see the outline of the house).

This is Ed's aunt and uncle's house.  It sits on 7 acres.  It has no fences.  A pond.  A red barn.  Four miniature horses, 8 cats and one absolutely adorable Border Collie named Allie.

That's her playing football with the kids.

They filled their house with hospitality, Ed's extended family and birthday cake and gifts for Rachel's 10th birthday.  
We didn't want to leave.   

But we did.  And God so blessed us with a 
wonderful family vacation.  
And I have just as much peace as I did before we left.  I continue to praise Him for His healing and continue to ask Him to strengthen my faith.  And I will continue to trust in
Hebrews 10:23 

and Hebrews 10:35-36

"Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward, for you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise."

Thank you, Pam, for these verses that melt my heart.

And now ... I'm off to do loads and loads and loads of laundry.
A minor complaint after an amazing trip.

We'll talk soon...