An Unexpected Gift

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This place so far from home, the one we live in close to the hospital some may call isolation but we call it holy ground.

It’s a new normal.  A place stripped of most of our possessions but here in the quiet we have found God to be more than enough.

His presence is often experienced the most in our deep nights of the soul.

We are experiencing Him in new and profound ways.

That’s a gift.

Cancer.  My husband’s cancer has caused us to go deeper with God, to experience His peace that passes all understanding more frequently.  Especially in times of fear when we feel lost and alone and cry out to Him.  It may not happen immediately but He always lets us know that He hasn’t abandoned us.

We will never be the same.  You can’t go through something like this and ever come out on the other side of it the same as you entered into it.

Often God’s mercies are wrapped in unexpected ways.

Look at Jesus.  Away in a manger no crib for a bed…

Who would have thought God would wrap His most precious gift of love, grace and mercy in swaddling cloths?

Who would have thought God Himself would come to earth in such a lowly, humble way?

Truth is His most precious gifts often come wrapped that way.  In ways that we would never expect.  His gifts are perfect and right on time.

We prayed for 4 months that a bone marrow donor would be found for my husband.

Many have prayed.  Perhaps you prayed too.

The news came that a donor could not be found through the registry.

More chemo.  More waiting.  More praying. More hoping.

Then the miracle came.

Our oldest son, Scott, tested as over half a match.

Not perfect but good enough.

It’s good enough for a haploidentical bone marrow transplant.

These types of transplants have been done successfully at the University Research Hospital where the transplant will be done.  All transplants come with benefits and risks.  It’s not easy by any means but we trust God with the outcome.

On January 6 my husband will enter the hospital.  His immune system will be suppressed through more chemotherapy and radiation.

On Januray 13, Scott’s bone marrow will be harvested and given to Bob through an IV.

My husband, Bob, will receive the gift of life through the son that he gave life to.  The son we gave birth to is giving his father a second chance at life.

Who would have thought that the answer; the gift would come through our son?

We celebrate the most precious gift ever given in Jesus this month, the one who has given us life eternal.

And we receive with grateful hearts His precious gift of mercy wrapped in the most unexpected way through our son, Scott and we thank our son for his most special offering.  Certainly it’s the best gift that he’s ever given his dad for Christmas.

We are going to have a Merry Christmas knowing that our God knows what He is doing and although a perfect donor match could not be found He is going to give Bob a perfect transplant.

Merry Christmas!

Nancy ❤

( The photo was taken of an angel adorning our beautiful European Cyprus Tree.  Both the tree and ornaments were sent to us by some dear friends)

We are artists

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Did you know that we are all artists?

We don’t have to write, draw, paint, sculpt to be one either.

We’ve been created by the master artist to become like him and he is certainly creative.  Look at us, look at nature ~ the trees, the flowers, the earth, the sea, the sky.  You don’t have to look far to find the wonder of his art.

He spoke this world into being but he breathed life into you and me to become image bearers.

He declared that all his work was good but we are different, because in his declaration he made it known that we humans, male and female, are not just good but very good. 

He put the very good stamp of approval on us as image bearers and gave us work to do ~ that’s our art.

Even when his image became tainted in us he gave us another chance to be created anew through Jesus.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  Ephesians 2:10

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Some versions use the word workmanship instead of masterpiece.

The words masterpiece and workmanship are translations from the original Greek word poiema ~ where our English word poem originates.

We are God’s masterpiece, workmanship, works of art, poem.

We are His poiema.

We, the created, are expressions of his creativity and his poetry comes out through us.  We are poems.  Uniquely put together to add something beautiful to our world.

Wherever we are, wherever we go, whatever we do, whatever we express pours out from the pouring in of the Spirit of God.

We are moving, walking, breathing, living poetry.

We are all artists expressing ourselves in and through the work that he planned and prepared for us long ago.

Each of us will express it differently through different mediums but we’re all poems shining out, through our work, for the glory of God.

