fuerza Manabí

My daughter Katie is studying abroad in Ecuador this semester. She has spent the past few weeks living in Manta, and was on the coast when last weekend’s devastating earthquake happened. Below are her heartfelt thoughts and reflections.

The Roselight

“‘Yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed’, says the Lord who has compassion on you” –Isaiah 54:10

As many are now aware, Saturday evening just as the sun had set, the Ecuadorian coast experienced a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that lasted around one minute. 60 whole seconds.

Aimee and I were sitting on top of piled boulders towards the back of the beach. The rocks began to move. About 5 seconds in we recognized the abnormality of what was happening. The reality of everything kicked in and we jumped off the boulders landing in the sand. The movement continued and became stronger. The ground moved as though it were liquid, all lights in the town shut off leaving us in darkness, pool water sloshed over the balconies, car alarms sounded, bats emerged from their hiding places filling the sky. People started…

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March 25th

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March 25th…

This day is significant to me.

Five years ago this day, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I had been waiting for days to hear from my doctor the result of the biopsy. In my heart I knew it would be malignant, but I held out hope for a better result. Hoping and praying to God that this would not be my journey, not be my story.

That day was also the day we celebrated my youngest son’s ninth birthday party. I went through the motions and tried to remain present as we took Alex and five of his friends to see “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and then back to our house for a sleepover. Throughout the movie I kept glancing at my phone, waiting for a call from my doctor, who had promised to have results sometime that day.

When we got home that night, there were messages from her on the answering machine with her personal cell number to call her back.

I knew.

I fearfully called her back, and heard the news- “it’s cancer”. I so clearly remember the dizziness, the cold I felt in my body, the shivering, the confusion.

I remember moving forward with treatment plans while my brain was still struggling to comprehend the diagnosis.

Cancer. Again.

I remember hanging up the phone and then helping sweet young boys settle in for the night and kissing my birthday boy goodnight. I remember getting on the internet (big mistake!) and reading grim statistics about Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.

I remember fear. I remember emptiness. I remember deep sorrow. I remember darkness. I remember wrestling with the thought of death. I remember desperation and feeling far from God.

And still God was with me. Faithfully.

This year, March 25th is Good Friday.

The day Jesus died.

Jesus walked in obedience the path set before him.

Jesus prayed to God that this would not be his journey. Would not be his story.

But it was.

In his last day, Jesus experienced fear. He knew emptiness and deep sorrow.

He questioned the Father- “if it be possible, let this cup pass me by.”

And he surrendered to the Father- “yet not as I will, but as you will.”

And he walked in obedience and faithfulness- trusting the Father, submitting to the Father’s will, even though it was hard. Even though it was painful.

And God was faithful.

And he is faithful. To walk with us through the dark valleys. To carry us through trials and suffering. To heal. To comfort. To lead and to guide. To shepherd us and lovingly care for us. To shape us and transform us.

This year, on March 25th, I reflect on God’s faithfulness shown to me these past five years. He has healed me. He has grown me. He has strengthened me. He has humbled me. He has shown me more of who he is. And he has shown me more of who I am.

And I reflect on the selfless, sacrificial love of Jesus. To become sin so that I- so that we- might become the righteousness of God and become more like Jesus.

Jesus knows our pain, because he experienced pain. He comforts us in our suffering because he experienced suffering, he draws us close to God because at his darkest moment, he, too, felt far from God.

Jesus suffered and died-

So that we can know the unfailing love of God.

So that we can enjoy the presence of God.

So that we can trust in the goodness of God.

So that we can reflect the Father’s glory.

So that we can overflow with grace and be a blessing to others.

 

And so I am thankful for March 25th and all that it means to me.

Carolyn

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I visited Carolyn today.

Carolyn’s home screams “Merry Christmas”- with five foot tall nutcrackers welcoming people in their driveway, multiple colors of lights framing their home, palm trees and yard.

One would look at it from the outside and smile at the joy that must be inside that house.

And they would be right.

But not like one would expect.

This afternoon my son and I approached their door to deliver a meal- carrying a basket of food and hoping to see a cooler set by the front door. I didn’t want to intrude, and quite honestly, uncomfortable conversations with people I don’t know aren’t something I look forward to. So I was hoping to set the food in a cooler and head back to the car.

