Friday, September 9, 2016

The Time My Sister Had Cancer #TheDecision

The Time My Sister Had Cancer

After my grandpa passed away in March 2012, my family expected my grandma to follow soon thereafter. She seemed to be in worse health than he was, and we braced for the moment. Instead, the news that came was about my oldest sister. She was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer on April 1.

She had returned to the emergency room the night before with excruciating pain in her lower back. The first time she made the call, the doctor told her it was a bladder or kidney infection. As her little sister, I agreed with the diagnosis. I had told her before she needed to have it checked because those sorts of infections are easy to treat when they are caught early. Run-of-the-mill. Common. Easy. Treatable.

After church the morning of April 1, my parents and I went to the hospital. Not long after we arrived, the doctor came by and began talking with a lot of words. More words, even. So.many.words. She eventually made it around to what she did not want to say and I hesitated to hear. A mass. Pancreas. Cancer.

The words stopped, and my uncle and his family, who had been standing in the hallway, came in. My mom quickly filled them in, and my uncle placed his arm over my shoulders and pulled me to his side. Through all the words and through the news, I was fine. Calm. Strong. I needed to be for my family. But then, I felt the first tear and knew I had to escape the room. My foot hit the hallway, and I couldn’t go any further. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept.” I’ve heard theories about why He did so. He knew He’d see Lazarus again. He knew His friend was not dead spiritually but alive with our Father. Yet He wept.

I wonder if the reason Jesus wept was because He was human. Fully human. Fully God, yes. But fully human. Grief hurts. It spares nothing. Doubled-over in the hallway, it felt like everything inside me was grieving at the same time. Mourning together. Trying to get out and move from the sucker punch I was just given. 

I returned from the restroom and spent the afternoon moving from chair to end of the bed. From one side of the room to the other. From knowing I should play hostess to not caring at all about how others were feeling. When the room was almost cleared out and it was time to go, I made my way to the side of my sister’s bed. She told me to stop crying. “You’re the one who doesn’t cry,” she said. It made me mad. Instead of calling her out on it, I mustered up enough courage to say, “No matter what happens, in the end, I have to know you’re right with God. No matter what happens. In the end, I must know you are right with God.” This had been a prayer of mine for years. I needed to know she was saved, and the countdown clock started flashing red.

I was asleep in my sister's bed when she went into labor with my nephew. I was the first to know. "Go get Mom," she demanded. I didn't believe her. We argued.

She bought me my only two sets of leg warmers. They were supposed to be Christmas presents, but she couldn't wait. One pair was pink. The other was purple. 

She always called me on my birthday. Always wanted to know every gift I was given. 

I've only ridden a horse once in my life. My sister was the driver; I sat behind her. Until I didn't. For most of the ride, I was parallel to the ground, hanging from the side of the horse. My sister laughed the entire time. "Julie, get back on." I couldn't. I barely could keep myself far enough from the ground to even call it a ride. 

She threw me in the deep end of a swimming pool before I learned to swim. "You have inflatables on your arms," she said. I really didn't think she'd do it.

When Brad Bennett preached on relational evangelism, he told the story about his panic attacks. Day after day, my anxiety grew, though I didn't realize to what extent. "What if today is the day she dies?" I'd be at work, trying to make it through some project, praying God would heal her, but I'd be overcome with, "What if she dies before I can talk to her again about God?" I'd sneak out to spend a few minutes with her. People began commenting on my weight loss. "Julie, you look so good." "Julie, what are you doing to lose weight?"

I smiled politely. 

Then I'd go home, try to eat, but only swallow a few bites because when food was in my mouth, I felt like I would choke. I chewed everything for minutes. I'd take a drink multiple times during the process. I couldn't nibble on a piece of cheese without a liquid nearby. My sister was dying, and I could not make her eternal life/death decision for her.

The next few weeks brought a quick trip to St. Louis, lots of tests, pain management, chemotherapy and my sister's change in hairstyle. She went from long and frizzy to short and accessorized. For the first time since childhood, she started wearing headbands -- the skinny kind that looks super cute. I'd visit during a treatment, and she'd be sitting up in bed, relaxing, drinking room temperature water and looking oh-so-stylish. The only side effect of the chemo was that it made her sleepy all.the.time. But she was out doing things, eating at restaurants, visiting area attractions. She fought like a champ. 

