Words with (Unlikely) Friends

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McEwen Gore and Bob Fry are unlikely pen pals.

McEwen is a student at Chapin Elementary School who enjoys tumbling and dance classes.
Bob is a great-grandfather from Saluda, receiving treatment for leukemia.

Bob’s illness is what brought them together. McEwen’s teacher, Samantha Werts, started a service project with her class where her students began to write letters to chemotherapy patients at Lexington Medical Center. “I told the students we were going to write them letters to cheer them up,” said Werts. The patients read them during chemotherapy – each session can take several hours.

“The students know that cancer is a serious illness that makes them very sick and they have to spend a lot of time at the hospital,” added Werts.

Some of the students know about cancer because they have had a personal experience with it through a family member’s illness. And, Werts’ husband, Thad, works at Lexington Medical Center’s Health Directions, the hospital’s health and wellness facility, as a cancer exercise trainer – helping cancer patients regain mobility and strength and visited the class to tell them about his job.

McEwen and her classmates put No. 2 pencils to wide-ruled paper and write to the cancer patients twice each month. “I’m writing letters because I want them to feel better,” McEwen said. “And it can probably make them smile.”

The students ask a lot of questions in their letters. ‘Are you a girl or a boy?’ ‘How old are you?’ and ‘When is your birthday?’ There are also stories of family pets, soccer practice and last night’s Little League game.

The students deposit their letters in a classroom mailbox and then the letters are delivered to the infusion center at Lexington Oncology, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice.

That’s where McEwen’s letters started landing in Bob’s lap. “Sometimes they’re only one line long,” Bob says with a chuckle. “But it makes you feel good because the kids are thinking about other people.”

The patients have been writing back with thanks for the well wishes. They talk about their grandkids – and have even sent special gifts. One student received stickers for holidays.
“As a cancer survivor myself, I remember how special it made me feel when others extended acts of kindness towards me and my family,” said Lisa Phillips, chemotherapy nurse at Lexington Oncology.  “Our patients feel the same way.  The letters are a ray of sunshine, received with smiles and occasionally happy tears.”

In age of e-mail and text messages, it’s nice to see the old-fashioned art of letter writing bringing some good cheer and lifting spirits. •LR•

For more information about Lexington Medical Center’s cancer services, which are affiliated with Duke Medicine, visit:
www.lexmed.com.

Hannah and Me

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Many years ago, I was a young married woman who wanted very much to be a mother. Yet I remained childless. And month after month, as it became obvious that conception had not taken place and no baby was on the way, I became more and more despondent. My husband and I longed to be parents, but it seemed that was not going to happen. The doctors recommended we consider adoption.

During this challenging period of my life, I turned to the Scriptures, and I became acquainted with Hannah. I had known about Hannah since childhood. But my focus had always been on Samuel (the son God blessed her with), not on Hannah. I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I became reacquainted with Hannah.

I turned to the book of 1 Samuel and read these words:
“She (Hannah) was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.”
(1 Samuel 1:10 ESV)

I related to Hannah. I was deeply distressed. I wept bitterly. And often! I prayed to the Lord.

“Please, Lord! You know how much we want a baby! Please, please, please…….Why can’t I get pregnant? Please, please, please.”

Even so, month after month passed and no baby was on the way. I began to pray Hannah’s prayer.

“O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.” (1 Samuel 1:11 ESV)

That was my prayer. While I didn’t pray those exact words, that was the prayer of my heart. After all, saying things like “if you will indeed look on the affliction….” is not really my typical vocabulary! And just as He did for Hannah, God heard the cry of my heart. He not only heard, but He answered. Just as we were about to initiate adoption proceedings, we learned that God had answered our prayers and we were going to be parents! Several months later, a few weeks ahead of schedule, I gave birth to a son! And a few years after that, our second son was born.

When Brian, our first son was born, I prayed Hannah’s prayer a second time…..this time her prayer of thanksgiving:
“For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to Him. My heart exults in the LORD.” (1 Samuel 1:27; 1 Samuel 2:1 ESV)

That was my prayer again three years later when Brandon, our second son, was born.
Hannah’s story – and mine – taught me a few life lessons. First and foremost, I learned about the sovereignty of God. I learned that God is in control. Doctors are wonderful, but they don’t have all the answers. They are, after all, only human.

