Panic 

“In less than 48 hours I am abandoning my children. I’m leaving for 6 weeks. I’m not going to be there for them. I’m never there for them. I’m a terrible mom. I don’t pray with them enough. I don’t spend time with them. I suck! What if, what if, what if…”

I used to wake up multiple times a week between 11:30 and 12 panicking that one of my kids was making a horrific life decision, or was moving away from God, or that I’m not doing enough to grow their relationship with him. By “used to” I mean very regularly until about 6 weeks ago. Tonight was my first panic night in awhile & I didn’t handle it well. It sucks.

I went straight for the phones, looking through messages, search histories, Instagram messages. I went straight to accusations and distrust.  It was ugly. What did I find? This is harder on my kids than they are letting on. I have good kids. They have friends who love Jesus and will speak Truth.

Can I share what I’ve learned about these night panics? The only answer is this: God loves those kids more than I do. He has given me authority over them, not only in the physical world, but in spirit as well. His word is the ultimate Truth. All of these things mean that I can pray scripture over them and expect it to directly impact their lives. Tonight, I failed miserably to do this, but I am not bound by that failure. I am reminded of the strategy that works.

Lord, forgive me for believing it is my job to save my children. I’m not God. You are. Thank you for the people who love them & care for them in my absence. I’m thankful for their father & the respect & fear they have for him. I’m thankful for the way he loves them differently than me.  Thank you for the lifelong lessons you are teaching them & the relationships you are building for them as a beautiful consequence to this trial. Thank you that you pursue us before we find you. Forgive me for making myself bigger than I am.  Your promise is that on the days I fail to point out your majesty and wonder, your creation does it! So, I trust you to show yourself to my children in greater measure than I have known you. And I thank you that I will know you even more, by your grace and kindness. Thank you!

Psalms 19:1-6

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.   Day after day they pour forth speech;  night after night they reveal knowledge.  They have no speech, they use no words;  no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,  their words to the ends of the world.  In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.  It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,  like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.

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Recalibrate 

I’ve learned, or relearned some things this week.  

For years, I‘ve hated Christmas.  I’ve begged Cary to run away and go somewhere and skip Christmas. Why? Because I fail at it.  I am domestically challenged in most every way.  You know how there are people who just can’t get math? Well, that is how I am with cooking, and cleaning, and thinking through what needs to be done to create a nice atmosphere & I find it overwhelming.  Last year, I decided it was time to deal with those emotions.  It meant letting go of many expectations I’ve put on myself of what Christmas should be and what I should be.  In the church, it’s worse.  Not only do we pressure ourselves to get the “right” gifts for our kids, but then we have to make sure we don’t spend too much, so as to look excessive, and we MUST create a birthday party for Jesus, because HE IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON.  Believe me, this only creates another level of Hell for women like me, it’s just another way to fail.

  In all reality, I’ve spent years comparing myself to other people who cook healthy, delicious meals, and then (get this) THEY CLEAN UP IMMEDIATELY AFTER THEY EAT THE MEAL! When you visit their house they apologize because their house looks like mine does after I clean for two hours.  So, after all this comparison, remarkably I have failed to be them! I am not my mother, my grandmother, my mother in law, my best friends, or the PTO moms.  (Oh, I cringe to think about what the PTO moms say about me.  Once one of them asked what needed to happen for me to come to a meeting.  Here’s the answer, there is nothing you can do to get me to a meeting.  I’m on kid number three, I’m over putting that pressure on myself.  I can come up with great ideas for you to do at school,  I am never going to put forth the energy to implement them, so I’ve quit even trying to pretend, and I’m okay with that.). I do, however, so appreciate the PTO moms.  I am in awe of them, how their minds work, their ablility to stay focused and serve in such beautiful ways.  I want to be like them, I’m just not.  In this comparison game I became so good at, I never spent time looking at my strengths, only the weaknesses compared to others’ giftings.  I had to learned to forgive myself for not being my more domestically gifted friends. That allowed me to accept myself, my strengths and weaknesses. Forgiving myself for being me has allowed me to celebrate who I am created to be, the parts of me that are good and unique, to celebrate the way God crafted me.  It has also allowed me to appreciate other people’s gifting without jealousy or feeling intermidated.  It has allowed me to be in a place of peace.  I also believe it has allowed me to be more available to God to be used for his plan for my life, not someone else’s.

I’m doing a Bible study, Loving Like Jesus in a World that Hurts and Hates.  It is an inductive study, so you use the Bible to understand the Bible.  The idea is that you aren’t led by a person.  This isn’t totally accurate, since the writer chooses the scriptures you read to interpret, and then tells you if what you think is right or not, however I like the concept and I’ve enjoyed the study.  So this group has spent weeks studying 1 Cor 13, the Love chapter.  Here we learned love is not provoked, it does not take into account wrongs suffered.  Between this, and other experiences the past year, I am learning the discipline to giving up my right to be offended.  The fruit of this behavior  is peace, and moving forward in life instead of getting stuck in anger and bitterness, but it is a choice.  This week I have not been choosing well.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve this year.  My shopping was done on Amazon from Houston, (except one gift, a drone, purchased at Tj Maxx, after studying every drone in the store to find the best one for my kid, not too complicated, not too easy, with a rechargeable battery, so I’m not running to buy batteries every two days.  This, of course, is the gift he chose to open early, which broke on the first flight). I’ve cooked pulled pork BBQ in the crock pot, my daughter is mad at me because I’ve confiscated her phone, and NOTHING, I mean nothing, about this Christmas is about Christ.  This Christmas is about insurance, and doctors, and packing to be gone for 6 weeks.  I haven’t read a single Old Testament prophecy, not a gospel story, nothing.  And it’s becoming about what I have not cooked, and what I have not cleaned, and the broken drone, and I am at the end of myself. And then God recalibrate me. 

