Joanie

Shawhan

In Her Shoes

Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer

Walking a Loved One Eternally Home

 

 

 

“I have stage 4 cancer,” my sister Tracy said.

I groaned as I tightened my grip on the phone.

 

How could this happen to my sister? She goes to the gym everyday. As a cancer survivor and a nurse with an oncology background, I was familiar with stage 4 cancer. But a few days later, my heart sank. God had whispered in my spirit, “Walk her home.”

 

How do I say goodbye to my sister nine years younger, nine hours away and nine years old when I left home? We had rarely visited or talked with one another between crazy schedules and multiple states.

 

How do I walk my sister home? How do we walk our loved ones home?

 

With God’s help, I discovered ways to walk Tracy home.  

 

1.  Pray. Ask God how to pray for them. Ask our loved ones for their prayer requests. My sister wanted prayer for the pain.

 

2.  Encourage. Share encouraging words, scriptures and songs. I sent my sister a Bible, but would she feel well enough to read it? I created daily memes with scriptures of God’s love, comfort and faithfulness.

 

3.   Listen. Some people want to talk about dying. Tracy did not want to talk about cancer, death or anything negative.

 

4.   Respect. We need to respect their choices. Tracy had a rare bladder cancer resistant to both chemotherapy and radiation with a life expectancy of 3-6 months. She did not want to live the rest of her days sick from chemotherapy. Instead, she chose two weeks of alternative treatment in Mexico followed by a home regimen.

 

5.   Contact. Call, text and send cards. I discovered that Tracy was more receptive to conversations starting with “What’s up?” rather than “How are you?” This gave her the option to talk about things other than cancer. She preferred to text when her breathing grew labored.

  

6.   Gifts. My sisters and I sent flowers, Polish pottery, tea, books, DVD’s and hand-knitted socks and blanket.

 

7.   Meals. Tracy’s co-workers ordered food from a local restaurant when they heard family were in town. There were so many leftovers that she invited her co-workers for dinner the following day.

 

8.   Finances. A devastating diagnosis can drain the family’s finances. Tracy’s treatment in Mexico was expensive and not covered by insurance. One of my sisters set up a Medgift account for her.

 

9.   Visits. Visits from friends and family can be great distractions from sickness and pain. But they can also be exhausting. Some days our loved ones may feel better than other days. Call or text to see if they would like a visit.

 

10.  Outings. Movies, shopping trips and walks provide wonderful distractions.

 

11.  Serve. Offer specific help such as childcare, housekeeping or lawn care. Tracy wanted help taking down her Christmas decorations. As part of staging their house, my brother painted and laid flooring.

 

12.  Prepare. Prepare for the loved ones left behind. Help videotape messages, sort photographs or write cards for special occasions. Tracy and I sorted through her childhood photos.

 

13.  Celebrate. My brother-in-law brought Tracy into town for an old-time family dinner. Fourteen of us gathered around the table set with china that hadn’t been outside of a hutch in over twenty years. Wisecracks, laughter and family stories mingled with the aroma of roast beef. For a little while we could forget that this weekend would be our last time together.

 

14.  Hope. Allow hope. Between staggered breaths, Tracy had said “We’ve had lots of miracles in our family. I hope there is one more miracle for me.” My sister still clung to hope despite starting oxygen and entering hospice.

 

 

On Good Friday, Tracy’s husband texted, “Her condition has worsened. I don’t know how long she has.” My Mom, sisters and I arrived in town to be with Tracy during her last days. We enjoyed Easter together, Tracy hooked up to oxygen, swinging on the patio and soaking in the sun. Early the next morning, Jesus received her eternally home. I am sure she would say along with the psalmist David—

 

“When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied.” (Psalm 17:15b NLT).

 

How would you lead a loved one eternally home?

 

 

 

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11 Benefits of Creativity Through Crafting

 

 

Blobs of paint, faceted stones and skeins of thread crafted into masterpieces by my own hands boggle my mind. (See photo). Crafting has enriched my life since childhood.