This experience in my life was a reminder that God hears and answers prayer. The answer may not always be what we want or expect – although in this case, for me, it was – but He always hears and He always answers. God heard Hannah’s prayer and honored her request. He did the same for me. And He can do the same for you. What an awesome God!

Through this life experience I also learned persistence. I learned to never give up. I learned to keep on praying. My prayer wasn’t answered the first time I prayed it. Or the second. I prayed this prayer for months. I continued to pray. I prayed “without ceasing”, as we read in the New Testament. My answer came after I continued to pray, not knowing when God would answer, but knowing that He would answer.

Through it all, I learned a lot about the character of God. I learned about His faithfulness. I had been taught all these things from childhood, but now I was learning these lessons personally. This experience reaffirmed my confidence in, my trust in, a God who said, “Call to me and I will answer you.” (Jeremiah 33:3 ESV)

I’ve never forgotten these lessons. Now that I am no longer a young woman, these lessons remain core beliefs for my life. God is sovereign. God answers prayer. His answer is always best. I can trust Him.

My sons are grown men now with sons of their own. And every time I look at them, every time I think of them, I am reminded that God answers prayer. •LR•

Susan Feaster is wife to Al, mom to Brian and Brandon, and Nana to AJ and
Christopher. She blogs about life and faith at www.susanssittingroom.blogspot.com.

In the Middle

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6:30 AM.
BAM! I’m startled by my alarm clock singing to me. I thought, “It can’t be morning! I just got to sleeping good.” I quickly realize I am NOT dreaming and it is in fact morning. My iPod is jamming, “All This Time” by Britt Nicole.
As I rub my eyes and throw the covers off to get up, my mind starts racing with thoughts of the school day. I stumble to my closet, tripping over text books and clothes on the floor, trying to decide what to wear. I’m so tired from a particularly long talk with my dad last night about life, school, friends, and choices. This talk, although long, was so much needed. Without even realizing it, God was preparing me for this day… in the middle.

I walked into one of my classes laughing with friends and grabbed a seat before the tardy bell rang. This was an easier class for me and one of my favorites. It was a good day! I love my friends and going to school. Life was great!
Though the subject matter in this particular class was somewhat easy, there were other challenges in class that were not. Today was no different. The way some students talked to our teacher was so disrespectful. I didn’t like it at all! Why would anyone treat someone that way? I felt like everyone wanted me to join in. I knew in my gut it was wrong, but something was always tempting me. Why?

I knew right from wrong and this kind of behavior was obviously wrong. An inner battle was already raging. It is here and now…in the middle of class…in the middle of middle school…I had to make a choice. How would I respond? It seemed like everyone was just going with the flow and I was trying to go against a very strong tide… all alone.

I was quickly reminded of the long talk with my dad, the Christian songs I had listened to as I got ready for school this morning, and Scripture verses I had memorized through the years. I never realized when the pressure comes that the Holy Spirit brings things back to our minds to help us.

For most of my life, I felt I should always just immediately do the right thing, but so many times doing what’s right is so hard. I’ve learned that I can’t do the right thing in my own strength, but through Christ’s strength, I can do all things. (Philippians 4:13) God gives us just what we need in the middle of every circumstance to make the right decision.

One of my favorite verses is “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3 NIV) Through this verse I am reminded that even though it is hard and temptations throughout middle school may tug at my heart, Jesus is the One that will take care of me. I’m learning during this “middle” time of my life that I’m not perfect. I have made and will make my share of mistakes. But though I am not perfection, Christ is perfecting me. Through his Word and others, He is showing me more and more of Himself. It may seem, to many, the choices I make are silly. But to me, my choices are showing me who Christ is becoming in my life.

My prayer for my friends and myself as we live out these “middle” years is that we will bring honor to Christ and know that He will always provide us with the strength to do what is right. He is with us “in the middle” and always! •LR•

Allie Paige Thornton is a vibrant, 13 year old, seventh grader at Northside Middle School in Lexington District Two. She is a NMS cheerleader, a good student, and she is very active in her church youth group at Trinity Baptist Church in Cayce, SC.

How do you plead?

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“Guilty, or not guilty?” he asked.

What should I do? I had a choice to make along with about 30 others that wrapped around the inside of the courtroom. You see, after being given a ticket for driving too fast in a school zone, friends said that I could get my fine lowered if I just showed up for my court date. Well, that wasn’t altogether true.