But there was no cooler. As we stood there for a moment, not sure what to do, the front door opened and a friendly woman smiled at us and welcomed us in.

As we entered the home, we met Jackie- Carolyn’s warm and energetic mother-in-law. She invited us to come in and sit down.

And we saw Carolyn. In her wheelchair. Bundled in her blankets with a sweet knitted hat on her head.

Carolyn- at war with cancer. Again. Who has no hair. Who probably feels ill. Who probably feels afraid.

Who has the most radiant smile and peaceful presence.

Carolyn and I met briefly at Back to School Night last August, as her oldest and my youngest are classmates. It was so brief, I didn’t expect her to remember me. I remembered her, because I knew her name. And I knew her story. But she didn’t know mine.

So today I sat with her and we shared our stories. How our tumors were discovered. What our recoveries were like. And how her cancer came back.

And we talked about how overwhelming it feels to be loved by so many in times of need and crisis. It is hard for many of us to simply receive- until we realize that by receiving help/love/assistance we are, in fact, giving. We are giving others the opportunity to be a blessing. To love us. We are giving God space to work in the midst of crisis- to bring joy the midst of sadness, to bring hope in the midst of fear.

As is often the way with God, I went to Carolyn’s house expecting to be the giver- to love my neighbor in a small, tangible way by cooking a meal. And I walked away having been humbled and blessed and overwhelmed at God’s goodness and grace. Simply stepping through the door and entering in- into the room, into the pain and fear, into the mess that is cancer, into Carolyn’s life- connected us to each other and to Jesus in that moment. And God was honored.

And so very present.

He was with me throughout the day as I prepared a simple meal, slowing me down to take the time to pray for this tender family as I cooked.

He was with me as I listened to worship music while I stirred pasta sauce, reminding me that God is a good, good father, and we are loved by him.

God was with me when I, at the last minute, asked Alex to accompany me to Carolyn’s house. His youthful presence brought delight to the women in the house and was an opportunity for Alex to be a giver- to share a conversation and a smile.

God was there in joy and laughter that filled up Carolyn’s living room, as Jackie shared her delight that Carolyn was having “a good day”.

God was with me as I sat with Carolyn- his strength and courage and grace binding our hearts together.

God was there as two women- each deeply affected by cancer and seeking to fix their eyes on Jesus- looked each other in the eye, silently giving compassion, encouragement and hope to the other.

Thank you, Carolyn, for allowing God to shine so brightly through you. For trusting him through it all. His grace, his peace, his patience, his joy, his love, his gentleness, his faithfulness and goodness flow through you and bless so many around you.

Thank you for letting me see Jesus today in you.

dr. bernstein

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Dr. Joel Bernstein is my doctor. My oncologist. He has walked with me every step of my cancer journey, encouraging me, inspiring me and healing me.  I could say that he saved my life, and that would not be a stretch. Throughout my cancer journey, Dr. Bernstein has always been one step ahead of everyone- up on the latest research, proactive with tests and my medication, and confidently able to adjust and attack when surprises came up.

And today I found out that he died. From cancer.

Last July when he told me he was closing his practice because of a health issue, I wish I had known how serious it was. The suddenness of his news then and the self-centered thoughts that went through my head at the time- who will be my doctor now? who will know my story as well as he does? – clouded my head and kept me from asking him more. I also wanted to respect his privacy. And I think I was afraid. Afraid that the man who was so smart- brilliant actually- and so very kind, and a superhero in my eyes- might actually be human enough to succumb to the deadly disease.

And I think now, if I had known then that would be the last time I would see him, what would I have said to him?

I would have told him that the first time Todd and I met him and sat in his office to discuss a treatment plan, I knew immediately he was the right doctor for me.

I would have told him that each time I walked into his slightly messy and disorganized office, I felt right at home.

I would have told him that I loved all the pictures and figurines of black labs all over his exam room- it showed his playful personality, expressed his love for his dogs, and made his office feel like a home.

I would have told him that the very casual, laid-back atmosphere in his office was a peaceful relief from the chaotic, confusing and stressful world of cancer treatment.

