Stand Strong and FIGHT FORWARD

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One day last summer I found myself singing an old song by Helen Reddy, “I am woman.” I triumphantly pushed forward to finish unloading the second truckload of planting soil into the raised bed. I had just completed the bed using 3000 pounds of landscape blocks the day before – all by myself – a single-handed feat to begin with. As that last wheelbarrow was emptied I was overwhelmed with the goodness and presence of God. The reality of His healing stunned me. As tears ran down my face I surveyed what had been created by a woman living under a diagnosis of debilitating strength, yet here it was. My God had been continually pouring His faithfulness and healing over me as I fought forward every day during the past 3 1/2 years.

I was diagnosed with an inflammatory disease that affected my heart and all of my joints 3 years ago. Over those three years using a small hand shovel to plant flowers in a pot was a huge challenge, filled with severe pain. Side effects of chemo meds as well as assorted other trial medications kept stealing my life from me throughout this process. My faith that God was in control never wavered but there were days that I wondered if my life was done and I had done all that God had called me too. But one day my Rheumatologist suggested another trial medication, one that was a weekly injection in my stomach, I went home and had a real “on my face” discussion with Jesus – if He had more for me to do – then I was going to stand on the promise that HE IS MY HEALER not another awful medication. I had a perspective adjustment that day and chose to FIGHT FORWARD – I knew that He had this, no matter what the symptoms looked like.

I began standing on scriptures that I had known for decades:

Be still and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10

The Joy of the Lord is my strength – Nehemiah 8:10

In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge – Psalm 36:7

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness –

II Corinthians 12:9

So, as I stood there, that afternoon holding a shovel in my hand, the reality of how much God had done in my body overwhelmed me.  I had continued to FIGHT FORWARD and trust that HE IS MY HEALER all the while He was quietly restoring my cells, strengthening my muscles, and shrinking inflammation in my joints – bringing freedom where the enemy had been stealing.

Those years were extremely difficult but I have learned to walk in a depth of faith that I wouldn’t trade for anything. If He had not chosen to bring me to the place I stand in today – I would still FIGHT FORWARD and still stand on the truth that HE IS MY HEALER.

No matter what I face – His presence, His love, His grace goes before me.

If you find yourself struggling through life’s overwhelming circumstances, don’t give up, stand strong, and FIGHT FORWARD! Take one day at a time, always believing that He goes before you and know that He is your God, your refuge, your strength and your joy.

Up from the Ashes

In the midst of the pain and loss a seed is found – life will move forward, life will spring forth, life will be green again as it rises up from the ashes.

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I often ponder the parallels found in the truths of scripture shown through the natural and spiritual. Many such, have been in the forefront this year.

As last spring began, the lush tall forest trees of the west coast stood strong and vibrant, never knowing what the next season would bring. Spring soon led into a scorching summer as flames consumed over 8 million acres that now lay in ashes – those same lush forests destroyed.

An interesting fact occurs in the midst of forest fires – the seeds of life are spared, hidden and protected – they are surrounded by a hard safe shell that allows them to spread, land and in the midst of the nutrient ash – in time – they will bring forth life. Seedlings of life will begin to turn the black and gray colored hills and mountains into soft green life.

These last 6 months have left much in ashes across our country. Thousands of lives will never be the same due to floods, fires, and hurricanes but also from accidents, drugs, suicides and disease. They too, never expected to have their lives lay at their feet in ashes.

However, strength and new life will arise. If the ash lies at your feet it doesn’t look or feel possible, but somewhere deep inside faith stirs, then rises up to keep moving forward. Somehow that seed of faith has been hidden and protected. In the midst of the pain and loss a seed is found – life will move forward, life will spring forth, life will be green again as it rises up from the ashes.

In the midst of the ashes believe that Jesus has a plan – a protected, hidden seed within you. Your story is not over – trust in your Heavenly Father. He loves you, never leaves you, walks with you, is faithful and good all the time. Trust Him to bring life up from the ashes.