I tried. I showed up, waved and smiled at the, oh, so dutiful officer and then got in line. Most of us smiled sheepishly at one another as guilt and shame seemed to fill the air. I watched nervously as one by one the judge asked, “How do you plead?” “Guilty, your Honor,” was repeated one after the other. And every single one was shown mercy.

Nothing is ever that easy for me. I was convinced that I could explain and justify myself. “How do you plead?” the judge asked me. “Well, I don’t know if I was speeding. I didn’t seem to be going fast”, I replied. “How do you plead?” he interrupted forcefully. “I didn’t see my speedometer so I don’t know if I was speeding or not.” I shrugged. Deep down, I didn’t trust the officer’s judgment in the matter. Exasperated, the judge pronounced, “Guilty!” He pounded the gavel on the large desk and announced my huge penalty.

The people in the court room looked on in shock over my dumb move. I lowered my head in shock over my dumb move! Why not trust the officer? Why not be shown mercy? I wanted to trust; I wanted to be shown mercy, but my pride was too great.

All of us are guilty as charged. We have broken the Law, God’s Law (His commandments). “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 NKJV) Just as the speed limit sign was there to prove that I violated it, so it is with God’s Law, the Commandments. Jesus recites the first and greatest commandment, Deuteronomy 6:5, in Mathew 22:37 (NKJV). “Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” No one, except Jesus, has done this or can do this 100 percent of the time. We all have sinned.

James 2:10 tells us if we fail to obey only one command we are guilty of breaking all the commands of the law. Our struggle and the failure to keep the commandments lead us to Jesus. Only Jesus can fulfill the Law to perfection and the only way for us to become perfect is through Him. “So the law was put in charge until Christ came. He came so that we might be made right with God by believing in Christ.” (Galatians 3:24 NIRV)

We must admit our guilt to God. We must trust Christ’s judgment of us. “If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10 NKJV) My penalty was money paid to the court, but Romans 6:23 states that the penalty of sin is death (complete separation from God for all eternity), but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus took the punishment we deserved on the cross.

Place your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, believing in His death, burial and resurrection. Don’t let your pride get in the way, because when you stand before the Judge, you don’t want to be like me in the courtroom hanging my head and thinking, “That was a dumb move.” •LR•

Heidi Shumpert is a wife and mother to two pups and Ellie the lamb. She can be found working at HIS House Ministries and cutting hair for the homeless at Finlay Park on Wednesday evenings.

Courageous : An Interview with Author Denise Hildbreth Jones

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This thought runs through my mind every time I finish reading a Denise Hildbreth Jones’ novel. As her delightful characters step right off of the page and into my heart, I laugh, I cry, and everything in between. Her stories delicately unfold with such warmth, wit and wisdom. And the best part of all? Just as Jesus Christ is the center of her life, Denise’s characters also find Him central to theirs.

I was introduced to Denise and her books a few years ago through her sister-in-law. She had given Denise a copy of Living Real magazine and expressed that the magazine was right in line with the theme of her ministry. Denise and I chatted via email and she asked me to read a review copy of The First Gardener. I was hooked! I later met Denise in Camden, SC at a Women’s Vacation Bible School event which her ministry hosts. This past summer I had the privilege of interviewing her when she came to lead a Women’s VBS hosted by Spring Valley Baptist Church in Columbia.

Q: Of the novels you’ve written, which one is your favorite?

A: I get asked that a lot and I don’t think I have a favorite. Whenever you write fiction, each book comes from a piece of your own story, and through each book I think I’ve processed a little more of my personal story. That’s why I don’t have a favorite. The one that has been the biggest gift to me is Hurricanes in Paradise, only because, after my divorce, I really didn’t think I would have anything to say again. So the way God birthed that in me was a friend gifted me with a trip to spend the week at the Atlantis Hotel. I had had some memories from my first marriage there and the Lord did such a healing in my heart from that pain. It’s from that healing that the Lord gave me the idea for Hurricanes in Paradise.

I just finished Hurricanes in Paradise, the third novel of hers I’ve read this summer. This story follows four very different female characters, one of whom is a high school principal; witty, wise and a bit flamboyant. These women will absolutely knock your socks off. Each arrives separately at the Paradise Island resort to get away from their painful, but very intriguing pasts. They become immediate companions and develop a fast friendship through some unexpected twists and turns, dangerous detours, and very suspenseful moments, just like the path of a hurricane. (You know the storm is coming but you don’t know exactly when or how hard it will hit.) As these delightful ladies come face to face with their hurtful pasts and a real hurricane, much needed healing begins.

