Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Reflections in 2013

I think it is important to reflect back in our lives: to reflect back at obstacles, trials, suffering, joyous occasions, etc. In doing so, I am reminded of how God has grown me spiritually, how my relationships with Him and with others have developed, and how much He has truly blessed me. For I believe every good and perfect gift comes from above (James 1:17).

When I read back at some of my blog posts from 2013, especially with this cancer journey and all of the trials and suffering that came along with it, I feel a little like I am reading from the book of Job. You see, Job was a family man who lived a good life from the world's viewpoint. But, he is eventually beset with many trials and times of suffering: these include disasters that took away all he had (including his family, his health and his property.) I realize my trials have not been nearly as difficult as his were, but having read about his suffering and trials and watching Him glorify God through it all inspires me.

2013 Recap of Trials:

At the beginning of 2013, I finished up my final month of chemotherapy infusions. 

In addition to the hair I lost elsewhere, I began losing my eyebrows to the poison that was flowing weekly through my body via the chemotherapy infusions. This same poison we hoped was destroying the nasty cancer cells. Then, after a few weeks off of treatment, with my blood counts just barely high enough to endure surgery, I underwent the 5.5 hour double radical mastectomy and expander placement surgery. It appeared to go well, and we found that my cancer was significantly reduced. In fact, no invasive ductal carcinoma showed up in the left breast, where the mass of cancer cells was once over 14 cm in length. The only microscopic cancer cells remaining were “in situ” (the stage 0 cells). There were small amounts of invasive ductal carcinoma cells remaining in 7 of the 8 lymph nodes removed, but they were microscopic. I had a 87% overall reduction of my cancer with chemotherapy alone! This was something to praise God about. But getting there was not without plenty of suffering. Then, I had several complications trying to begin radiation treatment, which delayed it by several weeks. I finally began 7 weeks treatment in mid April, finishing up in early June.

A couple of weeks later my left breast incision began opening up. I finished up the rest of 2013 undergoing several additional surgeries (which were “emergency”, unplanned surgeries), along with a scary wound infection to go with all of it. Between the 4 surgeries in 2013 that I underwent and the radiation treatment, I had lifting restrictions for a majority of the year. This stinks when you have a daughter that you are primarily responsible for caring for during the day. I couldn't lift her into the crib, into her car seat, into her high chair, or even just pick her up when she wanted some mommy time. This was difficult. After my radiation treatment was complete, I began taking an additional chemotherapy drug: a hormone therapy drug that I must take for 10+ years:Tamoxifen. Beginning this drug involved more suffering, including weeks with unbearable constant hives all over my body. One time, the hives breakout was so scary, I found myself in the emergency room with swollen lips and face and a throat that felt like it was closing. But, through it all, God taught me so much, for which I am grateful.

Here are some of the things I learned through suffering in 2013:

After Job went through TONS of suffering, he was a broken and changed man--for the better. As John Piper says in his “Job: Reversal in Suffering” sermon from August 4, 1985: “That's what happens when you really see God.” In Job 42:1-6, Job bows in reverent submission to confess three great truths. I can completely relate to these three truths through my year and 3.5 months of cancer treatment. So, I am going to break each of these down with examples from my experience.

Truth #1: In verse 42:2, Job confesses “the truth that God is absolutely sovereign: 'I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted.'

I have learned that even through my suffering, God is Sovereign. It became apparent to me early on in the cancer journey that it was all part of God's design. So much good came out of my cancer--way too much good to write about in one blog post! You can read some of my posts early in my cancer journey where I began truly understanding God's sovereignty here:  

                Day 3 Following Cancer Diagnosis

Truth #2: In verse 42:3, he confesses “the truth that God's wisdom makes his own wisdom look like ignorance: 'I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.'

God's wisdom and God's plans are SO MUCH BETTER than our own. Before my suffering, I thought I could control outcomes. I had “plans” for my life. I thought I was going to take a couple of years off from my executive HR role, develop a consulting business in my spare time, and then get back into work full time when the kids both began going to elementary school. God has come up with a much better plan that I have finally surrendered to. He wants me to stay home with the kids. In fact, He has provided in ways I could never foresee. To be honest, when we looked at our finances shortly before I first quit work, we knew we would be okay for a few years with one income, but that I would eventually need to go back to work. And THEN, cancer showed up, and cost a LOT of our savings. Want to know something exciting? God has provided the EXACT difference in gap (from expenses/income) that we needed to allow me to continue staying home with the kids. He has showed us time after time that his plan is better than ours. Now, he is calling me to homeschool the kids. WOW! If you would have told me that this girl would eventually be a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama a few years ago, I probably would have told you that you were a little crazy—or at least that you definitely don't know me! I will have to write a separate post later in the year about our homeschooling journey. I am pretty excited about it! (I can't believe I am typing that!) There are also quite a few other things that God has wisely laid on my heart. God has carried me through the suffering to bring me to a place where I can fully accept his Sovereignty and reigning in my life.

Truth #3: Lastly, in verse 6, he confesses “the truth that he is guilty of despicable sin in questioning the ways of God: 'I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Oh man! I am SO very much aware of my sin now. I feel sorrow for my sin daily. This sorrow leads to regularly confession, repentance and refinement, for which I am grateful. John Piper states in the sermon from 1985:

“When God has given us a taste of his own majesty and our own wickedness, then the Christian life becomes a thing very different than the conventional piety. Jonathon Edwards describes it beautifully when he says,
The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires; their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble, broken-hearted joy, leaving the Christian more poor in spirit, more like a little child, and more disposed to an universal lowliness of behavior.

That is what God is after in all his dealings with his children—a brokenhearted joy that trusts like a little child in God and returns good for evil.” 

These are just a few of the things I have learned from reflecting back on my suffering in 2013. I am now looking forward to 2014, with so much joy in my heart, thankful for so much.  You can read many posts from 2013 that spoke of the unspeakable joy and thankfulness that I had thanks to God's provision. He truly took something meant for evil and turned it into good for me.

I will be posting a “2014 Resolutions” blog post soon as I aim to take what the Holy Spirit has revealed to me in 2013 and put plans into action!

This picture was taken recently when we visited Drew's family for our Christmas celebration.  Drew's mom enjoys getting family pictures together each year.  It is fun to look back and see how all of the kids have grown.  The picture was taken in a studio, which Abbey was not too thrilled about.  But, I like the "real moment" this shot captured as I tried to comfort her and make her giggle.  Family is just one of the many things for which I am so thankful!    

Happy New Year Everyone!  (Woo-hoo--a non-self-timer photo of Drew and me!)

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