I’m No Gardener

IMG_1948_2 copyI’m no gardener.

It’s always been a desire of mine to be able to have a garden. I remember my early years and my mothers patch behind the garage. I was especially impressed by the row of corn, probably because it was so tall while I was so little.

Later, she grew strawberries by the side of the garage. I was fascinated by watching them blossom and then turn bright red and juicy. The rabbits loved them also.

Growing up in the city, I loved the concept of farming, living off the land. I read books about 4-H and fantasized about raising animals. I even pretended my bike was a horse, a blue roan, naming it “Sky Blue.”

I choose a college in the middle of the state, farm country. I listened to crop reports on the news. I remember being at a frat party in a corn field. While others were drinking, I wandered into the field, envisioning the feeling of owning land.

But our vocation was not conducive to gardening. Each summer we had a summer assignment and/or a month-long conference. We visited supporters of the ministry and admired their gardens, even ate their apple pie. In California and Florida I planted fruit trees, but we moved a lot and others enjoyed the fruit.

So in semi-retirement, while fighting cancer, I’ve wanted a garden. It’s difficult to get on hands and knees, so I’ve opted for pots on the railings and a raised bed. What have I learned?

You have to commit to planting seeds.

I can hear you groaning, “Duh?” and I confess, it seems obvious. Desire alone doesn’t get you there. Buying equipment doesn’t get you there.

I’ve been pretty much a failure in planting the seeds. I bought a fail-proof table-top greenhouse but they never made it from seedlings to full-grown plants. It’s been hard to figure out seasons in Florida, with winter being summer and summer just being hot. I bought potted plants and they died. The only plant I’ve had success is peppers — and I don’t like hot food. But they have gone crazy!

I’m sure there are some lessons in all this. I’d love to hear what you think…and would be glad to take some advice. (Please comment)

Dripping with God’s Love

1992 - Darlene's porch wagan - MarmaladeI love word pictures, and Margaret Feinberg draws a beautiful one in her blog:

“With cool water droplets streaming down Jesus’ face, Mark 1:11-12 records: “And a voice came out of the heavens: ‘Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased.’ And immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness” (NASB).

Jesus isn’t just baptized in water — He’s baptized in love.

Drenched in the divine delight. Immersed in the holy affection of God.

The same baptism you and I are invited into. Not just when we become followers of Christ,but each day. Each hour. Each moment.

We are meant to live as those who drip with God’s love.”

This morning, I’m trying to picture what I would look like today if I were “dripping with God’s love.”

How about you?



2011-5-22 Great WallI’ve resisted the movement of people picking a word for the new year rather than a resolution. I’m not sure why…maybe because I hate eliminating options, maybe because I was afraid of failure, maybe because it was vague.

But this year I was challenged individually and prayed about it. And I woke up one night with a clear sense of a word.


I started out with a feeling of disappointment. It’s not a very dramatic word. It’s the opposite of “backward” and who wants that for a word for a year? It’s not sexy like “courage” or bold like “strength.” It’s not promising like hope. It just kind of sits there, inching along.

But when you have been where I have been this past year, dealing with cancer, trying hard not to go backwards, it’s not a bad word. My cancer has once again been declared as “stable,” another not sexy, bold or promising word. I’ve fought physically, emotionally and spiritually this last year. I’ve wanted to retreat within myself.

Even with the most amount of hope the word “stable” can muster, I don’t just want to stay where I am. I want to move again. I want to move forward. I have to confess I don’t really know exactly what that looks like or where it is. Each time I wrestle the disease down, each time I draw in my life because of physical limitations, I struggle to know how to expand into the grace of extended time.

Do I go back to doing what I was doing before things got desperate? Projects I was working on got wrapped up, just in case “something happened.” Some projects moved on with other people taking responsibility. Some things don’t seem as important as they did a year ago. The same was true with relationships — some wrapped up while others moved on.

So, do I go back to what I knew or move forward? I’m familiar with back; not so much with forward. And since I’m not as strong as I used to be in many ways, could I even do the things I used to do? A few things I tried this last month (like facilitating a meeting) didn’t go so well. I’m not the same person I was before this last year battling cancer.

