Sweet Surrender, Sweet Relief
Yesterday my heart was longing to talk with Jesus about the many thoughts and emotions that were tumbling through my mind, creating a few knots in my heart. I felt like I needed to write it all out so I asked mom to watch Aster, and I went to a friends house. She works so it's just me and her dog, Cody.

Today as I prepared to post on my blog the results of my biopsy, I felt the Lord nudging me to share some of what I wrote in my journal before I got the call:

Lord, what will I do if I have cancer? How will I respond? What changes will it bring? What treatment will we be facing?

You know my mind is also wondering if the results are negative, will I trust You with that? Will I believe that You answered my prayer when I begged You to reveal ANY cancer if there was some, asking that You not let the Dr. miss anything.

Father, my heart is in wobbly place – teetering between hope and fear.

Please infuse my soul with faith to believe and confidence to trust Your ways and Your timing. Jesus, I don’t want cancer. I don’t want to settle for believing that it’s my destiny just because it’s in my history. The past doesn’t define my future – You do.

You are the One Who knows the plans YOU have for me: plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me a future and a hope. Oh, Jesus. This is my hope – that You are good. That You are loving. That You are ABLE and willing to heal and restore. To redeem and remake.

Father, I stand at the altar like Abraham, offering my body to You. I know I must lay it down before You and be willing to become a vessel that You can use for Your glory. Through whatever circumstances You allow. Like so many other times before, it’s in my suffering that I see and share in Your glory. Resurrection power only comes after life surrendered.

And isn’t that what I was made for? To lay down my life for You, like You laid down Your life for me. Jesus, make me a willing vessel to surrender and rest in YOU no matter what. Whether it be a yes or no - I pray that You will keep my heart in perfect peace because my mind is steadfast as I trust in You.

No matter what this biopsy brings, may You find me faithfully available to lay it all down before you as a sacrificial offering of PRAISE!

Then, as soon as I typed that exclamation point, my cell phone rang. I knew by the number on my caller ID it was the hospital. My heart stopped beating. And then I answered.

"How are you?" The Dr. asked.

"I'm good." I said. (I'd just been to the altar with GOD, and I really meant it!)

"Yes, you are. You are really good, Renee - all of your results were negative. Your biopsy is benign!"

Tears filled my eyes. Thankfulness. Praise. Excitement. Peace and joy filled my heart. And then God gave me the gift of an already planned evening surrounded by family and new friends.

This morning I woke up with such a sense of RELIEF!! The weight of my world had been lifted off my shoulders. I laid in bed thanking God for all the decisions we don't have to make now. All the plans we don't have to rearrange and all the sadness we don't have to endure.

Then I thought about those I know, and don't know, who have prayed for another test or diagnosis and didn't get results they hoped and prayed for. Those who are living with pain and wrestling with surrender.

That's when I sensed that God wanted me to share this part of my heart's journey, too. Yes, I am so thankful for the test results, but even more so I am forever grateful that God moved my heart to a place of trust before I knew what the answer would be. You see, if I hadn't surrendered, I might still be afraid that cancer was still hidden that they didn't find.

But I couldn't get to this place of surrender on my own. I had to talk with my Father and my Savior about how I was feeling. He knew where my heart had to go first before it could get to the place of confident trust. He bent down to listen and then He took my hand and led my heart to the altar.

I don't know why God wanted me to invite you to stand with me here in the place of sweet surrender. But I know He did, and I am praying that somehow it's helps you trust Him more with all of your own doubts, fears, disapponitments, pain, hopes and dreams.

Happy New Year friend! The best is yet to be ~ I'm counting on it!!!

Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! Ps. 116:2

Jesus loves me this I know
Thanks so much for praying for my dad, my mom and for my biopsy Monday. Last week I started to feel like I was making all this stuff up, but I promise it's all true.

Many have asked about my dad so I thought I'd explain what happened. Last Monday night my younger brother, Brad, called. He's my half brother but I love him like a "whole" brother. We share a dad but have different moms. Although we both love each others' moms, too. We're an odd family, but odd with God make for some good stuff. Anyway, I digress.

Brad called to tell me that when my dad went to the hospital for outpatient surgery that day to have a stint put in, they discovered Dad had four blocked arteries. Two of them were 99% blocked. So Dad was immediately scheduled for quadruple bypass open heart surgery in two days - which ended up being Wednesday before Christmas.