On a Saturday in July, my dad decided to drive and check on her. We had tried calling a few times. Though it wasn't abnormal for her to not pick up, he was going to be in the neighborhood anyway. Might as well see her. Within the hour, she was back in the hospital with a urinary tract infection. No cause for alarm. Treatment was going really well.


She was skinnier, and I could barely figure out what she tried to say. I had to ask her to repeat herself constantly. She became angry. "Why can't anyone understand me?"

Two days later, she was still in the hospital. I went again to see her at lunch. She was supposed to be eating, but she couldn't swallow the food or liquid. The nurse played it off like it was just a something. My parents arrived. The phone rang. The doctor wanted to speak with my mom. 

"Her kidneys are shutting down. If they don't start working, she only has a few days."

Two things I knew: 1) My sister and I talked about her Salvation. However, something inside nagged at me. She assured me she prayed when she was little. She even apologized for causing me any doubt. Yet ... my heart was not settled. I was afraid she said what she did because it was me. My mom talked to a couple of friends who agreed they would meet with my sister. 2) Sometime along the way, God and I had a conversation, and I knew He wasn't going to heal her.

My sister died on July 11, 2012. I wasn't there. God forbade it. He had me finishing up some housework. He slowed me down and caused traffic lights to turn red. I arrived in the parking lot and received a call from my mom. "Hurry. Something's wrong." My sister died probably a minute before I arrived. She was holding hands with my mom and my nephew. That's what she needed, and God is sovereign. 

God is also patient and long-suffering. My parents' friends went to see my sister a couple of times. The last time being the Monday we found out her kidneys were failing. Carolyn told my sister we were worried about her decision to trust Jesus. My sister said, "I didn't think He'd still want me after all the bad I've done." She prayed with Carolyn, and I know my sister is alive forever with Jesus. 

The next day, she lost her voice. She watched everything going on in the room, but she couldn't talk.

In the grasp of death, my sister had a decision to make. She could refuse the free gift of Jesus, the One who died a torturous death for her out of love, and spend eternity/forever/always in hell, apart from all who God is -- beauty, love, sacrifice, healer, protector, Good. Or she could take Jesus as her Savior. 

Sometimes the pain is so prominent in my heart. I was shopping the other day, looked up and thought I saw my sister. The woman down the aisle had the same shape, the same hair. It caught my breath. But I wouldn't ask for her back. To know she's alive and healthy and filled-to-the-brim with joy in the presence of our Savior is eternally better than having her here another minute. 

Your turn. What is your decision?

Julie Johnson is Creative Design Director at Ridgecrest Baptist Church.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Beast Feast 2016 with David Murrow

Author David Murrow will be speaking on the topic of “How To Be A Man And A Christian — At The Same Time.” Purchase tickets in the foyer, online or at the door. Early bird pricing ($10) ends Jan. 20.

Jan. 23, 6:30 p.m., Remington's
$10 per ticket by Jan. 20
$15 per ticket beginning Jan. 21 (+DOOR)


Smoked Pork Tenderloin
Green Beans
Mashed Potatoes
Peach Cobbler

David Murrow is the author of Why Men Hate Going To Church and director of “Church For Men.” 

He became a Christian at 15, through the witness of two men -- a pastor and a layman. “They were different from my father,” David says. “They were loving, patient, decisive. They treated their wives with respect. I wanted to be like them.” 

In 1996, he attended a Promise Keepers event held in Seattle. It was the first time he had worshipped in a venue with more men than women. “There were always women in the room when I practiced my faith,” he recalls. After returning home, he noticed the doilies and flowers in church decoration and the opportunities for women in the bulletin. “If my church were on TV, it would have been on the Oxygen network -- not ESPN. It wasn’t anything that would animate the heart of a young man.”

David says 85 percent of the churches in America have declined or plateaued. These churches have fewer men as participants.

“When churches ask me how to grow, I say, ‘Look at the men.’” Churches that are growing not only have more men participating, but the men are enthusiastic.

“The Body of Christ is everyone -- men and women. When you only have one gender, specifically women, they are doing everything, and they are tired. Women want to be co-laborers with men.”

He says when churches have more men, churches change, communities change and families change. This leads to more children being discipled, churches growing and an emphasis on mission because “men are about doing.” 