 

 

My Craft Journey

 

I embarked on my journey of crafting at the age of five. I begged my mother to teach me how to embroider. She threaded the needle for me and taught me how to make X’s on the pre-stamped embroidery cloth. With one hand I grasped the hoop that held the cloth taut. Up with the needle, down with the needle as I punctured the cloth, attempting to follow the stamped pattern of a teacup and saucer. I had created a masterpiece!

 

I moved on to weaving potholders on a loom, leading me into my first start-up business— selling potholders door-to-door.

 

During the summer, our local grade school hosted summer crafts. Each day, I had a dime to purchase a craft project. I painted plaster molds, laced leather cases and wove lanyards with gimp.

 

During the winter, I painted by number, created mosaics, sewed, knitted and crocheted. My siblings and I used styrofoam, ribbon and foil to fashion Christmas ornaments. We cut out snowflakes and strung popcorn and cranberries.

 

In high school, my curriculum revolved around academics and music until my senior year. I enrolled in a pottery class. I had no idea what I was doing, but something awakened in my soul when I sunk my fingers into the cool, wet lump of clay— kneaded, moistened, pounded. Finally the clay was ready to be formed into a coil pot—baked, glazed and baked again. Whenever I had a free period, I retreated to the art room, immersed myself in my creations and discovered joy.

 

As a new graduate nurse, rotating days and nights proved very stressful. My oasis of sanity lay strewn across my dining room table—jars of paint and plaster figurines. Each evening I painted and stained the figures until I had created a Nativity set that I still display at Christmas.

 

 

What are the Benefits of Crafting and Creativity?

 

1. Relaxation. Working with our hands can help us unwind and reduce stress. 

 

2. Achievement. Admiring our finished project gives us a sense of accomplishment especially if it is  something we never thought we could do.

 

3. Sharpness. Learning new skills may improve our cognitive thinking.

 

4. Income. The projects we create may increase our earnings in the marketplace.

 

5. Confidence. Mastering new techniques gives us courage that will carry over to other aspects of our lives and enable us to attempt new ventures.

 

6. Practical. Sewing and knitting projects can be incorporated into a wardrobe and accessorized with handcrafted jewelry. Quilts, paintings and needlework projects can add to a home’s décor.

 

7. Gifts. Handcrafted items provide personalized presents as well as donations for fundraisers and non-profit organizations.

 

8. Perseverance. By trying and trying again, we learn persistence and the value of not giving up even when we perceive we have failed.

 

9. Honor. Our creativity can be an act of worshipping God.

 

10. Satisfaction. We are fulfilled when we walk in God’s creative plans and purposes.

 

11. Beauty. Beauty inspires us and lifts our spirits as we listen to God’s creative whispers.

 

 

God is the inspiration for our creativity through nature, people and the artistry of others. We create because we are created in His image. He is the Master Creator and invites us to participate in His creativity.

 

“God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out. He created the earth and everything in it.” (Isaiah 42:5 NLT)

 

Today, I still enjoy creating through writing, music, painting, knitting and designing jewelry.

 

March is National Craft Month. How are you inspired to craft, using your gifts of creativity? Would you like to share your photos?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ovarian Cancer Survivors: The Fried Eggs—Sunny-Side Up

 

 

 

“We should start a social group for ovarian cancer survivors,” the leader of our STS (Survivors Teaching Students) course said. “Not a support group, but a fun group.”

 

We had just presented our ovarian cancer stories to a class of medical students in the STS program.

 

Our first meeting convened in a private room at a restaurant aptly called The Egg and I. We introduced ourselves, sharing snippets of our cancer journeys. Some of us have had recurrence, some are in treatment and some are cancer-free.

 

“I can make a contact list,” one member said. “I can also put together a binder with our photos and bios. With chemobrain it’s hard to remember names.”

 

We settled on meeting the fourth Tuesday of the month, each member taking a turn choosing the restaurant. Due to the nature of our conversations, we request a private room. We welcome new members, catch up, share info about new treatments, activities and fundraisers. Occasionally we plan to meet during the evening or on a Saturday in order to include those not available during the week.