My head started spinning with questions: How could I be a good daughter and sister and not jump in the car with my whole family and drive 12 hours to see my dad before surgery started? How can I call myself a Christian and not lay down my life for those I love? What if my dad dies and I don't see him? I seriously didn't know what to do.

JJ weighed it all out with me and started searching for flights online. But we also knew travelers were being stranded in airports for days due to bad weather. I suggested we all pile in the van and drive, but JJ has no time off work before the year ends and was assigned to a project launch he couldn't miss.

The thought of driving by myself, or with my kids, all the way to FL without JJ was daunting. I posted a shout out for prayer on Facebook and to my P31 sisters. Soon after, JJ and I prayed and went to bed asking God to give us wisdom while we slept and direct our decisions in the morning.

When I woke up, I had a strong sense in my heart that God was telling me to wait. To slow down. To not assume I knew what it would look like to walk out my "faith" in this crisis. To listen to Him and talk to my brother.

I had assumed Brad expected me to come. But he didnt'. It was the opposite. When I talked to Brad, he encouraged me to stay home and wait until dad was out of the hospital. He told me he didn't sense the Dr.'s concern at all about Dad making it through surgery. He thought it would be best for me to have a simple Christmas at home with my family and take care of myself and my mom.

Sometimes I get ahead of God. I think I know what would make Him more real to people. I assume it needs me to show up - when maybe He doesn't need me at all. I think I know what He expects of me - but a lot of time it's because I expect a little too much of myself.

A few friends, whose wise counsel I treasure, emailed me privately to encourage me to consider what all we'd be through in the past few weeks. All I could see was this crisis in front of me. But their emails helped me remember how much turmoil my kids had endured. Their words gave me permission to not be it all and do it all for everyone. I can't. And if I don't take care of me - then who will be here to take care of them?

I knew this was God's answer to my cry for wisdom. My dad didn't expect me to come. My brother didn't expect me to come, and in my heart I truly believe God didn't expect or want me to go. He wanted me to stay home and enjoy a quiet, peaceful, laced-with-laughter, restful day celebrating our first Christmas with Aster.

And you know what, my dad's surgery went great. His heart is doing well, but he was having bad reactions to some of the meds and he was not himself at all. He became very belligerent and even had to be restrained for a few days.

God knew.

God cared.

God directed our steps.

And I believe He protected me from having to endure that.

My dad is doing much better, although still a little confused. But he's in a normal room recovering now. And the time will come for me to go. I am looking forward to seeing my dad when he is home and able to visit with me and his grandkids for while without interruptions and irritations.

As far as me and my mom, we're doing okay. We're taking turns taking care of each other and Aster. Sadly, I can't hold Aster until Weds night due to my incision from the biopsy. My procedure Monday was a little more complicated than they expected and upset me a little more than I anticipated. But we're getting through.

I am resting in the arms of Jesus, letting Him comfort my heart when it feels sad and blanket my mind with peace when questions begin to tumble around.

My results should come back by Thursday and I'll be sure to let you guys know when I know. I also take my mom to the Dr that morning to look into some severe pain and swelling she still has in her left leg. We think she may have torn her meniscus so she might need surgery soon.

Nothing in life is simple, but there is one truth that is ~

Jesus loves me this I know,
for the Bible tells me so.
He gave His life in my place
to redeem me with His amazing grace.

Aster's First Christmas
We had a wonderful Christmas! So peaceful. So full of laughter and great memories. And tonight as I get ready to go to bed and wake up early for my biopsy, I am so thankful for time together at home just resting and enjoying my precious family!

I thought it would be fun to share a few photos of Aster's first Christmas.

One of Aster's favorite things is our Christmas village ~ especially the lights and music.

One of my favorite things was her beautiful smile on Christmas morning!

She was pretty happy about her new high chair, too!
Or maybe she was squinting because that hat was squeezing her brain too hard.

We always have Christmas breakfast as a family - and we each give a gift from our hearts to Jesus before we open the gifts under the tree that we are will give to each other. Aster just sat quietly and listened. She is the sweetest, most content baby. We are seriously blessed!

After breakfast, Grandma put on Aster's new Christmas outfit and they played patty-cake.

