Can I Bless God via Instagram?

In the past few months I’ve been blessed by an online community that sprouted from a few bloggers who were honest about their struggle to read Scripture daily. They started something called She Reads Truth. Their website offers a guide to what they are currently reading, usually a plan from YouVersion.

This community has been a huge encouragement to me and surprisingly keeping me on track with my daily quiet times better than anything has in years (I’m not exaggerating). It offers a way to engage with other women from around the world via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

I feel a sense of accountability from women I’ve never met. Over 1000 people have recommended it on Facebook. God is clearly blessing this ministry and using it to encourage women around the world!

Most recently, we read through Proverbs and I’ve learned a ton.  As a blogger, I’ve been challenged by my use of social media, particularly Instagram. Materialism is a constant battle and I catch myself getting way too excited over pretty things.

In the past few weeks I’ve taken a step back from Instagram. I love social media, but I find it can distract me from what’s truly important. A few weeks ago, I scrolled through my photos and noticed something that caught me off guard. Very few of the photos (about every ninth one) contained people and most of those were of me. How vain is that?

Since then, I’ve been trying to take more photos of people and less of stuff. Because people are far more important than the dinner I ate or DIY project I completed or the outfit I wore. People don’t clutter life like things do.

Instagram photosI will continue to use Instagram, but with intention. If I photograph a sunset or scenery, it’s to remind myself and others of God’s beauty and creativity. If I share an image of my living room, it’s to praise my husband’s hard work. If I post a photo of my outfit, it’s to inspire others to make the most of what they have, rather than show off a new clothing purchase.

I can’t think for even a second that I can serve Him well on my own. Whatever I have is His. All this stuff that clutters my life does not even belong to me. I let myself get in the way. I take my eyes off Jesus and listen to the world rather than cling to the truth of Scripture.

So, by consciously looking at His word and having accountability through an online community I am aiming to make much of Him (and less of me). My hope is that even my Instagram feed will glorify His name, rather than bring self-gratification.

Posted in Culture & Media, Theology & Philosophy | 2 Comments

Leukemia Tsunami: Breath, Grace and Healing

Editor’s Note: In honor of Blood Cancer Awareness Month and Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, OTW is featuring articles from those who have personal experience with these cancers. We encourage you to give these articles a good read, and consider how you can get involved.

I don’t remember when I began to breathe again.
Perhaps with the scent of my daughter’s freshly washed hair.
Or when the bluebird babies were born.
Maybe it was the night I celebrated my fortieth birthday …
I can’t remember the exact moment.
But I do remember when I stopped.
It was when a five-inch needle,
Cork-screwed into the small of my back,
got stuck there…

                                                                      (1998)

 

After that memorable first bone marrow biopsy, I was diagnosed with leukemia, a word that strikes fear into the hearts of even the very brave. A word admittedly hard to get my thoughts around because all my previous knowledge of leukemia came from made-for-TV movies. Filled with high drama, family tension and sad endings, conveniently packaged into two-hour SobFests.

Courtney and Caitlin

On the day of my diagnosis, my daughters were eight and ten years old, my husband and I still sweetly in love, our days a blur of school and work activities, with lots of fun sprinkled on top. I was very healthy, or so I had thought.

Cancer in the bloodstream is hard to fathom. How does blood get cancer? No one really knows although theories float around, applicable perhaps to some cases, but certainly not all. With leukemia, there’s nothing to knead, no solid mass or tumor to be felt. It’s both surreal and deadly.

After six weeks in the hospital with that first bout of leukemia, I recovered and left it behind as a cosmic mistake. I lived in the country of Gratitude for two years before relapse, more chemo, a clinical trial with arsenic, then total body radiation (my personal nightmare), and a bone marrow transplant. Over 37 gallons of blood from generous people I would never meet flowed through my veins, giving me strength to face another day. The odds were grim – only a 10% chance of survival.