Find out more at his website:


by: Julie Johnson

When I was little, my brother and I would play a made-up game called “Killer Bees.” Though I can’t remember for sure, my best guess is he originated the idea, though it evolved depending on moods, energy levels, how much time he was willing to give.

My older sister would also play, except her position wasn’t voluntary. 

“Come play ‘Killer Bees’ with us,” I'd say.
“No,” she'd reply.
“Yes! Come and play with us.”
“No, I don’t want to.”
“Okay, you stand over there. When we yell, ‘Killer Bees,’ you try to get us.”

My sister was always the killer bees.

My brother and I would try to escape their death stings. We’d yell, “Killer bees!” Then we’d run to the couch, leap onto the cushions and cover up with a blanket. The killer bees could only sting exposed body parts.

With my sister’s long bouts of reluctance, my brother and I would spend a good amount of time giggling under the blanket, though one of the rules was we were to be quiet because we didn't want the killer bees to hear us. 

The funny thing about having a quiet rule is that such a policy makes one laugh more, as does having a sister who spends most of the game not playing.

"So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love," (1 Corinthians 16:13).

In the December 2015/January 2016 newsletter, we asked staff to share favorites about Christmas, whether it was a tradition or memory or a story about favorite people. 

My brother was eight years older than me. When he graduated from high school and joined the military, I was in elementary. I grew up seeing him sometimes on Thanksgiving, sometimes on Christmas. He attended undergraduate school on the east coast, was accepted to Yale, but he received his MBA from a university in Houston. He preferred hot weather to East Coast winters.

On his visits home, we would take over the dining room table and house “MindTrap” on it. With every spare minute (what few there were), we’d sit down and play this ridiculously difficult game. Winning wasn’t part of the equation. These moments were about my brother and me. No one else played. No one else was invited. On one particular turn of his, he wasn’t able to guess the picture. I was given a chance, and I nailed it. “How did you do that?” he said. After all these years, that’s what I remember. How proud I was when he looked at me and said, “How did you do that?” 

Merry Christmas to you, #rbcFamily. If I may offer you a suggestion for this December, stop and take the time. A delicious meal is wonderful, but it won’t be the memory you recall a few years from now. The perfect attire won’t bring about wild laughter when seasons go by. Jesus was not born into this sinful world so we wouldn’t miss a television special. 

Love your people. Play with them. Spend your moments with them. Be in awe of them. Wander and take pictures and laugh and memorize them. Be intentional in learning them.

And tell them all the Lord has done. Share with them the story Jesus has written for you. 

"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin," (James 4:13-17). 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Remember The Way

by: Julie Johnson

Several months ago, I discovered a lump in my chest.

The first two times I said that sentence out loud, my voice caught on something – anxiousness, sadness, the realization I could cause my family grief. I assured the recipients of the news it was nothing. I was tough, strong, the whole bit.

In September, I began the process of seeing a doctor. This will not make sense to you, but it’s the way the Lord planned it: I ended up in my dermatologist’s office. After the examination, he said, “I don’t think it’s anything. But I want to see if I can get you an appointment with an appropriate doctor. If I can’t, I will schedule you for an ultrasound.”

I’m pretty good to have as a sidekick during emergencies. I’m calm when it comes to others (though adrenaline-y). What’s frustrating is that I cannot control how my body reacts to being in a doctor’s office. Or how it reacts to being examined. Or how it reacts to words being spoken. I’ve been on the brink of passing out enough times to know the drill. What I’m saying is this: An ultrasound sounded decent. The idea of a mammogram did not.

My next appointment involved both.

I sat in the waiting room with my mom. I ate lunch. A lady from the finance department called me to her cubicle. I felt the urge to spill my guts, to tell her how I am a horrible patient because my insides betray me. I sat there. Friendly as could be. Answering all of her questions with an added, “Thank you,” here and there. Finally, I asked her, “Do you have any advice?”

Yes. She said. Yes. She too had many near misses when it came to these sorts of things. She knew exactly what I was talking about. She even had a name for it per her doctor. I felt relieved. Taken care of. Not being alone really is powerful knowledge. Not to mention, I had friends/co-workers/friends praying for me, asking the Lord of all to prohibit me from passing out. 