You know the recalibrate button on a scale?  You use it when your scale isn’t accurate, when it isn’t telling you the real story.  You have to reset the scale, the measuring device of the truth, otherwise, you’re just lying to yourself.  Sometimes, this feels good, because the number makes you feel better about yourself.  Sometimes, it makes you feel worse about yourself, but in all reality, it’s wrong and you’re believing a lie.  I came to Christmas looking at the wrong measuring device.  My mood for the last week has been determined by insurance companies.  That’s not true, my mood/peace has been determined by what I thought my insurance company, employer, my doctors might do to make proton therapy happen.  It was not focused on Christ being a lord of all.  

As I pondered how to bring this Christmas back to truth, tears in my eyes, voice cracking, I asked a question I didn’t know the answer to.

“Why do we give each other gifts?” 

My kids know the answer, but they are hesitant to answer because mom is crying, and mom doesn’t cry often.  With timidity in their voices: “Because God gave us Jesus and he’s the greatest gift?”  “Because the wise men gave Jesus gifts?”

And the one of those moments happened, when you speak and it is not you speaking, it came out something like this: “This has been a hard year. This is a hard Christmas, but this is not about us.  We are celebrating Christ. We are celebrating that God is good and he loves us and gives good gifts. It’s not about what we get or even what we give.  This isn’t about us. It’s about Jesus.  This cancer isn’t about us.  It’s about God and that He is Good, and he is going to do amazing things through this. This is not about us, so if that isn’t your attitude, you need to change it.”

This isn’t about insurance or what they are or are not going to pay for.  This is about trust.  I have no idea if the phone calls I’ve made, the emails my friends have sent, the tweets people have tweeted will make any difference. But what I do know, that I didn’t appreciate before, is that I have a lot of people who love me.  God has had his hand on me since I was a young child, before I was born according Psalms.  He has surrounded me with family and his Church, and they are lifting my up when I am down.  That is one of his many gifts in my life. I have no reason to believe that God won’t carry me through this season because he has never let me down, even when I didn’t understand at the time.  He’s not going to start now. I needed to recalibrate.  I needed to repent for allowing the struggle with insurance to trump my trust in him. I allowed the insurance stuff to consume my thoughts, my waking up and laying down.  I allowed it to become an idol in my life, so good to know that and LET IT GO!

Repentance is another great gift.  We make it a bad word… we add shame to it.  Repentance is realizing you are wrong and turning toward what is right. You know the feeling when you are utterly lost and you recognize a landmark that helps you get your bearings? I got lost in Santiago, the beautiful winding streets turned into a maze of confusion of shops and cafés and wrong turns for three hours.  I was so relieved when I saw the cathedral and could use that to get my bearings and find the courtyard outside my hotel.  These landmarks allow a quick turnaround and get us headed in the right direction.  That’s what repentance is like, the sweet relief of turning from being lost, from being wrong, to head in a good and safe direction. Deliverance!

I wonder, Lord, where do you want to recalibrate me today? Do it! On earth as it is in a Heaven! Amen and amen!

Out of Control… I understand why people hate insurance

selfie
One of the first pictures where I noticed muscle atrophy on my left side.

Before you start reading today, I want to ask a favor.  If you enjoy reading my blogs, can you share this one?  I am hoping that getting some exposure might help me get approval for the treatment I am going to explain to you… which has been denied 3 times already.  Thanks & Blessings …Kate Mathis

Out of Control… that best sums up this past week.  I have no control over this thing that has grown in my head. I have no control over the people who are deciding if I can have the treatments the doctors ordered.  I cannot undo the Affordable Care  Act that somehow lead to my insurance company ceasing to approve the mode of treatment my doctors think is best for defeating this cancer.  I have put off writing this post because I always want to write from a place of hope, and part of this week I have been frustrated, angry or disgusted, not with this tumor, but with procedures and policies and the with fact that as a society we have to be more concerned with whether we can be sued for a decision instead of doing the right thing to take care of people.  This drives my nuts in normal, cancer free life, but now it effects my future health.  Now, it is likely going to mean I will have a feeding tube because of burns at the site of treatment, it has the potential to blind me, cause secondary tumors in a few years from radiation treatments, and decrease my 5 year outlook of living disease free by 22%.

I was led to blog this journey from the beginning with the hope that others will find strength when they face difficulties in life.  If I only share when things are fine, I am a hypocrite at best and, more realistically, a liar.  So, for the sake of true transparency, I am writing the truth, so when you think you are facing the impossible, you will remember God is in control.

