Living Without Lack

life without lackOn January 5, 2018 I was at lunch with some friends when I got a call from my doctor’s office.  My liver enzymes had spiked ten-fold from the low-average level they had maintained throughout my sixteen year journey with cancer.  At that point I was already a full year beyond the average life expectancy for a person with breast cancer metastasized to the liver and lungs, and I was well aware that I had been living on borrowed time.

As I processed the news of dramatically elevated enzymes my first thought was “I made my burial arrangements last fall, so I’m good to go.”  (Previously, each time I learned of cancer progression I would think, “I really need to make my funeral arrangements.”)

My second thought: “I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death without fearing evil.”

My third thought: “I wish everyone I love could walk in peace as life in this world draws to a close.”

It wasn’t a conscious prayer, but the Lord still heard the cry of my heart and answered.

Just four days later, on January 9, I was offered an advance copy of Dallas Willard’s most recent book—Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of the 23rd Psalm.

Now, I know that five years ago I gave away to friends at least fifteen copies of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard; I convinced about the same number of people to buy it for themselves; I recommended it to I-don’t-know-how-many others (including strangers in a check-out line); and I even led a small group study based on the book.  Alas, as far as I know, only one person entered fully into the delight and wonder I found in Dallas Willard’s teaching.  And yet, I am undaunted by the tepid/bewildered response to my enthusiasm in the past.  I am compelled by the Spirit to share another Dallas Willard treasure with anyone who just might listen.

Here is the review I posted on Amazon on February 27 when Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 became officially available for purchase. (You don’t have to rely on my opinion alone; there are now 103 reviews.)

Through the skillful editing of his daughter and his friend, Dallas Willard has given the church a book for all who long to follow Christ more than they long for anything else. 

The Divine Conspiracy is God’s master plan for his people throughout the entire course of human history.  Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 is a practical guide for any individual who wants to live in daily intimacy with Jesus.  Larry Burtoft and Becky Heatly have transformed spoken words from one of our generation’s best teachers into a book that captures both his voice and his wisdom.  Dallas marks a path through the twenty-third psalm that the youngest believer can follow.  At the same time he reveals endless horizons of peace and joy to delight the heart of the most mature saint. 

As I read through the first time, I imagined Jesus asking, “Dallas, do you love me more than these?” After Dallas answers simply, “Yes, Lord, I do,” Jesus repeats the charge that follows the question: “Feed my lambs.” And so Dallas shows us plainly that the Lord is our Shepherd who will supply all our needs in abundance. 

If you don’t see how a Life Without Lack is possible, Dallas will guide you step by step until you do. The process is relatively simple, but you must commit completely. You must surrender your life to the transforming work of the Spirit.  If you have already surrendered your life completely to the Spirit, Life Without Lack may bless you with a fuller understanding of God’s design in the transformation process, a greater appreciation for the necessity of personal effort, and a deeper trust in the One who made transformation possible. But perhaps the most important blessing could be that you will learn how to better nourish any little lambs in your care.

If you love Jesus, I think you will be pleased with this book. 

Whether you or not you purchase and read Life Without Lack, I am content because God, in his infinite grace and love, has assured me that everyone I love can walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fearing evil. He sweetly reminded me yet again that he is my Shepherd and I shall not want.

Since my liver enzymes started climbing in January, I have had one MRI, two CT scans, and I-don’t-know-how-many blood tests. After a trip to Pittsburgh for a second opinion, I had a port placed on June 22, and started IV chemotherapy on June 25 with no end to treatment in sight.

Because of the cancer in my body, I am constantly aware of the reality that life in this world is drawing to a close.  Whether my remaining time is measured in minutes or decades, I look forward to learning with friends and family how to live fully in the blessings and abundance that the Lord pours out generously without finding fault.

I look forward to watching the Lord bring hope and healing to our divided nation as His children learn to live without lack.

 

Advertisements

Approaching the Portal

We are all moving toward the world beyond this one.

Everyone is moving toward the world beyond the one we know now.

Two weeks after my father died in February 2016, I started a Facebook page called “Approaching the Portal” to encourage a public discussion of end of life issues.  I had been thinking about it for a year before that moment, because in January of 2015 I learned that the cancer I had been fighting since 2002 had metastasized to my liver and lungs.  When I insistently pressed my doctor for the average survival time for someone with my diagnosis, he reluctantly told me it was one and a half to two years.

It is three years since I received that news and two years since I started the Facebook page to discuss it. Now I have finally come to the place where the progression of disease makes writing one of the few things I can do without pain.  I am driven at last by a very hard taskmaster to capture my continuous flow of thoughts on the page just because it is something productive thing I can do in my current state.

The cancer is (as far as my doctor can tell) pressing against my breast bone to make nearly all movement of my right arm away from my side painfully restricted.  The opioid and NSAID and herbals I take on a regular schedule dull the pain sufficiently for me to move about freely as long as I keep my right arm close to my body.   This is not a complaint.  After the three days of unrelenting pain that I experienced two weeks ago, I genuinely consider my present situation a blessing.  As much as I would like to be up and doing the 1001 things around our home that need to be done, I accept my situation with the peace that passes understanding, thankful that my mind is clear and that I am able to write.

