your turn

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your turn

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A mother went to wake her daughter for church services one Sunday morning. She knocked on her daughter’s door and said, “Honey, time to get ready for church.” Her daughter pulled the covers up over her head and told her mom, “I’m not going!” The mother returned a few minutes later and told her daughter again that is was time to get ready. She yelled again, “I’m not going!” The third time mom came back, she found her daughter sitting on the edge of the bed and said, “Young lady, it’s time to get up or else we’re going to be late,” and for a third time the daughter emphatically said, “I’m. not. going”. Finally, the mom asked “Why not?”

“I’ll give you two good reasons,” the daughter said. “One, they don’t like me. Two, I don’t like them.”

Her mother replied, “I’ll give you two good reasons why YOU WILL go to church. One, you’re 46 years old…… And two, you’re the pastor!”

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but the statistics are, well, unfortunate. Pastors and Deacons aside, worship participation is declining so rapidly in the United States that by the year 2020, more than 85% of Americans will NOT be worshiping at a church and weekend attendance will only be 8.5%. Established churches in mainline denominations, such as Lutheran, Methodist, and Baptist, are declining at a rate of 2% a year. While most young adults call themselves Christian, less than half practice their faith and those that do, only do so sporadically. And only about half say religion, any religion, is important in their lives. Among twenty to thirty year olds, only 15% embrace a strong religious faith, just about 30% believe in and perform some religious traditions, but at least 40% have no connection to any religious tradition at all. Believing in God is not the issue. Believing God matters is the issue.

According to the book, entitled, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore,” – which is pretty direct title – there are four reasons people don’t attend church services any more:

They don’t want to be lectured.

They see the church as judgmental.

They see the church as hypocritical.

They see the church as irrelevant.

People do not attend church because they see it as irrelevant. As optional. As unnecessary. That’s because in their minds church is defined as a weekly event to attend. In other words, they see worship service as irrelevant, optional, and unnecessary. How many times have you heard people say, “I don’t have to go to church to be with God.” True, but…

Instead, we need to help our children, grandchildren, neighbors, best friends, co-workers, maybe even our parents and spouses, that “church” is who we are as Christians and not just one day a week. We need to change how we talk about what we do as Christians. For instance, if someone asked you what family is, you would not say, “Oh that’s what I attend when I come home from work”. Family is not an event. Family is family. You don’t go to “family”. Church needs to be thought of in the same way.

How do we help people grow in their commitment to their faith and to church? How do we show them that Christians are not judgmental, nor hypocritical, and that we are not going to lecture them? We do that through relational ministry! Relational ministry is ministry based on relationships. Every one of us is a minister of the church. Martin Luther taught us that we are all to be ministers. In relational ministry, we all play a significant role.

Relational ministry focuses on the who. This is the place we discover who God is, who God is calling us to be. The “Who” is about us encountering Jesus Christ in our relationships with others. The number one rule of relational ministry is being with others rather than simply doing things with others.

Think about the Bible – what is the Bible full of? It is chocked full of stories about relationships. Relationships between brothers and sisters. Relationships with parents and children. Relationships between friends and relationships between enemies. Relationships between husbands and wives. Jesus’ relationships with his disciples and with his followers. And most importantly, God’s relationship with God’s children. In relational ministry, just as God is with and for us, God calls us to be with and for each other.

I know I’m mixing up the holidays, but when you think of Saint Patrick, his images conjures up many legends. Some are based on his legendary life, and some are exaggerated tales. Patrick was born in Britain. Although his father was a deacon, and his grandfather a member of the clergy, he was not brought up with a strong religious education, which was a source of embarrassment for him. Patrick was kidnapped in his teens by pirates and brought to Ireland.

During his years in slavery, he tended sheep and saw his enslavement as God’s test of his faith. Patrick is said to have had dreams that Irish children were reaching out to him asking for his Christian guidance. He escaped 6 years later, supposedly wander in the wilderness for a month, may have been kidnapped again, but eventually made his way back to his family in Britain. Patrick then entered the priesthood and become a bishop, and in 432AD, returned to Ireland as a missionary and he saw his vision come to be of converting pagans to Christianity.