Q: How do you hone in on your craft?

A: Well, let’s take Hurricanes in Paradise for an example. I’m sitting right there at the Atlantis, in a conversation with friends, and I knew I had a story. I spent a portion of the time I was there absorbing the atmosphere, because I love to take people to real places. I usually go on an intense hunt of my surroundings and I research them. I figure out their history; I taste their food; I experience their culture, because I want to bring my reader into whatever the setting is that I’m offering them.

There are times that I know who all the characters will be. Then sometimes I have no idea who my characters will be, and as I start writing, they just kind of show up.

Once I start a book, I write a scene a day. Then, I go back the next day and reread what I’ve written. I usually have a beginning and I know the end, but I don’t know how I’m going to get there. My stories unfold to me just like they do to my readers. Every now and then in my quiet times with the Lord, He’ll give me a picture of something that will happen in the middle of the book or the middle of a scene and I’ll jot down the details and know that’s a place I want to go in the story. I really do believe that the Holy Spirit guides the story, because I’m really not that good of a writer. Honestly, Melanie, when I finish a story, I don’t know how it all came about.

Denise, a southern girl through and through, has strong roots in SC. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a BA in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sports. Shortly after graduation, she moved to Nashville to chase her dream of becoming a Christian singer. Dream crushed, and years later, she lives in Franklin, Tennessee, alongside her husband, Philly, five bonus kids, and a dog. This sweet daughter of a preacher man is the author of nine books, a Bible teacher, and founder of Reclaiming Hearts Ministries.

Penning Christian fiction novels has led Denise on a journey of reclaiming her own heart – the heart Jesus created in her when she became His child – and the heart He is continuing to mold to be like His. Her joyful heart seemed to slip further and further away as she went through a very difficult time in her life. After years of heart wrenching cries out to God to fix a marriage that was broken, she realized the inevitable. Reconciliation would not take place, and her worst nightmare became a reality. Divorce became part of her story.

The Lord has used her gift of writing to heal Denise and help her rediscover her heart which had been suppressed by shoving her soul into a dark closet and refusing to fight for herself. Dealing with the shame of divorce, and seeking to understand why a failed marriage happened to her, took a huge toll on her life.

Q: You share often with your audiences the following two phrases. One, “It caused my heart to shut down,” and two, “I didn’t laugh for a very long time.” Could you explain what you mean?

A:  Sure. I think the process of the shutting down of a heart looks different for all of us. It comes from our own experiences and I often say that the shutting down of our hearts is our own sin. No one else can shut our heart down separate from abuse as a child when I believe, God shuts it down to rescue you and captures it for you. But even in something like that, there has to be a moment in that where you decide the enemy will not rob anything else from you. For me, the shutting down process began very early on as I grew up in a very legalistic denomination where my view of God was skewed in that I thought I had to be good enough for God to love me. And (through a lump in her throat) I still struggle with that. It’s a lie from the enemy. I didn’t know better. It’s what I was taught. Then, when my dream was crushed as I moved to Nashville, as everyone was much more talented than me, I lost a piece of my heart to insecurity and fear. Then when my marriage was broken so quickly, to just survive and not get a divorce, I began using coping skills that were very unhealthy, and in the process of that I became a shell of a person. I wouldn’t voice my opinion, because I didn’t want an explosion to occur. I would try to hide what was really happening. My biggest regret in my marriage is that I didn’t fight for my heart; that God-given voice put in the soul of me inside my marriage. I don’t know if the outcome would have been different, but I know I would have been different. I look back and realize now that when God gave me the character of Savannah, from the series Savannah from Savannah, she was such the antithesis of who I was in that season of life. She said what she thought and she was adventurous, crazy, fun, and sassy. I remember my mom saying to me as I wrote, “Baby, that’s you.” And I said, “Mom, that’s not me.” I had so formed to my shell that as I look back, Melanie, I see that that was God wooing me back to Himself into the open with Him to show me who He had created me to be. I didn’t see that until I was outside of my marriage. As I always say, “God will woo us or push us to Him,” and I think that’s what the divorce was for me. But it took the pushing of God for me, unfortunately, but once I got there; it’s kind of like birthing a child. Once you get to the pain place, you have two options; you either push through the pain and you birth that beautiful life God has called you to have, or you abort the process leaving you with something dead. And I had been dead long enough. I looked ten years older than I look now. I wore the heaviness, and I didn’t laugh. I didn’t even do the simple things I loved; I didn’t even know what I loved; I didn’t even know how I liked to wear my hair and that’s the honest truth.