By choosing an internet format, I welcome others to follow my journey, and I hope that those who do so will find a blessing here and there.  But I am not primarily writing for an audience.  I am writing because I want to think deeply about the things that matter most in the brief time we have in these bodies on this earth.  I want to closely examine what I believe and articulate it clearly.  Because writing has been my favorite tool for examining my heart and mind since I was in grade school, I choose to see my restrictions as an opportunity to freely engage in an activity I thoroughly enjoy.  If the thoughts I share publicly ignite friendly conversation for mutual discovery, then I will be doubly blessed.

I look forward to all that the Lord has in store for me as I walk joyously toward the open portal that awaits us all.

The Precious Death of Nabeel Qureshi

 

The end of Dr. Nabeel Qureshi’s life in this world pours light on Psalm 116:15 for me.

Each time death claims someone I love, or someone who is loved by someone I love, I find peace in the knowledge that the Lord God sees the death of His children as precious.

Precious!

Highly valued!

Of great importance!

In grief, I always think of the Lord welcoming His beloved one home as though He is receiving a treasure that will be placed in suitable surroundings at last.

When Nabeel died, for the first time, I had a clear image of the heavenly treasure the King received. I saw a perfectly cut diamond with light shining from a thousand facets.

I saw a gemstone crushed by mining,

cut with precision,

and polished to perfection.

I think it may be possible that Nabeel surrendered his life so completely that the Lord was able to finish all the work He planned for this one precious life in just a few short years.

I often think about judgment, not fearfully, but curiously.  I wonder about the timing, the process, the duration.  I think about the Lord bringing to light the deep things I’ve hidden from myself.  I think it will be a time of purifying, refining, and even detoxing.  I am certain it will be a removal of all things that are contrary to the character of Christ.  I regularly ask the Lord to show me stuff now so I don’t have to deal with it in the judgment.

Perhaps Nabeel is an exceedingly rare gem who passed through judgment completely while still in the body of flesh.  I often wonder if that’s what happened to Enoch who walked with God and was not, for God took him.  I wonder if Enoch had his own personal rapture because the Lord had nothing more to teach him in this world.

Of course Nabeel was not raptured. His body was destroyed from within by a relentless disease.  I empathized with the spiritual battle he fought as he prayed for the physical healing that did not come, because I fought the same battle for years after I found a lump on my breast in 2002.   I watched Nabeel’s vlogs with ambivalence when he spoke of those who were certain he would be healed.  I heard that same certainty repeatedly as cancer ravaged my body through chemo, radiation, chemo, radiation, surgery, surgery, radiation, radiation, surgery, surgery.  I can’t count of the number of times I received anointing, laying on of hands, and assurance of healing over the past fifteen years.  And still I live with a terminal illness.

I watched Nabeel’s vlogs with hope when I heard that he was investigating nutritional support. My healthcare providers are frequently surprised by my tolerance of and recovery after the damaging treatments that are normal protocol for cancer.  I think my ability to endure and bounce back is, at least in part, a result of my effort to eat food as God made it.  However, my hope for Nabeel was never in food.  It was always in the God who loves him beyond my imagination, the God who continued to use him mightily even as his body was wasting away.  I empathized with Nabeel because I know what it is like struggle through cancer with a hundred different people offering a hundred different solutions.  For me that may be hyperbole, for Nabeel, it is probably a gross underestimate. Still I know how loving and well-meaning people can add to a burden they only want to relieve.

I watched Nabeel’s vlogs with deep compassion because years ago I reached precisely the same conclusion he reached from searching the scripture: It is always God’s will to heal.  But even as I received sure knowledge that it is always God’s will to heal our mortal frames, I also received sure knowledge that healing these mortal frames is never His highest priority.  That’s the comment I left on Nabeel’s Facebook page even as I continued to pray that we would see a miracle.  I think I also shared what I learned of the relationship between faith and healing.  Too many Christians have an idea that faith means you must believe that you will be healed without doubt, and if doubt creeps in you cancel the promise for healing. That’s another thing I can’t count: the number of times I was told that expressing doubt about my healing is the reason I still have cancer.  (sad sigh)

I doubt that I will be healed, but I don’t doubt Jesus. He used cancer to deepen my understanding of faith, and whenever Jesus speaks to those he healed, I know to read “faith” as “faith in me”. Their faith in Jesus made them well.  My faith in Jesus gives me peace and joy even though breast cancer metastasized to my liver and lungs. Nabeel’s faith in Jesus empowered him to pour out his life in service to the end.  With the last of his strength Nabeel displayed to the world that his unshakable faith was in Jesus who is worthy of praise even if He does not heal in a particular instance.

Nabeel’s faith was unquestionably in Jesus and not in healing.