 

 

FUNDRAISERS

 

“Don’t forget to sign up for the Whisper Walk,” our leader reminds us. The Whisper Walk is named for the symptoms of ovarian cancer that whisper. The walk is a fundraiser for cancer research sponsored by WOCA (The Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance).

 

“We still have seating open for Sparkle of Hope.” This special evening celebrates the lives of women touched by gynecological cancers. The event raises funds for ongoing research at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center.

 

 

ACTIVITIES

 

“I’m a docent at the museum. I can arrange a tour.”

 

“We have a place up north with a pontoon boat.”

 

“Our research doctor is offering a tour of his ovarian cancer lab.”

 

“Registration is open for ovarian cancer camp at Camp Mak-A-Dream in Missoula, Montana. It’s free of charge for ovarian cancer survivors. WOCA is offering scholarships to help cover airfare.”

 

 

CATCH UP

 

“My CT scan is negative. The new study drug is working!” one member shared. Her Huskie had sniffed out her cancer and two recurrences before the doctors or scans could discover it.

 

“I just finished chemo!”

 

“I leave for Boston tomorrow,” one woman says. It is one of many trips she makes to Dana Farber every three weeks to participate in a drug trial. Her cancer is stable.

 

We are teal sisters, members of a club we never chose to join, fighting a battle we never wanted to fight. We are ovarian cancer survivors.

 

We are The Fried Eggs—Sunny-Side up.

 

 

 

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7 Steps to Celebrate Life in the New Year for Those Grieving

 

 

 

 

 

The ball drops in Times Square, announcing the arrival of a new year. For many, promises of new beginnings and dreams dance in their heads. But with the coming of the new, we must say goodbye to the old. For some, the goodbye is bittersweet. The year has been marked by sadness, sorrow and heartache.

 

For me, the past year has been filled with painful losses and goodbyes, culminating in celebrations of life. Lives of those who passed fighting health battles and the passing of lives well lived. We want to greet the coming year with hope and expectation, but sometimes we get stuck in grief. How can we move forward when the time spent with our loved ones is locked in the past?

 

January is Celebration of Life Month. We honor the lives of those who passed, but we also want to celebrate our lives in the present.

 

How do we move forward and celebrate life?

 

1.  Hold on to what is good. Remember the good times. Cherish the memories.

 

2.  Let go of the negative. Forgive offenses. Release bitterness, regrets and guilt that trap us in the past.

 

3.  Forgive those who hurt us. Forgive those who left us.

 

4.  Be thankful. Thank God for His faithfulness, for bringing us through this hard season into a new year. Thank Him for the wonderful things He has in store for us.

 

5.  Enjoy the relationships God has brought into our lives. Appreciate those who have stood with us in our joys and in our sorrows.

 

6.  Set goals. So often we set goals that are not realistic or goals we maintain for a few weeks by our own willpower. But what are God’s goals for us? What are His goals for work? Relationships? Personal life? Character development? Ask him. Study His Word. How does He want us to accomplish these goals?

 

7.  Cultivate hope. Hope releases us from the prison of depression and despair.

 

We don’t know what the next year will bring, but as we move into the New Year, let us remember that each day is a gift from God.

 

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11)

 

 

 

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8 Ways to Cope with Grief During the Holidays

 

 

Turkey, tinsel and Christmas lights cannot fill the emptiness in our hearts after the loss of a loved one. A season to be jolly morphs into a dread of the upcoming holidays. Our hearts are broken. Our holidays will never be the same.

 

How do we cope, let alone celebrate when the vacant chair at our table is a constant reminder of our loss?

 

1.    Recognize that the holidays are going to be painful, especially the firsts. It’s all right to grieve, to  acknowledge our loss and brokenness.

 

2.   Have a plan. Lack of a plan exacerbates the loneliness and isolation. Accept a new invitation.     Find activities you enjoy.

 

3.   Keep the traditions meaningful to you. Let go of traditions or activities that drain your strength.

 

4.   Start a new tradition in memory of your loved one. Create a special ornament or floral arrangement in their memory. Donate to their favorite charity. Light a candle.