The Denise I’ve come to know and admire is very much alive with an incredible love for Christ. With occasional tear-filled eyes, she continued sharing about her healing process.

Q: What was your relationship like with Christ during this very difficult time in your life?

A: It was real and alive, but still bound in a place of legalism and religiosity. I fasted and fought for my marriage to survive. I believe if it hadn’t been for my relationship with the Lord, I would have had a nervous breakdown with all we walked through. The Lord kept me and I had some very good friends, but very few who knew the whole of my story. There was finally a time when we separated in 2003 that he finally got honest and it was the first time I felt like I could get honest. It was also the first time that people knew where we really were. So, from 2003 until 2007 when we divorced, it was a new day. That journey of honesty led me to know my marriage was over and gave me the ability to walk away, because if I had been who I was in ’03, I don’t believe I could have. The Lord was very present and there was so much work that my heart needed to do to learn about and understand how God loved me. For whatever reason, I couldn’t see it in the middle of that until God led me to a Christian counselor who walked through this journey with me. I went on an extended fast that year and told the Lord to bring anything to light that needed to be revealed. I told Him that He alone knew what I needed to release me from this marriage, but if 10, 20 plus years down the road he is going to be the man you created him to be, I’ll stay. About two weeks after my fast ended, everything was exposed even to the point that I had no idea the extent of where his heart was. He and I had a conversation one night about where he was and he made it very clear that where he was, was where he intended to stay. I felt like the Lord said, “If you stay now, it’s not because I called you to stay. It’s because he’s your god and I’m not your God.” And I realized that not getting a divorce had become my god.

Our lives don’t usually follow our plan. Life takes us on detours that we never saw coming and brings circumstances beyond our finite understanding. But Jesus Christ knows our hearts better than anyone else, and His desire is for us to love Him with all of ours so we can bring Him the most glory possible. Nothing flows through our lives that He doesn’t sift through His fingers first. It’s in the rough, unchartered waters that Jesus holds us tighter, calms our spirits, and wades with us through the dark places and into the light.

Q: With writing, Marriage Conferences, Loving Nashville (a ministry to women in strip clubs), and Women’s VBSs, how do you balance it all with family and still keep yourself spiritually fed?

A: There are three pillars to our ministry and the first is that the ministry doesn’t function unless I’m filled. For me, that involves alone time and deep times of spiritual renewal (required daily). So I have a very protected time in my day that I don’t answer texts, emails, or phone calls, and as a part of my healing process I’ve learned to say, “No”.

The second pillar involves the people God has brought our way who believe in and love what we do, and releasing them to do what they do best. When my children are with me, they have my time. They aren’t with me all of the time and Philly travels a lot, so I do have quite a bit of time alone. Since God hasn’t released us to have children of our own, ministry is where He has placed me to use the skills He has gifted me with.

The third pillar is spiritual discernment. I have learned to only say yes to those things I believe He truly wants me to be a part of. Just like right now, I have no book in my head and haven’t been working on anything for almost a year. So, for whatever reason, God has said this is the season for your voice and not your written words.

I move in my life by inspiration now and not obligation. That was a huge step at reclaiming my heart, because I moved by people’s obligations over me for a very long time. And now the question is, “Lord, what are You asking me to do?” I don’t make plans anymore and ask Him to bless them. I say, “What are Your plans?” It’s like Moses we spoke of last night at VBS. If You call me to it, You’re the I AM; You’re the Equipper, and I can trust that. It doesn’t mean I don’t get tired or have melt-downs. It does mean that I’m able to come back to what I know is true.

Q:  In your latest book, Secrets over Sweet Tea, where did you get the idea for the crazy, fun, pastor’s wife, Scarlett Jo Newberry?

A: I wanted to create a character that was as alive as I could envision, and when I think of what it means to live this alive, reclaimed heart, she was it. She is discerning, transparent. She’s okay with not being okay with everybody. She doesn’t operate from a place of religiosity or spirituality. She operates from a place of authenticity and relationship, which I think is what Jesus is moved by – authenticity.

