Sunday, November 23, 2008

Intrepid Journeys ...

This is a devotion I did with our school wide staff last month. Some of you may be quite familiar with the themes here, but enjoy anyway.

The town where I grew up has great scenery. I love to hang at the beach, but we also have the Otaki Gorge and hills. Often we would take drives up the gorge. The scenery was stunning, but as a child I would freak a little. If I sat on the wrong side of the car, I would look out the window and at times there were sheer drops into huge ravines. Sometimes I would hold my breath and other times, close my eyes, but we always made it through!

Our lives are a journey. The road winds through many different landscapes … some breathtaking and some quite scarey! I want to talk to you about part of the journey I have been on in the last 18 months. For me to share this is quite personal and not entirely comfortable, but there have been some great lessons that have come out of it.

First of all, let me describe the landscape for you and then, I will explain some of the things I have been learning along the way. Just under 18 months ago (March last year), I flew home to my brother’s wedding. I took an additional day’s sick leave as things were not quite right in my body and I wanted to have it checked at home. I ran around doing a bunch of tests and then headed down to the wedding. Not long after getting back to Korea, my Mum phoned me and said there was a message on her answer machine from my doctor saying I needed to contact them immediately and go in urgently. Basically my tests had returned some really high levels of prolactin. Mum took the test results to her doctor to see if it was something I could wait until summer to deal with and he said I needed to deal with it immediately. So I went to Severance and after a bunch more tests, was diagnosed with a tumour on my pituitary gland. The tumour is benign and I have been having treatment for that for the past 17 months.

Then, in September 07, my niece Ruby was diagnosed with Leukaemia. If she could have a good kind of leukaemia, she has it (ALL). There is high success rate with ALL - when the child is 2 or over at diagnosis. In Ruby’s case she was 13 months old. So doctors are very cautious about her prognosis. For our family this was devastating. Cancer is a scary word for all of us, but we lost my Dad at age 49 to cancer, so it was even more scary. Ruby is doing well … I always think of my Grandfather when I think of her journey. We used to say how much longer in the way kids do, and he would always respond with. “Up. Down and round the corner!” That describes her journey to a T! Up, Down, and round the corner. She pushes on and there is such an amazing peace and positivity in that house. Your prayers are definitely felt. Thank you.

This summer, my body was still off and things were not going well. While travelling in Greece I contacted my mother and asked her to book me specialist appointments etc during the 12 days that I would be in NZ. I got to NZ late on the Thursday night, ran around doing a bunch of bloodwork etc on the Friday and then flew down to my Mothers on the Saturday. On Tuesday I went in to the see the specialist. She told me I was the whitest white girl she had ever seen and said that my blood work showed I was seriously anaemic. This has been an ongoing issue for me but it was the worst it has ever been. Basically, my haemoglobin (which is the red cells that push oxygen around your body) was 75. Under 90 is normally grounds for a blood transfusion but because of flying in just a week, it would increase blood clot risks so we did not do that. In addition, my iron stores were so low they could not even get a reading. My specialist sent me for more tests. The next morning, I got a phone call saying that I had to go back to the hospital for surgery as there were growths that needed to be removed. I was frightened (I don’t deal well with needles at the best of times) and asked if we could leave it to Christmas. Her response was that she would be negligent, there was no way she could leave me in the condition that I was in and that I would be in hospital in Korea within a month or two if we continued the way things were going. So, I went back for surgery. She could not do a long one because of the shape I was in, but it was enough to get me through to Christmas. The ongoing part of that journey is that I have to go home for a hysterectomy before Christmas. I had kind of reconciled myself to the idea that as I was pushing 40 and not in a relationship, I might never have kids. But now I know, there is a gulf between “might not” and ‘never” and to have the choice taken from me was quite devastating. I went through a wee angry phase and the last thing I needed to hear was the word adopt! I am an adopted child and very pro adoption, but it is not an easy process and it is a very different issue to dealing with loss of your fertility and all that brings.

So … that is my landscape, lets talk about the lessons I have been learning along the way.

1. Acknowledge Where You Are
We have a tendency to compare our roads to other peoples and then we don’t deal with the issues on our road! When I was diagnosed with my tumour, my first response was positive. I celebrated the fact that it was benign, I rejoiced that I had a doctor here who understood my need to ask questions and could take time to explain things to me. I was thankful that I could get the medication of my choice.

What I did not acknowledge for a while (because I was being positive) was the impact that this tumour was having on my life and it was huge. There were nights I did not sleep because my body would get on an adrenaline kick and be buzzing. The drugs were hammering me, making me exhausted and dizzy. Normally I am a sharp thinker and my brain was just fuzzy, I would loose track of things I was saying in the middle of teaching. Between January and March, this all just hammered me and took a toll. I went to Cambodia and asked friends to pray with me to have an encounter with God. I needed to hear from him. I had the most incredible time and it really helped me get my feet back under me.

2. Share your Burdens
How many times do your hear, “a problem shared is a problem halved”. As I was being hammered by my tumor and the meds, I did not feel I could share with my family. The main reason was because of Ruby’s sickness. I compared myself to her and thought of all she and the family were going through. My thinking was that I could not add a burden to my family. What could they do? I was here, they were in NZ and so it would be selfish of me. Wrong thinking. Our suffering or pain is ours and it is what it is. We deal with the things we need to. They are not invalid because someone else is going through it worse. Someone else will always be worse than us!

