Friday, November 19, 2010

A Path Unknown

A Path Unknown
by Sharlyn Guthrie

Today I walk along a path unknown;
I must admit I never would have come here on my own.
In fact, I don’t know how I happened here,
or where this path will lead; there is so much that is unclear.

But He knows when I sit and when I rise.
He hems me in before and then He hems me in behind.
And when I cry out in the dead of night,
the darkness isn’t dark to Him; He fills it with His light.

Today it seems I have a choice to make.
I could denounce this path as some immense divine mistake,
or I could view it as a chance to rest
within my Father’s loving arms, held safe against His breast.

For He knows when I sit and when I rise.
He hems me in before and then He hems me in behind.
And when I cry out in the dead of night,
the darkness isn’t dark to Him; He fills it with His light.

I don’t know where or when this path will end,
but God, the mighty warrior, walks beside me as a friend.
His perfect love my anxious heart will still,
and over me He will rejoice, with songs my senses fill.

For He knows when I sit and when I rise.
He hems me in before and then He hems me in behind.
And when I cry out in the dead of night,
the darkness isn’t dark to Him; He fills it with His light.

Lord, you know when I sit and when I rise.
You hem me in before and then You hem me in behind.
And when I cry out in the dead of night,
the darkness isn’t dark to You; You fill it with Your light.

Based on:
Psalm 139:2,5,12
Zephaniah 3:17

Two and a half weeks ago, following a needle biopsy on my breast, I learned that I have a rare form of breast cancer –a Phyllodes tumor. I had never heard of this diagnosis before, and as you might guess it raised a lot of questions. The nurse who gave me the news couldn’t tell me anything except that it would require surgery. My own doctor’s nurse only told me that this type of tumor is “unpredictable,” and although it is benign, it has malignant potential. I began reading everything I could find online, and even more questions were raised.

Finally, I met with a surgeon this week. He was very helpful and patient with all of my questions, carefully answering each of them and reassuring me as best he could. The surgery (a wide margin excision) was scheduled for December 1st. I am relieved to have the date set, and I welcome your prayers for the surgery.
I have many reasons to feel thankful and blessed. Apparently, we caught this growth much earlier than is usually possible, and it is benign, meaning that it does not metastasize. I also have a wonderful support system through my family, friends, and church. Still, it hasn’t been easy.

I first became aware of concerns over my mammogram September 2nd. That means that three months will have elapsed by the time I have surgery on December 1st. Strangely enough, the most difficult thing for me was committing to have the needle biopsy.

Following a routine mammogram I was asked to return for a magnification mammogram. A radiologist showed me the results and spoke to me before I left. She was concerned about some micro-calcifications too small to see clearly, even with magnification. Although 80 to 90 percent of micro-calcifications are benign, she wanted me to have a large core needle biopsy on the area. For this procedure I would lie on my stomach on a raised table, my breast hanging through an opening, as multiple tissue samples were extracted from it by the physician below.

The original mammogram was done the last day of our insurance eligibility before John retired. Our insurance coverage was now catastrophic with a high deductible. I knew nothing about this new insurance, except that we were starting from scratch, and I figured this probably wasn’t a good way to start. I was more annoyed than anything, thinking that this biopsy was most likely an unnecessary procedure. I had already learned that it was very costly. I agreed to think and pray about it before deciding.

I was taken by surprise in the middle of that night when I awoke shaking, tears streaming, soaking my pillow. I supposed that it had to do with the dilemma I was facing, although I hadn’t felt the anxiety earlier in the day. So, I prayed specifically asking God to grant me wisdom and peace, but the same thing happened the following night and the night after that. I knew that this reaction was extreme, but I also felt that I needed to understand why I was reacting this way before I made my decision.

Two weeks passed. I had a few restful nights here and there, but most were interrupted. Finally, during one of my now familiar episodes, I prayed earnestly for both wisdom and peace. This time God answered immediately in the form of a revelation. I was transported to a time when I was twelve years old, pinned against the wall by my brother in law, powerless to protect my developing breasts as he pinched and prodded. Now the tears came like a flood. Isn’t it amazing how memories that have supposedly been put to rest can retain such power several decades later? I realized then that my overwhelming fear was not about the outcome of the biopsy, or even about the exorbitant cost, but about the procedure itself or more specifically, my vulnerability during the procedure. With that realization came an overwhelming sense of peace about going ahead with the biopsy –not that I thought it would be a piece of cake- but I knew that, with God’s help, I would now be able to handle it. What an amazing, direct answer to prayer!

The following day I called my doctor and asked to have the biopsy scheduled.
Those who know me know that I am pretty laid back. I have never minded having dental work or other medical procedures, including surgery. I had many people praying for me, and I could sense their prayers. Still, enduring that procedure was a serious exercise in trust and dependence on God. I softly cried my way through it and was exhausted when it was over.

But it wasn’t over. A few days later I learned the results of the biopsy. Since then it has become apparent that God answered the other portion of my prayer, granting me wisdom to go ahead with the biopsy. As I suspected, the microcalcifications didn’t turn out to be of any concern. Nor do they normally have any correlation with a Phyllodes tumor. However, since the mammogram did not reveal a tumor, mine most likely would not have been found until it grew much larger and more problematic, had it not been for the biopsy. Thank you, precious Holy Spirit, for the wisdom, peace, and direction that only You could give!