Somewhere among the myths, legends, and the truth lies St. Patrick’s journey of his faith. We all have one. We all have a story of our faith and how it began, when and why it was tested, possibly a time it was lost and found, and lost and found again. Our faith journey is never a straight line, but one of mountains we climbed, hills we rolled down, and times we were stopped in our tracks. Today, I want you to discover your faith journey, and why our journey of faith matters to our family and friends, and especially to the youth and children in our lives. Hopefully your journey of faith does not include kidnapping, enslavement, or snakes.

This is one way you do relational ministry – by sharing your faith journey with others. The misconception that Christians are judgmental or hypocritical is because people believe we have never questioned our own faith and that we think we’ve lived perfect lives. We are all sinners. We are all saints. We have all had our doubts and questions about ourselves and our God.

Think about your own faith story. Drafting your faith story starts with some very simple steps, such as asking when you first went to church and who told you about Jesus Christ. It includes times when you have ever felt like your prayers were not heard and about the sacrifices you have made for your faith. It also is about the crisis points in your life and in your faith. Ask yourself, When have I grown? Where do I need to grow more in my faith?

I want you to write out your faith journey, tweak it, edit it, rewrite if need be. Then memorize it. But most importantly repeat it. Repeat it to everyone in your life who needs to know that your path to your faith has not always been easy. Let others know you have had your own struggles and how you aim each day to be Christ-like. Maybe it is still a bumpy road. Hopefully, you are helping others and have a great peace in your life because of your faith and God’s love for you and the sacrifice made by our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Another important way to help others see that the church IS relevant and NOT hypocritical is to be a faith mentor to others. As a faith mentor, you walk with others as they live out their faith journey. Sit with them in their struggles and their joys. Offer your presence in their faith journey and in their lives. Acknowledge their pain and offer your sympathy and empathy. Celebrate how God is working in their lives and when they are Christ-like.

Characteristics of a Faith Mentor:

  • Be available – you don’t have to be a trained Bible scholar, simply be available with timely and godly advice. Know that sometimes “I’ll pray about it” is the best response to begin decision making.
  • Be a listener- God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Don’t feel you have to dish out advice or offer your opinion about everything. It could be that your mentee simply needs to get it out or feel validated.
  • Be real – Be genuine, be honest.
  • Be an example – Show you are trustworthy and demonstrate your love for God and others.
  • Be a teacher – Challenge your mentee and encourage her to do things on her own.
  • Let your mentee ask questions. And understand that it’s ok to not have the answers!

This year, the Women of the ELCA challenged all Lutheran women to act boldly on their faith. From their newsletter is says, “Whether we live out our bold story of faith in the workplace, family home, or community, our faith compels us to make a difference in the lives of others. It’s all about living out our baptismal call, about being a disciple of Christ.” By sharing your faith story and being a faith mentor, I am challenging all of you to act boldly on your faith.

I want to end my message today with a story. A story about my nephew, Ashton.

For several days leading up to his 4th birthday, my nephew, Ashton, began asking about God. It started when he was reading a children’s book about the Bible with my mom, better known as MeeMee. In his book, there were drawings of Jesus, of Moses, and of Noah, but not one picture of God. He first asked MeeMee, “What does God look like? Where’s God’s picture?” Eventually, he asked the ultimate question: “What is God?” No matter what answer MeeMee gave him, Ashton could not be satisfied. At the end of the day when Ashton’s mother came home, he went running. As the door opened, he stopped right in front of her. Looking up at her with his brown eyes the size of saucers, he asked her the same questions he had peppered MeeMee with all day. My sister-in-law looked at my mom, and Mom looked at her, and Mom said, “Your turn!”

And so my friends, I simply say to you – it is now YOUR turn. Amen.