A verse comes to mind: Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13

It feels like a good thing to do, even if it is a strain. Straining is not dependent on the amount of strength you have. It’s going beyond what you think you can do. I will strain to move forward because, even though I don’t have clarity of what “the goal for the prize of the upward call” is, I know it is good. And I know God will be faithful to show me what this all means…as He uses the word in my life this year —


Don’t Waste Your Cancer – A Witness

IMG_1098(Part 11 in a 11 part series based on John Piper’s booklet, “Don’t Waste You Cancer)

#11 –We waste our cancer if we fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.

I remember one especially dark day several years ago when I was so weak from treatment, I could not lift my head. I was fearful of the future, the life of a vegetable, or death. I ached that others were caring for me, meeting bodily needs as if I were a baby. I could do nothing for myself.

“How does this glorify you, God?” my thoughts led me. “I’ve told you my one wish daily is to glorify you. So how do you think I’m going to do that today?”

I don’t ever claim to have heard God audibly, but the strong sense in my soul was as clear as words, “You have already.” Just being willing to do what he desired brought glory to him. My laying there, willing to do what physically I couldn’t do, brought him delight. That day, the greatest way I could serve him was to lay there, semi-conscious, and gain strength.

So much of this journey has been a witness of his truth and glory. It’s not my story but his story in and through my life. The lives touched have not been by my strength or cleverness. I’ve been too sick to sugar-coat anything. I’ve been too weak in my will to force any pretense. But through his strength, I have born witness to his grace and comfort in my life.

It was fitting that John Piper ended with this point, and for me to follow suit. Our whole lives are a witness to how we have lived. They expose the principles and values, hopes and dreams, on which we have lived.  As we get closer to the end of  life, we have one last brief opportunity to make a last statement – our witness

I pray my last statement will be consistent with my life and will give glory to God.


Don’t Waste Your Cancer – Sin

IMG_1098(Part 10 in a 11 part series based on John Piper’s booklet, “Don’t Waste You Cancer)

#10 –We waste our cancer if we treat sin as casually as before.

Sin is a word that is “politically incorrect” these days. We call some indulgences or bad choices  “diseases” (alcoholism, drug abuse) and certainly they become diseases that need to be treated or they will take a life. We hesitate to call some lifestyles behaviors sin lest someone be offended. It’s a word we tip-toe around.

And we probably should, when it comes to thinking about the lives of others. Strong words are used in the Bible about judging others. It’s not for us to say what separates a person from God — that is between them and God.

But cancer (or anything that makes us pause in our rush to live) gives us the opportunity to look at our own life and sin within. Piper says, “Cancer is designed to destroy the appetite for sin.” It puts life into perspective. Things I once enjoyed that were not of God seem trivial now. He goes on to say, “Don’t just think of battling against cancer. Also think of battling with cancer…Let the presence of eternity make the sins of time look as futile as they really are. ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?’” (Luke 9:25).

Since time is of the essence, so is how I spend my time. I want to spend my time on things that will last — memories and mementos of love to those who will live on; words of encouragement and hope for those who will need it; experiences in nature that reflect the nature of God; words in poetry or prose that encourages hearts. I have so much to do, I can hardly think about doing things that don’t please the Lord!

And yet, sin does creep in just like it has my whole life. I’m tempted to waste time feeling sorry for myself. I’m tempted to believe in “cures” rather than God’s timing.  I’m tempted, especially when I’m tired, to watch to much TV where crimes are solved and relationships mended in an hour (how unrealistic!). Sin offers an easy way to get out of my difficulties for a moment, relieving me from facing the challenges before me.

My faith has taught me to face life head-on. I can dance around issues in my life, but why? Why should I not face them when I can, by faith, figure out the source of sin and meet that need in a way that glorifies God.

And for sins that are entrenched and ever before me? I keep taking them on one by one, bringing them to Jesus who paid for them all. He forgives me, not based on my goodness, but on his. In that truth, there is great relief. Anything I have given up in this world has been well worth it for the grace I have received.

How do your trials work with you to help defeat sin? (comment below)


Don’t Waste Your Cancer – Grieving

IMG_1098(Part 9 in a 11 part series based on John Piper’s booklet, “Don’t Waste You Cancer)

#9 –We waste our cancer if we grieve as those who have no hope.