Yet thirteen years later, I am still here. Grateful for each sunrise, good health, a run at Folsom Lake, dinners in San Francisco with my daughters, bike rides with my husband, meaningful work and the opportunity to share hope and encouragement with those dealing with cancer.

Because I survived such bad odds, people think perhaps I have a secret “Ways to Ensure Survival” toolkit, which of course, I don’t. People love prescriptions but I don’t have one for them. The thought that most resonates in my spirit – a birdsong in my soul – is that I am here today because of grace. Pure and simple. Grace.

People don’t like to think that one survives a serious disease because of something as nebulous as grace. Yet, I have no other explanation if the other pieces are in place: health insurance, good medical care, a loving support system of friends and families, positive attitudes, fighting spirits, available and safe blood.

Others – younger and stronger than me — did not survive their resistant diseases and grim prognoses. My heart breaks for families who have lost loved ones who fought so hard to live; who did everything “right” – who did everything they were asked to do. I can’t pretend to know why I survived and they didn’t. To believe I did something that gave me the survival edge strikes me as pure arrogance.

I love the story in John 5 of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda. Crippled for 38 years, he spends his days being delivered to the Pool of Hope for A Cure and never gets tossed in first, the requirement for being healed. Jesus chooses him, among the multitude of sick, and asks if he wants to be made well. Why him? The guy has no clue who Jesus is and doesn’t even answer the question! He whines about his life. And what does Jesus do? He heals him anyway.

In a realistic world, he would still be crippled. But in Jesus’ world, he is cured. Grace. But it is not enough. Later in the day, the cured man runs into Jesus again, who then says, “Sin no more.”  Such an intriguing comment!  “Why?” I wonder, before realization hits.

My physical healing from a devastating disease is not what God is ultimately after. A greater spiritual healing needs to take place, letting go of whatever it is that separates me from God. This has been the aftermath of surviving leukemia; the tsunami following the earthquake. There is a long list of what separates me from God, mostly things involving surrender, which I do not do easily or gracefully. Pride, independence, control, my self-focused nature; whatever it is I feel I have earned or deserve.

In truth, I deserve nothing. Yet I was given the very thing I begged for while sitting in a dingy hospital room having just been diagnosed with leukemia and unable to breathe. Please, God, please. Let me see my little girls grow up.

I believe the journey for spiritual healing and connection with God is the journey of a lifetime. As long as I breathe, I will give thanks for abundant grace and pray for the wisdom to recognize it, absorb it, breathe it. Grace.

Courtney and Caitlin – all grown up

 

Photos are property of Vicki Wolfe

Posted in Adversity, Grief & Loss, Health & Fitness | 6 Comments

God Made the Wine Country

I recently had a friend tell me that if she had a dollar for every time I called her while I had a mouth full of food, she would be a rich woman. It’s kind of a running joke among my friends that my love for food is a little intense. It’s no secret . . . I was made to eat and to drink.

Living in Northern California has a lot of advantages, but the greatest to me is the  accessibility to some of the best cuisine on the continent. Napa Valley is a short jaunt down the freeway and you better believe I make the trip anytime I have an excuse to go.

Last Spring, I found myself climbing out of the car with some girlfriends at Hess Collection, a winery off the beaten path in Napa. After an afternoon of wine tasting, a walk through the wild gardens, and a nice slow stroll through their surprisingly diverse and accomplished three-story contemporary art museum, I was thinking to myself, “God made the wine country”.

I know we can get a little controversial about the drinking of alcohol in the Christian world, but let’s be real. When we are talking about the sweat and toiling of the work that goes on in the fields, that meets the art and science of the mixing and barrels, that meets the intuition and instinct of the winemakers, we are talking about beauty. That complex, intricate, red liquid falls down into the glass with that melodic sound and I think about the thousands of years that humanity has enjoyed the fruits of their labor in the land that God gave to us all.