References:

Dean, K.C. (2010). Almost Christian: What the faith of our teenagers is telling the American Church. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Dean, K. C., & Foster, R. The Godbearing life: The art of soul tending for youth ministry. Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books.

Roberto, J. (2010). 2020 Faith formation: Designing the future of faith formation. Naugatuck, CT: LifelongFaith Associates.

Root, A. (2009). Relationships unfiltered: Help for youth workers, volunteers, and parent on creating authentic relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Root, A. & Dean, K.C. (2011). The theological turn in youth ministry. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Smith, C. (2005). Soul searching: The religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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forgotten lessons ~ 

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A friend told me years ago, “Once you’re in Seminary, you need to forget everything you learned about the Bible before then.” Is this a slight exaggeration? Probably. But, it flies awfully close to my truth in Seminary. There are often more times though that I find myself in the opposite scenario where I learn something in class and think, “I don’t remember hearing about this before.” Either I was not paying attention during Pastor Russell’s confirmation classes and Betty Flohr’s Sunday School lessons, or I’ve simply forgotten it all.
I possess what could be termed as a passion to learn – or as I like to call it – an expensive hobby (seminary school is not cheap). Each semester, I enthusiastically read book chapters and scholarly articles, jot down questions and make notes in the margins. I sit in class and find myself learning from my classmates while feverishly taking lecture notes. I have been a sponge soaking up all I can. My favorite part of this experience has been talking about theological topics and the Bible outside of the classroom walls. At work. At the gym. Hanging out with friends. Even at the dentist. It is a rare moment I am not reading and I have discovered people love to ask questions when they see you have an academic book in your hand. It’s been said you remember more when you have to explain it to someone else.
The most surprising conversations though have been with my mother. Since starting my studies, I have shared my lessons and readings with her and we have enjoyed some very enlightening discussions – and if you know my mother, they are entertaining also. She and I have talked about Islam and the differences between Muslim beliefs and the cultural customs. We have talked about ‘ecological theology’, that the earth does not belong to humans but to God, and what it means to care of the earth and its inhabitants. I even tried to explain why we should refer to God as ‘God’ instead of ‘He’ or ‘Him’, but Mom’s not quite there yet on that one.
The conversations which are the hardest to have are about evil and suffering in the world and why it exists in the presence of God. As humans, we want answers and something to blame when disasters or hurting take place. We want an answer to the question of why did this happen. Eventually, this question becomes, “Why did God allow this to happen?” This is known as The Theodicy Question. The response to this question can be found in the theology of the cross (Largen, 2013). Notice, I didn’t use the word answer.
Suffering and hurting are sadly inevitable. We are finite creatures made by God and this means we experience pain and hurt of all types. We will feel regret, grief and mourning, mostly likely become ill during our lifetime, and we will all eventually pass away. To not suffer at all would be asking not to be created in the first place. As we watch our television screens and news stories on hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, and wildfires, as well as humans hurting humans and other creatures, this is all too difficult to understand. When we hurt, God hurts. When we are sick, God is too. Where there is hurting and despair, God is there in the people who rescue the abused and help the abandoned and provide comfort to the fallen. God is present in those who provide refuge from the storms and from the fires. I take comfort in knowing there is no suffering or pain God does not hurt from also, including each one of ours. There is no distance the resurrection of Christ does not reach. This is one of the best lessons I have learned thus far.
God has also given us free will, and the price for that is everyone else has free will too. We were made to be relational and connected to God and to others, whether we like it or not. Without relationships, we would be like Tom Hanks’ character in the movie, Cast Away. Secluded from civilization and suffering, even he was so desperate for conversation and a human connection that he fashioned “Wilson” from a volleyball. Personally, I prefer real people to volleyballs… Well, most days I do.

