There is absolutely nothing better than Christian fellowship! This past weekend our Bible & Life Class met for a retreat at Alderson-Broaddus College in West Virginia. It was a barrel of fun! Now, if you have never been on a retreat with other Christians, well, it's an experience. Christians love to eat, let's just get that fact out of the way. There are three meals a day prepared by fellow class members and others on assigned schedules prepare tables for the meals and others clean up afterwards. So the kitchen/eating part is taken care of.
Then there are nightly games. Hilarious gaming that has many of us in tears due to off the wall answers and antics, but the greatest part of our retreat is having a speaker that loves the Lord share his/her heart as lead by the Lord. It's a different atmosphere in the mountains with no schedules or clocks; a prayerful time of drawing closer to God and our Christian brothers and sisters.
This year our speaker is our newest addition to our ministry staff at Peters Creek Baptist Church, Josh Kerr. Josh filled our cups with encouragement and a mission to investigate our calling in Christ. His lovely wife, Natalia, a native of the Dominican Republic, also gave us a look into how she grew up, her background and how God has merged this lovely couple together in ministry. Of course, having their five month old son, Santiago, for all of us to enjoy was a bonus!
Drawing apart in a time of retreat is a great opportunity to grow closer as a community of believers, examine where you are personally in your walk with the Lord and be encouraged. Isn't that exactly what God would have us do?
I have just returned from a trip to Virginia to visit with my mom. At 97 years of age, it is still a blessing beyond measure to sit and talk with mom. Our conversations are not like they used to be when we'd grab a rocking chair out on the porch and rock for hours sharing our lives. These days our visits are spent wondering if she'll remember me, what mood or mental condition I will find her, or will we be surprised that she is totally in the present and wanting to hear all about what's going on in our lives and those of our children.
If you haven't experienced this journey with one or both of your parents, then be thankful this has not come knocking on your door. But if it has, just remember that one day all of this will cease. If your loved one knows Jesus, one day they will be whole, there will be no more pain, no dementia, no inability to walk, and they will be introduced to their heavenly home in glory. Where, as mama says, she'll be waiting at the gate for us to follow.
I'm thankful I have mom, but even more thankful that mama knows Jesus and one day we will spend all eternity together praising His Holy Name! Wonder if there will be rocking chairs??
Today I thought I'd ask hubby what he is thankful for....without skipping a beat he commented, "Let me think about it!" Of course, I thought instantaneously he'd say, "My wife, hands down!" But it's two days later and I'm still awaiting an answer. It had better be good....just sayin'
So here is the post I received for today's offering....shame on me! Here's what Gary A. White, my husband, had to say....
Invariably around Thanksgiving, especially in group settings, someone will ask “name one thing you are thankful for”. The question doesn’t mean there aren’t 10 things or 20, but it only wants one. The first things that come to mind are my wife, kids, grandkids; the family I grew up with – grandparents, parents, siblings; Jesus would also be in that group. But when Cookie asked me this time, I decided to answer the question, “What is the number one thing I am thankful for”; the one thing, the top of the heap, the number one thing that has meant the most in my life. Now, for that answer, I had to ponder for a couple of days. The answer became very clear: I am most thankful for my wife, Judith Vale Garbee White, always known to all as Cookie.
It's not because of the usual reasons: she makes me happy, she is the Mother of my children, that better be my answer, etc. No, to be number one, there must be more. The reason I am most thankful for my wife is because she is the catalyst that inspired me to have a rich, fulfilling, spirit filled life in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
I was a good Catholic for 25 years; I believed in God the Father and I knew Jesus as my Savior. But Cookie taught me there was more. Prayer, Bible Study, meaningful worship, Christian fellowship, so many blessings that are available to those who believe. Life is full of ups and downs, of victories and losses, and often some of the most excruciating sad events of hurt and loss, even death. But knowing God in all His glory, is the answer to why we live; He gives eternal hope in a blessed life both here and for all eternity.
So, thank you to my Heavenly Father for bringing Cookie and I together. Thank you for Phyllis, who we didn’t know all that well, who God used to think two people who did not know each other might be compatible for a blind date on March 3, 1979. Forty years later, we are still going on dates. Thank you, Judith, for this wonderful life.
So what might you be thankful for today, my friends? You have thirty days stretching out before you as maybe the only month of the year when we stop and consciously thank the Lord each day for His goodness whether great or small.
There are many, many ways the Lord has blessed me throughout this past year since last November when I began to pen my reasons to be grateful. But to start off this month, I am posting a picture of our local trail from just a few days ago. Hubby and I were taking a walk and I suddenly had to stop and take a photo of the scene that lay before me. I absolutely love the view of paths, roads, highways, etc., where the destination seems to disappear in the distance. It reminds me of the road of life. How often do I get wrapped up in getting to the finish line of whatever I'm currently encountering and miss the journey along the way? The old saying "take time to smell the roses" gains more meaning as I age.