It’s easy to lack peace when you’re out of control. Yet, aren’t we always out of control? Seriously, two months ago I spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about the $20,000/ year it will cost to send my son to a state college, and that I don’t have enough savings to pay $80,000 for his education out of pocket, not realizing what money we had saved was going to be relocated  (as well as the HSA balance we planned to use for my daughter’s braces) to pay for my Proton Therapy treatments. (Hey we won’t have savings, maybe he will get scholarships this way, right???)   With insurance, our out of pocket costs, rent for an apartment, the multiple flights to Texas, lost income (disability pays 66% of my pay, and Cary will run out of sick time for part of our treatment), Uber, and eating out costs are adding up to clean out the checking/savings that I have been so disciplined to build up over the last 20 years.  We did it right, we save 10-20% of our income, we payed off everything we owed.  These decisions allowed me to step down from my high pressured job for a few years so I can spend this time with my family. (Oh my!  This is the first time I realized the gravity of that decision, and the regret I would have if I had not made it and had these last two years.  Thank you Jesus for leading me in that way.  You are so good!)  As we told Ty, this is why you save.  (And buy a trusty cancer policy from American Fidelity –  I do wish I could buy the policy I sell to my school employees because it’s even better than the one I have. It makes me happy to know my clients would have an extra $10-20K to put toward these expenses. The first check did show up in the mail yesterday.  It will pay for my expenses so far, praise God!)

I don’t tell you this to get sympathy, but to tell you that my trust in savings and my ability to earn really didn’t matter.  At the end of it all, we couldn’t save enough to cover this one.  My suggested treatment cost estimate is somewhere between $170,000 -$249,000. (Please note, this is not what I have to pay, but what insurance will pay minus my max out of pocket.) This is an incredibly huge number, I know.  I cannot believe it & I am so thankful that treatments and insurance are available.  However, Aetna has denied my treatment plan for Proton therapy three times.  They are willing to pay for IMRT therapy.  This costs $15, 000-$30,000 less, but comes with a lot more health risks.  We are appealing it again.  Please pray with us that they will make the decision to give me the best chance at a long, disease free life.  So,  if Aetna continues to deny my claim, I have a choice to make: Do I mortgage my home to pay for treatment or Do I take the IMRT treatment?

So what do you do when you recognize that despite all your practices and manipulating to feel like you are in control are just illusions?  You either freak out and have panic attacks and lose sleep, or you recognize the truth.  GOD IS SO MUCH BIGGER THAN THIS!!  Several years ago, I was doing a Sozo ministry session with a gentleman.  He had the best vision that gives me perspective when I think about problems I face.   He pictured his problem (hurt, pain, sin), it looked like a huge tornado that was barreling down on him and was going to destroy him.  Then, we asked Father God to show him what the problem looked like from his point of view.  He said he was sitting in God’s lap, looking down at the Father’s feet.  There was a teeny tiny pile of dirt.  God blew on it and it was gone, he was safe.  Scripture says the earth is the Father’s foot stool.  It also says that he goes before me to defeat my enemies.  Scripture affirms that he loves me and created me for his glory. I’m all good when I remember this!   Nothing seems very intimidating when I remember look through then lenses of Heaven instead of the lenses of Earth. “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth (in my life) as it is in Heaven!” Hallelujah!  I’m excited to see how HE defeats this thing! Amen? Amen!!  And then you rest at night, think about other things during the day, and get on with life.

 

So here we are:

I quote my father, “If this tumor were on your foot, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.  However, this is near your brain, your eyes, your mouth.  IMRT could cause damage leading to blindness.”  Not easy to see your dad tearing up while talking about your diagnosis.  Not easy to think of parenting 3 kids, working two jobs while fighting disease/damage caused by the treatment you are depending on to save your life…

Here are some of facts as I understand them from talking to my insurance company, my employer, my father and brother (physicians), MD Anderson, and reading numerous medical journals.

  1. Proton Therapy will protect nearby organs.  Because of the location of my tumor, those organs include my eyes, ears, spine, brain stem, neck, brain, jaw… you know, all the most important stuff for normal life function.  It GREATLY reduces the risk that I will require a feeding tube as I go through treatments or that I will have cancer later caused by treatment.
    proton-vs-xray
    See how much less anatomy is exposed to radiation with proton therapy?

 

According to “WEB REVIEW – Proton therapy has advantages over IMRT for advanced head and neck cancers posted on July 1, 2014 –  Medical press

Researchers reviewed studies of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus tumors through extensive database searches. They included studies of patients who had no previous treatment – neither primary radiation therapy nor adjuvant radiation therapy—and patients who had recurrent disease. Researchers collected data on overall survival, disease-free survival, and tumor control, at five years and at the patient’s longest follow-up. Researchers found disease free survival to be significantly higher at five years for patients receiving proton therapy than for patients receiving IMRT (72% versus 50%). Tumor control did not differ between treatment groups at five years however tumor control was higher for patients receiving proton therapy than for IMRT at the longest follow-up (81% versus 64%).

http://www.proton-therapy.org/medexpress_july2014.html – Retrieved 12/13/16

So, I think the big issue is that proton therapy doesn’t have a vastly different effect on the tumor itself, however the difference in disease free survival  is big! I’m 39, and planning to live A LONG FREAKING TIME!

head-fact-sheet
My tumor is roughly 1″x 1″ x 1.5″ in the Nasopharynx.  

2. Aetna has said Proton therapy for my type of tumor is experimental.   The oldest study I have read was from Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, and Harvard Medical School, Boston where patients with adenoid cystic carcinoma with skull base extension were treated with combined proton and photon radiotherapy from 1991 (I was in 9th grade) to 2002. Mass General has regularly offered proton therapy since 2001.  MD Anderson has offered proton therapy since 2006, that is 10 years.  They have 6 proton therapy machines; one of them is specifically used for head and neck cancer.  There are proton therapy centers in California, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and multiple other places in our nation and many other nations.  In fact, one of the ladies helping treat me is training because she is going to be working at the new facility opening in 2018 in Franklin, TN that will be associated with Vanderbilt.  This evidence contradicts the idea of experimental treatment, don’t you think. And the treatment is approved by the FDA.  