Then the boys tried to get her to open gifts but she wasn't really interested...

Until she opened her new neon green mini-mixer.

And a sweet bunny that her big brother Joshua gave to her.

After an afternoon nap, Aster decided to help with the dishes. She's such a great helper!

We had washed my Christmas dishes by hand and were putting them in the dishwasher to dry. She loved splashing in the water that was puddled in the door.

I moved the Christmas dish so she'd be less interested.

That strategy didn't work. She decided to climb in and take a bath, and then drink it!

Look closely and you will see that she is absolutely soaked! I am pretty sure her kitchen "spa treatment" was her favorite Christmas gift of all!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

As we celebrate the birth of our sweet Savior, this Christmas our family is reminded more than ever of the gift of "Immanuel"- our God with us. We have needed Him to be with us more than ever. And He has kept His promise.

It's been an amazing year. Yet some times it feels like the hardest year we've been through, especially the past few months. Still we know He's been right there walking by our side. He's gone before us and stood in the places we walked into before we ever got there. We asked Him to prepare a place for us in those unknown places. And we have found evidence of His faithfulness each time. We have seen His hand. We have felt His power. And our hearts have been guarded by His peace that surpasses our understanding. All throughout the year we've known the gift of His presence.

And, as many of you know, we also received a very special Christmas gift this year! The gift of Aster.

It's been so wonderful to have her here in the months leading up to Christmas. Each night as I swaddle her up and hold her close in my arms before putting her to bed, I look into her eyes and imagine what Mary must have felt. After enduring the difficulties of her unexpected pregnancy, having to leave her family and travel to a land so unknown, I imagine her holding Jesus in her arms and thanking God for trusting her with this assignment - to be Jesus' mother. Oh how blessed she was for believing that what He had promised would be accomplished.

How blessed we have been in believing God would be "with us" when He called us to adopt a baby. I am so thankful for the gift of His joy through Jesus' love tucked in the heart and smile of our sweet baby girl!

Never before has God's desire to adopt us as HIS children been more real than it is now.

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. " Ephesians 1:4-6

Our overwhelming love for her has changed us in ways that only Love could do. And yet even more than our love for her, she helps us see how great our Father's love is for us!

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1

Our prayer is that Aster's story would somehow translate God's love story for so many other people than just us. We are praying that each person who knows us, or is getting to know us through her adoption, would know the width and depth and height and breadth of God's love for you. Love that surpasses knowledge (in our head) so that it can supernaturally satisfy every need and longing in our hearts.

Love has gotten us through recent trials. Love has bound our hearts together and kept us near to Him and each other. It is His Love that we are putting our trust in as we wait for my biopsy next week. It is His Love that met us in the Doctor's office Monday and gave us the time we needed with a busy surgeon to ask a lot of questions and get a lot of answers.

It is that Love that will be with my dad as he goes into quadruple bypass heart surgery today, (that we just found out about Monday night). It is that Love who will open dad's heart to physical and spiritual healing It is Love we are asking to guide the hands of his surgeon and BE the hand that reach down from Heaven because He is the Great Physician.

It is Love that transforms, renews, heals, restores, redeems and remains. My prayer for you this Christmas is that HIS love touches your heart and your life in the way you need Him most. Thanks for loving me so abundantly these days with your prayers, words, faith and encouragement. You have been His love with skin on!

Sweet Christmas blessings from my heart to yours!

Trusting our very GREAT GOD in the midst of not so great news.
Every time I get a mammogram... I wonder if this will be "the day" - the day they tell me I need a biopsy.

That day came this past Tuesday. The radiologist told me I needed to schedule a needle tissue biopsy on my left side to see if a suspicious area has cancerous cells. I acted like it was no big deal while she explained exactly what they will do and how I need to prepare for it.

I think my brain went numb... until I walked out into the lobby and Holly asked me how things went.

That's when I melted into tears and tried to explain what happened. She held me with her eyes and listened and helped me talk through what I needed to do next. Then we got a latte at Starbucks and slowly made our way toward the parking garage, and toward a new hard thing I didn't want to have to process.