 

Johnson, E. A. (2011). Quest for the living God: Mapping frontiers in the theology of God. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Largen, K. J. (2013). Finding God among our neighbors: An interfaith systematic theology. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Migliore, D. L. (2014). Faith seeking understanding: An introduction to Christian theology (3rd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

 

 

 

The Christmas Truce

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The Christmas Truce

Alfred Anderson was 109 when he passed away on November 21, 2005 in Scotland. He had stated for years that he wanted to die shot in bed by a jealous lover, but in the end, he died in his sleep. Probably because he was 109 years old. His obituary was published by the Associated Press in the New York Times, the LA Times, and all across the United Kingdom. Alfred’s obituary was published not because he lived to be a 109. It was not because he was a soldier in the Black Watch regiment during WWI. Or that during the war, he served as the valet to the Queen’s brother who served as a Captain. Nor was it because Alfred was later wounded during a battle in France and later awarded the Legion of Honor, one of the highest medals of Honor one could receive. While an accomplished and beloved man, Alfred’s death was noted around the world not for any one of these items, but because he was the last surviving soldier from the Christmas Truce of 1914.

In December of 1914, along a 500 mile stretch on the border of France and Flanders, German and British soldiers were embattled in hard fighting. The war had begun in August yet many thought it would be over by the time Christmas arrived. The Pope had even asked for a truce, but military ranks on either side were against it and threatened anyone who participated in a truce with charges of treason. The stories vary on how the Christmas Truce began, however, a common one told is that the German soldiers had received gifts from home, including tiny Christmas trees which they decorated their trenches with. As darkness came on Christmas Eve, German soldiers began singing Christmas carols in their native language. Recognizing the tunes, the British soldiers joined in, mirroring the tunes in English. Eventually, each side along that 500 mile stretch climbed out of their trenches. Standing among the lines of barb wire in an area called ‘No Man’s Land’, both sides met in the middle, shook hands, and wished each other a Merry Christmas. Some groups began playing games of soccer. They exchanged medals and hats, including those infamous German hats with the spikes on top. They even exchanged addresses and kept in touch after the war ended, years later. All along those 500 miles, there were many Christmas Truces. Some lasted just a couple of days, and others going into early January.

The first song rumored to be sung by soldiers that fateful evening was ‘Silent Night’. This year commemorates the 200th Anniversary of the song. Written in 1816 by Friar Mohr of Austria, it was performed for a children’s Christmas Eve program at – of all place – St. Nicholas church. Sadly, the church was torn down many years ago. A memorial chapel has been built on the site and each Christmas Eve, the song is celebrated there. The song has been translated into 300 languages and there is even a Silent Night Association which serves as a clearinghouse for information on the song and worldwide news related to it.

In all likelihood, the first Christmas was not a silent one. As we know, the city was crowded with people there for the census. A baby was being born, and from what I have heard about childbirth, it is not a silent affair. An angelic choir came to the shepherds that night and the nativity scene includes animals in the inn’s stable, neither of which are quiet groups. Even today’s Christmas celebrations are not often silent. The malls are bustling with shoppers and lines for Santa. Our radios are blasting ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’. On Christmas morning, children are ripping open their presents and playing with their toys or the boxes they came in. No, that first Christmas was probably not a silent night. However, the key to the song is in the second phrase – “Holy Night”. Because, when in the presence of holiness, we are SILENT. The birth of Jesus was silent, because it was HOLY. When we take time to listen for the silence, we will find it in the words of this treasured Christmas song: “Holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace.”

‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ was yet another song sung during the Christmas Truce of 1914. Written by Bishop Brooks of Philadelphia in 1867 after returning from a trip to the Holy Land, it describes how he imagined the town of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. In it, Bishop Brooks describes how Jesus came into the world quietly with not many knowing about his birth. By today’s standards, Jesus came in extremely quiet. The only publicity of Jesus’ birth was the angels’ announcement to the shepherds. There was no gender reveal party with Mary and Joseph cutting a cake and opening it to find blue filling. God did not make a Facebook post of the sonogram and captioned it with, “It’s a boy!” And the only baby shower Mary probably had was her visit with Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, and the two of them trying to one up each other with miracle baby stories. No, Jesus did not arrive with the pomp and circumstance of a King. Other than flipping over tables in the temple, Jesus operated quietly during his life, and this is still how he enters us – quietly.