She loves her food. She tastes it. You know, you watch people who are living in perpetual distraction and they don’t even know what they’re eating. She’s fully engaged wherever she is and in whomever she’s with, and I love her. She may be my favorite character I’ve ever written, next to Savannah.

Q: What is God teaching you right now?

A: I’m learning how to be more courageous; my word for this year. I’m learning what courage looks like in regards to where God has called me in this next season. Because I’m always very aware of the needs of others, I’m happy to learn what I need to accomplish His will. I’m also trying to be a good steward of His voice; continuing to recognize that for Him to speak to us is a gift and that my heart stays at a place where it’s willing to listen and be taught; to trust that if He wants to change course midstream, then the planner in me can be okay with that.

My new author friend with her contagious smile is bringing much glory to Jesus Christ. Her deep faith overflows into her real life through a beautiful reclaimed heart.
So whether Denise escorts you to Charleston, SC, Savannah, GA, Franklin, TN, or some other southern heaven, her characters (and readers) are always embarking on a journey to discovering real Truth and reclaiming their hearts… whether they know it or not. •LR•

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Melanie Shull is the founder of Living
Real magazine. She is a wife, mother, singer, songwriter, and speaker.

God’s Delays are Not Cancellations

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Have you ever had to change course as you fulfill God’s call on your life because of unexpected circumstances?

In June, 2011 God sent twenty-four year old, Amanda Heaberlin and her husband, Zach to Guangzhou, China. Zach served as principal and Amanda taught English in an underground Chinese Christian school.

During their year’s stay they also helped smuggle nearly ten thousand Bibles from Hong Kong into China. They desired to equip many Chinese with God’s Holy Word so they could know the truth. Although never in danger, many times Zach and Amanda faced lengthy delays on their journey back to the mainland while large boxes of Bibles were confiscated for inspection.

After a wonderful year-end program in June, presented by the students of the Christian school, Zach worked fervently planning the curriculum for 2012-13. He set up classrooms, painted walls, scrubbed floors, and accomplished many other chores. He and Amanda were excited and praising God when they learned that student enrollment would double the following year. Zach even preached some that summer at a Filipino church in Hong Kong, while the pastor and his wife returned stateside for a much needed furlough.

After living in China for about a year, Amanda noticed that her strength diminished dramatically during her routine jogs. She blamed the heat. Soon bruises appeared on her legs. She became short of breath. Her temperature increased to 102.4 degrees. Exhaustion caused her to faint. “I just need to get more rest,” she thought.

However, Amanda became weaker. In September, a Chinese doctor diagnosed her with acute myeloid leukemia. Not what the couple expected, but they knew God’s plan was much greater than theirs. Recovery would take months and treatment in China was not an option. Amanda held tight to Paul’s pledge: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content;” Philippians 4:11 (NKJV)

The young couple stayed in Hong Kong for five days while blood transfusions, antibiotics, and platelets were administered to control her anemia. After a bone biopsy, the doctor gave her permission to travel.

Wearing a face mask and transported by wheelchair, Amanda joined Zach with plans to fly back to Chicago. Because she looked pale and sick, airline personnel in Hong Kong decided she couldn’t travel. After much wrangling, a Chinese pastor friend helped them get permission to board the flight back to the United States. He took them under his wing, allowing them to travel in the more comfortable business class. Although exhausted and dazed, they placed their faith in God to take care of them. It seemed their mission in China had ended.

Before being admitted to a hospital for further treatment, Amanda was reunited with family in Columbia, SC. Her leukemia was very aggressive, so chemo therapy began promptly.
A Hickman device which could transport two types of chemo simultaneously was placed in Amanda’s chest. The first month’s hospital stay proved difficult and exhausting. The Hickman device caused much discomfort so it was replaced by a port in Amanda’s upper left arm; a painful undertaking. Zach was constantly at her side as they trusted God one day at a time.

While in the hospital, when Amanda had enough energy for short walks, she made friends with several children suffering from cancer. Many times she mentioned them in inspiring words she wrote to family and friends concerning her care and progress. She was such an encouragement to everyone. In spite of the unknown, she and Zach sensed God’s constant, loving presence.