Is 61:2b-3 He has sent me to comfort those who are sad, those in Zion who mourn. I will take away the ashes on their head, and I will give them a crown. I will take away their sadness, and I will give them the oil of happiness. I will take away their sorrow, and I will give them celebration clothes. He sent me to name them ‘Good Trees’ and ‘The Lord’s Wonderful Plant.’(ERV)

Psalm 30:11 Then he turned my sorrow into joy! He took away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy. (TLB)

Where Does My Help Come From?

Only when you lift your eyes to the face of Christ and allow Him into your pain and suffering will you truly be set free to live a life where that weakness will become your strength.

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     “You are living in a ‘rainbow and butterfly’ world that is not reality” and “How can you always be positive and only see beauty” – these are just a couple of the phrases that have been spoken at me during the last few years BUT are far from my living reality. I too, live in a world full of struggles – physical, financial and emotional stressors tug daily whispering doubts and fears that could easily derail me. Every day I make a choice – my eyes look up – the only place that my strength can be found.

     The last 19 months have been some of the most difficult of my life as physical disease robs and steals my sleep, thought processes, every day movements, abilities and even my hopes and dreams. Many days I have been to weak to get up from a bed where I have barely slept due to pain that nothing releases – willing myself to push up and roll off the side to begin my day. BUT in the midst – I look up – I make a choice to see the beauty in a new day, a flower, a butterfly – all of life that buzzes all around me.

     I make a choice to look up – not down, inside or even around me (though I admit I have done all of these over these months) BUT I look to Christ – He has me, carries me, loves me and is ALWAYS there for me. He is GOOD all the time – even in the darkest most difficult places.

Psalm 121:1-2 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

     During these months I have found that His strength is my strength – when mine is totally gone – THEN He comes in and gives me hope, purpose and direction where there has been none.

     Through Christ – His strength floods in and I can always be positive, I can see only beauty, I can love living in a “rainbow and butterfly’ world – for it is a specific decision to lift my eyes to the hills and to be strengthen by His loving hand in the midst of my own weakness.

     If you too, are living in the midst of pain and suffering – begin to look up for your hope – not down, in or around. Only when you lift your eyes to the face of Christ and allow Him into your pain and suffering will you truly be set free to live a life where that weakness will become your strength. You will step into a world where living a ‘rainbow and butterfly’ life can be a reality.

II Corinthians 12:9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

Fight – Forward

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When we are weak and weary

where do we find that strength to stand up again?

What does it mean to be strong?   To be strengthened?

Somewhere deep inside of us is a HERO. The “I can do it” spirit waiting to keep on moving, keep on taking the front line of battle. This warrior is destined to win and the war cry of “Fight Forward” erupts.

Just when we think we are at the lowest place, the most helpless and unusable – we reach down inside of our spirit and are able to pull out that one tiny bit of hope to rally – to take the hill one more time, to rescue the other one that lays prone before the enemy’s attack. That hope, that strength doesn’t come from us – it is from the Spirit of God. The story Brave Heart is a great one to ruminate over – His purpose wasn’t about him, his desires or needs – it was for a greater (much greater) cause.

Being on the front line requires us to take hits now and then, some are minimal and we keep moving forward. Some require us to be carried for recovery to the rear. Then there are those that are near fatal and require major homeward bound recovery, rehabilitation and re-purposing of what and where we thought we were going. During each of these we must reach inside, dig deep, pull from our faith and trust in Christ. Here we find strength, to be strong enough to stand up again and overcome.

Often, we too, whine and complain about “our” weaknesses, inabilities, and needs – when what God is asking from us is to look outside of ourselves and see what He is calling us to. His desire is for us to be the Hero for someone else, to bring glory to His name. When we chose to see Him only – respond, rise up, and fight forward for others – then all our stuff will fall away. When we dig deep inside, we will find the ability to stand up, take the next hill, and rescue the broken before us. At that time, we will walk in faith toward the fullness and abundant life He has for us. Will our lives miraculously be healed or made whole? Probably not, but it’s in this place we will find strength – we will be strong – not in our own strength but in His.