 

5.   Reminisce. Talk about the person. Tell stories. Laugh together.

 

6.   Travel. Spend the holidays with relatives or friends. Take a vacation. Go on a cruise. Travel breaks the monotony of grief and provides an opportunity to make new memories.

 

7.   Help others. Helping others takes our eyes off of our pain and ourselves. Serve a holiday meal at a shelter. Get involved with Christmas toy or food drives. Make a phone call, send a card or pray for someone else who is hurting.

 

8.   Give thanks. During seasons of grief and loss, we often don’t feel thankful. When we give thanks, we shift our focus off our pain and onto God. We keep the memory of our loved one alive by giving thanks for the beautiful memories we shared.

 

 

 

How do you cope with the grief during the holidays?

 

 

 

A Sparkle of Hope for Gynecologic Cancers

 

 

 

Electricity filled the air, sparking excitement and anticipation as I approached the registration table at the Monona Terrace. The time had finally arrived to get our sparkle on for Sparkle of Hope, a special evening celebrating women touched by gynecologic cancers.

 

I received my nametag and registered my credit card to place bids for the silent auction. Several large jars of coins had been plunked on the table, coins collected for the year to Make a Change for Sparkle of Hope research and gynecologic projects at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center.

 

Cocktails and Diamonds

 

Live music performed by the Mad City Trio beckoned me to the windows overlooking Lake Monona. I mingled with guests in cocktail attire, including other ovarian cancer survivors. Our eyes lingered over the items donated for the silent auction. Easels boasted poster size photos of a diamond necklace as well as a square cut emerald. The silent auction held other attractions: jewelry, knitted baby gifts, food baskets and wine. The auction would not be complete without Wisconsin Badger memorabilia: game tickets, Badger chairs and autographed footballs.

 

I stopped at a painting featuring the iconic table and chair sets dispersed across the Memorial Union Terrace overlooking Lake Mendota. The vibrant greens, reds and yellows provided a lovely contrast to the deep blue lake dotted with sailboats.

 

“What a beautiful painting!” I said to the stranger who seemed to be admiring the painting as well.

 

“I painted it,” she replied.

 

I didn’t know what to say, or maybe I had already said it.

 

I strolled over to a table with rows of gold gift bags—the Diamond Dig. Tissue paper peeked over the top of the bags, hiding their treasures, but only one of these bags contained the coveted diamond necklace. I purchased my chance. Would I be the winner this year?

 

As I passed the Diamond Dig, I spotted a sign, “Punch Out Cancer.” Buy a chance, make a fist, punch a hole and retrieve your gift. Prizes varied from a free scoop of ice cream to $100 gift cards. My last punch yielded a McDonalds coupon.

 

I wanted to raise awareness for Sparkle of Hope, so along with Stephanie Herfel, I shot a Facebook live video. Stephanie is an ovarian cancer survivor, a member of the Sparkle of Hope committee and one of our featured speakers. Stephanie sparkled in her teal evening gown as she shared how her huskie, Sierra, sniffed out her cancer before the doctors diagnosed it.

 

The lights flickered, summoning us to the banquet room. I joined other ovarian cancer survivors as guests at a table sponsored by the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance which included the organization’s directors. A pumpkin overflowing with peach colored roses, yellow tea roses and fall leaves graced the center of our table. We slipped our secret bids into a gold envelope which would determine the fate of the centerpieces at the end of the evening.

 

Journey of Hope

 

Eric Franke, our emcee from channel 3000, opened the program. Defying social etiquette, he endorsed the use of cell phones during dinner. Throughout the evening, we grabbed our phones and continued to bid on the silent auction items.

 

After dinner, the program began with a video highlighting the faculty and staff of dedicated researchers. As grateful patients shared their stories, they encouraged the doctors, reminding them of how important their research is in prolonging the lives of women with gynecologic cancers. The University of Wisconsin ranks thirteenth in the nation for gynecology. Sparkle of Hope dollars allow junior researchers to start projects that may lead to national grants.