At this point, my multiple conversations are running together, but someone has indicated to me that this treatment used to be covered, but with changes that came through with the affordable care act, that has ceased. My doctors went to school to know about cancer. Our government officials were elected (mostly because they were better at digging up dirt on their opponents… sorry, left over bitterness to the last two years of trash…).  Most of them haven’t been to medical school or practiced oncology for 22 years… just saying!  Did I mention there were 9 Radiology Oncologists who ran a scope up my nose, studied the 18,000 images of my head, and worked together on forming a plan?  9, at arguably the best cancer hospital in the world…)
3. Proton Therapy is more precise than IMRT.  It allows the practitioner to deliver the treatment to the tumor itself, and stop there.  The proton does not pass through to the tissue behind the tumor.  It doesn’t injure the tissue is passes through as drastically IMRT. The science behind it is crazy awesome, physics at it’s best! (Mr. Hunley would be so proud.)  This is specifically important for my treatment because the tumor is located in my head.  (Don’t I wish this were all just in my head LOL…)  It has blocked off the Eustachian tube in my ear, and is also tangled up with my trigeminal nerve, pushing against my artery coming into my head, and pressing against my brain. 

According to the “WEB REVIEW – Proton therapy for head & neck cancer,”

Posted on June 28, 2014 in The Proton Therapy Today, an online magazine on proton therapy,

“More than 100,000 people will be diagnosed with head and neck cancer this year in the US, according to the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance. While many of those cancers are curable, patients face a number of challenges due to their complex location.

Physicians are tasked with preserving healthy surrounding structures such as the optic nerves, eyes, brain stem, and spinal cord while also treating a patient’s malignant tumor. Protons offer potential advantages in treating cancers of the head and neck by delivering high radiation doses to the cancer target while sparing sensitive structures. As a result, proton therapy may reduce the risk of side effects and late complications from radiation treatment, which can include neurologic complications such as blindness and hearing loss as well as effects such as xerostomia that impact one’s quality of life.

Proton therapy may also allow patients to better tolerate systemic therapies like chemotherapy when combined with radiation therapy. In patients with recurrences after previous radiation therapy, proton therapy may allow further treatment to be done while minimizing the risks.

http://www.newswise.com/articles/proton-therapy-provides-innovative-treatment-options-for-head-and-neck-cancer – Retrieved 12/13/16

4.  All of these facts are limited to Earthly perspective.  They do not trump God! So, I’m not getting discouraged by them.  I ask you not to either.  Just pray with me & we will trust him together.

Interesting Fact: Oklahoma passed a bill that you can’t hold proton therapy to a higher standard than other therapies… my company is based out of Oklahoma… hmmm

Proton therapy is a medical procedure that uses a beam of protons to irradiate diseased tissue and was approved for cancer treatment by the Food and Drug Administration in 1988. Its chief advantage over other radiation therapy treatments: It can more precisely localize the radiation dose, reducing side effects to surrounding tissue, according to the measure’s author, Rep. Marion Cooksey. “This has met the test, and it is better than traditional radiation,” the Edmond Republican said while introducing the measure to House members. But the therapy’s cost has prompted some health insurance companies to require it meet an even higher level of clinical evidence than other forms of radiation therapy. Cooksey said traditional radiation therapies can cost around $9,000 while proton therapy costs about $14,000.The bill provides guidelines for insurers to use when deciding whether to cover proton radiation therapy and ensures that the physician has the final say — not the insurance company, she said. “They justify this decision by citing the lack of long-term studies, but it’s not really a valid argument,” Cooksey said. Passage of the measure was welcomed by a cancer survivor who said he benefited from proton therapy. “It honestly was a blessing,” Mike Bible, 69, of Oklahoma City, said. A Vietnam veteran, Bible said he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012 and received proton radiation therapy at a facility in Oklahoma City in 2013. His treatments were paid for by Medicare. “It leaves no side effects. I was able to go along with my quality of life,” Bible said. “Regular radiation is like a shotgun. But proton therapy is very targeted, it’s better than a rifle. It targets the tumor. There’s no damage to any other organs. “Bible said he is now cancer-free and that other Vietnam veterans he knows have also received proton therapy.”The long-term benefits are so essential,” Bible said.—Online: House Bill 1515: http://bit.ly/1Ea8MQC

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2015/03/11/4038323_oklahoma-house-considers-proton.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy  – Retrieved 12/13/16

 

Resource Articles:

http://www.seattlecca.org/diseases/proton-therapy-head-neck-cancers.cfm

http://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/head-neck-fact-sheet

Multifold Optimization Intensity Modulated Proton Therapy for Head and Neck Tumors: A Translation to Practice” by Frank SJ, Cox JD, Gillin M, Mohan R, Garden AS, Rosenthal DI, Gunn GB, Weber RS, Kies MS, Lewin JS, Munsell MF, Palmer MB, Sahoo N, Zhang X, Liu W, Zhu XR.                                                                                                                             Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2014 Jul 15;89(4):846-53. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2014.04.019.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360301614004908

 

68 years and counting 

I have friends getting married this weekend.  Two young couples are making a covenant to love each other for better or worse.  They have both dated for several years, and are marrying for all the right reasons.  I think it is safe to say they have no idea what they are getting in to…  I’m writing this post for them.  I have several couples in my life who have been married for less than 5 years, this post is for them.