There is a grieving that goes with realizing our bodies are mortal, that life will end. When you have a disease that could easily take your life, there is a keen awareness of mortality and losses. Just the last few days I’ve reflexed on some of them:

  • Soft kisses from my lover brushing my cheek
  • Freshly mowed grass along the highway
  • Lake water lapping onto shore
  • Squeezes from an adult child, torn between leaving and staying
  • Text from a friend; she misses me
  • Hillsides brimming with crops to feed a nation

There is so much that I will miss, and I grieve it. Dispite descriptions of pearly gates and streets of gold, right now I’d pick a snow covered mountain and another Christmas with family.

Some people don’t understand or share my grief. I’ve been told I’m “negative.” Others are not living my life; they cannot feel it slipping away. At times, I’m very alone in grief and it makes it more intense. It’s as if I’m walking around naked but no one will talk about it. I know it; they know it, but it’s unmentionable.

Sometimes people skip over the current grief and jump into the hope of heaven. That is really difficult. It feels like we are ignoring nakedness and jumping to a wedding dress. Right now, I’m naked!

It’s when someone enters into my state of grief, we can begin to hope together.

And I don’t grieve as someone who has no hope. John Piper talks about 2 Corinthians 5:8 and 2 Thessalonians 4:13 – wonderful verses of encouragement. My greatest hope is in seeing Christ face to face. I know what he has meant to me here on earth, through his Holy Spirit. He has given hope and faith and love far beyond what I think I would have known without him. Even in the midst of my human grief, his Spirit comforts me like a deep, fluffy comforter I can snuggle down into. I have a hard time envisioning how I would be handling this if I did not know Christ.

And I have hope for the future, no doubt. I have hope for healing, temporarily in this present life as well as in eternity. But I do bristle when people breeze by the pain of the present. I am very aware of the fear of the pain of dying. There is anxiety in trying to do things right, to maximize time. There is separation in death, even if it is only for a time. I don’t know everything about eternity. And there are things about earth I don’t want to forget.

John Piper said it succinctly: “There is a grief at death.” I trust that we can meet each other honestly in that grief. In fact, there is something even holy about it. As Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn.”(Matthew 5:4) A level of relationship is revealed through our mourning, loving someone/something so much that we feel overwhelmed, out of control, with a sense of separation and loss.

It’s only when we love enough to really mourn, can we be comforted.

We mourn from many losses. What gives you hope in the midst? How does it help when others identify with your grief?


Don’t Waste Your Cancer – Affection

IMG_1098(Part 8 in an 11 part series based on John Piper’s booklet, “Don’t Waste You Cancer)

#8 – We waste our cancer if we let it drive us into solitude instead of deepen our relationships with manifest affection.

You may have noticed that I have disagreed with John Piper on several of his points, or at least, struggled with them. But this one – he hit the nail on the head!

I’ve struggled with relationships while dealing with cancer.

There are so many voices in my head. I’m an introvert by nature, so it’s natural for me to struggle in the midst of people. Cancer, knowing that my time is limited, thinking about a future without me for my husband, children, grandchildren makes me feel even more. As much as I hope, I know death always wins in the end. And in the end, there will just be one person – me.

And there is so much focus on me. It’s easy to feel, “poor me,” and lean in to the sympathy of others. Then there are the “bucket list” thinkers, challenging me to have goals I have no control over accomplishing.

Pain makes me turn inward, curling into a ball, careful not to move least I hurt. Focus is on survival, bringing the world inward, rather than reaching outward.

So it goes against nature to begin reaching out, and yet, that is where true comfort lies.

Connecting with people I have known for years gives me perspective. They have been with me through hard times and good. They know my strengths, my weaknesses. They know how to encourage me and when to just be silent. They know my hope…and my fears.

Connecting with people I haven’t known well is more difficult. I have limited energy and want to focus my time on those I love. And yet, God calls me to glorify him with uniqueness he has placed in me. I’m still using skills in driving projects within Cru, although I always make sure there is a co-leader for those times “chemo brain” sets in or treatment gets more aggressive. And, although it is emotional hard at times, I have new relationships with new friends because we have something in common – they have diseases that are taking their lives. It’s not a ministry I every wanted, but am receiving.

Connecting with people I love has been, surprisingly, the most difficult. When things go well, I fear this may be the last time with them, and I want so much more. When they don’t go so well, I long to make it better, to fix it, because this might be the last memory they have of me. I struggle between being overly intense and overly casual. There is so much to say, and so little time. But it’s not just my desire to say things, but also their ability to hear. Even in writing this, the tears flow…

John Piper says, “That is the kind of heart God is aiming to create with cancer: a deeply affectionate, caring heart for people. Don’t waste your cancer by retreating into yourself.”