 

Cutting-Edge

 

Dr. Lisa Barroilhet shared how the last three years have yielded exciting strides in the field of ovarian cancer research with the introduction of PARP inhibitors, a type of targeted therapy. PARP inhibitors attack the cancer cells without harming normal cells. Even though they are still classified as chemotherapy, they are taken orally, allowing women to live fairly normal lives at home. For some women, these drugs have stabilized their ovarian cancer. For others, the tumors have shrunk to the point that there is no evidence of disease.

 

Diamond Revealed

 

The time had come to reveal the results of the Diamond Dig. We held up our tickets while volunteers clutching the gold bags weaved in and out among the tables, exchanging our tickets for a bag. Once all the bags were distributed, we simultaneously yanked out the tissue paper. Where is the diamond necklace? From the other side of the room, a cry rings out—the diamond! The rest of us console ourselves with the gourmet chocolates tucked in our bags.

 

Lively Auction

 

Spotters scattered throughout the ballroom in preparation for the live auction. Let the bidding begin: a Madison adventure package featuring a premier suite and a private flight over Madison, a diamond earring and bracelet set, custom diamond drop earrings, a Camp Randall VIP package including football tickets and a guest conductor spot with the UW marching band, or Cheering for Charity—a private party with the UW basketball coach and his wife at their home during a Badger football away game.

 

Fervent Finale

 

Stephanie closed the evening sharing the photos and stories of other ovarian cancer survivors as well as the latest chapter of her story. Last year, Stephanie had a recurrence and started the PARP targeted therapy. Today she has no evidence of disease. This past summer, Stephanie also got married. At the suggestion of a friend, instead of clinking glasses, the wedding guests dropped money in a kissing jar, raising $700 for Sparkle of Hope.

 

The call for last minute donations initiated a flurry of cell phone activity. Names of donors along with dollar amounts flashed across the screens to reach the goal of $150,000.

 

Thank you to our generous sponsors and donors who made Sparkle of Hope possible. Total dollars raised? $168,000!

 

Happy 10th anniversary, Sparkle of Hope!

 

 

 

 

Not All Female Cancers Are Pink

 

 

 

 

 

Pink lights illuminate bridges, state capitols and city landmarks. Runners, walkers and strollers race for the cure. Pink ribbons embellish bags, jewelry, hats and t-shirts. Teas, brunches and banquets raise funds for breast cancer research. Even NFL players sport pink in October.

 

Think pink! Wear pink! Celebrate pink! October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We celebrate breast cancer survivors.

 

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer that affects women. The female cancer with the lowest survival rate, though, is ovarian cancer.

 

Are you aware that there is a connection between breast cancer and ovarian cancer?

 

I am an ovarian cancer survivor. We had no family history of ovarian cancer. My aunt had breast cancer after the age of 50. My personal risks for ovarian cancer included endometriosis, no children and obesity. In 2006, I rolled over in bed and felt a firm grapefruit-size mass in my abdomen. My ovarian cancer journey began.

 

As a breast cancer survivor, could you also be at risk for ovarian cancer?

 

 

Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer

 

BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations can cause cancer. Of all women with breast cancer, 5-10% carry these gene mutations. According to the Foundation of Women’s Health, a BRCA1 mutation carries a 39-46% increased risk of ovarian cancer. A BRCA2 mutation carries a 10-27% increased risk of ovarian cancer.

 

A personal diagnosis of breast cancer before the age of 45.

 

A close blood relative diagnosed with ovarian cancer at any age.

 

A personal diagnosis of breast cancer before age 50 and a blood relative with breast cancer before age 50.

 

Two or more close relatives on the same side of the family with breast cancer before the age of 50.

 

Ashkenazi Jewish descent. 1 in 40 carry BRCA mutations.

 

 

Why Ovarian Cancer Has a Low Survival Rate

 

 

There are no screening tests for ovarian cancer. Early diagnosis greatly improves a woman’s chances of survival. But the vague symptoms often mimic gastrointestinal disorders that can be easily ignored or misdiagnosed. Many women are diagnosed in the latter stages and therefore experience a poorer prognosis.

 

What Can We Do?

 

Being aware of changes in your own body is your best defense for early detection of ovarian cancer. If the following symptoms persist for several weeks, please consult a gynecologist.