Today is an important date in my family.  December 16th is my grandparents’ anniversary.  Today marks 68 years of wedded bliss.  I’m sure it wasn’t all bliss, however, I can say they are people who delight in each other.  I have spent 40 years (almost) watching them fulfill God’s idea of marriage.  God uses good marriage as a template for our relationship to him.  I suppose watching these two love each other is part of what allows me to believe a God is crazy about me.  His plan is written across scripture, but I’ll use Ephesians 5:28-33 for today’s example.

Ephesians 5:28-33New International Version (NIV)  28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[a] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

I have this memory.  I don’t know how old I was, a teenager I’m sure, full of ideas of how things should be, and perfectly convinced that men and women were equal.  (In all reality, I was a feminist.). My grandfather had prostate cancer, and we were at the hospital getting ready for his surgery.  My grandmother sent him and me to the car to get their bags.  I thought she should get her own bags because he was sick, and she was certainly able bodied.  I expressed this thought to him on our way down in the elevator.  He quickly but kindly reprimanded me, “That’s not the way it works.  I let Franny do what she feels is best, and then I do what she needs.”  His words were proud, that he loved her in such a way as to display her strengths.  The days following, she took great care of him, following every order from the doctor & nursed him back to health.  There’s a big lesson in this that I didn’t understand at the time.  Marriage isn’t about being equal, it’s about being complementary.

Herk and Fran have always been full of life.  A couple of years ago we finally talked them in to moving to Greenville, which greatly increased the quality of all of our lives.  Having crossed over into his 91st year, Herk isn’t able to do all that he used to do.  A cholesterol medication weakened his legs and limited his mobility.  His mind and sense of humor are as sharp as ever, and he and Grandma keep Deacon after school most days.  Their rolls have changed.  Grandma does more of the physical work around their apartment, and Grandpa does more of the cooking.  What has not changed is their respect for one another.  They are a great team.


On Halloween Grandma butt dialed me.  I didn’t hear the phone because I was trick-or-treating with my son. I’m so thankful I missed that call, because my voicemail contains the worst fight I have ever hears these two have.  It’s hilarious! There are lots of “good griefs” and “I’m sorry” and it ends with “I will never ride with you, evermore!”  But you know what is missing? Name calling, cursing, things you can’t take back, and disrespect.  As much as I have laughed about that fight, I have also seen how to love in conflict.

I married a great blend of my grandfather and my father. On the 20th we will celebrate 19 years. One would think cancer might be our greatest trial, but it’s not, at least not for me.  My greatest trial has been selfishness.  The last few weeks, as I have been loved so graciously and selflessly by my husband, a memory of a prayer has continually popped into my mind.  We hadn’t been married very many years when I became disillusioned with marriage.  I was unhappy.  I wanted a husband who would talk to me, who would be a spiritual leader in our family, who would clean!  I prayed and prayed that God would change him.  I don’t remember why (I probably listened to Focus on the Family), but it was impressed upon my heart to change my prayer.  I quit praying for him to change and started praying that God would help me be the wife he needed. My depression let up pretty quickly, but it took years of refinement to become the Cary Mathis love expert that I am today.  My idea of the perfect wife, and the wife that Cary needed were two very different things. My ideal wife cooks big meals, and keeps a clean house, and meets his needs before he asks.  The wife he needed is a friend, she sits with him in the evening and leaves the fast food sacks on a the table for later.  She laughs at his clever whit and replaces his negative thoughts about himself with the truth of his character and calling.  (I like this woman SO much better than the wife I dreamed up.)

So now, 19 years in, I have a husband who listens more than he talks.  The result of that is that he knows me better than I know myself.  He knows when I’m about to break and pulls me into his arms.  He knows how to make me laugh and how to calm me down.  He is so careful to say difficult things with gentleness & he gives mercy.  I have a husband who balances my tendency toward miserliness with a heart of great generosity.  I have a husband who covers me in ministry.  He is my head, he is my greatest defender and encourager.  It is the most beautiful thing to me that it is out of a place of submission to him, that he has lifted me up to be a pastor at the right time.  He isn’t threatened because I am a strong woman, but he is proud of my strengths and complements them.  And, he cleans and does laundry (he had to change a little bit, right? It’s only fair).

My advice to my young friends: Learn to love your spouse well.  Allow God to make you the person they need.  Do not try to do this on your own; you are not that smart.  This work requires the Holy Spirit.  You have made a covenant before God.  This isn’t a contract that can be broken when you are unhappy.  It’s a covenant. God hates divorce.  (See Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-9) I don’t care what society says, what your momma says, or what your pastor says, research it in the Bible.  Marriage is a great mystery. You are one.  Something happens in your spirit when you are sexually intimate with someone else.  You share a part of your soul with them.  You cease bing separate and become one.  It may not feel like it yet, but keep loving, keep lifting your spouse to the higher place, and the day will come when you won’t know for sure where they end and you begin.

Let’s talk about sex.  Here’s the deal, my whole family is going to read this blog, so this is a little awkward for me, however I’ve had three kids, so they have probably figured out I have had sex, and to write about marriage and leave that out would be a big mistake.  