Just remember you will never live this day again. You will never have these moments to re-do. So don't hurry as if someone else's schedule is dictating the pace of yours. Enjoy the day; breathe the fresh air; play a few extra minutes with your children; listen more intently when a friend calls on the phone and hug your loved ones a little tighter. We are never promised tomorrow, so make memories of today! Thank you, Lord, for the beauty of fall!
As the month of October draws to a close, and we continue to salute and admire the strength of those women who have experienced breast cancer or some form of cancer, I would like to introduce you to Abby Lawson. Abby is a talented, energetic, lovely young woman who has quite the story to share this week. It is amazing how cancer affects women, regardless of age, and their personal journeys vary in numerous ways. As you read these heartfelt stories, please remember to pray for everyone dealing with this disease whether newly diagnosed, presently walking the journey, or in remission. It's a path we never asked to walk, but a faith building experience where we learn to lean on Jesus to supply a "peace that passes all understanding."
Whenever I was a sophomore in college, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at only 43 years old. While hearing the word “cancer” is always scary, it was especially terrifying to our family because my grandmother-- my mother’s mother-- had passed away from breast cancer at the young age of 35. And my grandmother’s mother had passed away from ovarian cancer, so we were beginning to see an alarming trend happening.
My mom was such a trooper through her treatments, was thankfully able to beat her cancer, and has been cancer free for more than 15 years now. But due to the strong history of female cancers in our family, as she was undergoing treatment, her doctor recommended that she be tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations.
BRCA carriers have an extremely high risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancers, so when the test results came back and my mom was positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation, she had a double mastectomy and oophorectomy at her doctor’s recommendation to minimize her risk of future cancers.
Since my mom was a carrier of the BRCA1 mutation, my younger sister Brittany and I-- who were 17 and 20 and the time-- were also tested for the gene. We each had a 50% chance of being BRCA1 carriers. If we had gotten that particular gene from our mom, we would also be BRCA1 positive. If that gene had come from our dad, we would not.
Obviously our first choice was that neither of us would be carriers of the gene so we wouldn’t have to face a very, very high risk of breast and ovarian cancer in our future. But if we both couldn’t avoid the gene, our next choice was that we would both have it so that we could face whatever resulted together, and that is what ended up happening.
So at age 20, I knew that I was going to have to start having mammograms and ovarian cancer screenings in the next few years. I knew that I should have my kids early, if possible, so that I could have preventative surgeries to reduce my risk before I was 35.
It seemed a little weird to think about since I wasn’t even married, let alone thinking about having kids yet, but at 20, 35 seemed so far away, so I felt like I had tons of time before I really had to worry about anything.
I ended up getting married at 22 and had my first baby at 24. At 25, I started being screened every 6 months for breast and ovarian cancers, and in the years that followed, I had a few scares.
I remember calling my husband Donnie at work, sobbing so hard that I almost couldn’t speak, because they thought they had seen a lump during one of my mammograms, and in my family, I knew that could be really, really bad news.
The news that they would plan to do a biopsy came on the Friday of a holiday weekend, so I had to wait three terribly agonizing days before I was able to go in for more testing, wondering if I was going to be able to see my baby grow up or if my life was going to be cut short like my grandmother’s and great grandmother’s had been.
Thankfully, when I finally went in for the test, I was given the all clear, but that experience made me keenly aware of how serious this whole BRCA thing could be and how life could change in an instant.
After having my second son when I was 27, I had a preventative double mastectomy at age 30. Having the surgery was scary, but after enduring so much testing and a couple scares in the previous five years, I was ready to have the peace of mind that came with my now much, much reduced risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in my lifetime.
The plan was to wait until I was 35 to have a second surgery to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer, but again, after a few scares from test results, my doctor and I agreed to act preemptively, and I had the surgery at 33 instead. Again, thankfully, all of the testing they did after my surgery was complete came back cancer free.
I am now 35, and as I look back over the last 15 years, I continue to cling to the verse that my mom, sister, and I have claimed ever since we all found out that we were BRCA carriers.
Psalm 139:13-14 says,
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
The Lord knit me together. I firmly believe that. So that means that this genetic thing may be a mutation, but it’s not a mistake. He meant it to be part of my story, and if his desire is to use it for his purposes and to further his Kingdom in some way, so be it.
If I was writing my own story, would I have included cancer risk and major surgeries as part of it? Probably not. But I believe I serve a God who is much wiser than I, and I trust that his will is always going to be greater than mine.
The testing and the surgeries, the worrying and wondering-- it hasn’t always been easy. But I also learned so much from it and felt God carrying me through it. I learned to trust him in new ways, and he gave me strength and peace that surpassed all understanding in the midst of it. I am so grateful for all he has taught me, and it has been such a blessing to see him work in ways that are far better than I could ever have asked or imagined.
For this week, our third week of October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am saluting another dear friend I know personally who has traveled a journey with cancer. My hubby and I met Michele Riggio when we were leaders of a singles ministry at our church. Over the course of time, Michele became a leader for the youth ministry that included our children! Needless to say, we have been friends for many years.