Every human spirit has a place where they can reach inside to “keep moving forward” but there are times that just like the energizer bunny – the batteries must be changed. We can accept that, wait on the Lord and those He places in our lives for that purpose or we can wallow in this rough spot and lose hope.

My choice, my cry is one of faith in a God who is good to me ALL the time – and I shout “Fight Forward”.

Ps. 40:31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (ESV)

2Corinthians 12:10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (ESV)

A Warrior’s Unexpected “Call to Arms”! (by J. K. Sanchez)

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     The air in the room instantly became thick and hot, her ears hearing only her crashing heart beat; four unexpected words spoken in a sterile environment now bouncing through her head like a ping pong ball – “you have breast cancer”. How she receives, processes and walks through today and the months and years ahead will transform her and impact everyone her life touches.

     The insidious leviathan called “breast cancer” begins to surface, having already begun its rampage within the territory belonging to her. Does she run or fight? Her first responses to this attack are terror, numbness and inability to move. But soon instructions, research and information are received and the sword is offered; now decisions loom. The still surreal question before her – surrender to this monster’s fiery breath or take that sword with both hands, brace her feet and prepare to move forward into the fight of her life?

     This devouring disease looms as a possible destroyer over every woman. There is no discrimination to its destruction – all are at risk. Every year over 200,000 women are faced with this monster’s appearance.   Every year the decision to take up a sword of defense is forced into trembling hands of women of all generations – the single woman, the mother, the career woman, and the retired woman. They all will receive a “call-to-arms” that was never expected. This battle is one that is a life-long sentence! These women may make it through the skirmish, but will live everyday for the rest of their lives with this leviathan and its smoldering breath lurking under the surface; never knowing if it will resurface again.

     Two brave warriors: Cherrie, a vibrant grandmother in her 60’s, and Rachael, a single mother of two in her 30’s, live each day with this lurking monster’s presence, but they walk with positive attitudes of thankfulness. The determination to fight – to lift the heavy sword – is wielded by three powerful words that stand strong within each of them: Faith, Hope and Love – the greatest of these is LOVE.

     Each of my friends and every woman who will encounter, fight, survive or succumb to this insidious disease are already winners, for they have made the stand against it. How the battle is fought is the key – it is the positive attitude within them that knows that they were made for more.

     At 64, the unexpected jolts in Cherrie’s life had adjusted to a soft daily roll. But one morning in March 2011, everything in her life quickly changed. As an exuberant positive person not much could shake her; but as the doctor spoke she barely heard anything past “stage 1a breast cancer”. This was a routine mammogram that now had turned into a tidal wave crashing over her mind. Shock, fear, anger, and tears all flooded unbidden over her, but within minutes the destructive wake stirred a determination as she announced, “Let’s get this taken care of NOW!”

     Her years of experience and research skills immediately kicked into gear. Her first contacts and rapid response came from friends working in the local hospital. They connected her to some of the best cancer specialists and within weeks she was scheduled to have a lumpectomy and begin a regiment of radiation.

     Though her greatest fears were of the cancer spreading or cells being left undetected, she knew her positive attitude had to stay intact.

     Cherrie was overwhelmed with love and support from her daughter, granddaughter and friends; this love became her strength. Shortly after surgery she received a surprise visit from co-workers touting pink roses and champagne to celebrate, cheer her on and stand beside her – just in case she grew tired as she wielded this heavy sword. They were in her corner to fight this fire-breathing leviathan – they knew this red head had enough fire in her to breathe right back at him. Their support, encouragement and love were what helped her through the hardest days. The very best medicine is often found in friends – laughter, love and of course some “furry” snuggles.

     Now 5 years cancer-free, Cherrie knows that love was the reinforcement she needed every day, “To be with those who were positive and loved me unconditionally kept my hope up. ”

     This destructive tsunami hits new women every day, but from one warrior to the next, Cherrie’s advice is “above all else try to remain positive, it is frightening but necessary to be optimistic. Put your trust in your medical team BUT ask questions at every opportunity. If you need help – ask for it! The people who love you sometimes don’t know how to help – so tell them.” And with a smile and some sweet levity Cherrie advises, “be thankful for Lane Bryant push up lingerie – I am!”