Before the appointment, I went to the ladies’ room because my nervous bladder was super nervous and super full. In my moment of calm and quiet, I talked to God. I whispered to my God, “Be with me, beside me.” We both know God is always here. Near. Always with His children. What I was facing, though, what I was on the verge of embarking upon – I didn’t need answers. I didn’t need a plan. I wasn’t looking for a clean bill of health. I didn’t want to seek promises of ease and comfort. What my heart needed was to know without a doubt, my Jesus was with me. If I hurt, I needed Him by my side. If I felt weak, I needed Him by my side. In my secret moments of being scared, I needed Him by my side.

My name was called. I followed a nurse to a room a few doors down. She reassured me she had no intention of letting me pass out. I laughed. In the middle of the mess, I laughed. We talked about my interest of being a detective. And how she passed out c-o-l-d while watching an autopsy. We talked about her dogs and how one had been abused.

“I’m so glad this room has a window,” I said. It helped me focus on something other than what was happening to my body. I watched cars and people and clouds. “It’s the only room of this sort that has one,” she said. I knew instantly God prepared it for me. The window was too important for it not to have been from my Father.

After all the tests were completed, I went back to the waiting room. I prepared my mom, “I think something’s wrong.” The second technician was equally as nice as the first. I noticed, though, the ultrasound paddle she was using stayed in one spot a very long, difficult, painful amount of time. So I asked her. “What’s going on?” I explained how I prefer to be given off-the-record bad news before the official on-the-record bad news. It helps me process, I said. Her lips held tight. She couldn’t confirm nor deny.

Yet, I was calm. Though the examining team gave me no absolutes, God did. He allowed me to wonder, but He held back the fear and pushed through with peace.

The doctor sent for me. My mom and I went to a small little room and sat on a small little couch. The doctor walked in, introduced himself. Shook my hand. Met my eyes. “The mammogram was clear,” he began, “but the ultrasound found a mass in a spot away from the original issue.” He said non-cancerous masses were smooth, but what he saw from my ultrasound was smooth on top and jagged on bottom. He could not say with certainty whether or not this thing inside me was or was not dangerous. He went on to give the size and explained how, even if it were cancer, it was so small it would be easy to take care of. Hopefully, though, a biopsy would show it to be benign.

“Do you have any questions?” He sat in his chair, his eyes still with mine. He didn’t look away. What God did was send me a doctor who had nothing better to do and who was willing to wait for me.

“No,” I said. “Not right - Actually, yes. I do.” I paused. And apologized. Recapped for this man what just happened. “I said I didn’t have any questions, but as I was saying that, I realized I do. So I’m not sure why I said what I said.” He chuckled. “It’s okay,” he assured me. I may have taken a breath.

I asked my question, which boiled down to me asking this long-suffering doctor to repeat himself. He obliged. “Even if it is something,” he reassured me, “it’s very small.”

The morning of my biopsy, I ate a good breakfast and went for an hour’s walk. I felt fine about things – until I arrived at the clinic. Hearing people talk and make noise nauseated me. The TV in the waiting room was airing a Rachel Ray show. She was super pumped about some men cooking Italian food. I was not. At all. A nurse called for me before any damage was done. I was half-and-half relieved.

I entered the room, ready to tell all who would listen how weak of a stomach I have and how I didn’t want to know the nitty gritty details of what was to come. What I found behind Door No. 1, though, was one of you.

I wouldn’t find out until after the biopsy, but what God gave me while I was exposed and vulnerable and not sure about days to come was a member of Ridgecrest. Someone who comforted me and assured me the next few moments would be all right. She was kind and gentle. Though she had a job to do, she made sure I was good.

The afternoon of my first exams, sitting in the ladies’ room, with unknowns taking over, I spoke to our Creator and asked Him to be by my side. Not across the room. Not at the foot of the exam table. But right next to me. I had no right to do so. I’ve not been kind to Him lately. I’ve been short and unloving, ungrateful.

But God.

I didn’t need to ask Him of His whereabouts. He had already shown me. The words I spoke were for me so that I could focus on Him.

Deuteronomy 8:2 says, “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”

Christian, remember the whole way the Lord your God has led you. Remember how He delivered you. Remember how He rescued you. Remember the times He brought unexpected, deep-down, from-the-belly joy. Pay special care in recalling the moments you knew without a doubt He was with you. Then tell others your story about Jesus.

Note: The biopsy showed the mass to be benign.