Michele agreed to share her unique story with my readers this week. May your heart be blessed by the telling of her special journey.
My breast cancer journey:
I was 49 years old, had just recovered from foot surgery and waiting for a rotator cuff surgery when I
went for my yearly mammogram. Typical appointment, but the radiologist said to me, one side looks suspicious to me. He said he was going to give me names of oncologists, just in case. I waited the dreadful few days and got the phone call. I remember it like it was yesterday! The nurse said, "You have breast cancer!!"
I listened as she made me an appointment with a surgical oncologist that day. As I left work I immediately went to find my husband, Brad. We were both in shock! I never thought I’d say “I have breast cancer!!" I made a few calls to friends/family who knew about my appointment and were waiting for results. We all were shocked!
Things proceeded quickly- many MRI’s, biopsies and appointments!! I was numb through all of them. I went from – you will only need a lumpectomy to it has spread to more areas and we have to do a mastectomy. Again, numb!! I remember my following appointment with the oncologist. He diagramed my areas of concerns and then I lost it! I cried like I have never cried before. He hugged me and said we are going to get this out of you! I had many more decisions to make such as; do I agree to a double mastectomy? If so, should I have immediate reconstruction? How will I recover and also homeschool my 12 year old son? I have no immediate family in Pittsburgh and my husband’s job as a photographer was crazy busy this particular time of the year so what will happen as I go through this process?
I absolutely hated telling our son, Jace, as my diagnosis unfolded. I wanted him to know we would fight this disease and, at the same time, give him assurances I would be ok. I also hated telling my mom. She would do anything for me and I knew this would crush her as well.
I made the decision to do a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Of course my surgery was in the month of OCTOBER!!! Ironic, huh? I will be celebrating 4 years this coming October 26th ! After more testing and WAITING, (everything is waiting after surgery), I found out I did not need chemo or radiation. I was so very thankful!! I know my journey would have been very different had that been included.
Through my journey, I had two sayings/quotes that I needed to see everyday; BE STILL and BREATHE! I couldn’t do anything else on most days or that first year afterwards. Equally important was the support I received from family/friends which I will always cherish! I had people praying, preparing meals, helping with Jace and sitting with me, crying with me, and sending positive messages to me. I’m thankful for each one of them!
Another Unique Story
This week it’s the unique story of
Throughout the month of October, I am printing stories shared by friends who have experienced a journey with cancer. It is extremely important that we recognize these brave women who have endured or are continuing a voyage they never expected to travel. This week I would like for you to meet a lovely friend that I have known since coming to Pittsburgh almost 38 years ago, Patty Trax. Patty’s family and ours have spent time at their camp, picked pumpkins in their patch, taken trips to Virginia to visit relatives, attended kids’ graduations and weddings and although our lives have weaved and changed throughout the years, we remain good friends.
I asked Patty if she would share her story with my readers and she graciously agreed. May you be blessed, and God be honored through her words and experiences. Patty begins:
I looked at my ringing cell phone. Waiting for this particular call and recognizing the number, I went into my bedroom to answer. My husband was in the living room and heard the conversation and as I walked out of the bedroom, he hugged me as I cried. That was just a year ago in October of 2018 when I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. My husband called our kids and that’s when it hit me this diagnosis is real, and I suddenly became numb.
The next morning, I called our pastor and asked to be put on the prayer list and was overwhelmed with the response. Phone calls, cards of encouragement and even beautiful sheet music from a friend was received.
Before my surgery pre-testing was required which revealed a complete hysterectomy was needed to remove a tumor. Believe it or not, the procedure was outpatient surgery and I returned home later that day to begin my recovery. Our church supplied meals and friends continued with numerous phone calls which made each day seem better and brighter.
After three weeks of recovering it was time for radiation treatments. I was nervous, of course, but knew people were praying. In my kitchen I have a metal art piece that reads with the scripture “Don’t worry about anything instead pray about everything.” Philippians 4:6. This Bible verse took on additional meaning now I was the patient (a totally new role for me). Once I totally surrendered 100% of my worries and anxieties to Jesus, I was at peace with whatever our Lord allowed in my life. All the glory goes to God because I experienced peace like never before and knew I was safely being held in His arms. This feeling ignited my love for Jesus as I began to pray God would use me to walk beside others with illnesses and/or a diagnosis of cancer.
I work in a retail farm market where I see and communicate with hundreds of customers daily. When talking with them I always extend “feelers” in those few minutes of conversation and soon they are telling me about their illness or heavy burdens. I always remember to ask their names and offer to put them on my prayer list.
Needless to say, I usually go home from work with my pockets full of individuals’ names needing prayer. I am positive this is how God is using me during this season of my life. Ironically, I wouldn’t change a thing. Although I didn’t ask for cancer, it made me a better person and I want others to know there is always hope.
So that’s my story! If you have Jesus, you have it all!