Each year in the carol we sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” The ‘thee’ is Jesus. Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. His coming had been promised to Adam and Eve. His birth was foretold by the prophets for centuries. Jesus came in quietly to right the wrongs. He died so we could be forgiven. And he died so we could live. John 14:18-23 reads, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while, the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

The Christmas Truce of 1914 happened for one reason. Because of one shared tradition. The tradition of Christmas. My friends, if German and British soldiers can have a Christmas Truce in the middle of a World War, then you can call a Christmas truce too. Whether it be with your neighbor, your coworker, your in-laws, your ex-spouse, or your siblings. There are enough battles happening in this world without us adding more.

Blessed Be!

This is an abridged version of a devotional I gave at Keysville Lutheran Church’s Ladies Retreat last month. It was a pleasure and an honor to do so. Happy Christmas!

References:

“O Little Town of Bethlehem”, http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com

Alfred Anderson, The New York Times, November 22, 2005.

Silent Night, Holy Night, http://www.theologyofwork.org

Silent Night: The little carol that could, Post Gazette, December 24, 2006.

The Spirit of the 1914 Christmas Truce, The Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2014.

The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce, http://www.smithsonianmag.com

 

 

​Dear 25-year-old Nicole

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​Dear 25-year-old Nicole

​Dear 25-year-old Nicole,

Twenty years from today, you’re gonna turn 45 and you will not get there as planned. You’ll be working in education still, and you’ll also figure out along the way that what you’re aiming for is not what it’s cracked up to be. Dad will prove himself right as always and you’re going to finish that Master’s and then go back for more. And more. You are going to be pursuing God’s vision for you, not manifesting the world around your dreams.

There will be two kids, not of your making, but you’ll love them and care for them and dream big for them. You will look into their eyes and know the world ain’t so bad, no matter how hard it gets from time to time. You are going to make mistakes. Lots of them. Big. Little. Lasting and temporary. You are going to be heartbroken, disappointed, and emotionally torn between now and then. People are going to walk out of your life due to things you can and can’t control. You’re going to learn that the people you think you can’t live without, you can and will live without. You are going to be strong in more ways than you can imagine. You are going to do things and accomplish goals that will make your parents cringe and you laugh, and you’ll set other goals that make them proud and leave you wondering “How in the hell did this happen?”

Your friends at 45 are some of the best you’ll ever have. Like sisters almost. You’ll ‘talk’ almost every day – the evolving technology of that cell phone of yours is gonna blow your mind and you’re going to have the same number you do now. You’ll have plenty of guy friends too, like you always do. That’s who you’d rather be hanging out with still. Speaking of friends, you know that internet thing where you just got a Hotmail email address on? One day, there will be this website where you will keep in touch with people you went to high school with and college, your sorority sisters, people you work with, your relatives and neighbors, and people you haven’t even met yet. It’s hard to explain, but this is the place where your comedic skills are going to shine and you can live out your secret dream of performing stand-up. I mean, we’re hilarious, right?

Oh, and there’s this guy. (No, not the one you think.) He’s going to make you believe in a real, honest to goodness relationship with all the trimmings and none of the problems. But, right now, in 1996, he’s got one cheesy mustache and a serious girlfriend. He’ll be that guy to you one day, minus the stache. You’re also going to get those boobs you’ve wanted all these years, but through the power of modern medicine not by mortgaging that house you’re saving for. Just know it’s for the best.

So in the meantime, keep cheering for Jeff Gordon and Chipper Jones. They might retire. And who knows? You might meet them one day. Appreciate life and the person you are. Don’t stop dancing. Get to the gym more. Okay, start going to the gym. Adopt a dog, or two. I’ll see you in 20.