In the beginning God designed us for work.

Jesus didn’t change that.  He pours his life into open and willing vessels and what comes out of the vessel is art.  His poetry to the world.

Some of us are writers, some may even write poetry, some may express their art through painting, drawing, sculpting but most of us express God’s poetry in just ordinary everyday ways.  Just like Jesus did.

  • He worked in his father’s carpenter shop
  • He walked
  • Told stories
  • Spent time with prostitutes and other sinners
  • He attended weddings
  • He Healed
  • He fished
  • He laughed
  • He wept
  • He grieved
  • He loved
  • He was compassionate
  • His compassion sometimes led to tough love
  • He enjoyed life
  • He spent time with friends
  • He prayed

He and his father were one.  He stayed close to his father, listened to his voice and lived out his mission through him.

It’s in the everyday, the day-to-day that we best express his poetry too.

When my younger brother died unexpectedly two years ago, one expression of love and compassion that still touches my heart were the friends and extended family that showed up for his visitation with food.  There was a lounge/kitchen area where meat, bread, croissants, sandwiches, fruit, desserts, coffee, soda and much more were spread out on counters.  And the food kept pouring in all day long.

We, my brother’s family and many visitors, didn’t have to leave the funeral home on that long hard day to go out to eat.  Many people met our needs, not only through nourishing our souls with comfort and encouragement but through meeting our physical needs with food.  They were the living, breathing poem of God.

When my oldest son had pneumonia at the age of 14, and his doctor told us that a few days of intravenous antibiotics in the hospital should clear up his infection, we were hopeful since the oral pills didn’t touch it.

As one day led to another and his infection wasn’t clearing up, tubes were inserted into his chest to try and drain the fluid. Then the unthinkable happened.  His lung collapsed and consultations with specialists ensued.   Surgery, ICU and lots of prayer finally brought healing after 30 days in the hospital.

My mother came and stayed with us and cared for our 4-year-old son as Bob and I spent many days and long nights at the hospital.  My sister, Judy, took a week off to stay and helped out too.  Both were living, breathing poems of God.

There were many others from our church ~ including our pastor ~ who gathered around Scott’s hospital bed for prayer and friends visited and helped wherever they could.  Two elders from our church came daily and spent hours with us in the hospital.  God’s poetry was pouring out through their lives.

The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people. Vincent Van Gogh

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I don’t know what it does for you to grasp that you are God’s masterpiece, his poiema, his created poem, but for me it’s liberating to know that he has a perfect plan to live creatively through me.   And he directs me with the desires he plants in me to go out and live it.

Being his workmanship doesn’t mean we are all poets.  It means we are all poems, individual created works of a creative God.  And this poetry comes out uniquely through us as we worship, think, love, pray, rest, work, and exist.
Jesus reminds us we are art and empowers us to make art.
There isn’t only one right way to do the job of glorifying God.  There are many ways, a million little ways, that Christ is formed in us and spills out of us into the world.  Emily Freeman

Let’s go live our art and let our created poems shine!

Blessings,

Nancy


All photos are mine and were taken in my yard.  Scripture from the NLT Bible.

Sometimes We Need To Go Back Before We Can Move Forward

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We had a large lilac bush behind my childhood home.  Every spring when I fill a vase with lilacs, their fragrance transports my thoughts back to that house where many special memories were made.

Memories.  We all have them.  Some good, some not so good but they’re stored somewhere deep within our brains.  Just like a computer stores information on a hard drive, our brains also have some sort of storage system.

I have wonderful parents and I have wonderful memories from childhood too.

But I believe it’s safe to say that all of us have some not so good memories whether from childhood, teenage years, young adult years or beyond.

Painful circumstances or trauma can occur at anytime or any age.

So what do we do with those nagging painful memories if they keep re-surfacing?

I don’t have a professional answer to that question but I can share a snippet from my own personal experience.