I would have told him that the girls who worked in his office felt like family, not staff.

I would have told him that each time he walked into the exam room, his smiling eyes and kind grin always put me at ease.

I would have told him that he always looked like he had a secret that he wanted to share- like the cat who swallowed the canary.

I would have told him that in a strange way, I looked forward to my chemo treatments- because I felt confident in Dr. Bernstein’s presence and his plan, knowing I was one step closer to beating the cancer.

I would have told him that I think oncology doctors are angels, given to us by God to heal, to comfort, to bring hope in the midst of despair, and compassion in the midst of pain. To strengthen the survivors and help others die with dignity.

I would have told him that I trusted him with my life. Completely.

I would have told him that I am forever grateful for the way he cared for me, for the ways he healed me and believed in my recovery.

I would have told him I loved him.

What a cruel joke life has played- a man who spent his entire career fiercely fighting cancer and saving the lives of thousands ultimately lost the battle himself to the nasty disease.

As one of the many patients whose lives he touched, my story is intricately woven with his. Now that he is gone, a part of me feels gone, too. There is a beautiful relationship that can develop between a doctor and a patient over time. One that starts in fear and confusion, is built on honesty and vulnerability, and grows in trust and love. For the past four years, my frequent visits with Dr. Bernstein have been a regular part of my life, and I am thankful for them, for his influence in my life and how he helped me believe I could conquer whatever cancer tried to do to me.

God bless you, Dr. Bernstein. You have left a legacy of thousands of grateful patients, friends and colleagues, who are better for having known you.

I will miss you.

packing up christmas

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Yesterday I put the Christmas decorations away.

I’ve always enjoyed the process of unpacking each item- like opening a gift- and then at the end of the season packing them up again- like tucking them into bed.  Most of our decorations and ornaments are unique mementos from loved ones and vacations, marking a special time in our lives. And as the mom in the family, I know where each trinket came from and the significance of each ornament.

I never used to give that much thought.

But in 2011, when I first found out I was sick with cancer, one of my early thoughts (and fears) was if I died, no one would know the history of our Christmas decorations. That may sound silly, but our family’s story is wrapped up in our holiday treasures. I needed to know that my kids would know our story, and be able to pass it on someday.

So I’ve begun to label some of the items and, more importantly, share with my family the stories behind each ornament and each decoration. And as I share the history with my kids, the memories come alive.

We remember and warmly talk about Uncle Tom (Todd’s oldest brother) when we set out all the old world Santas that he collected before he passed away. We carefully handle the hand-painted glass ornament Todd and I bought on our trip to Austria in 1994 and the ruby red slipper ornament Papa gave Katie the year she was Dorothy for Halloween. We lovingly put out the Hummel nativity that my mom gave us- piece by piece over the course of many years, and smile at the broken head of one of the kings (oops!). Seeing my grandmother’s antique plastic reindeer sitting on my kitchen window sill brings her memory close to me. And we see how our family has grown over the years in the kids’ handmade ornaments that hang on our tree.

Having had cancer (more than once), I don’t take time for granted. It’s precious and it’s fleeting and it can be unpredictable. And as I put each decoration back in its box yesterday, I wondered what my life will be like a year from now, when I take them out again.

This past year held surprises that I could not have imagined last Christmas: recording an album, singing with an orchestra and a full choir, leading a new service at church, my dad having to endure two back surgeries… And I wonder- with some anticipation and also with some trepidation- what this coming year will bring.

I just don’t know. None of us really do.

But I do know that God is good and he is faithful- he promises to work all things together for my good, and he promises to be with me always.

And I want that to be enough for me.

So I hold out my hand to the One I trust to guide me and lead me through it all. I know that whatever sharp turns life may take this year, I am secure in the love and comfort of my Shepherd, who is all I need.

it is well

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I’ve recorded an album- my first one! It was a joy to collaborate with such fine musicians and work with great artists. Thank you to Chris Hobson, Scott Parrish, Michael Bedard, Deane Cote, Katie Pittman, John Rekevics, Bryan Bangerter, Allyson Arendsee and Joel P West for sharing their gifts!