– Nicole, Nicki, Nick, Putt Putt, Dr. Roop, and the Queen of Keymar

Three Sixty Five

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About a year ago, I saw one of those re-postable pictures that simply had the words, “My biggest fear is that a year from now, nothing will have changed.” I saved it to my phone and cried. I don’t mean shed a few tears, wiped my nose, and checked my mascara. I mean open the flood gates of my eyes until my contacts were flushed out, go through five tissues, and the proverbial ‘racked with sobs’ crying. I was petrified that nothing in my life would change. That although I had a great life and should be content with a great job, wonderful friends, and good health, or happy that my educational and faith paths were progressing and converging, and I was blessed to have a family who I spent as much time with as possible, I still felt a hole in my life.

At one point, I was told I was “depressed” but not “in depression.” In layman’s terms, to be depressed you can be sad, upset, frustrated even, and maybe you cry once or twice a week about your circumstances or a particular situation. To be in depression means you are clinically depressed – such as, not leaving the house, sleeping for hours or days on end, and basically unable to function in a normal manner. I looked around me and thought after another failed dating relationship, which followed probably four others in 2014, I was looking into the crystal ball and saw myself at the end of 2015 in much the same manner. And so, I cried when I saw that quote. A few weeks later, I deleted the picture from my phone’s gallery. I had cried enough.

Here I am at the start of 2016, and if you are a friend or follower of mine, you well know that my life is definitely not the same as it was at the start of 2015. Much of this past year has revolved and focused on my long-term health, in particular, my recent mastectomy. At the start of 2015, I lost two significant people in my life – my father and my cousin. While I would wish them back in a heartbeat if I could, losing them prepared me in many ways for the journey I have made the last 10 months. I became stronger because I had no choice but to mourn, be strong, and keep living. My faith strengthened because when there is nothing left, there is still God.

In all likelihood, my father would have had as hard a time accepting my decision to have a preventive mastectomy as my mother did. I’m not saying he would not have been supportive, but I am not sure what his acceptance level would have been, if at all. Hell, he put off enough of his own medical care in his life. My cousin’s fight against cancer was the impetus to me being genetically tested for the cancer genes. I am not sure if I would have known about genetic testing if not for her, nor if I would have done it had she not passed away. Watching my mother and family grieve my Dad has been heartbreaking, and I hope she never has to go through anything like that again. Once I had the results that I was BRCA2 positive, I had new decisions to make. But with my breasts, and given all I had seen and felt, there was only one decision to make.

Others have called me brave, and strong, and courageous. I disagree. In my opinion, I took the easy way out. I was given my options and I chose the one that allowed me the greatest chance of not developing cancer. I did not have cancer and thankfully, there were no signs of it in the tissue they took. The surgery reduced my chances to 5%; much less than the average woman which is 12%. I decided to have the surgery because I could not handle going through the biopsies and MRIs and mammograms every 6 months, then worry for weeks about what results would come back. After surgery, a 5% chance still exists that I will develop breast cancer, in particular, in my areola areas. But this is significantly lower than the 85% chance I faced last summer if I did nothing at all.

My next and hopefully last surgery is currently scheduled for February 1, 2016, in which I will have the exchange from the expanders to my permanent implants. Hello, clothes shopping! For the last 4 weeks, I have had the expanders filled with liquid to stretch my skin. It has not been horrible, but it has been very unpleasant at times. I mean, we’re talking about stretching someone’s skin within seconds of the liquid entering the expanders. I had some minimal pain and discomfort because one expander seems to be sitting on a nerve, and these are essentially plastic mesh cups inside of your skin and sitting on your rib cage. Yeah. Good times. I’ve likened it to coconut shells or yogurt cups or even flour sifters. Again, it’s been unpleasant.