3. Thorns Are A Gift!
Our natural reaction is to holler and say get it out! Paul says, "My grace is enough; It's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness .."

"Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and BEGAN APPRECIATING THE GIFT (caps mine). It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness." (2 Cor 12:7 - The Message)

What have I learnt about wrestling and thorns? We don't like thorns. We don't like pain. We shy away from them and we plead with God to take them from us. We struggle, we wrestle, we fight. People, our thorns are GIFTS. Yes, you heard me right. They are gifts. They teach us that we need God. They reveal that we are crippled. They remind us that our strength is not enough. Ps 20:7 says, "some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God." The word trust (as in trust in God) comes from a hebrew word that is also translated as "remember". The word is "zakar" and it means, "call to mind". Basically the message is clear. Our thorns are gifts because they help us bring to mind who we should be leaning on. They help us bring to mind that we are not all powerful, strong and in control.

One final thought about thorns, Psalm 103 says, "you crown me with love and compassion". It is so true. But think about this, what crown did Jesus wear? If he wore a crown of thorns, surely we can accept the ONE that we are honored with?

4. We Are Never Alone
Our journey has twists and turns and even long dark tunnels! Dark times come to all of us … those seasons where we can’t see God, we can’t sense him and we cry, as Christ did on the cross, “My God, My God … why have you forsaken me?” I have heard many a sermon that says Jesus cried out because God turned his back on him. If you look back at the three gospel accounts that mention this scene, we do not find scripture that supports this. Could it be that Jesus in a moment of humanity, with the weight of the sin of the world on his shoulders, in the agony of the cross, immersed in darkness, could no longer see God? Could it be that in our dark times, when we lose the awareness of God, and it feels like he is a long way away, that he is actually right there with us and has not forsaken us at all?

Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” Jesus knows what it is like to be overwhelmed in the darkness and feel like God is a million miles away. He can empathise and understand me, when I am in this place. He has been there and he came out the other side. Even though Jesus felt alone, God was still there. The beauty of this scripture is in the next part: “let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Who is this God that we worship in our dark times? The one who sits on a throne of grace. The one who has walked in our dark places and is the light that shines in our darkness.

5. God Always Provides Anchors
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.
Hebrews 6:17-20

As I have reflected over my life, I have noticed that when storms come that could shipwreck my faith, God has always provided anchors. They are there if I will just look around and SEE. Of course he is our hope and our anchor but, the anchors that I am talking about are the things he puts in place to help me see Him, and hold on.

When I was about 14 or 15, someone gave me Isaiah 54 to meditate on. This chapter has been an anchor for me many times in life, and God has spoken to me again and again in different seasons through this passage. For me, it is a "life scripture". When I got to NZ in the summer, I stayed with my friends Craig and Annette. On Friday, I had a full day running around in the car, running errands, shopping etc. Before I left in the morning Annette gave me a CD of a friend talking and said I had to listen as it was excellent. So as I drove I listened. My friend was talking about worship in hard times. She touched on Isaiah 54, and it starts, "sing, o barren woman ..." The scripture was a call to worship even in times of great difficulty and fruitlessness. Could I have had a more perfect scripture with the circumstances facing me? While in Cambodia, God spoke very clearly through scripture to me about fruitfulness and abundance. While my outward circumstances would appear to mock that, I choose to believe that I will be a fruitful woman!

I have to smile at the anchors God put out for me in this season. "SING o barren woman. SING. Worship me. Focus on me and not the storm. Don't be afraid. Be Still. Peace child." Once again, he has gone before me, putting in place the anchors for me to cling to ... he has provided safety in the storm. The timing of that CD was amazing. God was not caught by surprise by this season in my life. He knew it was coming. He provided me with something to cling to as the waves grew.

This summer I did a bunch of reading and one book I loved was Mosaic, by Amy Grant. There is one story in there that really moved me. Amy was talking with a friend who was dying. She asked Amy, "do you know what the most important colour is in an artist's palette?" As Amy thought through the possible colours, she continued, "Child, it's black. Black is the most important colour for an artist. You see, without black, there is no depth. Without black, everything appears flat. But mix black with any colour and you can paint an object so real you want to reach out and touch it."

Amy went on to say, "in our lives, the darkest times, the days that are bleak and black, add depth to every other experience. Like the dark bits of colour in a mosaic, they add the contrast and shadows that give beauty to the whole, but they are just a small part of the big picture."

There is hope for your journey. Even though you may encounter some long dark tunnels, you are not alone, there is one who has traveled the road before, who knows the way and who will travel with you.


Claire said...

again you're a legend. again you make me amazed and worship God for you. your journey is full on, but wow the lessons you teach us. i'm honoured to read your blog. honoured to pray for you. honoured to get a glimpse of our remarkable God in and through your life. continuing to pray for you as you walk this road and as you come to our green shores :o) blessings, claire

Karen said...

You are like a deep well, a fountain of great and valuable depth with treasures to be found at the bottom of great value, stones that have been honed and beautified during your journey. OK my words are not making sense but I'm 'seeing' what I am trying to say. God's blessings as you travel 'home', his grace over your surgery, your emotions and your family. I was going to ask how Ruby was so I am grateful for an update. Love to you. xxx

sassiekiwi said...

Thank you Claire. I value your prayers. None of us walk alone and life can be quite a journey can't it!

Thanks Karen ... again your prayers are highly valued! I think the stones have been bashed and tumbled - but like river stones, they get smoothed out during the process! Mine need a lot of smoothing!