Here’s what I see with couples whose marriages are fraying… they quit having sex.  This is a terrible idea.  God created sex to increase physical and spiritual intimacy in marriage.  I believe praying together produces a similar intimacy.  Our media, the cheesy movies we watch as kids, romance novels, pornography, Hallmark all pervert sex.  They feeds us lies about what sex should look like, there has to be romance, you have to ‘feel’ right. Many churches unintentionally teach that sex is dirty or wrong for all of childhood and teen years. The result is church people who have shame related to a beautiful gift for intimacy.  That’s a bunch of crap.  

Sex is important, have a lot of it.  Part of the mystery of marriage is that women need to feel intimately connected to desire sex.  Men need to have sex to feel intimately connected. (I realize I am generalizing, please take these last two statements in moderation.).  I suppose the beauty of this is you have to meet the other person’s needs to have your own needs met, that sounds like God.  In reality, sometimes you have sex because you are over come by attraction, sometimes you have sex because your partner needs to, sometimes you have sex be you are angry, sometimes you have sex because you are sad, sometimes you have sex just because you are going to kill each other if you don’t.  Sex, in marriage is a tool for healing hurts, for releasing pent up emotions, and for restoring intimacy.  It isn’t magical (except in my marriage because my husband is such a stud 😉😉), but it is a gift to be shared.  (See 1Cor 7:1-7)

In our current time, the idea of having sex is with only one person is a foreign idea.  Premarital sexual relationships (real or cyber) keep souls from being completely available for intimacy and vulnerability.  I am attaching a link to information about soul ties that you may want to read if you feel this is an issue in your marriage.  This is the reason God tells us to save sex for marriage.  It isn’t about rules, it’s about having the best relationship possible for a life time.

Blessings!

What a day…

I’m making myself pretty vulnerable in this post.  I have to share the work that God is doing.  His hand is in everything in my life.  He is worthy to be glorified and bragged about… but I’m nervous.

To understand Friday, you have to know part of my yesterdays.  I guess that is true for most things.  1.) One of my first thoughts when this all started was of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (See Daniel 2). Before being thrown into the furnace, they something to the effect, “Our God can save us, but even if he doesn’t, we will not bow down to another god.”  2.) Soon after this all started, I called my cousin who pastors Grace Center in Franklin TN.  He told me it is important to surround myself with people who could believe for healing with and for me.  The day before Thanksgiving a pastor from Africa called to pray over me, and he told me it was important to surround myself with people who could believe for and with me for healing, and then I was surprised and excited to receive a text from a local friend I don’t know terribly well, but I am so thankful for his obedience in telling me what he he had God saying.  (See below)

 

We have a handful of couples that we have had the honor of studying and doing life with over the last few years who truly believe all that Jesus did and said in the Bible is for today, and that God is who he says he is and does what he says he will do.  These people, along with several others in our friend and family group have surrounded us with faith and belief.  It is a beautiful place to dwell!

More Messages

  I didn’t tell many people  were going to be traveling to Texas again because I didn’t want people thinking we weren’t home with recent break ins in our town (people are at my house when we travel, btw).  Yet two days before we left, texts and messages started arriving.  No less than 20 friends or colleagues messaged that they were praying.  I had friends tell me that they too had peace over this when they prayed, which brought confirmation to my spirit.  I had a message from a friend I used to sing with that God woke him in the middle of the night to pray for me.  I have continued to ask people to pray Psalm 118:17.  As I mentioned in my last post, I was a bit more anxious about this trip, not for worry about bad news, but because I had to start thinking about it all again. The encouragement was strengthening.  After landing in Houston, I hopped on Facebook & found myself tagged in a post from a friend at my home church saying when she was praying in the middle of the night she saw God holding me in his hand.  That evening, I received a text message from my niece saying she saw me victorious. Later Thursday night, I had a vision.  I woke up wide awake at 11:30. When I closed my eyes, I saw a man and a boy from Pakistan kneeling to pray at the end of my bed.  The man said, “We are praying with you, come pray with us.”  I tried to go back to sleep, and every time I closed my eyes I saw him, so I climbed down in the floor and knelt down beside the bed.  I don’t remember what we prayed.  I know I prayed for people being persecuted for their faith around the world.  I know I prayed specifically for God to move in the nations of the Middle East.  I know I made sure I gave God permission to heal me (because my husband asked if I had earlier in the day, and I couldn’t remember for sure).  I woke up from that prayer time praising God (and with numb legs).

Ok, so now the day!  I started Friday morning with a PET Scan at 6:30.  When doing a scan like this, you arrive & assure the nurses and technicians that you are neither diabetic nor pregnant, nor have you had any food, gum, candy or mints or anything besides water since midnight. They shoot you full of radio active glucose, turn out the lights and let you rest for an hour in a recliner.  I am never still for an hour without disruption, and if I am I fall asleep.  I tried to fall asleep & couldn’t, so I decided to pray. I know I let go of any worry because I was so encouraged by the picture of me reclining in God’s hand.  I cannot remember the full prayer.  I tend to pray in pictures, so I will tell you what I saw with the Lord.  One of my favorite scriptures is Hebrews 12:22-24 22 No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. 23You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. 24You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel. I love the imagery of this scripture, the idea of angels gathered in a city dancing and singing.  It’s quite an event, don’t you think?  Usually, I don’t make it up the street as I enter the city because I am intranced and join the singing.  This time, while singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might. The heavens and earth are full of your glory, Hosanna in the highest,” I saw the angels part in from of me & someone ushers me through up into the throne room of God.  I was excited about seeing the Father and recalled previous encounters I’ve had with God – sitting in his lap and visiting with him.  He pulled me up in his arms and I thanked him for all the encouragement through other people.  Then I asked what he wanted me to do, was there someone to forgive, something to repent, some lie to renounce, etc.  “I don’t want you to DO anything. I want you to be.  When your children were little, did you want them to DO anything? No, you just wanted them to be safe and warm and with you. Quit trying to DO.  This is for me to DO.  This is for you to be, to receive.” Then, I saw a baby carrier, the cloth kind that African women wear that keep their babies close to their chest, the kind I made to carry Deacon in.  Then I saw Him open his robe and felt the warmth of of his skin as he strapped me to him.  He said, “I am going to carry you.  You just rest in me.” 