This All Started in December 1992
Seventeen years ago, my mom had a suspicious area that ended up being cancer and she had a mastectomy that year right before Christmas. Her mother had died of breast cancer in 1977. In the past several years my mom's two neices (my two cousins) have had breast cancer. They are the only two females in my generation from mom's side that hit their 40s before me. I am next in line in the age range that is risky. My cousin, Amy, just had a voluntary double mastectomy to avoid it all together. She is the sister of the other two that had it.

Two and a half years ago I got a routine mammogram and had to go back for a diagnostic one because of this "area." At that time we decided I would start seeing an oncology surgeon (who is head of Oncology at Carolina's medical) so that he could closely watch and help me navigate through decisions if a time like this came. He has been very concerned since the beginning and has even suggested throwing me into menopause early! (Mercy, I opted out of that one.) Anyway, he said they'd watch it and if it changed we'd do a biopsy.

It has changed, so here we are.

I fell asleep crying Tuesday night. Not because I was scared(yet)...but because I was exhausted. In fact, I told JJ and Holly and Lysa and my mom I was too tired to be scared. I couldn't feel anything but weary and worn. I desperately needed to rest so I could get renewed mentally to make decisions about the timing of my biopsy - which everyone wanted me to do the next day!

I honestly don't want to know the results (if something is wrong) for Christmas. A week of waiting won't make it any worse. And not knowing doesn't make me anxious.

That might sound odd, but if I know it is cancer then I have to face it and I'm not ready for that. It's Christmas and I'm still recuperating from adopting a baby, traveling to Africa, having mom in the hospital and trying to write a book that I just signed a contract for before all this crazy stuff happened.

What's Next?
Well, scared came. And so did denial. Then came questioning. Next came convincing myself it's nothing.

It's funny how our feelings and sense of what God is doing changes each day in times like these. Each day got better as I had time to sleep and pray, read God's Word and process it all with JJ and my sweet Father who knows all things. I have sensed God's nearness and His good. There are so many ways He's intervened the past two weeks leading up to this and I have experience how very present He is in my time of need. I know I can trust my very great God in the midst of not so good news.

And I finally made my appointments. I am scheduled to see my oncologist this Monday, Dec 21st, at 2:30pm for an examination and to find out the "what ifs". Then I have my biopsy on Monday, Dec 28th at 8:30am. I don't think we'll have too many answers until after my biopsy comes back the week of New Year's.

Although this is really hard, I have peace and assurance deep in my soul that can only come from Jesus. He's looking out for me, and so is JJ! He surprised me with a weekend away (that started last night) to rest and spend some time with Jesus. I am staying at one of my favorite hotels and it's been wonderful. I am using this time to focus on and prepare for what is now - Christmas, my precious baby and boys, and the gift of time with my family. After Christmas, we'll think about what might be next.

I love you my friends!!I'm so glad that we walk this journey together as we follow hard after Him.

A Compassionate Christmas
I can't believe Christmas is only two weeks away. I am so not ready. My mind hasn't had much time to think about the the things of Christmas...holiday parties, gift-giving and planning for Christmas day. Our tree isn't up. Our cards aren't mailed. And I haven't done any Christmas shopping.

Thankfully, I did get our nativities out and some decorations up, and JJ did put up some outside sparkling lights. But this Christmas will probably be quite a bit more simple than most. Honestly, simple sounds really nice about now, especially since complicated could define the past two months, or three or four.

One thing we will be celebrating this Christmas is the gift of each other. We've been given a beautiful baby girl, the gift of more time with grandma, and two amazing sons who have helped take care of both of them.

Grandma, aka mom, is doing much better now that her kidney stone is out. When she takes it easy, it's a good day. When she overdoes it, it's not so good. This Tuesday she was very weak, and I sensed she was scared. She felt dizzy, tired and could barely get up to walk. She didn't want to drive herself anywhere which is not like her.

It really concerned me, but then I remembered that the day before she'd gone back to her house unsupervised. And she stopped by the library...and the store... and I found out she went upstairs more than she was supposed to. Tuesday afternoon she told me she'd learned a lesson and is going to be a "good girl" now. So far, she's been better but still not able to walk well.

We're now mainly concerned about mom's Baker's cyst (fluid) behind her left knee that is very, very painful, along with severe arthritis. Also, her blood thinning (INR) levels dropped back to normal this week so she's at a high risk for clotting again. The kids and I were supposed to be with JJ on Kiawah Island, SC for a marathon he's running tomorrow, but last night decided I should stay home and keep an eye on mom. So, Andrew, Aster, grandma and I are at home while JJ and Joshua are in SC.