I believe that painful memories will hurt forever unless we find a way to release them and we can’t release them until they’re healed and there’s only one healer.

After I became a Christian, I took Jesus back with me to a painful time in my life.  A time period when I was too weak and consumed with circumstances to reach out to Him.

I talked to Him about it, showed Him the scene, the pain, the emotions, the heartache and relived it in His presence.  He knew all about it anyway but healing began when it came out of the darkness of my soul and into His light.

I emptied myself first by confessing my own sins–making myself a clean vessel ready to receive all the healing Jesus had for me–I prayed, pondered, journaled, talked to trusted friends, prayed with friends and even talked and prayed with a Christian therapist for 6 weeks when I got stuck at one point in the process.

For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”  Matthew 18:20

He is the God who heals, not only for today, but for the trauma of yesterday too.   What concerned me, concerned Him.

God is LOVE.  And Jesus is God.

Love is the balm that heals.

Emotional pain is just as hard to work through as physical pain.  Often it’s even harder because nobody sees it.

Others don’t always know when we’re suffering from emotional pain.  It’s easy to hide it but those hidden things are like razors cutting away at the fiber of our being.  It’s hard to keep it together when that’s going on so we may head into the safety zone of denial and just pretend it never happened.

Denial is a safeguard.  I truly believe that denial is a gift from God to guard us against the overwhelming rush of emotions that are too painful to deal with all at once.  But in the long run it’s not a healthy place to stay.   It’s a place to visit but not to live.  We weren’t meant to live in denial forever.  It will sideline us.  Stagnant us.  Bind us.  And it will keep us in chains if we pretend we’re okay when we’re not.

The buried hurt will come out eventually.  Most often through things like isolating ourselves from others, bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness, just to name a few.

We’re designed to go through life with God–allowing Him to help us through the valleys and the rough rocky places.  When we shut Him out, or if we were too young or weak to cope with the pain (when it occurred) we may try to soothe it through other methods.

There’s the obvious ones like over consumption of alcohol, drugs, risky sexual behavior.  Usually, it’s not the behavior that needs addressing first but the deeply rooted pain that causes the behavior.

But there’s less obvious ones too — excessive spending, excessive eating, excessive use of social media, busyness, workaholism, perfectionism, over-dependence on people to meet our needs, running here, there and everywhere, doing rather than being, trying to order our world outwardly because inwardly we’re bleeding.

I’m sure there’s more ways but you get the idea.

I’ve been there; done that.  I mean getting trapped in the mindset that things, other than Christ, would fill me up and set me free.  It may work but only temporarily.

Using the gifts of God to replace the holy presence of God is a bandage not a remedy and we will go through many bandages until the remedy is finally applied.

Jesus said…

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”   John 10:10

When I think of abundant living, I think of a surrendered and joyful relationship with our living Lord through worship, praise, prayer, with evidence of God’s Spirit growing in and through me like a harvest of blessings.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5: 22-23

The fruit associated with abundant life is hard to experience when we’re hiding behind a facade, pretending that everything is okay.

God wants us to toss out the band aids and expose our wounds.  He wants to set us free.  Once we’re set free, the memories will be there but they won’t have the sharp sting that they once had.  They’ll turn from a bleeding wound  into a beautiful scar.

If the process seems slow, His faithfulness is not.  He’s there in the struggle and will bring us to the point where we can finally say,  “That memory is there, but it isn’t painful anymore.”

It’s not easy but when we finally get to the end of our grieving process with accounts settled and forgiveness extended (forgiveness is an essential part of healing–whether toward ourselves or others) there will be freedom.

The path ahead will clear.  No more getting stuck in one spot.  We’ll keep moving forward authentically with Jesus and others.

We won’t hide pain anymore, because we know life is hard and it’s okay to grieve safely anytime, anywhere in the presence and comfort of Jesus.