Fast forward to the Oncologist’s office. Doctor’s visits start with the usual vital check, then you’re escorted into an office and quizzed by a PA or nurse practitioner about your medical history and make the appropriate corrections, he/she examines you and then confers with the doctor. Then the doctor visits.  They have all been great, but this doctor was delightful!  She looks just like my brother-in-laws sister, who is adorable.  She clarified the cells are most similar to an adenoid cystic carcinoma, they think.  Turns out I’m a rare (I prefer unique) case (shocker right…).  She (or someone) wants to do a DNA analysis and study the mutation of the cells so they can potentially treat people in the future.  That basically consists of them taking a couple extra vials of blood.  They are so good at taking blood at MD Anderson that getting stuck isn’t a big deal.

We ended the day visiting with a dentist.  Turns out after you have radiation (at least near your mouth) you can’t have any teeth pulled because the blood supply to your jaw is decreased, and you don’t produce as much saliva. Thankfully, my wisdom teeth all came in years ago & my teeth are healthy.  I will need to use fluoride every night to keep my teeth protected from the decrease in saliva. I suppose I should greatly reduce my sugar intake.  I’ve gone off of sugar before. It sucks…😖. Good news is, I won’t lose my teeth and they won’t discolor.  This visit again shows my vanity in all its embarrassing glory.

The blessing of the day. I cannot do this story justice.  We were encouraged by the day as a whole, but a visit from one particular person took us from a place of being carried by God into an even higher place.  We found ourselves sitting in one office for a particularly long time. A beautiful, petit Indian woman with a brilliant smile walked in, not really making eye contact, but with confidence.  She walked and talked with purpose and very matter of fact. She walked in and I paraphrase, “These are difficult times, but as people of god, we must go through these things (and I’m wondering to which god she is referring… 😔 this is my shame face). Our Lord will be glorified and you will be fine.(Oh, that God! Good grief I get so frustrated with myself sometimes.)” (I was also thinking, this isn’t difficult, this is a blessing, but something told me to keep my mouth shut.)   She continued, “Think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Why did they have to be thrown in the furnace? Why did Daniel have to be thrown in the lion’s den? Why did Lazarus have to go to the grave? Was it not for the glory of God, to see God at work! When the enemies of God looked into the furnace, they saw 4 people walking around, God himself was with them.  They looked into the den and Daniel was cuddled up warm with the lion. He was not eaten.  Lazarus got to be called forth from the grave by Jesus.  These are not easy things, but they were glorious things.  And me, I was in a place with many Muslims when I was called.”

Because I can’t let things go, I had to ask questions! I asked her to share her story of coming to know Christ.  She is so humble I had to ask for several details. (Again I am paraphrasing.)  She was raised in a lush, beautiful, mountainous part of India on a tea plantation.  There weren’t many people around to play with, but there were European tourists.  She said the only thing she knew of God was that when she was young, “people who looked like you would come as tourists and take pictures.  I asked my mother why they looked different, caucasions with blue eyes and muddy hair and little clothes.  My mother told me that is how God made them.”  So fast forward several years, when she graduates near the top of her class, but cannot get a visa to go work anywhere, but no doors opened. 

One day, She was in a train station.  A Nigerian girl, very educated & bright, studying for her master’s program initiated a conversation about Jesus.  “I thought people who looked like her should be talking about politics and things. I thought she was crazy, so I excused myself to the bathroom.  She came and stood beside me afterward and told me that in six months this God would open a door for me. And six months later I got a visa to a Muslim country.  It was the only door that opened.  When I got there I was surrounded by believers.  They told me stories of what God had done.  There was a woman’s felopian tubes were closed off with disease.  She had been told she could never have children, but God healed her and she had a baby.  There was a man who was an alcoholic who was delivered from alcoholism.  These things were impossible! How the hell did that happen?” (She used other examples as well.) “I didn’t hear about Jesus, I wasn’t brainwashed, I experienced him! I had to believe.  There in that Muslim nation, I was called to the Lord.” 

She said she had to come through her own rough time, but that she never would have dreamed when she was a young girl in India that she would be here, working in such a place, sharing the Lord with the blue eyed, muddy haired people!  To them I glorify the name of God.  God will take you to places you cannot imagine!”

She also said everyone who works at MD Anderson has been though something. This isn’t just a job, it’s a higher calling.  “We don’t work with patients, we work with people.” Even the volunteers who help are survivors or family of survivors, some of them are very prominent people who want to give back. Then, in her matter of fact manner, she said, “let us pray” and she PRAYED every scripture I know, I think, including Psalm 118:17!

