Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bitter Waters Turned Sweet

I'm touched by the many well wishes and prayer commitments from readers and friends. Several of them have walked the same path. Their personal stories and encouragements to "never give up" are fortifying me for the days ahead.

My powerport was inserted last Friday. Lying under the skin, it will enable me to receive my chemo infusions and give blood without becoming a pincushion. ( I have small veins that love to play hide and seek at the sight of a needle!)

I began my chemotherapy in the hospital yesterday. I’m scheduled for two days twice a month at Hendrick Medical Center, Abilene. My sister-in-law drove me over and George will be here the last night before my Sunday release. It’s a little after midnight. The West Texas winds are whipping against my seventh-floor windows, eager to find their way into the cracks of the old panes with rhythmic, gentle whistles. I find it oddly comforting.

It's quiet now, but this past week was busy. There was so much to do! Patients have to get dental work completed before therapy. Thankfully, my dentist worked me in last week and I was able to cross out another "must do" from my list.

In the refrigerator back home are cancer-fighting and immune-boosting foods that I've been eating since my diagnosis--kale, spinach, cabbage, salmon, white fish, chia seeds (labeled "flaxseeds on steroids") loads of great spices and seasonings--garlic, onions, oregano, etc. A big "thank you!" to my super sister-in-law and trained chef, Shana, who researched power-packed foods and prepared dishes for George and me during this difficult time. She blogs as Chef Texas Rose.

Fox Correspondent Jennifer Griffin was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2009 after discovering a small lump while breastfeeding her son. Her determination and advice for other cancer patients has helped me better prepare for what's ahead. It's the little things like lip balm, lotion for the dry skin that will follow, planning five to seven small meals a day and measuring success not one plate at a time, but often one bite at a time. Oh, and hydration, hydration, hydration!

Read her Tips for Getting Through Chemotherapy, as well as her blog.

I've been tossing around a title for these journal entries. I settled on “My Journey to Elim”. Elim was a beautiful, desert oasis of twelve springs and seventy date palms. The story is recorded in Exodus 15:22, but we need to go back a few chapters to set the stage.

The Israelites had just left over 400 years of slavery behind in Egypt, delivered by a series of spectacular miracles. On their trek through the desert to a better land, they camped at the edge of the Red Sea. Suddenly, they realized Pharaoh and his forces had followed! I guess the old boy changed his mind about letting his workforce walk away. You know how those dynasties loved to build. But more likely, it was all the tremendous silver and gold the freed slaves took on their way out of bondage--lavished on them by Egyptians glad to see the troublemakers go!

The fledglings thought for sure they were trapped at a dead end, but God divided the waters and they walked on dry land to the other side. When the Egyptian army tried to take the same shortcut, the waters dramatically closed in upon them, drowning every man and beast.

After much rejoicing, the band turned from the sea and headed deep into the wilderness. The Bible records many ups and downs with God along the way to their new home.
It’s easy for us to pass a little judgment thousands of years later and say that the Israelites, after seeing firsthand so many miracles of God, should not have displayed repeated distrust in the face of new difficulties.

However, it’s not long before the Holy Spirit turns those pointed fingers around in our direction. Like me, you’ve probably never built a pyramid, but you’re as fallen as any Israelite who made bricks from mud and straw.

When you take a hit, it’s normal to lose your spiritual balance. I know I did when told I had a mass in my colon that was a stage 4 cancer. I pitched, I swayed...desperately trying to steady myself in God. I finally admitted I had no control. I let go and allowed the Holy Spirit to go to work. I no longer thought about a rescue, but simply the extravagant love of God, which cannot help but overflow a heart with thankfulness. It wasn’t long before that peace that passes understanding anchored me.

The Israelites were certainly thrilled that the Egyptians were gone, but now they faced a new crisis: three days of travel without water. I can somewhat relate. The surgery to insert my powerport was delayed. By the time I rolled into the OR, I had gone 14 hours without food or water. I had a headache and queasy stomach. Can you imagine how you'd feel after three days without what your body needs most to survive?

While traveling through the Wilderness of Shur, the parched stragglers “found” water just in time. Under normal conditions, the human body cannot live beyond three days without water. When you factor in rigorous walking and sweat loss, they could have been just hours away from death.

However, their jubilation was short-lived. The water they so desperately needed was too bitter to drink. In fact, the name of the place was “Marah” (bitterness). Here’s where it gets interesting and to many-- downright offensive. God deliberately led His people to bad water. (Remember, the cloud guided them by day and the pillar of fire by night. This was no accident!)

The late Christian author Jamie Buckingham, who personally followed the Exodus route and wrote about his experiences, stated that many springs in that area contain Magnesium Sulphate. We know the compound better as Epsom Salts. Most folks are aware it’s good for soaking sore muscles, but older readers, who grew up with mothers that employed home remedies for all sorts of injuries and ills, still shutter at the thought of taking a spoonful of the stuff to rid the system quickly of "what ails you"!

Some Bible commentators speculate that God guided the Israelites to bitter waters first in order to get "Egypt out of their systems". The Bible mentions many diseases and sicknesses common to Egyptians that God never intended for those in covenant with Him to have. Regardless of the intent, one thing was and remains clear for us today: we must continue to trust God to lead us to the answer and in the answer!

Are you familiar with the Scripture where David said, “You will show me the path of life: in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

Once shown the path, I cannot tell you how many times I ran on ahead to enjoy my answer to prayer with a quick thank you and a sigh of relief. I became fixated on the blessing and forgot that only in His presence—that intimate, face-to-face fellowship--could I experience fullness of joy.