Today I was thinking about all that we have been through these past few weeks and I felt so grateful for the compassion of those around us who have helped meet our basic needs and been Jesus with skin on. They've filled in our gaps and taken care of us through prayers, meals, watching our kids, etc.

I also thought about how blessed I am to be healthy and to have the ability to take care of my mom, my sweet baby girl and my guys! It made me think about people who don't have the resources to take care of those they love who are in need.

It's funny how needing others' compassion will give you a heart of compassion for others.

Our family decided this morning that we're going to have a very simple and compassionate Christmas where we put our focus on caring more for each other than we care about the gifts under our tree. And, instead of rushing around in a panic trying to figure out what to buy for our kids and each other, we're going to look for simple ways to give to others.

One way we're going to do that is by sponsoring another child through Compassion International for Christmas.

I would love for you or your family to join our family in sponsoring a child through Compassion. To do it, we're each going to give up something every month to save $ so we can send it to a child through Compassion. For more information about their sponsorship program, click here.

I'd love to know how are you doing in your Christmas planning. Do you have your tree up? Are you sending Christmas cards? Does your family have a something you do for, or give to, those in need during the holidays?

And if you are still reading this looong post and have another minute and a kleenex, be sure to visit www.shereads.org . Author Tom Davis' shares about his ministry to the orphans of Ethiopia there. He filmed some great videos just for P31's She Reads book club that talk about his book Scared and his work in Africa. I love his heart, and I love those precious children in Ethiopia!!!

She Smiles at the Future
I'm trying hard to be brave this week and smile at the possibility of what each day may bring, although the past several days have not brought what I wanted. I have to admit, having a baby and having a mom who needs me so much has made me wonder about God's timing of all that is going on.

I've wanted to be strong, although I am weary. I've wanted to be available although I'm pulled in so many directions. I've wanted mom to see me confident in God's plans and trusting in His promises, although I've had my own set of questions and doubts. I've wanted to be gracious so she doesn't ever feel like a burden. And I've wanted to be calm so she doesn't worry about us worrying about her.

I thought it would be so much easier being out of the hospital. Physically it is, because we're all at home. But emotionally it's been a hard week for mom. She thought she'd be so much better by now.

On Wednesday mom did too much and ended up with a racing heart beat of 115. Even after resting for an hour it was 108 and she felt really sick! I ended up taking her to the ER that night. All they could find was a urinary tract infection so they put her on a new antibiotic and sent us home, at 3am.

This morning we're heading to the hospital at 7:30 to get her prepared for her surgery at 9:30 to remove her kidney stone and stint. There are risks but it has to come out. We're praying she won't develop any clots in her legs (or anywhere) during surgery and she won't have any problems with bleeding since she's on Coumadin, a blood thinner.

The thought of it all makes my head spin a little. I know you probably have hard things going on, too, and may be wondering why God would give you so much to process at the same time. I'm praying for each of you that stops by, and those who shared requests in my last post.

This week God has taught me the power of trusting His plans that don't make sense. You see, each day I look into the eyes of a baby girl I didn't want at one point, because I didn't think I could handle it. The thought of starting over as a mom at 43 with two teen/tween boys who occupy so much of my heart and my days was a bit overwhelming. But my heart rushes with gratefulness that God convinced me to trust Him.

He has helped me smile at the future - whatever it holds - by giving me the smile of a little girl who almost didn't have a future. The sweetest, funniest, most happy little girl in the world.

As hard as it is to be a mommy of an infant while also taking care of my 73-year-old mom, I'm so glad that, in His wisdom, God knew there would be blessing in the burden when He gave us the joy Aster brings to our lives each day!

I wish you could meet her. If you were here, she'd be so excited to see you. She gets this excited every day, about something or somebody.

She'd give you a hug! Every morning she reaches out to give us each a squeeze.

Then she'd sit in your lap and do something silly. And looking at those bright eyes and silly grin, you couldn't help but laugh at the day ahead!

Aster reminds us all of the strength God provides for those who are weak, the dignity He offers for those who are low, and the assurance of His goodness and mercy to follow us, because we choose to trust and follow HIM!

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. Proverbs 31:25