At the end of our time, I told her that I was blogging my journey, and I asked if I could share her story. She was very hesitant.  “I work behind the scenes.  I don’t want any attention, I only want to glorify God.  He is the one who does great things.  I also keep my people’s information private.  I don’t tell it to anyone, but I guess you would be telling your own story. You pray about it, and if the Holy Spirit tells you to share this, then share it, but please do not mention my name.  I do not want any attention, I prefer to stay private.”

One thing she said as we talked that has stuck with me, and both scares and excites me. “You ask God for 50 or 60 more years and tell him that you will do whatever he tells you and that you will glorify him with your life.”  These aren’t just words.  This is the cry of my heart, but I also realize that is a risky deal, because my illusion of control goes away and reality of life completely submitted to God becomes true.  My pride, my vanity, my will, must bow down to his higher calling.  I want it so badly, yet something in me is excitedly scared because of the vast greatness of that union and his Power to Do Anything! Anything, more than I can conceive & I’m a dreamer!  Whew, Jesus! Anything through you, right!?! 

Today I dropped the box!

Today we are headed back to MD Anderson.  Tomorrow will hold a pet scan and several doctors visits.  I’ve been dreading this, not because of the trip, just because life has been normal for the last few days.  I’ve packed lunches and gone to the gym, discussed boyfriends and physics, listened to other people’s problems and worked.  Some of my friends helped me clean my house yesterday (not because had a cancer diagnosis, I’m domestically challenged on any given day) and it was great fun.

So today, the cancer box had to be opened as we were up at 4:00 (Cary was up.  I layed in bed for an extra 15 or 20 minutes). We kissed our kids goodbye (the ones who were up). We made sure notes were on the counter for the people staying at our house before loading in the car and heading south.  

The way this works is: You get a diagnosis, or new information & you Google it.  You check in to it, you find things out. You get information  (For me, this is a quick event because God has given me such peace and because no new sis good new, right!) Then, you remember that you have no control over this, but the one who can control it loves you desperately, and so you pray. You renounce cancer, you curse it, you choose to believe for healing.  You surround yourself with others who have seen God heal, who knows he is who he says he is.  You listen to their stories, you get filled up with faith, you get excited about what God is doing.  You check your thoughts and make sure Kingdom reality trumps earthly reality… But the thoughts creep in, for me it is when my ear starts hurting, or the pressure builds up in my head and I have to lay down. Sometimes when I see my kid being 7 and I want to cherish the moment, sometimes when I have to get up out of my warm bed to turn off a light that has been left on at midnight, or look at the Christmas ornaments, or wipe pee off the floor in the bathroom 😖, the thought sneaks in… “What if this is the last time?” Thankfully, so many people have sent Psalm 118:17 to me, that it is my quick replacement thought, “I shall not die, but live!” And I believe this!

  Today, though, the cancer disappeared.  The box got lost at the airport.  Cary and I were getting breakfast, and I was Jonesin’ for hot tea.  I left him to go look for Starbucks.  I saw a mom with two girls in a store.  Attached to her bag was a back brace, the kind I wore in 8&9th grades.  I couldn’t help but speak, “Hey, who does that belong to? I wore one of those for a year and a half.” Mom, “Really? The hardest thing is the clothes.” Me, “I know! At least yoga pants and big shirts are a look now.” “Yes, and jeggings give some diversity in style.”  We talked about the boys who liked to punch me in the stomach when I wore one because it didn’t hurt me, about the benefits of yoga and excercise to help with pain. When dad walked up we made jokes about body builders trying yoga for the first time.  We talked about loving people, about churches in Franklin, about middle school life and doctors at Vandy.  It was a great conversation. They thanked me for the encouragement.  If I had noticed I had dropped the cancer box, I would have thanked them for lightening my load.

That’s the way it is in life, people are a gift.  When we lose ourselves in other people, we also lose our labels, our false identities, our masks, and without knowing it, they lighten our load.  Walking on the Camino, I was always surprised and delighted that my feet would stop hurting when a new person would talk to me.  I would get lost in the details of their lives or in telling them my stories, and forget about the pain.  Emotoinal stuff no different.  It’s all in what you focus on.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about stuffing or ignoring our issues to have them erupt out of our inner depths later, it’s about coming along side each other as we are each healing from our own pain and lies we believe.

I’m reminded of a story, I think Candy Christmas was the speaker.  Whoever it was, a woman was struggling with crippling depression.  Her doctor wanted her to go to a psychiatric hospital. She had prayed and prayed for God to deliver her from this illness, but relief didn’t come.  She had spent her life in ministry, she had all she needed & was thankful for her life, but the depression didn’t cease.  She was praying and heard Holy Spirit ask, “What are you good at?” She said, “I can cook.” God, “Go cook a huge pot of jambalaya and take it to a certain bridge.” She did as she was instructed.  Under that bridge were many homeless people.  She met a man who was called in to ministry and through twists and turns ended up living under the bridge.   She scooped out soup and prayed with people & the depression box dropped.  The depression went away.  There also started a church.  Every week, hundreds of people come to the bridge to eat some food, feed on Jesus, and drop their boxes.
Ooh! And I met a man in the airport who works on Seseme Street!  He creates the back drop for scenes shot in front of a green screen.  He also works on faith based films and local advertisement.  How cool is that.  I got his info.  I’m hoping to get an internship this summer for a special someone… We will see.
And for other great reading! I found The Letter by Michael Graff in Southwest The Magazine.  It’s a great read.  Have your tissues handy!