That beautiful scar I mentioned above?  It’s a reminder of what Christ has done, it gives us our story.  The wound becomes recycled into something lovely and useful.  It becomes a gift.  God gives it purpose, meaning and none of it will be wasted.  The byproduct is wisdom and doors will open to help others.

I know this is a simple way to describe emotional healing and some may not find it helpful.

However, I think what’s most important is that we are not alone and Jesus is the healer of yesterday today and tomorrow.

The journey toward emotional healing begins when we take our first step with Jesus and if that means stepping back before we can move forward it’s worth the trip.

Blessings,

Nancy

PS:  Whew! This was a lengthy post.  If you read this to the end, thank you.  I try to keep my posts around 800 words or less but as hard as I tried I couldn’t shave this one down.

(Disclosure:  This is not a professional article.  The opinions in this piece are that of the author and aren’t meant to be used to diagnose or treat illness or psychological trauma or pain.  It is solely meant to be a thought provoking piece about faith, hope and love.  Every situation is different.  If you have memories that are severely painful (more than just nagging) It is up to you to decide what course of action to take whether seeking professional services or other avenues).

When Ink Drips and Camera Clicks

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I put my pen to journal and begin to write, I see an oriole outside my window and I grab my camera.  I click to capture the moment and return to my writing.

With my mind and emotions wrapped up in so much lately, I finally feel my soul return to its rightful place.

The uneasiness began last week with a phone call.  It was a peaceful day, we were enjoying the sunshine, the newness of spring and Bob’s cancer wasn’t in our thoughts.

My husband doesn’t let it define him and as I walk this journey beside him I won’t let it define me either.

We go on, not thinking much about it, finding joy in the simple things.  Then reality breaks through and we must face it once again.

Bob’s cell phone rang while we were having lunch at a small cafe.

“The Leukemia markers have increased a little in your blood,”  came the words over the phone.

“It looks like you may need another bone marrow biopsy but we’ll check again in a few months.  For now, just stay on the chemo med and we’ll explore further at your next visit.”

I study Bob’s expression, watch him for a few days.  He remains strong, steadfast (at least outwardly) and is hopeful that the markers will go down again, if not with the medication he’s taking now, then with another one.

My heart and prayers surround him and if there’s any way to test the oneness in marriage and to experience it at a deeper level it’s in times like this.

So together we wait, pray and wonder.

This past year has been like a roller coaster ride through the steep upward climbs and the wild racing down and then back up through the twists and turns of this crazy journey of medical tests and doctor visits.

After the latest blood test results, the what ifs, the uncertainty, fearful thoughts, the all-consuming questions race through me.

I get stuck there for a couple of days.

But today I grabbed my pen, my journal and a hot cup of coffee.

Here I sit writing my prayers, my thoughts, my dreams for me; for us.

One by one I write out the gifts that I’ve been given in life.

Not just the big ones like God, faith, family, friends, provision…those are obviously important but I’m recalling and writing down the little things today.

I’m focusing on all those small miracles that we often overlook and how in the overlooking we forfeit great joy.  It’s the simple pleasures in life that surprise us with the greatest joy.

So my focus shifts from the what ifs and fearful thoughts to being present in the moment and enjoying the gifts God has for me today…a gentle breeze blowing through an open window, waking up to the orioles singing on my deck,  spring flowers popping up all over my yard, the patter of rain on my rooftop, the sunshine poking through tree branches after the rain, barren branches finally sprouting leaves, the smell of coffee brewing and sugar cookies baking, the wonder in a child’s eyes, a child’s laughter, singing, praying, the sunsets… and on and on the list goes.

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Gifts.

And when we give thanks for all the little pleasures surrounding us our eyes open to glimpses of God’s glory everywhere.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Psalm 107:1

Even in the midst of this crazy, mixed up, messy, often painful world there is beauty and grace that moves us into thankfulness and being thankful produces joy.

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.  Psalm 28:7

We can’t give thanks and be fearful, angry or miserable at the same time.  A thankful heart doesn’t have room for that.