Is there pain in your life that makes you retreat into yourself? I encourage you to reach out to others, relationships who know you, new friends, loved ones, and share that pain. If you want to share it with me, comment below. 


Don’t Waste Your Cancer – A Propped Up Heart

IMG_1098(Part 4 in a 11 part series based on John Piper’s booklet, “Don’t Waste You Cancer)

#4 – We waste our cancer if we seek comfort from our odds rather than from God.

Before we go any further, I want to say that I am not in favor of pain nor do I feel the sense that I need to put on a face of courage and gut it out. I look for all the comfort I can get while I am being treated. I take medications and an occasional bowl of Breyer’s Black Cherry Jubliee. A little comfort from our odds is to be expected.

The problem comes when we depend on temporary comfort rather than comfort that comes from God. I’m learning that temporary comfort is just that — temporary. It doesn’t last. In fact, it can weigh us down (and make us gain weight!), looking for the next thing that will take away the pain and fear.

John Piper says it this way: “The aim of God in our cancer (among a thousand other good things) is to knock props out from under our hearts so that we rely utterly on him.” (2 Corinthians 1:9)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my props knocked out. I remember a day in the midst of horrible treatment when I could not lift my head up. I was barely conscious. As a person who likes to produce, there was nothing I could produce. As I lay there with my thoughts, I questioned God, “How does this glorify you?”

And it was if his answer came with a sense of peace and a smile, “You glorify me by coming to me in dependence. Sometimes pleasing me means just laying there in obedience. You may get better and someday you may accomplish things again, but for now, dependence means laying there.”

I know it was all in my head, but that kind of response felt outside of me. It was not something I would have thought or felt. When all the props were knocked out from under my heart and life, God was there.

How about you? Are you feeling as if all the props are knocked out? Feel free to comment to me personally (Maggie.bruehl@gmail.com) or to leave a comment for others to see.



Eating the Elephant – Round 1 Week 1 of chemo

I’m the kind of person who likes to make goals — anyone who knows me will agree with me. One of my favorite saying is, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

So I’m breaking my elephant of cancer into smaller goals, like starting at the elephant’s tail and working my way up. That way I can celebrate each day/each week as an accomplishment.

How am I feeling? Well, I can tell it is doing something. I feel different with the drugs in my system. Nothing has been really bad so far. My main system in shakiness internally and externally. I can’t hold my hand steady and my insides feel like I’m  anxious when I am not. And the 2nd drug that I take on Wednesdays gives me a headache, which is probably why this blog entry will be short.

IMG_0848On top of everything, I stubbed my toe (won’t you be glad when you quite getting pictures of my feet!). I couldn’t believe it. I was stumbling to the bathroom early morning and caught it on the doorway. Part of me wanted to be mad at God for giving me another trial, but then I laughed — why not? At least it was on the broken foot side and not my good foot. God has grace in the midst of suffering.

Thanks for everyone’s thoughts, prayers and comments. They mean so much to me. I savor  each one of them!

Hurry Up…Wait

IMG_0223 copyI had forgotten how much I said “Hurry up…Wait” the first time I went through treatment — why wouldn’t I think I would be saying it the again? When the medical community wants action, they really push you to get your information in, but then there are all sorts of delays and communication gaps on their end.

All that to say, I did not start chemo on Monday as expected. Medications got delayed and were not delivered until Wednesday. Yesterday, as I started them, I had a bad headache but today it is better. It probably has more do to with the steroid I have to take 1/week (10 pills) so go along with the Revlimid. Today, my face is flushed and red and I hope I’m not getting the rash associated with the drug. Time will tell.

It was a sharp reminder when the package came in it’s special wrapping and all the warning labels that this is real. Even though it is oral and not infusion, it is highly controlled and toxic. And even though we are on a brief trip with friends, life is not normal. I know that as I look towards the future, this is the beginning point.

And I have choices. I can choose to be afraid. I can choose to be bitter. I can choose to detach or deny. I can choose where to put my faith and what my attitude will be.

In the meantime, I take my pills, count the days, pray, make memories and be faithful in little things. I appreciate those who think/pray for me so much during the journey. I do believe we gain strength from others.