That perfect gem of faith in Jesus was buried in Nabeel’s heart long before he knew the name of the One in whom he believed. His faithful friend, David, mined that gem with truth for years before it became visible to others.  The rough-cut stone was crushed through heartbreak as Nabeel chose to love his Lord more than his family.  And even when the process of refining had only just begun, the value of the diamond was recognized by everyone who heard him speak of Jesus. In his final year, Nabeel opened his life to the world and allowed us all to watch as the Lord cut facet, after facet, after beautiful facet to reflect the love of the God who does not always heal, but who always suffers with us.

I don’t wonder why Nabeel died because I know the King has the right to claim His treasure whenever He judges the time is best to do so.  Nabeel Qureshi joins the ranks of men like Oswald Chambers, Peter Marshall, and Jim Elliot.  Their lives were all cut short, but they will continue to bless millions of people for generations to come in ways that God alone can understand.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of Nabeel Qureshi.

Gramma’s long journey into cyberspace

Last year at this time, I would have thought I was more likely to swim the English Channel than to open a Twitter account.   But God does indeed move in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. Recently I realized that the Lord has been relentlessly leading me into cyberspace for the past twenty-five years.

It started one day in the 80s.  I was just thinking about Adam and Eve, wondering how they would have understood God’s warning: “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Since the first humans did not know any other persons who had actually died, what would “die” have meant to them?

From that point, I continued to think how completely our vocabulary has been ravaged by sin.  It seemed to me that words like death, pain, sorrow, and even words like remember and forget would have no meaning for perfect people in a perfect world. My mental exercise did not disturb me until I realized that sinless people could never understand mercy, forgiveness, or salvation.

These ideas came to me about the same time I abandoned my own books for other women’s brooms, so I spent many hours vacuuming, dusting, scouring, and visiting the unfallen planet in the universe of my imagination. I actually talked to several friends about turning my fantasy into a novel, and they were unanimously encouraging. But, as the reigning Queen of the Procrasti-nation, I just planned to start writing tomorrow for over two decades.

Then in January of 2009, I found myself in Lubbock, Texas. What I thought would be a six- week visit with my sisters turned into two and a half years of disabling cancer treatments.  I was far from home, unable to work, and equipped with a laptop.  Tomorrow had arrived with a vengeance, and I began the hard labor of translating fleeting ideas into a story on a printed page.

In the fall of 2010, I finished World Without Mercy, and I immediately started to look for a publisher. (What else can one do with a completed manuscript?)  It was then that I learned of the Catch 22 in 21st century publishing: editors only look at books represented by agents, and agents only accept authors who have already published.

It is true that many small publishers will accept proposals directly from the author.  Alas, with the notable exception of Marcher Lord Press, it seems that small Christian publishing houses have very little interest in science fiction. To tell you the truth, I’m not much interested in science fiction myself, but my story about life on another planet fits in no other genre.

During those first few months of publisher/agent hunting, I also learned that it is my duty as a 21st century author to attend writer’s conferences, establish a website, create a Facebook page, and fully exploit the social media to build a platform that will impress agents, editors, and/or publishers whenever I describe it in a book proposal. In other words, I had to line up potential buyers for my book before I could ever convince anyone that it might be worth publishing.

I attended my first writer’s workshop in Amarillo in April, joined Facebook in May, and started this blog (on Blogspot) in June of 2011. But absolutely nothing could motivate me to begin deliberate self-promotion of a book that only one of my eight siblings had taken the time to read.  (Just to be accurate, even if they all had read it and loved it, I still would never have promoted it online because I would have been dead from shock.)

In July of 2011, I came home to Pennsylvania and attended the Montrose Christian Writers Conference. There I met media expert and avid gardener Daniel Gasteiger.  He told us that Twitter was at the top of his list of social media tools, but…..and this is a wonderful but….it would be very annoying if all we did was tweet about our books.  He encouraged us all to go online to meet like-minded people and have fun. He gave us three rules: be yourself, be kind, and be helpful.   I thought, “I can do that!  I can go online to promote the ministry that I helped to incorporate in 2008.”

So in November of 2011, I finally set up a Twitter account, but it wasn’t until a few short weeks ago when I found #mkbiblechat that I really began to enjoy myself.  A whole new range of retweets began to appear in my home stream by way of #mkbiblechat (ters) that I happily follow.  I quickly discovered that many profiles were dedicated entirely to sharing Bible verses, prayer requests, and quotes from the saints both living and dead.

I’ve placed those accounts on my “Retweetable” list, where I now go for quick inspiration.  It was just that type of account that inspired me to begin my own “TIP” (Twitter Intercession Project).  On March 6, I started daily tweeting from Andrew Murray’s “Helps to Intercession” with the hashtag #amintercessionhelp.

I pray that God will use this post (and the next one) to connect me with intercessors to join in daily prayer in one accord.  Now that I have blogged about my TIP, I will switch to #amhti to conserve thirteen precious characters.

May the Lord abundantly bless my effort to tweet for His glory.