Daily we need to find those peaceful places where our bodies, minds, souls can rest.  At least I do.

I’m an introvert.  I thrive and recharge by being alone.

There’s been a flurry of activity surrounding my life lately and unless I can escape into moments of solitude I’m a wreck and when I’m a wreck I can’t fully be there for my loved ones and those I deeply care about.

This introvert finds solace and peace through being alone with her thoughts, her God and her journal.

I not only find peace as my pen drips ink into words on journal pages, I’m also drawn to give thanks through savoring moments with a click of my camera.

Both are gifts.

Whether I’m recording through words or photos, I’m drawn into the presence and wonder of God and, for me, that has become an act of worship.

…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things…and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

Blessings to you and yours,

Nancy

And Then He Speaks Peace

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It had been a rough few days.

They were cowering behind locked doors.

They couldn’t wrap their minds around what happened.

Broken hearts.

Trying to comprehend.

But it was incomprehensible.

Afraid.

Afraid to move.

Afraid of the future.

Afraid to hope again.

Then he came.

The one they followed.

Their leader.

He could have said:

  • “Thanks guys.” (sarcastically)
  • “Why did you leave me”
  • “Why did you run?”
  • “Where were you when I needed you?”
  • “After all I’ve done, this is how you treat me?”
  • “Where is your respect?”
  • “When I spoke, were you even listening to me?”

He could have.

But he didn’t.

Instead he said:

“Peace be with you!”

And when we’re afraid.

When we’ve been hurt.

When we feel that we can’t go on.

When life is hard.

When burdens are heavy.

When friends leave.

When family is distant.

When life hurts.

When we don’t understand.

When tragedy strikes.

When illness invades.

When life gets messy.

When hope seems gone.

He comes.

And He speaks to us.

He speaks into our circumstances.

“Peace be with you!”

(Based on John 20:19-23)  To read the story click here ->Peace

Blessings,

Nancy

Come for all things are ready

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I was waiting for the call, the invite, the day, the time and place.

A group of old friends, some of us knowing each other from kindergarten through high school, reconnected and a dinner date was in the works.

The woman organizing the evening promised to call me as soon as all the arrangements were in place.

A few weeks went by and one day while scrolling down my facebook news feed I saw them — all of them sitting around a table, having dinner together.

Oh the curse of facebook.  We see things that, once upon time, came to our attention through the grapevine.

It’s the good, the bad and the ugly of the social media craze.

Did I miss a text, an email, a phone call?  I checked.  Nope.

I was forgotten.  Skipped over.

You know those feelings of rejection you got in junior high when your friends went to a party without you and afterwards you found out about it?  Well, those long, long ago feelings paid me a visit and I felt like a foolish junior higher with left-out and rejected emotions coursing through me.

They had dinner together and I wasn’t invited? 

It bothered me for a while and then my friend’s text came — “Mea Culpa” — I googled those words, there was more communication between us and forgiveness extended.

There have been more serious rejections and painful situations in my life than the story that I just shared.  I think it’s safe to say that you’ve experienced them too.

We’ve all been there, feeling rejected, excluded, forgotten, ignored at one time or another.

But there’s one table – a banquet table – where there aren’t any exclusions. It’s an open invitation and we’re all invited.

Jesus set the table and it’s a table where we can bring all our baggage, rejections, hurt, pain, frustration and lay out our sin.  It’s not for the perfect or for those dressed a certain way, those of the right ethnic background, social status, the VIP, or the prestigious.   No, it’s all-inclusive.

He welcomes all with open arms to his banquet table.  It’s a place to feast on his goodness and receive his gifts.  The gifts of grace, mercy, forgiveness and love.

He sends out the invitation: “Come, for everything is now ready.”  (Luke 14: 17)  But not everyone accepts the invitation.

Sometimes the excuses we make to decline his invitation seem sensible.  We ignore the invitation because we’re busy with life–family, jobs, financial obligations, to do lists, bucket lists or whatever else consumes our time.