     Rachel, a 34 year-old mother of two with no risk factors, was unprepared to hear the results of the recently found rapidly growing and painful lump on her breast. As the doctor diagnosed, “It’s an invasive aggressive cancer”, the words sounded as if a death sentence had just been handed to her – this aggressive cancer could mean less then a year to live. Within weeks, armed with firsthand encouragement and research, she chose her best option for surgery and a double mastectomy, lymph-node removal and implantation of expanders were accomplished.

     Life as she had known it had come to a screeching halt – surgery, weeks of chemo and a myriad of medications took over her life with her biggest fear looming in front of her – her two young sons without a mother.

     Rachel lives a life that is positive – always looking at the best in life and others, so it was time to focus that positive attitude on the fight of her life.

     Family stepped up! With her sister’s ability to research healthy options in every arena and help with her boys, as well as her mother’s strong shoulder and prayer warrior spirit – she found the fuel that helped her make the decisions to fight this leviathan. The onslaught of support through kind words, prayers, and gifts of all types overwhelmed her with love and hope that she would complete this journey.

     With months of pain, medications that made her sick, loss of her hair, setbacks, surgeries and more surgeries, as well as living through months of hormone inhibitors which made her feel dead inside, this young warrior responded, “Giving up was never an option or a thought.  No matter what I am facing and going through, God has given me this life and it is His to give and take away. My goal is love, truth and kindness – even on the hardest days.”

     Now only months since her last medications, she thoughtfully responds, “I am still often tired, but grateful for each day with my sons. I’m lucky to be alive, even though I still have pain and hard days.”

     She thinks often of those who unexpectedly helped her in many of the little everyday ways – providing meals, finances, occupying the boys, and a myriad of thoughtful gestures. She is filled with joy as she sees the example of God’s grace having been walked out in her family – seeing them come together, reconcile differences and support both her and each other has been an unexpected blessing.

       Life is never the same and this battle is never really over. Once you have cancer it is always lurking. The thoughts that ring loud and clear from Rachel are “before this, the world and life felt so big – full of wonder and possibilities. Now I don’t feel that way. Hopes and dreams are simple now, but I have deeper peace and security. I’m able to be more honest and direct. My relationships are all simple because I’m at peace with others and myself. I don’t place expectations on anyone and I allow myself to have weakness and space to rest.”

     Rachel’s thoughts for those beginning and fighting this battle are to walk daily with “Focus- Laser focus! Focus on what is in front of you right now. Whether it is a person, a project, decision, pain, recovery, gift, blessing, sunshine, or storm – all you have is right now. Soak it in. Also, every step is temporary, whether good or bad. Pain comes and goes and healing takes its place.”

     Though cancer takes over every thought in this journey, it is not what defines these women – they have not chosen this battle and have no control as to how, why or when it attacks – but they do have a choice; how they respond to it.

   Loving support and prayer are the covering and glue that seem to hold together as well as strengthen body, mind and spirit while these warriors trudge through this darkness.

     Human beings are able to pick up, move-on and overcome so many horrific obstacles in life because of three seemingly small words: Faith, Hope and Love. Faith that there is a God bigger than all of this, who loves us and is the ultimate one in control; Hope that our life (our story) is not finished yet, and that there is still a promised future waiting for us. And the greatest of these – love. A love that will change, support and bring life, growth and strength to the atmosphere that surrounds us. Love is the adhesive that is the key to any type of recovery.

     Let’s come along side these fighting warriors with faith, hope and love; bringing some small strength to them as they fight this insidious leviathan. For we know not if we may be the next warrior in need of strength to lift the sword in the fight of our life, as its lurking presence may beckon our own unexpected call-to-action.

 

Photo courtesy of : saphatthachat@freedigitalphotos.net