I look out over the hills covered in vines with the sun setting and turning them red and gold. I watch butterflies hop from flower pom to flower pom, between the rows. I feel the evening chill from the bay roll in as the light leaves the valley. I take a sip of freshly pressed olive oil or a bite of some delicately prepared produce from the farm one hundred feet away from me. I hear the quiet. I smell the soil. I wrap my sweater around myself a little tighter and I shake my head and I think again, “God made the wine country”.

I am in awe of a Creator who is thoughtful. Who said food, drink, landscape, friendship, or love had to feel so good? No one. God didn’t have to give us pleasure, but he did. He didn’t have to paint the sky or sprinkle mountains with snow or fill our head with endorphins at the smell of freshly baked bread. But he did.

Exploring bears more fruit than experience and adventure. It is a road that winds around the facets of God: who He is and what He’s done. It is a chance to see Him in new ways and to acknowledge Him as the Maker of this incredible world. That is why I think about Him when I eat a strawberry pie or sip a perfectly pulled macchiato — because He made it, and I want to see Him in it.

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The Survivor Tree: Remembering 9/11

NYC Skyline

Editor’s Note: Last month, contributor Jessica Rae Huber visited the site that was once known as “Ground Zero”. She reflects on her visit in this article she wrote at Culture Makers.

Posted in Adversity, Culture & Media, Current Events, Grief & Loss, History, Politics, Travel | Leave a comment

Blood Cancer & Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

 

September has always been a big month for my family and me. Not only are numerous beloved extended family members celebrating their birthdays, but so are my dad, my husband, and myself, in addition to my wedding anniversary. All wonderful; all celebrations.

But now September has an additional signficance to me, because it’s Blood Cancer Awareness month. It is also Childhood Cancer Awareness month.

In January of 2010 I was diagnosed with an acute form of Leukemia. I was 26 years old, and cancer was a far away concept to me until then. I posted an article about some of that experience earlier this year which you can check out here if you’d like.

Most people, I’ve found, don’t become educated about blood cancers (or cancer in general) until it touches them personally. I don’t blame them — I was in that boat too. But this month is important because the more people that get involved, the less likely it becomes that blood cancer will ever have to touch you personally.

Everyone wants a cure to every cancer, of course, but the causes of blood cancers are unknown, so they are unavoidable. Advancements in research and medical development have allowed blood cancer patients’ lives to be spared in growing numbers, which I, personally, am overjoyed by. But I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to sit there, hooked up to IV’s pumping me full of chemo, having no idea at all how this cancer found its way into my body.

If you’re new to blood cancers, the categories are:

  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma
  • Myeloma

Each of these has variations that affect the blood cells in different ways. A great place to learn the basics about them is at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) website.

According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), every year in the US over 100,000 blood cancer cases are diagnosed. Half of them get to live to tell about it. Also, among children and teens under 20 years old, Leukemia is the most common cause of cancer and the leading cause of cancer-releated death.

Blood cancers aside, according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, 13,000 children per year nation-wide are diagnosed with cancer, and 1/4 of them do not survive it. I think you’ll agree with me when I say that’s way, WAY too many.

There are LOTS of ways you can get involved, so please do!

  • Donate to an organization like the LLS.
  • Join a Team in Training and help raise funds.
  • Walk a Light the Night fundraiser.
  • Host a fundraising event.
  • Sport a cancer awareness t-shirt.
  • Be a helping hand to a friend who is suffering with the disease.
  • Donate blood at a blood bank like Blood Source, or register to be a marrow donor should you be a match for someone.
  • Pray for those who suffer from these cancers and for the people who are working to find treatments and cures.

The websites I’ve listed above will have LOTS more specific ways to raise and spread awareness. I would encourage you to take 10 minutes and check them out this month.

Throughout the month of September, On the Willows will feature several articles from people who have been personally touched by or work with blood cancers and childhood cancers. Keep an eye out for them. We hope they inspire and motivate you to get involved.

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Posted in Adversity, Current Events, Health & Fitness, Relationships | 2 Comments