Amanda encountered a huge challenge when her long, beautiful hair began to fall out. The loss of her gorgeous locks was difficult and brought many tears. She asked God to help her adapt to the change. Zach and a few family members and friends gathered around her as she closed her eyes when all her hair was shaved. God began focusing her heart on others. He prompted her to make business cards with her new photo on them. They served as an introduction to let others know about her peace and her Jesus. Amanda learned her beautiful hair doesn’t define her, but her example of God’s love does. She learned that, for her, bald was beautiful!

When Amanda became well enough to be released, her doctors recommended plenty of rest. Her resistance to infection was very low so she couldn’t handle money or touch doorknobs because of germs. She and Zach lived in a trailer on her parents’ property throughout her treatment. Except for momentary uncertainty, their hope and trust in the Lord remained firm.

Many times during this journey, Amanda’s platelets and blood counts dipped very low. Fevers overtook her which delayed chemo treatments and recovery time was lengthened. Although delays were discouraging, God provided strength through their prayers and those of family and friends.

After a year of treatments, Amanda’s doctor finally called on May 13, 2013. “Your marrow looks good. You’re in remission!” Amanda wept with joy.

Amanda and Zach praise God that this journey with cancer drew them closer to Him and to each other. Adversity strengthened their marriage. Their faith and trust in God gave them peace.

Still burdened for the Chinese people, they have partnered with a group which smuggles Bibles into China. They now train teams for short term trips to Hong Kong, and several times a year, Zach travels to encourage pastors and missionaries there to stay the course. •LR•

Buffy MacDonald Crabtree is the author
of “Grieving God’s Way – He Feels Your Pain.” Serving God, writing, and traveling are
her passions.

Katie Eats

fruit620x250Food. Have you ever really thought about it? Most people in our country don’t eat food just to survive. We eat food because it tastes good and lean on our cravings to decide which foods to eat, which usually results in eating too many calories. We are drawn to eating foods that are full of sugar, fat and simple carbohydrates. When you switch to eating fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, then your body thrives. In the Garden of Eden, God created plants and trees to provide food for us. When we eat the way God intended, our chances of developing many cancers decrease, our blood pressure, cholesterol and weight naturally lower. Scripture says that our bodies are God’s temple; therefore, we can honor God through eating healthy.

 

Black Eyed Pea and Okra Gumbo

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· black eyed peas, 32 oz
· okra, 16 oz
· 1 cup brown rice
· 2 cans diced tomatoes
· 14 oz green chiles
· 1 medium onion
· 2 tsp garlic
· 4 cups vegetable broth
· 2 tsp oregano
· 1 tsp salt, or to taste

Directions

Place all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 45-50 until rice is tender. I like the gumbo thick and chunky, but you can add 2 cups of water so the consistency is more like soup. Also, if you don’t like spicy foods you can use mild chiles and only add 7 oz instead of 14 oz.

 

Tex Mex Minestrone

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· 4 cups vegetable stock
· 1 can diced tomatoes
· 1 lb. dried pinto beans (soak the night before)
· garlic, 6 cloves diced
· 1 lb. carrots, diced
· 2 zucchini, diced with seeds taken out
· 1 medium onion, diced
· 10 tomatillos
· 1 cup fresh cilantro
· 1 cup fresh parsley
· 1 tsp dried oregano
· 3 tbsp olive oil
· 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
· juice of one lime
· salt to taste

Directions

Step One:
Soup Prep. In a large saucepan, add vegetable stock, canned
tomatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, onion, carrots and pinto beans. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 1 hour.

Step Two:
Peel 10 tomatillos and place on non-stick pan or spray pan with cooking spray. Bake in oven at 375 for 10-15, until tender.
Remove from oven and let cool. Puree in food processor. Set aside tomatillo mixture in separate bowl.

Step Three:
Making chimichurri. In clean food processor add, 1 cup fresh cilantro, 1 cup fresh parsley, 1 tsp dried oregano, juice of one lime, 2 tbsp sherry vinegar, 3 tbsp olive oil, 4 cloves of chopped garlic and 1 tsp salt.

Step Four:
Add zucchini, pureed tomatillos and chimichurri to soup. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes until zucchini and pinto beans are tender. •LR•

Katie Bryan is a former early childhood teacher, wife and mother of two sweet girls that look just like their daddy. She provides weekly recipes on her blog at: www.KatieEats.com