 

The Most Common Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

 

  • Persistent bloating with an increase in the size of the abdomen
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Feeling full quickly after eating
  • Urinary urgency or frequency

 

 

As we celebrate breast cancer survivors, let us remember that not all female cancers are pink. Do you know your risk for ovarian cancer? Listen for the symptoms that whisper.

 

 

 

 

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Cancer: A Word that Strikes Terror

 

 

 

Are there certain words that trigger pressure in your chest or tightness in your throat?

 

 

For me, that word is cancer.

 

 

I am an ovarian cancer survivor.

 

 

My Story

 

 

During the summer of 2006, Every time I had another bout of nausea, I brushed thoughts of ovarian cancer from my mind. Surely these spells were too infrequent to be cancer.

 

 

But in September, I rolled over in bed and felt a grapefruit-size mass in my abdomen. I closed my eyes and dismissed the whispers of ovarian cancer.

 

 

Several weeks later, I almost shot off the table when my physical therapist palpated my spine to isolate the location of my back pain. It’s not in my back, it’s jabbing through my abdomen!

 

 

My gynecologist suspected a uterine fibroid and ordered an ultrasound. Even in the dark room, I saw the ultrasound tech lock her eyes on mine. Something is seriously wrong.

 

 

Gripping the ultrasound report in her hand, my doctor said, “You have ovarian cancer, the size of a cantaloupe.” She rattled off all that needed done—scheduling tests and surgery. I barely heard her words. Was she talking to me?

 

 

When I walked into the hospital on surgery day, I exchanged my scrubs and nurse shoes for tieback gowns and skid-free slipper socks. The surgeon removed a volleyball-size tumor—ovarian cancer.

 

 

Today, I am cancer-free. During my treatment, I lost myself to ovarian cancer, but in losing myself, I found a new purpose and calling. Today I have an encouragement ministry to women undergoing chemotherapy. I advocate for and educate women and healthcare professionals regarding ovarian cancer. I write articles so that other women won’t put off getting checked out if they have any signs or symptoms, like I did.

 

 

September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Ovarian cancer is the most lethal of all female cancers. The symptoms women experience prior to diagnosis may be vague or similar to other diseases. This causes some doctors to rule out other causes before they discover ovarian cancer, which is why it is often not diagnosed until later stages.

 

 

Ovarian cancer used to be called the silent killer, but survival rates are high if discovered in the early stages. Learn from my story. Will you listen for the whispers of ovarian cancer?

 

 

 

Contact your doctor if the following symptoms of ovarian cancer persist:

 

·      Gastrointestinal symptoms:

Bloating, indigestion, nausea, feeling full or loss of appetite

·      Pelvic or low back pressure or pain

·      Urinating more frequently

·      Changes in bowel patterns

·      Tired or low energy

Pursuing Happiness? Upgrade to Joy

 

 

In the pursuit of happiness, I have filled my life with many things. Some I regret, some were wonderful gifts, but none filled the void deep within.

 

When I pursued happiness, I discovered that eventually the surge of pleasure dissipated. The negative emotions I attempted to suppress—hurt, grief, sadness, loneliness—once again surfaced, and I felt empty. I scrambled for the next available object or relationship to fill that void, desperately hoping to restore bliss. I often based my happiness on my circumstances.

 

 

Many of us strive for contentment. We may regret some of our choices. Shopping therapy may lift our moods—until we receive the credit card bill. Whether lonely, tired or depressed, we know chocolates boost our spirits— until we glare at the digits on the scale. Addictions drive us with unquenchable thirst that demands a fix, surpassing the previous high. We get involved in wrong relationships. These derail our destinies and hurtle us down destructive paths, leaving a wake of devastation.

 

 

We look for fulfillment not only in these temporary pleasures, but our blessings as well. Traveling to exotic places can be exhilarating, but once we arrive home, the sights and sounds are relegated to memory. We throw ourselves into our jobs, chasing the next promotion, a different boss or more money. We purchase larger houses with higher mortgages. We fill them with pets whose soulful eyes beg us to take them home.