This past year was my calling and my journey, just as my decision to pursue diaconal ministry has been. This past week, I have taken part in the ELCA’s Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and met some wonderful people who have hearts of gold. I often have to stop myself from wondering out loud how I wound up surrounded by these people. I am one of the oldest in the group, but I am used to that. In our readings and class time, I have learned that we all have spiritual gifts, or Fruit of the Spirit, that we bring to our calling and vocation. There are some of my classmates who have gifts for hospital chaplaincy, some who use art or music with others to bring them into Christian love, others who have gifts of song and teaching the Word of God to youth. It would seem my ‘gift’ is being able to put up with, I mean, work alongside today’s young adults. That is where my heart lies in this calling.

But I would also like to think my ability to educate others about BRCA and genetic testing through telling my story is another one of my gifts. I give it to show my weaknesses…My vulnerabilities…My fears. As encouragement…As thought provoking. And as a cautionary tale. Is this the right decision for everyone? No. This was the right decision (cross fingers here) for me in this time and in this place of my life. Not everyone has the availability to health insurance, a flexible job schedule with understanding colleagues, or a support system of friends, family, and fellow previvors. I am grateful and fortunate in many respects.

So, no, I am not in the same place or in the same body or in the same frame of mind that I was at the start of 2015. There is a very special person in my life now who has shown me love from a different side of the relationship coin. I have a new niece or nephew on its way. My dogs seemed to have stopped running up veterinary bills (again, cross fingers here). I still have great friends and colleagues, and my ministry path seems to becoming clearer for me. Sometimes, nothing changes simply means that nothing changes. Sometimes, change is necessary.

Remember that God is committed to finishing the masterpiece God started within each of us. The process by which that happens is called CHANGE. (paraphrased from Beth Moore)

Blessed be.

Post PBR. And I ain’t talking beer here.

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Many years ago, I had a colleague who was miserable to work with, and sadly, I didn’t even have to share an office with them. Nonetheless, they were a drain on even the best of days. I would plan my vacations and off-site appointments based on when they would be at work, solely for the reprieve from their attitude. Rude remarks, condescending looks, and yelling fits were the usual, but on casual Fridays, they would wear their shirts and sweaters proclaiming their love of Jesus Christ and the Christian life. The rude remarks, condescending looks, and yelling fits still happened on Fridays, but all blanketed in their WWJD garb.

As I laid in my recliner/bed the other night, this person came to my head for some reason. I thought about how I’ve tried to be real and brutally honest about my genetic testing, my fertility tests, the biopsies, and now, the prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. But, was I really?

Other women facing a PBM or breast cancer that I have known or found through social media have put it all out there. And by “all”, I mean pictures of right before their mastectomy surgery in a hospital gown and no makeup with tubes and IVs, and then after surgery, dogged and bruised and nauseated. Pictures at their hours long chemotherapy appointments with a thumbs up and a count down of how many more appointments to go. Pictures of them enjoying their children’s band concert or baseball game after the treatments had taken their hair and bloated their faces.

My cousin, Shanda, was such a warrior. She kept going despite the chemo, the surgeries, the medications, and she was still at every event for her kids, even scheduling doctor appointments and treatment around their activities. I marveled at how she planned birthday parties and Fourth of July family gatherings with all she had on her plate. Nothing blew my mind more than how every time she was in the hospital, she asked (more like demanded) a picture with everyone who visited her. Even facing her death in the days to come, she smiled brightly for the camera with her family and friends. These pictures became a collage at her viewing as a moving tribute to her life and the love she felt for us.

Then, there’s me. I’ve been floating around my house in pjs and slippers, some days not even taking a shower. I’ve been eating like every meal is my last meal. The few times I’ve ventured out of the house, it was with hair done, makeup on, and hiding my drains belt so I didn’t gross people out or have them stare. I attempted to take a picture of me the morning of my surgery to show I was stronger than my pride, but I didn’t like my double chin and my face was breaking out. I hit delete. Quickly. When the surgeons came in to talk with me beforehand, I even told them, “This is the worst you are ever gonna see me.”