So, what do we do when the water that looks so promising from afar seems to be just the opposite when it touches our desperate lips?

I cannot stress enough the importance of this lesson. Make no doubt about it--God still uses it to train those He loves! So many precious souls have stopped here in the wilderness. They no longer walk with God because they asked for something needful and tasted only dregs.

Because of the many Christians who have become casualties at Marah, it's good to remind ourselves of a Scripture that speaks clearly to the unchanging character of God. The Amplified Version brings out the full meaning of the Greek verbs that enable us to see the importance of persevering when tempted by circumstances to question the ways of God:
Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you.

For everyone who keeps on asking receives; and he who keeps on seeking finds; and to him who keeps on knocking, [the door] will be opened.

Or what man is there of you, if his son asks him for a loaf of bread, will hand him a stone?

Or if he asks for a fish, will hand him a serpent?

If you then, evil as you are, know how to give good and advantageous gifts to your children, how much more will your Father Who is in heaven [perfect as He is] give good and advantageous things to those who keep on asking Him! (Matthew 7:7-11)
When you ask for a fish and it appears you received a serpent instead, just wait. Be patient. Persevere. Decide, like Jonah, that you will not observe lying vanities. The serpent may bite, but continue to "look up and live" (Numbers 21:4-9). Have faith that beneath the serpent’s wrapping is the fish you've asked for, and that it will be revealed in time.

God delivers us FROM many threatening circumstances that we never have to face; yet, there are some things we must be delivered THROUGH. I don’t know why God didn’t bring to light the mass that was growing in my ascending colon until it had become a stage 4 cancer. Maybe things were going too good in my little world to listen. As theologian and novelist C.S. Lewis aptly stated:

"Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." – The Problem of Pain

After tasting bitter waters, the Bible records that the people murmured and asked Moses, “What shall we drink?” I, too, had plenty of questions for God.

Lord, I’m just fifty-seven, I still have many plans and dreams…book ideas and ministry assignments YOU gave me. How can this be?

And my family! The Army will transfer my son and three precious grandchildren to Hawaii in April before I finish my chemotherapy. They’ll be so far away! How can I possibly travel to Hawaii? Putting aside the issue of not feeling well enough to travel, how can we justify a trip when we are looking at astronomical bills we can’t possibly pay off in our lifetimes? (More on that story later.)

And another thing. I’ve always believed in divine healing. In thirty-two years of ministry, I’ve seen diseased and broken bodies healed by a direct touch from you. Why, you’ve even touched ME on several occasions. What's different now?

 God wasn’t talking. Was He angry with me? No. Deep inside, I knew I just wasn't asking the right questions.

Like the Israelites, I thought I was doomed. It was tempting to sputter out all sorts of pity-laden questions. I finally wised up. Instead, I asked only one more question:
“What would you have me do?”

Believe me; you get a quick answer with that one! God was right there--not chiding, but eager to help; compassionate, gentle--
just as the Word assures us in the book of James. (And in the days ahead, I’ll be sharing some of the directions and corrections I was given.)

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. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:5-7 NIV)
For now, the important thing to know is that I finally surrendered to God’s will to walk through this fire, not around it. The experience will be a blessing no less wonderful and divine than at other times He ministered to my needs.

Are you wondering what happened to the folks back at Marah? Well, Moses cried out to God and the Lord showed him a tree. He cast it into the spring and the waters became amazingly sweet.*

Creation Tips website reports that village women successfully use the tree Moringa oleifera to quickly cleanse the highly turbid water of the River Nile. Contaminated water can become tap-water quality within an hour or two! Although not currently found growing around modern-day Marah, conditions in that area are ideal for cultivation of this tree. No one can know for sure what kind of tree Moses tossed into the water, and some people may question whether it could be called a miracle if something like the Moringa Oleifera was used.

But here’s the point: Whether it was a tree the Creator “just happened” to make indigenous to the area or something whipped up for the occasion, the Israelites had to once again, by faith, make their way to the edge and taste. Note: God didn’t remove the people from Marah. He turned the bitter into sweet in the middle of their crisis!

God finally explained what He was after all along. Exodus 15:25 reveals that the Israelites were being tested. Since God knows everything about us to begin with, it’s clear the test was designed to show the Israelites something about themselves. We don’t truthfully know what’s in us—good and bad—until an event comes along that threatens our well-being. Only friction and heat can bring such hidden things to the surface. In fact, the Hebrew word used for “test” in the Exodus passage means “testing under stress”.

I ask...was God cruel or did He actually do the Israelites a favor at Marah?

The destiny God fashioned for them required a nation of former slaves to see themselves above life’s circumstances, not beneath. No longer would they be the tail—the brunt of jokes and the last in line, but the head of a new nation and gatekeepers to the expression of God’s presence in the earth! The Israelites could no longer afford to live with a slave mentality!

God's people soon packed up and left Marah. As they struck out again into the wilderness, I’m sure many weary travelers wondered what new challenge awaited them down the road. But much to their surprise, they arrived at Elim--a delightful oasis of twelve wells and seventy palm trees.

God has spoken to my heart to tell you, just as He assured me, that after every Marah is an Elim. Don’t give up. Don’t let disappointment and misreading the ways of God cause you to miss this beautiful place of refreshing and fulfillment!

You may be at Marah. I was thrust there by a diagnosis of colon cancer. Regardless of why we were led to a very bitter-tasting place in life, let’s look toward the Tree--the Calvary Tree--that can make the experience sweet. If we believe, Elim’s not far away!

*I’ve got more to write about Marah and the Covenant of Healing God established with His people after they drank and were satisfied…a Covenant that is just as valid today as it was then and available to everyone!


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