At his table there’s great love, we learn and grow in our relationship with him –it’s the discipleship process–we grasp the depth of his love that came through a horrific sacrifice–and through it came grace.  It was all about grace.

His grace is lavish.  It’s an astonishing grace but it’s not cheap grace.  It was never cheap.  There was a cost and that brings us to another table.

On that night so long ago, the night before his death, he broke the bread and lifted the cup — a symbol of his broken body and spilled out blood.

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It should have been me, it should have been you but he took the pain and suffered the cross so we wouldn’t have to.  It cost him his life.

Thankfully it didn’t end there, because 3 days after Jesus’ death he rose and is alive and he’s waiting at the BIG BANQUET TABLE that he’s preparing for those who will meet him face to face.  It’s another table, for another time and will be the biggest most beautiful celebration of all.

But until that day his table (on this side of heaven) is set, the invitations are out, you’re invited, I’m invited.

And he says, Come for all things are ready…


Read about the feast and banquet table here:  Luke 14: 15-24

The last supper:  Matthew 26: 17-30 / Luke 22: 14-24

Happy Easter!

Nancy Janiga

The church isn’t a building it’s a way of life

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But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. Luke 14:13

It’s common to see a parade of wheelchairs being pushed the few blocks to the church from the nursing home and rehabilitation center down the street.

Once the parade strolls and rolls into the building, the wheelchair bound get seats front and center.

With arms raised they worship.  Boy do they worship.

I can learn a few things from their abandoned style.  Wholly free, carefree, free indeed.

Bound by their chairs physically but free in the Spirit.

I have observed this group and worshiped along side of them for several weeks now.

Then there’s the homeless people, from the inner city, whom can catch a ride on the church bus that travels through the city offering rides.

I’ve been in awe watching them worship too, some with arms raised, some with tears streaming down their faces, some with expressions of joy, some with shouts of joy and others more contemplative.

I listened to conversations with them afterwards.  They expressed gratefulness for being accepted and included many with tears.

Then their stories.  Why, how, when.  Some talked about church growing up and how worship was for them back in those days.

Yes, some grew up going church and then…

I listen.  I see.   I’m touched and I learn.

Many in the church know the names of the homeless and extend friendship.  When the pastor announced  that one of the men passed away on the streets one week I could hear the care, the grief and the loss in his words.

On Super Bowl Sunday the church gathered together for a Party.  That’s common.  Many churches gather their flock together all over the U.S. on that day to watch the game, eat snacks and cheer for their teams.   They party together.

This one was different.  The parishioners received an invitation to serve.  That’s right.  They were throwing a party and the guests of honor were the homeless.  A T.V., the game, a meal and a blessing–were all part of the evening.

I listen.  I see.  I’m touched and I learn.

These people, my extended Spiritual family welcomed Bob and me in when we wandered through their doors looking for a place to worship one Sunday and we stayed for almost 3 months.

Our last Sunday with them will be on Palm Sunday and then we will head back to our home church.

Last week two wheelchair bound worshipers were on stage with the praise team helping to lead worship.

Monthly the worship team from church heads down the street to the nursing home and rehabilitation center to enjoy a worship service together.  The gifts and talents exploded from the residence as some came out of the shadows to sing.

Now occasionally they will help lead worship at church.  They will become part of the team.

I listen.  I see.  I’m touched and I learn.

In the wake of the recent news reports when all seems so overwhelming and almost hopeless, I’m brought back to truth, just the simple truth that there’s still hope, love and a way to live differently to impact others one soul at a time.

As I approach Easter, it’s that message that I want to carry long after I have to say goodbye to this band of Jesus followers–the Easter people–the people of this church that Bob and I have grown to love and admire.

They don’t just go to church they are the church and they declare that statement weekly at the end of each service.  Their words resonate with me…”We don’t just go to church we are the church!”  And they don’t just say it, they live it.

Blessings!

Nancy ❤