This music is my Ebenezer- a marker, a reminder of God’s faithfulness shown to me throughout my life, especially when I was going through cancer treatment in 2011.

The songs express hope, faith, healing and trust in the Lord, who promises to be our Shepherd, and all that we need.

I’m still figuring out this website/blogging/technology thing… and this is the best I can do right now.

Here’s how you can get a copy of the CD (they are $15 each, or two for $25):

1. Email me at lisapittman5@gmail.com and I’ll mail one to you. I can take credit cards over the phone (checks and cash work too).

2. Come to my house anytime or Solana Beach Presbyterian Church on Sundays.

3. Buy a copy of the CD at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/lisapittman

4. Message me on Facebook.

5. Download the album off iTunes or cdbaby.com (but then you won’t get to read the album notes or see Allyson Arendsee’s beautiful artwork).

I love music. And I am so grateful that God gifted me with an ability to create and communicate through music. It is a pathway for me to connect with Him and it is a way for me to openly express my love for the Lord. My hope is that the music on this album ministers to you and invites you  to draw closer to God.

thanks!

a little glimpse of heaven

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This past weekend I had the incredible honor of singing in our church’s Christmas concert. Now this is no standard church concert. For the past seventeen years our church, under the musical leadership of Dan Bird, has put on the Many Moods of Christmas- four concerts featuring our 70 member choir, soloists and a full orchestra, with most of the players coming from the San Diego Symphony.

We had one- only one!- rehearsal before Saturday evening’s concert, and when the time came for my two songs that first night, my stomach was doing flips and my legs were a little shaky. I knew the songs well, but still wondered if I’d remember my lyrics. And what if I tripped walking out on stage? I’m usually tucked behind a piano- safe and secure. Standing out front was a new experience for me and I thought: Do I really see myself as a singer? Or have I always been a piano player who sings?  Was I worthy of this honor, this privilege?

It was a significant performance, and I felt the pressure to succeed.

When I walked out onto the stage, that all changed.

The music started, and I experienced God’s presence, blanketing me in security and love. Letting me know he was with me.

The sounds of the orchestra filled the sanctuary. And as the musicians played the introduction, peace came over me. A desire to sing to the Lord replaced a desire to sing well for the audience. Communicating the message of the lyrics- the hope of Christmas, of salvation-  was more important than showing off my skills. Pleasing God far outweighed my desire to please the crowd.

My heart opened up and I felt free. I loved it.

And I thought- this might be what heaven is like: all of us together, using our God-given gifts to boldly sing praises to him. Continually. Beautifully. Authentically. Feeling God’s pleasure as he delights in our worship.

All ages, all styles of music, all instruments- coming together and lifting it all up to the Lord- who is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

A dear woman I know came up to me after the fourth and final concert. She pulled me aside and said, “You know what I was thinking about when you were singing? I was remembering where you were a few years ago (I was recovering from breast cancer surgery and chemotherapy). At that time, did you ever imagine that you would be here tonight on this stage? Singing in this concert with an orchestra? No. But God knew. He had this in his plan for you all along.”

I was humbled. I am grateful.

God is good.

thankful

Tahquitz Peak

I thought my first post would be something really significant, as I am embarking on a journey to explore and express the ways God continues to work in my life and in those around me. And yet, this morning God revealed himself and his voice to me, and I need to get it down.

Sometimes the most ordinary moments are where God chooses to speak to us, if we pay attention.

We are up in Idyllwild- a favorite Thanksgiving spot for our family. The cool, mountain air and the simple lifestyle are a refreshing change from our Southern California, suburban life.

This morning I went out for my morning walk.  As I walked through town and along the highway, I saw Tahquitz Peak in the distance- a beautiful, majestic white rock jutting out and above the mountains. It’s breathtaking, but I couldn’t get a clear view of it, as the utility poles and power lines were always in the way.

At first it was a little frustrating- I wanted to get a good picture. And then God reminded me that this a picture of my life. Rarely is it all beautiful, free from mess, free from clutter, from ugliness.

But if I look through the messy stuff, I can still see his glory and his work- in both the beautiful and broken parts of my life.

And give him thanks.