This is the thought that haunted me the other night. I was acting no better than my disgruntled colleague in her Friday hypocrisy. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins. In case you didn’t pay attention in Church or Vacation Bible School, there is no list of the seven deadly sins in the Bible itself. Each of the sins are however, condemned at various points in the Scripture, and a list of seven things that God hates can be found in Proverbs 6:16-19:

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. (New International Version)

I’m assuming “haughty eyes” is the pride thing. St. Gregory (later a Pope) even went so far as to rank the seven sins, pride being the deadliest. But for every deadly sin, there is a holy virtue.

Lust (undesired love) versus Chastity (purity)
Gluttony (overindulgence) versus Moderation/Temperance (self-restraint)
Greed (avarice) versus Generosity (vigilance)
Sloth (laziness) versus Zeal (integrity)
Wrath (anger) versus Meekness (composure)
Envy (jealousy) versus Charity (giving)
Pride (vanity) versus Humility (humbleness)

Cancer brings out almost every sin and holy virtue, whether in the person afflicted or in their loved ones. Think of those you’ve known facing cancer or threatened by cancer. I am sure you have seen these sins and virtues play out in their lives. Sometimes all in one day.

One thing I’ve learned in the last 7 months, if not the last 44 years is that the following is true – “Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death.” ~ (Unknown). So, pride be damned, I took a picture of myself this week. Dark circles, glasses, hair back, Billy Bob’s shirt on, and, God forbid, no makeup. I figured that’s what Jesus would do. You know, if he was a she, and if they had selfies back in the day. But don’t be expecting pictures of any other sin I may or may not have committed lately.
Blessed be!
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“Nobody praying for me”

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I suspect tomorrow at this time, I will be looped up and lopped off. My prophylactic bilateral mastectomy is scheduled for the VERY early morning. When people ask if I’m ready, my answer is always, “I just want it over with.”

The title I gave this post is in jest. Seether has a song called “Nobody Praying For Me.” That is not a problem I have. Family, friends, and even strangers have given me encouragement and prayers. They are all appreciated. If you pray for me, don’t focus those thoughts on my strength and healing. I’ve been working on that for years now. I’m convinced I have the physical strength which will help with the healing. It’s the mental strength I need your thoughts and prayers for.

Over the last couple of months, I have learned a lot about this procedure. I have talked with other women who have had a PBM, some had expanders (like I will), and some lost their nipples and now have “Barbie Boobs”. Some of us are called ‘previvors’. We do not have nor have we had cancer, but we have the genetic markers of developing breast cancer.

Am I scared? Ehhhhh. Yes. But not of the things one would think. I’m afraid of all the things that COULD go wrong. You see, I’ve always said that if I decided to have children, I want a surrogate mother. Being a mother never scared me. Getting pregnant was not a worry. It is the 9 months of pregnancy and the birthing itself that scared the bejesus out of me. All the rare, off-chance problems that can happen to threaten the life of the child and the mother played out in my head every time I thought about having a kid.

Which brings me to my PBM. I belong to a Facebook group that has been a wonderful source for me and many other women. But, just like teachers who only hear complaints from students who fail their class, a good number of this group’s posts are from women who had a range of complications. Complications from the surgery itself to collapsed implants to losing their nipple because of blood loss to it. Intense pain, bruising, having a catheter inserted during surgery, not being able lift up or wash my dogs, or difficulty putting on makeup, having to spend money on bras and clothes because mine no longer fit, and not seeing the inside of a gym for weeks or months… The list just. Keeps. Going. For. Me.

A woman’s breasts are very personal yet our culture sees them as sexual, public, and symbolic of her worth as a real woman. While the Bible reads from a very male, patriarchal viewpoint, there are Scripture which demonstrate where our strength can be found in us. Proverbs 31 tells us:

She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong…
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the gates.

I will remember these words. Etch them into my brain. Please remember them for me. And when you do, think not just of me but for all the women who have this journey before us or behind us.

Blessed be!

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