These past three months have been filled with crazy, unfamiliar emotions. From the very beginning, however, I have recognized this season as an opportunity to hold onto my Father, God, and trust Him like never before. Spending more time with Him has been sweet, for in the midst of uncertainty it is comforting to always find Him there. I can truly say I am thankful for the ways I have grown in dependence on Him, and the tender ways He has ministered to me through His Word, song lyrics, my husband, wonderful friends, and yes, even middle of the night panic attacks.

The song at the beginning of this post is also a product of this difficult time –a blend of messages God has delivered to me in various ways. It occurred to me after I finished writing these words that my entire life is really “A Path Unknown.” When things are going my way it’s easy to fool myself, thinking I know what tomorrow or next month or even next year will bring, but my plans are only good for as far as I can see. They can unravel very quickly. I am so thankful that the all-knowing, all-seeing, ever-present God is my friend and constant companion through all of life’s uncertainties.

Today I am sharing my heart with you, along with some unpleasant details of my life, both past and present. I pray that it may in some way encourage you in facing the obstacles and uncertainties of your own life, or help prepare you for the trials that may eventually find you. Perhaps I have included too much information, but if any part of this message blesses or encourages you, if it draws you into closer fellowship and dependence on Jesus Christ, or evokes an attitude of thankfulness and praise, my journey down this path has been worthwhile. Give God the glory. He alone is worthy!

Ultimately, the best advice on the topic of trials is found in James 1: 2-5 (NIV) “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Duck Out of Water

I have the honor of hosting Fiction Friday today. I hope you will join us. Just sign up on the Linky at the end of this post and link to your own original fiction.

A Duck Out of Water
by Sharlyn Guthrie

Last year I joined a gym. I was only one of the hordes that signed up in January following two months of eating like a ravenous sumo wrestler. After popping the buttons off several pairs of slacks, I knew that it was time to take action.

It had been years since I took physical fitness seriously. My shape had become so frumpy I could barely admit to myself, let alone anyone else, that I had once been an aerobics instructor. Well, it was never too late to make a fresh start. At least that‘s what I had always told those who joined my classes.

I was no fool. I started out easy, first choosing water aerobics and stationary bicycling. Both of these provided good exercise without requiring total concentration. I prayed through long lists of prayer requests during water aerobics. While bicycling, I became engrossed in inspiring Christian music on my MP3 player as I fancied myself cruising along serene country paths.

Long forgotten muscle groups screamed their resistance, but eventually I gained strength and endurance. My confidence grew, and I felt ready to move on.

Scanning the schedule of classes, I discovered that the gym’s offerings had changed during my absence from the fitness scene. For some un-explainable reason, I settled on kickboxing as my next endeavor.

Kickboxing moved at a killer pace as compared to that of water aerobics, and the music was much less serene than what I enjoyed while bicycling. I struggled to match the tempo as sweat formed puddles under my feet. I felt like a duck out of water. Perhaps I was better suited for Bingo tournaments.

While most of the women in the class wore compression shorts and sports bras designed to accent their slender, youthful bodies, I wore baggy T-shirts and sweatpants in order to conceal mine. I had to think and move more quickly than I was accustomed to. On more than a few occasions I turned the wrong direction, narrowly missing my neighbor’s side kick or forward jab. Yikes!

But the maladjustment went even deeper than that. You see, I am a gentle soul –a peacemaker type. Kickboxing is anything but peaceful. Bobbing and weaving while aiming uppercuts at imaginary rivals was simply not in my nature. In fact, it made me laugh. After all, I had no plans to hang out in dark alleys any time soon.

Suffice it to say that I didn’t take my new pursuit seriously. During my first several sessions the instructor exhibited considerable patience and restraint, but that was about to change. One day I settled into the now-familiar routine and allowed my mind to entertain possible ideas for a story I was writing.

“Pay attention! Focus! Your opponent is right in front of you!” The reprimand was directed at me, only inches from my face. Jolted out of dreamland, I heeded the command, my cheeks stinging from more than the heat of exertion. During the remainder of that class every part of my being remained engaged.

Afterwards, I licked my wounds; or rather I licked the residue of hot fudge from my lips after indulging in an unhealthy amount of self-pity.

Finally, though, I confessed to myself that the instructor was right. She had accurately perceived my lack of enthusiasm and attentiveness. Until that day I had no intention of taking kickboxing seriously. I decided then and there that my attitude had to change if I was to continue.

As I considered my dilemma, the instructor’s words resounded. They rang with familiarity and truth, although I couldn’t pinpoint why until I came across this verse: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”* The words packed a powerful dummy punch, reminding me that I had lost sight of my spiritual enemy.

Is that what had made me vulnerable to overindulgence and lack of motivation in my physical struggles as well?

Oh Lord, keep me focused and alert. Guard me from growing too comfortable in my spiritual routines. Make me aware of the enemy who seeks to devour me. Strengthen me through the power of Your Holy Spirit. Thank you, Lord, for jarring me out of my complacency.

I returned to kickboxing with a new attitude and a new strategy. My opponent was real. He had a name and a purpose. I would take him seriously, blocking his every move. It added vigor to my workout and prudence to my continued peaceful existence.

My attitude adjustment would not, however, be accompanied by a wardrobe adjustment any time soon.

*I Peter 5:8 NASV