 

 

Relationships are one of the greatest gifts God has given us to enjoy. From childhood, a girl dreams of her wedding day, gliding down the aisle clothed in a princess gown to meet her groom. Oops, the knight in shining armor has fallen off his horse AGAIN! Next comes the arrival of a darling bundle of joy. Ten tiny toes and fingers plunged into adorable outfits. But soon come sleepless nights, terrible twos and rebellious teens.

 

 

We often expect these blessings to fill the deep void inside of us. But when happiness eludes us because of unfulfilled expectations, barbs of emptiness stab at our hearts. It is during these seasons of disappointment, hurt and disillusionment that we become offended and bitterness takes root. Unfortunately, we sometimes trash relationships we once treasured.

 

 

Maybe we need to upgrade our pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of joy.

 

 

Joy is eternal. It transcends our circumstances. Joy comes easy during our mountaintop adventures. But we can also experience joy in seasons of deep sorrow. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit that comes from the presence of Jesus in our lives. He is the only one who can fill the empty places, heal our broken hearts and restore joy. When we pursue Jesus and His presence, we experience His joy.

 

 

Psalm 16:11 NKJV says, “In His presence is the fullness of joy.”

 

 

How can we upgrade happiness to joy?

 

 

Thanksgiving

We thank God for all He has given us, acknowledging that all we have comes from Him. Expressing words of gratitude leads us to contentment and joy.

 

Praise

Praise opens the door to the presence of God. In praise and worship, we take our eyes off ourselves and our concerns and turn our gazes toward God. We focus on who He is— His character, His majesty, His glory—and we are filled with His joy.

 

Scripture

When we reflect on the truth of God’s Word, we discover His character—His compassion, His mercy and His love for us. His promises offer us comfort, peace, hope and joy.

 

Testimony

Reading or listening to the real-life stories of how God rescued others in the midst of their suffering restores hope and stirs our joy.

 

Helping Others

Reaching out to others takes our eyes off ourselves. We focus on the needs of another person. In our giving, we please God, the giver of life, and He allows us to share in His joy.

 

Forgive

Corrie ten Boom said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” Forgiveness generates joy.

 

 

In the presence of God I have been changed. I discovered that He has enabled me to do the seemingly impossible—believe, trust and forgive.

 

 

How can you upgrade from the pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of joy?

 

 

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Press into Liberty

 

 

July, the month we celebrate liberty. We wave our flags, shoot off fireworks, and host cookouts. We proudly blast our national anthem.

 

 

But sometimes we long for the freedom we sing about in “The Star Spangled Banner”. We may have endured a season of battle, targeted by the lies of the enemy in the pitch of night. We wonder if we will ever see the light of dawn. Like our frayed stars and stripes, we feel tattered and torn. We wave and scream through the smoke, “I’m still here!”

 

 

God says:

 

You are not forgotten (Isaiah 49:15)

 

You are not alone (John 14:18)

 

You are victorious (1 Corinthians15:57)

 

 

I experienced such a battle. I am an ovarian cancer survivor. Chemotherapy threatened my life. It induced baldness, brain fog, debilitating fatigue and crushing chest pain. Would I survive this assault on my body and the “what ifs” that pummeled my mind?

 

 

God says:

 

You are created for a purpose (Ephesians 2:10)

 

You are beautiful (Song of Songs 4:7)

 

You are courageous (Joshua 1:9)

 

 

Life’s events can rip us apart. We wonder if we will ever be whole again. Don’t give up! God has not given up on you. He gathers the tattered remnants of our lives and weaves them into an unfurled banner reflecting His glory.

 

 

God says:

 

You are chosen (Ephesians 1:11)

 

You are forgiven (1 John 1:9)

 

You are precious (Isaiah 43:4)

 

 

Do you feel as though doubts and lies have assailed you? In the midst of the battle, remember the truth of who you are and press into liberty.

 

God says:

 

You are loved (Jeremiah 31:3)

 

You are accepted (Ephesians 1:6)

 

You are free (Galatians 5:1)

 

 

 

 

Wave your flag of freedom!

 

 

 

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Joanie with water bottle
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